bell hooks by Lawrence Chua

BOMB 48 Summer 1994
048 Summer 1994
Hooks 01 Body

bell hooks. Photo by James Keyser © 1994.

Love takes us to places we might not ordinarily go. Ask anyone who’s engaged the work of bell hooks. Her fearless inquiries and passionate provocations have left us questioning the once familiar terrain of cultural identity while simultaneously affirming the complexity of our own lived experiences. In her many books of critical writing, including Black LooksYearningBreaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, (with Cornel West) and the forthcoming Outlaw Culture; her self-help book, Sisters of the Yam; her recent collection of poetry, A Woman’s Mourning Song, her artistic collaborations and her many public presentations, hooks has hit raw nerves, delving into the possibilities of culture as a place of resistance to white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy. While most critical theorists speak about popular culture from the lofty perches of the academy, hooks has always insinuated herself in the fray.

This interview with one of America’s most indispensable and independent thinkers initiates a new series in BOMB devoted to the ideas of today’s most influential theorists.

Lawrence Chua Recently, you were at a conference on black cinema where Stanley Crouch suggested that artists like Snoop Doggy Dog should be exterminated. How did you respond?

bell hooks While it’s crucial to critique the sexism and the misogyny of rappers like Snoop Doggy Dog, it is essential for everyone to remember that they are not only more complex than the way they represent themselves, they’re more complex than the way white society represents them as well. This notion, that Snoop Doggy Dog defines himself “as he really is” is something I reject. He clearly defines himself with a persona that works in cultural production in this society. The most discouraging aspect of that conference for me was this insistence on liberal individualism, as though people’s acts are disconnected from larger structures and larger forces of representation. Even Stanley Crouch wasn’t responding to my points. He was actually playing to those larger, mainstream cultural forces that reward him for saying really negative things about rap. I don’t believe it when people like Stanley Crouch say they are really concerned about misogyny. One can certainly read his essay on Toni Morrison and see incredible examples of virulent sexism and misogyny. I saw a continuum between the violence of a Snoop Doggy Dog and the violence of a Stanley Crouch, and I didn’t really see them as being separate and distinct entities. At the conference, I confessed that I have really violent impulses that sometimes listening to some panels I had wanted to come out and shoot people. The audience laughed, but I wasn’t being funny, and I wasn’t saying it to be cute or exhibitionist. I was acknowledging that the violent impulses don’t just exist out there in black youth or in the underclass, but that they reside in people like myself as well—people who have our PhD’s and our good jobs. But that doesn’t mean that my life is not tormented by rageful or irrational, violent impulses. It does mean that instead of shooting people, I go home and write a critique. My irrational impulse to want to kill people who bore me or whose ideas are not very complex, clearly has to do with an exaggerated response to situations where I feel powerless. I think black people, across class, have many moments in our lives when we feel utterly powerless to change the direction of situations. And we don’t deal with this collectively, because we’re so in denial about it. It is significant that the urge to exterminate was aroused by a moral standpoint wherein vulgarity must be dissed. This has a lot to do with censorship. I’m not talking about mainstream censorship. I’m talking about groups that claim to have progressive agendas, but also have practices of censorship, that involve their wanting to check people around crossing boundaries that “don’t make our movement look good.” There is a whole way of structuring conferences so that they end up being these celebratory events where a certain censorship takes place in the interest of maintaining unity. I see that as part of the colonizing mentality that says, “In case white people are looking, we need to present ourselves as this unified nation so we can’t have these all-out dialectical exchanges where we show our differences.” We need multiple voices that mirror our multiple subjectivities. There’s a cognitive dissonance between what is really being said by cultural critics—we’re into border crossing, and cultural hybridity—and yet, when we come together, we still mirror the model of a unitary voice.

LC How is your own work challenging those boundaries? When we had lunch a few months ago, you were about to go on a T.V. talk show. You said you were doing this because you weren’t reaching the audience you needed to start reaching.

bh I went on the Ricki Lake show and it was a disaster. But it was a great experience. There are academics who do work on popular culture, but who really just do a lot of theoretical talking about popular culture and don’t actually enter those spaces that are much more full of contradictions, hostilities, and tensions. I heard those black folks in the audience at the Ricki Lake show saying, “We don’t agree with Doctor hooks. We’re not even going to call her Doctor. She doesn’t even know what she’s talking about.” I felt seriously assaulted, but at the same time, this was a different rage experience than sitting at home writing my cool article on the discourse of talk shows. To actually go there, and to participate, and see, and walk off the T.V. set because the politics of what was happening there were very disturbing to me … They had told us that there would be a “special guest” but they hadn’t said that it would be this Nazi woman. But I wanted to go on that show because Ricki Lake has an incredible number of black viewers between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, and those are exactly the people who are not in women’s studies classes, or in cool cultural studies classes where they’re learning about a Cornel West or a bell hooks. I used a quote by Snoop Doggy Dog at the NYU conference on black cinema, that really meant a lot to me. He said, “I don’t rap. I just talk. I want to be able to relax and conversate with my people.” Are we, cultural workers situated in the academy, developing a jargon about cultural production that does not allow us to “conversate and cross” these very borders that we’re talking about how cool it would be to cross? If we don’t find a way to “conversate,” all we’re ever talking about is that those of us who have certain forms of class privilege can enter the low-down and dirty spaces and take what we want to get out of those spaces, and take our asses right back home. That is really crucial for the future of cultural criticism in the United States, for the future of magazines like BOMB, and the other kinds of magazines that many of us enjoy, VibeDetails. How much are we conversating?

LC How does your own work accommodate that kind of conversating?

bh I am willing to debase myself in whichever way possible, and be treated like shit as I was on the Ricki Lake show. We can’t minimize that because it’s a very different experience from lecturing at places like Yale and Harvard where crowds of people are bowing down and saying, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy,” than to be among a whole crowd of young people waiting to get in to this show and talk, who could give a fuck about bell hooks. Or to be in Flint, Michigan, talking to a hundred fifth-graders, who have no idea what I’m about, and to have to come up with a language that can cross those borders effectively. The point is not just to be some sort of sterile role model who stands up and gives a canned talk. One of the things that I’ve been critiqued a lot about is the level of confession in my work and my public “performances.” If you read my early work, there’s very little attention to the details of my life, very little personal stuff. One of the things that I found, as I tried to cross boundaries, was that I had to give people something that allowed them to identify with what I was saying, and not just offer some abstract idea that might not have any relevance to their lives. That is all about the function of story. When those little fifth-graders had question-and-answer, the first thing they wanted to know was, “How much money do you make?” Now, these fifth-graders are coming out of one of the most economically depressed states in this country. Most of their parents work in the auto industry. How much money you make is more crucial to them than the relationship between feminism and Marxism. But to answer that question honestly and openly can be a way to then talk about feminism and the structure of capitalism. In fact, we went from how much money I made to, “Did you guys know how much on the average women make?” People were really shocked, because they so believe in the myth of democracy, they all thought women receive equal pay for equal work. Crossing borders means that at times I share things that I don’t want to share. But if you really see yourself as a worker for freedom, then the challenge is also on you to sacrifice whatever notions of privacy that many of us would want to hold onto, especially if we are clinging to bourgeois models of self and identity. These fifth-graders wanted to understand book production, because I know that they have parents who are saying, “You don’t want to be a writer, writers don’t make anything. If you work in the plant this is what is available to you.” Class is the most un-cool topic in cultural studies in the United States. It’s easier to look at the black identity of the Hughes Brothers who made Menace II Society, than to acknowledge the class positionality of these young men and to talk about how it may have shaped their opinion. Maybe they find a gangsta in the ‘hood really glamorous because it’s not the world that they emerged from. That’s a class critique that gets submerged under an evocation of racial solidarity, or racial intervention. These young black men are intervening in the Hollywood apparatus in some ways by their very presence, by the racial images they create. Whereas, if we look at class, we don’t see intervention in Hollywood. We actually see a reproduction of a certain relation to the working class and the poor. Hollywood has always had visions of the working class and the poor, cross-race, created by people who often are mired in contempt and fantasy, and/or voyeuristic fantasy about what those class realities are really like.

LC Your last book, Sisters of the Yam, speaks to and across many of those class borders. It was conceived of as a self-help book. How difficult was it to write a book that was not going to be sold as an academic text?

bh It was exciting for me to write Sisters of the Yam and try to find a more vernacular way to talk about certain things. It’s also exciting to get a response from that. People would be shocked by the number of everyday people who take the time to write me a letter about a book. It wouldn’t matter what kind of books I was writing, if I didn’t get the feedback from communities of readers who let me know that the books are actually working. That fills me with a certain kind of joy. To think of certain ways of writing as activism is crucial. What does it matter if we write eloquently about decolonization if it’s just white privileged kids reading our eloquent theory about it? Masses of black people suffer from internalized racism, our intellectual work will never impact on their lives if we do not move it out of the academy. That’s why I think mass media is so important. Popular magazines and television have to be seen as central vehicles for the dissemination of intellectual thought. We are looking at a culture where millions of people don’t read or write. If I want to get the message out there I have to use some other format. I do a lot more radio than I would like to do because it still has a place in the lives of many working-class people in our society. It amazes me.

LC There are some obvious limitations to personalizing theoretical writing. How do you debate the theoretical element of a sentence that begins with, “As a 27-year-old Malaysian house queen” without taking on the identity of the person who is saying it?

bh Since we live in a cultural climate, especially in the academy where the realm of the personal is devalued, when you use that standpoint it may lead listeners to mishear. That voice may be very complex but people actually may not hear the complexity. I gave this talk framed around the idea of “love takes me to places I would ordinarily not go.” I raised the whole question of love in a very psycho-analytical way, framing the discussion around notions of recognition and mirroring. I was really sad when so many people came up to me to say, “We love you,” because they’d missed the point. When you are a woman and you use a confessional narrative, people tend to think there is not some more complex structure of thinking or philosophy behind that narrative. I needed to bring some of that background thinking more to the fore, otherwise, it failed. But even if it failed to do as much as I wanted it to, it does not devalue the courage of trying to bring the voice of lived experience and confessional witnessing into our intellectual processing in a way that does not reduplicate that whole pattern of estrangement from self and ideas. I am passionate about ideas. They’re not just the stuff of spectatorship and entertainment to me. They’re a life-blood, and that’s what makes the intellectual process so radically different from the academic process. Part of the challenge for insurgent intellectuals, particularly those of us who are artists in this society, is to pull back from academe, actually, and academic settings, precisely to break this notion that has become so popular in the culture, that the two experiences are one.

LC I was curious how your own critical language is developing, with that strategy in mind.

bh I’ve been trying to use different languages for different settings, and it’s hard. One of the things I’m trying to do is break with the traditional essay format, which has been an exhilarating and exciting format for me. But it also takes time. I’d like to do work that is more mixed media and pastiche. But when you want to make a shift, then you come up against an industry that doesn’t want you to because they’ve already got a proven product. This has been very harmful to African American writers in general. I am constantly working to shift my voice and to try to use it differently. In my poetry writing, for example, I use a voice that tends to be much more abstract than the voice of my writing. A lot of people, when I first tried to get my poems published, said, “There’s nothing black about these poems.” Damn, how often do you have to prove that you’re black? It’s not enough that I’m a black woman writing these poems, but there has to be something in the language that tips off the reader, that you are reading something by a black woman writer. There’s this constant struggle to actually have a lived practice that really mirrors this theoretical bullshit about hybridity and polyphonic voices. I’ve always cursed like a sailor. I learned how to curse from my grandmother. I’ve always had a certain kind of street language that has been essential to how I’ve defined myself. But, it’s a language that I keep under wraps. In certain settings, you can let that language out, but if you let it out in this other setting, you’ll get checked immediately. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to “come out of the closet”—that great metaphor for everything these days, in the sense of trying to speak certain languages in locations where I didn’t speak them because I tried to conform to the dictates of those locations. What is border crossing, if in every setting, you simply scan the place and figure out the appropriate rules and abide by them. That ends up sounding much more like social fascism than any rigorous transgression.

LC In Yearning, that “street language” is often set apart from your theorizing by quotation marks, while in Black Looks and Sisters of the Yam it’s a more organic component of the syntax. Have editors become more receptive to that linguistic transgression?

bh I went through this period where I would try to use more street language and it would all come back to me, completely edited back to standard English. These few months that I’ve been living in New York, I’ve really been overwhelmed by the degree to which there is no racial integration in publishing in our society. I’m awed by the lack, not just of the concrete visible presence of people of color, but also the failure to have progressive white people. We should be able to have spaces in this society where people of color are not present, but where anti-racist perspectives will inform how things are organized and what takes place. No wonder the wheel has to be invented again, and again, and again. We’re being told by the publishing world that our major buying audience is a white audience. The presumption is of an unenlightened white audience, and when everything you write should be pitched to that audience, it becomes a really troubling question of what voice you use, and what space you can occupy. We’re not just talking about the straight publishing world, we’re talking about those vehicles in our culture that claim to represent some kind of alternative. That says that we have a lot of work to do to truly create a culture of resistance, that’s not just occupied by people of color individually knocking on the door for change, but that’s really occupied by lots of people who see the necessity for having a more complex intellectual artistic life in this culture.

LC Debates around representation have focused almost exclusively on who is in the frame, as if it were separate from how the narrative unfolds. That’s made it difficult for black writers whose work refuses that separation between truth and beauty to publish.

bh If your perspective isn’t “I’m negating blackness, in the interest of writing more experimentally,” but, “I’m affirming blackness and I still want to write experimentally,” that’s when you have trouble selling your product. The question I’m asked most often about my writing is: Who is the perceived audience? There’s this sense that if you really want to have that crossover audience, you’ve got to simplify, you’ve got to translate, you’ve got to make everything clear. But we know that there are a lot of interesting books by white writers that don’t simplify, that don’t make everything clear, and people presume that they will have an audience. There’s a myth about artistic freedom, that it resides with the individual writer, and not that artistic freedom has to be mirrored in the publishing practices of a culture, or when you’re talking about art, the practices of galleries and museums. It cannot be something that becomes a cultural norm simply by individual artists insisting that their work is an expression of artistic freedom. Even though so many of us can name white supremacy, we go on to express shock and naive surprise that things are done the way they are or that our views aren’t represented. To some extent, one’s views do have an opportunity of being represented if you dare to put forth some of the labor. I feel like I labor for things. A lot of times it is a sacrifice. I have this deep feeling that the meaning of sacrifice has been really lost in this culture. When I look back at the civil rights struggle, I am awed by people’s willingness to sacrifice personal comfort and well-being to make some changes. What’s sad is that significance of sacrifice seems to be solely embedded in religion in our society, because religion has not had the force for young people that it had twenty years ago in many of our lives. Look at Malcolm X. Everyone who is pimping him for their own opportunistic gains doesn’t talk about the fact that this man lived in relative poverty as he tried to spread his mission. How many of us are committed to living on the edge in that way? I’m certainly not. I’m working hard not to have to live that way, even as I want to hold to the principle of sacrifice and be ready when the moment comes to do what needs to be done to end domination.

LC As you said, the idea of sacrifice is so caught up in religious belief, there is a tendency to oversimplify it. How do you strategize something like sacrifice?

bh Part of why so many of us came out of radical ‘60s politics and jumped into Eastern religion was because, more than Christianity, it evoked a balance. How do you balance that commitment to social change where you don’t just burn out and give yourself over to an almost negative ethic of sacrifice? How do you create inner harmony and balance that allows you to sacrifice when necessary and to withhold when necessary? I can remember how deeply affected I was by the Buddhist nun in Vietnam who set herself on fire in the interest of protesting the war. How far do we go and what do we give? I still find religion to be the place that tempers my spirit. A friend and I have battled around the whole question, “Are there other locations where these values of moral discipline, integrity and sacrifice can be taught?” We can teach those ethics to young children without teaching them religion, but it’s hard to know how to bring an ethical dimension into political work and artistic practice in a culture that is so obscenely hedonistic. That’s why people like me might not fall back on organized religion but fall back on the construction of more private spiritual practice that enables us to think about issues like sacrifice and service. Growing up, we were taught to believe we existed to service the cause of racial uplift and ending white supremacy. The young blacks that I teach today are into that kind of liberalism that says, “I’m mainly here to service myself first and if I want to join some radical cause I can.” For many years I wouldn’t have been able to even think of improving myself without heightening the freedom and well-being of my community. It really was entering white institutions of higher learning that disrupted that vision of living to serve the community and the cause of racial uplift. Where is liberal individualism most taught, but in academic institutions? They exist to produce the privileged classes. To make them come into being it’s very important to have people repudiate any ethic of communalism in favor of privatized thinking.

LC I wonder how much of that ethic of communalism comes from being part of a rural, or even a suburban, community. Do you think your rural background has informed a lot of your critical practice?

bh Kentucky is one of the states that is very feudal in a lot of ways. Coming from there carries some of the really negative aspects of a feudal culture, but it also was a world that really did believe in certain kinds of values. The poor are consistently represented in this culture’s mass media as having no values or ethics, yet where I grew up there was no correlation between poverty and lack of integrity. Poor backwoods Kentucky folk, my people had a relationship to loyalty and honor, a whole ethical dimension that was completely divorced from materiality. I find it amazing that across race and class, we live in a country that’s very determined by geographic location. We have very few voices that come to us from rural experience in America. The educated people from those regions actually learn to translate away from our vernacular cultures in the interest of getting some play and consideration in the larger public world. I was talking to my dad, who’s in his mid-seventies and is doing poorly. He was going on about how he worked for thirty some years and was never absent from his job. One of the things that I tell my dad all the time is that the discipline I have as a writer is not anything that I learned at Stanford University. I got it from this working class background where disciplined work was really valued. My dad kept using the phrase “marvelously blessed.” To think that a black man working in the South at a “menial job” would reflect back on that experience and declare that he feels marvelously blessed that he was not absent from his job in thirty some years … I was touched. He was speaking in the vernacular of our region and I thought about how much I’d lost that capacity because I’m not there enough. There is a beauty to vernacular speech and culture in America. Mass media is one of the forces that aggressively works to wipe out that cultural and regional specificity.

LC When I came in this afternoon, we were talking about the differences between black British thought and black American thought. How do you think these issues are played out across the Atlantic? Why has black Britain been able to produce the kind of radical cultural work and theory that we here in America haven’t?

bh Because the material rewards are not there in British culture, there’s less of a temptation to sell out in the same way. I’m not acting like I think black British people have some kind of integrity that is different. But the integrity is challenged here by the existence of a structure of reward. I feel more linked to black British thinkers right now, because a lot of the choices that I make in what I write and how I write it actually prevent me from reaping those rewards. I’m still struggling both politically, morally, and ethically to be an independent thinker. There is this fear of radical openness that’s making black social and critical thought infinitely more homogeneous than we should ever want it to be. Why do we have to be threatened by the notion of a different voice or a dissenting voice? I feel this a lot lately around issues of censorship and what I want to be able to talk about in the future. I really want to write in a complex way about black sexuality and I feel that there’s tremendous resistance to a discussion of black sexuality that does not reproduce certain norms. In terms of representation, we are perhaps portrayed as the most oversexed group in this society. How has that affected our actual sex lives? Do we exist in a culture where nothing that we can do sexually is equal to the hype? We have uncovered work that suggests Martin Luther King fucked all the time, but we can’t find one article that would talk about what the place of sexuality was in his life. To what extent did the enormous sacrifices that he made as a public persona influence his compulsive sexual behavior? Did we see any public discourse about whether Malcolm X had or did not have homosexual relations? If this is our shining black prince, our manhood, does this open up the possibility for a revolution in how we think about black masculinity? Nor do we have a lot of complex writing about black resistance to racism and our simultaneous embrace of American national identity, which we clearly saw exposed during the Gulf War. I think the issues of nationhood are much more central to black folk in Europe because they are minorities in the countries that they live in and they haven’t had the legacies of resistance that we have here. When people evoke Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” they completely erase that radical critique that is present in sermons and speeches like “A Testament of Hope,” wherein he suggests we must move beyond a national identity to a profound critique of imperialism and global militarism. That’s the Martin Luther King that will not be taught to every little school kid.

LC You’ve often juxtaposed the trope of nation and family with the more fluid notion of community.

bh It suggests something that can be made and remade wherever you might be. Communities of resistance suggest something that has to be explained, while nation and family already conjure up specific kinds of images and forms of bonding for people. There’s a tremendous mounting fascism in this culture and it’s very scary to see it finding such presence in expression of African American life. Basically the educated body of black people who are cultural workers, writers, artists, musicians, etc. tend to be deeply invested in bourgeois values on all levels. People evoke jazz as expressive of these far-reaching radical oppositions to norms, but they really haven’t been carried over in habits of daily life. Those very jazz musicians, particularly the men who were so groundbreaking in their musical crossing of boundaries, tended to be very narrow in their thinking about gender and patriarchy. Miles Davis is such a good example of that because he vocalized his reactionary perspectives on gender. No one talks about the fact that in all these cases of sexual aggression with black public figures, like Tupac Shakur, the woman has been black. The cultural response would be very different to these events if the women were white. Black men do victimize black women but that victimization is coded as a response to racism, and not as, let’s talk about racism and what black men get from patriarchy. What do black men get through this rhetoric of nation, in terms of their power in domestic space? That’s not a discourse that white culture is fascinated with, because they don’t give a fuck about what happens in black domestic space.

LC You’ve talked about how figures like Tupac Shakur and Ice Cube disrupt essential notions of black masculinity. Your understanding of gangsta rap is very different from the dominant feminist line.

bh People presume that because I’m a feminist thinker they know I’m gonna trash rap, especially gangsta rap. I can challenge the sexism and misogyny of it, but I can embrace the rage that is implicit in it and the sense of powerlessness that undergirds it. It is such a challenge to be able to see that you can not identify with something about individuals and still have parts of them that you might embrace and engage. When I interviewed Ice Cube, he was insisting on the power of the black father in the home. I was yelling, “Are you really trying to tell me that if you have unloving black fathers in the home, we’re going to have a generation of healthy kids?” Finally he acknowledged that just having a father present who’s not caring is really not going to produce some healthy children. That’s the kind of exchange that we should be trying to bring to the floor and not these simplistic representations of sexism and misogyny. It’s so hard because these men both disrupt and reinscribe at the same time. One has to be vigilant in your response but that means you have to be engaged and I think that so much cultural criticism is non-participatory. The cultural critic stands so much at a distance from what he or she writes about. That distance is always dangerous in that it has the possibility of reinscribing the status quo, co-opting and appropriating in the interest of making the status quo appear more chic, more open than it finally ever really is.

LC I wonder also how you see the function of groups like The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, whose work on very obvious levels challenges that kind of status quo, and yet has been met with so much resistance in terms of the marketplace.

bh I follow their work and like it and other groups like Arrested Development. I interviewed Speech from Arrested Development and I talked to a lot of young black women about him. They said, “Yeah, but after awhile their music is just boring.” Then I think we do get into the tension around notions of funkiness and getting down and being down. I think a perpetual tension for any of us who engage in any kind of revolutionary political visions of transformation is how do we keep the funk? We never talk about what if people aren’t drawn by the sexism and the misogyny, but are instead drawn by a sense of recklessness, a willingness to transcend limits and to call out shit graphically. Yet we in our progressive visions don’t account for those yearnings to be on the edge. I felt that lust when I was young and I feel it now. How can we have some models of radicalism that also incorporate what it is to transgress in a manner that is expressive, colorful, exciting, and even dangerous? What allows me to hold to whatever sweetness I may find in a word like “bitch,” that doesn’t translate into some subjugation of women? One of the things that I believe is that this kind of theory cannot be done in the same old privatized way. It has to emerge from collaborative exchange, from border-crossing of an Ice Cube and a bell hooks trying to jam it out together and jamming one another. Or for me saying to Cornel West, “I’m sorry Cornel, young black men are not going to say, ‘Gee, I really want to look like that guy in those three piece suits.’” (laughter) That’s not saying that we shouldn’t be able to embrace those suits as some sign of cool, but the fact is they are no sign of cool to the young and hip who want to be down! They’re not even a sign of cool for me. When I broached this on stage with Cornel, he seemed to be put off by the question and so was the audience. I was not embracing a rhetoric that suggested black kids should be looking at the man in the suit and not the man in the leather coat as cool, as a role model. I was suggesting that the man in the suit might need to change to hold our interest—to capture our imagination. The spirit of transgression that is so central to both my intellectual practice and my political practice is much more tied-in with what people like Queen Latifah and Ice T are saying than with what other academics are saying. These are exciting times. I have this deep belief in destiny, so I’m trying to live with what is my destiny here in New York. This is the last place on earth that I would ever have imagined myself living. I feel driven here by forces beyond my control. But I am excited to see whether I can, in conjunction and collaboration with other people, have New York City be more a place where some of transgressively radical open critical thought and artistic production can emerge. That kind of truly avant-garde revolutionary cultural production will not happen if we don’t begin to theorize it into existence as well, if we can’t see that theory can be a catalyst for artistic practice and vice versa. It is that mutual interplay that might bring the element of risk and sacrifice back into our artistic and cultural practice.

Stuart Hall by Caryl Phillips
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Simone Leigh’s The Waiting Room by Terence Trouillot
Simone Leigh 1

For her residency at the New Museum, Leigh looks at the act of healing through the lens of black female caregivers, educators, and intellectuals.

We Are Always Crossing: Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
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The author discusses Black feminist breathing, academia as access point, and writing three books that came from the same decision.

Vince Staples by Simone White
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“Life has a soundtrack. And certain music is a soundtrack to a certain type of identity or feeling. 50 Cent, the Game, and those kinds of guys—they made us feel like our lives were worth nothing, basically.”

Originally published in

BOMB 48, Summer 1994

Featuring interviews with Eric Bogosian, Rick Moody, bell hooks, Dennis Cooper, Jack Whitten, Michel Auder, Hanif Kureishi, Joel Thome, Keith Antar Mason, and Allison Anders.

Read the issue
048 Summer 1994