King Vision Ultra Pain of Mind

[Ascetic House; 2018]

Styles: wake work
Others: Geng, Dionne Brand

It was like bondage for me. It was like slavery.
– a voice, emanating around 35:50

In the wake, the semiotics of the slave ship continue: from the forced movements of the enslaved to the forced movements of the migrant and the refugee, to the regulation of Black people in North American streets and neighborhoods[,] to the reappearances of the slave ship in everyday life in the form of the prison, the camp, and the school.
– Christina Sharpe, In the Wake

Sound thumps through registers of the stereophone (the ineluctable modality of the audial), and it is so loud and the cells — swanging. Boom-bap billows heave in on around despite. Place unfurls into space and sound (interning everything in its wake by and with its carceral panoptics) just as those markers (but not the marked) disintegrate as the hold erases specificities, bodies, attachments, gestures. Lockjaw, locked up, lockstep, sawed off, there is a thump there and a rattle, too. There is no there there, except the voices and the scratching of the cockroaches, the pleading and the negotiating, the longue durée of G-funk plunderphonics drifting into the sound of the alarm, the sound of the baton, the rattles and rackets and ruptures of the captivity of human beings. We slink with King Vision Ultra into Rikers, into the hold, a present incarnation of the incarceration, disciplining, and dehumanization of black life undertaken to secure and securitize racial capital in the long half-millennium since its colonial inception.

The pitched-up, pitched-down, scatterbrained, and scattershot voices churn in the hold of the prison, the hold of the ship, their disembodied (inter/trans)locutors ungendered and the atmosphere that they create and by which they are in turn inflected ungenred (“genre,” of course, marks the closest word the French language has to express “gender”). Hortense Spillers (2003, 214) writes, “under these conditions [of the abduction and subsequent deportation across the Atlantic of enslaved Africans] we lose at least gender difference in the outcome, and the female body and the male body become a territory of cultural and political maneuver, not at all gender-related, gender-specific.”

Emblematizing what Christina Sharpe (2016) calls wake work, KVU’s cassette for Ascetic House presents “a mode of inhabiting and rupturing this episteme [of violent ubiquitous dehumaning antiblackness] with our known lived and un/imaginable lives [in order to] imagine otherwise from what we know now in the wake of slavery” (Sharpe 18). KVU ushers us into one of the contemporary iterations of the hold so that we might know its pain and its place, so that we might see its dehumaning dysgraphia as part and parcel of “the ongoing willful disasters of the wake” (Sharpe 94). Underwritten by the slave ship, the coffle, the enslaved woman’s womb, the prison and as the black people shuttled and violated within them, the “anagrammatical blackness that exists as an index of violability and also potentiality” (that damning doubling that articulates the simultaneous liquidation of black life and optimization of black bodies’ abilities to produce and reproduce) disrupts and forecloses the moves made by KVU. Mixed up, twirled, torqued, twerked, refusing the slaveholding logics of partus sequitur ventrem (that which is brought forth follows the womb), the oral offspring of KVU’s incarcerated (inter/trans)locutors garble into unplaceable static, unmappable, no longer owned.

Living in/as/with and sublating “the afterlife of property,” KVU’s aural poetics here muddle the performative capture of the bequest — the intergenerational transmission of property perfected in its contemporary form, as shown by Jennifer Morgan, through the bodies and futures of enslaved black people — stuttering and jumbling its passage into ownership and valorization (Sharpe 15). KVU scrambles the hermeneutic of valorization through devaluation (of the human through the recognized and surveilled and algorithmically predicted and held and held and held), scribbling a palimpsest over the anagrammatic orthography of antiblackness of but also always gurgling somewhere beyond the wake. As Morgan notes, “the archive [and the scenes it discloses] is [not only] a site of violent dispossession [but also] a point of departure, not a conclusion” (Morgan 2016, 186); KVU’s speakers speak out as they “are constituted through and by continued vulnerability to this overwhelming force [but] are not only known to [them]selves and each other by that force” (Sharpe 134).

Schizophrenia, the voices always talking: another hold, another capture, reiterating the orthography, verbalized and dissociative. Lives rent by the wake tearing into multiplicities, into impossible contradictions, productive contradictions: the contradictions that intercept the aspects of life that can’t be funneled into the production of surplus value. Pain of mind as analytics, as a vice of the hold. When she cut her wrists with shards of glass, she was slapped with 90 days in solitary for possession of contraband. Her refusals to stop trying to kill herself often resulted in more time. More time: more decomposing of time and agency, more disciplining into the “numbers, the arithmetics of the skin, the shadow of the whip” (McKittrick 2014 23). When she was denied sanitary pads and used her jumper to stop the bleeding, that earned her time for destruction of jail property. Doing time for destruction of jail property: life in the wake is/as (the conjuncture of is and as — verb and preposition — articulating the ongoing processes of dispossession and incarceration conjugating the present tense with confinement within the hold policed by antiblackness and the criminalization of poverty) life in the longue durée of the inhospitable weather that authorized (and continues to authorize) the transubstantiation of black life into property “(by which process we might understand the making of bodies into flesh and then into fungible commodities while retaining the appearance of flesh and blood)” (Sharpe 29). The mathematics of black life (McKittrick) as that demonic orthography that trans*literates social poesis into production, into quantized and quantified appendages brutalized in and by the ledger. From Saidiya Hartman (2008, 6): “Black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery — skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, impoverishment.” A voice telling you: You are going to fail before you do anything.

Blackness as debit: an entry recording an amount owed, listed on the left — hand side or column of an account (OED), the ditto ditto of the slaver’s log evacuating the black enslaved individual of any ontological claim beyond the production and reproduction of dead labor (cargo and its afterlives as property); blackness as debt (Moten), the lived excess of the commodity form excised and abjected and abjured, the ongoing structural constitutive violence of Western Modernity, uncreditable, incredible, always charged but never payable, both owing and threatening the contract that criminalizes the humanity it forlornly holds. I would just pray and think of a way to kill myself. Pray to God that I would die, and ask him why am I being punished like this if he knows I’m innocent. Blackness as incurable guilt, as the purgatory of penitence, as the penitentiary of purgatory.

What makes Pain of Mind wake work rather than another genre of radical discourse is that it ascertains the conditions of the possibility of antiblackness beyond what Frank Wilderson calls the “contingent violence” of situations and tessellates the imprisonment, degradation, and state violences of the prison within the orthography of the wake as an ongoing and “gratuitous” mode of forcibly, violently, fatally circumscribing black being (or blackness as non-Being) (Wilderson 2010, 56). I see things that other people don’t see and stuff like that: the first words we hear on the project speak to a re-cognition (not recognition) of the frameworks that subtend the everyday devaluation, incarceration, dispossession, and traumatization of black people living in the wake. Motivating the conflagration of catastrophes (minor and major) is KVU’s indelible labor of care: care as an analytics, care as an ethics of engagement, care as an aesthetics. As wake work — as visitation, as uncapitalizable exchange, as discomfiting but kinmaking being-with — brings us to linger, to “stay in the wake with […] those whom the state positions to die ungrievable deaths and live lives meant to be unlivable” (Sharpe 22), we glimmer alongside and beside, beside ourselves (the voices) and beside the people systematically expropriated and brutalized as the insurance in bodies crediting the extractive flows of racial capitalism.

Besides, despite the ontological and phenomenological facts of their lives in the hold — the enveloping valences of their incarceration — the people we hear on Pain of Mind are granted a venue in which to be otherwise, in which to be beheld. That which is beheld is insisted and insisting, and we become beholden to them, duty bound, no longer twain (of mind), “intramural” (Spillers 1998). And just as the verb “to behold” improvises across bodies and subject positions (the beholden behold the beheld), Pain of Mind cuts across the shattered coordinates of antiblack violence and refuses to plot them (in a line, as a graph, as development) along the violent calculus — that spectral residue of the integral — of mathematized blackness. Pain of Mind invites us to “sit[] in the room with history” (Dionne Brand 2002, 28), the past that is not yet past (Brand), the schizophrenic mind, the cell, the hold, the wake. In this wake, we float past the passé, past-tense, hogtied, handwringing, hamstrung, dispossessed, gentrified idiom of “woke” — always already prefigured by the black death that necessitated its inception — as KVU, along with Sharpe, Brand, Spillers, Hartman, McKittrick, Moten, Wilderson, rouses us into the oceanic vastness of care. A/wake.


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