"Ethno or Socio Poetics" Sylvia Wynter (in Alcheringa), 1976
Aberrations in Black: Towards a Queer of Color Critique Roderick A Ferguson, 2004
Walking on a sunny afternoon in downtown Oakland some summers ago, a woman jumped out of nowhere and proceeded to ambush me with an unsolicited reading of my "blue-green" aura, insisting that she had an important warning for me, if I could pay for her services. In response, the friend that i was walking with (a third generation American communist) concluded, "Capitalism. Makes people do the wildest shit."
Indeed. Wynter and Ferguson are both concerned with the relationship between the capitalist production of certain racialized groups as "surplus", the dependence of this relations on the construction AND production of wildness, heresy, and deviance. Wynter and Ferguson, in different ways are interested in reclaiming that wildness, heresy and deviance as revolutionary potential.
Wynter's essay, from a talk at a conference on Ethnopoetics (featuring Glissant's formulation of natural/forced poetics on which I have been/will be writing about for months---and a talk by Fred Jameson which admits to stealing Wynter's title and doesn't do much besides emphasize the penultimate paragraph of Wynter's talk as a warning for us all) came out almost 30 years before Aberrations in Black...so ladies first.
(excuse me while i meditate on the experience of watching Sylvia Wynter speak via video at the Assoc of Caribbean Women Writer's Conf)
To be Sylvia Wynter for even one Jamaican afternoon...to have two y's in my name and to question the foundations of Western Civilization through a razor sharp economic analysis as an expert...as a master thief who immediately owns all of the knowledge that she will cripple...to speak in whole clear sentence that incorporate obscure quotes by Nieztche...to let Stanford pay me for the use of my name alone...and at the same time to deny them my presence until it suits my convenience...to sit in sunlit offices with open windows (in Jamaica, in California, in Florida) and to point out the single lie that gives us this unsatisfactory world. Sigh.
So... in this earlier talk, at the Ethnopoetics conference 30 years ago Wynter does what she does and puts socio next to ethnos, demanding as usual that this concept around which her fellows (literally she's usually the only woman wherever she is) have gathered emerge in its historical specificity, tracing the term ethnos back to them moment when it stopped meaning "we" and began to mean a dehumanized heretical "they" upon which the new "we" depended on. Wynter describes the 16th century development of a global economy through european colonization as a mutation in the human narrative through which "we" became a violent category dependent on and enforced through the abuse of a dehumanized "other". The discovery of the "new world" populated with "others" is for Wynter the X-factor that caused a former "we" among other "we"'s to become THE "we" against which all others would be measured and punished. For Wynter this is the birth of the mutation that she called Western capitalism (and which she now calls global capitalism) the discovery of the new world is the catalyst for such a mutation. Racism then is not an aberration, but is rather the mechanism through which a surplus is created...is the mechanism through which some labour (and life-value) becomes undervalued and some becomes overvalued.
This is achieved through the creation of cultural norm through which deviance can be ascribed to others. In her more recent talk she was explicit about pointing out that the function of "blackness" in creating an overvalued white norm is one tendency among others that include the delination of queerness as the mechanism through which straight privilege is bolstered and rewarded and criminality as the mechanism through which "respectable" consumption is validated (thus her current empahsis on prisons).
Ferguson would agree...but with more attention to the transgressive relationship to space that the relationship between the nation and surplus labor requires. While Wynter would emphazise that the racist secular construction of humanism depends on the labelling of racialized people as deviant, Ferguson is interested in the way that this surplus relationship requires (for example in the context of the great migration) racialized people to move (and be displaced)in ways that create fundamentally queer positionalities, subjectivities and performances. For Ferguson the relationship between capitalism and the nation as narrative and economic entities (if looked at deconstructively) produces an important queerness. However, according to Ferguson everyone...including Marx is in denial about this. Ferguson focuses on the figure of the prostitute as the exemplary figure of capitalist alienation and points out the way in which this figuration frames Marxist critique in a way that validates heteropatriarchal norms...in concert with the racist narrative of the reproductive nation-state as such.
SO Ferguson wants an economic critique of capitalism and the nation that does not reproduce a heteropatriarchal logic. In fact he wants to emphasize the queerness that this relation is already requiring from the subjects involved. In other words Capitalism(and the nation-state). MAKES people do the wildest shit. For Ferguson the question is how to acknowledge this relationship in a way that amplifies these queer subjectivities into something that articulates an OTHER way to be.
Similarly, Wynter wants to emphasize the way in which black cultural production has created a mode of being human which does not require the negation of another in order to create community. She wants to argue that whereas western capitalism offers a model through which objects (technologies of war and production) name and create another object "labelled human" and produce a relationship in which one human being is master and another human being is servant based on their relationship to the means of production, poetics (and by this she means art generally) offers a mode in which human beings name the world and are human because their active relation to the world is one of creation.
So what do I learn from this? What do I make from this in my current work to somehow use poetry to create non-violent community structures here in my neighborhood? Well conveniently (providing a concrete continuity between the blog that comes before this) Ferguson talks about the third world women's movement (sparked in order to mobilize in response to brutality against women of color just like this work that we're doing) as a fundamental site because of the way that "lesbian" was used as a label that referred to a critique...not a relation to a state, a race, the means of production or the means of heteropatriarchal reproduction. And conveniently this exact movement is a major focus of my work and a model through which i act as a community artist. SO all this talk of other and critique not only helps to clarify the function of the word "queer" in my self-description and analytic intervention, but also means that as we activartists avatars "we", ethno and poetic in this socio, speak we create our community relations and we do that not as identification but as critique and therefore as constantly co-produced recreation (in the sense of making a world again and in the sense of having fun outside of the context of alienated labor.)