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

Marisa Parham mparham at amherst.edu
Wed Apr 13 22:41:41 AEST 2016

Thanks for this, Jason. I was up early this morning reading Jones’ “Northern Hieroglyphics” essay and it’s unclear, in a good way, how I’m going to transition into the rest of my day… 

In general I’ve finally caught up to you guys and this list, and have had the privilege of reading this week’s posts back to back. What's going to happen to me once I have to wait for the next post?  

I am really compelled by this turn in the conversation toward motion. Affect in theory-land is circulation and for me it is difficult to conceptualize affect without motion, without movement from one person to another, or even within the space of a single body, for instance the eruption of the past--memory.  

Affect is structure, an architecture of response, even when it is a form without a name. I don't think that this is the same as formlessness, of which we have very few examples of in the world. I struggle to think of one, but I have also had a long week and cannot be trusted. I do know that I often substitute the term 'formless' for when I mean 'big,' which is to say that what I call formlessness is in fact a feeling about forms that exceed my comprehension, that are beyond my capacity to discern pattern. Blackness is big.  

To be clear, I am not sure this is in the same vein as the earlier discussion about form, but this is what came to mind when I read it. And I am also thinking about the tension between optimism and afro-pessimism, an interplay that gives us some interesting analogs to work with. Improvisation simultaneously epitomizes newness, while also always being underwritten by memory.  

I should tip my hand and note that much of my own current work is based in my background in memory studies / memory theory, which over time has come to inform my work in the broader field of digital studies. I am not an artist, but I am deeply invested in questions of theory and practice, and in trying to determine when it might be useful not to let phenomena mainly emerge as metaphorical. I have arrived in digital studies by thinking about memory in the African American historical context, which led me to develop a theory of haunting, which is the language I give to how memory circulates without proper origin, for instance how one person might remember another person's experience and so on. In my current terms, thinking about memory and affect gets me to the digital because it gives me a way to think about reference in black life, without having to make a claim to monolithic or avowedly shared identity. In the name of motion, the digital sacrifices origin but, set free to circulate, at every instance of its emergence it reproduces something perhaps just as important as origin. Probably.

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