Breath and Precarity

Breath and Precarity

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Author: Nathaniel Mackey

Publisher: Three Count Pour / selva oscura press (2021)

"If 'I can't breathe' seems to have become the awful refrain of the age, a repeated corroboration of expendability and helplessness, Mackey reminds us that black culture has long been imbued with a profound sense of the fragility of life. The 'radical pneumaticism' of black music in which saxophonists such as Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins extravagantly foreground the mechanics of their breathing as they play, as though to 'insist upon and belabor' the indispensability of respiration is not only an aesthetics but also a political commentary on social precarity. Compact and muted as it may be, how can Mackey's lecture be described as anything other than breathtaking, when it forces us to 'hover, ' to pause, to wonder at the 'transient boon' of the next breath we're about to take?"

–Brent Hayes Edwards