Rebecca Walker, Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness (Berkeley, Calif.: Soft Skull Press, 2012), 64, 80.
Fred Moten, “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh),” South Atlantic Quarterly 112, no. 4 (2013): 742.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 42.
“Racial distinction” connotes a way of acknowledging that what has come to be called race is a mechanism by which difference is mapped and, subsequently, made to subjectivate people through the inscriptions of the constructed differences. Whereas to simply say race, on Chandler’s account, “reproduce[s] not only this concept, but thereby implicitly affirm[s] the violence of the practices carried out in its name,” racial distinction sidesteps the violence by not presuming its naturalness and instead notes its political, instrumental underpinnings (49).
See Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, after Man, Its Overrepresentation—an Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (2004): 257–337, https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2004.0015.
See C. Riley Snorton, Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); see also Jules Gill-Peterson, Histories of the Transgender Child (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018).
Sarah Jane Cervenak and J. Kameron Carter, “Untitled and Outdoors: Thinking with Saidiya Hartman,” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 27, no. 1 (2017): 53–54n3, https://doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2017.1282116. They describe paraontological life as “the undercommon otherside of paraontology, namely, a modality of life unmoored from ownership, (en)titlement, groundedness, and settlement.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Random House, 2002); Marlon Riggs, dir., Tongues Untied (1989).
Nahum D. Chandler, “Paraontology; or, Notes on the Practical Theoretical Politics of Thought” (2018), https://vimeo.com/297769615.
See Susan Stryker, Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution (Berkeley, Calif.: Seal Press, 2017), 125.
See Snorton in C. Riley Snorton and T Fleischmann, “C. Riley Snorton and T Fleischmann Talk Gender, Freedom, and Transitivity,” interviewed by V. V. Ganeshananthan and Whitney Terrell, March 7, 2019, https://lithub.com/c-riley-snorton-and-t-fleischmann-talk-gender-freedom-and-transitivity/.
See specifically the chapter titled “The Question of Black Being,” in Calvin L. Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation, 26–61 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2018).
I am drawing here from Sara Ahmed and would be remiss if I did not quote the opening lines from her essay “Affinity of Hammers”: “We learn about worlds when they do not accommodate us. Not being accommodated can be pedagogy. We generate ideas through the struggles we have to be in the world; we come to question worlds when we are in question.” TSQ 3, no 1–2 (2016): 22.
Delivered in a lecture titled “What Is a Paradigm?” at the European Graduate School on January 10, 2002.
Benjamin Alberti and Yvonne Marshall, “Animating Archaeology: Local Theories and Conceptually Open-Ended Methodologies,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19, no. 3 (2009): 354, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774309000535.
He gets this from Spivak, who in an interview argues that Derrida theorizes deconstruction by way of a unifying theoretical fiction, a methodological presupposition that allows the work of deconstruction to begin in the middle, as it were. Theoretical fiction is the formulation for what must be posited but known to be not quite true in order for the work of deconstruction, or desedimentation, to proceed. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (New York: Psychology Press, 1990), 136.
See María Lugones, “The Coloniality of Gender,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Development: Critical Engagements in Feminist Theory and Practice, ed. Wendy Harcourt, 13–33 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
Black Study Group, “The Movement of Black Thought—Study Notes,” Darkmatter (blog), September 29, 2015, http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2015/09/29/the-movement-of-black-thought-study-notes/.
Fred Moten and Wu Tsang, “All Terror, All Beauty: Wu Tsang and Fred Moten in Conversation,” in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, ed. Tourmaline, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017), 347, 344.
Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura, “Introduction: Transgender Studies 2.0,” in The Transgender Studies Reader 2, ed. Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura (New York: Routledge, 2013), 8.
Mel Y. Chen, “Animals without Genitals: Race and Transsubstantiation,” in Stryker and Aizura, Transgender Studies Reader 2, 173, emphasis original.
I got into a bit of a debate, with beloved colleagues and with no hint of malice though, about naming. I was being pressed on my rejection of the possibility of salvation in naming, being told that finding new names might be a more ethical gesture because, indeed, how can one live without a name? How can we say no to naming when there are people who have insisted on inscribing their names into monuments as an ethical gesture not only to never forget but also to know, now, for the first time? It seems to me that, still, to desire one’s name on the historical ledger is to reinscribe the logic that one must be bestowed legibility and thus livability in a certain conception of life that is not the only conception of life by power. I am reminded of Lamonda Horton-Stallings who, in Mutha’ Is Half a Word, writes of the “(un)naming” Kimberly Benston asserts people like Malcolm X and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man took up, a refusal of a name in order to name later or name, as it were, with black accoutrements, and what she understood as a more radical black feminist “unnaming”: a practice she thinks in the context of gender that might be generalized as “a process of unranking and challenging gender [and perhaps subjectivity as such] through a manipulation of language to elide the troubles and violations of language in the West,” an “interrupt[ion of] the subjective fictions of skin color, ovaries, uterus, and so on.” Devoid of the parenthetical coding, Stallings’s black feminist unnaming theorizes “a subject’s willful, infinite, multiple, and continuous process of defying classification/naming.” LaMonda Horton-Stallings, Mutha’ Is Half a Word: Intersections of Folklore, Vernacular, Myth, and Queerness in Black Female Culture (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007), 34–35, 38.
Barnor Hesse, “Of Race: The Exorbitant Du Bois,” Small Axe 20, no. 2 (2016): 16, https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-3626728.
Hil Malatino, “Future Fatigue: Trans Intimacies and Trans Presents (or How to Survive the Interregnum),” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 6, no. 4 (2019): 644, emphasis added, https://doi.org/10.1215/23289252-7771796.
Saidiya Hartman, “Liner Notes for the Riot,” E-Flux 105 (2019), https://www.e-flux.com/journal/105/302565/liner-notes-for-the-riot/.
Meg Day, “Poetics Statement,” in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, ed. T. C. Tolbert and Trace Peterson (Callicoon, N.Y.: Nightboat Books, 2013), 387. Day describes this as “existing between identities & among identities and as always shifting identities,” culminating in a “badass body of betweenity.”
Snorton, Black on Both Sides, 135–36; see also LaMonda Horton-Stallings, Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015).
The Interminable Figure of the X
Amaryah Shaye, “Refusing to Reconcile, Part 2,” WIT (blog), February 16, 2014, https://womenintheology.org/2014/02/16/refusing-to-reconcile-part-2/; Claire Colebrook, “What Is It Like to Be a Human?,” Transgender Studies Quarterly 2, no. 2 (2015): 227–43.
Cameron Awkward-Rich, Dispatch: Poems (New York: Persea, 2019), 67.
Snorton, Black on Both Sides, 8; Jordy Rosenberg, “Trans/War Boy/Gender: The Primitive Accumulation of T,” Salvage (blog), December 21, 2015, http://salvage.zone/in-print/trans-war-boy-gender/.
Joshua M. Ferguson, Me, Myself, They: Life beyond the Binary (Toronto, Ont.: Anansi Press, 2019), 7–8.
It must be noted that the giving of an X chromosome does not mean that it was given by the “mother” or by a “woman.” X chromosomes are present, of course, in cis men, but also in trans men, nonbinary people, and people with intersex conditions. Thus I mean not at all to imply the naturalness of the femininity and maternity often ascribed to the X chromosome, only to alert us to how the chromosome moves discursively throughout the social realm.
Eva Hayward, “Spiderwomen,” in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibilty, ed. Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017), 255.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, CeCe McDonald, and Toshio Meronek, “Cautious Living: Black Trans Women and the Politics of Documentation,” in Tourmaline, Stanley, and Burton, Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, 27, emphasis added.
Claudia Milian, LatinX (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019), hereafter, because it concerns a decent chunk of the rest of the chapter, paginated in parentheses.
Spillers et al., “‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’: Revisiting ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book’: A Conversation with Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, & Jennifer L. Morgan,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 35, no. 1/2 (2007): 304.
Kai M. Green, “Troubling the Waters: Mobilizing a Trans* Analytic,” in No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies, ed. E. Patrick Johnson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016), 67.
Eva Hayward, “More Lessons from a Starfish: Prefixial Flesh and Transspeciated Selves,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36, no. 3/4 (2008): 69, emphasis added.
See Judith Butler, “Gender in Translation: Beyond Monolingualism,” PhiloSOPHIA 9, no. 1 (2019): 12, https://doi.org/10.1353/phi.2019.0011.
Butler, 12–13, emphasis added.
Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Hacking the Subject: Black Feminism and Refusal beyond the Limits of Critique,” PhiloSOPHIA 8, no. 1 (2018): 31.
da Silva, 21.
See Snorton, Black on Both Sides.
da Silva, “Hacking the Subject,” 39n7.
da Silva, 38. She says further to this point that the gift of the X, which is blackness and, too, the disruption of the gender-sexual form I am calling transness, offers a “becoming of/in the world without the presumed necessity for resolution and determination and thus without the modes of knowing—framed as the logic of opposition (Aristotle and Aquinas) or sublation (Hegel)—which always already describes existence as a scene of violence, and imposes the necessity of domination or obliteration, as in a hierarchical ordering (Natural History) or a deadly struggle for existence (Evolution), respectively.”
da Silva, 23.
da Silva, 25.
Henry Louis Gates, Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora (New York: BasicCivitas, 2010), 139–40.
See Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 2011), xv. Specifically, Butler notes that gender seems always to absorb sex, making sex unable to be gotten to in such a way that it is radically outside of linguistic, social, and cultural productions of meaning: “If gender is the social construction of sex, and if there is no access to this ‘sex’ except by means of its construction,” Butler writes, “then it appearsnot only that sex is absorbed by gender, but that ‘sex’ becomes something like a fiction, perhaps a fantasy, retroactively installed at a prelinguistic site to which there is no direct access.”
Katherine McKittrick, “Commentary: Worn Out,” Southeastern Geographer 57, no. 1 (2017): 97, 99, emphasis original, https://doi.org/10.1353/sgo.2017.0008.
Nahum Dimitri Chandler, “Introduction: On the Virtues of Seeing—at Least, but Never Only—Double,” CR: The New Centennial Review 12, no. 1 (2012): 3, https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2012.0034.
A little cheeky, a little contentious, I know. But I need to say it, as I’ve said it in multiple places before. I’m drawing here largely, in addition to Chandler, on Moten and the elucidating work of George Shulman. It might be easiest for me simply to quote Shulman: “As the name for life’s animating and undoing excess, blackness provokes forms of order. . . . Blackness thus connotes aspects of life that anyone can—and all need to—acknowledge (UC, 50). Moten thereby conceives the life made by those marked black in terms neither ethnically closed nor symbolically foreclosed, but politically and aesthetically open.” Shulman continues in a footnote, “Indeed, blackness is ‘before the binary said to define our existence’ and ‘older than Africa’ (SL, 21). For him, ‘blackness is a general force of fugitivity that racialization in general, and the more specific instantiation of the color line, exacerbate and focus without originating’ (UM, 35). He thus denies ‘that blackness is a property that belongs to blacks’ (BN, 750).” See George Shulman, “Fred Moten’s Refusals and Consents: The Politics of Fugitivity,” Political Theory (2020): 12, 36n21.
This echoes resoundingly with nonbinary writer Joshua M. Ferguson, who writes, “The X-Men were one of my favourite super-hero teams growing up, and the treatment of their mutations bears a striking analogy to the experience of LGBTQ people. And now, I am literally an ‘X-(Man)/(male).’” See Ferguson, Me, Myself, They, 207.
See, e.g., Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015), 7. Coates writes, unfortunately with patrilineal language, “But race is the child of racism, not the father.”
Judith Butler, “Melancholy Gender—Refused Identification,” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 5, no. 2 (1995): 166, emphasis added.
Catherine Malabou, Changing Difference (Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2011), 139.
I want to be very clear in this subclause, as there is the strong possibility that some might use the pedestaling of a white person as the figure through which I make the claim of exemplarity as evidence of the privileges of whiteness. That I am homing in on John Brown to assert the paraontological movement away from racial and gender distinction, that the privileges of whiteness even allow a white subject to “be” a Negro, will be read, by some, as blasphemy. This, to me, is to overlook the seriousness and abolitionist radicality of the fundamental argument that Chandler, and my reading of him, is making, namely, that (1) “the Negro” is not first and foremost a historical figure and thus is not confined to certain epidermally delimited subjects; (2) the rejection of whiteness—the serious, thoroughgoing rejection, wherein one risks oneself ontologically and existentially, as Brown did—is not to be subsumed into white privilege but a radical movement toward the demands of blackness; and (3) it is not the aim to hedge the claim of the Negro as a figurative figure who, if solely a historical figure, perpetuates the logics of ontology and pure being, and the claim of racial distinction as the product of whiteness and white supremacy, undergirded by the ontological project. Taking these claims seriously necessitates that one look for where the desedimentary work is happening, and some of those locations are in figures one would deem “white” and “men.” This does not exclude or subordinate people who are identified as black and women and trans, for example, but it also must not require them as the sole exemplars, the only valid evidentiary citations.
T Fleischmann, Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through (Minneapolis, Minn.: Coffee House Press, 2019), 64.
Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe, U.K.: Minor Compositions, 2013), 132.