Monthly Archives: February 2009

The “other” America…Parallels between Obama and house

(written in 2008 right after Obama’s “race” speech aired)

The Wire, Obama’s race speech and house – poetic “both/and” complicated renderings of the other America…That part of our society which many are members of (but who are often forced to silence publicly)…It is DuBois’ double consciousness, it is code-switching, it is living multiple realities, strategies and tactics, living one narrative in the light, but abiding by another in the closed inner circle of another set of folkways.  I am wading through muddy thoughts.  

As I watch and read Obama’s speech on the state of US racial politics, I am having a certain sense of deja vu.  Not just because most of what he says is what a certain community of citizens say/think/dialogue about already (and, I must say it is refreshing to have this reality spoken aloud in mainstream circles).  But because so much of what he performs/conveys is also so very present and tangible in the politics/ideology/embodied philosophy of the house community…. The trope of epic memory that wears itself on and embedded within bodies of color most obviously, but as well touches those outside of the black community –  as a refusal, an amnesia, a desire not to talk about/acknowledge the continued effects of colonial/imperial history…Of the residual effects of institutionalized discrimination…And, in response, how the house experience becomes an act of memorialization, commemorative performance, an enactment of homage to ancestors, and a visceral acknowledgment of a continued struggle that is as-yet-unresolved.  

The site of the dancefloor, the DJ and the dancers are activated players/agents using performance as a weapon of the weak, a strategy of “getting through” and as a vehicle to both create and convey the power of hope, vision, imagination, and empowerment through action…performance…the act of living.

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epistemic rut

i am thinking about a student’s recent question – asking why performance studies matters. and i am trying to figure out how to get across the constant work that performance studies does to unravel the logic of our (often illogical and unethical) world. part of that logic is firmly wrapped around gatekeeper issues of power and knowledge production (who has it? who creates it? where does it live/get produced? who gets to define it/name it/claim it?).

as it works to stretch the limits of our own collective perception in defining “what is knowledge,” performance studies also remains vigilant in its attempts to spark new paradigms of social relations on a global scale (i.e., acknowledging other people, societies and places as having knowledge that even we – the West – can benefit from). until more democratic and mutually human ways of interacting take hold (which they have yet to do), performance studies will continue to emphasize how theory is always a situated and biased art, and that theory always reflects the contours of specifically-crafted solutions to making sense of “lived” life.

in this vein, i just revisited some of Aime Cesaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism” and was reminded of performance studies’ orientation as a decolonizing discipline (which is what drew me to it in the first place). my reaction – which i filter through the poetic [1] – is yet another iteration of this work that we must continuously issue to ourselves. that is, meaning only takes hold, only becomes embedded through a persistent practice. and that is why i think i have been writing the same poem in different valences and textures for quite a long time. it is the practice of repetition that secures decolonizing meaning – an unstable meaning that is so easy to lose sight of in the murky mess that makes us forget our own resistances.

do you know what it’s like to be stuck
in an epistemic rut?
to have ideas and language and acts
that are constantly cut off at the knees
upon entering Public Space that only reads information one-way

to speak with one population and find satisfaction
in being
understood without much effort
to speak to an other
and watch as words and gestures
become mangled, misconstrued and mismanaged

our categories of thought make it so

inflicting the violence of nonvoice and incorrect hearing
turning clarity to mush
open vision into cataract-ridden opacity
a game of the dastardly sort
where the edifice of the people
is whittled away
and bombed to bits
with all the courtesy
Civilization affords

[1] It is poetry that best mirrors and transgresses our episteme’s elusiveness. Poetry challenges by offering an alternative response to epistemic power. But, poetry also mimics the shape-shifting form of epistemic power by replicating this murkiness in its own evasive structure. When I name “the epistemic problem” through the language of the poetic I feel closest to its visceral impact. That is, poetry seems to best approximate the way epistemic power invades the mind and inhabits the body by performing it.

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