The Idea of Black Culture

by Hortense J. Spillers


Where one lives, it seems that the rumors do not matter. And it is precisely that split of motives between current systems of thought (written in indelible despair) — in some ways, wholly reconciled to the technological supremacy that Herbert Marcuse identified several decades ago in his “one-dimensional man,” and wholly attuned to such apparatuses, in which case “culture” is not faring very well, while particular expressions of it, as in “black culture,” are no longer nameable — and those spaces of habitation that are organized and unfolded as if in an autonomy of values that is going to haunt any discussion of social formations that are assigned a cultural valence. At first glance, there is a problem here of first and second level stresses, or to put it another way, before we can venture an idea about the “idea of black culture,” we must reestablish an outlook on the “idea of culture.” On second thought, however, the first and second levels of stress actually converge, as we recognize that the getting together of these punctualities is not so much the question as it is the mining of that robust vein of an apparent singlicity that will allow several and sometime overlapping road beds to truck through it. The aim of this essay is to negotiate one of these roadways.

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