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

Alessandra Raengo araengo at gsu.edu
Thu Apr 14 07:55:45 AEST 2016

Thank you, Derek for such a delicate and thoughtful post. The question of the fine line that separates the recognition of sentience from the recognition of pain highlights some of the most important stakes of the current conversation, which—I agree with Derek — is, or at least can certainly be, a productive type of “making.” 

I do want to acknowledge Marisa’s arrival and contribution to our discussion, which I personally find very exciting. 

I have questions for her: 

in relation to her description of formlessness as "a feeling about forms that exceed [the] capacity to discern pattern”, together with the implications of her theory of haunting, I wonder if this is also a way to talk about impersonal affect? In other words, affect that does not attach to any specific subject and sits in the middle — defines and shapes “the middle,” in fact?

I would imagine, but I am guessing, that this would be the type of memory lodged in the black body that Elizabeth Alexander talks about in her response to the Rodney King video. 

And for me, but I could be wrong, it also speaks to Tommy’s reference to status change ( “water-to-ice-to-mist, to keep with the liquid-ing metaphor”), where blackness might act as an agent of transvaluation, as we see at work, for example in Fred Wilson’s “Metalwork" in which Wilson lays slave shackles alongside a silver tea set of the same area. 

Again, I mention a work that might be known to highlight (as Huey Copeland emphasizes) that blackness here acts as an agent of transvaluation insofar as it is the one thing that guarantees the relationality (the “likeness”)  between these things. The silver tea set can be melted down and turned into coin, just like the slave is a material form of monetary value. 

I offer this as a response to Tommy and Marisa, and a way to engage something I am interested in: their expertise in forms of in-betweennes and their investment in movement, to hopefully help us think about possible ways to describe this blackness. 


> On Apr 13, 2016, at 12:38 PM, Derek Murray <derekconradmurray6719 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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.
> Cheers!
> 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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