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1 (life) ÷ 0 (blackness) = ∞ − ∞ or ∞ / ∞: On Matter Beyond the Equation of Value


1. A thing, affair, concern
2. That which constitutes or forms the basis of thought, speech, or action
3. In purely physical application
4. The substance, or substances collectively, of which something consists; constituent material, esp. of a particular kind. [rare]
Contrasted with form:
22. Philos.
a) In Aristotelian and scholastic philosophy: that component of a thing which has bare existence but requires an essential determinant (form) to make it a thing of a determinate kind.
b) In scholastic philosophy: the result of the first act of creation, i.e. substance without form. Obs
c) In Kantian philosophy: the element in knowledge supplied by or derived from sensation, as distinct from that which is contributed a priori by the mind (the forms of intuition and the categories of the understanding).

What if blackness referred to rare and obsolete definitions of matter: respectively, “substance … of which something consists” and “substance without form”? How would this affect the question of value? What would become of the economic value of things if they were read as expressions of our modern grammar and its defining logic of obliteration? Would this expose how the object (of exchange, appreciation, and knowledge)—that is, the economic, the artistic, and the scientific thing—cannot be imagined without presupposing an ethical (self-determining) thing, which is its very condition of existence and the determination of value in general? Black Lives Matter, as both a movement and a call to respond to everyday events of racial violence (the killing of unarmed black persons by police) that rehearse the ethical syntax that works through/as the liberal democratic state, signals a political subject emerging in the scene of obliteration through a sentence without a (self-determined) subject.

What I do in this text is activate blackness’s disruptive force, that is, its capacity to tear the veil of transparency (even if briefly) and disclose what lies at the limits of justice. With a thought experiment that I call the Equation of Value, designed to help the imagination break away from the enclosures of modern thought, this speculative exercise reaches for The Thing, which is the referent of blackness, or that which in it is exposed as the excess that justifies otherwise untenable racial violence.

When taken not as a category but as a referent of another mode of existing in the world, blackness returns The Thing at the limits of modern thought. Or, put differently, when deployed as method, blackness fractures the glassy walls of universality understood as formal determination. The violence inherent in the illusion of that value is both an effect and an actualization of self-determination, or autonomy. My itinerary is simple. It begins with considerations of the role of determinacy—formal determination articulated as a kind of efficient causation—in modern thought, and closes with a proof of the Equation of Value, intended to release that which in blackness has the capacity to disclose another horizon of existence, with its attendant accounts of existence.

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