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Touch

The current Covid-19 crisis has some of us in creatively sparked turbo modes developing ways forward while others, understandably, find themselves immobilized, unsure if this is ”the end.” Crisis is where resignation and resilience necessarily touch. But physically, touch is the last thing we are advised to do, extending from doorknobs to bodies. (See Hu Fang, “Witgenstein House,” e-flux journal no. 24 (April 2011)). Yet, touch is what we most miss in our various manifestations of isolation.

Moving forward, how will we communicate our affections, sympathies, warmth, and reassurances to one another? Perhaps we’ll develop new languages, new subtleties of communication less reliant on words, or actual touch. And, maybe this includes relearning forgotten practices of communication.

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Compiled by Minou Norouzi
8 Essays

Our most ancient animal ancestor, Dickinsonia costata, is categorically lodged between pestilence and creature. Or rather, Dickinsonia dithers in a space betwixt bacteria and animalia. Let us accept that our beginnings find us plunked down in the center of the margin. She, a flat mat, possesses an expanding physical symmetry. Some bugs are fugitive like this; see how they slide under your domestic things. Yet her remains are found as fossils on remote Russian cliffs. Her gravesite overlooks a marginal sea, a part of the warming Arctic Ocean—a site of intense oil and gas speculation. The slightest psychedelic tendency urges me to bypass my oral and historic memory and uncover an otherworldly and cellular memory of Dickinsonia costata: “Mama!?” I lisp.

On April 27, 2019, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was the site of a very special convening. It was the brainchild of Simone Leigh, and shared its title with her 2019 exhibition at the museum. Organized by Leigh, Saidiya Hartman, and myself, “The Loophole of Retreat” was an exhilarating, rejuvenating, and inspirational daylong gathering dedicated to the intellectual life of black women that brought together an international constellation of writers, artists, poets, filmmakers, and activists. This special issue of e-flux journal seeks to lift up the extraordinary voices, thoughts, and conversations that emerged at the convening and share them with a wider audience. In doing so, I and my coeditors, Leigh and Hartman, seek to extend the dialogues of the “Loophole” in the hope of including others and inspiring future gatherings which, like the Guggenheim convening, will honor and celebrate the intellectual and creative labor of black women.

Some people love to divide and classify, while others are bridge-makers—weaving relations that turn a divide into a living contrast, one whose power is to affect, to produce thinking and feeling. But bridge-making is a situated practice. As a philosopher, I am situated: a daughter to a practice responsible for many divisions, but which may also be understood as a rather particular means of bridge-making. The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote that all Western...
To be legible is to be readable. To be legible is to be an entry in a ledger—one with a name, place, origin, time, entry, exit, purpose, and perhaps a number. To be legible is to be coded and contained. Often, when asked an uncomfortable question, or faced with an unsettling reality, the rattled respondent ducks and dives with a stammer, a mumble, a sweat, a scrawl, or a nervous tic. The respondent may not be lying, but neither may he be interested in offering a captive legible truth either...
TAKE A DEEP BREATH by Omer Fast In the summer of 2002, Martin F. was standing outside a falafel shop in Jerusalem when it exploded. A trained medic, he went in and discovered the body of a young man on the floor. The young man had lost both legs below the waist, as well as an arm, but his eyes were open and focused. A few seconds passed while the two looked at each other. Knowing it was probably in vain, Martin F. decided to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation....

By emphasizing abstract and conceptual artistic practices, my definition of black radical aesthetics builds upon the notion of blackness as an originary abstraction—a category created in the service of devastating material, corporeal, and psychological violences that trafficked through the Middle Passage and whose afterlives are still active today.3 Abstract and conceptual practices do not abandon the social, cultural, and material meanings that blackness invokes. As Adrienne Edwards has lucidly noted, these practices turn to what blackness “does in the world without conflating it—and those who understand blackness from within a system that deems them black, that is black people—with a singular historical narrative or monolithic subjectivity.”

We had gotten used to speaking to each other in English or French, whether in public or private. That’s not to say that Harun didn’t care what language he spoke in. He loved punch lines. He quoted gladly, exactly, and without any smugness. He would often ask me about the origin of some French word that had struck him in the course of his unceasing explorations. Austrian idioms, though, remained foreign to him, even in all those years he taught in Vienna. He never ceased to be repelled by the...
There are more pressing matters than this potentially touchy matter of pressing close. The following story isn’t so much an apology for intimacy or some kind of championing of it, but rather the modest suggestion that intimacy organizes our experience of space and especially of surfaces. As such, it is in fact not so trivial or delicate after all. These are notes towards a reconceptualization of intimacy in light of new ways in which we can think of the surface. 1. Iridescence...
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