Part of the texts in this list will help me frame Flamenco as an object of study in order to draw a conceptual sketch of what it may mean to be (of), and know (through) Flamenco’s decolonial possibilities.

Flamenco: not just an aesthetic, not just a musical modality, but also a sociopolitical phenomenon that informs and is itself informed by the regimes of knowledge surrounding it. In recognition that much goes amiss if we forget this dialectic (that Flamenco, however politicized, appropriated, or commodified, is in the first instance an aesthetic form forged of community, marginality, and struggle as well as joy), I aspire to increasingly bridge the gap that I still sense in my thinking between the sociopolitcal realm and the prelinguistic, embodied realm of the body–specially the body in movement. Flamenco’s historical and current place within the discourse of race, nation, and hegemony offers a field of inquiry, an archive, a repository of knowledge whereby this bridging work may attain concreteness. 

Flamenco: historical/social/political phenomenon. Also: song, poetry, and community.

And though it has been branded, rebranded, rejected, appropriated and denigrated in many ways at different historical junctures, something of Flamenco remains irreducibly itself and thus—I believe—can tell us something about the logics of Spanish identity, Europeanness, and more broadly, the state- and race- making mechanisms upon which they rest. 

Flamenco contains traces of an “ante-“ to the colonial moment—a way of embodiment, community, and understanding of non-linear temporalities that remain with us as an ontological possibility at once fugitive—uncapturable—and inescapable—stubbornly and irreducibly part of our thick or multilayered present. This is what I mean when I talk about Flamenco’s decolonial possibilities–and/but, how to contextualize, historicize, and comprehend decoloniality in this register: this is what I hope this list will help me advance.

I try to foreground these possibilities, usually most usefully in the form of a question: how do we attune ourselves (in our scholarship, in our thought, in our livings, in our souls) to that ontological possibility (present in Flamenco), that which our (colonized) ways of knowing/being have not been able to totally erase?

I know and am in and through, and because of, this irreducible, indomitable attunement, but I don’t know how to capture this in words. A somewhat colonialist impulse, to want to capture the uncapturable, to contain it and claim ownership over it by virtue of articulation–even as I interrogate this urge, and as much as I am suspicious of what modalities of knowing and methods of inquiry it responds to, I remind myself of a long genealogy of black radical thought–this, too, is what we do. But how? How? Where is the decolonial way forward responding to this urge?

A compass: Katherine McKittrick’s work: interdisciplinarity as antiracist praxis: “black people have always used interdisciplinary methodologies to explain, explore, and story the world, because thinking and writing and imagining across a range of texts, disciplines, histories, and genres unsettles suffocating and dismal and insular racial logics” (17).

Back to topic, same work: In Dear Science, McKittrick theorizes about how the waveforms through which we experience sonic input, in music specifically, give us an insight into how “reinventing black life is bound up in cognitive schemas that … feel black sound outside normative structures of desire” (164). As she further submits that this desire (that emerges in the grooving to black music—as an always collective act) is black rebellion and reinvention, I can’t help wondering: what if we looked for black rebellion and reinvention in Flamenco? Would we find it? Would we find it in different form, would it teach us something different we have not yet learned about the nature of sound? What would that suggest about black sound? About subjugated knowledges?

The Decolonial Dance Circle

Places to start thinking through these questions (questions of how the embodied, musical and sonic space of relation may creates openings in the episteme, may expose its inner workings, may reveal its limits): 

Fanon’s writings (Wretched) on the “dance circle.” While Fanon remains, to say the least, ambivalent about the role of the dance circle for the wretched of the earth, he nonetheless asserts that the dance circle is a permissive space, that it “protects and empowers.” He defines it as “a pantomime where the exorcism, liberation, and expression of a community are grandiosely and spontaneously played out through shaking of the head, and back and forward thrusts of the body.”

I want to think of this dance circle. Define it maybe a little differently: a dance circle as any space wherein a collective of marginalized, colonized, or otherwise oppressed people create, spontaneously or systematically, musical gatherings in order to enact modes of sociality that, deliberately or not, open up the space for non-normative desires and ways of knowing/being to emerge. In their reverie, these gatherings are neither apolitical nor do they serve to create an imaginary word outside of the very oppression that in some ways is its condition of possibility. This dance circle falls perhaps more neatly into what Laura Harris calls the “aesthetic sociality of blackness”: an improvised political assemblage that resides in the heart of the polity but operates under its ground and on its edge. It is not a re-membering of something that was broken, but an ever-expanding invention. It develops by way of exclusion but it is not exclusionary, particularly since it is continuously subject to legitimated, but always incomplete, exploitation.”

Inhabiting this embodied, sonic space of the dance circle, a familiar duo: the political conditions of a given sociohistorical context, and its mutual constitutiveness with the onto-epistemological order of its moment. Finally, the dance circle instantiates the irreducibly relational nature of knowing (saber) and knowledge (conocimiento): I know, because I know with. Or: insofar as I am, I am withness.

This kind of platitude of course demands that we ask different questions, or that we forge a different relation to inquiry itself. Such as the decolonization of knowledge is, in no small part, simply asking questions differently. What does it mean to ask with the body? Is to know with the body the same as to know with the other? How does subjugated knowledge live on through our bodies? That which only the body knows–how does the body as archive subvert the normative idea of historical knowledge?

More and more, I am driven to a form of inquiry that privileges the sonic, the relational, the musical, and the rhythmic in order to understand the nature of these relations in the context of decolonial thought and praxis. I depart from the assumption that, in the establishment of relation, the knowing subject and the known object cease to be two separate entities, and that that is, in a way, what decolonization is or looks like or feels like.

And I depart from the assumption—which I am only calling “assumption” out of (scholarly) courtesy, for I know it is true, I just don’t know it in words—I depart from the assumption that Flamenco is decolonial in this felt, onto-epistemological way. I return here to Mckittrick/Wynter: I feel emboldened to suggest that, not just in Flamenco, but in the decolonial spaces that coexist with the colonial present, there is, in fact, little difference between the sonic, the musical, and the relational. They’re one phenomenon, indistinct with itself, that which, to return to a previous quote, “is bound up in cognitive schemas that … feel black sound outside normative structures of desire.” What does a study of the blackness of Flamenco reveal about the establishment of those “normative structures of desire”? And about the disciplining entity that does the work of establishing/reinforcing the standard of (ab)normalcy?

The spatiotemporal coordinates of a given disciplining act, institution, or system, inform this work. Different times and places have differentially disciplined the desires that find expression within the amalgamation of aesthetic and stylistic concepts and modalities that “black sound” encompasses. In Foucault’s archeological spirit, the questions I want to ask are not about what styles or modalities or sounds have been relegated to the outside of “normative structures of desire,” but rather in the service of what normativity,  privileging what kind of onto-epistemological structure, and how and why is it possible to still speak about these black sounds given the (almost) all-encompassing reach of (what I am going to lazily call) the colonial episteme?

How and why is it possible still to dance (in) the decolonial dance circle? To be of it?

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007.

Harris, Laura. “What Happened to the Motley Crew?: C. L. R. James, Hélio Oiticica, and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness.” Social Text 1 September 2012; 30 (3 (112)): 49–75.

McKittrick, Katherine. Dear Science and Other Stories. Duke University Press

One comment on “Notes: My Flamenco Sub-List

  • so much here! all good and rich and thoughtful, Inma. It occurs to me in reading this that what you’re already getting at is how subjugated knowledge comes to us in large part through questions, because positivist knowledge isn’t as readily available.

    I’m thinking also of the difference between thinking “the body” and “body” — thinking, that is, about the ways that the constitution of “the body” as separable from mind, say, is itself already a colonial construction. I wonder if Spillers theorization of fleshiness might not be a generative intertext.

    Also, flamenco as object of study, yes, but also, as analytic category and method?

    “lazily call the colonial episteme”: get into the habit of bracketing both “colonial” and “episteme” — what are the relations, operations, organization of world/power, etc. to which they refer in a given context?

    (these comments are in part simply to make notes for us to talk through)

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