[-empyre-] Liquid Blackness Week IV: spatiality

Sarah Cervenak sjcerven at uncg.edu
Wed Apr 27 23:37:48 AEST 2016

Thanks Alessandra for those questions and to Lauren for your introduction
to what sounds like an amazing and crucial project.  I've actually begun to
think more about alter-spatialities in relation to Denise Ferreira da
Silva's new project and particularly, the question of plenum.  In other
writing from my new monograph, particularly a chapter on Gayl Jones, I
think precisely about the ways Jones' ethical rendering of (and non
trespassing--a refusal to rehabilitate, translate, normalize or
teleologically contain) Black, cognitively disabled and mentally ill
characters indicates the competing spatialities of illegible, unfigurable,
some might say "crazy" Black social life.

In particular, I write "Denise Ferreira da Silva thinks about those
philosophers of the unheld, particularly the seditious figures of the poet
and I would add madman as guardians “another text […]a grammar that exceeds
existing articulations of the human as a thing of self-determination [and
self-possession], which is the stuff of violence.” (Silva, To be Announced,
57).[i]  More precisely, Silva identifies Barbara Christian and Octavia
Butler as philosophically enacting a Black feminist poethics, an embrace of
Blackness’ “creative potential” without the tools of scientific reason”
(Silva).  That is, the racial, sexual and capitalist figuration of
Blackness as open ground for white poesis, scenes of dispossession
essential to the inherently affectable consolidation of white
self-determination and self-possession, is radically reworked and
transformed by a Black feminist poethics of an alter-temporal spatial
inhabitation.  For Silva, black feminist critics, like Octavia Butler for
example, engage the generative creativity of Blackness to “signify
otherwise,” outside “universality and its particular arrangement of space
and time, but also away from transcendentality (self-determination)” to
open up other possibilities for self-gathering (a gathering among selves)
otherwise deemed unlawful (Silva).  As Silva elucidates via Octavia
Butler’s Kindred, for example, such unlawful communion emerges as Dana’s
unannounced virtual movement.  In fact, the clash between different
spatio-temporal possessional constraints and possibilities is at the heart
of Kindred; on the one hand, Dana’s relationship with time travel announces
a self relation animated by “the existence of lines that run parallel but
can be transversed by another line—which might as well be an indentation in
the fabric of Space-Time.”  But at the same time, as Butler acknowledges,
the self harboring made possible by such movement must always contend with
the racialized and sexualized amputational violences that respond to such
movement’s world ending force(9). arms lost on the way home; rapes
interrupted and threatened again.  That is, Kindred itself tells a
particularly tragic story about the inherent fraudulence of black
self-possession, that is, she can be pulled back and held at any time and
even from within the confines of propertiedness and possession themselves
given in Kindred as her home/kitchen.  Still, that other text of time
travel, this aesthetic of the impossible in Kindred, what Silva associates
with a kind of deregulated embrace of air, nonetheless moves as another
account of the human Silva’s interested in, one that allows a black woman
traveller to indescribably get home alive, even as the torrent of this
world’s account tries to pull her apart.

My time spent with an elaboration of Silva’s argument with respect to
Kindred, particularly her theorization of Butler’s poetical imagining of
racialized, sexualized, ableist, gendered life outside the regulatory
economies of self-determination, the tyranny of law-abiding consciousness,
is, to outline the features of the poet’s other text as well as to suggest
how the mad wo/man might have something to say here too.  That is, I began
this paper thinking about the ways that blackness, in its historical
figuration as cognitively and sexually wayward, as self-determination’s
other side, endures a range of dispossessive procedures.  And to also query
the shape of an otherworldly safehouse where the purportedly black, mad and
feebleminded might gather to thrive in and as deregulated erotic and social
life.  In many ways, Gayl Jones’ short stories exemplify where the texts of
the poethical and the mad converge.  More particularly, what moves in Gayl
Jones’ short stories are cripped philosophies of the slow and unsteady,
usher in other, unfettered self-relationalities amidst the amputatory
violence of worldly misholdings ).  That is to say, these relationalities,
or holdings on, happen in spaces of cognitive disability and mental
illness, and gesture toward the unknowable sweetnesses, “undulations,
eddies and seditions,” that might come with petting one’s cat (held by the
unanticipated shifts of the unseen) while the swat team waits outside (The

So while letting go ness has indexed uncomposed racial, sexual, and
cognitive life and has been historically aligned with black, queered,
"crazy" people, what might it mean that an other spatial inhabitation is
indexed in unfigurable acts of holding on?  Thinking about one of Jones'
stories, the Seige, the main character's inhabitation of a barricaded
apartment is narrativized by and through the furniture and cats the room
contains along with the intrusive sound of a swat team intent on coming in
and locking her up.  How might the furniture and vision of the cat sleeping
on a bed participate in a worlding that those voicings outside a.) presume
is impossible and b.) can never know?  What if "holding on" describes a
desire to inhabit plenum, what Leibniz and Silva describe as pure
unadulterated fullness, plenitude while the tyranny of that already
hijacking space aims to turn off the lights and air?

Thanks for a great conversation!! Sarah

On Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 6:32 PM, Alessandra Raengo <araengo at gsu.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Thank you, Lauren and Sarah, for your really beautiful posts.
> I obviously know Lauren’s work and I have recently finished reading
> Sarah’s wonderful book, Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and
> Sexual Freedom, which, I should add, has given me unprecedented tools to
> think about the question of the political ontology of black movement as it
> intersect the photographic (moving and still) image even when that movement
> is not a directly visible, external kinesis. So, thank you for that.
> As I was reading Lauren’s and Sarah's posts I realized that, despite their
> superficial differences in terms of their objects of analysis, they might
> be sharing some profound and therefore productive concerns: where Lauren’s
> work begins from the idea of a blackness that leaves her and comes back to
> her, while doing all kind of things in the meanwhile, Sarah’s critique of
> the presumption of blackness as “to be-held and settled matter” leads to
> the identification of the ethical commitment to release.
> In both cases, the question of the expansiveness of blackness, which we
> debated a little in previous conversations, is the assumed starting point
> and both Lauren’s and Sarah’s work commit to the minute and philosophically
> rich attention to some of the ways this happens, even though in very
> different places.
> I wonder if they feel similarly, and whether the question of a space
> (whatever the space might be) to be filled in unpredictable ways that do
> not "reproduce the effects of efficient causality” is something they also
> see as a common thread in their work.
> Moreover, the question of the ethics of “letting-go-ness,” as Sarah
> describes it, ties back to part of the conversation we have had with Derek
> Murray and others about the dilemmas of black sentience here encountered as
> the freedom to “let-go", in ways that are not hijacked and straightjacketed
> by the what in the popular realm usually becomes a “melodramatic
> imagination”. (Thus, my corollary question for Sarah, would be: to what
> extent the visibility of this letting-go-ness is also a threat to its
> occurrence and to what extent it isn’t? I am just terribly curious to know
> how some concerns of her first book are flowing into her second project.
> And I suspect that Jay Cameron Carter’s work—our third discussant for this
> week—will also address some of this)
> Thank you for such a rich start
> Alessandra
> Alessandra Raengo, PhD
> Associate Professor, Moving Image Studies
> Georgia State University
> www.liquidblackness.com
> On the Sleeve of the Visual: Race as Face Value - Dartmouth College Press
> > On Apr 26, 2016, at 6:03 PM, Alessandra Raengo <araengo at gsu.edu> wrote:
> >
> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I would like to bring us back the topic of the week, which is also the
> concluding topic for this month so generously devoted to liquid blackness.
> >
> > Fearing a couple of glitches I have not yet had the opportunity to
> verify I am
> > 1. cutting and pasting Sarah Cervenak’s post here so that it’s in the
> same thread as Lauren’s.
> > 2. I will send a separate email with a question directed at both of them
> >
> > Hence: more soon. Here is Sarah’s wonderful post
> >
> >
> >
> > From Sarah:
> >
> > Thank you Alessandra for the invitation to participate.  I’ve been
> following the discussion with great interest and am still processing the
> various ways that participants have been theorizing blackness in and as
> liquidity.  I think I see my current work (both singly authored and
> collaboratively composed with J. Kameron Carter—those distinctions really
> always undone the more our collaborative engagement grows--) connects to
> this concept of “liquid blackness” in several ways.  To begin, my second
> monograph in progress is called Black Gathering: Toward an Aesthetics of
> Un/Holding.  Black Gathering thinks about modes of assembly that intervene
> against long historical operations where gathering itself is coextensive
> with anti-blackness and settler colonialism. Engaging with post 1960s black
> literary and cultural production, I think about forms of gathering that
> bespeak a notion of blackness unmoored from the calculative constraints and
> spatiotemporal suffocatings engendered by post-Enlightenment sense-making.
> That is, an enduring logic of settler colonialism and the anti-blackness
> that was slavery’s condition and ongoing legacy presumes that blackness
> ambles as to be-held and settled matter.   According to Denise Ferreira da
> Silva’s enormously influential essay (at least for my work and the work Jay
> and I do together), “Toward a Black Feminist Poethics:  The Quest(ion) of
> Blackness at the End of the World,” "the Category of Blackness consistently
> reproduce the effects of efficient causality.  Stuck in the always already
> there (of) Thought—as reproduced in concepts and categories—where the
> Category of Blackness (like other social categories), because it refigures
> formalizations (as laws, calculations,or measurements), arrests Blackness’s
> creative potential. (84)”
> >
> >
> > This arrest—or seizure, what Frank Wilderson, Omise’ekeTinsley, Fred
> Moten, Christina Sharpe and Jay Carter have described as the state/ship
> hold—presumes that Blackness can be held, used, contained, that if it
> exists as liquidity, that liquidity can be governed.  Against such (post)
> Enlightenment logic, however, Black people have enacted, created,
> participated in forms of gathering that not only forego its hegemonically
> regulative features but that presumes that integral to such re/assemblage
> is the ethical commitment to release.  That is, the condition and ‘end’ of
> such movement is a notion of blackness as an ongoing letting go-ness.
> Unfettered travel and other/wordly communion.  An example of a hold that
> heals, a gathering that releases, appears in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
> (1987).   In this ex-slave narrative, the former slave and “unchurched
> preacher” Baby Suggs held communal prayer amidst previously gathered life
> within previously gathered space, in a “wide-open place […] nobody knew […]
> known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place” (106).
> “Cry,” she told them. “For the living and the dead. Just cry.” And without
> covering their eyes the women let loose. It started that way: laughing
> children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped
> crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed,
> children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the
> Clearing damp and gasping for breath” (107).  Poignantly this gathering
> coalesces precisely in a “refusal to coalesce” (Moten, “Blackness and
> Poetry”), where dancing became crying becomes the ecstatic time for
> breath-recovery.  In many ways, Morrison helps us to consider what’s at
> stake in a (non or anti) notion of blackness that at once moves as tired
> flesh and ethereally ambles as the breath that comes out as gasp, caress?
> Rustles in the tree, otherwise knowledges ushered in by another kind of
> gravitational inhabitation.
> >
> >
> >
> > Flesh, breath, the fluorescence and immeasurable weightiness of life in
> between category.  It is toward and in the interest of this “poethics” of
> unholding where my research questions and modalities of engagement reside.
> >
> >
> >
> > thanks, Sarah
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >> On Apr 25, 2016, at 12:05 PM, Lauren Michelle Cramer <
> lmcleod2 at mygsu.onmicrosoft.com> wrote:
> >>
> >> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> >> First, I would like to say “thank you" to the editors of -empyre- for
> providing this space to discuss liquid blackness and to all of the people
> who have already helped shape this conversation over the last three weeks.
> >>
> >> I am proud to be one of the founding members of liquid blackness and a
> member of the Editorial Board. My research considers the spatiality of
> blackness. My dissertation, “A Hip-Hop Joint: Thinking Architecturally
> About Blackness” argues blackness is the architectonic logic of hip-hop’s
> expanding visual culture. liquid blackness is so vital to my work because
> it considers 1) how blackness fills, flows, and moves through space and 2)
> how these flows move with/against/away from the body. I understand this
> second issue has been a point of tension in this conversation. So briefly,
> I would like to explain why I do this work. I simply cannot account for the
> things my blackness does if it is always with me. Instead, I imagine it
> wanders when I am not looking. Of course, when I turn my attention back to
> my blackness it returns and claims innocence and I am left to manage the
> fall out. That is the space between experience and liquid blackness for me.
> >>
> >> This covert movement brings me to the topic of this final week—space
> and suspension. As writers like Sara Ahmed and Huey Copeland have argued,
> spaces can be racialized by the bodies and objects that move through them.
> My work on blackness and architecture tries to recognize how a space can be
> designed with the spatial logics of blackness (i.e. curvilinearity and
> continuity, the appearance of transparency, and kinds of surface appeal).
> My work on blackness and architecture brought me to the topic of suspension
> as not just a pause, but an actual form that is produced through tension.
> Suspension describes a body or mass that is not destabilized or made so
> light that it is inconsequential. Instead, a suspended body is stable in
> multiple ways—these are the physics of ambivalence, which are so vital to
> understanding encounters with blackness. As Greg Lynn has described in his
> influential work on “blob architecture,” the folds, waves, and pleats that
> characterize so much digital design and architecture are the product of
> these kinds of unresolvable complexities. These shapes show us what it
> looks like when a object is ‘both/and.’ So I see suspension as the form of
> complex questioning (to understand suspension means understanding the
> opposing forces acting on a body and the way the body distributes its mass
> to achieve the appearance of weightless movement). The more I consider
> blackness, the more I feel the need to suspend it so that it does not
> ‘sink' (to echo Ken Rogers from last week). In other words, that means
> catching it wandering.
> >>
> >> Looking forward to this week’s conversation!
> >>
> >> Lauren
> >> Lauren M. Cramer
> >> Doctoral Student, Moving Image Studies
> >> Associate Editor, InMediaRes
> >> Editorial Board, liquid blackness
> >> Department of Communication
> >> Georgia State University
> >>
> >> ________________________________________
> >> From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <
> empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Alessandra
> Raengo <araengo at gsu.edu>
> >> Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 7:00 PM
> >> To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >> Subject: [-empyre-] Liquid Blackness Week IV: spatiality
> >>
> >> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> >> Hi again,
> >>
> >> I want to officially announce the beginning of Week IV of our
> conversations on liquid blackness.
> >>
> >> As I say so, I am already anticipating how much I am going to miss this
> really challenging and wonderfully stimulating forum. So, before I actually
> introduce them, let me thank once again everybody who has so thoughtfully
> contributed so far. I recognize that April is one of the busiest months in
> the academic year and I truly and deeply appreciate the effort that was put
> into this.
> >>
> >> The incoming week is going to be about spatiality, as well as, at least
> in our original conception, about suspension too. So, once again, we are
> looping back to a concern that Johannes brought up: what does it mean to
> “hold blackness in suspension”? I won’t let this question overdetermine
> what the discussants want to talk about, but I do want to signal that I am
> happy to offer more clarifications if and when the opportunity arises.
> >>
> >> One more point, before I introduce our next discussants:
> >> the conversation surrounding Afro-pessimism as well as the conversation
> surrounding OOO and New Materialism have been variously brought up in
> several occasions in the past 3 weeks. The rhizomes no. 29 issue came out
> and I am catching glimpses of the Winter 2016 October issue with a
> questionnaire on New Materialism. TDR Volume 59, Issue 4 is special issue
> on similar themes and GLQ had a special issue on Queer Inhumanism (Volume
> 21, Number 2-3, 2015) last summer. The next issue of Discourse, as I
> already mentioned, will feature a section where film studies responds to
> OOO. My piece on Fred Wilson’s black glass drops (his Black Like Me show)
> is in there. And there are revisions of OOO doctrine, New Materialism
> doctrine, etc. being published (or happening in blogs) quite steadily and
> at an increasing pace.
> >> This is a way to say that the conversation is happening and, as much as
> I would love to represent it, I can’t do this adequately in this format or
> within this window.
> >>
> >> Yet, I wanted to mention this to acknowledge the depth and breath of
> the conversation as a way to also underline some of the stakes that liquid
> blackness is aware of and therefore pursuing as part of the language that
> will be needed to continue to stand by the very idea of "liquid blackness"
> itself.
> >>
> >>
> >> And now let me introduce the discussants for the upcoming and final
> week.
> >> I am absolutely thrilled to have them on board. Thank you Lauren, Sarah
> and Jay for agreeing to participate.
> >>
> >>
> >> Lauren Cramer is a PhD candidate in the Moving Image Studies program in
> the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. Her research
> is focused on visual culture, space and architecture, hip-hop, and the
> aesthetics of the racial encounter. Her dissertation is entitled, "A
> Hip-hop Joint: Thinking Architecturally About Blackness." She is an
> Associate Editor of the collaborative online scholarship project, In Media
> Res, part of Media Common's digital scholarly network, for which she has
> coordinated several theme week on race and contemporary cinema. Lauren is
> also on the Editorial Board of liquid blackness, a research collective
> focused on blackness and aesthetics.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> Sarah Jane Cervenak is an assistant professor, jointly appointed in the
> Women’s and Gender Studies and African American and African Diaspora
> Studies programs at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.  Her
> areas of research and teaching are critical race theory, feminist theory,
> Black studies, performance studies, visual culture and philosophy.  Her
> current book project, tentatively titled Black Gathering: Toward an
> Aesthetic of (Un) Holding queries the Black radical, feminist potential of
> gathering in post-1960s Black literary and visual arts.  Essays connected
> to the new project are forthcoming in Feminist Studies and Women and
> Performance.  She is the author of Wandering: Philosophical Performances of
> Racial and Sexual Freedom (Duke University Press, 2014)
> >>
> >>
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3a%2f%2flibres.uncg.edu%2fir%2funcg%2fclist.aspx%3fid%3d7660&data=01%7c01%7clmcleod2%40mygsu.onmicrosoft.com%7ccc3750c409c447a93b0708d36c943610%7c515ad73d8d5e4169895c9789dc742a70%7c0&sdata=BbShzwH4cB4Ka6eMbQ4gClE1ranZcItK9lzzPibsfRs%3d
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> J. Kameron Carter is an associate professor at Duke University Divinity
> School. His areas of research and teaching are black religious and
> theological discourses, critical race theory, feminist theory, Black
> studies, poetry, performance studies, visual culture and philosophy. He is
> bringing several projects to completion, the most immanent of which is Dark
> Church: A Poetics of Black Assembly which explores what might be called the
> theological protocols of racial capitalism as a practice of would be
> ge(n)ocide. Those protocols are churchly, that is, they enable racial
> capitalism as a violent practice of “congregation,” of fraudulent
> communion, of assembling a world by disassembling (another name for which
> is “settling”) the earth. Such violent assembly is a kind of “church”
> event, a violent practice of the sacred that demands normative coalescence.
> Dark Church considers the church-like protocols of such violent
> assembly-through-disassemblage but in the interest ultimately of thinking
> blackness appositionally or as as an ante-(and not merely anti-)churchical
> kinesis. “Church in the water,” as poet Ed Roberson puts it, blackness
> moves oceanically and atmospherically in racial capital’s break, in that
> cramped yet capaciousness zone that surrounds capital as the black outdoors
> in unstately communions outside of the state, black radical potentials of
> black assembly. J Kameron Carter is the author of Race: A Theological
> Account and is editor of Religion (2008) and the Futures of Blackness (a
> special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, 2013).
> >>
> >>
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3a%2f%2fdivinity.duke.edu%2ffaculty%2fj-kameron-carter&data=01%7c01%7clmcleod2%40mygsu.onmicrosoft.com%7ccc3750c409c447a93b0708d36c943610%7c515ad73d8d5e4169895c9789dc742a70%7c0&sdata=ivpyUFzWruWKOm96%2ft6igHK6PxGh8R4zfqZOWyjy98w%3d
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> Looking forward to the conversation.
> >> Alessandra
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> empyre forum
> >> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >>
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3a%2f%2fempyre.library.cornell.edu&data=01%7c01%7clmcleod2%40mygsu.onmicrosoft.com%7ccc3750c409c447a93b0708d36c943610%7c515ad73d8d5e4169895c9789dc742a70%7c0&sdata=eH9GLdYX3oOxYFZ4Y8ltInR%2bUxxPU3%2f5BnOxfZUm6tk%3d
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> empyre forum
> >> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >>
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3a%2f%2fempyre.library.cornell.edu&data=01%7c01%7caraengo%40gsu.edu%7c506d0d178a3b4729e38e08d36d28d5c5%7c515ad73d8d5e4169895c9789dc742a70%7c0&sdata=GoWvGFLMTmK68Vjx5OIHZ1efq4QJdxeS4psCdhUGh4s%3d
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> >
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3a%2f%2fempyre.library.cornell.edu&data=01%7c01%7caraengo%40gsu.edu%7c43129b99c5a9484fb85308d36e1eaa7a%7c515ad73d8d5e4169895c9789dc742a70%7c0&sdata=Fy%2bLzCnmPxppyRhTjNqRO8S3SrKEehb0tEaAAZl%2b2nA%3d
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Sarah Jane Cervenak, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Women's and Gender Studies and African American and
African Diaspora Studies

*Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom*
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