Books for changing the world

Notes from the Twilight: Meditations on Crisis, Catastrophe and Genocide

In “What the Twilight Says,” Derek Walcott wrote that “the noblest are those who are trapped, who have accepted the twilight,” a reference to the the hinge-point between old and new forms of domination, poetics, and unresolved historical conjunctures. Join Bedour AlagraaZoé Samudzi, and SA Smythe in conversation with Robin D.G. Kelley on the colonial, carceral, and plantation logics underpinning the defining crises of our time: what Bedour Alagraa refers to in her scholarship as “the interminable catastrophe” and SA Smythe describes as “death by numbers.”



Dr. Bedour Alagraa’s The Interminable Catastrophe: Fatal Liberalisms, Plantation Logics, and Black Political Life in the Wake of Disaster charts a conceptual history of catastrophe as a political category, via its crystallization as a concept on the plantation. Alagraa explores the limits of current conversations concerning ecological catastrophe, against the discourse of “imminent disaster” and anthropocene studies, considers these occurrences as expressions of the durability of plantation modes of social relations, rendering them political conjunctures rather than ecological Events.

Zoé Samudzi’s work focuses on German colonialism, the Herero and Nama genocide, and its afterlife. In examining the intimate relationship between biomedicine and Germany’s first genocide, Samudzi traces an ideological and material continuity from this 1904 genocide in southwestern Africa to the structuring of Nazi genocide less than 40 years later that illustrates yet again the colonial roots of authoritarianism. Her most recent works on Black anarchism (including As Black as Resistance, co-authored with William C. Anderson) explore our current crises of authoritarianism."

Dr. SA Smythe’s Where Blackness Meets the Sea: On Crisis, Culture, and the Black Mediterranean traces a contemporary history of Europe’s racialized notions of citizenship and Black belonging in the wake of Europe’s self-initiated migration crises. Smythe explores the ongoing colonial logics of xenophobia, anti-blackness, and racial capitalism across Europe, East Africa, and the Mediterranean and emphasizes intertwined Black and migrant struggles with an analysis of literary and other political responses to the violence of national borders and Europe’s economics-driven valuation of human life.

The conversation will be moderated by Robin D.G. Kelley, whose forthcoming book, Black Bodies Swinging, is a historical autopsy narrating the slave patrols and lynch law of the Deep South to segregated housing, the war on drugs, slum clearance, predatory lending, and extraction of wealth. Kelley draws a direct line from the “blood at the root”—the racial terror at the heart of the American social and economic order—to the latest casualties of that terror, including the lives and deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.