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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

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NOV 2020 Issue
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Note on Surrender

There’s a doubleness in surrender—an act of will made against or in spite of one’s will—that’s given in how I am given these last few mornings to putting on Donny Hathaway’s rendition of “Giving Up.”

Untitled. 2018. ©Ralph Lemon
Untitled. 2018. ©Ralph Lemon

The day that Laura Harris—my friend, comrade, and partner—first uttered the phrase “the aesthetic sociality of Blackness” in my hearing was the day that I began to surrender art, in a moment and movement that is both in and through the surrender to art I'd made so long ago. There’s a doubleness in surrender—an act of will made against or in spite of one’s will—that’s given in how I am given these last few mornings to putting on Donny Hathaway’s rendition of “Giving Up.” The thing is, that moment never seems to end; it’s still, in being still here, and it’s also stolen, insofar as its incompletion won’t really let me have it. So that however much I am forced to consider the ways that art stills and belies social movement, even in its devotion to such movement, I’m stuck in and stuck with how beauty is held in art. I’m held by what it is to be moved in the hold of art. This is what’s played out every morning when I play that record. I want to give art up but “Giving Up” won’t let me. I try and I try, but it just ain’t no use. Surrender, now, is a diminished sacrament for a broken covenant, a minor great gettin’ up that can’t be mine because I can’t believe, but can’t help but act like I believe, in the general resurrection that art—and more specifically—Black art promises. What makes it even worse is that being all in love with art, I’ve had the good and bad fortune of being able to make a living reading, writing, and talking about it, so that the way me and mine live now is all tangled up in that living. I'm not crying or complaining because it's a good living, better than the livings almost everyone is forced to try to make. It's just that the living I make isn't living in the way that I was brought up in and for. What if that living fades, finally, in the vision of another world that art provides, thereby confirming that what it could not bear is the very idea of world? What if all art really promises is a deadly, deathly, endlessly rewarding equilibrium, wherein we sustain ourselves in the (perpetual reform and decoration of the) unsustainable? Then—beyond the derivation of art from inartistic life, which Richard Wagner’s figure of the solitary genius, conceived in his own image, might achieve; and beyond the blurring of art and life which the happening might make happen in Allen Kaprow’s vision; and also beyond the relational matrix which will have folded, in a repeating ritual of false generosity in which the artist gives back to their community the absolute mix of absolute joy and absolute pain they’d extracted from it in the making and the movement of their form, which our community sends them to do as protective avatar or preservative avant-garde consigned to the midst of those who make war on our subsistence—art bears no absolution other than its disappearance into inartistic, but irreducibly socio-aesthetic, life, bearing in mind that socio sounds (and smells and tastes and grounds and grinds) like sucio. Deborah Vargas teaches us about the nasty, gnostic way everyday informal life under everyday duress strikes all these black, brown and beige blows at what Cedric Robinson calls the terms of order. In their wake, the difference I am trying to grasp, or see, or make is between agential consent to a life of art, and the consensual field of the aesthetic sociality of Blackness, in which the delusional hope of or for individuation—given in and as a “freedom” Kant knew he had to place in the mind of the artist—is constantly, incalculably (a)voided in shared, striated, improvisational ecstasy. Consensuality is given, as a gift of material spirit, not when individuals agree to something but when sense is shared in the irregular, unregulated permutation and permeation into which the dream of the individual (artist and art work) fade. Authenticity is that diffusion, a differential array that separable personality reduces and incarcerates. That’s why the protest against authenticity was always not enough in being a bit too much. Every locale towards which it is directed—and it’s usually a working-class locale, whether that be in Lagos or Las Vegas or Laventile—is nothing but a living refutation of sameness to all who have not taken leave of their senses. Meanwhile, Harris’s phrasing breathes common wind, troubling the still water that runs too deep into self-absorption, so that one of these days “Giving Up” might fade into some “Magnificent Sanctuary Band.” Let’s see where all our beauty goes from there.

Contributor

Fred Moten

Fred Moten is an author and educator. He teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University.

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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

All Issues