Nature extracts a high cost for beauty. From an amoral aesthetic perspective, Hurricane Isaac’s performance of a logarithmic spiral is beautiful. The sublime beauty of a hurricane kills people. Does the beauty of our cultural studies and theories participate in such murder?
The amorality of nature is a foil for the presence or absence of ethics in the works of human nature. No doubt, Western philosophy is capable of arguing that deadly forms of behavior are ethical entities. A few thinkers might say that capability is reprehensible. We have no survey of Western philosophy that offers necessary and sufficient proof that perverse ethical entities are not operative in global societies, in the Diaspora, in the United States. It is prudent to think cautiously when we talk about the nihilist dimensions of African American cultural expressions and when we participate in the production of discursive beauty.
I believe Lawrence P. Jackson’s brilliant study, The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960 (Princeton University Press 2011), is a warrant for my plea for caution. In his poignant introduction, Jackson details the high cost J. Saunders Redding paid for “his own immobilizing feelings of guilt toward his ethnic inheritance, self-loathing, distorted patriotism, and rage” (2). To some degree, Jackson’s introduction is a call to which a small number of thinkers might want to respond by way of an ethnic ethical turn in their work, in the logarithmic spiral of critical thought. Bell hooks’ “pedagogy and political commitment: a comment” (98-104) in Talking Back: thinking feminist, thinking black (South End Press 1989) described an ethnic ethical turn slightly more than two decades ago. I believe more of us should listen carefully to Jackson and hooks.
It is necessary to acknowledge the existence of perverse ethical entities, but I think we still have enough free will and freedom to choose not to duplicate those entities in our intellectual work and in our everyday lives.