We adapt to make life livable, to uplift ourselves, and through us we show our community that we are prepared for the mysteries of what the day will bring.
“The work we do requires new modes and methods of research and teaching; new ways of entering and leaving the archives of slavery.”
Celebrating five years since the publication of Christina Sharpe’s book, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, we asked four writers to offer a short meditation on what the book has meant to them. This week’s contributor is Imani Wadud. You can read the first meditation, by Jade Bentil, here.
“Nothing Can Be Completely Legible and Emancipatory at the Same Time”
FRAGMENT I : If You Stay Ready . . .
My mother once said to me in a handwritten letter:
“Imani, we get up because we have no choice. We as [darkened] Peoples turn every rock and make a way out of no way. It is what we have always done, and what we will continue to do, no doubt. And we do this in the name of our ancestors. So, do not worry and do not fear. We adapt to make life livable, to uplift ourselves, and through us we show our community that we are prepared for the mysteries of what the day will bring. Let us refuse to quake in the face of complications that we cannot shake, even if we wanted to do so. Get up and face the day! Remember the toil of our collective labor. Speak it into existence, and bring it forth through your actions! Do not forget how far we have come. So many count on us to take these first steps. Let’s see what happens next.” - SW
A snippet of a letter once-thought-lost serves as a steady reminder that adaptation is a methodology for life; a counterintuitive framing upon first encounter, yet a site nonetheless for the unhinged and unbought.
FRAGMENT II : The Blackout Doors
This durational meditation dialogues through movement, thoughts, and communication out of bounds; all funneled through a prism of unexpected transitions; in the wake, amid the afterlife of things, into the elsewhen.
ive been dancing outside. each day observing, breathing, and pacing what movements to make; being careful not to proscribe, self-proscribe how these ideas take their various shapes. i’ve been self-recording all semester; from late August to December, thinking about what it might mean to dance out what one holds in the body; in the flesh.
how does habit relate to practice, relate to praxis? im pondering over how ritualized traditions are rendered evident (informed) by the spaces of respite that we’ve been placed within, or by other sites of enclosure restricting social engagement & intimate connection with folkx outside the home. i’ve been collecting snippets to piece together a different type of snapshot, selfie, or self-reflection that exceeds or expands upon what i can't find words to adequately express.
so today, i have been thinking about what my own little loophole of retreat looks like this semester; this season. it’s relaxing to peek into what my very ordinary life offers up. i’m thinking about visibility traps & secrets: and how to make & dialogue in multi-modal ways; in unexpected settings, circumstances & conditions. i guess it’s a fun practice space, the backyard, serving as my own little incubator. one just as good as any to ask how i can share what embodied knowledges become exposed through remixing my daily archived practices that weren’t created or intended to be publicly shared in their entirety. i’m also thinking about withholdings and working with remnants & processes of co-making that encourage discarding, recycling, or working with what remains (the ephemera etc.); the artifacts that signal towards an afterlife of things. but what are the things that refuse an end, or a conclusion; especially after a period of long, ceaseless streams of consciousness rendered partially manifest.
what happens to our bodies; what passes thru to others, and how can we attend to and stay attuned with our various ecosystems in more generous & sustainable ways?
FRAGMENT III : Reverberations From the Tide
Imani made sure her cell phone was properly recording as the following conversation with co-conspirator, Caleb Lázaro Moreno, ensued. She cracked open her worn copy of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, reciting:
“We must become undisciplined. The work we do requires new modes and methods of research and teaching; new ways of entering and leaving the archives of slavery, of undoing the ‘racial calculus and…political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago’ and that live into the present. I think this is what Brand describes in A Map to the Door of No Return as a kind of blackened knowledge, an unscientific method.” –In the Wake, 13.
IAW: You gotta move, you gotta move on, or you gotta harness it, you gotta quote it, you gotta ride on the coattails, you gotta ride on the coattails of this moment, you know? And it's like, how do we resist that? How do we look and understand counterintuitively in order to get to that place of desired difference. How do we think about––
CLM: Everything is fragmented, everything. Including white history.
IAW: Yes, it's fragmented. And this fragmentation we always assign it to ourselves. That is the danger of living in the wake of slavery and the continual proximity to death and violence is that we are always subjugated and self-subjugating in a way that obscures the actual remnants and disruptive nature that whiteness had to undergo in order for whiteness to be the overarching category of global dominance. It's like those people actually had to pressure themselves to erase themselves to find a through way to wrangle and categorize themselves as dominant. They had to actually erase themselves from the archive, in many ways.
CLM: Yes, yes. Curate themselves––
IAW: Or curate themselves, yeah.––
CLM: In particular positions of physical power. Like no one can question how you curate the––
IAW: Physical and intellectual power––
CLM: Literally something won't enter the archive unless it’s policed by the archive keepers. So what does it mean to have become the archive keepers?
CLM: And just, like, that's what faculty do. It's like we're the archive keepers––
IAW: Archive keepers, inventors––
CLM: How do we move away from––
IAW: From having to reproduce out of a site of deficit.
CLM: And with the sheer goal of reproducing a kind of––
IAW: Fantasy of Black wholeness. That's it.
IAW: And that's actually the Blackout Doors. And the black hole. The void or the ether, you know? Jams the senses and scrambles the codes. It's like, what are the forgotten spaces of blackness?
. . . Can I read you the parts about the asterisk* so that you understand more deeply what I'm talking about?
In trying to cull together three fragments of my most quotidian engagements with Christina Sharpe’s work, three could never be enough.
These particular fragments were written separately from each other during the COVID-19 pandemic, all in conversation with my readings of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.
The naming, making, and doing found within the monologue serves as a site a respite for me. It even acts, at times, as a soothing balm, particularly when the world’s juxtaposing complexities reach a zenith or tipping point and all seems insurmountably exhausting.
Every breath with this book is an opportunity to witness a different angle of the assemblages that are shifting; beyond human consciousness, even. May these meditations offered be felt as but one response to the calling that is wake work and may the latter’s unruly legacies continue to take root, take hold, and resist commodification at all costs.
Imani A. Wadud grew up in the D.C. Metropolitan area and is the mother of two. She’s organized and participated in feminist, antiracist, and immigrant rights initiatives during the ten years she lived in Regensburg, Germany where she received an M.A. in European-American Studies in 2015.Currently, Imani is a doctoral student in the Department of American Studies at the University of Kansas and is a 2015 Chancellor Doctoral Fellow.
Roberto Sirvent is BAR’s Book Forum editor.
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