Ecologies of Darkness.
Building Grounds on Shifting Sands

The Wall is the thing which separate us [them] but it is also their means of communication.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart.

Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism

James Baldwin: We are behind the gates of a kingdom which is determined to destroy us.
Audre Lorde: Yes, exactly so. And I’m interested in seeing that we do not accept terms that will help us destroy each other. And I think one of the ways in which we destroy each other is by being programmed to knee-jerk on our differences. Knee-jerk on sex. Knee-jerk on sexuality…I can’t redefine masculinity. I can’t redefine Black masculinity certainly. I am in the business of redefining Black womanness. You are in the business of redefining Black masculinity. And I’m saying, ‘Hey, please go on doing it,’ because I don’t know how much longer I can hold this fort, and I really feel that Black women are holding it and we’re beginning to hold it in ways that are making this dialogue less possible.

Revolutionary Hope, A Conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin


How much longer can I hold the fort?... [I am holding] it in ways that make this dialogue less possible. Audre Lorde makes a disturbing confession about the real anxieties that continue to characterise our positions within identitarian frames which define our existence within racist, capitalist and sexist power structures. The dialogue between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde reveals the need to acknowledge the multiple divergent histories and intersecting struggles for liberation that must be mobilized simultaneously for this dialogue to take place. How long did Lorde hold her fort? And, how long have we postponed our sharing?

Audre Lorde: we have to take a new look at the ways in which we fight our joint oppression because if we don’t, we’re gonna be blowing each other up. We have to begin to redefine the terms of what woman is, what man is, how we relate to each other.
James Baldwin: But that demands redefining the terms of the western world…
Audre Lorde: And both of us have to do it. 

Revolutionary Hope, A Conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, 1984 [1]

When hegemonic narratives tend to divide us, producing and reproducing cultures of narration, visibility, and accessibility, and what Baldwin refers to as  “kingdoms which we live in”, our locations must be challenged for another kind of freedom that empowers our differences to emerge. By shifting our locations, we inhabit spheres of  interconnected existences that are in constant motion. [2] As we move and shift in collaboration, we crack the ground, tear down walls, and build new bridges.

I am a builder
Sometimes I have built well, but often
I have built without researching the
Ground
Upon which I put my building
I raised a beautiful house
And I lived in it for a year
Then it slowly drifted away with the
Tides
For I had laid the foundation
Upon shifting sand

Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter, 2008

Are we ready to abandon the fort and lay the foundations for this dialogue upon “shifting sand”? In Angelou’s poem, sand returns us to the messiness of reality, life, the body, and to the realities of suffering which teach us the transformative power of compassion. Sand as a repository of feelings and experiences links us, as Vanessa Agard–Jones notes, “unswervingly to place, to a particular landscape that bears traces of both connection and loss…” [3] How can we build a common ground upon shifting sands? How do we build tunnels and passages and safe spaces? How do we open channels of transmission? How do we care for a dialogue that resigns from the politics of “emancipation” which are inclusive of some privileged, while excluding and erasing many other voices? How do we create new 'commons' in the name of revolutionary struggles across race, class, gender, ability, age and sexuality? Chandra Talpade Mohanty challenges us and says: "Undoing ingrained racial and sexual mythologies within feminist communities requires…[becoming] fluent in each other’s histories,… seeking unlikely coalitions…and clarifying the meaning of its dialogue. What are the conditions, the knowledges, and the attitudes that make a noncolonised dialogue possible?" [4]

We want to question our own unquestioned adherence to hegemonic feminist narratives by working to expose the intersecting forms of oppression that very often are blindly perpetuated by dominant discourses. We want to shift our individual and collective locations perpetually — making and re-making ourselves in collaboration.  

To engage in this dialogue on shifting sand, we resign from the politics of neoliberalism’s enchantment in which “difference”, as Sara Ahmed argues, is a neoliberal branding, a commodity, a compromised concept that, instead of enhancing, disallows the very possibility of talking to each other. [5] Our resignation marks a refusal. Our first refusal: to be complacent with the ideologies that actively reproduce existing modes of sociality, of power relations and the relations of social reproduction. In working together, building grounds on shifting sands through frameworks of practice and theory, we interrogate the work we do and where we do it. We ask ourselves if it is possible to use existing inclusive heteronormative emancipatory feminist politics when very often many of these politics of “women’s liberation” and “solidarity” may have not kept many of us [ queer women and men, gay, trans, migrants and LGTBQI] safe.

We call for a disidentification with toxic forms of representation; a disidentification that enables politics. José Esteban Muñoz describes disidentification as a strategy used by people of colour to survive in a white supremacist society, “a mode of dealing with dominant ideology” that neither identify or try to oppose such structures, but “works on and against.” He writes: "Instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification, utopianism), this "working on and against" is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday struggles of resistance." [6] 

We are aware that disidentification is not always an adequate strategy of resistance for everyone.  But, for some of us, disidentification is a survival strategy.
We practice disidentification in collaboration.

Solidarity rests in changing our will to shift our positions, thinking against ourselves, acknowledging and undoing our complicity with the very systems of oppression which we contest; remaining vigilant and aware that each one of us has the capacity to harm and oppress. As our colleague Giovanna Esposito Yussif observes, our form of resistance is neither anti nor oppressive of others; it is a poetry as a space in which a new sociality can be imagined, a “we” which is neither singularly inclusive nor exclusive in terms of place, region, identity.  To be a sister, to be a mother, to be a woman, to be Black, to be indigenous, to be poor: we navigate through these positions and states to enable a way for our thinking and practice to queer the spaces of the visible, dismantling what we know, to repair and make anew.

"Poetry investigates new ways for people to get together and do stuff in the open, in secret." [7]

As women and cultural practitioners, we are deeply inspired by a politic that is invested in the power of imagination, in the poetic as the ‘the open secret’ that allows us to invent new codes of transmission and silent forms of communication and resistance. Our poetry is darkness. In the dark, in that space beyond the realm of the visible, we experiment with forms of commoning and solidarity, and look for common strategies. In darkness, we form alliances and a community which, as in his analysis of resistance and peripheral movements in France, Olivier Marboeuf describes as, “briefly reveals itself before returning to its anonymity. The ghostly body… that abnormal body which warns us that another world exists, beyond the visible. (...)”[8] This community of rioters, Marboeuf reminds us, must remain invisible within the capitalist and colonial politics of visibility, in order to work to alter our perception of the world as it has been given to us to be consumed. In darkness, the periphery creates its own form of visibility, demanding the repatriation of cultural roots.

In darkness, we listen and narrate. We focus on the elusive, unclear, the uncertain looking for deeper correspondences and attend to the visibility work necessary to end white supremacists' politics of obfuscation. We invoke darkness as that which forms the possible condition of transmissions’ visibility. Darkness as a repository of experience and feelings, emotions and histories, but also as a space of resistance. To be in darkness is to be part of it, it means to be able to see your people while the others, in the light, cannot see you. It means negotiating a physically demanding task, not from a position of contemplation, but one of active collaboration. To activate this decentralization of knowledge, we must create our own tools in collaboration.

“We become with each other or not at all”. The task is to set things in motion, produce cracks, forms of refusals; developing together strategies that trouble our acquired truths.

We come together to make troubles.

"In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe….staying with trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future; it requires learning to be truly present (...) as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters and meanings" [9]

By transmitting knowledges and shifting our locations, we decide to remain with the trouble of engaging in this difficult, yet not impossible, dialogue, forming alliances in the darkness to work together towards the elaboration of new forms of sociality.

In this stark and murderous present, we want to make an appeal for a dialogue which reorients our visions toward “unfinished configurations of places, times, matters and meanings” –– toward alliances in unknown futures.The dark room held them.

We Who Are Not The Same

1

Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, ‘Revolutionary Hope’ 
The conversation took place at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and was originally published in the magazine ESSENCE in 1984.

2

Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus, Duke University Press, 2002.

3

Vanessa Agard–Jones, ‘What the Sands Remember’ in: Black/Queer/Diaspora at the Current Conjunction, Duke University Press, 2012, p.325.

4

Chandra Tapade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Duke University Press, 2003.

5

Sara Ahmed, ‘Resignation, Disenchantment and Reenchantment’, (panel discussion), Colonial Repercussions: Planetary Utopias – Hope, Desire, Imaginaries in a Post-Colonial World, 23.06. 2018, Akademie der Künste Berlin.

6

José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, University Minnesota Press, 1999.

7

Fred Moten, B Jenkins, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

8

Olivier Marboeuf, The Rioter and the Witch, 2013

9

Donna Haraway, Stay With the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, 2016.