Fred Moten: “Creo que la oposición entre la teoría y la experimentación estética, entre la poesía y la práctica crítica, son constreñimientos que, cuando nos resistimos a ellos y cuando nos resistimos al deseo de simplemente obliterarlos, abren posibilidades”
por Juan Pablo Anaya
“ROWELL: When one looks at your poems, one discovers a new texture of English, or one finds a struggle toward language, or one is revealed the inadequacy of English to render all you want to say. (It’s even difficult for me to fashion the exact phrase or sentence to describe, with certainty, the linguistic field of your poetry. [Laughter.]) “Words don’t go there,” as Charles Lloyd is reported to have said when he was ask to comment on one of his musical compositions. Actually one might be inclined to say the same about some sections of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, especially the section on Cecil Taylor. Some of the writing there reminds me of your poems. I would not be surprised if you have written a poem on the subject of that section of In the Break.
MOTEN: It’s true that a lot of the objects of inquiry in my critical work are objects of inquiry in my poetry as well. My wife, Laura Harris, has been working on the relation between experimental and documentary aesthetic forms, on what it means for artists and critics to consider both as modes of inquiry, and this has had a big influence. She has really transformed the way I think about and write poetry. Writing a poem has become for me, at least in part, an attempt to find out some things and to try to work through some things intellectually, emotionally, and musically. I’m trying to find out some things, get at some things, and consider some things, while at the same time trying to makesome things. That process is a struggle toward language that tries to struggle toward things; it is movement in preparation. In In the Break I refer to Eric Dolphy talking about preparing himself to play with Cecil Taylor: I’m trying to write in preparation, as well; maybe not to play with Cecil but to abide with his work better or more fully, to listen more carefully and creatively and critically. For me, this sense of writing as preparation or even anticipation constitutes something on the order of a mode of inquiry. And this gets us back to some issues that are embedded in your first question, issues concerning the differences and the relations between modes of inquiry (the poetic and the critical, the experimental and the theoretical). Many of the folks I write about in In the Break —Billie Holiday, Adrian Piper, James Baldwin, Dolphy, Taylor, and, probably above all, my late mother, B. Jenkins—I have written poems about as well. There are thematic and stylistic gaps between these modes of writing/inquiry but the connections probably far outweigh them. I think these connections are getting stronger, more pronounced in my work, but, at the same time, I’m still deeply committed to maintaining the distinction between the two modes and to the notion that they are both indispensable in this preparation for, or struggle toward, things. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that distinction, how to inhabit it and trouble it at the same time and in the interest of things. The difference between a poem “about” Lady Day and a chapter on her in a more properly critical or theoretical text might emerge in the poem’s challenge to syntactic or semantic norms, in its going after a sound that might not get you where the word or the sentence gets you, but might get you past the word’s or the sentence’s limits or, even better, might take the word or the sentence past its own limits. It’s not so much that a critical text might allow me to say this while a poem might allow me to do this; it is, rather, that they can both be beautiful ways both to say and do this. What Lady does to the words (and the sentence)—“Don’t explain”—explains everything. Anyway, I think that the oppositions between theory and experiment, poetry and criticism, are constraints that enable us when we resist them and when we resist the urge simply to obliterate them. In the end, I want my criticism to sound like something, to be musical and actually to figure in some iconic way the art and life that it’s talking about. At the same time, I also want my poetry to engage in inquiry and to intervene, especially, in a set of philosophical and aesthetic questions that are, I think, of profound political importance. This is, for me, a specifically Afro-diasporic protocol.”