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The New Yorker on Fred Moten's "Radical Critique of the Present"


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At the New Yorker website, David Wallace has a profile of theorist, poet, and black radical thinker Fred Moten. Wallace explores the link between Moten’s poetry and his theoretical writing, his trilogy of books consent not to be a single being, and the lasting influence of The Undercommons, which Moten cowrote with Stefano Harney and published in 2013. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In person, though, Moten’s way of thinking and speaking feels like an intuitive way of seeing the world. Moten was born in 1962, and he grew up in Las Vegas, in a thriving black community that took root there after the Great Migration. His mother was a schoolteacher, and books were always present in the house, from works of sociology to anthologies of black literature. Moten went to Harvard, but falling grades led to a year off, back home, which he spent, in part, working at the Nevada Test Site. Out in the desert, he got a lot of reading done. “I like to read, and I like to be involved in reading,” he said. “And for me, writing is part of what it is to be involved in reading.”

Moten’s 2003 book, “In the Break,” a study of the “black radical tradition” through the notion of performance, took up the ideas of such pioneering black-studies scholars as Saidiya Hartman, exploring them within a freewheeling discourse on phenomenology and jazz. For Moten, blackness is something “fugitive,” as he puts it—an ongoing refusal of standards imposed from elsewhere. In “Stolen Life,” he writes, “Fugitivity, then, is a desire for and a spirit of escape and transgression of the proper and the proposed. It’s a desire for the outside, for a playing or being outside, an outlaw edge proper to the now always already improper voice or instrument.” In this spirit, Moten works to connect subjects that our preconceptions may have led us to think had little relation. One also finds a certain uncompromising attitude—a conviction that the truest engagement with a subject will overcome any difficulties of terminology. “I think that writing in general, you know, is a constant disruption of the means of semantic production, all the time,” he told me. “And I don’t see any reason to try to avoid that. I’d rather see a reason to try to accentuate that. But I try to accentuate that not in the interest of obfuscation but in the interest of precision.”

Image of Fred Moten via Cesura Acceso.