The Universal Machine

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: July 2018

Author: Fred Moten

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

"Taken as a trilogy, consent not to be a single being is a monumental accomplishment: a brilliant theoretical intervention that might be best described as a powerful case for blackness as a category of analysis."—Brent Hayes Edwards, author of Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination

In The Universal Machine—the concluding volume to his landmark trilogy consent not to be a single being—Fred Moten presents a suite of three essays on Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, and Frantz Fanon, in which he explores questions of freedom, capture, and selfhood. In trademark style, Moten considers these thinkers alongside artists and musicians such as William Kentridge and Curtis Mayfield while interrogating the relation between blackness and phenomenology. Whether using Levinas's idea of escape in unintended ways, examining Arendt's antiblackness through Mayfield's virtuosic falsetto and Anthony Braxton's musical language, or showing how Fanon's form of phenomenology enables black social life, Moten formulates blackness as a way of being in the world that evades regulation. Throughout The Universal Machine—and the trilogy as a whole—Moten's theorizations of blackness will have a lasting and profound impact.


"It's this spirit of the collective effort of study and exchange and resonance, the effort to keep the channels open and keep listening, that has made Moten (or, maybe, 'Moten/s') such a celebrated thinker. At the end of sentences like these, you want to say something like Amen." — Jess Row, Bookforum

"At a time when both theory and criticism are frequently and convincingly attacked as exhausted forms, Moten’s trilogy has reinvented both. . . . In its mixture of theoretical complexity and disarming directness, Moten’s beautifully written trilogy offers the sheer pleasure of art."  — Lidija Haas, Vulture

"2018 must go down for me as the year of Fred Moten’s trilogy: Black and Blur, Stolen Life, and The Universal Machine. You could say they’re essays about art, philosophy, blackness, and the refusal of social death, but I think of them more as a fractal universe forever inviting immersion and exploration, a living force now inhabiting my bookshelf." — Maggie Nelson, Bookforum

"My favorite book(s) of 2018 are the three volumes of Fred Moten’s consent not to be a single being, individually titled Black and Blur, Stolen Life, and The Universal Machine. In this collection of essays stretching back fifteen years, Moten challenges the reader to imagine a radically interconnected aesthetic and political sphere that stretches from Glenn Gould to Fanon to Kant to Theaster Gates, sometimes in the space of a single sentence. This trilogy is one of the great intellectual adventures of our era." — Jess Row, Bookforum

"consent not to be a single being, titled after a phrase of Édouard Glissant’s, ranges across an impressive number of disciplines: black studies, performance studies, aesthetics, phenomenology, ontology, ethnomusicology, jazz history, comparative literature, critical theory, etc. Without announcing its intervention as interdisciplinary–Moten deftly renders discipline beside the point. . . . Taken together, the series amounts to a powerful argument for black study—as an analytic, an impetus, a mode, the collective shout from a radical vista, whose bellow requires nothing less than 'passionate response' (Moten 2003)." — Mimi Howard, boundary 2

"Fred Moten is one of the most brilliant and original thinkers in black studies. The Universal Machine offers us a social poetics of blackness in its rigorous and extended engagement with Kant, Levinas, Arendt, and Fanon. The book is a provocative and incisive meditation on the violence of the esteemed categories of western philosophy: man, universe, reason, and world. What becomes clear over the course of its pages is the critical role of blackness (black life, black study) in producing thought of the outside and the vision of another world, or, better yet, no world, just the love and caress of earth. The density of its argument and the labyrinthine beauty of its sentences define Moten's body of work and trouble the line between critical thought and poetry." — Saidiya Hartman

"In The Universal Machine, Fred Moten's extraordinary prose and thought lights up with love 'the other, dancing civilization black radicalism is.' As political philosophy the elliptical and attentive analysis reanimates Levinas, Arendt, and Fanon, among others, learning from their dissident phenomenology and repudiating the Enlightenment racism that shaped their concepts and politics. Reading in the Black Marxist tradition of Cedric Robinson and civil rights too, the book induces its own kinetic revolutionary blackness, its own figures of fugitive improvisation and solidarity. Each reading minute is absorbing and reverie-inducing, dissolving the ground of the interpretive habits we've been taught to bring to thought and the world." — Lauren Berlant


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Fred Moten is Professor of Performance Studies at New York University and the author of Black and Blur and Stolen Life, both also published by Duke University Press, and In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Preface  ix
1. There Is No Racism Intended  1
2. Refuge, Refuse, Refrain  65
3. Chromatic Saturation  140
Notes  247
Works Cited  271
Index  281
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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