The desire for a disalienated life-world — as envisioned in the slogan bread and roses — is if nothing else the demand for everyone to enjoy the kinds of aesthetic contingency that capital cordons off for the wealthy.Kay Gabriel
I write to you but in public; my description of you exceeds our relation. It needs a readership as its witness. I write to you but across the margins, filling a page with the idea of you, my theory of you, the shapes and impressions you leave at the edge of my consciousness.
I write to tell you this: the possibility of what Gabriel calls a disalienated life-world is to be found in the insistence of an ‘aesthetic and sensuous’ autonomy; for her, trans liberation offers one example of this autonomy in action. ‘So when I suggest that the aesthetic edge of trans liberation both discloses certain coordinates for political struggle in the present and orients itself towards a radically pleasurable future, I also mean that the horizon of such a hedonism would necessarily belong to a world where the aesthetic would not be distinguishable from life as such.’ This, she writes, is the promise of both liberation and the pleasure that accompanies it; it is a promise to abolish the institutions that would enclose and delimit aesthetic experience — including, and maybe even especially, the singular figure that comes to be called the artist. And the liberation of gender from the colonial–capital relation and towards the capacity to articulate the terms of one’s own signification, as she writes, is ‘coextensive with any revolutionary project.’ In other words, there is no revolution without the abolition of a certain kind of gender, that is, the kind that arrives with the commodity, the Middle Passage, the wage relation and the division of labour; and, there is no revolution worth living without a vision of enjoyment in common, pleasure as everyday condition.
I tell you this because my love for you requires not only that I dream of a disalienated life, but also that I find it’s realness on this side of the horizon — in small, fleeting moments and in the promise of those who came before. A doughnut can be a weapon, a cup, a projectile; the building burns; a truck cuts a road in two; women gather in a decommissioned office; a body dangles and drops, sprints away. I dream of the other side, too, and, thinking with our friend J, try to imagine what it must be like to read, or listen, or move, or cook or watch from that place. (Wendy Trevino reminds us that poets need social movements more than social movements need poetry; we tuck the soft block in our back pocket, use it as a chopping board, to cover our face when we laugh; we hold onto it to see what might happen if the pages tug free.)
What is it to be against ‘the artist’? If ‘the artist’ has become the figure par excellence of individuation, then might we desire its destruction? Is ‘the artist’ not a category of institution that must be burnt down and abolished? Is to be anti- ‘the artist’ not also to be anti- ‘the subject’ or the state, or the prison or the capital relation?
I am rereading Jordy Rosenberg: ‘history does not matter as the fiction of a forward-moving telos. History matters only as a backward-facing reflection so that you can see one simple thing. Things were once different.’ And so, he continues, they can be again. A simple thought, really. I write to you to provide a small stool to sit and look back. The world before the world or, as we keep telling each other, the worlds that have blazed and shouted and sung all along. The clay pot that fits the heel of the hand, the tight braid of bread, the collection of bodies that gather or peel away. The magic of acid suspended in oil.
What is it to be against ‘the artist’? Perhaps another way of asking this question is to ask: what is it to be for love?
I write to you to tell you this: love is a relation that knows no limit point. Love is excess, surplus, the condition of possibility. When we make a vow of love we consent to our own dispossession and willingly (and with devotion) become part of something in excess of ourselves. Alexandra Kollontai knew this when, almost one hundred years ago, she wrote of love and revolution: ‘love is not in the least a "private" matter concerning only the two loving persons: love possesses a uniting element which is valuable to the collective.’ Love moves through us and fucks with our sense of individuation.
What, to paraphrase Charles Mingus in loving homage to Duke Ellington, is the sound of love?
The sound of love is the sound of flames consuming a police station, a brick shattering glass, a silent scream, the vibration of bodies huddled together, a noise coming down the street, a song that emerges from our shared needs.
We might remember that aesthetics comes before art — aesthetics taken as a collective sensuality that is the possibility of difference itself. What if, as Fred Moten says, Miles Davis is not a person but a social situation? Aesthetic expression given by and for the collective. A tiny shout that joins the chorus or a response that anticipates the call. The artist who is ante-artist is one who is given by the collective in an incessant movement towards the abolition of ‘the artist’. For the abolition of ‘the artist’ is also the abolition of a world intent on the preservation of the individual and the separation of difference into quantifiable parts.
Stefano Harney tells us that ‘being possessed by the dispossessed, and offering up possession through dispossession, is such an experiment and is, among other things, a way to think of love, and this too can arise in study.’ And so we study: movements big and small, noises loud and soft, gestures forceful and tender.
We study the aesthetics of an irreducible collectivity, art animated by what we might think of as ante-aesthetics, which comes to us by way of the Black radical tradition. The art that emerges from an anti- and ante-aesthetics is animated by the kind of love we desire: collective and uncontainable. If to love is to consent to our own dispossession then this is no burden because love is, first and foremost, a response to that which we cannot resist. It pulls us outside of ourselves and makes us believe in what Ashon T Crawley calls ‘otherwise possibilities’. It’s an ecstatic, joyful, wild relation — one that moves us to dance when we hear ‘our’ songs, which are also everyone’s songs.
So I write to you to provide a small stool to sit on and look both back and forward, to strain to listen for that which preceded the violent imposition of racial capitalism, to that which couldn’t be stilled by the dispossessive forces of the colonial world-making project and the Middle Passage, to that which endures and echoes into the present, to that which relentlessly moves towards the possibility of something else.