Racialized Technics and the Black Virtual in "Random Acts of Flyness"

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John Landreville


By defining race according to its “speed of change” and “sliding value,” Beth Coleman’s relational approach powerfully re-conceptualized race as a topological object rather than biologically essential. In a topological model race is a continuum characterized by folds and involutions, which is to say, the experience of racialization is marked by elastic and unpredictable spatial and temporal proximities that may prove to be sustaining or fatal. Reviewing the influence of Coleman’s essay, and the theme “Art and the Technicity of Race” more broadly, I examine how recent iterations of care by Christina Sharpe and Tiffany Lethabo King depart from Coleman’s emphasis upon the disruptive potential of speed by advocating for phenomenological practices of “listening for, feeling for, and noticing,” “Black livingness” amidst the social death of anti-Blackness. Sharpe and King advocate for down-tempo techniques serving an attuned a readied perception, a phenomenology of Black proximity, geared toward feeling out the present carefully. In this paper I register hesitations about aspirations for becoming pure mobility by asking, instead, how a phenomenology of attending engenders “care as force” and how this force is formalized in Black visual art aesthetics.

In Random Acts of Flyness Terence Nance and a host of collaborators mobilize the minimally determined form of sketch comedy to model acts of attending, listening, and noticing Black livingness across a plurality of perspectives in ever-shifting scenes that blend social realism, musical fantasies, and science fiction. As tonally disparate as individual scenes may be, Nance folds his world together with joints and swerves positing a capacious and intersectional topology of Blackness replete with temporal collapses and shifting feelings of intimacy and alienation. Contrary to Coleman’s claim that agency for racialized subjects is akin to the “precious” assemblage of Joseph Cornell’s boxes, Nance’s capacious Blackness challenges notions of containment and austerity. Random Acts of Flyness presents songs, interviews, and scenes from Black and Brown, cis gendered, queer, and feminist perspectives, to create mutable proximities of Blacknesses through the sketch form.

Building on Aria Dean’s work, I examine how Random Acts of Flyness aestheticizes Blackness in/as circulation to illustrate how Nance helps us think about technics in terms of collectivity rather than valorizing individual becomings and pure, technicized mobility. Random Acts speculates about how and what Blackness connects; what is transmitted in the circulation of collective being. In the process, it fabulates a capacious, intersectional image of black plurality that exists in excess of a hegemonic Black subject and stands in critical opposition to anti-Blackness. Nance’s aim is not to render “Black collective being” fixed and legible for non- Black audiences but, following Dean, Random Acts of Flyness, “points toward the extra- ontological black (non)subject,” inquiring into the ways in which individual racialized subjects situate themselves in “circulating representations [of Blackness]: a network that includes all the bodies that bear its markers.” Rather than locate emancipatory agency in becoming-mobile, Nance’s project models “Black care” by attending, listening, and noticing Black livingness through a capacious aesthetic.

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