Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shortwave Listenings: January 2007

Alondra Nelson (The Factness of Diaspora)
Nalo Hopkinson (The New Moon's Arms)
Kamari Clarke (Victim and Perpetrator)
Sekou Sundiata (51st Dream State(meant))
Judith Butler (Disciplinarity and Critique)
Fredric Jameson (Comment After Butler)
Henry "Poison" Gattis (Black Panther Party Chicago)
Ahmed Robin (Black Panther Party Detroit)
Jose "Cha Cha" Jimenez (Young Lords Party Lincoln Park)
Denise Oliver (Young Lords Party/Black Panther Party NYC)
Kathleen Cleaver (Black Panther Party Oakland)
Miquel "Mickey" Melendez (Young Lords Party NYC)
Tim Lenoir (Planning Our Intellectual Futures)
Karla Holloway (This is Not About Lacrosse/Glacial Change)
Della Pollock (Planning Our Intellectual Futures)
Lewis Gordon (Violent Non-Violence?)
Maurice Wallace (Political Theology)
Irene Silverblatt (Spanish Inquisition?)

So what happens when I get the chance to listen to some amazing brilliant people and I haven't made a collage in advance and they are talking to more people than just me oh my me? Shorwave listening! Kin to the reading essays on, these will be essays about the many talks/panels that I may have listened to in a given week/ish period. This week I listened to all of these people (and they might not even know it!) at the Radicals in Black and Brown panel accompanying an exhibit about the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party @ the Stone Center @ UNC and at the Collapse of Traditional Knowledges Conference thrown by the Lit Program at Duke and at two of the job talks that the cultural anthropology department had (in order to try to replace Deb Thomas and John Jackson). Oh and Nalo Hopkinson happened to be hosted by the NC State Creative Writing Program. What can I say? It's been an intercolliegiate week.

First I have to say, with the exception of the Nalo Hopkinson reading (she's dropping a new book called The New Moon's Arms about sea people and a sunken slave ship..which if anyone is cross referencing my blogs besides the weirdo named Gregory whose been sending me important for me this week. I am listening to Glissant long distance. Anyway with the exception of my question about Hopkinson's relationship to history (which I must say came after the very boring standard.."how did you become a writer?" "what is hard about writing?" questions) I didn't ask anybody anything. I can call myself being a good listener (or make excuses about how I really shouldn't take up time with my concerns in another department's hiring meetings) I was really just afraid. I haven't really been in this academic setting with other academic people for a few months. I was embarassed about asking a question like..."how do you know?" or "tell me about your mother.." or "what about rape? what do you have to say about that?" So I just did my best to channel some questions into other psuedo open minds and write down my own daydreams.

Alondra Nelson was a complete surprise. I realize now that it may have been the rhyme of her title with Brent Edwards' The Practice of Diaspora that got me into the room, but whatever it was was meant to be. The way that she is framing herself in relation to critical black diaspora studies and narratives of population genetics is very exciting. She is also full of stories and interesting to listen to. The lesson that I learn from her is that positioning myself in relationship to theory that I'm talking about is crucial and can allow me to do all the storytelling that I want to do.

Kamari Clarke started with story telling and is clearly brilliant. Her work on the specter of African victimhood/criminality as a reinscription of colonialism in an information moment through the international court system is so necessary. What I learned from her is that if I every want a job (that's really an if) I need to prepare a job talk just for the job. This is the second time that I've seen a job talk seem rushed and nervous because of the difficulty of condensing a chapter of your book into a short talk outloud.

Then again maybe I should just get the whole job search committee to create a performance off the cuff. Sekou Sundiata opened up the session that he did for/at the Durham Literacy Center with some interesting meditations on dreaming and on the word American. Though a member of my eventual breakout group and even more eventual impromtu dance company said that the word "American" left an acid taste in his mouth, Sundiata seemed to embrace the word itself, seemed interested in reclaiming an "american tradition" of protest and revolutionary action through langauge...I'm not so sure. However I am attracted to his idea about the whole world being dreamed inside of America...not wistfully...but critically. To what extent is there a (Dionne Brand would say filmic?) an idea of the world being produced in the united states that is effecting us all? And in what place does that put mother/country radicals and those of use who see ourselves as thirdworldwithin type rebels in what Denise Oliver called the "belly of the beast". What is the technology of dreaming? I don't know...but it may be related to other technologies that we used that the beautiful process of creating a conversation between strangers into a collaborative performance to share. With some people I didn't know until now (all teachers it seems...including one of my unnamed heroes from the ethnic studies hunger strikes in 1996 @ columbia) i danced the pain of the American dream and a vision of what communal education could look like. Damn. Fast results and the presence of love. I mean it...this is something that I need more of. I wonder how willing the folks in my academic setting would be to get up and dance with me. The most academic seeming breakout group at this session protested the assignment. Sigh.

The question that I just asked appears again. How seriously are any of us living in and off of the university willing to take Judith Butler's attractive claims that we are inside undone, opaque and related as people. Would we dance that together? Would we write with hammers on the walls of these buildings. Would we let go of the departments or the parts that we seem to want to play over and over again with different words. Would we relinquish all credit (i mean this word credit in the transnational economic sense) for how smart we sound?

What Jameson asks of us through his reading of Butler is the bravery to confront the violence in our community specifically in terms of the lacross team rape violence, or the false innocence that is being defended with all the strategies of capitalism itself. As if capitalism itself is at stake...and I think it is. In fact I think that is the reason for him to say that. I heard his statement (while literally holed up in the back corner of the standing only room) as a completely unexpected blessing. I felt something like love and something like a gratitude that I am afraid to have for the person I am supposed to think that he is.

Speaking of capitalism itself...the so necessary, so affirming black panther/young lords panel at UNC was moderated (rather rudely i must say) by an old unfriend of mine (Columbia resurfaces in Durham) anyway this woman was a grad school member of the International Socialist Organizaton Columbia Chapter. I hope this organization has completely changed, but when I showed up at the first meeting it was group of white folks and this one sista ready to co-opt all things colored and tell me what to do. I said point blank that if i wanted some white guys to tell me what to do (and to pay the party to do it at that) then I would just go to the usual. When I told this sista about the art for social change stuff i was doing with the so-called lumpenproleteriat she said that if i didn't buy a membership to the ISO I "wasn't really an activist". Right. Evidently I listened to that, and I remember that...but I didn't learn that. Evidently neither of us have learned...I'm still trying to explain the creative process of revolution and she's still trying to stifle activists (but now it's Kathleen Cleaver lookin at her like she's crazy and about to get slapped.)

Runaway star of the Black Panther/Young Lords panel, Denise Oliver (Jurina's favorite) who was a member of both parties...and who was the first woman on the central committee of the young lords. She got off to a beautiful start when Micky Melendez explained something about an "all male reading group" and she interrupted "hello? I was there...Marlene was there...." This woman will not be invisible even while continuing to represent a movement that keeps invisiblilizing women's leadership. Kathleen Cleaver presented an alternative narrative to the one I just presented...a narrative that i want to believe that the urban warrio woman actions of the panthers were illegible to the public because of the public's narrow views of what women could be. i want to belive that. Anyway the most important thing about Denise Oliver is the fact that she says "We could do this today!" refusing to sit proud of a glamourous radical history and insisting on the possibility of what we (and the people younger than me) can do now.

Runners up for the position of "star" are Micky Melendez who presenced the poets and leaders from the Young Lord Party who are now in the space of ancestors. His invocations were timely and sacred (even though homegirl tried to cut him off). and Poison spoke about his love for Fred Hampton in a way that was almost lust using the exact phrase "testicular fortitude" to explain how Fred convinced him to join the party. The question that I take from the session is the question that the panthers posed to the Young Lords when they were a gang. "Why are you fearless when it comes to gang violence and scared when it comes to the police?" How to change that question seemed their structural goal and that need for a critical relationship to violence and power remains.

The relationship to power that I want to embody is Karla Holloway's. Her beautiful last owrds for the Collapse conference "this is not about lacrosse" alonside a description of glacial islands moving south and academic institutions catching up with some kind way to break off from the culture of violence was what I would have been saying if I could ever know how. As usual. I have a lot more listening to do.

Michelle Johnson: Orange County Rape Crisis Center

for Michelle


through a veil of absent orchards
and television gloss
i look towards you

and imagine you climbing
up a route made of chain mail
the inside of an armor
that cannot fit growth
your fingers not small enough
to hold

i imagine that your days
are not made
of bright material
not sheltered in draped silk

i imagine that your everyday
is woven in dull silvers
and worn with leaks
shaped like protection
with holes
practiced endurance

so that light slips through
and recolors your face
with and unflinching warmth
so that light slips

Orange County Rape Crisis Center

Jan and Jen: Triangle Community Works and the Gay and Lesbian Helpline

for Jan and Jen

i picture you both
wearing pails of water
standing on slanted ground
pop-up pyramid stories
and strained leg muscles

or i see you in a field
emptied of color
and peppered with buildings
trees like footstools
and a gray that could be
green, blue or neither

i think you would be
brightly dressed
and my eyes watching you
take turns switching you each
alternating in the foreground

and you two try
to let your smiles spill
to watercolor the whole scene
to radiate a saving light


Queen Precious Jewel: Embrace

For Queen Precious Jewel Zabriski

It's officially carnival
when you show up
and as if wearing secret
service earphones
we all comply

there is suddenly room
to (un)wind
and jump and wave
there is more than space
to laugh, clap hands
be seen
fall apart

the streets become clear places
to stand down fear
to dance with ancestors
to paint our bodies
bright excess of peace

everything shines
when you come through

Mandy Carter: Out Southern Black Lesbian Social Justice Activist for Peace!

for Mandy

like a readying breath
for a worldwide corset
you make the impossible beautiful
you break revolution down
into free gifts and short stories

i imagine your days
as a mosaic of boarding passes
an archive where the artifacts
are themselves
for full air technologies
the quality of seeing through smoke
the superpower of listening past tolerance

like a penciled reminder of possibility
you hold the luxury of yes
you trace the footpaths to "we"
as the windbreaker against no itself

yours is a tale for roadtrips
a beat for banjos
through bright lenses of salt
yours is a story of move meant

Mandy is one of the founders of Southerners on New Ground (SONG)