[-empyre-] Dark Church, Black Ether (Part 1); Liquid blackness Week IV: spatiality and suspension

Sarah Cervenak sjcerven at uncg.edu
Sat Apr 30 05:38:49 AEST 2016

Thank you for this profound and moving meditation, Jay.  I just watched
"Situations" on Claudia Rankine's website and kept thinking about the
filmic both as poly-atmospheric but also, in some ways, imbued with an
otherworldly texture.  On the one hand, it might be the case that blackness
and black life, the simultaneously unlocatable and already phantasmatically
incarcerated "brothers," move as part of the atmospheric--given but never
isolated as part of the "transubstantiative" movement of clouds, the
unpredictable shift from reds to blues.  I also wonder too if atmosphere
might endow freedom with a buoyancy that exceeds the regulatory economies
that endanger black people's unfettered time with sky.  Put another way, it
seems what "Situations" harbors, protects, keeps safe even if for seven
minutes, is that time with sky--A time that might find kinship with Baby
Suggs' gaze into the blues of her quilt.

Also, that later line of the poem "in memory of Mark Duggan": You tell the
English Sky, to give him an out." is terribly instructive with respect to
histories of British weather.  That is, according to Jan Golinski, "in the
eighteenth century, the discourse of climate became twinned with theories
of the development of civilization....For the British, the question of the
influence of climate on civilization was an urgent one and not merely of
academic interest." Golinski continues to argue that weather emerged as an
ensemble of atmospheric facts that could be calculated and through
recording (be it in diaries and later during the Jefferson administration
the development of the National Weather Survey) controlled.  Weather was
said to be a reflection of the people who inhabited a particular place; the
heat in "Africa" supposedly a reflection of uncontrolled passions and the
tranquility of British climes an indicator of civilizational prowess.  The
Great Storm of 1703, according to Golinski, represented a threat to
Enlightenment, the unruliness of the weather figuring as a punishment from
god; weather recording responded to offer another way of sovereignizing the
atmosphere.  Making sense of it.  In many ways, thinking with Jay here, the
control of the weather was never far from the twinned mobilities of
Enlightenment reason and British imperialism; blackness figuring as a
threat to civilized atmosphere.  To write weather is to enclose it, to
fraudulently suture the sky into a reportable claim.  What Rankine
poeticizes, as Jay powerfully argues, is atmospheric's rightful unfettered
return--its capacity to offer a 'loophole of retreat' from the body forced
to always run for cover.

Thanks Jay, Sarah

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 11:28 AM, J. Kameron Carter <
jkameroncarter at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dark Church, Black Ether (Part 1)
> I would like to offer a few thoughts in contribution to this wonderfully
> probing and illuminating conversation. Liquid blackness raises for me
> questions about the im/possibility of black assembly or what I call “dark
> church.” In a book I’m putting the final touches on I disarticulate
> “church” from institutional religion in order to think about blackness as
> deregulated sociality. I draw on the etymology of the word “church” (
> *ek-klesia*; *ek*=out, *klesia*=assembly) to elaborate blackness as the
> practice of assembled out(sider)ness. Black assembly as perhaps liquid and
> atmospheric sociality. After a few words elaborating on the idea of “dark
> church,” I then consider one of the poems in Claudia Rankine’s *Citizen:
> An American Lyric* to think about this a bit more. In a second post, I
> offer an excerpt from a forthcoming essay by Sarah Jane Cervenak and me in
> which we develop the notion of “black ether,” which we believe is linked to
> questions of liquid blackness, suspension, and gathering or deregulated
> congregationality.
> I.
> I’ll begin by saying a little something about my book project *Dark
> Church: A Poetics of Black Assembly*, particularly insofar as in it I
> engage varied African diasporic cultural productions (particularly poetry,
> visual art works, and music, or what Nate Mackey has called matters of
> “Sound and Sentiment” and “Sound and Semblance” and “Sound and Cerement”)
> to think the aesthet(h)ics of blackness.
> In this work, I’m interested in how ocean and ether, how proliferating and
> mutating if not mutinous form and that which exceeds form (let’s call this
> the informal) converge atmospherically. One way of understanding blackness
> is that it indexes this convergence as the open, the “surround,” a
> convergence that gives rise to the thought of blackness as an “atmospheric
> condition,” as Ed Roberson has put it. Sky or atmosphere figure both flight
> and communion or an otherwise assembly. It indexes an/other world or
> another way of being in the world, an alternate world-ing, we might say, an
> extraneous reaching toward an earth that’s been both lost and yet
> ethereally not lost, notwithstanding the violence of a settler colonial
> world built on top of the earth. Such violence is never not a ge(n)ocidal
> practice of racial terror, just as such recovery of the earth is never not
> about breathing, which is to say about air, which is to say about the
> alternative, an alternative inhabitation of atmosphere. In this way,
> blackness—perhaps like wind or sky, the domain of (holy) ghosts—bears a
> surreal weightiness that’s both earthy and fleshy; it’s metaphysical in its
> physicality.
> What might it mean by way of blackness to “see the earth before the end of
> the world” (Roberson again) and to take seriously that such possibly Du
> Boisian second-sightedness is atmospheric?
> II.
> Claudia Rankine aids me in working through this question, the question of
> the atmospherics of blackness and the question of black “ek-klesiality,”
> blackness as sheer, queer out(sider)ness, as liquid sociality. There is a
> particular moment that comes to mind from *Citizen: An American Lyric*
> (which if nothing else is a text about how that lyric is always already
> broken to the extent that America is a lyric of racialized violence) that
> bears on this.
> In a prose poem written in memory of Trayvon Martin, Rankine thinks about
> the im/possibility of kin, of assembly, of black communions. At issue is
> gathering with her brothers. Not just her biological brothers but even more
> her many brother who, she says, “are notorious.” Their notoriety or perhaps
> impropriety isn’t that they’ve been to prison. They’ve not. Nevertheless,
> “they have been imprisoned. The prison is not a place you enter. It is no
> place” (89).
> Rankine then repeats herself: “My brothers are notorious.” What’s the
> point of such repetition? Rankine repeats herself both to indicate the
> contemporaneity or afterlife of slavery and to “nonperform” that would-be
> entrapment. That is to say, she enacts a poetics of black congregationality
> under duress, under conditions of wounding. Hence, there is never not more
> going on at the site of the wound. I’m thinking about the relationship
> between the wound and the blessing; I’m thinking about the relationship
> between severance and severalness or communion in/as broken multiplicity.
> Rankine’s poetic script unfolds as a meditation precisely on this
> phenomenon, on that scission and yet sociality of the dis/assembled. More
> still, Rankine stages her poetics by turning to atmosphere, to the “sky,”
> and by way of atmosphere to the ocean blue.
> The scission or the cut involves, Rankine tells us, the sky being made
> “pink” because it’s “bloodshot of struck, of sleepless, of sorry, of
> senseless, shush” (89). Antiblackness here is an atmospheric invasion, a
> weather condition, of “pink sky.” Given this, recovery, entails an
> improvisational movement through “pink sky” in atmospheric flight. The poem
> itself is this flight, ensemblic reach or extension. More still, it is an
> ethereal movement of *sonic* flight, of *atmospheric* address, whose
> yield is sky’s transubstantiation from pink to blue: “The sky is blue, kind
> of blue” (90).
> How might we understand this trans-atmospheric movement from pink to blue
> sky? I think that something towards an answer to this emerges from the
> “moving poem” version of the prose poem that appears in *Citizen*. The
> moving poem is Situation #5 on Claudia Rankine’s website (
> www.claudiarankine.com). The prose poem that appears in *Citizen *is a
> kind of ethereal and liquid residue of website’s moving poem, which I read
> as a poem on “blackness as nonperformance,” to purloing a formulation from
> Fred Moten by way of Sora Han.
> Moving across the screen of the moving poem are “brothers.” Against the
> backdrop of blackness’s movement across the screen is the sky, often
> bloodshot pink in color. This is the filmic movement of the images. But
> there’s more going on. While the images move across the screen, Miles
> Davis’s “Kind a Blue” plays in the background. Moreover, Rankine, reading
> her poem (which, it is also worth noting, at key points diverges from what
> appears in *Citizen*; poetic surplus), accompanies Miles’ “Kind of Blue.”
> I argue that Miles’s music coupled with Rankine’s mused and musical voice
> combine as ether. They are atmospheric, the atmospheric that exceeds the
> weathered “pink sky.” This is the nonperformance of lyric, the announcement
> of an/other “lyric,” that of atmospheric blackness. Lyric here can’t help
> but be in quotations inasmuch as Rankine’s blue/s lyric arguably defies
> lyric’s grand presupposition: the sovereign “I” in propertied
> self-possession. “Sometimes ‘I’ is supposed to hold what is not there until
> it is. Then *what is* comes apart the closer you are to it. / This makes
> the first person a symbol for something. / The pronoun barely holding the
> person together. . . . / You said ‘I’ has so much power; it’s insane. . . .
> / the first person can’t pull you together” (71). Rankine’s atmospheric
> poetics is an insovereign ante-lyric.
> More still, it is significant that “Kind of Blue” is playing in the
> background, for the blue here both recolors the pink sky and does so
> because it reflects the ocean into the atmosphere itself. There’s as relay
> between ocean and atmosphere here. Indeed what emerges is a poetics of
> oceanic and atmosphere. “Ictic-blueness,” as Mackey might say, an
> ethereally ictic poetics. Or in Rankine’s own words given in accompaniment
> to “Kind of Blue”:
> On the tip of a tongue one note following another is another path. . . .
> Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage,
> plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities,
> profiling . . . accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all
> caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us . . . a throat
> sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, blossoms, o blossoms,
> no place coming out, brother, dear brother, that kind of blue. The sky is
> the silence of brothers all the days leading up to my call. . . . The sky
> is blue, kind of blue. The day is hot? Is it cold? Are you cold? It does
> get cool. Is it cool? Are you cool? My brother is completed by sky. The sky
> is his silence.” (89)
> Or again as Rankine says later in *Citizen *“in memory of Mark Duggan”:
> “You tell the English sky, to give him an out” (117).
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
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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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