There is not a theoretical absence of blackness and the black body (both male and female) because they are used as political frame or experience (blackness) or object of study (the black body) by academics who strive to subvert or chip at the hegemonic force known as the canon (which does occasionally release it’s heavy blows on people who attempt to go against it). No, blackness and the black body are not missing. Black people are missing. But blackness as a theoretical frame and the black body as an object are allowed to exist only to be made invisible as they are over theorized and the frame loses its utility or grounding in the reality of the experience of black people. Blackness becomes opaque as find and replace is applied to the experience and the terminology changes: marginalized, at risk, ghetto, urban, people of color, The Other, the cyborg. This find and replace decenters the centrality of the atlantic slave trade and its role in forming the cultural and business practices of the West as they are today.. If this is called into question, especialy within the academy, it is often met with silence, ghettoized, seperated. To make blackness or the black body visible and center those two things while ignoring or disregarding Black people is to perform a violence in the Fanonian sense. It is to imagine and to frame differently to re-remember History towards a different future where I and my children do not exist.
The absence of black people is painful and obvious, especially as our stories, our history, is used to define relationships with technology. It is a hauntology without a ghost for we (where we is society and culture) deny that ghosts are real. Yet we allow for specters of our continued suffering to hang by black people (though we often say black bodies) to justfy our literal death. I say our because as a Black woman I have skin in the game and I cannot take it off or step away from it. There is something that happens if you have your own skin in the game and you theorize blackness. You feel compelled to re-insert us into the canon, the ether, the world. To affirm our existance, even if it just in the pages of our writing or the images that accompany our work means we have at least one other black person in the room. A familiar. Kin. More often than not the expectation is that we will be able to seperate thoery and blackness. If you, as a black person, plan on fully engaging, you must erase the self. It is not a slow death in the Berlant sense. It is more akin to a slow dying… A slow murder. It is the violence that Fanon recognized always attacking at your core being.
In 2011 I was enrolled in a core course in the second year of my program. We read “A Cyborg Manifesto”. As is often the case, I was the only black person in the room. I read something different than everyone else based on the discussion. All I could think was, “we use words like cyborg because we don’t have the language to talk about the black experience, more specifically the organizing role chattel slavery, signified by the black body, played and continues to play, in culture and society. Instead of joining the discussion I copied the text into a google doc and did a find and replace… “cyborg” should be “black slave”.
Any feedback, questions, comments are not expected (hi lonely blog), but would be greatly appreciated, as I still have more than a week before I need to submit and a little less than month before I present.
I was invited to speak at a small graduate student colloquium to discuss my work. The topic is defining the Human. I was asked to speak of this in terms of how I am defining the Human through media. There will be one other speaker speaking from a Media perspective and two others speaking of the Human through Rhetoric.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, and then, re-reading McLuhan amidst the forever reading I’m doing of Fanon it hit me. I decided to write my thoughts out as a letter to both of them, as a performative exercise, using primarily the following two texts.
Fanon French Introduction: http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/fanon_franz/peau_noire_masques_blancs/peau_noire_masques_blancs_intro.html
I assume a base knowledge of “The Medium is the Message“, and Fanon’s general arguments regarding the Human and the Black Man. This is something I’ve explored previously in a graduate seminar. You can find those thoughts here: http://jadedid.com/ancyhu/
The Letter-First Draft
Dear Frantz & Marshall,
Frantz, I’d like to start with you. You started Black Skin, White Masks, with “L’explosion n’aura pas lieu aujourd’hui. Il est trop tot… ou trop tard” (5).
“Don’t expect to see any explosion today. It’s too early… or too late” (xi).
It happened today. I exploded and built myself anew, just like you said I would. But Marshall, I couldn’t have done it without you. I know the two of you never officially met, however, you downloaded your consciousness into words on the page. I then proceeded to upload your data into my own data storage facility, and I am downloading it here now.
Marshall, I think you said something along the lines of technology is the extension of the human in the Medium is the Massage, and black bodies are left outside of technology in the Playboy Interview. Frantz, you said the black man is not fully human in Black Skin, White Masks. I think that the black man/person being less than human is directly linked to their inability to be seen as connected to technology. What I mean to say is that, if it is true that what is human is determined by the negation of the black man, where man here means universal human body, Frantz, and media technologies are all just an extension of the human body, as you say Marshall, then it stands to reason that to understand the Human we must also understand the relationship between the black man and technology. In fact, if we look at technology as the extension of man, it seems we must begin to see slaves as the foundational technology of the west (especially the United States). If we do this, we begin to see how their bodies, and their humanness, were subsumed into a system of commerce so easily, like any other media technology. Rather than being human in and of themselves, as bodies of technology they increased the size, scale and pace of agriculture because they were the machines in the garden, that enabled the taming of the frontier as they extended the body of their mostly white slaveholders allow for work, holdings, time and capital to grow at a new pace and across more space. What tickles me about this is that both of you think an over extension of the body leads to psychosis. There is no difference between the two of you on this. The psychosis for both of you is predicated of on a loss of self in relation to the embodied body.
The difference instead seems to be, if I am understanding you both correctly, that the causes and results of the manifestation of the psychosis differs from the white man to the black man. The black man’s psychosis is in the realization that he can never catch up to the white man in his quest for more and more technology even as the white man tells him that is what he needs to do. Even the rhetoric of the digital divide places him in this manner! The white man, as he increasingly goes out of his way to increase the distance between him and those bodies that are more rawly technological, ends up overextending himself to the point of losing sight of the actual body. In doing so he continues to remove the capability of seeing the Black man as human, even as he, the white man, longs to go back to an imagined before time where there was simply the Human. The anger from the side of the white man, then is that the black man is so much closer to a simpler less extended, less technologically mediated life. A second layer of anger comes from the imperative that all the media force the black man to adapt as though it were a compulsion. If we take a step towards media content we see that the aspirational messages aimed at the black man that come from places of political power (outside entertainment power) always tell the black man to do better, and reach higher, and achieve more. The way to do this? Try to be better than other black people, be like us and reach for the world of the white man.
Obviously, this is a little bit crazy. Even if you aren’t black, I am sure you can understand how the contradicting messages from media content to media technology might lead to a psychosis brought on by no matter how hard a black person tries to reach the world of the white man, it can never be touched by his almost human hands.
But, this is why I am writing both of you. I think both of you are hinting towards is a level of consciousness that is innate to humanity that the black man has better access to, but the message of mediation is that he is to be blinded to it and removed from it because to have the realization on a total scale would be an annihilation of the current social order.
Marshall, you said,
“The cultural aggression of white America against Negroes and Indians is not based on skin color and belief in racial superiority, whatever ideological clothing may be used to rationalize it, but on the white man’s inchoate awareness that the Negro and Indian — as men with deep roots in the resonating echo chamber of the discontinuous, interrelated tribal world — are actually psychically and socially superior to the fragmented, alienated and dissociated man of Western civilization,”
Are you not speaking directly to Frantz? It is the mistake of the black man to not already realize he is the defining instances of humanness and humanity, for it is he who has access to the zone of non-being.
Ah, I realize you, Frantz, must clarify this for me. You said,
Dussé-je encourir le ressentiment de mes frères de couleur, je dirai que le Noir n’est pas un homme. Il y a une zone de non-être, une région extraordinairement stérile et aride, une rampe essentiellement dépouillée, d’où un authentique surgissement peut prendre naissance. Dans la majorité des cas, le Noir n’a pas le bénéfice de réaliser cette descente aux véritables Enfers.
L’homme n’est pas seulement possibilité de reprise, de négation. S’il est vrai que la conscience est activité de transcendance, nous devons savoir aussi que cette transcendance est hantée par le problème de l’amour et de la compréhension. L’homme est un OUI vibrant aux harmonies cosmiques. Arraché, dispersé, confondu, condamné à voir se dissoudre les unes après les autres les vérités par lui élaborées, il doit cesser de projeter dans le monde une antinomie qui lui est coexistante (6).
Running the risk of angering my black brothers, I shall say that the Black is not a man. There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinary sterile and arid region, and incline stripped bare of every essential from which a genuine new departure can emerge. In most cases the black man cannot take advantage of this descent into a veritable hell.
Man is not only the potential for self-consciousness or negation. If it be true that consciousness is transcendental, we must also realize that this transcendence is obsessed with the issue of love and understanding. Man is a “yes” resonating from cosmic harmonies. Uprooted, dispersed, dazed, and doomed to watch as the truths he has elaborated vanish one by one, he must stop projecting his antinomy into the world” (xii).
While Frantz, you started with the Transcendental consciousness, Marshall, it is where you ended, your interview,
“I expect to see the coming decades transform the planet into an art form; the new man, linked in a cosmic harmony that transcends time and space, will sensuously caress and mold and pattern every facet of the terrestrial artifact as if it were a work of art, and man himself will become an organic art form.”
Both of you see this movement towards the transcendental starting with the tribal, or black man. And both of you see the inevitable violence the path of technology leads us on if we continue to see certain as wretched and others as technologically superior, not as their ability to see themselves as technology, but because they are able to master, contain and control the messages of those mediums, and make them obsolete. (As an aside, if we see the black slave as pure technology, and technologies as building on top of each other making previous versions obsolete, the black man and the indian never had a chance.) When I read this line, The one inexorable consequence of any identity quest generated by environmental upheaval is tremendous violence. This violence has traditionally been directed at the tribal man who challenged visual-mechanical culture, as with the genocide against the Indian and the institutionalized dehumanization of the Negro.
I wasn’t sure who I was reading until I reminded myself that Marshall, you were more interested in indians. Had it been you Frantz, I think you would have said Arab. Marshall, You spoke then, of the possibility of the negro being exterminated. As though you saw this on the horizon as well Frantz, you had already written a response:
Je demande qu’on me considère à partir de mon Désir. Je ne suis pas seulement ici-maintenant, enfermé dans la choséité. Je suis pour ailleurs et pour autre chose. Je réclame qu’on tienne compte de mon activité négatrice en tant que je poursuis autre chose que la vie ; en tant que je lutte pour la naissance d’un monde humain, c’est-à-dire d’un monde de reconnaissances réciproques. Celui qui hésite à me reconnaître s’oppose à moi. Dans une lutte farouche, j’accepte de ressentir l’ébranlement de la mort, la dissolution irréversible, mais aussi la possibilité de l’impossibilité (177).
I ask that I be taken into consideration on the basis of my desire. I am not only here-now, locked in thinghood. I desire somewhere else and something else. I demand that an account be taken of my contradictory activity insofar as I pursue something other than life, insofar as I am fighting for the birth of a human world, in other words, a world of reciprocal recognitions. He who is reluctant to recognize me is against me. In a fierce struggle I am willing to feel the shudder of death, the irreversible extinction, but also the possibility of impossibility (193).
Now, here I am thinking the three of us can push this a little bit further. If we acknowledge that the black body represents pure technology, as the slave, and technology is simply a way that we extend our own human bodies, and the medium that we use for this extension has its own message, then I think we can say the medium that represents humanity is the black man. Just as the lightbulb is pure information, to understand how we have come to define the human, especially as we try to understand the human through media technology, we must first understand the relation of humanity to the black body, the body that I think became a cyborg long ago.
I think the next step for me is to expand this conversation and explore it through the role of black women specifically, looking specifically at societies current causes of psychosis, Digital Media.
LAST POST OF THE YEAR!!!
I am doing that reading thing that I do. I finally accepted that I am okay engaging with Psycho-analysis. I just can’t work with Lacan. It doesn’t work for my thinking. I’ve read a few things that have allowed this to be okay. Currently I am reading Kelly Oliver’s The Colonization of Psychic Space. It has been fantastic for me. It let me know that my thinking was on the write track and gave me many tools, quotes, and citations to explain why so much of the theoretical canon does not work for my project. So, as I speak into the abyss of the digital, I really want to say think you to Kelly Oliver for writing this book.
One of the things that I am loving is she does such a wonderful deep engagement with Fanon. When I took my Fanon course, and wrote my paper, it was all about getting out of the net of colonization that he speaks about and creating new worlds by taking what exists and imagining it differently.
So when I got to this part on page 42?
If the true revolution is one of imagination, it requires not only the creation of positive values for those abjected by dominant culture but also the revaluation of values such that the very structure of valuation is opened up for transformation. It requires throwing off not only Marx’s imaginary chains but also chains that bind the imaginary and thereby restrict psychic space.
There was a audible yes said and then some frantic typing.
But what does this have to do with Digital Media?
I’ve been thinking through my project and imagination in terms of Performance Studies. That seems like a natural fit. When I read this, it hit me that it is just as valid in terms of engagement with Media Studies as well. The Digital is a realm that allows us to actively engage in imagination towards world making. By being able to pick and choose what we see, what we share, what we put together, we create worlds that encapsulate both alienation and community/communal-ness, while at the same time, directly engaging what Western epistemology has deemed the ultimate form of meaning making (and world making), the Archive. The role of the curator has been expanded. Rather than having a lead curator, there are always multiple curators, putting things together and taking things apart in ways that were not possible before. The level at which this happens goes out of the past realms of possibility (in terms of pace, size, and scale). That isn’t to say new media of the past didn’t change things in similar ways (see the electronic age happened). The Digital is different though. The element of imagination is built into the scripts. While other forms of media engage imagination, I’m thinking especially video games, the biggest difference I see in previous media is that script has a set ending. While technically digital media runs on scripted programs, the script tends to be open ended. It is really a space where the user is asked to imagine the possibilities and make what they will/want. When we couple digital media with social media, we are asked to imagine the possibilities in a way that changes the world we live in, not just the world on the screen, with people we have the possibility of speaking with instead of just speaking to or about. Depending on how we use these tools, the ability to imagine different types of social engagement and create the networks that enable those engagements with the click of a send/post button and the proper hashtag or keyword in miliseconds seems pretty revolutionary to me. And that is awesome.
I have a book. It has been in my possession for a few weeks now. It is called The Secret Museum of Anthropology. It was a private printing from the American Anthropological Association created in 1935 from a series of pirated photos. It included illustrations as well, to make it more science-y I am guessing. The photo above is the cover, the copy, and the drawing that I’ve been intrigued by since receiving the book. I… like it? No. Yes? It is provocative. That is a better word I think.
So, today, since I woke up an hour early due to daylight savings time, I decided to finally work through the illustration and the book by drawing, photographing, printing, cutting, and pasting. The result is a triptych (three 16x20inch panels) of the book and the breasts featured in the book. I did this because my way of working through problems is to play with them/tear them apart, recreate them, meditate on them, and then figure out what the hell is going on in my head around it (Yay to weird methodological approaches!).
[those are some crooked photos!] I think I might keep it in this order. I think what was so intriguing to me about the photograph is the ability to reduce even breasts to types, when, if you actually put the illustration next to the breasts in the book, it… doesn’t work. The reduction is actually, hilarious. And the actual breasts in the book are overwhelming. So, that is where I am. The problem is, and will always be, the reduction of women of color from specific groups being reduced to a squiggly line, a line that can be erased and erases at the same time.
I need to finish cleaning up the drawings. I am debating adding the numbers. I will be sharing the triptych with a class in 1.5 weeks, so I need to get everything finalized. I think I’m almost there.
Currently reading Cruising Utopia, The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz (Ha! he has a wikipedia page). It made me think of the image Your fictions become history (a current side obsession). It is reminding me that I have a very specific temporal position I work from. I think that it is something I need to… not get over… but be mindful of as I approach people working in different temporal frameworks. How/where we see the importance of time changing so much about how we approach the world. Truly. Also, I feel really dirty for having a temporal framework.
My Basic Temporal Configuration
I believe the now is transient at best.
(really, it is fleeting.)
I believe the past is about the future.
(as such, we create both the past and the future)
I believe that this means that the past is the key to the future.
(and the now is a combination of both the past and the future)
I believe memory is how we remember the past.
(it is also the key to how we imagine the future)
I believe that what we remember is faulty.
(and the past determines how we fill in the gaps in the future)
I believe the Digital fundamentally changes how we conceptualize & interact with Memory.
(and this is a big part of what I’m exploring in my dissertation)