#ReBIT18 – The Question of Medium

Texts, conversation, and friendship … I value these three things more than anything else. Whether books or gestures or habits or art, conversations about texts among friends – new friends, old friends, everyone in between – just make me happy. It’s the sort of thing that makes work-life worth living.

I do small, seminar-style symposia every year. This year started one that will hopefully be an annual event, with rotating theme: Re-Thinking the Black Intellectual Tradition. Organized it with Marisa Parham.

Saturday was the first of these, dedicated to the theme “medium.” We talked about sound, space, screen, and the digital. Eight talks. There was plenty of allocated time for discussion and we built in buffer time so that sessions could roll over without cutting into someone else’s time. I like that scheduling.

It was a fantastic day of conversation. What struck me from the beginning, and I keep coming back to it as I process the symposium, is how each interrogation of medium and its innovations looped through the tradition. Not in order to justify the new thing or to show some sort of impossible continuity, but rather just to see the unfolding (rather than fiat) of new ideas and things, identifying particular, underthematized twists in tradition that draw out unexpected connections between how expressive culture works and what expressive culture has to say about history, futurity, the long present, and everything else meaningful.

I’m thinking about how, in different registers, both Ashon Crawley and Anthony Reed drew the human and the machine close, blurring a lot of distinctions, and how that blurring proximity opens up so many other kinds of possibilities for sound as a form of thinking. And how Stephanie Sparling Williams and Marisa Parham both merged the question of technology, creation, and human possibility with the digital screen and its new forms of black sociality and representation, and how that linked to the symbolics of color, then connection Mark Anthony Neal’s sketch of a compelling arc of black social media, from worksongs to hashtags. How Michael B. Gillespie, Christina Knight, and I brought the affects of loss and terror out into questions of space and screen, performance and projection, and how anti-blackness looks different (in the sense of folds in the lifeworld of racism and loss) in each of those iterations. I loved the proliferation of those differences rather than coming to easy parallels and the like.

It was good to spent the day and evening with everyone. It made me want another day or so to talk, but that is also a nice feeling, to part wanting more of each other.

Mostly, I woke up this morning thinking about what a great future this speaks for Black studies as an area study. History, political theory, and social science are important, of course, I am not exclusive about methods and approaches. But I was really happy to sit in a room and see the depth and complexity of expressive culture presented, then discussed, with such curiosity and rigor and seriousness. If that room for that day is any decent indicator, Black studies has a fantastic future.

Thanks to everyone for making time to come out and talk and share ideas and give friendship to one another. It’s April, a long, hard month for our profession. But you all made your way and I’m super grateful for it.

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