FOTW | Part 1. On beauty and terror: The Black Outdoors

Written by Ndjha Ka | Feature visual by Larah Fisher incorporated by Fred Moten’s “Blackness and Nonperformance” MoMA.

‘Anybody who thinks that they can understand how terrible the terror has been, without understanding how beautiful the beauty has been against the grain of the terror, is wrong.’  -Fred Moten (2014), The Black Outdoors

This fruit of the week features a talk between two scholars. Fred Moten, ‘in his work he has consistently argued that any theory of politics, ethics, or aesthetics must begin by reckoning with the creative expressions of the oppressed’ (McCarthy, 2018). Saidiya Hartman, has written about feeling the continual legacy of slavery and ‘[making] productive sense of the gaps and silences in the archive of trans-Atlantic slavery that absent the voices of enslaved women’.

In this talk they lead us through various questions, musings, and lingering breakthroughs. How do we get out from under the regime of everyday violences? Being outdoors is premised on an inness, does the outdoors always exist or is it also because there is an in that has been made? And what happens when we finally get out? Can we get out?

 

An attempt to answer

  1. Architecture creates an inside, thus articulating an outside while playing part in making the outside an idea as well as an aesthetic form.

 

The architect is indoors

The outside begins to exist

 

  1. In other words, the outdoors exists in relation to architecture but does not need architecture to exist while architecture necessarily needs the outdoors for it to be able to exist.

 

Moten and Hartman challenge us to locate blackness, outside the ‘antithesis’ of blackness to whiteness, as the ‘ante-thesis’ to whiteness (Fred Moten, 2015). Ante-, a prefix meaning before. It is not then a question of escaping blackness but escaping the idea of blackness made during the construction of whiteness (as a concept of purity and superiority that is then located in people’s bodies) and thus what black people are made into through this institutional set up that privileges whiteness. If we think of whiteness as a concept that tries to escape the dynamism of existence and categorise it, then what does that which, has before, existed outside the universalisation of the absolute humanity of whiteness become when this whiteness has been erected? In other words,  does whiteness need its own idea of blackness to exist while blackness itself does not need whiteness because its existence is not premised in the idea and aesthetic form that whiteness turns it into? – is that the way out?
The world is disciplined

Black tries to hold on

Through the creation of a thing

That which is unlike it, becomes new

 

Paradoxes of the black outdoors

1a) ‘to produce a thought of the outside while in the inside’  – Saidiya Hartman

1b) ‘the thought of the outside can only occur from the inside’Fred Moten

 

2) ‘Living inside of a world that is in so many ways uninhabitable’ – Saidiya Hartman

3) Thus,  ‘the labour of trying to produce an outside, trying to create an opening’.  -Saidiya Hartman

 

Creating an opening

Not being able to get out is violent, the process of getting out is violence, and then possibly being outside is itself a form of violence.

That is, the outside also brings constraints. The nightmare is both inside and outside because the constraints of the outside are directly related to what is happening on the inside. Let us consider the reality of living as a black womxn and as a queer black person in South Africa where class plays a significant role in dictating this reality. Rape, as Pumla Gqola describes it, is a South African nightmare; white colonial and struggle masculinities (those employed to fight and survive against white supremacist authoritarianism) do not leave us when war is over, they become institutionalised and embedded in the fabric of relations within the society and they are not only embodied in men (Cockburn, 2007:234). These masculinities are transferred to the family unit in mirroring the same type of limiting control on womxn as it were on the state. Womxn, therefore, function under a ‘continuum of violence’ where there is no ‘aftermath’ and are thus in a constant state of war; men learn from a particular type of masculinity that lets one assume ownership over womxn and their bodies under and an economic structure that reasserts the dominance of men which then enforces this unequal and oppressive dynamic (Lewis, 2013:17). Militant sexuality (rape, sexual harassment, street harassment, homophobic sexual violence) are extensions of these dominant masculinities which are in the same perverse sense understood as protectors (the father of the household, the father of the nation). The fear of masculinity under the war zone of patriarchy and facilitated using the weaponry of militant sexuality works to control the movements and actions of womxn and queer people.

If we are to live in a new ethic different from apartheid and create notions of nationhood and citizenship wholesomely, we have to challenge the militarized masculinities that remain, as they are internalised by men, expressed in the construction of the state and upheld in the general structuring of society and its institutions. They thus depend on the normalisation of heterosexual (as well as queer) relations ordered according to specific gender roles that privilege the dominance and superiority of masculinity. We will never be out unless gendered relations are challenged because what we find when we get outside (of colonisation, of apartheid, of repression), is that for womxn and queer people, ‘the threat hasn’t been eliminated… so we need [also] to be out from the outside’ (Fred Moten, 2014). It is about ‘the ways that people [make] place together, the alternative [does not have] to be legible in terms of the [current form of reality]’ (Saidiya Hartman, 2014). What art have these groups of people created, what have they been saying? What are they currently saying? – This is a form of trying to get out by looking in as we, ‘[reckon] with the creative expressions of the oppressed’ (McCarthy, 2018).

08_Girl-Talk-still2

Wu Tsang, Girl Talk, 2015.

‘Anybody who thinks that they can understand how terrible the terror has been without understanding how beautiful the beauty has been against the grain of the terror is wrong.’

Fred Moten 2014, The Black Outdoors

 

in short:

The architect is indoors

The outside begins to exist

The world is disciplined

Black tries to hold on

Through the creation of a thing

That which is unlike it becomes new

Freedom is to get out

By going in

 

References:

  1. Clarke, Y. 2008. Security sector reform in Africa: a lost opportunity to deconstruct militarised masculinities?. 10: 49-66. Feminist Africa. Available: http://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/ssr_africassrdeconstructmilitarisedmasc_clarke_2008_0.pdf
  2. Cockburn, C. 2007. Gender, violence and war: What feminism says to war studies. From where we stand: War, Women’s Activism and Feminist Analysis. London and New York: Zed Books
  3. Duke Franklin Humanities Institute. 2014. Fred Moten & Saidiya Hartman at Duke University [Videofile]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_tUZ6dybrc&t=310s
  4. Enloe, C. 2016. Cynthia Enloe: Webinar on Militarism and Gender [Video File]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iU2Q0vwxwl8
  5. Lewis, D. 2013. “The Multiple Lens of Human Security through the Lens of African Feminist Intellectual Activism. In Women, Peace and Security. Eds T Karbo. 6(1): 16-28. African Peace and Conflict Journal. Available: http://www.apcj.upeace.org/issues/APCJ_Vol_6.1_June%202013_Final.pdf
  6. The Museum of Modern Art. 2015.  Fred Moten: ‘Blackness and Non-Performance| AFTERLIVES| MoMa|LIVE [VideoFile]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2leiFByIIg&t=3547s
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saidiya_Hartman (read more on bio. Accessed on 20 Feb 2018)
  8. Moten, F. 2014. ‘Come On, Get It’ in The Feel Trio. Letter Machine Editions
  9. Maldonado-Torres, N. 2007. On the Coloniality of Being. 21: 2-3. Cultural Studies. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09502380601162548

 

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