An Interview with Fred Moten, Pt. II
On Radical Indistinctness and Thought Flavor à la Derrida
Part I of this interview appears here.
FITZGERALD: Conceptually, I feel in agreement with you and especially as regards to my experience of texts. But when I listen to the voice of Charlie Patton, maybe I’m just privileging the myth of the voice over text, that voice seems to me an irreducible point that can’t be translated as socially constructed pattern or flow of histories. Patton’s voice becomes an instrument not repeatable outside of itself, its own repetitions. Perhaps I’m fetishizing the voice as the absolute marker of originality in artistry, like here is the human animal in all of its divine distinction.
MOTEN: When I talk about what I was saying before about the radicalization of singularity, I think there’s a distinction to be made between radical singularity and [blip in sound] the constant radicalization of singularity. So you’re talking about Charley Patton and saying that there’s something – I think what you just said was that there’s something unrepeatable or it can only repeat itself – but it can’t repeat itself. You know, I remember when Revenant put out that box set and they did a couple things, they did so much cool work cleaning up those recordings as much as they could be, but even then…
FITZGERALD: And all the backlash that ensued!
MOTEN: Well, because part of it is, you know, the backlash to me wasn’t…again it was all based on an ascription of a metaphysics to Charley Patton that it’s entirely unclear to me that he had any interest in. But what I would say is that – I just don’t feel like I have any empirical basis on which to talk about what you may call the voice of Charley Patton. There’s… I feel like there’s a kind of infinite ensemble of differentiated voice that we can talk about under the general rubric of Charley Patton. Or you can say something like, when I talk about the radicalization of singularity I’m talking about something like what one might call Charley Patton’s voice as a singularity that is constantly being radicalized in every iteration – every time a recording is played, that voice is differentiated.
FITZGERALD: And he’s bringing it to a tremble that exceeds the self?
MOTEN: Well, it’s… there’s a, yeah, that’s one way… I probably would get real picky and put it a slightly different way. Naw, I mean I don’t know that it “exceeds the self,” what I would mean to say is that it’s a tremble which produces the narrow and specific, fleeting and utterly and necessarily incomplete notion of the self among a bunch of other things that it does. There’s this phenomenon we like to call the self and one of the effects of the music comes under that name, or gives us a sense of what comes under that name, but at the very moment it gives us a sense of that it gives us a sense of the absolute limitations and smallness of that, and maybe even what I would call the unreality of that.
FITZGERALD: Is that part of what’s at work in the title The Little Edges?
MOTEN: Yeah. I mean. It’s, well… in my mind I got – okay, so: there’s a bunch of, I’ve just been real interested, I guess you could say, over the last couple of years, and that title, I guess you could say, is an early iteration of that interest, in what I’ve been thinking about more recently under the rubric of “blur.”
“Blur,” but you could also call it entanglement, you could think about it as, and then by way of Kant’s disgust and freak out over, the swarm, so to speak. The point is the constant refusal and disestablishment of separation. Let’s see – I mean, I’m interested in a kind of radical indistinctness. Let’s say it’s radical indistinctness that actually radicalizes singularity. So what I’m saying is that the early – you know – a moment in the history of trying to think about that, and where it comes from, and this is something I feel like is really nicely, you know, beautifully kinda captured in the cover of the book, that beautiful kind of hazy LA blur that my friend, the great photographer / artist / cinematographer / filmmaker Arthur Jafa, captured in that image, which was a still from some video he shot. But the real image in my mind beyond is – well, after my mom passed away, my partner Laura and I brought my grandmother, who my mom had been taking care of, to live with us in New York, and once we moved from New York to Los Angeles she came with us to live in Los Angeles but our house wasn’t set up to be able to, we were working and we didn’t have enough time or enough resources for her to stay with us all the time, also because of the level of care she needed, so she stayed in a nursing facility that was close enough so that we went there, one of us was there with her, every day; and we cooked most of her food, and one of the foods which she really loved, a kind of staple for her, was what she called “hot water corn bread.” And it’s just cornmeal mush that is fried, okay? And I would make it – she didn’t like, she kinda, she was very … there’s an art to making it, you know? I’ve seen like these great Japanese master chefs make tempora, and I said they do it with the same care and with the same skill that my grandmother and other folks like her that I knew growing up made hot water corn bread. There’s a real art to deep-frying, you know? That they knew. And the way that it would play itself out in this really specific way is that – so what you want to do is that you want to cook the piece of – you have to be very careful and specific about how you spoon the mush into the oil when you cook it. What my grandmother wanted was that there would be uncooked soft mush in the center, because that mush was good for sopping or soaking up pot liquor. So she wanted that soft center. But what she also loved was that the thickness in the middle would sorta fan out into these little hard edges that would be crispy, right? And if you cook it right it would be almost a kind of lace-work. A kind of lattice, kind of lacy texture at the end of it, and those are the little edges – those little hard edges like that – it’s almost like you can trace the history of the flow of that fanned out mush as it disappears almost, you could say, into the oil. And I couldn’t do it right, but Laura could do it right. So it got to the point where she wouldn’t eat my cornbread, but she would eat Laura’s cornbread. She would eat the cornbread of the Jewish girl who grew up on Fairfax and Olympic in Los Angeles, who comes from – the Hungarian immigrant’s great-granddaughter. She wouldn’t eat my whack but bonafide black Arkansas bread. And it was – yeah, that’s the little edges.
FITZGERALD: So that mush at the center is requisite to lead out to that seemingly hard, grainy shape at the end, they’re inexorably involved with each other?
FITZGERALD: Reading your In the Break I have a lot of the same sensations. A lot of times I detect a very powerful thought flavor ala Derrida. You say you use certain jargon to move you toward precision, furthering your ability to teach. But I wonder is it too reductive to also see that, like Derrida, you seem to have a great capacity and pleasure in the poetic textures of academic, philosophic, dense and abstract language. A title of yours says it much better: “all topological last friday evening.” To my ear part of what I hear you doing as a poet is having a kind of vernacular collision, a collision between different vernaculars. Isn’t there an inherently writerly quality to theoretical jargon?
MOTEN: Well, when I spoke earlier about jargon I was trying to be ecumenical in a way that – I mean in a sense that, I don’t – people use that term as if it were pejorative, “oh that’s too much jargon!” Shit, everyone has jargon, man! My kids have jargon – they’re talking about Pokémon, I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I mean, the only question is do I want to know what they’re talking about, am I willing to put effort into it? Do I have a vested interest in their interest in what it is they’re trying to talk about? And I do. So I’m learning more and more about the difference between grass types and ground types. And I was interested in Derrida. I had – I was lucky he, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, there was a kind of – grad students at that time that I knew – some of those students felt they were basically getting a bad education because there was such a resistance to what people called theory at that moment and one of the lucky things that happened was that when I was a sophomore that was the first year that Barbara Johnson came to teach at Harvard and she taught a course called “Deconstruction” spring of ’82. But no… spring of ’83, I guess, is when it was. And I was able to take the course and eventually took another course of hers on the lyric and she was my undergraduate thesis adviser. And I feel like – and then, when I went to Berkeley for grad school, Avital Ronell was there, and she become a kind of really great adviser and mentor and was on my dissertation committee. So I feel like I was kind of trained and raised up, so to speak, by these folks who were moving in this sort of Derridean line, who translated his work and invested in his work and his thinking and, you know, like, invested in his sound. Johnson in her own way, but Avital even more empathetically, they wanted their writing to sound like something. And Derrida wanted his writing to sound like something. He is invested in literature and talks, at length, about literature as his first investment. And I just think that – it doesn’t mean he isn’t empathetically a philosopher, it just means that he wanted – he knew that philosophy sounds like something, whether it wanted to sound like something or not; he knew that. And so, I’m totally interested in how Derrida sounds. But you know I have to say, I was, even though he and Derrida were in a kind of high nasty feud with one another, I learned a lot from John Searle, and from Donald Davidson and some of those analytic philosophers at Berkeley. I’m totally interested in the way they sound. I love analytical philosophical, and ordinary language philosophical, jokes and puns, they got these little quirks, you know. You love – there’s something unmistakable and rich and deep that flows through that kind of collective body of work. And it operates in ways that are similar to how we were just discussing Charley Patton and maybe what you wanted to call that radicialization of the singularity of his voice or voices … and you see the same thing in J.L. Austin or whatever. And I love that stuff. You hear it in Kant, you know. I love the way they sound. I’m not a philosopher and I know that my relation to that work is sort of happily amateurish – and when I say it’s amateurish I don’t to mean to denigrate it – there’s something to be said…
FITZGERALD: No, you’re saying it’s about love.
MOTEN: Well it’s about love and it’s about a very specific kind of, let’s say, uh, libidinally-driven rigor. That’s – so, yeah I love the way they sound. I love when Douglass talks about the unmeaning jargon of the slave songs; I don’t separate in my mind, or hierarchize, let’s say, Derrida’s unmeaning jargon and Douglass’ unmeaning jargon – I’m invested and interested in both of ‘em. And ultimately they blur for me. They form or are a part of a radical entanglement. So to get back to the other part of your question, I’m not interested in what people call “code-switching” and I’m not interested much in collision. Maybe, you know, well, collision is probably a better term for it just in the sense of…but I think that the word I would use, maybe the word that I get from my friend Steve, from Stefano, that he really first started talking about and that we’ve tried to elaborate together is, you know, rub. You know, or brushing together, brushing up against one another. That rub, that feel. And for me, when I read Louis Armstrong’s letters and Walter Benjamin’s letters they brush up against one another, for me. There’s a feel they share. That’s – so yeah, I’m interested in that stuff. I’m interested in all these things.
FITZGERALD: Did you want to be a musician?
MOTEN: Yeah. I mean, well, I don’t know if I want to be a musician, but I want to play music with other people. My mom made me take piano lessons – my grandmother was a great church piano player. We had a piano in our house for most of the time I was growing up and my mom wanted me to take piano and I did for a little while, but at that time I wanted to play basketball. I was, you know – and I later came to, I didn’t have a whole lotta talent at sports, really, and I have even less musical talent. But I probably, now, given what I do, I probably would’ve been better off spending more time – well I don’t even know if that’s true. There’s a way in which I guess I could say I would’ve been better off spending more time playing piano or learning that stuff – but I learned so much from sports, so much about – I think maybe there’s a way in which I learned just as much about art from sports as I did from music, so that you know, you just, you know…. But three years ago I got a bass, a bass violin, so I play that, so to speak. Not really. But I love to do what I’m doing, even though it’s so much less than playing. It might even be a little bit more than playing, too. And I’m hoping that someday I’ll be able to play with somebody else. But I gotta practice more.
FITZGERALD: So you say growing up you were more interested in basketball but do you, when did your love and study of blues and jazz take root in you, or was that something that was always permeating you?
MOTEN: Probably in the womb, you know. In the womb. Because my mom – my mom was one of those people who couldn’t live without music. It was always on, all the time – she couldn’t make it without music. She loved it that much. She was – so that was in the air we breathed. And I grew up in an atmosphere more generally where there was this tremendous amount of musical knowledge and sophistication. So, yeah that was just…you know. That was…yeah, that was in the air, that was just in the air.
FITZGERALD: In the Break opens with Marx and Freud. There’s this ecstatic moment where you’re reframing the movers and shakers of our modernity and then suddenly a kind of vernacular music enters the text. All of the (mostly) French theory I’ve read sounds so much more insular in tone, in comparison. This is part of what I find so exciting about Baraka’s work, especially in the 60s where you can see him he absorbing Creeley and Olson and O’Hara at the same time he’s introducing, inflecting, infecting poetry with a sublimely black vernacular. Hughes, Sandburg and others worked in a folk vernacular, admittedly, many poets did before Baraka. Yet here he’s crossing modernism and black aesthetics, radically. As you and Stefano say, things “rubbing up against each other.” In the Break started feels so important to me at the level of poetics and criticism precisely because it introduces and crosses intellectual traditions that have long been too separated, segregated even.
MOTEN: Well, the one thing that I was always pretty committed to when I was in graduate school was that I was gonna write about stuff that I like. I feel like critique – or, at least, critique as it is usually practiced now in the humanities and in certain kinds of art practice – is important and it has its place, but it’s not at all – I don’t ever have any sense of critique being my primary function as an intellectual, let’s say. It’s got a place, but its place, as far as I’m concerned, is relatively small. So I was trying to write about what I like. And critique was only for me gonna move in the service of that. There were certain sentences that I just kinda liked. There was a certain kind of syntactic event that I was really invested in. One such event occurs in Hölderlin, in that poem that’s usually translated as “In Lovely Blue,” and there was another event I fell into or fell in love with like that in John Donne’s “Devotions Upon Emerging Occasions.” And there was a moment like that that occurred right in the middle of Clarissa. At first, my idea for a dissertation, was that I was gonna write a kind of comparative analysis of that kind of event. But there was one such event – which came to signify more fully that event in general – in Baraka, in this essay called “the Burned Green Affair” and that became the focus of the dissertation. I really zeroed in on that, or just got immersed in that. What happened is that in reading Baraka and not just in reading Baraka but in – well, anyway. Let’s just put it this way: I was not interested, even when I was thinking of this kind of more comparative thing, I wasn’t interested in trying to introduce you know black writers into the literary canon or to… I didn’t care… that was not my concern at all. What I learned, what I began to understand, through immersion in Baraka’s work, which basically was a way, for me, for understanding more deeply and more richly the social and intellectual air that I was raised in, okay, is that the kind of literary and artistic event I was interested in is best understood and most rigorously thought and celebrated in the “black radical intellectual tradition.” Okay? So, if there was, if anything, I came to understand that event in Donne, that event in Samuel Richardson, that event in Hölderlin – I understood those events as a kind of instance of the eruptive force of blackness in and through and against the very idea of the work. So in immersing and situating myself in the study of Baraka, the study of Baraka studying, what I became aware of, or what I am still beginning to become aware of, is this eruptive force of blackness in poetry, in art, and in social life. And that’s what I’m invested in. And so, see, what I feel like, I think that when Baraka’s reading Dorn, when Baraka’s hanging out with the Black Mountain Poets and the New York School folks, I feel like Baraka feels like he hears and sees, let’s say, in Frank O’Hara, is what he would recognize as the social and aesthetic eruption of blackness that he also loves in Miles Davis’ music. He might not – I mean I never had a chance to talk with him about that or ask him about that, so I could be saying something that he would totally disagree with or disavow, but that’s my best understanding of it now, that that’s what he was drawn to in that work. So in the autobiography, when he talks about, uh, finding Ginsberg’s work and reading Howl and being immersed in Ginsberg’s work, and relates this kinda terrible moment when he’s in Puerto Rico and he’s reading the New Yorker and he just kinda bursts into tears because it has nothing to do with him. And he’s like, well what do I have to do? And he finds in Ginsberg something that does have something to do with him. So, that’s what In the Break is about – I’m not trying to use or apply Marx and Freud and Derrida and Lacan or whoever – I’m interested in their work, not even so much because I think it helps to illuminate something elsewhere, but I feel like in the rubbing together, in the haptic sort of rub that exists independently of my kind of bringing them together, there’s something that exists between Freud and Baraka, between Freud and DuBois, between Derrida and Adrian Piper, even though she might not like him, and that rub, that hapticality, is what I’m invested in, and if I was to put it in a simple kind of way I would say that the way I read Freud and Marx is that they are a part of the black radical tradition. And I read them that way, rather than trying to create a kind of text that kind of makes an argument for Baraka being a full-fledged, vested member of the Western intellectual and aesthetic canon.
FITZGERALD: And I think that’s what’s so original and brilliant about your thinking! This brings us back to entanglement. The way that these things are already participatory, in your vision. I want to ask you about Baraka as an agent of active contradiction, where all the sides and tones and forces that shape and influence him also allow for these absolute disconnects, separations from his past and present selves. He supersedes Ginsberg and company. He moves to Harlem. He invents the Black Arts Movement then suddenly, in the early 70s, he allies with Marxism and Socialist thinking to such an extent that there’s yet another radical shift, break, or about face of what he’s been about. I treasure his complexity as an artist and mind because of these angular separations in which he recreates in his own aesthetic memory. Yet you as an artist, in comparison, seem much invested in blurring those separations, holding them together in tension, simultaneously. I wondering, now, also, how well you knew Baraka?
MOTEN: Well, you know, I met him the first time actually when I was in graduate school and he came to San Francisco to read. I met him and talked to him for a few minutes and, then, once I had gotten through school and was working in New York, he used to hold a kind of monthly salon at his and his partner Amina Baraka’s house in Newark called Kimako’s Blues People in honor of his late sister. I went to that salon a couple times. That was where I first heard Tracie Morris read, in the Barakas’s basement. He would have musicians and they would cook a big pot of soup or something and it was great, you know. And it was all kinda people there – young students from Rutgers, mostly white, who were involved in the group Unity and Struggle. And then the last few times I met him – he came to Duke and gave a reading and I talked to him for a while and we became more aware of each other in a way. And then we spent a really cool few days together at an art festival in Glasgow. And then I saw him the week that I was at Naropa, the year before last, just a few months before he passed. So I did get to know him, just enough to be able to tell him how much he meant to me, or at least try to indicate that. Miles is someone he referred to as his ultimate cultural hero, in that great elegy that he wrote for Miles. Baraka says we’ll always be Miles’s children and I feel we’ll always be Baraka’s children, too. In early poems, like in The Dead Lecturer, you know, he’s talking about being a man who is loud in the changing of his ways. And that’s something, too, you could say of Miles, in an Olson formulation: what does not change is the will to change. But what I tend to focus on in Baraka is maybe what…probably what…I guess what I’m saying is there’s change and then there’s also continuity, “the changing same,” as he puts it. It’s not that you choose one over the other; change and same are inseparable from one another. They are interarticulate. And both are so much at work in his work. And not jut change and continuity but also entanglement and difference, or maybe unity and struggle is how he would put it. And so, I don’t think of his work at all as being driven by a kind of urge for separation. I think of it as the opposite of that. So that the words that he would use, that I’ve heard him use and read him use, is that his art is concerned with social development, and that’s how I would characterize it. And as a body of work that includes not only what he wrote – all the poetry, all the plays, all the essays, but also just the way he lived his life, whether you’re talking about the Black Arts Repertory School in Harlem, or Spirit House in Newark, or just those various lofts that he was living in with Hettie Jones in the Village when he was the engine of that downtown artistic community. It was him and Diana DiPrima and Cecil Taylor who were up at night stapling together the mimeographed copies of Floating Bear. He was always building up stuff for people to work on and to work with and to work through. He never stopped doing that. Ever. So that’s how I see him. And I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps, so to speak, in the most sorta minimal and kinda [laughs] pitiful kinda way, you know.
FITZGERALD: Oh, not pitiful at all. Is there someone who has affected you more, was or is there a contemporary more important than Baraka?
MOTEN: There’s a bunch of folks who have influenced me that we’ve already mentioned, Derrida’s work, for me, and the work of my teachers – Barbara Johnson, Avital Ronell, Julian Boyd, Stephen Booth, Ann Banfield, Martin Kilson, B Jenkins, above all. Well, what I would say is that the obvious person to come to mind… well I figure there are maybe three people that I would mention, besides Baraka: Samuel R. Delany and Gayl Jones for me are like these touchstones whose work I always come back to. But if there’s one person who stands out, maybe – and then also the great political theorist and teacher Cedric Robinson, who coined that phrase “black radical tradition,” and to whose work I was just trying to offer a kind of supplement. But the other person, the main person I suppose, who is also someone I’ve gotten to know and is someone I’m proud to be able to call a friend, is Nate Mackey. And I would just basically – I would just say, that there’s nothing that I’ve ever said and nothing I ever will say, that he hasn’t said, and hasn’t said, you know, better. I feel like, I read stuff of his and then, I don’t even realize how derivative my stuff is. And the thing is, I think maybe it’s the kinda thing that makes some people feel bad, you know, when they’re faced with the reality of their utter non-originality, but I feel good about it to be perfectly honest, man. If someone ever wrote that I was derivative of Nate Mackey I would take that shit as like the greatest compliment ever. I’m trying to be. That’s what I’m trying to be, is derivative of Nate [laughs].
FITZGERALD: When did you first meet him or encounter his work?
MOTEN: Well, another person for whom, whose been very very important to me as a teacher and mentor and just somebody whose poetry I love and study because of its music and because of his ear and eye is the great poet William Corbett. I first heard about Nate from Bill and Bill’s wife, Beverly, at dinner at their house in Boston, maybe like in ’82 or ’83, you know. I wasn’t aware of his work at that point, a little while before Eroding Witness and Bedouin Hornbook came out. When I moved to Berkeley for graduate school in 1985 I found out that he was reading somewhere in North Berkeley at a church or someplace, and me and my friend Tom Sheehan, my best friend from graduate school, my best buddy, we got on a bus and drove to see him. I got right there at the end and didn’t hear the reading and I just ran up and rudely interrupted a conversation that he was in and introduced myself even though I didn’t…anyway so that was the first time I met him. And then I got invited to a conference at the end of my first year working at University of Iowa, so it was 1993, this really cool conference Keith Tuma organized at Miami of Ohio called the Reinvention of the Poet-Critic, and Nate was there, Charles Bernstein was there, Rachel Blau DuPlessis – it was the first time I met all those folks. I know I’m forgetting somebody and I feel bad but they were all there. This was in ‘93. And that was the first time I actually got a chance to really talk to him and this was after I had written a dissertation that was really influenced by his work, particularly Bedouin Hornbook and a couple of his essays. Early on in Bedoun Hornbook he puts forward this notion of what he calls the “sexual cut.” And I remember asking him, it was a totally stupid, well not stupid, but a sincerely naïve question, though maybe it wasn’t naïve enough: I asked him, “Did you really mean that, man, about the sexual cut?” And he looked at me and was like “yeah!” and that, for me, was actually a really important question because I realized…shit, I think what I was asking him was, “is this just a formulation that you’re making in the interest of fleshing out, you know, the contours of a fictional character?” And I realized no, what he’s doing in this work, what he’s always doing in his poetry, what he always also doing in his fiction, as strongly as what he does in his essays, is he’s spinning out — theory doesn’t even seem like the right word, it seems like a weak word to describe it, but for lack of a better word he’s always involved – well I’ll go back to the earlier part of the discussion … his work is, uh, it’s situated deeply and richly iin the space of articulation that exists between what you might call thought experiment and what you might call theorization. And that’s always going on in his work. It’s such a deep, deep, deep substantiation of study, okay. So, anyway, so I met him then and we corresponded and we talked on the phone and he’s always just been so nice and patient and eventually he would publish some stuff of mine in Hambone and then he moved to Duke when I was teaching there and we remain friends, I remain his student, now that I’m in California. And I like to think I help him get through some tight moments he has to work through – the 49er’s Super Bowl loss, the Giant’s failure to repeat. So it’s not all one-sided, Now he’s at the center of a great community of poets at and around Duke, Joe Donahue’s there, and Ken Taylor, who’s an amazing great poet that people are gonna have to wake up to, and Pete Moore and, you know, Lamar Wilson and Maggie Zurawski and Kate Pringle and Shirlette Ammons and Chris Vitiello – it was kind of a great place to be around other poets there – I’m digressing now. But the point is Nate is always in my head. Actually I would say that he’s there in a way that is probably deeper and more intense even than Baraka; he’s maybe the writer who I have to – like I said, I don’t feel bad about being derivative of him, I just don’t wanna be – I have to sometimes, I just want to make sure I don’t embarrass him, let’s say, in being so connected to him. To the extent that there’s something I worry about in my writing, it’s that I would do something to embarrass him.
FITZGERALD: There’s a Mackey essay in his book Paracritical Hinge that talks explicitly about the tension and pressures of being a black experimental writer. And, not unsurprisingly, it echoes another brilliant essay by Harryette Mullen in her book The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be. They both powerfully interrogate the experience of being marginalized twice over. I’m interested in this as a queer writer myself, as someone who aspires to be an experimental writer although all these labels are a dime a dozen. Little Edges, which I think is really one of your best poetry collections, is also a tremendously difficult book. Its syntactical events are cut, oblique, dissonant, at times opaque to their ordering methods. Is there an anxiety of difficulty, or reception particular not only to being a poet, but a black poet, working so experimentally that resonates with what Mackey or Mullen are saying?
MOTEN: It’s just… I mean, I think about it this way – Charley Patton is an experimental musician. So is Charlie Parker. I feel like, you know, Hurston is an experimental writer. In other words, I feel like the figures that I would want to embrace and celebrate as these fundamental figures in the black radical and aesthetic tradition, they’re all experimental, and part of it is because black social life is experimental – not only because of what it is that we have to make up, because of what it is we have to produce, what it is we have to survive within the context of a brutal anti-sociality or sociopathy which is invested in our death and in our living. This is to say that our experimentation happens in and against the backdrop of our having been subjected to an experiment. You take 45, 50, 60, 70 however many million people and take ‘em from one continent to another, that’s a fucking experiment, you know? Some absolute mad scientist type of shit.
Heidegger wrote a weird little poem in which he says, “poetically man dwells…” I would say, you know, experimentally blackness dwells. I suppose one has a choice about whether or not to be experimental, but it never seemed like much of a choice to me. Then the question emerges, okay, how do you live that choice or how do you deal with it? How do you deal with the historic anti-blackness that basically imagines experimentalism to be, in some sense defined by its non-blackness, or by a radical black incapacity for it, at the same time as it also imposes the absolute necessity for experimentation on blackness and, at the same time, when it understands and seeks to devalue blackness as experimentation and as a kind of embrace of and refuge for the experiment? I mean, let’s just put it this way – that kinda stuff, the venal and murderously neurotic expression of anti-blackness, gets annoying, you know? But my tendency is to wanna deal with those annoyances as they come, so to speak, on a kind of case by case basis, on a personal level, and to deal with those annoyances as viciously as I possibly can. But then there’s, you know, because I just wanna keep – there’s this thing that I’m trying to be part of, and I don’t want to spend so much time on the annoyances that I don’t do what it is I’m trying to do. It doesn’t mean that the annoyances aren’t real, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be crushed whenever their ugly heads are raised, and then one goes about the business of doing that, but I don’t know. The essay that I’m thinking of by Nate, is, well, the one that I’m thinking of may not be the one that you’re thinking of …you’re saying the one that you’re thinking of is called what?
FITZGERALD: It’s called “Expanding the Repertoire.”
MOTEN: Yeah, yeah, no, and that’s, uh, I remember when that came out, and I think it was in relation to a series of questions that emerged at a conference, the proceedings of which were published in a magazine, the name of which I can’t remember. I can’t think of anything anymore. But the point is that, and I think that Harryette Mullen was involved in that same conference, along with some other folks. I can’t think of the name of the magazine. It kind disappeared for a little while and then it started back up again recently.
MOTEN: Yeah, Tripwire. That’s the stuff from Tripwire I think. Yeah, look, the one I was thinking of is a little short essay he wrote, not even a page long, called “Destination Out,” in which talks about what he calls centrifugal writing. Now I’ve always been invested in this relationship that he kind of implies between the fugitive and the centrifugal. It’s cool, to me. And I learned that from him, and then learned that lesson again from Harryette Mullen and from… all kinds of… you know, from Cecil Giscombe and Tyrone Williams and Dawn Lundy Martin and giovanni singleton. I just feel like I wanna be a part of a kind of community or whatever you want to call it of centrifugal writers or black experimental artists that expands, ultimately, in the direction of anyone who wants to claim it. And look: there are things you have to deal with, given the racial domination and racist denomination of the art world, which is to say of the poetry world, to the extent that you have to be part of this world even on a temporary or intermittent or unnaturalized basis. You have to deal with that stuff. But my primary concern is being with the other folks who are within that fugitive, centrifugal social and aesthetic field and us doing what we do. We’re trying to get to something that’s out of this world.