Moonlight

Water is another country.
–Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return

At first, the sound of water.

Residence time.1 Black time. Black untime. The memory of water—the memory water has—the memory water is. We keep returning to the water. We keep being returned to the water.

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A face plunges into ice.

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Again.

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my mouth be a reminder,
how saltwater suppose to stop the tongue from swelling.

how teeth be bones too
how my voice sounds of a needed haunting

—Jayy Dodd, “Eloquent,” in Mannish Tongues

Little:

Disquiet: What is it about Moonlight’s depiction of black boy vulnerability—black boy pain, black boy suffering, and the very rare moments of black boy joy—that has made it so amenable to some viewers?

Before I saw the film, I saw all the acclaim that Mahershala Ali was receiving for his work in the film. He is tender. He is loving. He is accepting, especially when he tries, clumsily, to explain the difference between “faggot” and “gay.” Learning from Christina Sharpe and John Keene and Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill and Gloria Naylor and Randall Keenan and Marvin White and Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, I am unsurprised by this care between a man and a boy. I am unsettled by the acclaim this “ordinary note of care” has received.

And then, there are Little’s silences.

Because so many have insisted on teaching us, we are now learning how to see and celebrate and think with #blackboyjoy. What are we to do with #blackboysilence?

The words “moving” and “lyrical” have been used many times to describe Moonlight’s silences. The sound of the world as it moves—the surf that always returns. Residence time. I think of Audre Lorde, asking, “What are the words you do not yet have?” Yet, I think, that is a misreading. It is unnecessary to populate Little’s silences. They are unsettling.

What does his gaze want? What do his silences want?

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If this body is a boy & all boys know death
& death bodies Black:

          Then this body knows how boys die.

—Jayy Dodd, “Black Philosophy # 3,” Mannish Tongues

Chiron:

Ashon Crawley wrote a wonderful piece about what it means to be young—to be a teenager—and to desire touch.2 Sharon Holland writes, “Though touching a person may seem simple, it is anything but.”3 Some young queers want sex, as Samuel Delany’s Hogg teaches. Others want touch that acknowledges their erotic desires: “you do, in fact, have these desires—you can exist in the world with these desires.” As I read Ashon, I thought that it is easier to discuss Chiron’s desire than it is to think about Little as desiring.

Perhaps what’s difficult about discussing Little as gay—discussing why the label faggot is applied to him—is that we see little of the gender transgression we associate with young children being called gay/faggot/queer/funny/strange. Unlike in Empire, there is no scene of Little dressing in his mother’s clothing. He does not play with dolls. His wrist is distinctly not limp. He reads as quiet. Too quiet. Shy. Too shy. Though I’m not sure if shy is the word. I want to resist diagnosing silence. Even as I’m convinced silence wants something.

Because Moonlight is so elliptical, it’s difficult to tell what makes Chiron’s classmates—and bullies—mark him as gay. Perhaps it’s something about how he performs or fails to perform teenage masculinity. Perhaps it’s something about how he performs or fails to perform teenage desire. Perhaps it’s something about his gazes and his silences. Perhaps—and this is terrifying to contemplate—it’s his loneliness. Darius Bost teaches me to think about black gay loneliness, about what often subtends and escapes declarations about community and kinship.

Perhaps it’s vulnerability. That softness that bullies seem to scent. That softness that gender policing notices. That softness that so many of us hide behind things we call wit or reading or shade or meanness. (How easily we bruise and callus.)

By the time we meet Chiron, in the second act, he is already wary. The quiet Little is now wary. His downward glances—he’s always looking down—designed to ward off attention. Kevin sees him. Kevin names him Black. Kevin explains why he names Chiron Black—a nickname, a move to recognize him, to touch him.

I need Sharon Holland:

Though touching a person may seem simple, it is anything but. Both physical and psychic, touch is an act that can embody multiple, conflicting agendas. . . . In fact, the touch can alter the very idea as well as the actuality of relationships, morphing friends into enemies and strangers into intimates. For touch can encompass empathy as well as violation, passivity as well as active aggression. It can be safely dangerous, or dangerously safe.4

I needed Holland—I needed the break—because it’s difficult to think about what happens to the touch between Chiron and Kevin, as they move from the beach, to the car, to the school.

Each movement depicts Chiron’s body opening itself more to Kevin’s: from sitting down hunched over at the beach, during the jerk-off, to Chiron’s more open posture as he sits in the car and as he leaves the car, smiling, to Chiron standing, fully open to Kevin’s punches.

In the final shot, before the final punch, when Chiron is fully erect—I don’t have the stomach to use a screenshot—Chiron is fully closed off. I wonder about the work of surviving that encounter—the work of experiencing the hand that grants recognition and generates pleasure turn into the hand that causes pain. Does Chiron know—can he know?—that Kevin is also fighting for his own survival? Is that a too-generous interpretation of Kevin’s actions? Of the care—the ordinary care—that says, “Stay down, Chiron”? Is it that care—the promise of that care—that allows Chiron to drive from Atlanta to Miami in the third section of the film?

Black

Black is stasis and return, a name offered as a promise of care, reclaimed by the film as Chiron, now grown, but arrested, returns to the promise of that care. Black, John Murillo III, writes, is untime. Untimely. By arrest, I gesture to the school-to-prison pipeline dramatized by the film, and to the psychic-physical arrest the adult Chiron confesses: “no one else has touched me.”

We know enough—too much, perhaps—about sexual violence in prisons to question Chiron’s confession. Touch—physical and psychic, what makes and unmakes us. We would like—I would like—to believe that he was safe from sexual violence while locked up. If we want that fantasy—if I want it, and I do—Moonlight offers it. It is an ellipses that allows us to fantasize about something that might be called “the one” or “monogamy” or “true love” or “soul mate.” If I fail to punctuate that ellipses, I will not leave it unmarked. We might ask what it means to touch and to be touched—but not by ignoring the quotidian violence that accompanies vulnerable boy-men who are locked up.

Kevin is the only one who calls Chiron Black, as far as I remember. If others use it, it is not with the, at first, benign friendship and, later, tender care. (I don’t have the stomach to see what Kevin calls Chiron while punching him—I think it is Chiron, not Black. If so, Black remains locked away, an intimate term. A term that touches.)

I like that Little grows into Black, the idea of Black as what can be grown into, claimed with tenderness, with and by an ordinary note of care.

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Are Black’s silences Chiron’s silences? Are they Little’s silences?

Because Darius Bost has taught me how to think about loneliness and because Samuel Delany has taught me to think about black gay sociality and because Marlon Riggs taught me to think about finding black gay community and because James Earl Hardy wrote a series of books on black gay friendship and because there are now multiple YouTube videos of drag balls and because Noah’s Arc exists, I wonder about the couple form at the end of the film. I offer this not as a point of critique—though how can it not be?—but as something that is sitting in me, on me, with me, about the impossibility of black gay sociality in homonormative times.

I wonder if black gay loneliness and the private black gay couple are objects of desire. I think of how James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin circulate, not as gay men who loved and desired—it matters who you love, Essex Hemphill says—but as deracinated, free from anything that might be called gay sociality, so that we need never think about them inhabiting and creating gay worlds and enjoying gay worlds.

What kind of object is black gay loneliness? Who desires it? Why?

We are returned to the water. Residence time.

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We are returned to the water and, through it, to a man named Juan from Cuba. We are returned to the water and, through it, to black boys looking out over the water, seeking something that might be called freedom.


1. “What happened to the bodies? . . . They were eaten, organisms processed them, and those organisms were in turn eaten and processed, and the cycle continues. . . .The amount of time it takes for a substance to enter and the ocean and then leave the ocean is called residence time. Human blood is salty and sodium . . . has a residence time of 55 million years.” (Christina Sharpe, In the Wake)
2. “Why not the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to myself?” (Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks)
3. Sharon Holland, The Erotic Life of Racism.
4. Sharon Holland, The Erotic Life of Racism.

Michelle Cliff & Cedric Robinson

What truthtelling are you brave enough to utter and endure the consequences of your unpopular message?
—Melvin Dixon

I have gathered books around me—Essex Hemphill, Ceremonies; Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider; Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return; Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck; Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us; Agha Shahid Ali, The Country Without a Post Office. I grieve by gathering books: I cannot imagine a greater tribute to writers than to gather books in their names.
*
When my brother fell
I picked up his weapons
and never once questioned
whether I could carry
the weight and grief,
the responsibility he shouldered.
I never questioned
whether I could aim
or be as precise as he.
He had fallen,
and the passing ceremonies
marking his death
did not stop the war.
—Essex Hemphill, “When My Brother Fell”
*
Michelle Cliff’s If I Could Write this in Fire and Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism are open on my desktop. I’m skimming through them as I write, hoping to find ways to describe the black radical tradition they embodied and practiced.

Looking back. To try and see where the background changed places with the foreground. To try and locate the vanishing point: where lines of perspective converge and disappear. Lines of color and class. Lines of history and social context. Lines of denial and rejection.—Michelle Cliff, If I Could Write this in Fire

The triangle trade: molasses/rum/slaves. Robinson Crusoe was on a slave-trading journey. Robert Browning was a mulatto. Holding pens. Jamaica was a seasoning station. Split tongues. Sliced ears. Whipped bodies. The constant pretense of civility against rape. Still. Iron collars. Tinplate masks. The latter a precaution: to stop the slaves from eating the sugar cane. Under the tropic sun, faces cooked.

A pregnant woman is to be whipped––they dig a hole to accommodate her belly and place her facedown on the ground. Many of us became light-skinned very fast. Traced ourselves through bastard lines to reach the duke of Devonshire. The earl of Cornwall. The lord of this and the lord of that. Our mothers’ rapes were the things unspoken.—Michelle Cliff, If I Could Write this in Fire

The Black Radical Tradition was an accretion, over generations, of collective intelligence gathered from struggle. In the daily encounters and petty resistances to domination, slaves had acquired a sense of the calculus of oppression as well as its overt organization and instrumentation. These experiences lent themselves to a means of preparation for more epic resistance movements.—Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism

*
“Our mother’s rapes were the things unspoken”

Saidiya Hartman writes,

It has proven difficult, if not impossible, to assimilate black women’s domestic labors and reproductive capacities within narratives of the black worker, slave rebellion, maroonage, or black radicalism, even as this labor was critical to the creation of value, the realization of profit and the accumulation of capital.—“The Belly of the World”

Strategies of endurance and subsistence do not yield easily to the grand narrative of revolution, nor has a space been cleared for the sex worker, welfare mother, and domestic laborer in the annals of the black radical tradition.—“The Belly of the World”

Audre Lorde framed black women’s lives and experiences in terms of survival. In her hands, survival was more than simply enduring. It was not about resigning oneself to a fate and hoping to make it through. It named the strategies of care and knowledge that made it possible to imagine, make, and transmit how to live and how to love and how to be across generations.

A few years ago, I attended a talk by Amina Mama about African women’s strategies of survival: she spoke about women knowing what to eat and where to look for food during wars, about the secrets women passed on about bitter herbs and drought food and food on the march. Prior to that talk, I had read Nalo Hopkinson’s post-apocalyptic Brown Girl in the Ring and it, too, spoke about the survival knowledge women transmit.

Consider the survival work of knowing how to dig for bitter, life-sustaining roots. Consider the radical work of survival.
*
We tend to think that those we esteem as radical have figured it out. Our task, then, is to operationalise (to use a very ugly word) what they’ve figured out. This is a dangerous fiction. In an interview, Michelle Cliff said, “I’m coming into myself as I write,” adding that she was no longer the person who wrote Abeng, her first novel. We know that, as readers, we take books and authors places they could not have anticipated. Reading Judith Butler or Audre Lorde or Dionne Brand or M. NourbeSe Philip or Yvonne Owuor from Nairobi is very different from reading these figures from Baltimore or Delhi or Cape Town.

Geohistory changes how we read survival and precarity and grief and violence and disposability and silence and memory.

We stretch in new ways—pseudopodia is the only image I can generate.
*
For the realisation of new theory we require new history.
—Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism

If we are to survive, we must take nothing that is dead and choose wisely from among the dying.
—Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism

Time scrambles: this writing started in India and is being completed in Kenya—accretions and deletions have happened and geo-history is entangled.
*
Tallying loss is always an incomplete endeavour, especially tallying the loss of a catastrophe that is still unfolding.
—Dagmawi Woubshet, Calendar of Loss

In our current historical moment—the afterlife of slavery (Saidiya Hartman), on the way to prison abolition (Mariame Kaba), the ravages of neoliberalism (Stuart Hall, Lisa Duggan), the proliferating sites of black disposability (the sea, the prison, the street, the school, the hospital), the resistance and possibility that is black lives matter, the ongoing work of black students in South Africa, the protests by Dalit groups in India, the fierce contests over the meaning of the political across multiple spaces—

I’m not sure what I can say about “our current historical moment,” about those gathered by that “our” and those willing to be gathered by it. When I read Jayy Dodd and Rinaldo Walcott and Neo Musangi and Sylvia Wynter and Sofia Samatar and Samuel Delany, I am convinced we are in a moment when the human overrepresented as Man is approaching exhaustion, and when I turn to the work being imagined by Christina Sharpe and Dionne Brand and Yvonne Owuor and Mariame Kaba, I see difficult and possible worlds coming into being, worlds where black radicals can be and belong.
*
as a scholar it was never my purpose to exhaust the subject, only to suggest that it was there
—Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism

There is no ending to this piece of writing. There is no way I can end it.
—Michelle Cliff

I started this writing a few days after learning about Michelle Cliff’s death. I had followed the remarkable outpouring of work about Cedric Robinson and I wondered—I still wonder—how Michelle Cliff would be mourned and remembered, and where. As I look across the sites of mourning, I am sad to see that the two are not mentioned as part of the same tradition. I do not mean this in a biographical way. I mean within the world of imagining and creating freedom dreams.

I knit their names here to mark the capaciousness of the black radical imagination, and to thank them for what they allow us to imagine and to make.

As part of that making, I conclude with Leigh-Ann Naidoo, who, from South Africa, draws a map of possible futures:

We are in the midst of an intense politics of time. It is not easy to accept the burden of a living, prefigurative politics. Immanence is difficult. The fear is intense, and the threat of failure is everywhere. How do we sit, collectively, in the middle of that discomfort, prepared to not know quite where we are going, but be convinced that we have to move?

Audre Lorde, implores us to understand the worth and the purpose of anger. In her words, “Anger is loaded with information and energy. . . . Anger, expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future, is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification.” And here, in Lorde’s words, lies the challenge for the student movement. If we are to be custodians of a future that will have dismantled the violence of the past and its stubborn hold on the present, then we cannot get stuck in a politics of shut down. Shutting down is indeed necessary for the arresting of the present. But if we do not use the space that shut down grants to work, seriously, on our vision of the future, if we do not allow ourselves, too, to be challenged and pushed, to read, and talk to each other, to work out our strategies, to doubt, and to find a vision of a future world in which the many oppressions that beset this one are in sight, then the door that we have opened will be closed again.

May we live in a time of difficulty, of critical immanence, and always, always towards justice.

Reading: April 19, 2016

Joan Birika, A Never Ending Journey to Equality

Sam Biddle, I Have No Idea what this Startup Does

Faraz Talat, Explaining LGBT Politics in Punjabi

Rahawa Haile, A Low and Distant Paradise

Jason Diamond, Why do Cats Love Bookstores?

Articles

Jaffari Allen and Ryan Jobson, “The Decolonizing Generation,” Current Anthropology (April 2016)

I was reading something else, but since it chose not to take women thinkers seriously, I won’t bother to post it.

Frantz Fanon & White Queer Studies

I am currently writing on the figure of the homosexual in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. In truth, I’ve been writing about this figure since 1998, and I’ve yet to get a handle on it. What will eventually be written—the only thing I will be able to write—is an attempt to make something happen, with all the academic hubris such a statement assumes. As I return to Fanon, with thinking stimulated by Rinaldo Walcott, Katherine McKittrick, Christina Sharpe, Sylvia Wynter, Fred Moten, Hortense Spillers, Alexander Weheliye, and Simone Browne, I’m fascinated by what makes itself visible as a way of thinking about Fanon. Against my training, I have found myself naming “mainstream Queer studies” and “White Queer studies,” cringe-worthy designations that must be made. If we are to be honest, we cannot let Black Queer studies and Queer of Color critique exist alongside an ostensibly neutral Queer studies. Against and because of Queer studies’ anti-identitarian stance, we must, learning from Wynter, name Man’s overrepresentation as human, thus, White Queer studies.

I have been interested in how Fanon appears in White Queer studies from the early-to-mid 1990s, in work by Jonathan Dollimore, Lee Edelman, and Diana Fuss, even as I am disinclined to engage them in what I am writing. They are each complex thinkers from whom I have learned how to think, but to track their thinking on Fanon would take away from my own thinking and, frankly, when I had started trying to track it last year, I got so irritated that I could not continue. Sure, I think Fanon had fucked up opinions about the homosexual—I have no intentions of claiming he didn’t. The chapter in progress says a little more as one cannot have a one-sentence chapter: “Fanon had fucked up opinions about the figure of the homosexual.”

I’m irritated by the demand of the good white liberal. Here is Diana Fuss,

If racism is articulated with homosexuality instead of with homophobia, where are antiracist lesbians and gay men, of all colors, to position themselves in relation to same-sex desire? Fanon’s theory of sexuality offers little to anyone committed to both an anti-imperialist and an antihomophobic politcs. (“Interior Colonies”)

Here is Lee Edelman,

Made to articulate the “racial” dynamic of a masculinist culture, homophobia allows a certain figural logic to the pseudo-algebraic “proof” that asserts: where it is “given” that white racism equals castration and “given” that homosexuality equals castration, then it is proper to conclude that white racism equals (or expresses through displacement) homosexuality and, by the same token, in a reversal of devastating import for lesbians and gay men of color, homosexuality equals white racism. (Homographesis)

I am interested in the space being claimed by “of all colors” in Fuss and “of color” in Edelman. When I am most irritated, “of all colors” is simply trying to create a space for good white people—it is, in today’s internet parlance, #notallwhitepeople.“Of all colors” is diversity-speak for the world imagined by Man who overrepresents himself as the human. Some of us have good politics, is the cry! I am similarly unconvinced by Edelman’s desire to help “lesbians and gay men of color” enter and enjoy club homosexual. (A well-regarded white South African scholar once described making out or being attracted to a black man to the audience of a Queer symposium to demonstrate his anti-racist credentials to the mostly black room—my eyes rolled, my lips curled, and my muscles clenched—only someone who has not thought well, if at all, about blackness does this. I cannot, now, read this acclaimed scholar without tensing.)

I’m interested not only in what these scholars had to say about Fanon—there’s much more to write, but my muscles are tensing, and so I will try to spare my body—but in the effect their work had. Here’s from the chapter in progress:

I have wondered about the stakes of insisting that Fanon is homophobic, about the labor that insistence performs in mainstream, white queer studies. Given Fanon’s role as a foundational figure in Black studies and Postcolonial studies, this insistence on his homophobia has permitted mainstream, white queer studies to disengage with the conceptual problems these fields present. In other words, disavowing Fanon has permitted mainstream, white queer studies to protect its foundations in a West defined as white.

A few years ago, I attended a panel at MLA where I saw White Queer studies fighting hard to guard itself against non-white interlopers. Those of us assembled in the room were told we had misunderstood Queer studies, and were urged to return to its foundations—Sedgwick featured prominently—to figure out what it really meant. Given that Sedgwick’s work was so capacious, so enabling, so generous—even as its archive was white—I wondered what it meant to be told to return to her. If, indeed, we had misread her—but note the body of the white presenter who could diagnose our misreadings and direct how she should be read—had those misreadings been fruitful? What had they yielded? Indeed, learning from Sedgwick’s own reading practices, we could have asked about the uses of deformation, about the political work of unreading and misreading.

Using Sedgwick’s language, we might ask, is it possible for anti-homophobic practice to be anti-black? Well, yes. And rather than produce a song and dance about it, I’ll simply link to Sara Ahmed’s writing on Peter Tatchell and Jayy Dodd’s poetry.

But, I’ll be asked, what about Kobena Mercer’s critique of Fanon? There’s a politics to this move: pit one black critic against another, especially put a relatively unknown person (me) against a foundational, super-famous person (Mercer). I have zero interest in engaging in a Battle Royale. As I return to Fanon—again and again—I am compelled to ask what it means to theorize the sexuality of the object (Moten), as opposed to the juridical subject (a position that, Alex Weheliye shows, can never apply to the black in modernity), or the human (Man overrepresented as the human.)

Finally, a few sentences from ongoing writing as a placeholder:

I’m not interested in creating counternarratives based on what same-sex acts and identities were termed in pre-colonial Africa, a geohistorical designation that marks Africa out of the time of modernity by using modernity’s temporal marker. Counternarratives based on geohistorical specificity fail when blackness is forged through and in the ruptures of colonial modernity. Am I suggesting, then, that Africans prior to their contact with colonial modernity did not have diverse erotic and gendered practices and even identities? Here I can only mark the taxonomic logic (McKittrick, “Mathematics Black Life) that subtends such thinking, a logic that I cannot distinguish from the biometric logic (Browne, Dark Matters) of the ledger, and faced with those entwined logics, my impulse is to refuse them as much as I can.

self-preservation

History is not kind to us
we restitch it with living
past memory      forward
into desire
into the panic   articulation
of want      without having
or even the promise of getting.

–Audre Lorde, “On My Way Out I Passed Over You and the Verrazano Bridge”

I have been curious about selfcare/self-care/self care as it has circulated attached to Audre Lorde. A quick (but not comprehensive) search of Audre Lorde’s poetry and prose reveals that she never used selfcare/self-care/ self care, at least never in any of these forms. I suspect the term was familiar to her. It’s common in cancer care—it’s deeply embedded within health paradigms. Another quick (but not comprehensive) search indicates that selfcare/self-care/self care enters English somewhere in the eighteenth century, though the idea of it is much older. (I’m trying not to invoke Foucault’s care of the self, but I’m trying too hard, so let me invoke it here and let it go.)

In its present incarnation, this idea of selfcare/self-care/self care that attaches to Audre Lorde is taken from a passage in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not an act of self-indulgence, it is an act of self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The idea has received generous, loving, and space-clearing elaboration by Nick Mitchell and Sara Ahmed.

Nick argues that Lorde’s critique of self-indulgence valorizes resilience (a term philosopher Robin James thinks about beautifully). This demand for resilience, often incarnated in the figure of the strong black woman, makes it difficult to consider and inhabit vulnerability and pleasure, pain and suffering. The documents of colonial modernity (what some call racial modernity) emphasize the black’s ability to bear pain.

Ahmed draws on one of Lorde’s keywords, survival, to discuss the politics of persistence:

In directing our care towards ourselves we are redirecting care away from its proper objects, we are not caring for those we are supposed to care for; we are not caring for the bodies deemed worth caring about. And that is why in queer, feminist and anti-racist work self-care is about the creation of community, fragile communities, assembled out of the experiences of being shattered.

Ahmed has taught me to think about the long life of metaphor—how does one assemble what is shattered? Shattering always brings me to glass, sometimes ceramics, but mostly glass. Skin-breaking, body-scarring shards. No matter how quickly and efficiently you sweep up broken glass, little shards might escape, do escape. They gather to pierce. How does one assemble a community from the shattered? What kind of community can that be?

What injuries do we inflict on each other to be together?

*
An aside from something else I am writing.

I have thought a lot about toxicity and damage—how one lives with them, how one suffers from them, how one is destroyed by them, how one tries to manage them. There’s no shame in saying I have not learned how to manage damage. There’s no shame in saying I don’t want to learn how. Livability cannot be endlessly deferred

*
I have been stuck on two things (imprecision is needed). Lorde described herself as a poet. In “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” she explains poetry as the incubator of the emergent.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.

Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

As they become known and accepted to ourselves, our feelings, and the honest exploration of them, become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas, the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. Right now, I could name at least ten ideas I would have once found intolerable or incomprehensible and frightening, except as they came after dreams and poems. This is not idle fantasy, but the true meaning of “it feels right to me.” We can train ourselves to respect our feelings, and to discipline (transpose) them into a language that matches those feelings so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream or vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.

Poetry reaches for, runs after, lingers on, makes possible. Poetry thinks. When I think with Lorde, I must think with her poetry.

Second.

I’m stuck on self-preservation. What is self-preservation? I think of centipedes rolling in on themselves, hedgehogs curling into spiny balls, tortoises retreating into their shells. Such images take me away from “warfare.” Or make it difficult for me to get to “warfare.” I suspect that “self-preservation” does something wonky to selfcare/self-care/self care, or, perhaps, returns selfcare/self-care/self care to the healthworld in which it is embedded.

The will to persist (conatus, as Elizabeth Povinelli teaches me in her engagement with Spinoza) might be read as “warfare.” But I think it takes a lot of work to get from “self-preservation” to “warfare.” It depends, I think, on which animals one thinks with. I reach for tortoises.

To be minoritized is to be gathered by and through dissolution.

Notice the structure of Lorde’s statement: the move from “caring for myself” to “self-indulgence” to “self-preservation.” Notice the isolation: Essex Hemphill calls this isolation “loneliness.” What if self-preservation relies precisely on this loneliness? Under what conditions is self-preservation possible?
*
I’m staring at Our Dead Behind Us (1986) and The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance (1992), Lorde’s final two collections of poetry. A Burst of Light falls between these two, even as we know that publication dates for poetry collections may have little relationship to when poems were written. Still, acts of gathering are useful.
*
Several weeks after I started writing this, I’m still staring at her two collections. I’ve been unable to write through them—even at its most lucid, her poetry is still incredibly difficult. Also, I really want to avoid the poetry-makes-shit-immortal line that we inherit (most famously) from Shakespeare. (Every English major absorbs this.)

Instead, I have been thinking about self-preservation—about pickling and drying and salting and canning and freezing. About what happens to flavor and texture, about health and treatment. The zoloft-fog I refuse to inhabit, though it promises to extend some version of living.

Perhaps I’m stuck at the relationship between survival—one of Lorde’s keywords—and self-preservation. If the Lorde we now think with in our neoliberal times is the Lorde of selfcare/self care/self-care and not the Lorde of survival—I’m trying to tread carefully here—I think we need to ask why. Perhaps self-preservation gives us a different way to get to Lorde.

What is self-preservation’s relationship to survival?

What is that affective and ideological shift? What is the change in tactic, if there is one? I think there is.

I’m tired. I don’t know how to continue. This, too, is about self-preservation.