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Abstract

“Black Vertigo: Attunement, Aphasia, Nausea, and Bodily Noise, 1970 to the Present” argues that vertigo arises as a dominant aesthetic through line to feel, think, write, and sound blackness from the late-1960s onward. Across various genres, disciplines, and aesthetic commitments, the blackness of black being—the black idiom—is gathered by disorganization and sickly ambiguity registered between local and global scales. Vertigo is produced and experienced, resisted and harnessed. It is the masterwork of white supremacist violence and advanced technologies of surveillance that subject black lives to routine disruption and upheaval by the state. It is also a matter of migration, of new ecologies and overlapping histories incompatible with linearity; it is, therefore, also a matter of culture, the indeterminacy of the “black” in black aesthetics in a landscape where black aesthetics are liable to go viral. Vertigo is also a matter of methodology, responsible for forms of black expression nimbly attuned to cultural, political, and social dizziness as an everyday state of affairs. The affective categories I examine emerge at one historical moment when the idiom for blackness is in flux. Vertigo may be found on either side of the Thirteenth Amendment, however this study takes the contemporary as its special focus. Bound by national movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the socio-political accord of what blackness does and how blackness feels had frayed by the start of the 1970s, ushering forth the period canonically known for fragmented politics and wayward cultural expression. I recover this moment as intensifying the sense of disorganization that would guide black aesthetics for the rest of the century and into the next. Nascent in earlier periods, the sensations I associate with vertigo come to the fore to make sense of a black being freed of the mandate to achieve equilibrium. In the ‘70s, stories about black folks by black women attend to displacement by advocating new methods of listening while also reckoning with failures of speech. By the 2000s, a new generation with new genres ingests a new state of the world, and it makes them ill, in positive and negative connotations of the word. “Black Vertigo” envelopes both Afro-pessimist and -optimist visions of black presents and futures. It develops a framework for apprehending blackness that adheres to the ebbs of experience that unite a wide range of black lives. This project inherits its critical sensibilities from such diverse fields as gender studies, musicology, postcolonial theory, feminist theory, disability studies, and other ethnic traditions.

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