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Reading Moten in the Cherry Orchard at Noon



Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, circa 1984.

In honor of this week’s reading by Bhanu Kapil & Fred Moten (introduced by Jackie Wang), we requested Kapil’s permission to reprint her informal reflections– from her blog— on reading Moten’s “Blackness and Nothingness.”  Moten also kindly contributed a photograph of himself (see image on left) from his Harvard undergraduate days when, it so happens, he held a work-study position at the Poetry Room. 


“have u read Blackness and Nothingness?? Prob my fave Moten essay.” –J.W.

Reading “Blackness and Nothingness” by Fred Moten, as per Jackie Wang’s recommendation, in advance of the dizzying prospect of seeing them both this week in a cultural space with a strict perimeter.  Well, not that strict if I have been invited. Readers, I am going to be reading at Harvard on Wednesday night. Where is Boston?  How do you get from the airport to the float tank?  Where is Harvard, exactly? What is the sky?  Is there a bus? To prepare for this reading, I am reading Fred and Jackie en tabac. In the orchard. Beneath cherry trees threaded with bright pink wool. The week before I emigrated I saw The Cherry Orchard in Cheltenham with Dranz.  Chekhov’s play begins before dawn on a May morning. So that cherry orchards always hold the quality for me of imminent, radical change. What can I do? What can I do to meet and be met in that other rough way? In the pink electricity beneath the trees, documented as string.

The vibrating lines of the pink wool mingle with the bee sounds.

Horsetooth Reservoir; I’m reading the Moten PDF on my phone next to the water from which two crazy looking Russian nobleman ducks suddenly emerge.  I just spent twenty minutes trying to look up what kind of duck it is; a man walking by, with a very muddy white poodle mix called Willoughby, says he has lived there for twenty years and never saw such an astonishing migration of extreme ducks.  The male duck [goose?] has a black head and a sort of red Elizabethan ruff with a supportasse or structural wiring beneath — the ridges of tiny feathers?  I think of how Queen Elizabeth forbade anyone in her court to wear blue, because it was the color of Scotland. Did you know that? Are you seeing Mel Gibson in your mind’s eye?  I apologize.

“What would it be, deeper still, what is it, to think from no standpoint; to think outside the desire for a standpoint?”  –Fred Moten.

Is Ban a lsyate?

“The question concerning the point of view, or standpoint, of the pathologist is crucial but so is the question of what it is that the pathologist examines. What, precisely, is the morbid body upon which Fanon, the pathologist, trains his eye? What is the object of his ‘complete lysis’ (Fanon, 2008: xiv)? And if it is more proper, because more literal, to speak of a lysis of universe, rather than body, how do we think the relation between transcendental frame and the body, or nobody, that occupies, or is banished from, its confines and powers of orientation?” — Fred Moten.

First there is an oral-anal collapse.  I think of that.  I think of that collapse as initiating — the cellular dissolution [lysis] of the body boundary that complicates the notion of banishment.  “Can there be an aesthetic sociology or a social poetics of nothingness?” — Fred Moten.  How what is banned, or banished, then twitches on the ground.  Worm-like forms at the edge of the wood.  They make it to the tree-line before they collapse.  I knew this from my charcoal drawings of the wolf girls, that I made in Bengal. How the fascia of the mouth extends to the inside of the pelvic basin, if you — follow it.  Is all drawing and writing a form of palpation?

Black subjectivity, written from the “black phonography” of the hold — the “language lab” of the real hold — with its “soaked wood” [Mackey] — as the essay unfolds — as splitting a seam — a line of red dashes — on the spine of British Black subjectivity — with which — through which — upon which — I write. With the proviso. That now I am and have been. A semi-opaque transparency, or immigrant.  I can’t be a writer of this place unless I register its diasporic literature, which carries the shape or signal of the “ship” on every page.  “It’s terrible to have come from nothing but the sea, which is nowhere…”  — Fred Moten.

To read for the “void.”  Beneath the trees.

The void, the trait.  I read the “undercommon inheritance” as a transgenerational epigentics — changing not the code, as we said last week, but how the code expresses itself.

“Caged duration.” — Moten.

An “epiphenomenal burlesque…” — Moten, one step ahead of me each time.  Or like, three years ahead.  This essay was written in 2013.

“…the Cherry thing as a series of openings.” — Moten.

“H.D.’s crazed geese, circling above the spot that was once Atlantis….”

Okay, I hadn’t read these lines when I began this blog post of reading Moten beneath the cherry trees with the wild-looking duck [goose] nearby — that flung itself back into the water with its mate.

What are the links between radical African-American and radical Asian-American practices? Diaspora is atopic [nodal] — to generalize — for Asian-Americans; a mode of dispersal that registers a common origin.  What does this mean for “the shipped”?  For those who have “nowhere that they abide”?  Who “have no place.”  The “no-place” or “basho” of the hold. Interested in Moten’s introduction of Chinese and Buddhist concepts mid way through this essay. When he came to Denver, I felt — attuned, ordinary, secreted inside what he was speaking about — feeling again and again, in writing, in performance, the line — and what it feels like when I cross the Radcliffe Boundary Award: as a writer who has inherited: this feeling: of the middle of the body. What else did I inherit? A desire to travel across great distances and never return before mid-life.  The taste of burnt sugar as pleasing.  The need, in love, to be suppressed.

This is why I refuse to love.

I refuse to be suppressed, or to live out the desire to be suppressed.  I know, lots of problems there!  But do not worry.  I have had an extreme and beautiful life.

What does it mean to “remain in the hold”? Or, reading Deleuze, Moten writes of “life within the folds” — echoing something Samuel Delany said on a Naropa SWP panel some years ago: “I want a writing that is folded everywhere at once.” Then I read Deleuze’s The Fold, carrying it around campus like a talisman against cultural enemies.

What does it mean to be always crossing a line and at the instant that you do you look through the hole in the cart — the smell of hay is so strong, so much like an animal — you see this: you see a woman tied to the tree….

I am interested in Moten’s attention to sound.  “We study in the sound of an unasked question.”

Excuse me, what?  “… atopic atemporality….”  I am writing these notes as I read the essay for the first time.  It’s as if I am reading his essay before he writes it.

Perhaps I diverge from these notes — with my own feeling — of the “already dead” Ban.  Sometimes I think — Ban — is the first mutation of a species — that becomes extinct — in the course — of one bright pink London night.  Perhaps it’s about, as Andrea Spain says, populations; I couldn’t build one with Ban.  There wasn’t one — yet.  In some sense, Ban was a foetus.

The “aridity” of the “incline” or “ramp.” — Moten via Arendt.  I like that.  I liked how the pavement’s stone tilted off and the blood and oil of the body ran off. And I can speak, directly, to the bone-hard beige-rose dirt outside Hotel 37, where Jyoti Singh Pandey lay — for 40 minutes– before anyone called the police. That’s how long, in fact, it takes — to die.  To die to form.

The cell membrane was a chrysalis material; inside, all was dormant, liquefied. Without features.  That Moten attends to re-materialization feels — important to me — today — beneath these beautiful trees.  It’s a state that resembles “unrequited love” — reading these words that are so close to my own feeling about literature and the body, yet with — the difference, perhaps, coming — in how one might: describe: or picture: the void that bears its — own weight — on every page.  So that the pages are torn and wet.

The book is a “biochemical process.” — Moten-Fanon.

How do we describe the “extraordinary … nothing”?  Moten.

What are the “ethics of the cut”?  Moten.

I feel slightly daunted and confused by the proximity to his writing that is ahead of me, that only goes one way. It goes from me to Fred. I think perhaps Fred has been in many of these ultra-secure settings. Have I? I have, but I always find a way to bury my knickers in the flowerbed.  I have not.

Jackie Wang:  “She regrets not having been born an animal. In other words, she has to find the animal in herself.” Cixous on Lispector.

Jackie said “Blackness and Nothingness” was the best thing she had read by Fred Moten. I read it on an online site, Scribd, that permitted me one free preview. I used my free preview on this.  This essay. And from there I extended my arm. And wrote these notes as if playing a hand-made lyre.



Photo by Bhanu Kapil.


Filed under: MEGAPHONE: News & Events


Bhanu Kapil is the author of five books, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers; Schizophrene; and Ban en Banlieue (Nightboat, 2015). She teaches at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (Naropa University.)

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