the bakhita project
" T H E R E I S N O T H I N G N E W U N D E R T H E S U N
B U T T H E R E A R E N E W S U N S "
Octavia E. Butler
I am increasingly of the opinion that the toxic repeatability of our systems as well as the limitations of contemporary activist modes of engagement provide us incentive to embark on different kinds of fugitivity. I also believe that a more-than-human invitation is alive for transgressive acts of descent. A falling into cracks. The text of this invitation comes from the many histories of black captivity, the bacchanal aesthetics (Earl Lovelace) of their resistance in the ‘New World’, and the contemporary persistence of the conditions that made slavery possible.
There is a need for fugitive study that goes beyond the limitations of calling out power, whether it be patriarchy, racism, anthropocentrism, sexism, or ableism. There is a need for an approach that understands the agonistic forces that impinge upon bodies, and which restores the self as a current within a larger force field of agency. We need an edge of departure that heeds Bakhita’s invitation to come down beneath the surface. To wade in the water.
T H E R E S E A R C H D I M E N S I O N O F T H I S C O U R S E I S N A M E D " T H E B A K H I T A P R O J E C T " . It is my way of honouring this unearthed woman in the deep. Bakhita is a spectral figure central to my theoretical formulations of blackness as excess (which supplements, instead of abandons, Blackness as identity politics).
What does blackness-as-excess mean? Simply put, the concept asks the question: “Where else would we go if we weren’t irretrievably captured by our critiques of white supremacy and our work of archiving the many failures of imperial powers to represent and acknowledge differences?” This idea of diasporic elsewheres lurking at the intimate edges of our justice-seeking work, outside of the cotton plantation that produces stable and familiar meanings and identities, is the excessiveness of blackness that lies at the heart of this course and the research project dedicated to Bakhita.
Taking off from Trinidadian author C. L. R. James’ suggestion that blackness is not about black people (even though their positionality is the entry point), but about western modernity and how “Man” has been constructed, blackness-as-excess is more than an identity project. I think of this blackness as an ethical rearrangement of bodies and the networks that create these bodies, as a property of a gesture towards something not yet known. This always-experimental blackness is a fugitive idea, a moving towards the unthinkable, an invitation to rethink our alliances and even what and to whom “our” refers.
The Bakhita Project will be composed of selected participants from across the world who apply to be part of this action research exploration over the months of our being together. Participants need not have an academic background to be part of this fugitive study. This collaborative research will be multidimensional, not reducible to an easily digestible academic paper, and not centrally focused on Euro-American social justice frames of anti-racism work. It will involve listening, readings, archival studies, writing, dreaming, storytelling, waiting, not-knowing, cooking, praying, weird experimenting, failing, and failing even more.
From the constellation of offerings produced, we will tease out a soft recipe, an initial modality or ritual that might answer the following questions, among others to come:
A. How can we collectively respond to the gridlocks that characterize political thought and action today?
B. What – in practical terms – might descent look like? How can we practice making sanctuary? What does it make possible?
C. To the extent that becoming-black can be conceived as a political project, what might a living methodology and cultural aesthetic of becoming-black contribute to social justice frameworks?
D. If activism isn’t necessarily calibrated to the pace of victory or the pace of our legitimate demands for justice, then what other gestures are possible? What other sensitivities can we cultivate? What other places of power and postures sprout unexpectedly along the highway to ‘city hall’?
E. To whom do we need to pay homage to perform an inquiry into making sanctuary?
If you'd like to be a part of The Bakhita Project, there will be a question on the application form where you can denote your preference.