Stanklove: The Erotic Architecture of Black Southern Feeling (Some Preliminary Thoughts)

newsouthnegress:

I am coming out of ten years of winter, and I am writing about love this summer.

what does love look like?

love looks like…you.

what does love feel like?

love feels like…this.

what does love smell like?

love smells like…us.

The opening dialogue for Outkast’s “Stankonia (Stanklove),” from the duo’s 2000 album by the same name, Stankonia, asks some fundamental questions about love, attempting to concretize the abstraction with which we are perhaps the most obsessed in late modernity. These questions draw on the seemingly simple logic of the senses–sight, touch, smell–to engage love in a tangible way and also to highlight the role of our basic perceptual faculties in ascertaining what love is and whether or not it exists in a particular time and space. 

Southerners and black folks are often constructed as especially given to the senses, and therefore southern black folks would seem to have an intersecting abundance of regional and racial sensory articulation. A southern scholar once argued that mid-century poor southern black folks’ lack of contact with middle class life gave them an especial freedom of articulation that they would inevitably lose once they climbed the class ladder. In the intraracial North-South dichotomy–by which I mean the “everywhere else”-South dichotomy–deployed in popular culture, southerners’ expressiveness and proximity to nature is contrasted with their counterparts’ inability to access the senses in sterile high-rise projects. While I reject these notions as essentialist constructions perpetuated by white folks and the black elite in problematical and dichotomizing ways, the complex and differentiated sensory nature of black southern cultural production is undeniable. The ecstatic quality of religiosity, the performativeness of black southern adornment (gold teeth? marcel curls? fingerwaves??? fried chicken? orange gators???? church. hats.), church singing, dancing, the focus on the earth and the natural world, and the varied, bass-laden sounds of the Dirty South signify a particular attention to the senses that undergirds everyday experiences of abstract concepts–freedom, faith, and love being amongst them. 

I think about this stanklove as a black southern woman, reflecting on the radical work it takes to love another person while black, and while woman, and while southern, and while southern and black and woman. The significant hate we are taught as southerners, rooted in religiosity, disconnects us from our senses in some fundamental ways. To reconnect with those senses, our bodies, is a radical act of stanklove resistance. Similarly, the construction of black sexuality as always already deviant has, over generations, given rise to a discourse that alienates black folks from their senses, their bodies, and therefore, in the stanklove theorization, from love. As black women in particular, when violence is visited upon our bodies, we are lectured about how our bodies have attracted the violence, trapping us in a fabricated corporeal curse. The intersection of race, gender, and regional religiosity and sexual mores alienates us from love. Stanklove is a rejection of these traps. 

I want to think about how a particular regionalized and racialized–a black southern–attention to sensory experience and affect constitute the architecture of black southern feeling. By black southern feeling I mean the particular structures of feeling, as Raymond Williams calls it, that emerge from the experience of being black and southern. I have written elsewhere about the worldview, the epistemology, that emerges from the intersection of race and region for black folks, but I turn now to the feeling structures that being black and southern. That is, how do black southerners commit feeling and relate feeling to theory and experience?

Outkast has a priori invented a kind of love to capture the way black southerners do and experience love. By titling a song about the sensory and erotic dimensions of love “Stankonia”–again, the title of the album–Outkast links the entire contents of the album–a broad-sweeping set of sensory experiences in itself–to this particular kind of love they are bringing us, a stanklove. Further, “stanklove” appears as a compound word, suggesting that stank does not simply modify love as an adjective. Instead, “stanklove,” is a particular kind of love, rooted in black southern feeling.

Stanklove is a love that constantly returns to itself, that replenishes its own abundance through affirmation in a world that denies its existence. The love in the dialogue is constantly referencing itself in the space of the interaction. Love looks like the other person, love feels like a particular feeling one inspires in another, presumably through some action, and love smells like both persons. This love is built and constructed out of these and other senses, and it surrounds people with a set of powerful mirrors that reflect them and repel hate. It is this love we seek and create in and out of the perpetual resistance that is our humanity.

I am coming out of ten years of winter, and I am writing about love this summer. 

The South beckoned me, so that I might know and understand this love truly.

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