Tuesday 6 February 2018

Skin and Poetry (DRAFT/UNFINISHED):


I wish to begin this passage by braiding Frank B. Wilderson III and Saidiya Hartman’s grammar of suffering as the staging of narrative, for how it begins to draw 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.

 Herein, this very ‘unethical network of distribution’ at once enables the white witness to recognise through its ‘coincidence of nature’ the suffering of black sentience as it becomes to define the scene in which crime becomes spectacle, where the agonising groans of suffering humanity are made music. It is precisely this suffering, which disavowals the testimony of black suffering by the practice of rendering intelligible through processes of the staging the ‘spectacle,’ or the ‘scene' in conveying these horrors. Hartman renders the ‘accounts of suffering humanity,’ its agonising groans through documents of the ‘injustice of slavery,’ where pain provides the common language of humanity by extending humanity to the ‘dispossessed’. In conveying and reclaiming the ‘abominations of slavery’ we can save its ‘reminder,’ to disturb the sensibility, to ‘bring it near, inspect it closely, and find that it is inflicted on men and women, who possess the same nature and feelings.’  The sentence by Rankin as quoted by Hartman in Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, is the space where imagination of the self-conscious, rational member of civil society can only conceive its proximity to endless and ceaseless violence by arousing ones own sensibilities to render slaves suffering legible. Empathy ‘fails’ as it finds itself between witness and spectator and hence submits to the instrumentality of narrative discourse. The precariousness of empathy and suffering for others brought about through ‘inspection’ reverberates the violence of identification qua ontology as the assumption of equivalency between personhood and subjectivity as it comes to signify the transparent (Hegelian) I. These stages of spectacle are intended to shock and to disrupt the comfortable remove of the 'reader/spectator by providing the minutest detail of macabre acts of violence, embellished by ones own fantasy.’ By bringing suffering close the state of immunity for the White operates to ‘translate’ the ‘indescribable’ and ‘insufferable’ accounts by locating meaning within its own particular grammar of suffering. The site of the slave narrative configures Blackness as the very binding of the onto- epistemo-ethical genre of Man, where blackness’s ontological impossibility configures the space for the gratuitous violence that occurs and reoccurs, underwriting the modern ‘worlds capacity to think, act and exist.’ It not only secures but presents no internal recognition of the libidinal costs of turning human bodies into sentient flesh. 

Black Suffering reinforces the hierarchy of humanity through the genre of sentiment, as the inventoried reproduction of certain types or genres. This typification or genre presents the grammatical structure that seals meaning for Whiteness, relegating blackness into the chain of being that treats Humankind as given. Its givenness enables the ontological position of White humanity to establish, maintain, and renew its coherence. What Hortense Spillers refers to as the ‘hieroglyphics of flesh’ result in the reoccurrence of raciality as ‘visual-truths’ of value that are in turn accorded to the quasi-biological distinction between different human groups even after being liberated in the aftermath of slavery, which remains affixed to the body as it comes to ‘stretch blackness’ to catalyse an expansion of state and civil society in its ontological structures of empathy and categories of ‘intra-White thought.’ 
Flesh stands as both the cornerstone and potential ruin of the world of Man, where the materialised scene of flesh offers a method for reading the constitutive relationality in the modern world as one, not only of racialised hierarchy as the captive body becomes the source of an irresistible, destructive sensuality whilst being reduced to a thing or object, therein becoming being for the captor. Flesh carries with it the legal idiom of ‘personhood as property,’ as by becoming the precarious threshold, not only of the ‘grouping’ of racialised practices of capture but as the expression the constant fungibility and accumulability of black flesh as abandonment into objecthood. Here, the terms of disunion in extension begin to allow us to think social death and wounding of skin as the dis- articulation inherent in the very constitution of the grammatical object as it ‘moves’. 
Here, Barrett speaks to the ‘peroration’ as ‘the concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience,’ which speaks to Wilderson’s poetic violence as it displaces the apparatus and technologies of the literacy as by their ‘hyperbolic corporeal opposite—African-derived bodies.’ Here, I wish to quote Barrett at length, in order not only to reverberate this notion of ‘technologies of literacy’ but to implicate such technologies in a wider understanding of the necessity of poetic violence that come to be produced by Wilderson: ‘ (T)he classic slave narrative delineates the modern interiority of consciousness—subjectivity—as holding and expressing, self-perplexingly by its own formula, immediately violent imperatives as cognates of the immanent idea of Freedom individuated by the power of the state,’ Here, the violent enforcement in corporeality is in order to maintain the ‘visceral specificity of the Africa-derived body with the very construction of White subjectivity as an ineluctable historical development (in the Hegelian sense), as well as the seemingly ineluctable premise of the modern state.’ Hence, the function of Wilderson’s poetry is to provide a sustained dis-articulation of normative violence that discontinues the mise-en-scène of the slave narrative by offering a synchronic instance illustrative of the incomprehensibility of the Black’s required absence from the spatiotemporal structure of narrative itself. 

Wilderson's poetics provides resistance that sutures the particular freedom ascribed to the imaginative act of poetic construction by the impossibility of its final determination as thought or thinking. It is here that the ‘by Simon Ortiz’s epic poem, from Sand Creek. I will not go into this comparative analysis here but only state this difference is one by which violence against Blacks becomes elaborated and positioned as accumulated and fungible objects; where the black is openly vulnerable to the ‘whims of the world’, and so is his or her cultural production. Wilderson clarifies this assertion by expounding the confines by which to operate ‘outside of the explanatory power of cultural studies—and think beyond the pale of emancipatory agency by way of symbolic intervention’. Here, Wilderson calls for a substitution of a culture of politics for a politics of culture, whereby we can begin to destroy and dissemble the current ethical assemblage that ensures structural positionality of blackness as embedded within the semantic field of White coherence, which goes to relationally ground embodiments of individualism, autonomy, responsibility and self-determination as corporeal integrity of Whiteness. 

In considering Wilderson’s ruse of analogy, I wish to confound the production of a textual economy that embeds the gratuitous violence of the black as the very ontological integrity for which it cannot claim. Wilderson’s brilliant elaboration of the ‘ruse of analogy’ points variously to the impossibility of figuring any ontological status as a conversion of the incomprehensible into the comprehensible, where this ‘mode of conversion’ is the very self- narrating of violent inscription by a self-reflective consciousness that attempts to write the Black into being, by recognising itself in the Other that it is not. Here, the word alienation, operates across several meanings as the ‘state or experience of being’ alienated from something or as a depersonalisation/ loss of identity that results or causes difficulties in relating to society. Wilderson’s focus on Lacanian notions of alienation ‘removed fear and loathing from the word’ itself as what makes subjectivity possible and from which ones existence is understood as ones place ‘outside of oneself.’ For Lacan, alienation, either in the imaginary or in the symbolic, is productive of subjectivity for all sentient beings. In other words, subjectivity is a discursive or signifying process of becoming which excludes the ontological impossibility as the contradictory being of blackness. 

Here, as Wilderson goes on to express, the exposition of the poverty of full speech’s political or emancipatory promise is exposed, whereby ‘only by being alienated within the Big A, language, or the symbolic order, does the moi, small a or ego, come to be the je, the subject of lack, the subject of a void.’ Wilderson begins to point out that the assumed ‘relationality’ of Lacanian alienation is not extended to blackness because it positions the ‘black in infinite and indeterminately horrifying and open vulnerability, (as) an object made available (which is to say fungible) for any subject.’It is here that we can begin to understand the distorted role of speech and its rhetorical labor in forms of discursive or symbolic intervention as variegated integrations of anti-blackness, and the manifold ways in which language, as Wilderson goes on to express, is to be understood as ‘incapacity’ for the form of self-subjectivity; as he writes ‘my loss has no language because ‘it’ has no grammar.’ Loss is precisely the maintenance of civil society as it relies on such paradigmatic positioning of linear coherence and narrative of historical hence temporal progress.

Wilderson’s poetry and the drives by which it’s animated and punctuated, deny any redemptive closure by fracturing the causal principle of the form or story as it binds and connects with human (white) psychology in locating resolution or closure for the personas featured, and for the reader in turn. Wilderson’s poems harness the very resistance to what it communicates—its offer of communion between reader and author are damaged beyond recuperation: as it jolts from one verbal violation to another, as if the poem were inclining the force of violence as the heart of the problem. Herein, Wilderson’s poetry also discloses its resistance to the teleological structure of the ‘'where to' of the poem 'as it moves', as it contradicts the symbolic order of the future. 

The particular immured ‘pain’ that functions as oft-repeated or restored character of these accounts and our distance from them are ‘signalled by the theatrical language usually resorted to in describing these instances—and especially because they reinforce the spectacular character of black suffering.’ Wilderson precisely understands such reproduce as that which utilises poetic construction to re-form relationality as a vision of hope amid the violence. Wildersons labours the poem as to register every line as an attempt to start again-to get at what it means to begin the poems and thus in some sense make irrecoverable the possibility of its completion, since it is this completion that signals black suffering as spectacle, as the staged space wherein ontological positionalities disclose violence as the very ground of blackness. 

To realise potentiality and capacity is to have hold over the 'stress' of ones own terms, and to be able to determine intonation as the legible structure that not only finds equivocation in the world as futurity (stress as intonation) but as the pleasure of abstract equivalency between that of syllable and stress. Wilderson posits the futurity of meaning as always already coming towards itself, as a returning to and an reappropriation of what it already was – its facticity; wherein temporality, understood as the synthesis of the ‘ahead of’, the ‘already’, and the ‘alongside’ – or future, past, and present here ground the relevance of John Murillo’s concept of untime to Wilderson’s poetry. 

Murillo’s concept of ‘untime’ underwrites this question of how we theorise a sentient being who is positioned by the structure of violence and how the ‘untimely’ distortion of continuity frames blackness in terms of its originary narrative and its beginning. Murillo expounds the mutation of time as the ‘violent distortion of Blackness’s political-ontological, imaginative and physical relation to space’ and its relegation to a zone of ‘nonbeing’. Untime permits a mediation upon the creation of black space by exemplifying its ‘proximity’ to deathliness that situates black people ‘from without’. Murillo embraces the risk of obliteration by fronting the ‘dereliction of being,’ as the form of an ‘unresolvable paradox’ of ‘procreative and creative’ mediations, that Murillo in turn posits as the accumulated wellspring from which blackness might leap ‘toward utter destruction’. 
Here, the longue durée of black social death ‘halts’ and loops time; distributing the political- ontological position of the socially dead across all time, trailing with it as the ‘warped’ and ‘distorted’ untimeliness of blackness encoded by the violent temporal force that marks and sutures the black body. In other words, the future proposes itself as the pure lethality to black ‘identity’, since the very possibility of the future sustains the violent repetitions that maintain the genealogical fantasy of white enjoyment. Time, then as ‘encoder’ or braid, paradoxically retain black ‘originiarity’ or ‘beginning’ as proximity to existence through ‘untime’. 


On Unending:

I consider the tension of Murillo’s ‘untime’ as intricately bound to the work produced by Blackness and the ‘endless’ spectre of death as ‘becoming subject’ for white ontology, as Murrilo explains the ‘untimeliness of death in relation to Blackness (as that which) secures this impossibility.’  In other words, the endless proximity to death renders any chance of meaningful living impossible. The ethical demand to ‘look’ upon what it ‘means’ to be Black, in an anti-black world is precisely the contradiction that contains the suspension of socially meaningful death for blacks. It is that, the socially dead are void of relationality and hence ‘subject’ to history as it disfigures by countless infinities of gratuitous violence and suffering. 
Untimeliness, becomes the impossibility ‘to live and think’ and to inscribe ‘life’ as such within ‘meaningful’ narratives, therein rendering violence as a permanent feature for the black subject. Wilderson’s poetry cannot end for the very same reason it cannot end, since : ‘the future belongs to the bullet. Filiation belong to the bullet. Our caring energies will be reserved not for the black but for the bullet. Reciprocity is not constituent element of the struggle between beings who are socially dead and those who are socially alive-the struggle between blacks and the world.’ Law Abiding ‘operates’ precisely as an analytic lens that ‘labors as a corrective’ to Humanist assumptive logic, and in doing so reveals the inherent anti-blackness of temporal processes. 
Wilderson sounds this temporal capacity as the very ‘heritage of historiography,’ as it pertains to the reclamation of past events that are at some historical moment located by the ‘stress’ or capacity herein to mark ones ‘moment’ as redeemed; where blackness recalls nothing ‘prior to’ the devastation that defines it. The compulsive and repetitive failure to check in Law Abiding, is what Wilderson goes on to elaborate as ‘unconsciously’ realising the ‘futility of assuring something within Blackness that is prior to the devastation that defines Blackness and the force of the repetition compulsion with which the poems roils within this devastation,’ by noting that such devastation is in fact vertiginous. 

Wilderson establishes the poem as containing ‘no line, no fragment(s)’ which could be pulled together in order to present ‘this devastation, to acton it in a contrapuntal way,’ rather operating a violence which engulfs Black flesh as it defines the very political strategy or therapeutic agency which would set about consigning the poem to ‘remedy’ the terms of closure as it turns over into thought. The repetitive compulsion attempts to imbue violence with a given temporal finitude conditionally as resolution qua the grammar of political ethics, where the structure of repetition is the grammar which restores, renews and reorganises the narrative spine of most, if not all political and ethical theory. A perfect example being how the ‘bullet’ in Law Abiding is provided the integrity not only of gender but of an interlocutory life; addressed as in of ‘access’ not only to the political imagination of civil society, but of the ways the the state produce potential for political situations in forming social conditions and historical trajectories that contend the definition of the present by pointing to a desired future outcome. Here, the activity of semantic transfer simultaneously establishes the historical force contained in order to mark ‘change’ or progress to the current tensions between experiences and expectations. Wherein we are provided with the ways in which the bullet, as an inanimate object is the very narrativisation of the political project of the juridical process maintaining the moral universalism of modern white ontology.