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.

blackness, mathematics, fabulation: speculation

A recent issue of The Black Scholar, edited by Alexander Weheliye, explores the relationship between black studies & black life. As many of the contributors argue, this relationship is about the knowledge structures and practices central to the ongoing problem of how to frame, understand, and engage the world we’ve inherited as modern, the world “modernity made.” We might describe this as the world that made blackness by unmaking black life, the world that created blackness as a speculative form: to be speculated upon and to speculate on its own life-making possibilities. Different kinds of imaginative leaps meet in speculation, and while “speculation” is not one of the key terms of the issue, it assembles and orients many of the articles, especially those by Tavia Nyong’o, Katherine McKittrick, C. Riley Snorton, and Denise Ferreira da Silva. I’m especially interested in articles by Nyong’o and McKittrick, because they press on one of my ongoing questions about what McKittrick terms, “origin stories”: simply, what are the genealogies of blackness? Where do we start? How do we start? And, once we’ve started, how do we proceed?

To answer these questions, McKittrick turns to the black archival presence found in “documents and ledgers”: “the list, the breathless numbers, the absolutely economic, the mathematics of the unliving.” It is a formula-generating mathematics that creates “historic blackness” for the New World—the world modernity made—a history that is, simultaneously, an unhistory (the Negro has no history), an unmaking served by economic attachment: “belongs to, bequeathed to, to be sold to.” As McKittrick writes, “New world blackness arrives through the ordinary, proved, former, certified, nearly worn worn-out archives of ledgers, accounts, price tags, and descriptors of economic worth and financial probability.” The commodity that speaks—this commodity that Marx made unspeakable.

What kind of origin story is this?

The brutalities of transatlantic slavery, summed up in archival histories that give us a bit of (asterisked-violated) blackness, put meaningful demands on our scholarly and activist questions. While the tenets and the lingering histories of slavery and colonialism produced modernity as and with and through blackness, this sense of time- space is interrupted by a more weighty, and seemingly truthful (truthful and truth-telling because iterated as scientific, proven, certified, objective), underside—where black is naturally malignant and therefore worthy of violation; where black is violated because black is naturally violent; where black is naturally unbelievable and is therefore naturally empty and violated; where black is naturally less-than-human and starving to death and violated; where black is naturally dysselected, unsurviving, swallowed up; where black is same and always and dead and dying; where black is complex and difficult and too much to bear and violated. The tolls of death and violence, housed in the archive, affirm black death. The tolls cast black as impossibly human and provide the conditions through which black history is currently told and studied. The death toll becomes the source.

How, given this unmaking work of the numbers archive, can black life, black survival, black being be narrated or imagined from such sources? Or, as McKittrick asks, “How do we ethically engage with mathematical and numerical certainties that compile, affirm, and honor bits and pieces of black death?”

At a historical moment when, to cite Simone Browne, humans are being turned into data, a moment when the logics and practices of the ledger and fungibility have found new opportunities in the bio-cataloguing of human life known as “biometrics”—recall, here, that Nigeria has partnered with Mastercard to issue “new” biometric identification documents—the “bits and pieces” of “black death” return garbed in bio-technological management. The logics and practices that unmade/unmake black life—the “mathematics” of modernity—return to “secure” what can only be the persistent unmaking of black life. As McKittrick puts it more elegantly, “it is challenging to think outside the interlocking data of black erasure, un-freedom, and anti-black violence,” especially as so many claims for justice today depend on assembling data on “black erasure, un-freedom, and anti-black violence.” How might black studies think with the mathematics of black life without reproducing the violent production of blackness as and through mathematics?

What if we trust the lies—she says she was born free—and begin to count it all differently?
—K. McKittrick

McKittrick meets Nyong’o at “the lie,” at the moment when the speculative logic of slavery meets the speculative leap into black life forms. In “Unburdening Representation,” Nyong’o reclaims the “gap” between the two meanings of representation—to depict and to stand for—as a space of “fabulation,” and, more specifically, “Afro-fabulation.” “A fabulist,” argues Nyong’o, “is a teller of tales, but he or she also discloses the powers of the false to create new possibilities.” A “teller of tales,” a storyteller and a liar, one who disrupts “the hostile and constraining conditions” of “emergence into representation.” “Possibility,” for Nyong’o is found at the “seam” or “joint,” the place Brent Edwards terms décalage, between the two forms of representation:

This misalignment of political and artistic representation is exploited by Afro-fabulation, which is thus not properly speaking solely an aesthetic strategy, or a political one, but a tactic for taking up the time and space between them.

“taking up the time and space between them.” One recalls that the archives that produce blackness in the New World deny that those termed black can represent—Phyllis (misspelled last name) cannot be a poet, declares Jefferson, and black figures cannot stand for those who can be citizens: I’m time-sliding to write this—themselves and others. Within the field of representation—within the oscillating meaning of that term—blackness will always have been a negation, an impossibility, what cannot stand “as” and “for” us. (Here, one might think about the African rejection of blackness as “not us.” The impossible chasm of blackness.)

Mining the gap (note the labor metaphor), Afro-fabulation “is always seeking to cobble something together, to produce connections and relations, however much the resultant seams show.” I want to think with Nyong’os metaphors here—I really should call him Tavia, but since I used McKittrick, protocol applies—of “cobbling,” and “connections and relations,” and “seams.” Of the various economies of motion and mobility (cobblers, shoes, the obsession with shoes in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy); and food, the cobbler as an assemblage of excess fruit, a sweetener, a palate cleanser, an act of love; “connections and relations,” the languages of invented kinship, fabulated genealogy, geographical assemblage (Glissant, Brand); and seams, which always lead me to clothing, the gorgeousness of Harryette Mullen’s Trimmings, the labor of the clothed and the unclothed slave body, the joins and joints of black labor, the uneven, the sutured, the knitted, the broken, that which enables “motion.” The seam that shows—the labor that refuses invisibility. The “lie” that refuses the truth-owning of data-production.

Speculation returns again, as that which joins McKittrick’s “mathematics” to Nyong’o’s “fabulation,” as part of the “demonic ground” where narrative does not supplant or unmake mathematics. Instead, the “speculative” becomes part of the asymptotic narration, the gap in representation—the gap in the archive, the gap in the lie, the gap that is the lie—through which and into which black life finds an “origin story” within life-unmaking blackness. Speculation, or the speculative, might be a method that reads into and past the data-affirming archive to see what black life forms might emerge, what acts of making and unmaking, what ways the human might emerge and undo the regime of Man.

Speculation is also a mode of being-present where one is impossible. It is the acts of appearance and disappearance, the haunting and the spook, the resistant object to cite Fred Moten, that inhabits what Christina Sharpe terms being “in the wake.” #staywoke, we say on twitter: remain conscious, aware, inhabit the insomnia that might (this is always speculative) save a black life, give a black life new form.

Learning from McKittrick and Nyong’o, I want to imagine “speculation” as a term central to black life and black studies, foundational to blackness as negation and possibility, a leap across and into the asymptote.