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

Sarah Cervenak sjcerven at uncg.edu
Sun May 1 01:26:03 AEST 2016

Sincere thanks to Alessandra and all who participated in this month's
conversation!! It's been profound and deeply important.

Thanks and looking forward to future conversations, Sarah Jane

On Sat, Apr 30, 2016 at 9:14 AM, Alessandra Raengo <araengo at gsu.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I want to thank Jay and Sarah for this powerful close reading of Rankine
> and DuBois which offers inspiring possibilities for an atmospheric
> blackness, a black ether, which suspends, diffuses, and counters the forces
> of anti-blackness in their most naturalized (literally: as
> manifestations/forces of Nature) form.
> Uncannily, this discussion of the atmospheric powerfully resonates with
> something I am trying to work out on a piece I am writing about Steve
> McQueen’s Deadpan where he remakes a stunt from Buster Keaton’s Steamboat
> Will Jr. where Keaton survives a collapsing façade of a house because he is
> standing in the location of an open window. The house comes apart due to a
> sudden cyclone. Yet, whereas Buster Keaton miraculously stands up, Steve
> McQueen deliberately stands still.
> Jennifer Fay discusses the Keaton film as an example of extreme
> atmospheric control in the sense that Keaton had to fabricate a cyclone
> during a California draught and he had to do create a “manufactured world
> that is most virtuosic in its unworking.” The point here is his atmospheric
> control through anthropogenic technologies and attitudes that for Peter
> Sloterdijk are the expression of “the confluence of terrorism, product
> design and environmental thinking.” Technologies of war are the same as
> technologies of climate management and the same as racialized
> understandings of civilization, as Sarah reminded us through Jan Golinski.
> In Deadpan, instead, the day is sunny and the weather is no longer a factor
> and McQueen’s perfect stillness becomes a performance of untouchability,
> even though he makes clear that it has occurred after an originary
> violation and a pervasive (atmospheric) anti-black violence (a shot of
> McQueen standing before the house shows that his shoelaces are missing, as
> if he had been in containment and they had been removed to avoid suicide
> attempts).
> I mention this for two reasons: one, because of the way the idea of the
> atmospheric brings us back to the question of space-time as Lauren has been
> posing it and also to Johannes’s inquiry about the avoidable or unavoidable
> racialization of space as we think about issues of social justice. The
> connection through the idea of “time” is for me particularly strong since
> in Italian the word for “weather” is the same word for “time”: tempo. The
> second reason is more personal and admittedly selfish: I am sorry to have
> to bring this conversation to a close, especially given how vivacious,
> intense, and profound it has been. I am confident that this is not my
> sentiment alone.
> In this spirit, it’s important for me to express that I truly cannot thank
> enough everybody who has participated to this month’s conversation: Chip
> Linscott, Jenny Gunn, Tommy DeFrantz, Marisa Parham, Cameron Kunzelman,
> Sarah Franzen, Ken Rogers, Lauren Cramer, Sarah Jane Cervenak, Jay Kameron
> Carter, and Derek Murray who so generously invited me to moderate this
> discussion and actively participated in it during our second week. I want
> to thank once again also the most active interlocutors: Murat Nemet-Nejat,
> Simon Taylor, and Johannes Birringer.
> Finally, I am grateful to the –empyre- moderators for this opportunity
> which has opened up so many venues for thinking not only the similarities
> between the liquid blackness project and other theorizations of the
> expansiveness of blackness as it negotiates the very forces of its
> containment (a struggle that, as Jay and Sarah show, manifests itself as a
> series gradations rather than dramatic ruptures) but also possibly its
> distinctiveness and productive possibilities.
> I know that a lot of the connections that were made this month will
> continue beyond this conversation and I invite all to remain in touch and
> keep this reflection going.
> Thank you all
> Alessandra
> Alessandra Raengo, PhD
> Associate Professor, Moving Image Studies, Georgia State University
> coordinator of liquid blackness
> author of: On the Sleeve of the Visual: Race as Face Value
> > On Apr 29, 2016, at 3:38 PM, Sarah Cervenak <sjcerven at uncg.edu> wrote:
> >
> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> > 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
> > http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > Sarah Jane Cervenak, Ph.D.
> > Assistant Professor, Women's and Gender Studies and African American and
> African Diaspora Studies
> > UNC-Greensboro
> >
> > Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom
> >
> https://www.dukeupress.edu/Wandering/?viewby=author&lastname=Cervenak&firstname=Sarah&middlename=&sort=newest&aID=28646
> > _______________________________________________
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> > 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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