Black Box, Black Study

Insofar as Black studies has earned the right to look out for itself, what that really means is that Black studies has earned the right to try again to take its fundamental responsibility, which is to be a place where we can look out for the Earth. I think that Black studies has on a fundamental level a specific, though not necessarily exclusive, mission to try to save the Earth, and on a secondary level, to try to save the possibility of human existence on Earth. That’s a big statement, but I think maybe it is important to just leave that big statement out there for a minute and just make sure you know that I knew that I said it when I said it.

–  Afua Cooper, Rinaldo Walcott and Lekeisha Hughes, “Robin D. G. Kelley and Fred Moten in Conversation”

What an enormous task. What an impossibly enormous task. And yet, there’s something so sincere in this enunciation that one can’t help but reckon with the horror of its honesty. The entire World was built in and through the mutilated and dying Black body and it is the task of the knowledge production of that mutilated and dying Black body to seek to save the Earth. It sounds cinematic and yet, there’s something so sincere in this enunciation that one can’t help but reckon with the horror of its honesty. I, for one, have no problem with the cinematic. For if a cinematic World is supposed to conjure up images of unreality, then I am completely fine with conceding that an unreal proposition can be sincere in an unreal World. And our World is sincerely unreal. Or rather, our World is surreal. A term which I find better describes the relationship we have to cinema and the relationship between our being-in-the-world and the sense of the nonsensical nature of that being-in-the-world. It’s all so surreal.

The 21st Century is cinematic indeed. Just look around: Hollywood itself couldn’t have come up with this. And yet, it almost seems like Hollywood did. It almost seems like our actual being-in-the-world is better suited for a shitty Post-Apocalyptic Netflix Drama then actual shitty Post-Apocalyptic Netflix Dramas. And it doesn’t actually make sense at all and that’s probably why it sucks the most. And now, I think you can see the Bird Box connection. I still don’t understand why Bird Box has generated so much dialogue on the Internet. I didn’t know anything about it until my partner came home and told me that she was told it was a must-see. I do apologize to anyone who feels differently, but it was not. It was a fine movie at best that sent you on emotional ups and downs only to leave you without a grain of understanding about why everyone was dying and what everyone kept dying from. I still don’t understand why I decided that I had to watch it and that if I didn’t watch it I would have missed some crucial cultural moment and conversation. I still don’t understand why Sandra Bullock just couldn’t give her damn kids normal ass names. I still don’t understand how it was possible for some people to see the ghost, demon, dead family member or whatever inconclusive ass spirit was making people SOMETIMES kill themselves and OTHER TIMES try to bring others to see the “beauty” of whatever inconclusive ass spirit was fucking up the World. I still don’t understand how the School for the Blind could be a safe haven or why it was a safe haven or… what the hell it was a safe haven from.

But, the more I think about it, what if that’s a point. And I’m not trying to say, for example, that this is the “deeper” meaning of Bird Box* but rather what if we thought about it, sat with it, and meditated on Bird Box as a kind of surreal reflection of an apocalypse that never makes sense. Of an apocalypse where you find moments that feel like safe havens, but no one ever clearly knows if that’s actual safety since actual safety is always an inconclusive ass moment away from being ruptured, torn apart, obliterated, destroyed. I think there might be something there. And what I mean by something is an additional thing to all the other things that have been written about this damn movie. All the other think-pieces circulating around the virtual geography of the web. No one wins or loses in a dialogue on Bird Box. Bird Box isn’t a matter of Life and Death; it’s a depiction of it. But what Moten speaks of is a matter of Life and Death – a matter which gets depicted and depicted and depicted over and over again until the raw materiality of its performance gets ripped to shreds.

SAVE THE EARTH.

A FILM (BROUGHT TO YOU BY BLACK STUDIES)

which is the critique of Western Civilization; which is the shit you did witcha niggas after school during summer time talking about the Boondocks; which is the thing you did with ma and pa over breakfast biscuits and bacon; which is the black books you read outside of class since they weren’t being taught in class by Denise Ferriera Da Silva, Fred Moten, Angela Davis, Frank Wilderson, Lewis Gordon, Sylvia Wynter, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Frantz Fanon and so many more; which is all the other work of criticism that you read in class and brought into conversation with the work you read out of class; which is the music you write, sing, and dance to; which is the way you love; which is the way you talk; which is the way you hug; and the way you walk. Black studies is a way of life and Fred Moten thinks it’s a way of life that “has on a fundamental level a specific, though not necessarily exclusive, mission to try to save the Earth.” This would all be fun and games if Moten was not being serious. As he put it, “That’s a big statement, but I think maybe it is important to just leave that big statement out there for a minute and just make sure you know that I knew that I said it when I said it.”

If Moten was not being serious, we could have just hired Sandra Bullock to play a University Professor in an African American Studies Department. Called that shit: Black Box, write her lines that include high theory jargon, laced in a little bit of post-structural theory and a taste for poetics and let her go about saving the Earth one abstraction at a time. But, that would be silly. And while Moten will always remind us we have time to be silly, to celebrate, to dance our pain away, we still have to grasp his point. We are tasked with saving the Earth not in a shitty Post-Apocalyptic Netflix Drama, but in the shitty Post-Apocalyptic Drama that is our World. And I state again: there’s something so sincere in this enunciation that one can’t help but reckon with the horror of its honesty.

The most plausible reason I have for not fucking with Bird Box is because I know a World that is ending. That World is this World, their World. A World that has never quite been mine, but that was built one cement block by cement block upon the necks and torsos of Black and black[ened] beings like myself. I try to know this World and I try to know this World so intimately not just because I live in it, or rather under it, but because Black studies requires an intimacy with the World that is always violent and yet always generative. And what I believe I found is that this World doesn’t actually make much sense at all and that’s probably why it sucks the most. Thus I find the horror of the senseless and unbelievable apocalypse of this World far more sensible and believable than the horror of the apocalypses being imagine by Hollywood and all I hope is that something on Earth might outlive it.

Who to try to bring about such a thing but Black Studies? Black Studies: The School for the Blind. We don’t need to see no more to know the Earth needs some saving, and we all know that it’s the World’s fault it does. Or rather, Black Studies knows that the Earth needs saving and its the World’s fault it does. And Black Studies knows because Black Studies is half “critique of Western civilization” and half “bring invention into existence.” Fred Moten is keen on doing both and he recognizes Black Studies as the performance of doing both. But he sets the bar high.

SAVE THE EARTH. 

Why not? We have nothing to lose but our chains.

 

 

*if topology could be applied to words, it’d be interesting to see the anti-Black topology of the relationship between whose statements can be read as deep and whose statements can be thought as shallow.

 

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