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Becoming HumanMatter and Meaning in an Antiblack World$
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Zakiyyah Iman Jackson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781479890040

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479890040.001.0001

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Organs of War

Organs of War

Measurement and Ecologies of Dematerialization in the Works of Wangechi Mutu and Audre Lorde

(p.159) 4 Organs of War
Becoming Human

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson

NYU Press

This chapter departs from an exclusive focus on structure, whether it be that of the double-helix or scaled up to the symbolic order, I argue that black female sex(uality) and reproduction are better understood via a framework of emergence and within the context of iterative, intra-active multiscalar systems—biological, psychological, environmental, and cultural. Crucially, Wangechi Mutu’s Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors and Audre Lorde’s TheCancer Journals reveal the stakes of this intra-activity as it pertains to the semio-material history of “the black female body,” reproductive function, and sex(uality) as linchpin and opposable limit of “the human” in scientific taxonomies and medical science, particularly that of Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae and Ernst Haeckel’s highly aesthetic approach to evolutionary theory. Mutu’s art is notable for its constructive reorientation of the theorization of race via a reflexive methodological practice of collage, one that reframes the spectatorial encounter from that of a determinate Kantian linear teleological drama of subjects and objects to that of intra-active processes and indeterminate feedback loops. Thus, this is not a study of a reified object but of an intra-actional field that includes material objects but is not limited to them.

Keywords:   Wangechi Mutu, Audre Lorde, cancer, gynecology, collage, photography, female body, ecology, epigenetics, Ernst Haeckel

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