“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”
― Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason
For about 4 years now, I’ve been experimenting with an assignment of remix in writing and other practices in my classroom where students emulate and replicate being consumers of their own productivity inside a given text or framework. I was in a course exploring how one can be empowered by ANY communication, verbal or non-verbal. It was not an academic training, thankfully, but it was a 10 month course with a weekend long training in Los Angeles once every two months and meetups with local participants here in NYC every week for, yes, 10 months. The meetups were practice sessions for completing homework between the five weekends. The course was called Partnership Explorations.
If anyone knows me personally, they know that for years I’ve said that academia beat my love of reading out of me. Perhaps it started earlier when being book smart and “talking like white people” made me assign a separation from my people to reading. I loved Shakespeare as a teen and wanted to read Freud by my mother thought it was taboo for some reason she never really explained back when I was 14.
By the time I reached the Partnership Explorations course in 2004, I was eight (8) years into being a tenure-track professor. I taught at NYU then and I hated reading books and never read anything outside of work needs. I loved the Internet and probably read as much online as some do from hardback novels. But I resisted reading. Always fell asleep. LOL. I read from cover to cover one book in maybe 10 years, a confession no self-respecting professor should probably make, but it’s true. [The book was The Funeral Planner by Lynn Isenberg, a womanist entreprenurial comedy based around my alma mater, University of Michigan. It was mature, sophisticated Chic Lit.]
So when the course instructor of Partnership Explorations said there were 5 recommended books I confronted my bias. I loved the course but reading books… Each of the weekends involved sharing individually to a group of 300 participants about what you were learning about yourself and your conversations with 20 people we were expected to track in our lives.
I read one book completely. Dire Mastery: Discipleship from Freud to Lacan and I read the first 50 pages of The Order of Things: The Archeology of the Human Sciences by Michel Foucault. Not unlike in the halls of academia, everyone in the course found the book confounding and many hated it. Though I had exposure to Foucault’s work on sexuality and liked it in grad school, this was different. I LOVED it. But still didn’t finish it. My habits were then not servicing any interest in reading more. But the preface of that book wOw-ed me.
Thus began an experiment with slow learning for me. Teaching students to replicate the preface of the book (found here: The Order of Things, 1970) in my African American music courses, my jazz course and my hip-hop courses. I have them do it early, the first weeks of class, to throw them into the world of their own thinking and sorting – reordering the mental maps of the subject they are about to encounter newly and in new ways hopefully.
In all the years since 2005 when I began assigning it, I have never written my own version but I have meticulously edited over 200 versions, I’d say. Often rewriting it for them to see other ways of thought, to instigate and agitate their thinking (vs. thoughting). Yesterday I wrote my first draft. Today my second.
From my non-academic training, I often challenge myself to do the work that I assign in my classes. It should be a requirement, I have learned from this practice. It was my students’ experimenting this winter intercession that inspired me to share my own version. I’ve learned so much from my students in this and other assignments about the “sociology” of people’s experiences with black women in hip-hop. It’s like taking a sociological sampling of culture. I wrote them earlier today: “It’s your mind each of your need to consider learning more about and intervening in the social constructs you simply inherited that were begun by people long dead and gone but that we transmit and carry on unthinkingly about race, gender and music-making. This is your opportunity to shine! Here is mine…”
Prof. G’s Foucault Remix (2nd draft):
This began as a riff off a intellectual rhymebook not well known, nor understood, inside the ivory towers of its social commons where even PhD students front in abstractions, wastin their breathe on what they “took away” from some book as if they were jookin on a basketball court (not!). It began out of a non-academic course I took on discourses and the partnership of language to uncover what’s unsaid and unknown. It arose out of the pain that shattered, as I read my participation in academia, all the familiar landmarks of my former thought — black and female thought, the thought that brands the video vixen of our hip-hop age and our corporate geography — breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which I as a black woman, a performer, and a scholar had become accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing racist and sexist things students carried with them, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse their age-old distinction between desire and ambition.
This riff quotes a ‘certain true mathematics encyclopedia’ contributed to by the fellowship of Bernice Johnson Reagon (If You Don’t Go, Don’t Hinder Me), Audre Lorde (The Uses of the Erotic read here in her own words), Tricia Rose (Black Noise and Hip-Hop Wars), Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of a Hiphop Generation), Joe Schloss (Making Beats and Foundation), and many other oracle mathemeticians, an encyclopedia in which it is written that ‘humanity in hip-hop is divided into: (a) true to Rha Goddess not Gangsta, (b) masculine masoleum, (c) domesticated pornography sold to the white masses selling black behinds, (d) Sucka MCs, (e) a Blige(d) or Beyonce(d) , (f) Fiiiiiine!! (with an extreme nasal sound to intensify meaning and syncopation), (g) rhyme retreatists, (h) not included in the present classification = invisibilified, (i) dope fiends diggin in the crates, (j) bounce, bass, snap, house, (k) Is that your real hair cuz I can’t get a comb through it?, (l) whatevah, (m) just breaks on the Billboard charts that won’t last long if they hear its a female, (n) that from a long way off look like I got fries to go with dat shake and imma reach out and take that junk in the trunk public violence.
In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing black women, women and girls everywhere as well as conscious fathers, apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of a rhyme and a video screen, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of patriciarchal and post-colonial system of hegemonic thought, is the limitation of our my own thinking, the stark impossibility of ever being without that.
The source of my remix/sample is the “Preface” from Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things (1970).