I want to say, without arguing too much for it here, but by way of an encounter that Trane and Edouard Glissant have been having in my head for a couple of months, that Zong! (and more generally the black history that is the sea, as Derek Walcott didn’t quite say) is about ascension and consent: an emergence anticipatorily after the fact of the ongoing imposition of a submarine state of emergency. Not buried, not cinders, but drowning, but just generally going for our thang under water.
The interplay of silence and chatter I wrote about last time was a Heideggerian echo, with a little bit of a Levinasian trace, but more immediately and to the point, a replay of the beginning of Ian Baucom’s amazing book/assemblage/idiosyncretic archive, Spectres of the Atlantic, in which the Zong’s inspirited/inspiriting cargo, 132 persons thrown into the sea whose trace remained for so long primarily in the official language and documents of the governmental and financial entities that authored their disappearance, enacts its emergence and meta-emergence again. Thinking, but also living, between silence and chatter, goes on on other registers: not only the silencing of things, the silence of an unheard case, of a muffled appeal consigned to lower frequencies, of disruptive wave and terminally colliding particle where no one can observe; and not only that other effect that constantly nascent and dying capitalism and colonialism produces, the ceaseless chatter of administration, regulation and what Ian calls “phenomenal busy-ness”: but also the silence and chatter of song, which thinkers have been known to misrecognize as an unbearable lightness; but also the hard, sweet life of language on “the spectrum,” where I am an initiate under the protection of my son. He moves between silence and chatter, where the set pieces that adults usually reserve for the forced participation of kids break down in the face of a constant contact improvisation that you have to be ready for, as Al Green or Danielle Goldman would say. The brilliant surprise of the silly abcs (ba, dc, fe, h… sung to the rhythm and melody of the old tune) or the belated christening of arecently discovered dinosaur called the protocerealbox) have to be heard to be believed. But those impositions (How old are you? Are you ready for Santa Claus? Are you strong? Show me your muscles! Do you like school?) aren’t the only set pieces, all of which aren’t so easily done without. Every returned hello or goodbye or I love you is treasure when every incalculable gift was occasioned by an unimaginable loss and when the gift is often harder to accept, or would be, if it weren’t for what you had already been given by poems, which Charles Bernstein, thinking about Robin Blaser, calls “the flowers of associational thinking.” Lorenzo gives me a fresh bouquet every day while I try to stop mourning for something I never had. One of the hard parts of caring for a child with an “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is the problem of where they should go to school. And if you’re picky about school to the point of not believing in it even though you love it so much you never want to leave it, if you’re so committed to the conservation of the strange and beautiful that your mistrust of the normal is redoubled to a level of intensity that can actually keep up with your desire for your child to have a normal life, then the general necessity of the alternative (school), which may have been a principle you’ve been trying to live by, now becomes concrete and absolute. I imagine that the quest for the right school typically brings parents like Laura (Harris) and me into contact with a whole range of supposedly untrained saints and supposedly well-trained demons and all the while your kid is changing and growing and becoming amazingly and immeasurably complicated just like they all do so that what they need, and what you need, seems to be changing every week. But there are these lucky, and usually temporary, interludes, when it feels like you’re all in the right place. We’ve got that now with our son’s kindergarten, a lovable clubhouse of a place run and staffed by the most well-trained saints you can imagine and where I get to go every Tuesday and Thursday morning to play and get dirty and paint and make bird baths and talk about princesses while Lorenzo and I facilitate communication with the other kids for one another out in the woods, where all those flowers grow. So the first part of my plan is just to tell you a little bit about my morning at school. And the second part of my plan is just to tell you a little bit about my afternoon at school, with the big kids, whose interest in those flowers often goes against the grain of their schooling, where critical and creative attendance upon both silence and chatter is frowned on in the interest of a whole other kind of preparation. In the afternoon we’re gonna try to read Zong! I learned last semester that this means we have to get together to decide how to get together to decide how to read it. A collective enterprise is implied here—I don’t think anybody can do it by themselves. Faded, fading, murmured, submerged, displaced, misspaced, overlaid, Zong! is an effect of a range of superimposition exposed as beauty. We’re gonna need all the help we can get, so we’ll read a bunch of other stuff, especially Ian’s book, and some Glissant and Adrian Piper, some Renée Green and Bill T. Jones, some Cecil Taylor. And now maybe you will help us too. Ok! Now I really do promise to keep it short after this. More this coming Wednesday.
Fred Moten lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches at the University of California, Riverside. He is author of Arkansas (Pressed Wafer); In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press); I ran from it but was still in it. (Cusp Books); Hughson’s Tavern (Leon Works); B Jenkins (Duke...