In this essay I reexamine the posthumously edited and published text initiated by and attributed to C. L. R. James, American Civilization, which has been read by some as an appeal on James’s part for American citizenship. Given that the text was initially composed as notes that were to assume, later, an entirely different form, I argue that much is lost in putting these notes forward as if they were a completed work. I track the fragmented, informal, collaborative field within which the project took shape and show how the strange uncontained form of this experimental document—or, as I call it, undocument—offers new conceptions of intellectual work and the work or work of art, challenging normative conceptions of the coherence of both authorship and citizenship. I show that James and his collaborators gravitate toward and seek to represent the ongoing renewal of dissident, dissonant social forms, which are for them, always also aesthetic forms, on the shop floors and in the after hours hang-outs of Detroit and beyond. The formal openness and multiplicity of the “Notes on American Civilization” not only invokes that sociality but provokes its ongoing reinvention and reproduction.
"The Subjunctive Poetics of the Undocument: C. L. R. James's American Civilization,"
Criticism: Vol. 58
, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol58/iss2/3