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The Fluency of Light

Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White

Aisha Sabatini Sloan

Publication Year: 2013

In these intertwined essays on art, music, and identity, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, the daughter of African American and Italian American parents, examines the experience of her mixed-race identity. Embracing the far-ranging stimuli of her media-obsessed upbringing, she grasps at news clippings, visual fragments, and lyrics from past and present in order to weave together a world of sense.
Art in all forms guides the author toward understanding concepts like blackness, jazz, mortality, riots, space, time, self, and other without falling prey to the myth that all things must exist within a system of binaries. Recalling her awkward attempts at coolness during her childhood, Sabatini Sloan evokes Thelonious Monk’s stage persona as a metaphor for blackness. Through the conceptual art of Adrian Piper, the author is able to understand what is so quietly menacing about the sharp, clean lines of an art gallery where she works as an assistant. The result is a compelling meditation on identity and representation. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-13

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Birth of the Cool

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pp. 1-9

Los Angeles glinted like an Austrian crystal through the windows of my mother’s Toyota Corolla. “Why can’t daddy and I be white like you?” I whined. We were on the freeway. Gray paths snaked their way toward the ocean. Green signs held a collection of numbers and letters, some of which indicated...

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pp. 11-27

When my dad was little, he worked. He helped his father to strip furnaces in the basements of the wealthy and gathered scraps of metal and coal off the streets to sell. But even though he learned to work doing physically exhausting, menial tasks, his expectations...

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Fade to White

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pp. 29-35

The Mobil travel guide I’ve checked out from the library says that Minnesota is home to “craggy cliffs” and “native prairie land where buffalo still roam.” The man who founded the city of Luvurne called it “the Garden of Eden.” There is a place known as “Blue Earth” where the ground is made of blue-black clay. I remember my...

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The Strongman and the Clown

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pp. 37-53

Coffee spits at me from a small paper cup as I walk down the gangway in the airport. “ Why does coffee spit?” I ask. My dad, who for as long as I can remember has been jotting down quotes in a thin beige notebook, says, “Coffee spitting, now that’s a good opener.” “Yeah, and I’m going...

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Silencing Cassandra

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pp. 55-75

Cement throws heat back after a ferocious summer afternoon. It’s after six in the evening, and as I walk alongside my dog, thin wisps of vertical, gray rain and curly beards of darkening clouds miles away in the mountains begin to glow, cayenne stained by sunset. A song by the...

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Resolution in Bearing

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pp. 77-93

Last night at dinner, Sarah asked me if I was close to my father,” my dad says. I am in Tucson, in a house that smells faintly of sewage, surrounded by pomegranate trees with rust-colored fruit and hundred-degree heat. Monsoon season has started and the afternoon sky is dark gray with clouds....

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White Space

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pp. 95-104

One summer, not long after I graduated from college, I was an anxious wreck. I had just moved to New York City by myself and lived for a while in a family friend’s apartment on the Lower East Side. I let the tea kettle burn on the stove, began to drink beer at dusk medicinally, and stood...

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pp. 107-124

The New York Times has warned me that the image I’m about to see is graphic. But I press the tiny arrow long before processing this, in a compulsive expression of my animal self. And so it is that I am staring at Gaddafi’s body, a little underwhelmed, a little surprised by the flicker of pleasure...


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pp. 125-128

Acknowledgments and Permissions

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pp. 129-130

E-ISBN-13: 9781609381639
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381608

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2013