Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nobody's Home: Body, Nation, Moment

Some Changes, June Jordan, 1971
Dry Victories, June Jordan, 1972
Fannie Lou Hamer, June Jordan, 1972
New Life New Room, June Jordan, 1975
"South Africa: Bringing it All Back Home", June Jordan, 1981
"Report from the Bahamas", June Jordan, 1982
"Black Folks on Nicaragua: "Leave Those Folks Alone!", June Jordan, 1983
"Love is not the Problem", June Jordan, 1983
"The Blood Shall Be a Sign Unto You: Israel and South Africa", June Jordan, 1985
"Columbia Students Protest Against Apartheid", June Jordan, 1985
"For My American Family", June Jordan, 1986
"Don't You Talk About My Momma", June Jordan, 1987
"Talking Trash: Late Capitalism, Black (Re)Productivity and Professional Basketball", Gitanjali Maharaj, 1997
“Aliens Who Are of Course Ourselves”, Alondra Nelson (2002)
“Bitter Nigger Inc.”, Tana Hargest, 2002
“The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere”, Anna Everett, 2002
“Future Texts”, Alondra Nelson, 2002
"The Genres of Postcolonialism", Brent Hayes Edwards, 2004
“Harlem”, Gayatri Spivak, 2004
“The University and the Undercommons: Seven Theses”, Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey, 2004
“Who Owns the Genome?”, Misha Agrist and Robert Cook-Deegan, 2006
Biocapital: The Constitution of Post-Genomic Life, Kashik Sunder Rajan, 2006
“The Science Commons in Life Science Research: Structure, Function and Value of Access to Genetic Diversity”, Robert Cook-Deegan and Tom Dedeurwaerdere, 2007

So technically I have stopped reading. The above list is either a mirage or absolute proof that I have no will power. June Jordan makes much of our rights to say YES and NO, but I want to remain a person who is far more likely to say yes. I want to live in a world where a tendency towards yes does not cause one to consent to drowning or exploding. We'll see. The themes of this weeks secret illegal reading (which has now made the exam lists I sent to my committee members on Wednesday obsolete) are reproduction (as always in the social, and in the genes), spatial relationships (to harlem, to the university, to the revolutionary socialist state, to the south african black freedom movement, to the "inner-city" and the NBA, to the nation as a possible frame) and about time (networks, futurity, black techno-mobility and digital diaspora). I haven't made up an order in which to address these, but why not start with time.

In June Jordan's brilliant book Dry Victories, addressing and ventriloquizing black children in black english is anachronistic in much the way that Alondra Nelson says Ishmael Reed is in Mumbo Jumbo. Interspersed with dialogue about and images of black soldiers in the civil war, Jordan places images from Vietnam, photos ofblack leaders assasinated in the 1960's (Medgar, Martin, Malcolm) etc. marking not only the Civil War and Vietnam as parellel losses, but also narrating the failures of the civil rights movement through the failures of reconstruction and making the point that any kind of victory that does not enable a different relationship to land itself is "dry" or bankrupt. I would recommend this book to the contributors to the "AfroFuturism" issue of Social Text edited by Alondra Nelson. The contributors seem convinced that proving the techno-savvyness of black folk (in response to the blanket assumptions of a racialized "digital divide")is a valuable thing to do, because it allows the kind of techno-mobility that must be a good thing. I would compare this imperative to prove that we(black people..and yes I am blogging as I say this) are sufficiently model is akin to the earlier imperative to prove the same through a particular narrative of "black manhood" (see the "Men of Color Call to Arms" in the Civil War...which Jordan reproduces in Dry Victories) "if we would be considered men becomes "if we would be considered nerds" or at least "if we could be considered 21st Century" and the push to narrate mobility as virture (as through the figure of the black soldier, black seaman, black scholarship boy in exile) becomes digitized (the fact that DOS is still speaking the language of master and slave disks at the time of the publication of the issue notwithstanding). The first narrative, that of black manhood at all costs meets its bankruptcy at Moynihan most visibly. As Jordan points out in "Don't You Talk About My Momma!" alongside her injunction to Danny to clean his own house, the call to want the black family to look like the supposedly modern and supposedly functional white patriarchal family means a gendered violence already...requiring the fabrication of a mythical"female-headed" sociological monster. So the question for me (through the Afrofuturists), as someone deeply committed to dispersal as digital publication through my million blogs and emails is what terms get reproduced in this technology that I participate in? Who does this pathologize? What does my compulsion topost collages and poems and essays and lists on these blogs say about what it means NOT to be web-enabled?

If the lesson of genomics is any marker (remember Gilroy's somewhat irresponsible celebration of difference of multiplied penetrability made by the mapping of the genome in Against Race...while forgetting that some of us are already interpellated into a logic of penetration justified Against our will---in the moment where is insists that Micheal Jordan is now more penetrable than Sara Baartman), then we have to be in a mode of creation that subverts the persistant narratives through which racial and gendered violence (for example) reproduces itself (or how we help reproduce it by telling it the same way). As Rajan argues convincingly in BioCapital...the genomic moment proves some of the ways that captialism operates THROUGH change and is therefore flexible enough to persist even through radically different technologies of relation.

What I am trying to say here is that as we inhabit, this place, this moment, this body newly but always visible we have to be finding ways to describe our relationships (and in describing...produce our relationships)such that we can be creating a present of reach (maybe Pat would call this a post-present...I am more reluctant to use the prefix) that acknowledges a break from our pain and realizes our unending desire.


Anonymous said...

Um, I can't believe this blog is exists and I never found it until today. I'm the same anonymous from the Sylvia Wynter comment. What type of amazing work are you doing? I'm new to curriculum theory/critical pedagogy from education policy/sociology of education/chemistry background. I can't wait to come back to your blog actually I've read more of my list. Keep on keeping on.

Queen said...

Hi Alexis, I was reading some of your older blogs and came across the anthology from girlchild press. When I read your description on the anthology site, I realized that I think we might have been at TIP together in the summer of 1995 taking African American History with Charles McKinney and Greg Hampton. Is that right? I remember you were a few years younger than me, you were tiny, and you had long crinkled hair and glasses. Was that you?

lex said...

Yup. That was me! Who are you? Feel free to email me at

Kinohi Nishikawa said...

Your words on June Jordan's book (which I had not known of before) help me see the gendered stakes of feeling the need to "prove" black modernity. 19/20C practices of photographing the upstanding black (family) man have sometimes been used to support outright lies in our national imaginary (Moynihan, et al.). Given this history, you justly question whether there might be unforeseen pitfalls in the desire to "prove" black mastery, digital or otherwise.

Pushing your inquiry a bit futher: What other roles might photography play in this set of interventions? What, for example, do we do with Spivak's drawing from the work of Harlem photographer Alice Attie? These images, Spivak writes, are "A handful of photographs, deducing a collectivity from the ghost’s track." What the pictures show are a neighborhood in which poor black residents are being crowded out by developers and a generally hostile political economy. Careful not to make a fetish out of such subaltern spaces, Spivak writes, “We are not privileging delexicalization or anonymity; we are memorializing the moment before obliteration.”

It's as though Attie's photographs mark the presence of figures who themselves embody, or body forth, the imminent demise of collective social life. These are ghostly figures.

Questions: Is it the peculiar quality of imaging -- of the photograph-form -- that makes Spivak's an exercise in memorialization rather than (just) subaltern testimony? What's the difference between testimony (i.e., proof) and memorialization? Even within the photograph-form, how do we account for the difference between gendered/familial ideality on the one hand and the waning of collectivity as such on the other? What's a "black" photograph these days?

I continue to admire your curiosity and your poetic sense. I look forward to posting more comments here.

lex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lex said...

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. This question of the photograph and the distinction between proof and memorial is good...and especially relevant to me as I think about my archive. How many different black artists and cultural critics have emphasized variations of "we have to bring our dead with us" (i think that particular version is from Munoz on Basquiat in Disidentifications)?
A first go is that it seems that while memorialization as a never-finished project emphasizes the extent which social death CONTINUES to be enacted on black people through a violent politic of exclusion, proof of modernity seems to argue for (sometimes already always) inclusion in that same death producing narrative. I'm not sure if that move to inclusion is actually the response required by the memorialization (and I know that you are not suggesting that at all). So while the Afrofutrists seek to undermine the exclusion by arguing mobility, possibility, participation (much the stance that Richard Wright & Co were into...and that Gilroy still seems invested in) I wonder if there is different response suggested by the recourse of Hartman, Moten to a Benjaminian stance ("even the dead will not be safe if we lose"). Eulogy is a more difficult form of testimony, not as interested in proof as in the subjectivity of memory and invention. And what does that look like?
As you process often moves from the visual to the theoretical...or I think by making my everday life look a certain way. So I have created a writing journal and a collage-listening journal for this process of exam preparation (my exams start next thursday!!!!). Anyway both of the journals are stolen black books and on the cover of each I have affixed a black and white postcard reproduced image of a different young black-looking girl (circa 8 years old) who I identify with..but don't know. Though any of the photographs could have been taken anytime during this century they perform age (by being black and white to begin with) and then by suffering the weathering that life this year with Alexis requires. "And people ask that you? is that your mother? is that your grandmother?" "And I I don't know her. But look at her hands." Maybe I'll scan them and post here ...those are what black photographs are to me today. Something that reveals or performs an embattled impossible present intimate relationship across.
For a start.