Sense of Things

Zakiyyah Jackson



An inquiry into onto-epistemology, this essay investigates the reciprocal production of aesthesis and empiricism, both the seemingly scientific and the perceptual knowledge that signifies otherwise under conditions of imperial Western humanism. In a reading of Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), I argue that as an enabling condition of imperial Western humanism, the black mater(nal) is foreclosed by the dialectics of hegemonic common sense and that the anxieties stimulated by related signifiers, such as the black(ened) maternal image, voice, and lifeworld, allude to the latent symbolic-material capacities of the black mater(nal), as mater, as matter, to destabilize or even rupture the reigning order of representation that grounds the thought-world relation. In other words, the specter of the black mater(nal)—that is, nonrepresentability—haunts the terms and operations tasked with adjudicating the thought-world correlate or the proper perception of “the world” such as hierarchical distinctions between reality and illusion, Reason and its absence, subject and object, science and fiction, and speculation and realism, which turn on attendant aporias pertaining to immanence and transcendence. Exploring the mind-body-social nexus in Hopkinson’s fiction, I contend that in Brown Girl vertigo is evoked as both a symptom and a metaphor of inhabiting a reality discredited (a blackened reality) that is at once the experience of the carceral and the apprehension of a radically redistributed sensorium. I argue the black mater(nal) holds the potential to transform the terms of reality and feeling, therefore rewriting the conditions of possibility of the empirical.


black maternal;

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