Mournings and Uncertainties
This project makes available a language by which mourning can be expressed and explored as an epistemic concern and as an urgent matter to rethink politics in relation to difference. Through a situated, multidirectional investigation of its sensory, political, aesthetic, and psychoanalytic distributions, I claim that mourning—as the perceiving of alterity in relation to perceived ‘loss’—produces a political subject exposed to uncertainty and the possibilities of community and ‘moaning’. I propose ‘moaning’ as a mode of perceptual uncertain knowledge production. Engaging with Fred Moten’s (2003) conceptualisation of ‘black mo’nin’’ in relation to postmortem photographs of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was lynched in 1955, I examine the socio-political stakes of moaning. Following Moten’s attention to aesthetics as a political and epistemic concern, I formulate two modes of aesthetic perception: ‘moaning aesthetics’ as uncertain re-distributing perceiving of sights and sounds open to new political possibilities; and ‘hegemonic aesthetics’ as a closed, self-affirming cycle between hearing and seeing that disappears politics. I then ask: How, under conditions of political disappearance, might politics be regained by way of perception? Through re/analyses of and re/encounterings with the postmortem photographs of Emmett Till in relation to ‘lynching photographs’ of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, Isaac McGhie, Lige Daniels, William Brown, Laura Nelson, Will James, Richard Dillon, August Goodman, Jesse Washington, Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith, George Meadows, Garfield Burley, Curtis Brown, Lee Hall, Bennie Simmons, Will Moore, Clyde Johnson, Leonard Woods, John Richards, Rubin Stacy, W.C. or R.C. Williams, and four unidentified persons, and ‘memento mori photographs’ from James Van Der Zee’s The Harlem Book of the Dead (1978) and the Thanatos Archive, I advance that moaning is critical for ‘dis-appearing’—as in appearing new political subjectivities and possibilities from a condition of having been disappeared—and that perceiving political unknown, uncertain possibilities is politically vital.