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The Blackness of Physics: Abstract Embodiment and A Van Jordan's Quantum Lyrics

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Abstract:

In both popular and academic Western discourses on knowledge, epistemologies of science are often assumed to be transcendent and objective, and therefore the most reliable and beneficial. On the opposite end of the spectrum, academic disciplines such as Women's Studies, Queer Studies and Black Studies are characterized by their detractors as virtually useless because they are too subjective, parochial, and fail to transcend social identities to embrace a common vision of "humanity".

In recent years, many scholars in the Humanities have started engage with scientific discourses, the most popular being theoretical particle physics, or quantum physics. The attraction seems obvious: while the origin of physics is grounded in the practice of "objective" observation leading to theorization, quantum physics is currently in a crisis--awash with theories that can neither be wholly proven nor disproven.

"The Blackness of Physics" performs an epistemological encounter between physics and Black Studies to argue that the failure to master the particular affects seemingly unlike epistemologies in very similar ways. While it is impossible to attempt a presentation of thee two seemingly disparate disciplines in a matter of minutes, this paper will in fact begin by arguing that it is a lack of particular, subjective knowledges in popular lay-reader discourses in physics (written by physicists, such as Sean Carroll's From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos and Paul Halpern's The Pursuit of Destiny) that creates troubling epistemological gaps in their creation of the "universal", "transcendent" or "objective". In like kind, I assert that the texts that still dominate classroom canons for African American and African Diaspora Studies in the U.S. (Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s The Signifying Monkey, Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic and Brent Edwards' The Practice of Diaspora) while equally brilliant, make a similar error by assuming what I call a "Middle Passage Epistemology" to interpellate any and all forms of black identities across a vast and diverse diaspora.

My paper presentation will finish with a discussion of African American poet A Van Jordan's most recent collection, Quantum Lyrics to show how Jordan's seemingly counter-intuitive interpellation of physics through embodiment can both quickly indicate and even "correct" the epistemological gaps that occur in both the physics and Black Diaspora discourses specified above. More specifically, I argue that Jordan's deployment of "embodiment" at the intersection of two seemingly different epistemologies can provide a dialogic engagement that, while not transcendent can nonetheless speak to aspects of the particular and general to allow a more encompassing and diverse set of knowledges, vantage points and insights for each respective narrative of knowledge.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509658_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Wright, Michelle. "The Blackness of Physics: Abstract Embodiment and A Van Jordan's Quantum Lyrics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509658_index.html>

APA Citation:

Wright, M. M. "The Blackness of Physics: Abstract Embodiment and A Van Jordan's Quantum Lyrics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509658_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: In both popular and academic Western discourses on knowledge, epistemologies of science are often assumed to be transcendent and objective, and therefore the most reliable and beneficial. On the opposite end of the spectrum, academic disciplines such as Women's Studies, Queer Studies and Black Studies are characterized by their detractors as virtually useless because they are too subjective, parochial, and fail to transcend social identities to embrace a common vision of "humanity".

In recent years, many scholars in the Humanities have started engage with scientific discourses, the most popular being theoretical particle physics, or quantum physics. The attraction seems obvious: while the origin of physics is grounded in the practice of "objective" observation leading to theorization, quantum physics is currently in a crisis--awash with theories that can neither be wholly proven nor disproven.

"The Blackness of Physics" performs an epistemological encounter between physics and Black Studies to argue that the failure to master the particular affects seemingly unlike epistemologies in very similar ways. While it is impossible to attempt a presentation of thee two seemingly disparate disciplines in a matter of minutes, this paper will in fact begin by arguing that it is a lack of particular, subjective knowledges in popular lay-reader discourses in physics (written by physicists, such as Sean Carroll's From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos and Paul Halpern's The Pursuit of Destiny) that creates troubling epistemological gaps in their creation of the "universal", "transcendent" or "objective". In like kind, I assert that the texts that still dominate classroom canons for African American and African Diaspora Studies in the U.S. (Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s The Signifying Monkey, Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic and Brent Edwards' The Practice of Diaspora) while equally brilliant, make a similar error by assuming what I call a "Middle Passage Epistemology" to interpellate any and all forms of black identities across a vast and diverse diaspora.

My paper presentation will finish with a discussion of African American poet A Van Jordan's most recent collection, Quantum Lyrics to show how Jordan's seemingly counter-intuitive interpellation of physics through embodiment can both quickly indicate and even "correct" the epistemological gaps that occur in both the physics and Black Diaspora discourses specified above. More specifically, I argue that Jordan's deployment of "embodiment" at the intersection of two seemingly different epistemologies can provide a dialogic engagement that, while not transcendent can nonetheless speak to aspects of the particular and general to allow a more encompassing and diverse set of knowledges, vantage points and insights for each respective narrative of knowledge.


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