Access this past course AU $90/$145

808s and Breakthroughs: Blackness as a Blueprint for Navigating the Virtual Age

Lecturer: Kalenga Leon Kalumba

Originally Taught: Summer School 2024

The aim of the course is to look at black thought in America from Fredrick Douglass to Ye (f.ka Kanye West) to see how a ‘paraontological’ nonessentialist understanding of blackness can help us discover new modes of being and assist in distinguishing between the physical material and the virtual immaterial worlds. The course will aim to explore how, in relation to the events of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, black Americans experienced post-modernity four hundred years ago. We will examine how according to modern metrics black Americans exist in a state of exception stripped of any qualifiers that would suggest their humanity such as— language, territory or myth. We will therefore look at how this disposition has placed them in the temporal present, where they are both refused a past and denied a future in normative forms. The course will look at the logocentric tension between presence and absence and illustrate how, upon existing onto-epistemic grounds, blackness is relegated to the realm of nothingness—death.  

Lecture 1 —  Blackness in a state of exception: Foundations of Black Thought within the Western Intellectual Tradition.

In this Lecture we will look at the foundations of Black Thought within the Western Intellectual Tradition. We will explore the notion of Blackness equating to nothingness and non-being as well as the following concepts; presence, absence, whiteness and blackness. This lecture will also focus on the events of the  ‘Middle Passage’ and how it has formed the foundation of Modern Rationalism.


  • Frederick Douglass’, ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ (Chapters 1 and 2)
  • W.E.B Dubois’, “ The Souls of Black Folk”  (Chapters 1 and 3)

Lecture 2 — Blackness in the Hold of Nothingness: How Contemporary Schools of Black Thought Understand the Notion of Blackness.

Here we assess how varying contemporary schools of black thought understand the notion of blackness. We will look at how foundational schools of thought Afro-pessimism, Afro-futurism and Afro-optimists interpret the possibility of a black social life. As we familiarise ourselves with some of the central tenets of these respective schools, we will begin to emphasise the need of a non-essentialist form of blackness that has the capacity to affirm life. The lecture will illustrate the dialectical tension between social death and social life. We will explore qualities that blackness attains in the hold of nothingness such as fugitivity, socio-poetics and other  emancipatory activities.


Lecture 3De-Ontologizing of Blackness Toward a ‘Paraontological’ Framework.

In this week, the aim is to properly introduce the idea of a  “paraontological” mode of being in blackness. Building on the last two lectures, this week will demonstrate how current ontological and epistemological frameworks are unable to recognise alternative modes of being. We will look at how blackness is affirmed through different modes such as the equivocal, univocal, dialogical and analogical. Through the “paraontological” framework we will arrive at a  non-essentialist form of blackness. Then we will explore a necessary theological turn (ascent) to affirm new modes of existing. This will inform the understanding of blackness as an analogical mode of being. The lecture will propose the idea of a contrasting culture that exists outside of the dialectical tension between the dominant culture and its antithetical counter-culture. Lastly, we will look at how ‘paraontological’ blackness pertains the qualities of exponential consciousness and prophecy.


Lecture 4 —  Blackness as a Blueprint for Navigating the ‘Post-Human’ Age.

In this lecture, we will look at how the black slave entered postmodernity 400 years ago. As well as blackness’ occupancy in the temporal present. We will examine how blackness understood via ‘paraontological’ grounds can resurrect new modes of existing with others. We will look at the shift from a visual world, with its attendant sharp boundaries and object-oriented, rigid p.o.v, toward an acoustic world, a complete sphere whose centre is nowhere and margin is everywhere. Lastly, we will explore the utility of ‘paraontological’ blackness in assisting humanity negotiate a hybridised reality—distinguishing between the physical material world and the virtual immaterial realm.


Lecture 5 How Ye (f.k.a Kanye West) Captures a Form of Blackness via Paraontological Frames.

This final lecture will focus on how Ye presents a renewed perspective of blackness that resists ontology and presents new modes of being. We will look at how key tensions within Western intellectualism are captured by Ye’s discography. We will separate his discography into three distinct epochs, the “Dialectical”, the “Hyperreal”, and “Metanoia”, and we will assess how his work has the potential to disrupt the dialectical tension between ethics and aesthetics. Lastly, we will take a reinvigorated look at the idea of art as a form of revelation as opposed to being merely ‘work’.