In an engaging profile of poet-scholar Fred Moten recently published in Art News, Adrienne Edwards, curator of performance at the Whitney Museum remarks on the importance of Moten’s In the Break for theories of blackness, both as a racial identity and as an aesthetic category: “From Moten, she gained a sense that ‘blackness itself could fluctuate and circulate and levitate in a way that is not always attributed to it,’ Edwards said. ‘He made it a multiplicity.’” As for Edwards, Moten has likewise had a marked impact on the formation of liquid blackness as a research group primarily focused on aesthetics and on the theorization of blackness as a form of liquidity. This impact is perhaps especially present in our research project, Can Blackness Be Loved? prompted by the work of one of Moten’s frequent collaborators who is also discussed in the Art News profile, Arthur Jafa. Unrolled during the SCMS special events in Atlanta, in the Spring 2016, when Jafa screened Dreams are Colder than Death as well as the yet untitled video of what later became Love is the Message, the Message is Death, this research dove into questions of “Black Ontology and the Love of Blackness” explored so powerfully in Jafa’s film. In his detailed profile, Andy Battaglia describes a recent conversation between Moten and Jafa on the topic of Moten’s latest publication, Black and Blur, the first of his trilogy, consent not to be a single being, during which “Moten described the idea of “blur” to his friend, the artist and cinematographer Arthur Jafa, as being defined by those moments ‘when the level of precision goes up but in a way that doesn’t allow you to make simple distinctions between all the elements of whatever it was you were trying to pay attention to.’ He likened it to his ongoing critique of individuation—among people, primarily, but also as it applies to any and all things.” Click here to read more.
Aligned with his critique of individuation and distinction through the concept of blur, in another recent profile of Moten in the New Yorker, Moten emphasizes black studies’ function as institutional critique— its function as a critique of the proper whether speaking of the history of philosophy or the academy itself. “Study,” for Moten, suggest a model of doing intellectual labor otherwise:
We are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other people. It’s talking and walking around with other people, working, dancing, suffering, some irreducible convergence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice . . . The point of calling it “study” is to mark that the incessant and irreversible intellectuality of these activities is already present.
Case in point: take Moten’s humorous explication of his distaste for mayonnaise, which becomes an intellectual examination of the in-between state of an emulsion, echoing the concept of blur:
. . . mayonnaise has a complex kind of relation to the sublime . . . And I think emulsion does generally. It’s something about that intermediary—I don’t know—place, between being solid and being a liquid, that has a weird relation to the sublime, in the sense that the sublimity of it is in the indefinable nature of it.
The second and third volumes of Moten’s trilogy, consent not to be a single being, will be released this summer.