1 Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007), 5-6.
2 For more on the politics of the synchronizing the black voice and the black body, see Arthur Jafa, “My Black Death” in Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture, Greg Tate, ed. (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 244-57. Jafa discusses the historical separation of the black voice from the black body, how the former is isolated, fetishized, and consumed as a commodity, as the latter appears as a problem for the white imaginary, i.e. the “trouble” of the black body in white space—a separation, he speculates, which is epitomized in sublimated form in the standardization of the black vinyl record. For a brilliant account of this history of separation, from the Civil War to the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, see Jennifer Lynn Stoever, The Sonic Color Line: Race & the Cultural Politics of Listening (New York: New York University Press, 2016).
3 Reflecting on the Lilac Fire, Davis speaks of an uncanny sense of familiarity in its “inevitability” as he recalls how it was precisely described in a little-known science fiction novel from 1956 called Cloud by Day. The novel presents an apocalyptic fire that forces a bigoted and divided community to come together to survive it, and Davis emphasizes how the author anticipates the speed and spread of the Lilac Fire “in amazing detail.” “When I first pondered this example of fiction prophesizing an actual event, I thought that the coincidence must be fantastically improbable. But, the truth is, if you write a story about a fire and set it anywhere in Southern California, someday it will come true.” Mike Davis, “Southern California’s Uncanny, Inevitable Yuletide Fires,” New Yorker, December 11, 2017. See also, Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (New York: Vintage Books, 1999 ).
4 James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Dial Press, 1963).
5 See review of the catalog in Peter L’Official, “The Visual Frequency of Black Life,” Paris Review, July 12, 2018.
6 Arthur Jafa, interview by Apsara Diquinzio, Phyllis C. Wattis, and Kate MacKay, Exhibition brochure to Arthur Jafa/Matrix 272 at University of California, Berkeley Art Musuem and Pacific Film Archive, December 12, 2018-March 24, 2019.
8 A few months after, on October 1, 2015, after a mass shooting a community college in Oregon, Obama states: “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.”
9 George Blaustein, “The Obama Speeches,” n+1, Issue 27 (Winter 2017).
10 “Roof was safeguarded by his knowledge that white American terrorism is never waterboarded for answers, it is never twisted out for meaning, we never identify its “handlers,” and we could not force him to do a thing. He remained inscrutable. He remained in control, just the way he wanted to be.” Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof,” GQ, August 21, 2017.
12 L’Official, “The Visual Frequency of Black Life.” See also, Arthur Jafa, conversation with Greg Tate, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, January 29, 2017, https://vimeo.com/209649169
13 Ghansah, “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof.” “In Charleston, I learned about what happens when whiteness goes antic and is removed from a sense of history. It creates tragedies where black grandchildren who have done everything right have to testify in court to the goodness of the character of their slain 87-year-old grandmother because some unfettered man has taken her life. But I also saw in those families that the ability to stay imaginative, to express grace, a refusal to become like them in the face of horror, is to forever be unbroken. It reminds us that we already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished. That even when denied justice for generations, in the face of persistent violence, we insist with a quiet knowing that we will prevail. I thought I needed stories of vengeance and street justice, but I was wrong. I didn’t need them for what they told me about Roof. I needed them for what they said about us. That in our rejection of that kind of hatred, we reveal how we are not battling our own obsolescence. How we resist. How we rise.”
14 Arthur Jafa, “Black Visual Intonation” in The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Robert G. O’Meally, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 264-8. See also, Arthur Jafa and Tina Campt, “Love is the Message, The Plan is Death,” e-flux 81 (April 2017).
15 Ibid., 267. See also Micheal Boyce Gillespie, Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).
16 Ibid., 267.
17 Arthur Jafa, “My Black Death, ” 249.
18 See the following reviews of the effect of “black visual intonation” in Love is the Message: Aria Dean, “Film: Worry the Image,” Art in America, May 26, 2017; Huey Copeland, “b.O.s. 1.3/ Love is Message, The Message is Death,” ASAP/Journal, June 4, 2018; L’Official, “The Visual Frequency of Black Life.”
19 Jafa’s performance is inspired by a presentation by Jonathan Ned Katz and Tavia Nyong’o called “Visualizing the man-Monster” at http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/sewally-jones. Katz and Nyong’o’s analysis refers to Jonathan Ned Katz, Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
20 James Tiptree Jr., “Love is the Plan, The Plan is Death,” in James Tiptree Jr., Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, Jeffrey D. Smith, ed. (San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2004), 419.
21 Hartman, Lose Your Mother, 234.
22 Hartman stresses the imbrication of the language of race, the Atlantic slave trade, and the modern conception of the stranger. “The most universal definition of the slave is a stranger. Torn from kin and community, exiled from one’s country, dishonored and violated, the slave defines the position of the outsider. She is the perpetual outcast, the coerced migrant, the foreigner, the shamefaced child in the lineage. Contrary to popular belief, Africans did not sell their brothers and sisters into slavery. They sold strangers: those outside the web of kin and clan relationships, nonmembers of the polity, foreigners and barbarians at the outskirts of their country, and lawbreakers expelled from society. In order to betray your race, you had to first imagine yourself as one. The language of race developed in the modern period and in the context of the slave trade.” Hartman, 5.
23 Ibid, 234.
24 China Miéville, “Theses on Monsters,” Conjunctions 59: Colloquy (2012): 142-44.