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

Derek Murray derekconradmurray6719 at gmail.com
Thu Apr 14 02:38:15 AEST 2016

Greetings everyone!

I have so many thoughts going through my head as I read your exciting
posts! In regard to Tommy’s question: “what if we all took time to
make black art?” I think that true intellectual work is a creative or
artistic act, even in its most citational iterations, as long as it
searches, transcend dogmas, and strives to creative innovative new
forms of knowledge and thought. In fact, what we are doing here on
this forum is inventive, resistant, subverting of hegemony—it is queer
and “post” and liquid, among other things.

The formal structure of language; its rules and rigidities pose a
particular challenge, but linguistic eloquence produces an affect that
music cannot, and vice versa. Obviously, the same thing could be said
for dance, film, performance art, painting, etc. Everything has its
place, and at its best, can do the work that we are all yearning
for—if we are open to it. Embedded within an advocacy for affective,
formless, blackness is a utopian impulse: one that yearns for a more
primal, pure, and originary expressiveness that transcends social
antagonism, and the stain of racial marking. I’m not sure this is even
possible, though I’m not sure I want it to be, because it is so much a
part of the human condition.

It (racism) is one type of trauma among many, but so much transcendent
thought and action have been produced as a result of one’s expression
of pain. We see this across identities. In regard to blackness
specifically, I’m not speaking of the often-fetishized noble suffering
black subject, the social symbol that sentiment is projected onto. I’m
thinking more about abstract feeling and form, and movement, and
materiality, language and code—a very nebulous and unarticulated
expressiveness that exudes what we call “blackness” or soul, or
whatever. We know it when we feel and experience it; when it’s stirred
in us—but nonetheless it evades all that is knowable, what is tangible
and what can be articulated. But how do we separate black sentience
from pain?

Most good art was/is given birth by suffering, but black people are
restrained and publicly shamed for expressing their pain. We’re still
fighting for our right to feel and to express, especially in the face
of continued and persistent indignity. Why are black people not
allowed to feel and express their pain, except in prescribed modes and
acceptable ways? There is perhaps no room in society to even
acknowledge that it’s real. I think this is the ontological conundrum
of blackness that Alessandra speaks of: that fault line between
afro-pessimism and afro-optimism—an ambivalence towards the presence
and legitimacy of black feeling.

However, in closing, I must say that I don’t see “hopeless exclusion
and constant invention” as separable. One gives birth to the other.


On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 5:41 AM, Marisa Parham <mparham at amherst.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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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