Article published in The Funambulist 14 (November-December 2017) Toxic Atmospheres. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
The following text is a transcript of a conversation recorded on October 10, 2017, with Christina Sharpe, a Professor at Tufts University in the department of English and the programs in Africana and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of the books Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (both Duke University Press, 2010 & 2016). As made explicit in the introduction, her concept of “The Weather” has been instrumental in the articulation of this issue’s editorial argument. It was therefore crucial for us to feature her words at the core of an issue dedicated to a simultaneously literal and metaphorical understanding of “Toxic Atmospheres.”
LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: Your book, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being was published in 2016. May I ask you how your current research continues the work that you present in the book?
CHRISTINA SHARPE: Right now, I am completing a critical introduction to the Collected Poems of Dionne Brand (1982 —2010) and I’m in the preliminary stages of thinking through and writing a book that I’m calling Black. Still. Life. This extends my thinking from In the Wake. Because as you know, in In the Wake I theorize the way the ship, the hold and the weather are sort of ongoing locations and productions of Black being. In particular I wanted to stay with every aspect of the overturn, each of those locations, so I think I really wanted to stay with the wake and the weather and I wanted to keep thinking in particular about residence time, which in In the Wake, I describe literally as the amount of time elements stay in the water in the first chapter, but it sort of carries through into the second chapter and throughout. I wrote about residence time of sodium being 260 million years, I thought about that in relation to those Africans who were thrown, dumped or jumped overboard in the Middle Passage. I was thinking about the Zong, but also beyond the Zong, and into the present. I’m thinking about those Africans making transAtlantic, transMediterranean and other kinds of journeys. But then, I also wanted to think about soil and sand especially since the Sahara is becoming as large a site of migrant death as the Mediterranean in terms of tracking the deaths of people trying to move across the continent in order to get to the Mediterranean to get to Europe.
I’m still trying to think about residence time and I want to think its equivalent phenomenon in relation to sand and soil. I want to think about Black still life in which the word still carries all of its meanings: still as in the opposite of a moving picture, something that has durations, something that’s without a certain kind of movement, but, I also think about still in the wake. I give different examples of a life that I call anagrammatical: the way they were shipped in relation to Black life. I want to think residence time still in relation to water, and what I’ve been doing after hearing the women who I spoke to when I gave a talk at University of Miami: they told me about how whale falls (the afterlife of whales in the deep sea eco system) work, and how they create not only temporal connectivity but also geographic connectivity. I want to keep thinking about that. And toward that end, I know I’ll be using the work of scholars like Vanessa Agard-Jones, who has an article called “What the Sand Remembers,” part of her work in Martinique, and Kevin Adonis Browne, who has a forthcoming book called Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography and the Self and Richard Iton’s work, particularly his crucial article “Still Life” As I work on this book I am certainly thinking with their works and also and still the work of Dionne Brand, NourbeSe Philipp, Kamau Brathwaite, Rinaldo Walcott, Charles Gaines, John Keene, and many others. This book used to be called Thinking Juxtapositionally, which is a method for me that refuses linearity and that centers what happens when you put perhaps unexpected histories and materials together. I think, now, that that may be a different project from Black. Still. Life., or that some parts of that project will enter and inform this one.