Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility

Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility

Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility

Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility


In this profoundly innovative book, Ashon T. Crawley engages a wide range of critical paradigms from black studies, queer theory, and sound studies to theology, continental philosophy, and performance studies to theorize the ways in which alternative or "otherwise" modes of existence can serve as disruptions against the marginalization of and violence against minoritarian lifeworlds and possibilities for flourishing.

Examining the whooping, shouting, noise-making, and speaking in tongues of Black Pentecostalism--a multi-racial, multi-class, multi-national Christian sect with one strand of its modern genesis in 1906 Los Angeles--Blackpentecostal Breath reveals how these aesthetic practices allow for the emergence of alternative modes of social organization. As Crawley deftly reveals, these choreographic, sonic, and visual practices and the sensual experiences they create are not only important for imagining what Crawley identifies as "otherwise worlds of possibility," they also yield a general hermeneutics, a methodology for reading culture in an era when such expressions are increasingly under siege.

Ashon T. Crawley is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside.


“I can’t breathe.” July 17, 2014, sharpened it. Eric Garner repeated it eleven times while camera phones captured his murder, while the excesses of police violence—the excesses that are central to and the grounds of policing itself—accosted him, grounded him, choked him. “I can’t breathe,” the announcement of his intensely singular experience, his experience of the ongoing act of racial animus, antiblack racism, violent policing, policing as segregation and the implementation of dispossession and displacement as policy that structures life in the United States. Yet and also, “I can’t breathe,” the announcement—through ventriloquizing, some voice enunciating modernity’s violence—of what had been set into motion before him, a modality of thinking and conceiving black flesh as discardable, as inherently violent and antagonistic, as necessarily in need of removal, remediation, a modality of thinking and conceiving that is not just American but western, global in its reach. “I can’t breathe” as both the announcement of a particular moment and rupture in the life world of the Garners, and “I can’t breath” as a rupture, a disruption, an ethical plea regarding the ethical crisis that has been the grounds for producing his moment, our time, this modern world.

The announcement, “I can’t breathe,” is not merely raw material for theorizing, for producing a theological and philosophical analysis. “I can’t breathe” charges us to do something, to perform, to produce otherwise than what we have. We are charged to end, to produce abolition against, the episteme that produced for us current iterations of categorical designations of racial hierarchies, class stratifications, gender binaries, mindbody splits. “I can’t breathe,” Garner’s disbelief, his black disbelief, in the configuration of the world that could so violently attack and assault him for, at the very worst, selling loosies on the street. “I can’t breathe,” also . . .

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