SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
MARGO CRAWFORD: Welcome to the 2011 Comparative Ethnic Studies lecture series. "Excuse me while I kiss the sky." Just as we cannot revel in Jimi Hendrix lyric and not feel that connection between the kissing of the sky and the kissing of the ground, we simply cannot read Richard Iton's In Search of the Black Fantastic without looking up and then looking right back down at the ground.
We feel the reverberations of those words "Hey, Celestial" in Toni Morrison's novel Love. Morrison writes, "And from then on, to say amen or to acknowledge a particularly bold, smart, risky thing, they mimic the voice crying, 'Hey, Celestial.'" After reading Richard Iton's In Search of the Black Fantastic, Oxford 2008, I cry hey, Celestial.
When graduate students want to understand the problemitizing of the modern in African-American studies, I tell them In Search of the Black Fantastic, hey, Celestial. When a colleague asked me, what's the best, the latest work theorizing the black aesthetic? I tell her In Search of the Black Fantastic, hey, Celestial. When Houston Baker and I were recently wondering who at this moment is really speaking to the young scholars who are drawn to black critical thought that produces space as opposed to enclosing space, we both almost simultaneously said In Search of the Black Fantastic, hey, Celestial.
Richard Iton is professor of African-American studies and political science at Northwestern University. He is winner of the 2009 Ralph Bunche Award for In Search of the Black Fantastic, Oxford University Press, and the 2001 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award and 2000 Best Book Award on the social, cultural, and ideological construction of race from the American Political Science Association for Solidarity Blues: Race, Culture, and the American Left.
He is now completing Ghost, Text and Play: Politics Beyond the Boundary. The title of his talk today is Tricky Times and Liquid Spaces: Text, Play and Diaspora. It is my shear pleasure to welcome our speaker.
RICHARD ITON: OK. Wow. There's no way I can match that extremely generous and inaccurate introduction. Hey, Celestial. Wow. OK. I'm going to steal that one. Thank you very much, Margo, for the invitation and equally for the introduction. This is being recorded, so I'm going to steal that [INAUDIBLE] put it on my website.
Also, thanks to Karen [? Cootidge ?] for arranging my being here and all the details quite efficiently. I appreciated that quite a bit. And I'm going to try to get to 10% of that introduction if I'm lucky. Maybe 5%. And most of this is drawn from the book. It's drawn from the book. I have three epigraphs I want to start with.
This thing's sorta-- three [? of the ?] [? best. ?] First is from Jacques Derrida because you have to do someone French when you start a talk doing black material. "To deconstruct philosophy, thus, would be to think in-- the most faithful, interior way-- the structured genealogy of philosophy's concepts, but at the same time to determine-- from a certain exterior that is unquantifiable and unnameable philosophy-- what this history has been unable to dissimulate or forbid. By means of this simultaneously faithful and violent circulation between the inside and the outside of philosophy, there's produced a certain textual work."
Second epigraph's from Chocolate Genius. "I am chasing strange. I will rearrange to be a part with every change that you make."
And the third epigraph, last, from Grace Jones. "Pull up to the bumper, baby, and drive it in between." OK.
It is a familiar dilemma. How did the excluded engage the apparently dominant order? Does progress entail the marginalized accept mainstream norms and abandon transformative possibilities? These questions, of course, become more complicated once we recognize that the excluded are never simply excluded and that their marginalization reflects, determines the shape, texture, and boundaries of the dominant order and its associated privileged communities. The identities of the latter are inevitably defined in opposition to, and as negation of the representations of, the marginalized, and in certain respects, the outside is always inside-- invisible perhaps, implicated and disempowered, unrecognized but omnipresent. In this context, how do the outcast imagine and calibrate progress and assess options?
For subalterns, generally this outside/inside dynamic, the colonial dilemma, has often been experienced asymmetrically as political disfranchisement on the one hand and overemployment in the arenas of popular culture on the other. Accordingly, in trying to map out the most effective strategies for emancipation, blacks, for example, have had to try to understand the precise nature of the linkage between popular culture and this thing we call politics. What kinds of politics can cultural actors make if blacks, as it is commonly asserted, have a unique relationship with the cultural realm, a positioning that has been celebrated by some and cursed and refused by others?
My aim here is to consider some aspects of this colonial dilemma with particular attention to the intersections of the state and diaspora, sound, vision, and formal politics.
My sense is that after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release three months later of Nelson Mandela, which marks, I would suggest, thinking broadly and globally the end of the end of the Civil Rights Movement and in a certain sense the post-colonial shift. A certain nervousness with regard to the possibility of black difference re-emerges. In this context, the philosopher Charles Taylor's take on alternative modernities finds a receptive audience among those struggling to articulate black ways of being or becoming but lacking the ground or the energy to do so.
I would also suggest that this turn, which is in many ways a return, is partly about an exhaustion with politics and a desire for the postantagonistic and a sensibility detached from the agonistic. In this post-tactile context, black scholarship, not surprisingly, begins to arrange itself in such a way as to accommodate and leave untroubled the dominant ways of thinking about politics.
Begins, in other words, to assimilate the values of the redacting state, what [INAUDIBLE] refers to us as the forgetting machine. That is both the sensibility, which calls for by means of a series of unpublished retractions the recurrent disideration of colonial linkages and entanglements, and secondly, the dynamic and nervous text that is a nation-state with impulses is to render all that is liquid sedimented and solid and circumscribe considerations for alternative political possibilities and imaginations.
To be precise, I'm thinking of this post-Berlin Wall, post-apartheid sensibility both literally as a way of being that emerges after a certain point in time and as a way of naming a dynamic or tendency that obviously predates late 1989, early 1990. Accordingly, the referent '89-'90 functions as a shorthand and points to a [? subletive ?] tendency in black politics, a desire willingness to assimilate or approximate dominant narratives, energize paradoxically by an exhaustion with politics, but more precisely following Carl Schmitt and Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Bonnie Honig among others, the political.
It is as a result of these types of dynamics, as Barnor Hesse has recently argued, for example, that we find ourselves bound inevitably and strained to committed despite our dissonant viscera to a postracial horizon while still submerged in a matrix saturated with race, racial hierarchy, and racism. The grip of these [INAUDIBLE] and its desire not to be excluded from the community of the normal, can translate in this context, I would argue, into an avoidance of struggle and the abandonment of transformative possibilities.
The ambition to be included into mainstream spaces can necessitate except the alienation and subordination as the price of the ticket to use James Baldwin's term. It also means rejecting the belief that modernity, that bundle of cultural, political, philosophical, and technological iterations and reiterations of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution requires an alterity, as [? Michelle ?] [INAUDIBLE] suggests. And it implies it requires [INAUDIBLE] and problematic others.
If modernity lacks a thickly transformative dialectic within its matrix, for example, [INAUDIBLE] blueprint, if it is unable to shake itself free of its embedded sexism and racism, if it has a primal tendency to read issues that make race salient as pointing towards either the premodern or antimodern, we should have doubts, I would argue, about the feasibility of any simplistic reconciliation or the modern and the black however constructed and the more superficial depictions of the Afro-modernity and Afro-modernism projects.
If this understanding of modernity as a relation is valid, the labor that's been devoted to making the text of modernity self-evident and operational and the commonsensical representations and exclusions that render civilization feasible need to be exposed and acknowledged. Accordingly, those actors committed to changing [INAUDIBLE] situation of blacks are required to make [INAUDIBLE] to borrow from Achille Mbembe, modernity's capacity to legitimize the violence of its irrationality in the very name of reason.
Also to contemplate abandoning any attachment to the rules of the game and to seek strategies and employ whatever means available that might destabilize and transcend the norms and assumptions underpinning the project's modernity despite their attractiveness, ubiquity, and apparent inescapability. Among these understandings would be the [? privileging ?] of the national that renders the modern nation-state the paramount structural effect of the modern social world, as Timothy Mitchell has observed, natural, convenient, coherent, and appealing and the fencing off of the aesthetic from the political.
These two related concerns, relationships between art informal politics and the nation-state in diaspora, are the framing questions for the book In Search of the Black Fantastic, in which much of this talk is drawn. The complex of imperatives imposed on nonwhites regarding economic function, cultural identity, and sexuality, and civil status are constructions that those engaged by the discursive traditions and agenda that define black communities must recognize, resist in circulation of competing narratives, and beyond that, hopefully, transcend.
We might also think here of the struggles to establish and maintain space for substantive, open-ended, deliberative activity, including but not limited to the [INAUDIBLE] potentially subversive forms of interiority through and by which [INAUDIBLE] are made available to the public such as [? Michelle ?] and [INAUDIBLE] or Richard Pryor.
The support of comedy, writing, and music workshops, the class of Motown and stack studio arrangements [INAUDIBLE] Pan-African People's Orchestra, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Comedy Act Theater in Los Angeles, the UCLA film school in 1970s, the UK-based Black Audio Film Collective, the Soulquarians, based around Questlove and The Roots, and the [INAUDIBLE] remix network of the 1990s and early 2000s-- also the Black Press, the black political convention process, the band as a formation within black music, diaspora sensibilities and opportunities, soul architectures in general, and conceptual space within language itself.
If modernity is about the imagining and making and remaking of dark objects outside of the range of reason and the discursive itself, The Black Fantastic might be understood partly as requiring the privileging of signs and symptoms of black deliberative processes. By bringing into view and into the field of play practices and ritual spaces that are often cast as being irrelevant and categorically besides the point to the point indeed of being unrecognizable as politics, these visions might help escape normative traction in an era characterized by the dismissal of any possibilities beyond the already existing.
My concern is to identify the ways in which these sensibilities and activities in and around the joints or the politics popular culture matrix derive from reticular understanding of the relationship between blackness and modernity might transcend the prevailing notions of the aesthetic and the predominance of a state as the sole frame for subject formation and progressive and transformative discourse and mobilization.
These perspectives, in practice, were required in both overriding the aesthetic and decentering the state-- i.e., thinking diasporically-- and in the process pushing to the surface exactly those tensions and possibilities that are necessarily suppressed and denied in the standard respectability discourses associated with the preservation of the modern.
It might be useful here to think of Jurgen Habermas's references in the philosophical discourse of modernity to dark and black thinkers. And he's making a distinction between those he considers to be dark and those he considers to be, quote unquote, "black." And he thinks of dark thinkers as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Marx, writers who think through the disharmonies with the modern project in a constructive way and ultimate remain within the field.
In contrast, black writers like Nietzsche, the Marquis de Sade, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer are engaged in what he calls "various forms of obscenity." While I do not want to [? accord ?] too much significance to Habermas's anxieties, although striking, telling, and amusing they might remain, will remain transfixed within his particular geographic, philosophical imaginary. This distinction raises in a roundabout manner a way in which you might think about the fine arts of diaspora theoretically in relation to the dominant text and affiliated projects of modernity.
As many have noted, part of the magic of the dominant narratives in modernity is their ability to render modernity and coloniality as unrelated matrices, to mask the common commitments of sustained biopolitics and necropolitics-- biopolitics, Foucault and Agamben, necropolitics, Mbembe-- to beat the clock that it reveals the temporal heritage shared by governmentalities and [? subordinate ?] [? activities. ?] Manages symbiotics linking the prophylactic state and its [? duppy ?] extra text and ghostwrite the productions, the coproductions, of the citizen and the [INAUDIBLE].
One means by which these two rounds broadly speak into consensual and the coercive might be brought together in various crucial pressure points made available is, of course, diaspora. If we think of diaspora as a form of [? aparenthesis, ?] as a rediscursive, albeit agonistic, field of play and possibility that rather than signifying social death, to borrow from Orlando Patterson, you might think of it as a means of denaturalizing the modernity-coloniality matrix and enabling transformative agency.
There are two paths we can think about when we think about defining diaspora. And I'll do one relatively briefly. The familiar set of narratives that center on the [? ruptures ?] associated with the Atlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage, notions of dispersal of continuity, this notion that diaspora happens outside of the African continent. And it's a matter of either disowning Africa or returning to it and grasping it to the bosom, a framework that seemed to argue that the possibility of going home is the dynamic or the dominant narrative within the text of diaspora for those outside of, quote unquote, Africa.
Disowning and desiring Africa not entirely dissimilar positions in that they depend upon an often static homeland caste either as magical or malignant and in need of quarantine. Both of the stances, I would argue, despite their normative incompatibility reinforce colonial scripts in their common refusal to disarticulate place, gender, sexuality, and function, and engage Africa without quotation marks.
And you can see this in the early 20th century pronouncements of Marcus Garvey, the historian Harvey Neptune's work on the Trinidadian responses to American military presences in Trinidad during World War II and afterwards. Also talks about the ways in which gender, place, and power get fixed with each other.
And also you think about the songs of the Neville Brothers, the song Africa, or D'Angelo's song called Africa, where you see this romantic notion where Africa does certain magical works. As the Neville Brothers put it, "Take me on back to Africa where a woman is a woman and a man is a man."
In this light-- excuse me-- following from Hazel Carby's Race Men and Michelle Stephens' Black Empire, it is useful to think through C.L.R. James' engagements with the hegemonic colonial scripts regarding gender, appropriate gender aspirations. As Carby reveals in the basis of readings of Minty Alley, The Black Jacobins, and Beyond a Boundary, in much of James' classical work, a certain masculinism is often detectable and emphasis on men as agents and women, if visible, as passive and often associated with the masses.
Accordingly, you might suggest that these gendered commitments were reproduced as least as early diasporic thinking and practice. For example, [? I was ?] reading Toussaint Louverture and his excitement about Paul Robeson as political leader, following his casting of Robeson as Toussaint in the early theatrical rendering of Black Jacobins in London. And also if you read Beyond a Boundary, there's particular attention to men's bodies in this text.
We also see in the early James a vacillation between the two different narratives mentioned above, one that associates normative masculinity with intellectual work and middle class status thus explaining his decision to join the middle class Maple Cricket Club rather than lower middle class, Shannon, and the working class, Stingo, and also a distinct but complementary narrative that links masculinity with the physical and aesthetic work of the body, in other words, an internal debate regarding what kind of man should be on top.
Moreover, moving beyond James' example, one could argue these two narratives, one upholding an imagined civilization, the other uncontaminated and doubly tropic hypermasculinity, shift in relation to each other over the course of the 20th century. Specifically as the century progressed, the willingness and capacity of new world blacks to identify the continent as a female space in need of guidance, custodianship, protection, or domination diminishes.
While such discourse has certainly persisted at the end of this period-- you can this in the D'Angelo's Africa again-- the propensity to think of these dominant-- of these diaspora engagements in straightforwardly hierarchical and gender terms, with blacks outside of Africa in the dominant position lessened significantly after the confluence of events that precede and follow the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress in Manchester.
And also you think about the Canadian independence in 1957 being established, the transition taking place in the 1940s and 1950s, where blacks in the Americas no longer commit the safe assumption that they will lead the diaspora and lead Africa, quote unquote, "lead her to freedom." So obviously, you can refer back here to Harvey Neptune's work again in the conflict between African-American soldiers in Afro-Trinidadian males in the context of the American occupation as speaking to a transition point in this relationship between blacks in Americas, blacks in the Caribbean, which [? sort ?] [? of ?] [? operates ?] as a midpoint, and African blacks in general.
Such claims. I would argue, would not have been asserted, the kind of claims that Neptune's making about the power of African-American men about the exercise over black men in other parts of the diaspora. Such power would not have been-- just finding the place here-- such claims, I would argue, would not have been asserted or as easily made in a later period.
To be sure the standard conflation of a civilization is narrative, a specific conceptions of gender roles and normative sexuality certainly prevails beyond the midpoint of the 20th century. And the reading of the convenient African is a source of trepidation and anxiety, as more than capable, precedes 1945.
Nevertheless, I would suggest that the relative salience of these mythologies changes over time with World War II. And here one might think of a diasporic negotiations in the area of comparative masculinities depicted in Ousmane Sembene's Camp de Thiaroye, again, the Manchester Pan-African Congress and the leadership role played by continental Africans and West Indians in movement towards independence in the postwar period.
It is interesting in this context, following from Ben Edwards' work, to rethink the negro-noir and African Antillean negotiations within the Negritude movement and black francophone discourse, more generally, as reflecting changing notions regarding the location of dispositive, normative black masculinity.
It's the possibility of a second starting point, a second way of thinking about diasporas is one that I want to focus on for most of the rest of this talk. And this is the sort of correlated to a basic first principle, the notion of the impossibility of settlement. And it's in contrast to thinking about diasporas being key to the notion that when people settle elsewhere or when bodies move elsewhere-- and to think about the impossibility of settlement as a first principle and a way of thinking about diaspora, not just as a problem itself but as a possibility as having [INAUDIBLE] subversive, generative possibilities.
Under this impossibility settlement, they could be extrapolated into and through forms of black politics. This approach to diaspora compels us to resist conceptual templates and metaphors that subsidize thinking in terms of season stems, roots and roots, origins and housewares, and promote the problematic reification and detemporalization of Africa. Given the connections among the modernity, coloniality, race and diaspora, it is crucial that we remain skeptical with regard to claims that the last of these terms can be understood without or outside an engagement with the Africa that is produced and reproduced by colonial and postcolonial structures and discourses.
The forces that make and disrupt the virtual Africa encourage blacks elsewhere to internalize and stigmatize notions of the African are the same pressures that make settlement unavailable elsewhere. And diaspora is all within and without the continent. It is in this modern matrix of strange spaces, outside the state but within empire, that naturalization and citizenship are substantively unavailable regardless of geographical position.
Approaching diaspora as anaformative impulse, in other words, that which resists hierarchy, hegemony, administration, suggests a different orientation towards this dynamic. From this perspective, the primary focus is on deconstructing colonial sites and narratives and rearticulating them in ways that delink geography and power.
This would require a politics not reducible to a language of citizenship and governance and accordingly alerted to the sensibilities underlying the national and, to some extent, the international and the transnational to the degree that they depend on and/or reinscribe the nation-state.
Moreover, it would mean being suspicious of homeland narratives and indeed any authenticating geographies the demand fixity, a hierarchy, and hegemony. Indeed, such impulses would mean rather than thinking of new superficially dissident maps, we would have to think about a no-map sensibility that would make geography, if not an impossibility, extremely difficult.
Conceiving of diaspora as anaform, we are encouraged, then, to put all space into play. One way in which diaspora functions as a form of insubordination is the possibility of rethinking the dominance of nation-state discourses and their attendant governmentalities and geo-orthodoxies.
If the prophylactic state depends upon the exclusion of certain groups, the nonrecognition of citizens and the impossibility of there ever being members, diaspora provides a means by which these marginalization and theocracies can be recognized, contested, and following from Giorgio Agamben, profaned.
The term "geoheterodoxy" can be applied to describe this diasporic potential-- the capacity to imagine and operate simultaneously, faithfully within, violently against, and outside the nation-state. It is this ethical lack of commitment, this anarchist inflected imagination, that enables subaltern subjects to push for inclusion among those protected by the prophylactic state, seeking, for example, equal access to the vote and citizen rights and comprehensive health care while at the same time recognizing the limitations of this recognition, for example, remaining invested in other special registers including the local and the diasporic.
It's basically trying to get to the question that I started off working primarily in the area of public policy and trying to talk about achieving health care, generous income maintenance programs within the United States and other Western societies. And I've been asked a couple of times by people who don't like me and my family, how do I correlate that interest in public policy within the state with my interest in diaspora and in some ways recontextualizing the state?
And basically this notion of geoheterodoxy speaks to that seeking the rights, the benefits of citizenship is not inconsistent with also put in place a certain value on other identifications, whether it's local or diasporic, transnational, whatever, that this notion of geoheterodoxy speaks to, that's it's not a zero sum game. There's a range of [INAUDIBLE].
In a sense, from this perspective on diaspora, when we think about the state, part of the recontextualization is a desire to reduce the state to its bare essentials; strip it of its national anthem, strip it of its baseball teams, football teams, its celebrations; and reduce it to the basic [? version ?] of public goods, services, health care, and all the rest.
Which obviously, there'd be a struggle involved in that, because a lot of people are attached to national anthems, their World Cups, and their National Football League. But basically trying to, as part of an investment of this notion of diaspora, [INAUDIBLE] as a necessary arrangement providing certain public goods but not seen as the whole game or the final frontier in trying to push back in some ways, recontextualize the state.
OK. So thinking across the labors of a number of individuals and movements, there is another diasporic practice possibility or potential that might make visible, perhaps more accurately legible and audible, the modernity-coloniality matrix by putting into view a range of discourses that separated from each other, disarticulated, and experienced, and read, and struggled against in isolation cannot be recognized, contested, and transcended.
Here, I'm referring to the tendency to represent coloniality in the United States in the thinner grammars of race, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and most unfortunately, race relations. In Brazil, as the benign operations of racial democracy-- in the United Kingdom, as the matter of a colonial past-- and increasingly perhaps, as the United States as a matter of race relations.
In South Africa, as apartheid and India's caste-- and to varying degrees in parts of Africa, Latin America-- and the Caribbean, as colonialism and neocolonialism-- and in France and Canada, as those things that only happened elsewhere.
The Pan-African Congresses in the first half of the 20th century-- Claudia Jones-- Claudia Jones [INAUDIBLE] Claudia Jones-- Claudia Jones, Claudia Jones, Paulette Nardal, C.L.R. James-- that's my way of saying, thank you.
Lorraine Hansberry, the African Blood Brotherhood, Mahatma Gandhi, Wifredo Lam, Aimé Césaire, Grace Jones, Bob Marley, Ousmane Sembene, Harry Belafonte, Lauryn Hill on her better days, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others, can be thought as of engaged in this trade. The practice in question might be described as juxtapositivity, the ability of individuals and movements operating within the spatial register that is the diaspora to put together the scattered pieces of the puzzle of coloniality into order that we might, as Walter Mignolo urges, read modernity and colonial together as a single matrix and develop our critiques accordingly.
As a result of engaging with and recognizing these different but similar practices, these individuals movements have the potential to denaturalize or declassify coloniality. Those global metaunderstandings that prevail beyond the end of [? formal ?] empire, such as the race-gender matrix, hierarchical labor relations, and the panics and ensuing competition justified by narratives, suggest an inevitability of scarcity and the state as the most reliable procurer, defender, and organizer.
Or put differently, the means by which Europe imagines and makes and manages itself and its others, the shifting processes through and by which identities are ascribed, hierarchically and specially arranged. And consequently, life's options, choices, and life chances are determined and dictated.
With regards to black musics, while it is tempting to describe the last 20 years as the hip hop era both within African-American popular culture and politics and the broader diaspora, one could make the case that house music, defined broadly, in terms of the Chicago versions, its Detroit versions, its British versions, has played an equally important role in shaping and influencing contemporary black musical commitments, especially if one pays attention to the house music fusions that have emerged in various parts of Africa such as South Africa's Spoek Mathambo, South America, and Europe.
One might also read the hip hop-house difference as a negotiation, not always friendly, or where the gender, sexual, and political terms in which black diasporic life will proceed. After the '89-'90 narrative ending of politics-- and again Fukuyama might be useful here-- one can detect a struggle between those impulses to render all black text and forms easily assimilated to national borders and the contending urges to delink place, race, gender, and sexuality, in other words, to confound geography and coloniality in pursuit of anaformality.
In this context, American-derived forms of hip hop in tandem with Jamaican dance hall templates have more often than not worked to normalize nationalist configurations of black possibilities even as these forms have been widely marketed and consumed. It has been interesting to observe these efforts to make black text work solely for the nation as well as the competing gestures towards more fluid and liquid black politics.
One of the more remarkable [? and ?] [? arrangements ?] of the dominant diasporic discourses in this period is Adrian Thaws, a.k.a Tricky, recalibration of Public Enemy's Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos from the album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
The original recording, which is a vague but compelling retelling and recasting of the Attica Prison riot story, links between the draft, the situation of black prisoners and slavery, and the implications of, quote unquote, not being a citizen. The plot involves Chuck D leading a group of prisoners to freedom after having taken a gun from a male correctional officer.
In terms of its gender commitments, there are repeated references to the number of brothers Chuck is leading. And the only correctional officer who is shot or killed is a woman, as Chuck says, "I popped her twice after she tries to escape."
Black Steel is also a typical representation of Public Enemy's work in this period during which the collective is trying to reorient its music so as to make it more acceptable to a black audience as defined by the market in terms of this notion that black music could not include rock in the mid 1980s and, in some sense, still in the present day, that if one is, quote unquote, engaging with rock one, one gets it from Coldplay or gets it from an indie group. One does not get it from black musical traditions or the broader black musical archives.
So the collective was trying to reorient its music so as to make it more acceptable to a black audience conventionally defined by downplaying the rock elements prominently displayed on the group's first largely unsuccessful album. Finally, just before Black Steel begins, Flavor Flav can be heard telling a live audience, presumably British, "base for your face, London."
And indeed, English audiences were early supporters of the group. In fact, signing on before black American listeners expressed significant interest. As Chuck D recalls, we always respected the British audience from London to Birmingham. Blacks, they are either from the Caribbean or have African roots. And they were very receptive.
It is actually harder to crack it here in the United States because people were still in the slave-like mentality. It still exists in England, too, but they have their Caribbean roots. And it's in the back of their minds. And I would probably question his characterizations. But I'll leave that for another moment.
It might also be useful here to think of Public Enemy's work and the work of the director Spike Lee as energized by a certain awareness that the liberationist narratives that sustained anticolonial movements, including the civil rights movement and the civil rights struggle, were drawing [? dim. ?] And it was that there was a sense that it was a narrative that set in play after World War II that it was coming to its end, to its conclusion in 1989-1990 that the postracial horizon that Barnor Hesse has talked about was reaching its completion [? quota. ?]
And then you can read perhaps beneath the surface, if you look at Chuck's work, if you look at Spike Lee's work, which so defined the late '80s and early '90s that it was almost not the beginning of a new period but the end of a certain period, that we don't have very many examples of people falling through in Public Enemy's work within hip hop. It's almost the last example of that type of work.
And Spike Lee's movies almost mark the end of the beginning of black independent film but also the end of a certain approach to making black film despite the popularity of both Public Enemy and Spike Lee. So it's a sense that is difficult to maintain that kind of traction, that type of activity after 1990, after this notion of black politics and politics in general is dead-- history is over-- and that liberalism defines all of our possibilities.
There is a way in which, then, that both PE and Spike Lee don't survive the post '89, 1990 transition intact in a way in which they quite quickly become, despite their intense popularity, if not sustained impact, anachronisms. Given this sentimental structure, Tricky's 1995 cover version constitutes an almost perfect supplement and arguably a response to Public Enemy's transatlantic call.
A former member of the Bristol collective, Massive Attack, Tricky had launched a solo career in tandem with his partner and subsequent coparent Martina Topley-Bird. In early promotional photos, the duo restates a scene from the R&B group Cameo's Single Life video, with Thaws wearing a wedding dress and with smudged lipstick and makeup carelessly applied and Martina Topley-Bird wearing a tuxedo.
On the Maxinquaye album, named after Thaws' deceased mother, Martina's voice would be mixed slightly higher in the mix than Tricky's. And as Alexander Weheliye noted and observed, "The vocal interplay between the two, between Tricky and Martina, worries the distinction between lead and background and female and male singer in several significant ways."
Moreover, Weheliye notes that in its contrast to Chuck D's original particular stentorian inflections, Topley-Bird's voice [INAUDIBLE] the Americanist of the original. Musically, the Thaws-Topley-Bird rendition draws on a rock punk energy in contrast to the R&B foundation that supports [? what ?] Public Enemy recorded. And one can speculate that Tricky's intention is to let these precisely that which the American rap group felt compelled to suppress between its first and second albums.
In other words, one can read Tricky's choice of aesthetic genres as an act almost of both profanation and restoration, a scraping away the coats of paint that were obscuring the original potentials of the original piece of art. Besides revealing the particularity of Chuck's geographic location, Topley-Bird's resignifying of a text, as [? male ?] identified as the original Public Enemy version, is deeply disruptive.
While the Public Enemy version is anchored in sex by Chuck's lyrical tension to his murder of a female officer who tries to run away. And the pleasure he seems to derive from the act exactly is shooting her twice. In the second version of Black Steel, Topley-Bird can be heard singing and repeating, "They cannot understand that I am a black man."
And in general, assuming the position and identifying with the anxieties that Chuck D takes and to which he gives voice respectively. In this gesture, Topley-Bird and Thaws, who can be heard on the track as well as in the background for the most part, mark politics, oppression, marginalization, and the attempts at emancipation as a matter engaging women and men as a concern that exceeds local and national borders and indeed all bordering projects.
Roughly the same dynamics account for the deployment of Soul II Soul's Back to Life and Hype Williams' Belly as a background against which the film's main character is prepared to commit mayhem. And this is the scene at the beginning in Belly, where the movie's main characters are about to commit mayhem.
And if there's time, I'll actually show it. But yeah, if there's time, I'll actually show it. But I actually think just having that screen is more interesting than anything I could say today. Roughly the same dynamics account for the deployment of Soul II Soul's Back to Life and Hype Williams' Belly as the background against which the film's main characters prepared to commit mayhem.
In this setting, the song is supposed to be read as a marker of sound system culture thus enabling the imagination articulation of a certain sense of dread and inherent danger. This is a reading I would suggest that runs largely against the grain of the song's powerful and provocative fusion of R&B lover's rock feminism and sound system masculinism.
But much, if not all, of the structure of feeling underlying the original and undecidable text slides under the power of the particular set of visual images Williams uses to introduce the film. Either post 1989 and 1990 redacting state is sustained by a drive to create distinct and incommensurable black national text and archives.
Soul II Soul's productions represented an obvious target that need to be dismantled and disarticulated. Williams' Belly, then, can be read as part of a broader urge to tear asunder those texts by destabilize more easily digestible black and national narratives.
Where Tricky and Martina managed to realign Public Enemy's radical template against the grain, Belly, with its surplus of intense coloration and visual images, succeeds in winning one for the homeside, I would suggest quite unfortunately, by trapping Back to Life within the death space of a nation where it can only signify in certain safe and convenient registers.
You can also see the same thing happening in Teddy Riley's remix of Soul II Soul's Keep on Moving, which took place in 1990 at the way in which Teddy Riley and is a moment where Teddy Riley's new jack swing sound that was dominant in the last three years of the 1980s leading into 1990.
And then Sold II Soul came across in 1989-1990 as sort a contest between the two. When Riley's giving Soul II Soul the remix, he almost tries to chop the text down in such a way that it reinscribes and reinforces the power of his own narrative and way of making sound in contrast to Soul to Soul. He takes a lot of the elements that makes Soul II Soul distinctive and the various fusions that are distinctive with Soul II Soul, in some ways, sublimates them or erases them.
And you can read that similar in some ways, that if-- Belly is a need to articulate Soul II Soul. You can see the same thing happening with Teddy Riley's remix of their music. It is useful in this context to consider the struggle over the presence that is Grace Mendoza, a.k.a. Grace Jones, the Jamaican-born, Syracuse, New York-raised preacher's daughter, and model-turned recording artist.
Jones' early and mid 1980s productions with time also contributed to, or more accurately, were appropriated and recontextualized by another tradition centered on the notion of an almost mechanical and rather sterile antisensual Caribbean hypersexuality. In a sense of Jones' essential labors threatened to disrupt a certain project in sexual and visual order, the restoration and reinforcement of that hegemony required that she specifically be interpolated, recast, and localized in order to diminish any residual effects and uproot possibly [INAUDIBLE] traces of her example.
This at times intriguing engaging reconstruction of the archetype of Caribbean women as omnivorous sexual machine became, of course, one of the building blocks of late 80s, early 90s dance of culture, for example, Patra's Worker Man with the lyrics, "I need a man of five " which, if you're not familiar with what a furlong is, it's quite a length.
And Lady Saw's Stab Up the Meat and would be reflected a lesser extent in the subsequent work of rap artist such as Little Kim, Foxy Brown, and Trina. The centrality of some of Jones' persona to late 20th century dance hall would be evidenced by the inclusion of the remake of My Jamaican Guy on the soundtrack of the 1997 film Dancehall Queen featuring Jones in tandem with DJ Bounty Killer.
As a relevance to hip hop, it was underscored by her guest appearance on Little Kim's Revolution on her 2000 release, The Notorious Kim. Most of his interpretations would involve flattening or domesticating Jones' potentials either as American or as Jamaican and not the two together as either simply a convenient icon for nationalist productions-- for example, Dancehall Queen-- or a somewhat imaginative sex worker in the case of Little Kim.
And I'll just [? note, ?] I don't know what to do with Nicki Minaj in this context. I was trying to think about what I could say. But I think you could probably say something more interesting and insightful than I could at this moment. Jones' border-straddling persona perceived androgyny and gender-trascendent box top haircut in the early 1980s.
For example, in 1981's Walking in the Rain, she speaks of feeling like a woman and looking like a man-- stood in partial contrast to the images that African-American pop culture had imported from the Caribbean and exposed some of the sexual ambivalence, homophobia, and homoeroticism at the heart of contemporary African-American popular culture.
Her fusion of Afro-Latin [? carnival ?] and [INAUDIBLE] sound system cultures constituted the challenge to the more problematically gendered narratives of black political possibility and the complicity of mechanical modern blackness as with the naturalization of national boundaries. As Beninese keyboardist Wally Badarou recalls, the compass point all starts as the group that Chris Blackwell assembled in Compass Point, Bahamas to record a number of records for Island Records.
First found their sound and identity working on Jones' Warm Leatherette album. As Badarou says, "Defiance was definitely there at the beginning," talking about the ensemble that featured Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, the Jamaican drum and bass duo, percussionist Uziah "Sticky" Thompson, Manchester UK native Barry Reynolds on guitar, along with the Jamaican Mikey Chung.
Continuing, Badarou says, "We didn't really know what was expected from us-- reggae, not reggae. It turned out we were there to create something new. From the time we laid basic tracks for Grace's cover of The Pretender's Private Life, there were smiles on everybody's faces. There was a [SPEAKING FRENCH] right from the time we laid down the rhythm tracks.
"We instantly knew something serious was being achieved. It was all about the groove, the sound, Grace's alternative voiceover and low key singing." Jones, for her part, would describe the band as being like United Nations in the studio and describe herself as a foreigner.
On another level, one can read her literal and figurative command to Pull Up to the Bumper and Drive it in Between as sharing a family resemblance with Toni Morrison and Saidiya Hartman's respective dissertations on the impossibilities of redemption and emancipation. With Lee Perry's and King Tubby's dub [? exoskeletons ?] vis-a-vis the narrative authority and autonomy of the lead focal, John Coltrane's impulse bebop's bop's rendering of showtunes and pop standards, and Jacques Derrida's deconstructions of Europe and philosophy.
The marking and then setting of boundaries, the evidence of a parenthetical dynamics common to these various sensibilities and strategies, represents ways of thinking with and against the dominant narrations of post 1989-1990 life and as such are particularly vulnerable to derision caricature and dismemberment given their resistance to the dominant archives and archivability.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Jones and Tricky collaborate in late 1990s in recording Hurricane Cradle to the Grave, with the lyric chorus, "I'll be a hurricane ripping up trees," which was released in 1998 as a 12-inch white label, though did not appear on an album until recently in 2009. As a result of differences between Tricky and Grace Jones, they could not agree on the shape of the project on which the song would occur.
But one can imagine that at least in the late 1990s, when they could see these attempts to reinscribe them or dismantle them or dismember them and fix them into national context, that they saw each other at least temporarily as kindred souls pushing and imagining against the grain. And here I'm moving towards my conclusion. I'm trying to think in the project that I'm working on now about the relationship between black politic sound, vision, and texture.
More specifically, if modern narratives equate citizenship with the right to speak and be seen and prefer a certain arrangement of sounds, visions, and textures, this would be expected perhaps that once excluded populations are superficially included, this happens with the postcolonial transitions including the postcivil rights turn, that they will seek the right to make as much noise and to be seen as clearly and as often as possible as normative citizens.
Indeed, the dominant narratives, one might suggest, will require the formerly formerly subaltering to make more noise to desperately seek the camera a celebration and recognition of a supposed emancipation. Against these expectations and following in the past laid out by Fred Moten and Lauren Berlant, those engaged by the product associated with the disinterring of the political, as opposed to mere politics, might consider the potential associated with the anarrangement or de-orchestration-- anarrangement being Moten, deorchestration being Berlant-- of the assumptions and norms of modern politics.
If the expectation is noise and the commitment to visual ubiquity, a deeply radical politics might urge humility, intentional silence, and invisibility as a means of confusing politics and revealing demands and imperatives underlining the Habermasian model. I'm thinking here, for example, the use of space and silence in the musical works of Shirley Horn, Ahmad Jamal, and Miles Davis, the use of silence in Erykah Badu's video for Window Seat and Charles Lane's 1989 film Sidewalk Stories.
My concerns are also driven, I should admit, by a certain nostalgia for prevideo era music and a personal visceral disinterest in having to not so much see music but having to work through someone else's notion of what I should see before I can perceive it for myself. I like the idea of humility and modesty in formal politics in the arts in contrast with the desire to fill every channel with data. I have here in parentheses, I need, I suspect, to get over this.
I mentioned this here because in thinking about Grace Jones' example, where we can see particularly in her imaging exactly the sorts of visual commitments of sober, anti-status-quo politics might not celebrate, for example, the colors, the provocative excess, the Josephine Bakerish aesthetic, I'm starting to think that perhaps the issue is not the pursuit of a certain setting of the visual, audio, and tactile levels but rather a refusal to assimilate any particular pattern.
Noise today, silence tomorrow, visual surplus there with potential and deep absence of any moment. In other words, following the logic of thinking in diaspora as anaformative impulse and a black politics were the subsequently postcolonial as anarrangement and anaformality might not be a matter of deliberate censory general strikes but rather the possibility that any of the channels of registries might be flooded, invaded, or abandoned at any moment.
Deorchestration, then, not as reorchestration, for example, through a commitment to silence or invisibility per se but rather as a reflexive and deliberate strategy according to which various confounding options are ultimately and randomly chosen. And this, in a sense, was and still is Grace and potentially a certain dynamic potential within diaspora-- productive, unpredictable, and generative obscenity.
AUDIENCE: You're the best person to answer this question. Because of your work, you studied public policy, and then opposed to the other work you're doing. It seems to me if you opened [INAUDIBLE] really wide to look at Obama [INAUDIBLE] to kind of a larger colonial project, I read him as a neocolonial leader. How would you [INAUDIBLE]?
RICHARD ITON: Neocolonial in the sense that he's an instrument by which a colonial remains in place to a degree.
AUDIENCE: Yes, absolutely. That's one [INAUDIBLE].
RICHARD ITON: I wouldn't disagree. I have this thing where I'm deliberately-- I was lucky that the last book came out when I was doing the last proofs. I knew what was going to happen. But I chose deliberately not [? to live in ?] Chicago. I gave money to the campaign like everybody else at Northwestern.
But I deliberately didn't want to mention Obama, one because part of me was thinking the whole world's going to change and then my other voice, the wise voice, said, nothing's going to change. So I deliberately chose not to say much about Obama in that book.
And the project I'm working now, I'm thinking about not mentioning his name at all simply because one, I know millions of friends who are writing books about Obama and two, because I think there's a way in which he is so intensely relevant and intensely irrelevant to black politics that it's like [INAUDIBLE]. If I start talking about him, that's all I'm going to talk about. And that's the end of discussion of black politics.
And then by not talking about him is a better way to not privilege his example [INAUDIBLE]. That New York Times magazine story a couple of years ago, where is Obama the end of black politics. At some point, I'll end up engaging with that narrative. And I don't want to engage with that narrative. So I--
AUDIENCE: I'm not so much concerned about him as much as [? the problematic ?] of framing [INAUDIBLE] in terms of a colonial issue. Because people never [INAUDIBLE] that this was when you think of US. And you mentioned [INAUDIBLE]. And I feel that people were talking about coloniality in this representation in the US as-- and then I mean, given recent work on Malcolm X, It will be interesting to see how all of that comes together.
I think the a lot of the nice work is going to come up in the next few years because of all of these pieces. But it seems to me that [? problematic ?] the so-called black nation, if you will-- I don't know if I should go there. [INAUDIBLE] some are still [INAUDIBLE] but they're not colonial discourse given Malcolm X going to the UN, given-- we charged genocide, given Katrina, given all the evidence we have about how black subjects are treated as noncitizens [INAUDIBLE]-- and he himself.
Birth certificate and all that-- so to me, we need a new analysis that really brings back some of those questions. Well, somebody would saying, I think in [INAUDIBLE], imperial even probably, [INAUDIBLE].
RICHARD ITON: I'm teaching a graduate course in postcolonial studies. This week, we are reading [INAUDIBLE], C.L.R. James' Beyond a Boundary, and Said's Cultural Imperialism. Obviously not all of the texts but chapters from the three texts.
And it was interesting, and as you mentioned Malcolm, too, is that really, up through the 1950s, when folks talked about the civil rights movement, when they're talking about whether from inside the United States or outside the United States, when people started talking about postcolonial studies, the United States is always in the frame.
But for some reason-- well, not for some reason. We can guess quite quickly. It drops out. So you get this literature now where the postcolonial seems to talk about anything but the United States. And the African-American civil rights literature, or African-American studies literature, is very much based with the United States.
Some people that I didn't mention explicitly begin when I think about work of folks like Tommy Shelby, Eddie Glaude, Danielle Allen, who work within modes and with the frames that are very much safely within mainstream discourse-- pragmatism, American liberalism.
And there's a way in which it's almost a fear to engage not things that we have to imagine very strongly that are out there but things that are already on the table, that people had on the table right up through the 1970s. But now we act as if there's only been the straight, narrow-- we read Du Bois. And [INAUDIBLE] United States. And everything remains very much within the frame of the nation.
I mean, Obama presented the possibly of troubling that. He is very [? tough. ?] He doesn't want to trouble that because he wants to be reelected. And I don't know what else he wants. But he wants to be reelected. That's clear. And that's, in my view, not a bad thing. But because the alternative is well-- [INAUDIBLE] or something.
AUDIENCE: It's the question of them having the language to talk about [INAUDIBLE]?
RICHARD ITON: Sometimes when I say this, I also try to frame it in a way that I'm not US bashing because I can make the same story about my homeland, which is Canada. Or I could talk about Jamaica, where my mother comes from or Britain, where I follow a lot of the British discourse, black British discourse in popular media and radio.
It's that it seems that diaspora requires a certain investment over and above the daily commitment and work that we have to do, that we are tired right now. And we just don't have the energy to tap into that imagination that would get us out of our national frames.
So now we want to articulate a black Canadian way of being. We'll talk about a Jamaican nationality that's extremely problematic on the ground in the way that's it's exported. And black American nationality that just doesn't imagine itself outside-- doesn't even go to Hawaii or Alaska because we're not supposed to go there. We can't find birth certificates.
So these national blacknesses that are operating in a way that it's frightening because it's almost as if we don't recognize that the state has been an antiblack mechanism going back 500 years. So that at best, this is something that we have to deal with as a necessary evil but to celebrate it or accept it and naturalize it is a scary thing.
And Obama prevents an opportunity to do that but has not been used for that and himself has not been so forward to play that role, again, for obvious reasons. He's marked as foreign enough. And he doesn't want to reinscribe that.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
RICHARD ITON: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for the talk. So I totally understand that you're telling us that deorchestration would not be that committment to silence or invisibility. And yet you make me want to know how this tricky and more fluent racial [INAUDIBLE] politics-- how would it sometimes pivot on silence or [INAUDIBLE]?
RICHARD ITON: Exactly as you put it is that, again, part of this is just-- when I was coming to the end of this paper, I was having to deal with some of my viscera. I really am a fan of-- I don't like visual images. And ironically, a lot of my best friends are filmmakers and art historians.
And they don't need music in the house. They just want image. Well, the filmmakers need sound. But the art historians, they just-- image, image, image. And I'm quite the opposite. I don't like consuming my image through my eyes. It's through my ears. Or I touch it. Or I create my own images.
Because Fred came and gave a talk a couple of weeks ago at Northwestern. Lauren Berlant gave a talk earlier this quarter. And really Berlant was talking about this notion of ambient citizenship and this notion of selectively choosing to be silent. And silence is an option that's disrupting the orchestration of politics. And politics suggests that citizens make a certain noise that they're asked to make certain noises at certain times and the disruptive politics who break that connection, which I found incredibly powerful and seductive.
And then I think Miles, think about Shirley Horn. I think about Erykah Badu's-- that end of Window Seat, where that silence happens at the key point in the video. And Sidewalk Stories-- Charles Lane's movie, which unfortunately I just can't find it.
I saw it in the theater. And I'm just recalling it because is not available on VHS. It's not available on DVD. I'm sure people have it somewhere in some library. But I can't find it. But it's a silent picture until the last five minutes of it. It's a very powerful film.
Then I was thinking about Grace. And Grace is not a silent actor. And she's productively not a silent actor. I mean, there's a way in which-- and here, I'm not just talking about sound. I'm also thinking about the visual elements. Her cooperations with her early partner, Jean-Paul Goude, were just-- they were over the top but in a very productive way.
And it goes to my ambivalence about these things. I mean, Josephine Baker-- I have an ambivalence about these types of presentations and performances. But there's a way in which it made me think that it's not about just silence or being selectively invisible because that itself becomes a fixed narrative and a sedimented way of being.
It's about always being very sensitive, being reflexive about the way that you engage with the expectations of citizenship around sound, about vision, around tactility. Because the whole notion is that the definition of slave is someone who cannot speak.
So then naturally, our response to that, then, is that once we get citizenship, once we get freedom, emancipation, and [INAUDIBLE] to suggest that we ever do get that, then the notion is that we should speak as much as possible because you never know when the mic is going to go off. And you won't have anything to say.
So that type of rush to be citizens by being available, visual, loud, and all the rest, I understand it. But at the same time, it becomes itself an orchestration. It become very full. It's in very neatly to the notion well, now we have them because they're operating on the terrain in the terms that we expect them to.
So its ability to be reflexively and to change one's options at a moment's notice that I started thinking might be the way to go. So I'm really trying to think about this now as I work on the next project where I thought I would go towards this notion of deorchestration and anarrangement, just removal from some of the dominant ways of being and how to think more in a more nuanced fashion about it.
It can't be just simply refusing something reinscribed in some ways the dominant narratives. We try to think about more creative, productive ways of doing that. And grace helps.
AUDIENCE: I'm wondering if you could speak a little bit more about [INAUDIBLE] that you described as the "impossibility of settlement." And that you [INAUDIBLE] certain black politics. How would you distinguish, or would you be interested in distinguishing the impossibility [? settlement ?] as an experience of modernity on the one hand and something that is particularly interrelated to black politics.
If somebody wanted to appropriate your term, how would you [? stop them? ?]
RICHARD ITON: As an experience of modernity?
RICHARD ITON: I'll do a little background. A colleague of mine at Northwestern, Soulemane Bachir Diagne, is now at Columbia-- Senegalese philosopher, as they say in the Academy, [? a ?] [? star. ?]
We're doing this conference in diaspora. And there was always this notion on the table that diaspora was something that did not include Africans. And then he said, quite suggestively, that he always felt diasporized and that the question was not one of physical movement but rather being shaken by and disturbed even while you're not physically moved from the place that you are.
There's a way in which diaspora is about the colonial experience and not necessarily simply about on the Middle Passage or actual physical movement of bodies. It's just this notion of ensettlement. And it went very much against a lot of the narratives of diaspora where diaspora is when people settle. Diaspora happens when you move to a certain place and you find people in England or in Brazil or whatever the case might be. And that is diaspora.
And I end up at a conference where folks-- where someone offered the definition that diaspora happens when people settle elsewhere. And I said, well, that goes directly against this other way of thinking about diaspora.
To the useful aspects of that is one, if you think about diaspora as the impossibility of settlement, it also leads to the notion that perhaps you could talk about diaspora as the illegitimacy with settlement, that the land claims that are up and attendant to the settler notion of diaspora are problematic.
And if you treat impossibly of settlement as your first principle and you can't make these kinds of settler claims, that the land is ours or should become ours, that the people who are on the land [INAUDIBLE]. So it goes against the whole John Lockian notion that land becomes yours when you invest a certain amount of labor in it, or you stand on that land.
And secondly, it speaks to, as you know, to the modern condition. If modernity is about-- I mean, the Trump card in thinking about ensettlement to modernities, who think about, quote unquote, Africa. But Africa is really simply the canary in the coal mine, to borrow from Lani Guinier.
I mean, modernity is about perpetual ensettlement for all of us. And we all get renamed, inscribed, tossed into the washing machine, tossed into the dryer, tossed on the floor again to be dirty again. And in that context, if we accept that and recognize that the painful aspects and the pleasurable aspects are possibly as a fallout of that, it's a way of being on the cusp of modernity, on the vanguard of modernity.
[? I shouldn't ?] say that. Let me take that back. It's a way of dealing with the aspects and dimensions of modernity in a way that might not get us past it but get us to approach its needs, its appetites, its needs for a hierarchy in a different way, to be more critical in our engagement with modern narratives.
AUDIENCE: And it seems to include a [INAUDIBLE] effective for you in terms of this definition. What you're describing, as we know, if you deal with in these particular situations [INAUDIBLE].
RICHARD ITON: Even last week, a colleague was teaching a couple of chapters from the book in her class. [INAUDIBLE] well, this is all about you. I hadn't realized it was that clear. But as someone who's not really rooted in any-- who's rooted in many places and doesn't privilege any of them. And it's particularly resistant to national identifications of any sort, yep.
Anybody want to volunteer a narrative of how we think about Nicki Minaj? Because I'm--
I'm a little too old to do her justice.
MARGO CRAWFORD: Well, join me again in thanking our speaker. And we also have a reception on the second floor.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University on the web at cornell.edu.
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Richard Iton, professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University, spoke at Cornell April 7, 2011 as part of the Department of English's Comparative Ethnic Studies Lecture Series.
The series opens up space between, across, and within fields such as Native American Studies, Latino/a Studies, African American Studies, Asian Studies, and Diaspora Studies.