Black Theology and the Dance of Death

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 12.39.10 PM
a still from Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” Featuring Kendrick Lamar

[I wrote this about two years ago thinking maybe it would be part of my comments on an AAR Panel. I’m quite glad I didn’t end up doing that (perhaps it would have been to hard to follow aurally?), but I stumbled across it again and thought I’d put it out into the atmosphere and see what other folks think. I don’t know how much of this I still vibe with, but I do feel *some* vibrations when I reread it. *kanye shrug*]

What are movements made of? Variations on positions in space and time? Expansions and contractions of the musculature resulting in shifts of the flesh? An orbital cycling in and around thought?

I like to think of movements as being made up of displacements. Displacements of thought, Displacements of the flesh, Displacements of the social. These displacements suggest something about the doubled nature of movement. For those of us concerned with how one builds movements, whatever we might mean by this turn of phrase, this doubled sense of movement can be used to connote some kind of accumulation of force and flesh that is dispersed in a multiplicity of forms, seeping out of seemingly static spaces. Yet, at the same time, this potentiality of movement is precisely how we came to be here.

In the movement of a ship, multiplied by the infinitude of capital’s promise. In the stealthy movements of escape and fugitivity, practiced movements that calculate(d) the cost of capture. In the hold where each expansion and contraction of the musculature was a risk. In the movements of black power and black feminism as a critical shift in thought, the derailing of a train of thought that was bound for some white promised land. We move and are moved. We have been so moved as to be here.

What is it that movement offers other than displacement as an outworking of white desire and capitalist markets, since these are the sense in which displacement is first thought? What moves, having been made, bring us to the clearing where the displaced gather to love the flesh? What relations of force, accumulation, dispersion, and attraction are we able to produce as a common movement?

The question of blackness and its displacement is the question of this possibility of relations. Some common kinlessness. For how else do we traverse and navigate the dangerous field of the world built on the expulsion of black flesh without some critical energy, some movement to get us there?

A turn to displacement to conceive of movement allows us to consider what conceptual ambivalence or agnosticism can begin to account for the accidents of movement that structure our ability to think God in modernity.

If blackness can be thought as movement, as already destabilized and destabilizing, perhaps the role of black theology today, rather than moving on from blackness through a seemingly necessary expansion that attaches things which blackness also already names (queer, gendered, crip—as though blackness is always a narrowness to be asterisked and avoided, a limit to “inclusion”), is to practice a movement of thought that takes up this black energy that is found in the accumulation of fleshly relations in a mode other than capitalist accumulation.

Because blackness is, as Fred Moten notes, both a state of being exhausted and an exhaustation of sovereign impositions of subjectivity and the propertied relations that structure such subjects, it is concerned with what Frank Wilderson calls a dance of death. Dancing even as the socially dead, dancing because one is socially dead. Rather than attempting to stop the dance, then, black theology ought to embrace this exhaustation which is the place where the critical turn occurs. After death, the turn, we keep dancing. Giving another go at moving our feet and our flesh. The turn—which is, maybe like this image, the rounding of a cornered existence with such speed and velocity that new openings emerge.