While modernity is a loaded term, one which I am still discovering how to define, Gilroy, in his preface and first chapter, Paul Gilroy is The Black Atlantic, shows black people's experiences were part of the abstract modernity. He does the interesting job of bringing modernity and the Black Atlantic into conversation with each other to then challenge how notions of identity historically are established. In this review and response, I want to discuss Gilroy's theme of modern subjectivities and identifications.
In chapter one, Gilroy calls to question how "petty ethnic differences" such as African, American, Caribbean, or British, which identities have to teach an invaluable lesson on modern subjectivities and identifications. Gilroy's turn to a theorization of Black Atlantic as a framework is used to create a meta cultural identity built beyond and apart from ethnicity and nationality to challenge ethnic absolutism ideologies. He locates black Atlantic culture that gets beyond "petty issues" like language, religion, skin color, ethnicity, race, nationality, and a lesser gender to demonstrate the invention of modern subjectivities and identifications and their arbitrary nature. What I take away from his preface and chapter one is his theory of identity. According to Gilroy, ideas of black identity within categories of essentialist and anti-essentialist arguments had become unhelpful. For him, identities are unstable and mutual, always unfinished, and always being remade (xi). In short, The instability and mutability of identities are demonstrated in his analysis here of the Black Atlantic.
The chapter of my choice is chapter three: Black Music and the Politics of Authenticity. In this chapter, Gilroy clarifies the distinctive attributes of black cultural forms, both modern and modernist (73). According to Gilroy, musical forms and the intercultural conversation they contribute are a dynamic refutation of the Hegelian suggestions that thought and reflection have outstripped are that art is opposed to philosophy as the lowest, merely sensuous form of reconciliation between nature and finite reality (74). What makes this chapter most interesting to me is his theorization of black musical forms, the place of music in the black Atlantic world, music as a form of communication, cognitive exchange, and social interaction.
What I find interesting and want to discuss today is how Gilroy's refutation of Hegel's model of the modern hierarchy of cultural achievements. As many of you know, I am interested in locating epistemologies within modern black cultural forms and how these cultural forms communicate important and necessary philosophies, theories, and conclusions for black survival. Therefore, Gilroy's theorization of black music as a political ideology, philosophy, and theory is critical to my research agenda. I guess my commentary this week centers black cultural forms as modes of communication. If given epistemic authority, what else could a pivot to black cultural and musical forms teach us about ideas beyond identity and concepts such as God? While Gilroy looks at broader ethnic identity questions, I wonder what a more general turn to theology questions as examined through epistemologies discovered in black cultural forms. Therefore, Black cultural forms become epistemic agents.