Listening to The Black Outdoors

I watched a livestream of the inaugural The Black Outdoors event today. Hours later, I’m still processing, still listening, still learning from it & from all who spoke & all who were present. I was, in part, watching the bodies of the interlocutors, trying to tune in to the embodied work of wrestling with difficult concepts. I couldn’t help notice Dr. Sarah Jane Cervenak’s right foot gently tapping the floor at the beginning. Then Fred’s (to me, at least) rarely changed, hardly changing posture during the talk, along with that “I’m just tired” that he uttered in response to a question, & that I still can’t or won’t stop hearing. And I was watching what passes for quiescence in Saidiya’s body language (I really do love the look on her face when she’s listening-thinking). Judith Butler says somewhere—& we know from blackness, from those telling us to “keep the peace” when we protest, when keeping the peace means living under the conditions of black killability that white supremacy wants us to accept as our everyday—that peace is hardly ever a quiescent state. So I’m trying to contend with Saidiya’s body’s mode of listening, which I am mistaking—yes I know the danger of mistaking a black woman’s body, those who are routinely mistaken—as quiescence, but only because by quiescence I mean something else I still don’t have my finger on. That silence she has/is when she is listening. It’s like what Eve K. Sedgwick called “non-interference”. I’m still listening to her body listening. Listening to & for her lack of compulsion to answer questions in synchronous relay, the way she leans into a question, silently at first, before replying.

A Brief Investigation into Our Fantasy of Going Somewhere

  1. The manamba is a set of Fibonacci numbers. As the one who—in the words of Fred Moten—is not one, but is one plus more among others, she is mtu saba, she is mtu ni watu. The manamba’s multiplicity makes her ghost work real in so far as she delivers more than what’s required. She exceeds her capacity, and therefore exists beyond the logic of the roster that seeks to renumerate (only) one in ways that absent the multiplicity of the one whose work and presence are legion
  2. The manamba dangles precariously on a vessel in orbit to our stick-shift future. We can get to that future via the depressive realism of inhabiting the pothole
  3. The manamba’s precise dangling repositions what we can get away with without injury as a refusal of crisis
  4. The manamba is an ableist fantasy that distributes injury without eliminating it
  5. The brutal set of conditions that produce and enable the manamba—we must set aside the question of what exhaustion can enable—restage her body as the crash test dummy who absorbs repeated, sustained impact that results in attrition injuries in a manner that not only precludes workers compensation, but also temporalizes harm as “something that happened when no one was looking”, as “something to come and then coming too late
  6. The manamba is a Charles Babbage fantasy. She is a fifth order polynomial solved five times by the difference engine
  7. The manamba is our hypeman: kapuka this, kapuka that
  8. The Eurobond money was used to turn the manamba into a six billion dollar bionic woman with jua kali knees and M-Pesa capability
  9. The manamba scandalizes sex—as if that can happen “here”
  10. The matatu—we are shifting gears here—is a superobject
  11. The matatu stops anywhere. It employs the supermodern cartography of the non-place
  12. The matatu’s incongruous temporality is that of hurrying up so one can slow down—passengers are rushed into it, but the matatu doesn’t leave until it’s almost full, and it often gets stuck in traffic. At the end of the business day, mdosi anangoja pesa zake migo migo, which is about the only way Kenyan bosses wait (all those methali about the benefits of slowing down cannot contend with the manamba’s body hurried by mdosi anayengoja migo migo, which raises the question of how class “happens” in and via methali when differently classed bodies are assigned either ustaarabu wa waliostaafu or forced into the awkward, break-neck haraka haraka of the dispossessed)
  13. How to reconcile the slide from matatu :: manyanga :: ndogo ndogo with how women are routinely sexually harassed and assaulted in matatus while in transit to a stick-shift future we cannot now reach, because patriarchy—it is difficult to speak of the hapticality of this passage as radical when the matatu presents such gender trouble
  14. The matatu honks and honks, honks at air, honks at onlygodknowswhat, honks to help it echolocate with the quadraphonic echo that returns from its immersive world of the upside down. Bidii juu chini meets bidii ya mchwa in a development imaginary threatened by jigger burrowing
  15. The matatu traffics in maganda. It consents to no searches. Everything it says can and will be used against it in a court of law
  16. Our fantasy of going somewhere is routinely interrupted by the intransitive gesture of the bridge to nowhere

Thank you, William Carlos Williams

This here (sic) is just to say I heard someone say “the government is not doing enough for men” while I was watching Kenyan television, and I have been reeling ever since. I wanted to write about this claim that a government for men, by men, and of men is not doing enough for men simply because women’s empowerment discourses are so pervasive in development work, but ain’t no one got time for dat.


Concerned that I do not have enough staying power, I am now forcing myself through Gender Trouble. It is not that I do not “like” Butler—I do. It is that this is not what I need right now, especially not in the way of sensation. Reading Gender Trouble right now makes me unhappy. Or sad. Or morose—yes, morose. I simply need other sensations to take me to other elsewheres.

I am trying to remember the last thing I read that gave me good sensations. Perhaps Mark Rifkin. I always like his stuff.