Tuesday 6 February 2018

‘I think you know you fucked up: the raciality of the concept, as such’ (rough edit/draft version)


The grammar of their demands—and, by extension, the grammar of their suffering—was in- deed an ethical grammar. Perhaps it is the only ethical grammar available to modern politics and modernity writ large, for it draws our attention not to how space and time are used and abused by enfranchised and violently powerful interests, but to the violence that underwrites the modern world’s capacity to think, act, and exist spatially and temporally. Frank B, Wilderson III

I think you know you fucked up. But do you know why you fucked up? And do you know how you fucked up? Do you know that why you fucked up and how you fucked up are totally entangled? Do you know that entanglement is given in the raciality of the concept, as such? I wish I could be convinced that you’re thinking right now about how and why you fucked up. I wish I could convince you that the continued existence of human life on this earth depends upon you thinking about why and how you fucked up. Fred Moten 

‘I think you know you fucked up’: On Conceptual Poetry and White Historicity

In 2015, Kenneth Goldsmith read a poem titled ‘The Body of Michael Brown,’ he read aloud to an audience at Brown University, describing the operation as: ‘ altered... for poetic effect; I translated into plain English many obscure medical terms that would have stopped the flow of the text; I narrativised it in ways the text seem less didactic and more literary.’ By Goldsmith deciding to perform an appropriative poem that drew on the Saint Louis County autopsy backlit with a projected portrait of Michael Brown, he decided to disclose how dead racialised bodies relate to his purported radicalism. 

Goldsmith not only performed and re-performed the role of state violence by way of the autopsy, but reproduced black nonbeing as the eternal proximity to death; ensuring that the assemblages of political, social and ontological violence against blackness remains in tact. The title of this essay is derived from Fred Moten’s response to Kenneth Goldsmith’s reading, and more generally the emerging ways in which Conceptual Poetry and poetry more generally has come to depend on raciality as to ‘expand’ its conceptual arsenal and premise. Herein, the ‘raciality of the concept, as such,’ stands to underline the ways in which material is always writing blackness as its grammar, ensuring the logic of exclusion that reproduces the black subject as a pathological (affectable) ‘I’. Goldsmith's ‘model’ of feeding texts through html. coding processes, regurgitating traffic reports, or re-typing Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' on a blog - or, for that matter, the ‘Flarf Poets' recombinations of internet spam texts as ironic parody celebrate a kind of ‘virtual spectacle’, in which all discourses are made equivalent by a series of operations - might appear similar to the collapse of specialisation and separation into a collage of discourse in much modernist poetry - from Pound's or Olson's mytho-historical projects to the 'rubbish theory' of J.H. Prynne, in which the language of high finance comes up against the other languages it conceals: discourses of pain, hurt, environmental despoilage, wounds and damage.

Yet Goldsmith, in his lethal negligence and menacing lack of investment in issues surrounding guilt or moral responsibility ensures that contemporary versions of the avant-garde, as they are expressed by way of Conceptual Poetry overtly mobilise anti-blackness and violence against black bodies. This is exactly what Moten meant by the ‘raciality of the concept,’ as it is neutralised by the ways in which language can freely be assumed to situate within the spatial and temporal matrix what is extended to white humanity as its ‘legal’ right ‘create’ its own terms. We can herein begin to identity ‘freedom’ and speech as colluding to become central building blocks in the ways in which White humanities self-determination re-signifies black social death.

The capacity, as it is seen, is the capacity for futurity as it extends the complexity of ‘speech’ and testimony within the conception of objecthood and its ‘unmoving’ to ‘inhabit’ the present and direct the future. It is language which fixes limits and locates equivalences, as capacity holds the impossibility of blackness as coherence by disavowing subjective capacity for interlocutory life as difference; life inhering the possibility of imagining its own structural positionally, confirming the position which white humanity is established and against which it maintains and renews its coherent corporeal integrity. Blackness stands as already future-negating, as nothing more than a ‘fact’ of violence that renders within the historical continuity of the future the constant fungibility and accumulability of black flesh as abandonment into objecthood, from which Goldsmith evidently understood the body of Michael Brown, as not that of a body but a death-archive to be enumerated, dissected and possessed by language and the state. The slave trade required documents just like Brown's autopsy report relying on the 'silence in the archive' as a space not only of confinement but of erasure where the violent repetitions maintain genealogical destruction by natal alienation, general dishonour and gratuitous violence.

By the focus on legal documentation that detail the particulars of corporeal death, Goldsmith not only discloses the ways in which black life and death are entangled in legal records but ensures that Michael Browns death is inscribed in the afterlife of slavery in understanding the ways in which Goldsmith’s reading of the autopsy of Michael Brown is an erasure through and by white historicity, and one which itself attests through state violence the dominion of real property (as to be) to be measured, calculated, or sustained in tangible ways, and how of being property far exceeds those ‘granted a body’ in the unending aftermath of slavery, as it loops time, becoming for Murillo the political-ontological position of the socially dead across all time, trailing with it as the ‘warped’ and ‘distorted’ untimeliness of blackness.

Herein, the autopsy becomes not simply a procedure of the science of man but ‘proofing’ of the site of violence in terms of investigation as an encoded erasure of Black death. Autopsy findings not only attempt to reduce structural and ontological violence to a category of examination in determining the ‘cause of death’ but as it presupposes and postulates the realisation of the subject’s true cause of corporeal finitude. Here, such findings and ‘evidence’ ensure white humanity can witness and ‘read’ blackness through its own lens by the violent temporal force that marks and sutures the black body to the trappings of pathology and diagnosis that stem from Enlightenment medicine. Pathology as it is defined, is either the cause and/or effects of disease(s) or abnormalities that through examination stage the space of diagnosis and forensic reasoning. Where Humanist ‘discourse’ exerts its power through ‘gratuitous’ violence by rendering the black as resource-both accumulative and fungible, sealing blackness as living-death in a world of living subject.

The rational ensures the accumulative potentiality for white possessive subjects as the possibility of meaning through understanding and diagnosis of pathologies, as an exercise of proximity of internal and external examination; as the imposition of rationalism as comes to underwrite ‘cause’ as situated within or on the body itself. I want to illustrate briefly how such assumptive logic is not only the mode of anti-black arrangement taking force, but where the body is a kind of form in order to determine or identify a particular grammar itself. Here the fact that blackness becomes 'irrelevant' to medical research imparts how humanism needs science, as Da Silva notes in order to ‘denounce race’s scientific irrelevance...(to) sublate the materiality (body and social position) of the economically dispossessed.’ It is here, within the domain of the laws of the body politic that governs and configures access to the body-internally and externally- as physical death is only the most evident effect of the post-Enlightenment desire for transparency and the historical/scientific signifying strategies that (re)produce it.

Examples of black violence can only be brought into view, can only be through the perspective of staging pained existence for inspection, and the ways in which ‘scientific strategies, become alibis that sustain racial and colonial juridical domination and economic exploitation.’ The historical logic of capture is herein reproduced, as a gesture that consistently re-institutes the transparent subject of science and history as the very economy of signification and ethics that accompany them. In order to construct the project of ‘global justice’ as it carries juridical universality and self-determination of modern thought in leaving the ‘unthought’ as precisely the space or gap in which anti-blackness is to be determined. Here, the ‘out of frame’ (non)ontological status of blackness is injunction against existence, objects and their proprieties including space and time, cause and effect, and possibility, where the black man has no ontological 'resistance' in the purview of the white man, and is understood within the parameters of modern representation as the very thing that 'thrives in the stage of interiority' that also delineates or circumvents another onto-epistemological moment, ‘the stage of exteriority.'

For the racial emerges in projects of knowledge that presume scientific universality as universal reason plays the role of an exterior determinate in modern forms of representation. Here, the transparency thesis of Denis Ferreira Da Silva in Toward a Global Idea of Race is critical in understanding the onto-epistemological assumption governing post-Enlightenment thought, in order to not only understand the field of science as this very privileged onto-epistemological dimension but also to elaborate upon the staging of science as the proper domain of the production of the truth of man. As Goldsmith has previously expressed, ‘language works on several levels, endlessly flipping back and forth between the meaningful and the material: we can choose to weigh it and we can choose to read it,’ where texts are considered as ‘fodder for remixing,’ and embellishing new types of meaning as the ‘purpose of détournement’ becomes to take the most hateful language and neuter it, the ‘sweetest and making it ugly...restoring, rearranging, reassembling, revamping, renovating, revising, recovering, redesigning, returning, redoing: verbs that start with re-produce provisional language.’ Or how Goldsmith in his anthology, 'Against Expression,' includes excepts from M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong! that explores late 18th century British court case of 150 slaves, who were thrown overboard so the slave ship's captain could collect the insurance money. Goldsmith characterises the inclusion of Zong as the: ‘ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their détournement in the service of experimental writing.’  

Here, Goldsmith extinguishes all boundaries that prevent experimental writing from expanding the ground of its own cartography. It does so precisely by enveloping all forms of language, legal or otherwise under the same rubric of operation, in that it merely becomes an operation ‘one does’ to the lexical order, in order to subvert and recover the very nucleus of experimentalism; to become ‘a continual submitting to a sacrificial... value (that) exists only in what it opens for and echoes of what is essential to the tradition.’  The very experimentalism of Goldsmith is one that seeks to structure by the opposition of spectacle and routine, violence and pleasure as it is perpetrated under the guise of a new radicalism of writing, where the mundane and the quotidian alloy the suffering of black life with the edifying pleasure of cultural production.