Not only humans made the Crossing, traveling only in one direction through Ocean given the name Atlantic. Grief traveled as well.
– M. Jacqui Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing: Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred (p.289).
I have been thinking of altars. I have been thinking of ceremony. I have been thinking of honouring the dead. I have been thinking of the ethics of dying and death. I have written of and continually returned to the idea that Black people die differently. That even when our deaths look like others’ deaths, our deaths are different. Our dying is wrapped up in how blackness comes into being. Our deaths are what makes this world, the one we share in and the one that continually violently expels us from it. I am not a spiritual person, but I have come to think about what ceremony might do. What ceremony might offer as psychic repair. Before George Floyd, before the pandemic, ceremony was underway. It took George Floyd; it took the pandemic for me to notice that ceremony. The notice has not put me at ease, it has put me in crisis. It is not a crisis that I should not experience. Praisesong might be another way to name it.
Denise Ferreira da Silva in the essay “Toward a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Toward the End of the World” gives us a number of terms to think a Black feminist poethics with and I am particularly drawn to her articulation of The Thing and The Category of Blackness as those terms unfold into something like value. I am especially interested in what those terms produce for me as an intellectual link to a concern I have about Black art, its pedagogies and the value of it as A Thing about The Thing. In abbreviated fashion, I am interested in how The Thing is now replayed as art—in this instance visual art—art world value—where a certain measure of universal reason must import the art thing of The Thing into its economies, but The Thing has always been a part of the economy (the slave), so nothing new, but maybe a sensation of a new positionality? I add to The Thing and The Category of Blackness, reparation as another term, not reparation of the economic kind, that too da Silva signals that she is also less concerned with, but reparation of the psychic kind. Of course, you will immediately note that reparation or the reparative turn I seek to make is more of a verb and thus in tension with da Silva’s noun-ing of The Thing and The Category of Blackness.
From December 22, 2018 - July 7, 2019 the artist Winsom described as Canadian and Maroon, who lives between Victoria Island, BC and Pickering, ON, exhibited two installations in Winsom: I Rise called “The Masks We Wear” and “I Jump the Boa” in which one might say that a new ceremony was underway. My initial encounter with this work was experienced as difficult. I was unmoved. Or I experienced my encounter as unmoved. I did not forget this work, this encounter. I was struck by the inscrutability of the exhibited works and the refusal of a certain knowability or legibility in them. In the aftermath of George Floyd and the pandemic I now experience Winsom’s “art” as a different kind of knowledge of our predicament, of our predicament and her “art’s” inscrutability. Winsom crossed Black and Indigenous; urban and rural; religious and spiritual evoking the terror of how we got here, but in many ways moving the register of knowledge somewhere else without conceding thing-ness. The late Barbara Christian in an essay titled “Fixing Methodology: Beloved” joins da Silva and they would immediately recognize the afro-diasporic religious/spiritual (Vodou, Obeah, Santeria, Condomblé) resonances, practices, and ceremony in Winsom’s work and they would know that these resonances and practices offer another account of Black being, one that has not been assimilable to European philosophy, but rather a significant bother for it. Christian was explicit about this; Winsom and Christian then point to another register of reason, not European universal reason, but another account that might, just might be reparative. What if breaching thingness is inscrutable or as Édouard Glissant named it, what if it is a right to opacity? I now think that inscrutability might offer an added something that profoundly also shapes opacity—unreadability, illegibility. So, alongside and besides opacity, I offer inscrutability. I think this articulation of blackness, of Black people, also actually breaches universal reason and operates without any recourse to it, which is to say it exists in spite and despite Euro-American white supremacist thought. There is then another articulation—dare I say, practice—of a Black feminists poethics, one that Christian hints at in “Fixing Methodologies” that we might need to account for, that of the dead, that of ancestor worship—(these words do not capture it, cannot capture it, but approximate an utterance of what it is). The praisesong. This latter poethics operates with a value many of us, myself included, are not yet able to or capable of accessing. The poet Canisia Lubrin captures the opacity and inscrutability of the praisesong, of the ceremony, of the reason beyond universal reason. From Voodoo Hypothesis the poem “Elliptical Narrations…” by Lubrin utters the double entendre that I think is poethics:
This is no window finally opened, this is after-end
a stumbling to the river, to daguerreotypes
removed from the whole to be taught
how writhes the root heaved from its maternal sand
repairs of a language over-read
Another narration is possible. Another narration is the ceremony found. Another narration is blacklife found.
Show curated by Andrea Fatona, Art Gallery of Ontario, December 22, 2018-July 7, 2019.
Things to Read
Alexander, M. Jacqui, (2006). Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred. Durham: Duke University Press.
Christian, Barbara, (1993). “Fixing Methodologies: Beloved” in Cultural Critique (Spring, pp.5-11).
da Silva, Denise Ferreira, (2014). “Towards a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Toward the End of the World” in The Black Scholar (Summer, pp.81-97).
Glissant, Édouard, (1997). Poetics of Relation. Trans. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Lubrin, Canisia, (2917). Voodoo Hypothesis. Hamilton, Ontario: Wolsak and Wynn Publishers.
Walcott, Rinaldo, (2016). Queer Returns: Essays on Multiculturalism, Diaspora, and Black Studies. London, Ontario: Insomniac Press.
Rinaldo Walcott is Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Institute and a member of the Graduate Program at the Institute of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. His teaching and research is in the area of black diaspora cultural studies and postcolonial studies with an emphasis on questions of sexuality, gender, nation, citizenship and multiculturalism. From 2002-2007 Rinaldo held the Canada Research Chair of Social Justice and Cultural Studies.
Rinaldo Walcott is the author of Black Like Who: Writing Black Canada (Insomniac Press, 1997 with a second revised edition in 2003); he is also the editor of Rude: Contemporary Black Canadian Cultural Criticism (Insomniac, 2000); Queer Returns: Essays on Multiculturalism, Diaspora and Black Studies (Insomniac, 2016). With Idil Abdillahi, BlackLife: Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom (ARP Books, 2019). As well Rinaldo is the Co-editor with Roy Moodley of Counselling Across and Beyond Cultures: Exploring the Work of Clemment Vontress in Clinical Practice (University of Toronto Press, 2010).
As an interdisciplinary Black Studies scholar Rinaldo has published in a wide range of venues. His articles have appeared in journals and books, as well as popular venues like newspapers, magazines and online venues, as well as other forms of media. His latest book the Long Emancipation: Moving Towards Black Freedom (An Essay) is forthcoming from Duke University Press in 2021. And he recently published On Property (Biblioasis, 2021).
Portrait credit: Abdi Osman
Banner image: Winsom, The Masks We Wear, December 22, 2018-July 7, 2019, Installation view from Winsom: I Rise at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Used with permission from the artist.