Centrifugal work begins with good-bye, wants to bid all givens good-bye. It begins with what words will not do, paint will not do, whatever medium we find ourselves working in will not do. Amenities and consolation accrue to a horizon it wants to get beyond, abandoning amenities and consolation or seeking new ones. It will, of course, suffer marginalization, temporary in some cases, unremitting in most.
Black centrifugal writing has been and continues to be multiply marginalized. Why would it be otherwise? At a time when academic and critical discourse battens on identity obsession (even as it “problematizes” identity), black centrifugal writing reorients identity in ways that defy prevailing divisions of labor. In the face of a widespread fetishization of collectivity, it dislocates collectivity, flies from collectivity, wants to make flight a condition of collectivity. It says that “we” was never a swifter fiction—not so much a war between family and flight as the familial song of one’s feeling for flight. It says that only such admitted fugitivity stands a ghost of a chance of apportioning prodigal truth. This is one of the lessons it has learned from black music. It remembers that Coleman Hawkins felt no identity crisis playing an instrument invented by a Belgian, that Lester Young referred to the keys of his horn as his people.
Black art, like any other, is innovative, demanding and/ or outside to the extent that it addresses the wings and resistances indigenous to its medium qua medium, address ranging from amorous touch to agonistic embrace, angelic rub. To don such wings and engage such resistances as though they were the stuff of identity and community is to have taken a step toward making them so.
Born in Miami and raised in Southern California, poet, novelist, editor, and critic Nathaniel Mackey earned his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Stanford University. Mackey cites poets William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, in addition to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry, as early influences...