A hand travels along a torso toward something unimaginable from this distance, something ordinary. Bodies incline toward and away. Relation.
A hand travels toward another hand, to touch, to grip, to squeeze, to caress, to human. Relation. And yet another hand. And another hand. Feeling toward each other. And with each movement, a gathering of life, a gathering of forms, a gathering of life forms, of forming life, of dreams and sighs, fantasies and moans.
Here is made. Here is present. Now emerges. Now is here.
We are gathered by our collective search for forms to imagine and invent relation. Relation might be story or history, myth or fable, gossip or rumor, anecdote or lie. We reach for what gathers us in our differences.
We reach with frightened hands, hoping the reach and gather will make something of our now:here, here:now feel less impossible.
Difference: those who reach
Difference: those who gather
Difference: those who are gathered
Difference: those who are now
Difference: those who are here
Difference: those who are now:here
Difference: those who find themselves gathered
Difference: those whose gathering undoes them
Difference: those who gather as the undone
How can we who have never experienced freedom imagine and pursue it? When Nina Simone wishes to know how it would feel to be free, she marks how unrecognizable freedom might feel. What is the feeling of freedom? How do we who have never experienced freedom chart toward it and recognize its sensations?
At every moment, we are told to code freedom as bundles of rights and obligations. At every moment we are told how to assess our freedom. Freedom indexes.
The now ubiquitous “x rights are human rights” must refuse difference and pleasure to privilege the law, must refuse difference and pleasure to privilege taxonomy:sexology as the frames through which human and non-human difference should be mapped.
It is easy to mistake the capture of taxonomy:sexology in their rights-pursuing forms as the work of freedom. Wins are not cumulative, though we celebrate the space capture provides. We dare not fetishize incrementalism, even while we part our lips and exhale. We take what we get and demand freedom.
Proliferation might be a strategy, but must never be mistaken for freedom.
It’s easy to mistake being gathered for choosing to gather. Those gathered can also gather, to pursue something else. Across difference.
I hope difference can do something that escapes the capture of taxonomy:sexology. Although we seek escape, our goal cannot be to remain fugitives. Not if we pursue the plenitude the erotic teaches us to demand.
(difference is always the first casualty.)
Before reading Audre Lorde taught me to ask about difference, I was flattered to be invited, convinced that being gathered meant I was part of those who chose to gather. It was easy to forget difference. It was tempting to forget difference. To presume invitation meant reckoning with difference.
Gather. Leap. Invent.
Form. Gather. Leap. Invent.
Imagine. Form. Gather. Leap. Invent.
Embedded in Afro-diasporic traditions, I am searching for the forms with which to think now:here. In difference. Insisting difference into practice.
What can be said that is not already familiar? Difference is lost in the familiar. Difference is gathered into the familiar. What else needs to be added?
With Dionne Brand, I am skeptical of narrative. Of how story moves. Of what story moves. Of how story gathers. Of how story is gathered.
Of who gathers story. Of what gathering does to story. Of how story tells difference. Of how story gathers difference. Of how story disappears difference. Of how story demands movement.
Perhaps there is nothing more than throat clearing.
Is the work of difference to erode?
How does difference work?
We are more used to contemplating—naming, framing, discussing, contesting, elaborating, repeating—the problem of method than we are to practicing something else. Method as form, method as bibliography, method as training, method as allegiance, method as narrative, method as tether, method as anchor, method as familiarity, method as editing, method as trained incapacity.
Even as we know method cannot create the conditions for us—those named by method as the studied—to be possible through and in method as anything more than method’s objects. We cling to what method gives: shape, direction, etiquette, authority.
It is easier to say opacity and play than it is to practice either and how they unsettle our claims to speak about them with authority. To sit with what eludes, to chase after its company, to inhabit its miasma, to yield to something, to have something yield, in turn.
We are vulnerable.
Even as we know our survival depends on evaluating threats, sampling strangeness, hoping it will not poison us. Experience has not been kind. Still, we hope for kindness.
Almost none of our methods value kindness. We look for resistance and transgression and subversion and revolution, to harvest against energies. Almost never to find kindness. To find tenderness. To find models for what we might survive and build toward.
It is exhausting to be forever oppositional. To have subversion as the vernacular of opposition. We sift through rubble to find fight, not kindness. We imagine futures of fight, not kindness. As though we can only ever appear to ourselves and to each other as those who fight and survive to fight another day.
Call us exhausted.
Call us callused.
Call us bruised.
Call us tender.
Call us impoverished.
Frustration can be method. Frustration as the saturation of geohistory. We—those gathered as the frustrated—ache for something else. A different kind of tenderness. Another relation to the pasts we can imagine into a kind of life.
Before they went to war, they would abstain from sex with their regular partners, saving their sexual energies for partners they would meet in battle.
Before they went to war, they would abstain from sex with their regular partners, not wanting to mix home sex with war sex.
Before they went to war, they would abstain from sex with their regular partners, and, in rituals that cannot be recorded, would infuse their weapons with desire and hunger, lust and tenderness.
Before they went to war, they would abstain from sex with their regular partners, seeking the unfamiliar pleasures of strangers along the way.
As their regular sex partners left for war, they set aside regular sex acts to pursue other sex acts with familiar strangers.
As their regular sex partners left for war, they invented new pleasure practices, to be set aside when their partners returned.
As their regular sex partners left for war, they invented new pleasure practices, forms of living and being beyond what war could imagine or desire.
Prior to and toward.
Strategies so easily ossify, impeding the freedom dreams that demanded them. This is the dominant history of intellectual and activist engagements with freedom dreams. Method—how to imagine and narrate freedom strategies—supersedes freedom dreams. We, those gathered by freedom-impeding methods, bibliograph our way out of imagining and pursuing freedom.
How many footnotes do you need to spell freedom?
How many references will make freedom more possible?
Study toward freedom.
We work across difference if we share the same goal: freedom.
Freedom does not eliminate difference.
Difference is not taxonomy:sexology.
Taxonomy:sexology narrates capture while claiming to celebrate difference.
Difference is threatening. It cannot be celebrated.
To insist Black life into being. Into a kind of life. Into Black Life Forms. Through this l/anguish. Touch. With Christina Sharpe and Lucille Clifton and Rinaldo Walcott and M. NourbeSe Philip and Dionne Brand and Frantz Fanon, through their words and imaginations, I am trying to move something toward freedom. Toward the feeling of freedom, so unimaginable, so frightening, so strange, worried that I might not want it at all.
A hand holds another and another and another to make the frightening possibility less frightening.
What repetition will unsediment our impaired imaginations? Is repetition nothing more than stuckness?
We cannot imagine that posing questions does more than agitate sediments into different configurations of stuckness. Again, a problem of method. We cannot imagine that posing method as problem resolves stuckness.
Knottiness does not interest me, nor does impossibility. (Interest accumulates.) If we cannot imagine beyond our present, toward freedom, we can, in our ordinary, model something of what we want, even as that something escapes interest.
Freedom to repair and mourn.
What are you looking for? What do you need? What do you want? What can we imagine? What can we invent? What can we make?
We gather to incline, we gather as those who incline, we gather to be inclined, we gather as the inclined. By gathering, we learn to incline toward freedom, moved to sustain and intensify ordinary pleasures of tenderness and kindness, moved to stay in this together.
We gather with impaired imaginations to dream. We are gathered by our dreams to sit with our impaired imaginations. We—those assembled to pursue freedom across difference—incline.
I am exhausted by radical thinking that cannot imagine kindness and tenderness. We—the exhausted—lean on each other, inclining toward something.
Once, as a thought-life experiment, I spoke about love in a space that wanted to speak revolution. In another space, I spoke about loving and being lovable. Essex Hemphill insists we ask who people loved.
Who do you love?
Who loves you?
Captured by taxonomy:sexology, we confess to paraphilias to mark our distance from constraint, as though our fluencies in taxonomy:sexology do more than mark our capture.
Who do you love?
Who loves you?
World-building questions about those who incline together to pursue freedom.
And to make something ordinary. With our impaired imaginations, we find it difficult to think of freedom as ordinary, and even harder to desire freedom as ordinary. As an ordinary condition. As ordinary acts of care. As ordinary practices across difference. As an expectation that will be met.
It is easier to imagine breaks and ruptures, struggles and riots. And, if we let them, strategies take all the air in the room, and make freedom unimaginable as ordinary.
Battle-scarred, we long for touch that soothes our calluses. Touch that imagines toward freedom, beyond our impaired imaginations.