[-empyre-] Liquid Blackness and Materiality / blockbusting

Alessandra Raengo araengo at gsu.edu
Sat Apr 23 10:06:39 AEST 2016

I am glad for your response to this week’s posts, Johannes, 
it offer an opportunity for important clarifications. 

I am going to let this week’s discussants field most of your questions about OOO and new materialism (except to highlight one essay from the issue of rhizomes we have been referencing: http://rhizomes.net/issue29/vaziri.html, which might be helpful as one of the latest engagement with these issues ). Yet, there is one thread I wanted to highlight from this week’s conversation before we try to wrap it up:  it’s the commitment to materiality.

I call it “commitment” for a reason and what I mean is this:  there are numerous examples in history where some kind of “black” identity has been endorsed or mobilized for very specific and strategic moments of coalition building. This is the blackness that, as Ken put it (and both Cameron and Sarah agree) is not “of” the body but rather forms, takes shape, emerges (my verbs)  “through” it.

In the 1980s and 1990s in the UK “black” was also an identity that described a whole spectrum of very diverse non-white people and therefore, was fluid in important ways.

And there are really countless of other occasions that could be listed as examples of that. 

Yet, there is something important about committing, as scholars, to the materiality of this fact. Committing to the materiality of blackness. 

Sarah wonders about the “last instance” (in terms of the material vs. the ideological) and several of us have brought up Fred Wilson’s drop-shaped black glass (and black objects in general or black liquid as in Under the Skin) as a way to think through some literally material blackness. The impulse to think about petroleum in relation to race came out of that. Cameron too describes Kanye West’s digital avatar as “material,” as Johannes also pointed out….

Is materiality, in this context, a fact or a commitment? 

When I think about how Grace Jones’ Corporate Cannibal gets written about, I cannot not help but notice that, in this writing, blackness is what brings the digital back to some sensorial realm where it would otherwise not exist. Blackness “thickens” the digital and makes it touchable, sensible, and affectively/erotically charged. This is where liquid blackness is descriptive of trajectories of appropriation and desire. 

Yet, on the other hand, in all the examples offered this week by Ken and Sarah, materiality reasserts itself as the site where blackness actually coalesces in sometimes unpredictable and yet absolutely important ways. The material here is not just some un-descript and cozy matter — it is not a lubricant— but rather it is where lives are lived (or not), fights are fought, and a future might or might not be built. 

This is not an argument but rather simply an observation. And I wonder whether there is a way we can bring this week’s conversation to a close while attending to both of these ways in which materiality asserts itself.

Thank you for all your great thoughts so far


> On Apr 22, 2016, at 4:22 PM, Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> dear Ken
> thanks to all for this week's postings –  very provocative commentaries that have made me wonder how i've fallen behind also on
> understanding or even getting into contact with references some of you made to OOO  or objects,  new materialisms, etc.  
> Ken, in your comment below you speak of not wanting to let liquid blackness "sink into the bog of object-orientation (which I mostly find to be a grievous form of apolitical materialism)"
> Is there room here to explain to us what object orientation means here?  and what would the sinking mean? 
> (Cameron, for example, argued that "the materiality of digital image manipulation quite literally renders Kanye West into a visual generation of something that.. is happening in many ways across lots of artistic productions" -
> again I am not sure I can follow, what does this mean>? not sure I would think arguing for digital materiality is a matter without contention?, and you speak in our post of the problematic notion of "abstraction of blackness"  (has there
> not been considerable contentiousness about the figural vs the abstract in black art, and that abstraction (was it Kara Walker who upset folks? I forget) was a problem?). Sorry for being inarticulate.
> Yet I have not worried about the "new materialism" much, however noted with surprise that it's apparently now also reached academic performance studies (a recent issue of The Drama Review was dedicated to
> materials, objects and plasticitities, which hardly seemed new or has been without relevance to embodied performance and scenography of course for the longest time), and the editors mention joyfully that  Jean Bennett's "Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things" (2010) is all the rage in town.   Is it?  i guess depends on the town. 
> Ken your comments on oil and L.A. & blockbusting are fascinating! I am sending your post to my friends in Houston.
> regards
> Johannes Birringer
> [Ken schreibt]
>>> So this might be an example of what I meant when I said how blackness as technology of domination (redlining and blockbusting) can become an agent of radical transformation.
> ..
> I think it is a promising idea to refine the figure of black liquidity along the “diagnostic and the expansive” poles as types of available action performed by the term itself. This prevents liquid blackness from sinking into the bog of object-orientation (which I mostly find to be a grievous form of apolitical materialism), and begins from that most basic political question, “what is to be done?"
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