Comparing the radical aesthetic and social experiments undertaken by two exile intellectuals, Experiments in Exile charts a desire in their work to formulate alternative theories of citizenship, wherein common reception of popular cultural forms is linked to a potentially expanded, non-exclusive polity. By carefully analyzing the materiality of the multiply-lined, multiply voiced writing of the “undocuments” that record these social experiments and relay their prophetic descriptions of and instructions for the new social worlds they wished to forge and inhabit, however, it argues that their projects ultimately challenge rather than seek to rehabilitate normative conceptions of citizens and polities as well as authors and artworks. James and Oiticica’s experiments recall the insurgent sociality of “the motley crew” historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker describe in The Many-Headed Hydra, their study of the trans-Atlantic, cross-gendered, multi-racial working class of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Reading James’s and Oiticica’s projects against the grain of Linebaugh and Rediker’s inability to find evidence of that sociality’s persistence or futurity, it shows how James and Oiticica gravitate toward and seek to relay the ongoing renewal of dissident, dissonant social forms, which are for them always also aesthetic forms, in the barrack-yards of Port-of-Spain and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the assembly lines of Detroit and the streets of the New York. The formal openness and performative multiplicity that manifests itself at the place where writing and organizing converge invokes that sociality and provokes its ongoing re-invention. Their writing extends a radical, collective Afro-diasporic intellectuality, an aesthetic sociality of blackness, where blackness is understood not as the eclipse, but the ongoing transformative conservation of the motley crew’s multi-raciality. Blackness is further instantiated in the interracial and queer sexual relations, and in a new sexual metaphorics of production and reproduction, whose disruption and reconfiguration of gender structures the collaborations from which James’s and Oiticica’s undocuments emerge, orienting them towards new forms of social, aesthetic and intellectual life.
INTRODUCTION: Experiments in Exile
CHAPTER ONE: What Happened to the Motley Crew? James, Oiticica and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness
CHAPTER TWO: Dialectic of Contact: The Organ/ization and The Nest
CHAPTER THREE: Undocuments: Reproduction at the Margins
The first response of many readers may be to wonder what on earth links C.L.R. James and Hélio Oiticica This book’s critical themes of the motley crew, of theorizing issues of contact, of
Aldon Lynn Nielsen
aesthetic sociality all answer the question well. What is crucial is that two such disparate characters, both contending with issues of exile, illegality and citizenship, each developed similar strategies for understanding culture and for projecting a future (even futuristic in Oiticica’s case) potential.
The Pennsylvania State University