[-empyre-] FW: Liquid Blackness- Week II: Aesthetics

Thomas F. DeFrantz t.defrantz at duke.edu
Wed Apr 13 11:01:09 AEST 2016

-----Original Message-----
From: Thomas F. DeFrantz 
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2016 11:43 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: RE: [-empyre-] Liquid Blackness- Week II: Aesthetics

i'm not sure what to think about liberation or transcendence as goals.  what if we aren't trying to *not* be on the planet with others, but trying to find ways to shift possibilities so that the spaces can allow for temporary diversities?  we all come and go;  maybe this is like the liquid that seeps and stalls; freezes then bubbles.  liberation and transcendence seem unlikely to me, and imply a 'not being-ness.' my skepticism here feeds into a distrust of afro-pessimism, even as I surely find the ground where it grows to be familiar. being black is somehow related to the tension of holding an ontological possibility for black presence; to hold that tension productively, freedom will be an unattainable, momentary goal.  is that okay?  black aesthetics suggest, well, yes, it's okay; of course it is all temporary and contingent. 

i also wonder that there could ever be an 'outside to the West.' how could anyone on the planet be outside direct relationship to structures of capital, empire, and white domination?  this is the ground that produces afro-pessimism, but I wonder that we aren't all afro-pessimists if this is true, and what distinctively comes from a designation of resistance to the modern.

in my own body, as I reflect on my various identities and relationships, I don't feel overdetermined so much as overwhelmed by life in the twenty-first century.  
others might think too much of me; but that is their predilection; can we talk about how to have access to materials that will allow for the enhancement of black lives in various locations?  for my cousins in the virgin islands; my nephews in hayward, ca; my brother in indianapolis, in? for my play-family in south carolina?  

i think of the aesthetics of blackness as methods to produce contingencies that enhance possibilities.  as in the free jazz/passing through project.  making black art is making black relationships palpable, and making these relationships dynamic and unstable.  so we can learn in the making.  

then what if we all took time to make black art?  to invent performances/installations/writing that resist, that speak of family and spirit, that engage rhythm and unexpected arrivals of group communion.  that subvert hegemony. black performance pretty much always arrives queer; our common concerns with adornment and elaboration ensure this.  

so, what shall we make together?  

in motion, tommy

-----Original Message-----
From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au [mailto:empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Derek Murray
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2016 12:59 AM
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Liquid Blackness- Week II: Aesthetics

----------empyre- soft-skinned space---------------------- Greetings!

Much of the discussion thus far has been wrestling with the problem of blackness in the Western context that, as Alessandra has articulated, is expressive of “affects that are modulated by race in order to express radical difference.” This fact is a persistent barrier to imagining a black expressiveness—particularly in the West—that is somehow liberated from histories and present-day realities of racial trauma, insult, and violence. African-American artistic traditions (which is my current research focus), across genres, are deeply communicative of these realities. The visual artists I write about are engaged in critical and aesthetic projects that attempt to rewrite and ultimately transcend the racialized barriers that restrict their creative potential.

Much of this work has taken the form of an engagement with the black body as an ideologically over-determined imago of mythic resplendence:
one that is deeply burdened, not as a kind of humanness, but rather as social symbolism—something that bears the weight of societal scorn, guilt, and politically correct sentiment. Because so much black American art has been concerned with pain, visual producers associated with post-blackness have attempted to construct a visual politics of pleasure that rejects “lack” as the defining characteristic of black representation and experience. Saidiya Hartman did great work that I’m sure we’re all familiar with around the denial of black sentience, which is very much at the root of (and justifies) subjection.

Recently, however, there is a turn towards formalism, the abstract, and medium specificity as an escape from the limitations imposed by the body. In a sense, this movement has been influenced by intellectuals like Hartman, whose innovative work has meaningfully foregrounded the importance of affect. African scholar Olu Oguibe has done this as well, attempting to lift blackness out of its ideological condition of unknowable alterity, famously stating: “there is always a lot of light in the heart of darkness.” I think we strive to find that light that exists beyond the overbearing “screen of blackness” that Fanon speaks about, or Lacan’s “repertoire of representations”; the means by which culture configures difference and through which social identity is fixed upon subjects. I mention these interventions with the intent to say that the desire to locate black expressivity, affect and the sensorial beyond trauma has always been done—in fact, it defines black creative traditions throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


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