Fred Moten

Uncertainty in All That Beauty Is: Mud as Defined by Fred Moten

I recently spoke to someone about Fred Moten, in general, who has most recently released a somewhat still rather new collection of poetry (although when referring to Moten’s work, the term “poetry” seems awfully reductive as his writing blurs the categorical lines between essay, anthem, lyric, and otherwise) entitled all that beauty is. This other so-and-so will remain anonymous, since my mention of them is accompanied by an exaggerated eyeroll. My eyeroll was elicited by the fact that our chat was occurring as the discussion of race politics had become rather trendy, and brands, celebrities, and every other random, oblivious person has suddenly joined the conversation on civil liberties and police brutality.

People of color experience inequality, injustice, and even invisibility daily. Cops are murdering innocent citizens with an inconceivable frequency. Yet something about the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department struck a resonating chord with the world. Maybe it was the pandemic-induced quarantine that created a captive audience, stripped of luxuries and distractions, to this notable tragedy. Maybe it was a past-due boiling point, the cursed straw that broke the moribund camel’s back. Maybe the incident was ripe with enough talking points to keep every loudmouth busy lurking in the details and nuances of the subsequent arguments to be made.

I don’t know, but I’m now finding myself exhausted by white hipsters centering this conversation with reflections on white experience, white guilt, white response, white allyship, white fuckery, white, white, white. And while the white world began splitting hairs on how to be a supportive voice—do I speak out? do I shut the fuck up?—my annoying colleague brings up Fred Moten, a poet and scholar whose work explores black experience and critical race theory. Hearing white people presently mention their interest in black artists, however, sometimes creates a similar effect to naming friends of color when confronted with one’s possible racism. I’m not prejudiced, I own records by black artists!

But whether or not Moten was brought up generically as a black artist during a heightened Black Lives Matter moment in history seems unimportant to call out in retrospect because, and perhaps only coincidentally to the fortune of my friend, Moten’s work couldn’t be more relevant to the tunnelvision, distortion, confusion, and complicated conversations in the current amplified and unsettled climate. And in that regard, I will let excerpts of his new book speak for themselves as that much needed commentary.

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“Black is the revelation of that which makes a people uncertain, unclear and awry in their action and knowledge. I think I been thinking ‘bout that for ‘bout thirty years.”

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”                                                                             Our regular shit is

muddy

and irregular. Our shit is the shit, in this regard. Regardless, we started walking the floor of the sea to turn it over, plowing the muck, low, country, just like mules of the leafy green, sempiternal in sodden underground, thinking the sudden thickness of our steps, infused with periodic swimming to get the air we can’t breathe, saving breath in the muddle of our passage, as Mullen says, or been fixing to say. Fixing we say like f’i’n—imagine a little swelling into place after the consonant, just a little bit broader time before the x turn to a t, which is implied, then silenced, then acts that same little hollow before the n, because the end won’t come, then one last breath, and keep writing that shit underneath the floor, as our commune.”

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