Book Review

In Blackspace, Anaïs Duplan explores the nature of sociocultural liberation through prose, interview, and poetic settings. This meditation roams from a singular to a collective experience. His writing is underpinned with the question of how to achieve Black liberation not only through political movement, but through artistic endeavors: music, film, theater, poetry. This book reckons with the external forces acting against Black bodies—nation-state policing, micro and macroaggressions—and gives way to envisioning his reader’s own reckoning with social and cultural injustice. Duplan proposes that liberation might happen on a simultaneously singular and plural level—offering art as the medium through which the artist might destroy and reconstruct themselves. He writes, “I went from a singular identity to the slow, meticulous destruction of identity: an endlessly morphing, changing, unreliable process.” Through Duplan’s approach of self-annihilation, he proposes transformation on a micro and macro level, positing that these revolutions are interdependent. How might we annihilate the marginalized black identity proposed by society and, instead, take on our own daily existence simply for what it is?

Duplan writes of language, it’s “inability. . . to fully speak to the intricacies of any given self are part and parcel of the process of trying to use that same language to give sound to that self,” theorizing a way forward to liberation with language at the heart of it. This book is a gift for students of language and students of self. Duplan’s meditation on “uses of technology when trying to articulate a self” is compelling, complicated, and invigorating. By prompting the reader to consider “how do you technologize yourself?” quoting Nathaniel Mackey, Duplan reimagines black technology as an adaptation of performance and linguistic constitution. This book is for the marginalized, the reader seeking individuation and conscription with the collective. Duplan proposes collectivity sprung from the individual introspection: “find the self then kill it,” Duplan writes, citing Amiri Baraka.

Duplan’s theorizing identity transformation comes to a head in his meditation on the self, which closes the book in the titular chapter, “Blackspace”:

Any new worldview is, at best, temporary. . . . Identity is not somewhere to live. I can pass through identities; they can pass through me. I can have continuity without continuity of self.

Duplan’s book is as much theoretical as it is journalistic as it is in the style of manifesto. Through personal essay, dwelling on interviews of black artists, and the theorizing that occurs between, Anaïs Duplan has produced a collection that inspires, complicates, and rallies his reader. While this book falls under various genres, its locus seems to be self-liberation as a gesture toward collective liberation. When he closes his book with “I came to rid myself of accomplishment. . . I have accomplished nothing,” I am convinced that through his internal evacuation, he has offered a model for his reader; be humble, listen and allow change to ripple through one’s being, work toward “the project of freedom,” and live the quotidian struggle of liberation.

About the Reviewer

Sara Hughes is an MFA candidate at Colorado State University. Her work can be found in The Onyx. Sara is the winner of the 2021 Elaine V. Beilin Book Award, the Marjorie Sparrow Literary Award, and the Howard Hirt Literary Award. Sara also received honorable mention for the American Poets College & University Prize in 2022.