Ontological Terror

Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 5 illustrations Published: April 2018

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In Ontological Terror Calvin L. Warren intervenes in Afro-pessimism, Heideggerian metaphysics, and black humanist philosophy by positing that the "Negro question" is intimately imbricated with questions of Being. Warren uses the figure of the antebellum free black as a philosophical paradigm for thinking through the tensions between blackness and Being. He illustrates how blacks embody a metaphysical nothing. This nothingness serves as a destabilizing presence and force as well as that which whiteness defines itself against. Thus, the function of blackness as giving form to nothing presents a terrifying problem for whites: they need blacks to affirm their existence, even as they despise the nothingness they represent. By pointing out how all humanism is based on investing blackness with nonbeing—a logic which reproduces antiblack violence and precludes any realization of equality, justice, and recognition for blacks—Warren urges the removal of the human from its metaphysical pedestal and the exploration of ways of existing that are not predicated on a grounding in being.


“Calvin L. Warren recalibrates Afro-pessimism in new directions while he seriously deepens, extends, and requires that we pay closer and better attention to the claims made by Afro-pessimist thinkers. He turns toward a new philosophy of the Americas that requires a re-reading of philosophy insofar as it is founded in producing the absence of blackness and black people as the foundation of its very possibilities. Poised to reanimate Black studies in an important way, Ontological Terror will be a foundational text of Afro-pessimist thought, even as it exceeds the term. This is a work of accomplishment.” — Rinaldo Walcott, author of Queer Returns: Essays on Multiculturalism, Diaspora, and Black Studies

“In this careful and cogent account of the metaphysical structures of antiblack violence, Calvin L. Warren introduces a much-needed philosophical intervention in the claims and propositions of Afro-pessimism. His superb intellectual skills and beautiful philosophizing make this magnificent work important to a whole generation of scholars.” — Denise Ferreira da Silva, author of Toward a Global Idea of Race


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Calvin L. Warren is Assistant Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. The Free Black Is Nothing  1
1. The Question of Black Being  26
2. Outlawing  62
3. Scientific Horror  110
4. Catachrestic Fantasies  143
Coda. Adieu to the Human  169
Notes  173
Bibliography  201
Index  211
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7087-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7072-7
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Funding Information

Publication of this open monograph was the result of Emory University's participation in TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem), a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries. TOME aims to expand the reach of long-form humanities and social science scholarship including digital scholarship. Additionally, the program looks to ensure the sustainability of university press monograph publishing by supporting the highest quality scholarship and promoting a new ecology of scholarly publishing in which authors'; institutions bear the publication costs.Funding from Emory University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made it possible to open this publication to the world.