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Licia’s Lectures on Nothing

Moten, Fred

And God said let there be a little light: and there was this little light of nonbelonging, Lucecita and her “Génesis.” Her light is given brightest in an incoherence she bears. It’s not that Lucecita can’t but that no one can be the voice of the nation. Having already shown how the nation can’t have a mother, Licia Fiol-Matta shows us that the nation can’t have a voice, either. Women, in being continually enjoined to do the impossible, are irreducible to that imposition, which is why and how they carry the extranational flavor and desire of the nation’s refusal, its nonperformance. Licia allows us to hear Lucecita’s perfectly deviant moral perfectionism (the truth; the objective account of the good life which is, eventually, crystallized into a sense of the absolute necessity of freedom): I have only one weakness / which I share with all my might / I must be free. I want to be perfect. I am not pro-independence, I am not a nationalist, I am nothing. The only thing you can’t allow is to have your freedom taken from you because then you become nothing. I must be free. I desire freedom. I want to enjoy freedom. I have a taste for liberty. I can taste it. I can feel it in my mouth. Freedom is very sweet. The mouthfeel of freedom. Evangelical perfectionism, neither identification nor plenitude, but truth in transport, suspension, via signal not symbol, having refused the readily legible.

There is a discourse on nothing, on nothingness and nowhere, with which Licia begins. Is the lyrical content of “Génesis” really lugubrious? What about that little drum figure, that husky-voiced intro to a bombast of strings and woodwinds? Isn’t it the music and not the words that threaten too sweetly to overwhelm. What would it be for nothing to be left on earth? This pop-zen attitude hit the English-speaking world a couple of years later with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” also echoing a convergence that had already occurred in Don Cherry’s 1970 Mu, re-echoed a few years later in Billy Preston’s “Nothing from Nothing.” But “the nowhere that is Puerto Rico” is where it all begins, remaining special, as it were, in the manmade persistence of the storm. What is the nature of this sub-national, anti- and ante-national, international nowhere? If we consider the residual insurgency of the historical irrelevents, as Zbigniew Brzenski calls them, which Greil Marus famously recites in his history of punk music, Lipstrick Traces, then Lucecita is a punk artist, as much as The Slits, in being more + less than a “great woman singer.” More precisely, she exemplifies that proto-punk thing that constituted the insurgency that punk came along to mourn in its recrudescent whiteness. This is almost like the historical transition and loss of the lower east side, which will have already occurred by the mid-seventies, if you’ll forgive that weird sleight of hand with tense and case, a subjunctivity already buried. What was the mood of the times? The loss will have occurred long ago. If it occurs, the loss will have occurred long ago.

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November 13, 2019