Notes from an Irreducible Conversation: Fred Moten and Arthur Jafa #BlackandBlur #IntellectualPublics

Last Monday, December 11, I was lucky enough to hear a public conversation between two of the most brilliant and creative minds of our generation, poet and theorist Fred Moten (the subject of this event), and his interlocutor (and old friend) artist, director, and cinematographer Arthur Jafa.  Fred Moten is the author, most recently, of Black and Blur, the first volume in a trilogy, “Consent not to be a singular being.”  Arthur Jafa’s stunning video, “Love Is the Message/The Message Is Death,” has been exhibited for much of the fall at MOCA.  (Full biographies are below my personal, handwritten notes.)


The conversation ranged widely, from the personal to the political and all points in between.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more attentive audience than the standing-room-only crowd that filled the largest auditorium at the Graduate Center, CUNY.  It was the last event in an incredible semester of engaged conversation presented by Ken Wissoker, Director of Intellectual Publics and Editorial Director at Duke University. Special thanks to Executive Director and Presidential Fellow Sydney Stutterheim for her work arranging this extraordinary event.


Below you will find my transcription of my personal jottings from this extraordinary evening. All errors are my own. Soon the entire video of the event will be made available by Intellectual Publics.…




 “Writing a dissertation is solitary confinement for the upper middle class.” –FM


“There is no individuality that is not burdened.” –FM


“Individuation is the incarnation of difference.”  –FM


“Whiteness has far too much power.  Whiteness is known by everyone in the world as something you should run from.” –FM


“Intellectual life has always been in the margins of the university.  The university was created to regulate intellectual life.”  –FM


“We are addicted to grades, addicted to praise.  Our addiction to A’s structures the system and produces burdened individuality.” –FM


“There’s a burden on Black intellectuals. Sometimes you might want to see something and not have an opinion.” –FM

What if Blackness is constantly poised to disrupt the boundaries between people?” –FM


“Black people aren’t wrestling with death. They are wrestling to be alive.” –AJ

“We all need the capacity and space to fail beautifully and thoughtfully.” –FM


“Blur happens when the level of precision goes up but you can no longer make distinctions.” –FM


“African art is motion, performance.  African art in museums becomes an object without agency. It gains market value  as it loses its actual value.”  –FM


“Community as an idea has a lot of explaining to do—it has a checkered past.” –FM


“For me there is no community I wouldn’t be a fugitive from and within.”—FM


“There is no blackness without the horror.” –AJ


“Blackness isn’t jeopardized because Blacks have no value—but precisely because we do have value, we’ve been valued, calculated as a value.  That is the problem.” –FM



FRED MOTEN was born in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1962. He is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Hughson’s Tavern (Leon Works, 2009); B. Jenkins (Duke University Press, 2010); The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions, 2014); The Little Edges (Wesleyan University Press, 2015; The Service Porch (Letter Machine Editions, 2016) and consent not to be a single being (Duke University Press, 2017, 2018). Moten is also co-author, with Stefano Harney, of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2013) and, with Wu Tsang, of Who touched me? (If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to be Part of Your Revolution, 2016). He works in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University.


ARTHUR JAFA is an artist, filmmaker, cinematographer, and TNEG (motion picture studio) co-founder. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and currently resides in Los Angeles. Renowned for his cinematography on Julie Dash’s pioneering film Daughters of the Dust (1991), Jafa, also the film’s co-producer, put into practice techniques he had long been theorizing. “Black Visual Intonation” is but one of his radical notions about re-conceptualizing film. He is the director of Slowly This (1995), Tree (1999), Deshotten 1.0 (2009), APEX (2013) and Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016). Jafa was the director of photography on Spike Lee’s Crooklyn (1994), Isaac Julien’s Darker Shade of Black (1994), A Litany for Survival (1995), Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson’s biographical film on the late Audre Lorde, John Akomfrah’s Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993), a cinematographer for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Manthia Diawara’s Rouch in Reverse (2000), Nefertite Nguvu’s In the Morning (2014), shot second unit on Ava DuVernay’s Selma (2014) and was the director of photography for Solange’s music videos Don’t Touch My Hair and Cranes in the Sky (both 2016). In 2017, along with TNEG, Jafa conceived, shot and edited the music video for JAY-Z’s 4:44, the title track from his newest album. Dreams are Colder Than Death, a documentary directed and shot by Jafa to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, garnered acclaim at the LA Film Festival, NY Film Festival and Black Star Film Festival where it won Best Documentary. His writing on black cultural politics has appeared in various publications such as Black Popular Cultureand Everything but the Burden, among others. He is represented in celebrated private and public collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The High Museum, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, The Museum of Fine Art in Boston, the Stedelijk Museum, the Perez Art Museum in Miami, and the Los Ange