I’m Feelin Myself: Review of Feelin’: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought
Author: Brittany Rogers
March 27, 2023
“Here, I will talk about our way of knowing: my mama, my cousins, the way alla-us know that we know what we know—Judd, p.31
Feelin’: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought by Bettina Judd (Northwestern University Press, 2022) is the text that I needed as a teenager, navigating my identity, sexuality, and all the complications of moving out of Black girlhood and into Black womanhood. Feelin’ is the book I needed when I went to a college 45 minutes away from my very Black hometown, and, for the first time, had to navigate the perceptions of white teachers and employers, who could determine my success or failure based on my ‘attitude.’ Most importantly, Feelin’ is the guide that I need now that I am a grown woman working to unlearn the ways I was taught to deny myself the humanity of sitting in my feelings.
As described in the introduction “Feel Me,” this project affirms the validity of Black women’s creative practices by arguing that the interior life and lived experience of Black women becomes a source of knowledge that is used in our art.
As described in the introduction “Feel Me,” this project affirms the validity of Black women’s creative practices by arguing that the interior life and lived experience of Black women becomes a source of knowledge that is used in our art. “Feel Me” does the work of grounding the reader and making clear the priorities of this text. Judd connects her theory of Feelin’ with the existing works of Black Academics, specifically Black Feminists, noting that the project asks the reader to “think and feel again, not toward a mythical past of better relationships to knowledge, but again, in the sense of repetition, ritual to remind ourselves, that we always do feel, and thus, thinking, could never be done without feeling it” before challenging us to wonder what lessons we would gain if we honored the knowledge of our interior (p.12).
Once the premise of Judd’s critical theory is made clear, she goes on to outline the methodologies, structural framework, and intended audience of the text. Judd takes care to define “feeling” according to standard english, then layers that definition with “feelin” as it is used in AAVE to emphasize her assertion that “feelin” is not just about a universal description of sensation, but rather a “holistic sensory experiences as knowledge” (p.9). This distinction is crucial, as it sets the foundation for our ability to experience sensations such as rage, grief, or pleasure as the ability to receive sacred knowledge about ourselves. I also appreciate Judd’s plain acknowledgment of the distance that overly academic writing can create between scholarly texts and their intended audiences, as well as her choice to follow the “rich legacy” of Black women intellectuals by using methods that blend the scholarly and familiar (p.19).
Her use of musical playlists, QR codes, charts, graphs, erasures, video poems, portraiture, archives, and visual art offer a way to go beyond the intellectualism of the text and experience the validity of this lens in the spirit, soul, and body.
In this same spirit of transparency, Judd offers that while she is expected to employ ‘scholarly’ language under the constraints that institutions (and capitalism) place on writers who are professionalized in academia, she also weaves in work across multiple disciplines, including “poetry, narrative, image, video, and sound ” as a means of connecting with the reader, pushing the boundaries of theoretical discourse, and proving that the creative work of Black women is just as credible as the scholarly (p. 21). In her words “more than understand, I want you [reader] to feel me (Judd, p. 21). Indeed, Judd’s ability to incorporate multiple modalities into each section of the text while maintaining a critical lens is masterful. Her use of musical playlists, QR codes, charts, graphs, erasures, video poems, portraiture, archives, and visual art offer a way to go beyond the intellectualism of the text and experience the validity of this lens in the spirit, soul, and body.
Moreover, while each section is revelatory and distinct in its offerings, the collection as a whole manages to be in continuous conversation with itself, which further reinforces the truth and necessity of Judd’s critical lens.
After the introduction, Feelin’ is broken into five chapters and a closing note: A Black Study in Grief:: Salish Sea; Lucille Clifton’s Anthology of Joy; Ecstatic Vocal Practice; Shame and the Visual Field of Black Motherhood; Toward a Methodology of Anger; The End: Everything in the Ocean. Early in the text, Judd proclaims that “Feelin’s central argument is founded on the idea that art is experience” (p. 23); each chapter in this text supports this claim by examining the art of Black women and putting it in conversation with the sensations and emotions that preceded the production of the selected art. These chapters also reflect on the existing scholarship and proceeding histories of their subject, which further legitimizes the use of creative practice as supporting data. Moreover, while each section is revelatory and distinct in its offerings, the collection as a whole manages to be in continuous conversation with itself, which further reinforces the truth and necessity of Judd’s critical lens.
One of the major strengths of this text is the intentionality in her pairings of text and creative modalities; the creative modality is often a mirror of the content being discussed. For example, the first chapter grapples with the complexity of processing grief when Black grief is all-encompassing and we live in a world that never stops for our sadness; when “we keep dying and I /Don’t know what to do but bury our dead” (Judd, p. 50). In the suite of poems that follows, Judd meditates on grief through the subject of Tahlequah, an orca who “mourned her freshly born and dead baby calf by carrying its corpse for seventeen days” (p.38).
When the reader follows the QR code on page 37, they are led to a visual meditation, in which Judd recites these poems while the readers view a montage of images that transition between various bodies of water, marine life, snippets of life above the sea: homes, portraits, newspaper headlines. In addition to the poem, the audio also includes the sound of rushing water, voicemails from loved ones, and echoes of wailing. When the reader returns to the page, they then engage with the written version of this suite. This crown of 18 sonnets literally embodies being engulfed in sorrow; the text starts small, then swells larger and larger- like the wail of an orca, or a person; like waves of the ocean, or waves of grief.
Judd asserts that ecstatic vocal practice operates on levels that are sacred and sacral, and more specifically equates this practice to sacred sex (p. 95).
Another example of Judd’s care and attention to detail can be found in the third chapter, which explores the relationship between the creative practice of singing—really, sanging— and the subsequent ecstasy that it causes in the body of the singer and their audience. Judd asserts that ecstatic vocal practice operates on levels that are sacred and sacral, and more specifically equates this practice to sacred sex (p. 95). In her pairing of sacred and sexual, she analyzes the vocal and songwriting techniques of several Black women artists who straddle the line between gospel and secular. To accompany this chapter, Judd created a Spotify playlist titled “Ecstacy.” This playlist offers three hours of curated vocals and expands beyond artists such as Aretha Franklin, Avery Sunshine, and Jill Scott who are cited in the text to include texts by artists such as Marvin Gaye, Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, and Chaka Khan. Listening to the playlist as I moved through that chapter truly added a bodily experience that I could not have achieved through the text alone; from exaltation to sensuous, to erotic, to adoration, Judd’s curation made me feel the co-mingling of sexual and spiritual, of emotion and sensation.
As I read, the articulation of the deliberate flattening and stereotyping of Black women’s anger really began to sit with me; how many times had I been rightfully offended, but forced to suppress that emotion for the sake of not being labeled as the “angry Black women” in a space?
Although the entirety of Feelin’: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought was rigorous, insightful, and affirming, it was the final chapter that presented the greatest challenge to my internal framework. Like most Black femmes, my “home training” discouraged and in some instances punished outward expressions of displeasure. I was told to: “fix my face”; “never let them see you sweat”; “don’t let them feel like they own you”. Judd’s description of anger as “ritual in practice…a choice, a birthright, and a signal that there is more to know (p.158, 160) was at odds with everything I internalized as a child. As I read, the articulation of the deliberate flattening and stereotyping of Black women’s anger really began to sit with me; how many times had I been rightfully offended, but forced to suppress that emotion for the sake of not being labeled as the “angry Black women” in a space?
In this chapter, Judd examines two texts of rage using a methodology of anger: Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn”(1964), and her own book of poetry, Patient (2014). Although I have heard Nina Simone’s infamous tune countless times, I had never stopped to reflect on the palpable anger that radiates from Simone’s voice. Likewise, when I read Patient several years ago, I felt a kinship with the text due to my own negative experiences navigating the medical industry, but I was unable to pause and sit with the underlying emotion it incited. As Judd outlined the inciting rage that resulted in the production of these creative works, it put into perspective the necessity of cultivating an attentiveness to anger as an instructive emotion, capable of giving knowledge and creating a pathway of inquiry that extends beyond the initial sense of fury.
However, Judd does not shy away from acknowledging that there may be “costs” for the expression of our anger; she illustrates this by using the methodology of anger to “ trace the fatal incident between Sandra Bland and officer Brian Encinia, using poetry as a creative mechanism to re-render the transcript of that incident” (p. 170). Her choice to do so was daring, but also illuminating. Engaging with the audio/visual poem “On or About July 10, 2015 for Sandra Bland” (see QR code on page 170) made me furious all over again. I was transported in my body to 2015, when I heard the news about Bland’s death; the video forced me to meditate on how this very normal drive became fatal. I remembered that many people critiqued Bland’s rational reaction to being targeted and harassed, and asked why she couldn’t just be quiet. Judd’s transcript and methodology helped me connect the constant suppression of my feelings with my quest for safety, and reminded me that it was not Bland’s anger which caused her death- it was “white supremacist and sexist hatred” (p. 170).
This revelation reminded me to trust my body‘s ability to rightly assess the harms and injustices that have been done to me as an individual and to me as a collective. Judd’s clear articulation of this methodology also allowed me to identify other texts that are doing the work of subverting the stigma of the Sapphire, “angry Black woman” trope. In the same vein as “Mississippi Goddamn” (Simone, 1964), contemporary Black women rappers, such as Megan Thee Stallion and Flo Milli have recorded anthems about their anger. Poetic texts such as Concentrate by Courtney Faye Taylor (2022) and Gumbo Yaya by Aurelle Marie (2021) are incited by the righteous anger of black femmes and act as a communal space of reckoning and reimagining.
I exit this reading of Feelin’: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought, armed with new ways of engaging my interior self and a lens that allows me to interrogate, honor, and learn from my feelings. I am excited about the modes of creation that will be made possible for Black women as a result of this text and recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how to better express “how they know what they know what they know”.
- Excerpts with permission from Northwestern University Press.
- Copyright © 2023 by Northwestern University. Published 2023 by Northwestern
University Press. All rights reserved.
- Judd, B. (2022). Feelin’: Creative Practice, pleasure, and Black Feminist thought. Northwestern University Press.