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Superconversations Day 42: Nick Bazzano responds to Anne Anlin Cheng & Tom Holert, "Do You See It? Well, It Doesn't See You!"



#“Shine bright like a diamond”: Shine, Sense, Sound

Still. Rihanna, “Diamonds”, 2012.

“Shininess […] presents the means through which materiality might be released rather than reified. […] Shine offers less a description or quality of light than an active mode of relationality: a dynamic medium through which the organic and the inorganic fuse, and through which the visual spills into the sensorial.”

–Anne Anlin Cheng 1

Allure, a lure for feeling: shine is a performative operation in which the felt aesthetics of refraction and diffraction reorganize relationality in a radiant choreography of thrown shimmers. Glittering in suspension between revelation and occlusion, between subject and object, between becoming-commodity and its radical disavowal, performances of shine shine light on ways that the derealization of hypervisuality—through embodying the opaque, ornamental, opalescent, obfuscatory—complicate, or even deracinate traditional discourses of visibility in what has come to be known (and often disdained) as conventional “identity” politics. In “Do You See It? Well, It Doesn’t See You!” Tom Holert and Anne Anlin Cheng discuss their shared interest in the concepts of glamour and shine, interrogating the political and aesthetic utility of “opt[ing] for a depersonalized state of glittering, gleaming, shiny thingness” in navigating the fields of race, class, gender, and sexuality, as exemplified by the early 20th century performances of Josephine Baker and Anna May Wong. Both Holert and Cheng continuously gesture toward a conception of shine beyond its Marxo-Freudian elaboration as “the lure of commodity or sexual fetishism”: a shine, in fact, “that resists precisely the concept of commodification.” This project resonates productively for me with José Esteban Muñoz’s meditation on shine, diamonds, and the ornamental in the artwork of Luke Dowd, from his Cruising Utopia: “The ornamental in art represents a certain surplus that allows the viewer a rare and important passage that is more than an escape […] captur[ing] a radical potentiality […] that thing in the aesthetic, that surplus, that extra, that is ultimately beyond.” 2

For Muñoz, shine is an optical portal to queer futurity, “providing glimmers of the better life promised within the system of value in which we toil […] glimpses of how value is always already a fiction to which we collectively subscribe.” 3 His imbrication of shine with a utopian sense of hope is no coincidence, as Muñoz follows Ernst Bloch in developing his understanding of shine’s radical beyond-ness. Cheng, however, follows Lacan in her plotting of a genealogy of shine that both dislocates and is dislocated from its conventional fetishistic gloss. Cheng and Holert discuss Lacan’s story of nonreciprocally seeing an unfunny and un-can-nily blinking tin can that severely decenters and deflates Lacan’s ego. Cheng locates the can’s shine—its ability to diffract relationality, to undercut the symbolic order—in the Gaze, the space between the seer and the seen, in which the subject, like refracted light, is sharply derailed, thrown into confrontation with the objet petit a, the “brink of nothingness” (to quote Holert), the inaccessibility of the Real as revealed through a flash, a glimpse, the affective resonance of a mere (yet terrifying) sparkle. Whether in a warm, glowing, Muñozian light, or a colder, more horrifying Lacanian light, shine becomes less about light itself, and more about a combination of senses and feelings, and the catalysis of assemblage-relations and reorientations that have the potential to reveal other crystalline faces, other prismatic valences of the Real.

These genealogies of shine seem to be elaborated performatively and re-/inter-medially as “a complex interaction produced at the intersection of performer, performance, medium, and the practice of reading,” as “a rehearsal—a resurfacing,” to quote Cheng. This prompts me to ask: what could be the conceptual mobility and utility of shine for doing both cultural history and contemporary art outside solely the visual realm? Seeing as shine could be said to comprise a remediation of seeing, from ocular visibility to hapticality and sensoriality in general, from interiority to surface-effect and aesthetics in general, could shine spill into other aesthetic modes and sensorial forms? For example: can shine sound, and conversely can sound shine? I ask this question not only as a sound studies scholar whose work concerns the material affectivity of sound in culture and performance, and not only because for Lacan (and Cheng, with her mention of Shane Vogel’s work on Lena Horne) the extra-linguistic sonority of the Voice is discussed in distinct relation to the Gaze as a “paramount embodiment of the objet petit a”, [4] but importantly because shine continues to cast its aura throughout the popular imaginary of glamour and celebrity, from contemporary art (I’m thinking Mickalene Thomas’s rhinestoned portraiture, or Frank Benson’s recent iridescent sculpture of Juliana Huxtable) to popular culture (such as Rihanna rolling blunts stuffed with loose diamonds in “Diamonds,” or the ubiquitous, glazed glamour shot of Kim Kardashian glistening and weaponized to “Break the Internet,” to cite only the most obvious and uncanny). But what to make of shine and sound? In order to start a discussion where concepts including shine, glamour, race, gender, sexuality, materiality, capitalism, and aesthetics are articulated and diffracted through their proliferation of sonic culture, I offer an open playlist (feel free to add!) of tracks that might help navigate these issues: from the shimmering, synthesized vocal processing work of Laurel Halo to the signature grain and vocal shimmer of Nina Simone; from the noisy, radical, ornamental and excessive vocal materiality of Abbey Lincoln, [5] to the haptic, tingle-inducing ASMR experiments of Holly Herndon, [6] and more. As a performative modulation of relationality, a further devisualization and remediation of shine into sound will, I hope, shed much light on shine’s affective, conceptual, and cultural performativity.

Collaborative Spotify Playlist Link. Please listen, share, and add to this!

Nick Bazzano is a Ph.D. Candidate in Performance Studies at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and Co-Managing Editor of TDR: The Drama Review. He is also a free jazz saxophonist and experimental electronic music producer based in Ridgewood, Queens.


1 Cheng, Anne Anlin. “Shine: On Race, Glamour, and the Modern.” PMLA 126, 4 (2011): 1022–41. 1033–34.
2 Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press. 2009. 128–29.
3 Ibid. 128.
[4] See, for instance, Mladen Dolar’s A Voice and Nothing More. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2006.
[5] See Fred Moten’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition.



Collaborative Spotify Playlist Link: please listen, share, and add!