fragments toward freedom

Take it
from me
Some day
we’ll all be free
Donny Hathaway

We will win, Mariame Kaba teaches. “Hope is a discipline,” Mariame Kaba teaches. She asks that we practice how we want to live. Freedom is a practice. Freedom rooted in care is a practice. Freedom rooted in care and working across difference is a practice.

Freedom, care, and difference are difficult words and even more difficult practices.

*

I return to Ursula Le Guin:

I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. 

Hard times are here:now. They are now:here. They are the here and the now. We need writers who can remember freedom.

What is it to remember freedom? Where are those memories? Who carries them? Who safeguards them? Who passes them on?

*

I return, often, to Taban lo Liyong’s “Lexicographicide.” Before I encountered Raymond Williams and other thinkers about language, Liyong taught me to ask how social reality depends on language. At the heart of “Lexicographicide”: what happens when language is stripped, when words are destroyed, when genre and form are denuded, when it’s difficult, if not impossible, to forge connections across difference?

I continue to wonder why “freedom” is such an absent term in Kenyan political discussions.

*

There’s a certain rhetorical process that happens whenever a political argument is reduced to a dialogue: you see it in Plato. You see it in Ayn Rand. You see it in Heinlein—I’ve seen it happen in my own Nevérÿon series.

Real political arguments go one for hours–forever—and are filled with a lot of ums and ahs, general backtracking, and people going over the same terrain again and again, trying to figure out what they actually think. That’s the real process of political discussion.
—Samuel R. Delany

*

How can those born into unfreedom remember freedom?

*

Many years ago, I told a graduate class that we are all always thinking about temporality. I continue to think this. And this marks the kind of theoretical work I find interesting.

The Wake: Christina Sharpe

The Break: Fred Moten

Freedom Dreams: Robin Kelley

Fabulation: Tavia Nyong’o

Afro-futurism: Mark Dery (thinking the U.S.); Alondra Nelson (thinking diaspora)

Breath: Ashon Crawley

Wandering: Sarah Jane Cervenak

Madtime: La Marr Jurelle Bruce

the pause, the gap, the jump, the beat, the leap, the freeze, the stay, . . .

(ellipses are also—always—temporality)

Within what kinds of feel-time can freedom be remembered?

*

We now inhabit two governing temporalities: the hustle and the grind

the hustle is the gig economy, the sharing economy, the precarious economy, the anxiety economy: it is frantic and fragmented, unstable, frustrating, and disciplinary—“we all have to hustle”; it is the hurry up and work and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait to get paid, or never paid; it is less about getting and staying ahead, but perhaps it is, but with the knowledge-feeling that getting and staying ahead means just keeping your head above water; it is the loan economy, the credit economy, the debt economy, the “waiting for something to come through and I’ll sort you out” economy; it’s faking it while you fake it; it’s a survival economy; it’s Kenya’s increasing dollar millionaires, paid with your hustle

the grind economy—I listened to 90s R&B—wears down and convinces us that being worn down is pleasurable; “I’m on my grind”; the seduction of the grind—why capitalism loves it—is because it convinces us that we choose to grind and to be worn down, worn out, worn away; “I’m on my grind”; a misrecognition: that you own the grind; “stop interrupting my grinding”; “bump and grind,” a song created by a sexual abuser, who sees “nothing wrong”; kikulacho

What did we have to lose—or never know—to transform hustle and grind into objects of desire and even love?

Misrecognition: “my” hustle, “my” grind

I’m interested in how these frantic, must-be-done, energy-drink fueled ways of being undone make freedom unthinkable, unimaginable.

(Keep them so busy surviving that they cannot imagine or desire freedom)

(polite, middle-class people call surviving “productivity”)

*

Perhaps hustle and grind work on freedom, erasing its memory and possibility from our bodies and desires.

*

A memory of freedom:

What happens now after this great erupting moment is that suddenly [you] begin to constitute yourself as another subject.

. . .

I think Elsa Goveia was the one who put it accurately when she said that it was only in the context of the anticolonial movement that all of a sudden writers began writing, painters began painting, that people who had been silent for so long now “found their voices.” . . . You must realize that this transformation was not only political, it was also going to be in the arts.

—Sylvia Wynter, “Re-Enchanment of Humanism”

*

From frottage:

Colonial officials encouraged newly emancipated black Jamaicans to get married, believing that marriage would create economically responsible individuals. Official discourses from the period explicitly sutured three types of freedom: freedom from slavery, freedom to marry, and freedom to work. By joining marriage to economic responsibility, and depicting both as fruits of emancipation, colonial officials hoped to manage the labor habits of former slaves, whom they feared might “relapse ‘into barbarous indolence.’” Colonial officials tried to suture marriage’s affective demands to economic need to ensure a steady, uninterrupted labor pool. Colonial officials insisted that good marriages were based on being good providers, and responsible husbands, wives, and parents had an obligation to provide for their dependents. In providing for dependents, former slaves proved they loved their dependents and also that they understood freedom as economic responsibility.

The freedom to earn wages from former enslavers. The freedom to hustle and grind.

*

“Stop interrupting my grinding.”

*

“We will need writers who can remember freedom.”

*

I wish I knew how
it would feel
to be free
Nina Simone

*

I am tired of pursuing and documenting and discussing and circulating blackness as negation. I am tired of the “uncreative victories” (Lorde) we celebrate as achievement. I am tired of critical habits that start from blackness as negation. I am tired of the worlds they generate, the fields and subfields they populate. The freedom they make unimaginable.

How can we remember and pursue and practice freedom when we remain attached to the hustle and grind of negation?

Why is something called black theoretical sophistication so tied to negation?

*

I have been thinking about speculation (Kazanjian) and fabulation (Nyong’o) as ways to “remember freedom.” I have been thinking about the kind of memory-work poetry does (Lorde). About the role of fantasy (Rose) in remembering freedom.

*

I am having to forget the connective tissue that moves from word to word, phrase to phrase, clause to clause, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page, so that in the gap, the pause, the break, the wake, distraction, something that might be freedom might be remembered.