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Professor Sawyer Publishes Book on Africana Temporality

Michael Sawyer, Colorado College assistant professor in the English Department and Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies program, and newly appointed chair of CC’s Africana Intellectual Project, recently published his first book, “An Africana Philosophy of Temporality: Homo Liminalis.”

The book is a timely study in the areas of philosophy, history, and literature, and is a revision of his dissertation, “Homo Liminalis: The Tears of the Caterpillar.”

As an exploration of the modern political order and its racial genealogy, “An Africana Philosophy of Temporality: Homo Liminalis” emerges when both scholars and activists are wrestling with how to understand subject formation from the perspective of the subordinated rather than from dominant social and philosophical modes of thought. For Sawyer, studying the formation of racialized subjects required a new imagining of marginalized subjectivity.

In his book, Black subjectivity is not viewed from the static imaginings of social death, alienation, ongoing abjection, or as a confrontation with the treat of oblivion. Sawyer innovates the term "fractured temporality," conceptualizing Black subjects as moving within and across chronologies in transition, incorporated, yet excluded, marked with the social death of Atlantic slavery and the emergent political orders it etched, and still capable of exerting revolutionary force that acts upon, against, and through racial oppression.

Sawyer says one of the reasons for writing the book was “the desire to account for what I considered the unique temporal environment of the subaltern subject generally and the person of African descent specifically.” He notes that Catherine Malabou, one of the most important working philosophers today, proposes on the first page of her book, “Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality,” that “time has lost its status as the leading question of philosophy.” Sawyer hopes to do two things: return time to the center of philosophical inquiry, and at the same time, situate the subject of African descent as central to that discourse.

Brian Meeks, chair of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre at Brown University, says Sawyer’s study is groundbreaking in that it “ambitiously rethinks ways in which one might re-imagine and utilize the methodology of the dialectic; and second, beyond merely questioning the racial limitations of western subjectivity, it takes us down the path of conceiving novel approaches to consider and imagine ‘the human.’ This will make it essential reading for students of political philosophy, Africana philosophy, critical race theory, cultural studies and any discerning thinker, keen to understand the dogged and sordid persistence of race in the hierarchical structuring of contemporary humanity.”

“An Africana Philosophy of Temporality: Homo Liminalis” was published in mid-October by Palgrave Macmillan.