Sometimes detours prove so interesting and satisfying that it matters not whether one arrives at the originally intended destination. I hope that readers will find aspects of this particular detour interesting and satisfying on its own terms. While waiting for state archival materials from various former governments so that I might complete a comparative book project on the relationship between transnational black politics and modernity, Michael Dawson and Danny Dawson (no relation) encouraged me to write a shorter book based on concepts, theoretical propositions, and themes that emerged in several conversations I had had with each of them over the past ten years. Those discussions—which took place in New York, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chicago in the United States; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Naples and Bellagio, Italy—concerned matters of cultural and political agency in practices ranging from the Haitian Revolution; black nationalisms and feminisms; all-black political parties; the Nation of Islam; black Marxism; the role of black athletes and artists, ranging from capoeiristas, boxers, and basketball players to singers, sculptors, musicians, and novelists; Western imperium; and the discourses of modernity.
The fact that Michael Dawson is a political scientist, and Danny Dawson a cultural historian, certainly influenced the contours, substance, and objects of our discussions. Those conversations served as a rough-hewn template for the theoretical and conceptual aims of Party/Politics. The choice of which topics to write about—and how to write about them—was entirely my own. I would first like to thank both of them for their steady encouragement and nourishment of my intellectual life over the past ten years, and for their continued friendship.
Other conversations and excursions along the way also helped me develop the concepts and led to several objects of analysis I chose for some purpose in this book. As I waited for the usual admittances and denials of requests for governmental information, Nancy Randall, then my research assistant and (p.viii) a Northwestern University undergraduate, began developing a reference list, transcribing my lecture notes and other musings in the earliest stages of this project’s development. Peter Fenves, of the German Department of Northwestern University, first introduced me to the writings of Heinrich Von Kleist, and encouraged me to undertake the comparison with E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. His periodic query, “Have you finished your short book yet?” over the past two years spurred me on in ways that would not be immediately apparent to him, but for which I am very grateful.
Linda Zerilli, a dear colleague in my department, helped guide me through the vast literature in political theory on notions and concepts of politics, the political, and political community, that helped expand and complicate my own understanding of not just black politics, but all forms and distinctions of politics. For her insights, friendship, and encouragement, I am also extremely grateful. Robert Gooding-Williams, Richard Iton, and Barnor Hesse each provided critical engagement with my ideas, if not the manuscript itself, at the crucial early and final stages of the manuscript’s development.
The Rockefeller Foundation residential fellowship program for scholars on Lake Como in Lombardy, Italy, provided an ideal setting for undisturbed reading, writing, and reflection. The staff of the Bellagio Conference Center, particularly Gianna Celli, the former managing director, and Elena Ongania, receptionist, were spontaneously resourceful and generous with their time and resources to make my stay at Bellagio a pleasant and productive one. Students of my 2003 graduate course on black political thought probed my lectures and assigned readings in ways that helped illuminate the conceptual and theoretical issues of black politics. Class discussions provided the rare opportunity to explore black politics not as a set of empirical problems or isolated cases, but as links to specific phenomena and texts to wider debates in the humanities and the social sciences about modernity, identity and identification, nationalism, fascism, democracy and, ultimately, politics itself.
Readers such as Lisa Weeden provided the most careful, critical reading of an earlier draft of the entire manuscript, which led to significant improvements. Mark Sawyer, Charles Hale Jr., and Michael Dawson read and offered useful suggestions about several chapters. Shannan Mattiace, Emma Cervone, Peter Fenves, Jan French, Irene Kacandes, David Schoenbrun, Amalia Pallares, Eddie Telles, Miguel Vatter, and Linda Zerilli provided helpful comments on individual chapters, and Doug McAdam gave useful insights about my conceptualization of the ethics of aversion in chapter 3. Tejumola Olaniyan provided me with an opportunity to present an earlier version of chapter 2, a theory of quotidian politics, to his workshop at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I (p.ix) am grateful for his spirited engagement with my work. Alice Furomoto Dawson helped transform crude drawings into intelligible models and charts, particularly the continuum of quotidian politics in chapter 2 and the black critical perspectives chart in chapter 3. Graduate student Kendra Koivu transformed a rough outline of the model in chapter 8 into a coherent model.
Ella Myers, a graduate student in the political theory program of my department, provided invaluable editorial assistance, a critical eye for rough spots in the chapter-by-chapter argumentation, as well as detailed engagement with the overall statement I seek to make with this book. Like many superb graduate students, she also served as a key interlocutor. Although I paid her handsomely for her work (no kidding), her careful, competent attention to my manuscript, in addition to her wit and laughter, was incalculable in monetary terms. Rupal Vora, another Northwestern University undergraduate, helped in the execution of the model in chapters 4 and 8, tracked down missing and incomplete references, and helped with most of the final touches that transform a manuscript into a book. Thanks to both.
Dedi Felman and Laura Lewis were first-rate editors, providing tough love when necessary. Thanks also to Cathy Cohen and Fred Harris for encouraging me to publish in their “Transcending Boundaries” series.
Then there are those whose presence in my life at times buoyed, perplexed, humbled, and inspired me. Jenna, my teenage daughter, provided the energy and sense of conviction that only a teenager can bring, and a daughter’s love that makes a middle-aged father feel special, if only for a moment. Nancy Tartt has been an excellent co-parent, helping me navigate the wilderness of our daughter’s adolescence.
My son Mattias has already revolutionized my life, providing many moments of joy during sleepless nights and exhausting days. My companion Emma Cervone has been a constant source of strength, insight, love, and support, and is a soldier in the best sense of the term. Gregory Walker Sr. has taught me the art of relaxation, for which I am forever grateful. Eddie Davis and my Brazilian brother Julio Cesar Tavares constantly remind me through their respective arts and conversations that nimbleness and agility are states of mind and spirit. The Three Degrees Global crew, particularly Felix Cuevas (DJ FLX), Pritti Ghandi, and Julius Spates (The Mad Thinker) are to be lauded for generously sharing their Wednesday and Sunday night spaces with me, enabling their house music to become my home as well. (p.xi)