[-empyre-] Liquid Blackness and Materiality

Sarah Franzen sarfranzen at gmail.com
Fri Apr 22 09:06:34 AEST 2016

Cameron thanks for your response. Yes, your summary was what I was trying
to say. I really like how you are pulling these ideas together, and the way
you are describing these moments as being “stitched together,” or the
comparison with hard drives. The rich imagery aids in thinking through
these sites.

I agree that there is something related between these examples of
materialism (farming, petroleum, crowds), and I want to push the question
for the other posters about the level of determinacy in the material realm.
I am reminded of one of my colleague’s unpublished paper (hopefully it will
be published soon and I can share a link), in which he explores the
ideological shift around the caste system in India. His point was that even
as anti-caste movements rise up against the caste system theoretically, the
material relations between different castes remain the same, thus
replicating the system. One way to read this would be that there is a
primacy of the material realm, over the ideological, but I do not think
that it is the case (or the author’s point). The interaction is much more
complex, which is why I really like how Cameron summarized these sites in
which we can explore the interaction between theory and material. I’d be
curious to see what others think as well.


On Wed, Apr 20, 2016 at 8:45 PM, Cameron Kunzelman <
cameron.kunzelman at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> The posts around materiality here have been really interesting!
> Sarah, your post makes me think of something like pooling (or, in
> another language, resonance) -- it's as if the films you're describing
> allowed for something that seemed to be more nebulous (the notion of
> the "black farmer") to be recognized more concretely and then embraced
> more wholly by the people that it described to begin with. Is that
> what you mean in the end of your email when you suggest that the term
> moved from the discursive realm to the embodied?
> I think there's something fruitful here to think about Sarah's black
> farmer films in relation to how Ken encapsulated both of the works
> that he mentioned as "areas of social experience where blackness
> appears as a material ontology of race (broadly conceived) when in
> fact it is a political ontology of racialization." All of these seem
> like moments where abstract theory and strict materialism get stitched
> together very tightly, and what gets produced both "writes" and
> "reads" in the way that a magnetic hard drive does. There's something
> very special about these localized moments where we can see something
> like the data processing of reality happening in front of us, and my
> inclination is to see the explicit materiality as being super
> important here -- the materialism of farming, of petroleum, and of the
> crushing crowd.
> I think there's something really special about these sites in
> particular, and I'd be curious if the next few weeks of this
> discussion loop back to these kind of grinding, material moments.
> On Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 10:25 PM, Sarah Franzen <sarfranzen at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> > Thank you Alessandra for inviting me to be part of this conversation,
> I’ve been enjoying following along with the discussions this month. Cameron
> I appreciate your example of West's "Black Skinhead.” It leads me to think
> through my own work on films and embodiment, as discuss below. As an
> artistic rendition, it quite literally can play with fluidity between the
> body and blackness, something I try to explore within an ethnographic
> framework in my own work.
> >
> > Ken I also enjoyed your research projects, and interpretations.  I
> especially like your point about the considering the political ontology of
> racialization instead of the material ontology of race.
> >
> > In being asked to think about how materiality, and liquid blackness,
> relate to my own research, I want to turn to my use of video as a research
> method. This has brought to the fore a type of embodiment that I did not
> initially anticipate.
> >
> > My research involves collaborative filmmaking with a network of African
> American farm cooperatives in the US South. Nearly all participants used
> the term "black farmer" in reference to themselves and their movement, but
> the term black was loosely understood. It included some people who were not
> phenotypically black, but had been associated with the organization for
> years. It also included African immigrants who had moved to the US as
> adults. It also excluded African American farmers or extension agents who
> were not part of the cause. The term, "black farmer," therefore was perhaps
> "liquid" in that it morphed in its use and focus in order to reference
> either an alliance, or a form of external discrimination or imposed
> perception. I used this lens to analyze my data and explore the discursive
> slipperiness found in my research. But when I turned to my films, blackness
> becomes much more material, and specifically more embodied.
> >
> > In exploring the formation of the category of "black farmer" within my
> films, I began to find and approach embodied moments of generation - when
> bodies demonstrated, replicated, mimicked, and trained each other in order
> to cultivate the identity  of the "black farmer" that participants
> discursively referenced. My interaction with the films was quite different
> than with the interviews and textual material, since I had to deal with
> real bodies that acted in a time-based medium, being placed within a
> specific context and with other people. There was a risk, I feared, in
> inadvertently fixing the notion of black farmer onto the bodies in the
> films, and losing the fact that this was a generated, flexible, and
> "liquid" identity. What was most interesting was the simultaneous
> embodiment of the concept of the “black farmer” alongside a certain
> fluidity in which the concept also was detached from the body - blackness
> not of the body but produced through the body for a specific purpose, in
> this case that of collective identity formation.
> >
> > As I shared these films back with participants another level of the
> formation of the term "black farmer" emerged. The films were evaluated and
> even used to encourage the collective identity formation. Filmmaking, as an
> ethnographic practice, has served as a means to dig deeper into these
> moments in which identity formation is not just a discursive practice, but
> embodied.
> >
> > I look forward to furthering the discussion around materiality
> throughout the week.
> >
> > Sarah
> >
> > On Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 9:22 PM, Alessandra Raengo <araengo at gsu.edu>
> wrote:
> >>
> >> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> >> Thank you, Ken, for joining the conversation and for sharing your
> current work.
> >>
> >> I am particularly interested in your ideas of black plasticity and,
> while I agree with you that crude analogies should be avoided, I can’t help
> but being drawn to a certain duality or ambivalence you highlight about the
> specific plasticity of petroleum: how, you say, it is involved in
> "technologies of domination that double as agents of radical
> transformation.”
> >>
> >> Ideas of liquidity lend themselves quite easily to ideas of plasticity
> but the type of plasticity you are invoking here has more than some
> evocative parallelism with the undecidability of the very expression
> “liquid blackness” we have been grappling with last week. At some point I
> described it through the idea of two poles, one diagnostic and the other
> expansive, but I am still unable to really theorize their relationship
> (obviously outside of “one is good’ and “the other is bad”). What you said
> about your work makes me think already that one way to tackle this is to
> think about the specific type of actions each pole performs.
> >>
> >> Anything else you can share about social and political plasticity
> petroleum brings to these historically black Los Angeles communities?
> >>
> >> (And thank you for your appeal in favor of the interpretive value of
> critical race scholarship: one of the connotations of the idea of
> “liquidity” is the ability to infiltrate seemingly impermeable discourses,
> and I can’t deny that this fact has been on my mind throughout the
> beginning and growth of the liquid blackness project.)
> >>
> >>
> >> Alessandra
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> > On Apr 19, 2016, at 2:46 PM, Ken Rogers <krogers1 at yorku.ca> wrote:
> >> >
> >> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> >> > Hi everyone,
> >> >
> >> > Sorry for the late arrival, but I encountered a few technical
> glitches on the way here.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > I’m very pleased to join the conversation and hope to make a
> worthwhile contribution to this rich, ongoing discussion on liquid
> blackness. I want to extend my appreciation to all the other contributors
> and to Alessandra for the invitation to participate in this sustained forum.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > I’ve been reading through the group's posts with great interest and
> enthusiasm, and I have already learned a great deal from the exchange. I
> find the idea of linking liquidity and blackness together to be a
> compelling framing device for developing a critical understanding of the
> inherent fluidity of blackness in contemporary culture, one that is
> naturally allied to the expanding vocabularies of new black thought and
> corresponds to the diverse ways that blackness can be felt and understood.
> I find liquid blackness to be a more ample and adaptable construct for
> assessing the cultural moment than the dubious term “post-blackness,” which
> has always made me uneasy. I’ve found the conversation so far has dealt
> quite expertly with how blackness flows into modernity, aesthetics, affect,
> phenomenology, perception, art, media, and representation. It demonstrates
> the vital contribution of a new wave of humanities-based black studies and
> critical race theory in advancing a set of concepts, theories, and critical
> tools for accessing how black experience resonates throughout the social
> sensorium—a critical discourse that moves beyond rhetorics of slavery and
> emancipation and the politics of identity.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > I would like to say as an aside that this discussion points to the
> irreplaceable sphere of critical race scholarship in the humanities that
> pursues knowledge about race that is interpretive, non-reductive, and
> qualitative in nature, which I fear continues to be dangerously undervalued
> labor within the present climate of the research university and remains at
> risk in a university system that has taken up an increasingly
> instrumentalist point of view on knowledge output, a troubling fact I’m
> realizing more acutely as I have recently taken a role in administration
> (I’d be willing to take up this point later should the occasion arise).
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > The topic for this week orbits around the twin themes of materialism
> and ontology and is inclusive of broad concepts like plasticity and
> malleability as well as more formalized theoretical fields such as new
> materialism(s) and object-oriented-ontology. We were asked to discuss these
> issues in relationship to our own scholarship, so rather than begin with a
> top down theoretical assessment of how such theories might align with
> liquid blackness, I thought it more useful to begin by starting from the
> ground up and throwing out a couple of specific examples in my own work to
> collaboratively speculate about how liquid blackness might support a way of
> thinking through a concrete problem.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > 1. Black plasticity. I’m working on a book exploring the
> interdependent histories and cultures that emerge from the rise of
> petroleum extraction and consumption (including consumer plastics) and
> media technology, which I call petromedia. Oil is itself a kind of liquid
> blackness, but resisting this crude analogy, I wish to develop a more
> integrated material analysis of petroleum that argues how it is a conduit
> for  social and political plasticity. Liquid blackness might be a way of
> thinking through the flexible, plastic, malleable social response to the
> power of oil in black communities, which, much like the history of
> petroleum itself, involves certain technologies of domination that double
> as agents of radical transformation. One chapter focuses on an active urban
> oil field located at the center of historically black Los Angeles (Baldwin
> Hills, Ladera heights, Crenshaw, Leimert Park and parts of Inglewood) to
> illustrate the material intertwining of black modernity and petromodernity.
> More generally I hope this project can help bring more new black thought
> into the environmental humanities.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > 2. Black Friday. In 2012 I published a piece in WSQ about the death
> of Jdimytai Damour, a Haitian Wal-Mart contract worker who was killed in a
> Black Friday shopping spree in 2008, that is a kind of critical companion
> piece to to Amber West’s poetic reflection on the exact same incident that
> can be found in the new issue of Rhizome on Afro-Pessimism. I’d be also
> willing to revisit that piece in the context of liquid blackness as well as
> emergent discourse of afro-pessimism, since it has entered the conversation
> already and many of us are probably rapidly working our way through the
> articles in that issue. If there is interest, I could certainly make a link
> to that article available to the list.
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > Either or neither of these cases might be a fruitful place to begin.
> I suppose what is common to both of these projects—and perhaps points
> toward an underlying methodological here—is that they identify areas of
> social experience where blackness appears as a material ontology of race
> (broadly conceived) when in fact it is a political ontology of
> racialization, one that is always localized and specific to its
> historical-material context. This might also contain an implicit critique
> of the applicability of the ontological turn to the sphere of political
> thought in general, although I haven’t yet pursued such a line of critique
> any further.
> >> >
> >> > -Ken
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
> >> >
> >> > _______________________________________________
> >> > empyre forum
> >> > empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >> >
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> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> empyre forum
> >> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > Ph.D. Candidate
> > Institute of the Liberal Arts
> > Emory University
> > Atlanta, GA
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> > http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> --
> Cameron Kunzelman
> @ckunzelman
> This Cage is Worms
> heylookatmygames.com
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Ph.D. Candidate
Institute of the Liberal Arts
Emory University
Atlanta, GA
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