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1 introduction Neoliberal Disavowal and the Politics of the Impossible In a relatively unheralded essay from Sister Outsider called “Learning from the 60s,” Audre Lorde presents her relationship to the dead in which seemingly mutually exclusive orientations to life and death converge .1 Lorde begins this essay, a transcript of a speech at the “Malcolm X Weekend” organized by the Harvard-­ Radcli¤e Black Students Association in 1982, in this manner: “Malcolm X is a distinct shape in a very pivotal period of my life. I stand here now—­ Black, Lesbian, Feminist—an inheritor of Malcolm and in his tradition, doing my work, and the ghost of his voice through my mouth asks each one of you here tonight: Are you doing yours?”2 With this opening, Lorde launches a speech that performs a series of contradictory double functions. She both reinscribes a temporality of inheritance (“an inheritor . . . in his tradition”), with the associated a¤ects of mourning, obligation, and the implication of a singular lineage, and instantiates an alternative heterogeneous temporality that fractures and makes multiple the possible futures that Malcolm X’s memory could invoke (“Black, Lesbian, Feminist”). She both memorializes Malcolm and gestures to the dangers of memorialization; she insists on the importance of inheritance while simultaneously undermining patrilineage. By asserting that she is Malcolm X’s inheritor, Lorde acts audaciously, situating her lesbian feminist self as no less assuredly and authentically Black as any male in Malcolm’s lineage, against a quickly ossifying 2 Introduction memorialization of Malcolm as a charismatic, masculine, and patriarchal figure.3 She refuses to cleave “Black” from “Lesbian” and “Feminist,” working against the “pressure to express only one [part] to the exclusion of all others,”4 and in so doing, insisting that Malcolm’s legacy enables the suturing of these identities rather than their mutual exclusivity. In the context of what she described in an earlier essay as “the enormous energy . . . being wasted in the Black community today in anti-­ lesbian hysteria,”5 we can see that the forceful beginning to this speech is a deliberate intervention into a developing normative definition of Blackness in part constituted through a Black nationalist memorialization of Malcolm X—­ an e¤ect, if not the overtly stated goal, of events like “Malcolm X Weekend.” She refuses any nostalgia about the 1960s, observing that while it was “a time of promise and excitement,” it was also “a time of isolation and frustration from within.” She specifically names disciplining and monolithic definitions of Blackness as contributing to that isolation, describing her sense at the time that “it was [her] own fault—­ if [she]was only Blacker, things would be fine.”6 She accordingly warns her audience of the present-­ day consequences of 1960s nostalgia, particularly as it coalesces around such figures as Malcolm X: For while we wait for another Malcolm, another Martin, another charis­ matic Black leader to validate our struggles, old Black people are freezing to death in tenements, Black children are being brutalized and slaughtered in the streets, or lobotomized by television, and the percentage of Black families living below the poverty line is higher today than in 1963.7 In so doing, Lorde analyzes the 1980s as a Benjaminian “moment of danger” in which minority nationalist memorialization of the social movements of the 1960s can become the fuel for a multiculturalist manifestation of neoliberal power.8 And yet she goes further: she not only refuses any narrative that might dismiss her as an inauthentic subject (not Black enough because of her lesbianism or feminism) but also situates herself as the speaking authority, channeling “the ghost of his voice through [her] mouth” so as Introduction 3 to demand “are you doing yours?”9 It is not Malcolm’s ghost but the “ghost of his voice” that comes through Lorde’s mouth. It is a double remove, where not only is Malcolm gone but so too, potentially, is his “voice,” which exists only as a ghostly residue in her “mouth.” As Avery Gordon says of ghosts, “It is not a case of dead or missing persons sui generis, but of the ghost as a social figure. It is often a case of inarticulate experiences, of symptoms and screen memories, of spiraling a¤ects, of more than one story at a time, of the traªc in domains of experience that are anything but transparent and referential.”10 Insofar as Lorde situates herself—­ Black, lesbian, feminist—­ as the exact nexus that Black nationalism must repress in...


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