None Like Us

Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 9 illustrations, incl 8 in col Published: November 2018

Author: Stephen Best

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

It passes for an unassailable truth that the slave past provides an explanatory prism for understanding the black political present. In None Like Us Stephen Best reappraises what he calls “melancholy historicism”—a kind of crime scene investigation in which the forensic imagination is directed toward the recovery of a “we” at the point of “our” violent origin. Best argues that there is and can be no “we” following from such a time and place, that black identity is constituted in and through negation, taking inspiration from David Walker’s prayer that “none like us may ever live again until time shall be no more.” Best draws out the connections between a sense of impossible black sociality and strains of negativity that have operated under the sign of queer. In None Like Us the art of El Anatsui and Mark Bradford, the literature of Toni Morrison and Gwendolyn Brooks, even rumors in the archive, evidence an apocalyptic aesthetics, or self-eclipse, which opens the circuits between past and present and thus charts a queer future for black study.


"None Like Us begins as an intervention into black studies. To accomplish this, it turns to works of art and invention by people whom history has needed to be black. But as it unravels any claim to genre, discipline, field, identity, or audience, the book issues a broad invitation to the reader to see black studies and queer theory, black and queer life, not as identities to inhabit, but as critical perspectives on history and on a present tense that has been so scarred by various melodramas of the self—of its defense, self-possession, and propriety—that have played themselves out on both sides of anti-racist critique." — Kris Cohen, Public Books

"Compelling. . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." — C. E. Bender, Choice

"Best’s ambitious and well-reasoned thesis confronts the challenge of thinking like a work of art but also of thinking the work of art as an object of critical studies, particularly in Black Studies. ... Responsibly argued and impressively confessional, Best o?ers thoughtful ways of recon?guring Black Studies." — Alice Mikail Craven, Modern Language Review

“… None Like Us is distinctive as it aims to break with the well-established and perhaps taken-for-granted tenet in the black political present and contemporary black criticism, of a communitarian, shared slave past…. With its themes of identity and belonging, history and the archive, along with a range of visual and literary works, None Like Us would appeal to the interdisciplinary field of Black Studies sociologists; historians, anthropologists, in addition to scholars with an interest in art and visual culture.” — Karen Wilkes, Visual Studies

“Stephen Best's ambitious new book makes a valuable contribution to current debates at the intersection of literary and historical studies and provides nothing less than an aesthetic reappraisal of the aims and methods of black historiography. Erudite, searching, and eclectic, the intervention of None Like Us will reverberate widely across the field of black studies for years to come.” — Tavia Nyong’o, author of Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life

“Stephen Best gives us an entirely new way of understanding the constitution of black subjectivity. Identifying cognates for that process in the aesthetic strategies of numerous exemplary literary and visual artworks, he allows us to see black subjectivity itself as an aesthetic function, wholly distinct from the problematic collectivisms conventionally taken to originate in slavery. Deeply learned and beautifully written, None Like Us will provoke lively discussion among black studies scholars, significantly reorienting the theoretical conversation.” — Phillip Brian Harper, author of Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Stephen Best is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Fugitive's Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Unfit for History  1
Part I. On Thinking Like a Work of Art
1. My Beautiful Elimination  29
2. On Failing to Make the Past Present  63
Part II. A History of Discontinuity
Interstice. A Gossamer Writing  83
3. The History of People Who Did Not Exist  91
4. Rumor in the Archive  107
Acknowledgments  133
Notes  135
Bibliography  173
Index  193
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, 2019 ASAP Book Prize (presented by the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0150-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0115-7
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