So much has happened. This is the point The New Yorker‘s Hilton Als makes in his essay “Prince, Cecil Taylor, and Beyoncé’s Shape-Shifting Black Body,” my read for the week. (A close second is Questlove’s remembrance of Prince in Rolling Stone.) All I can do is quote this. About Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” Als writes:
Toward the end of the film, as the singer moves further back into the past and examines her roots, we see any number of sharply dressed women sitting in the natural world, talking among themselves. This will remind readers of that extraordinary scene in ‘Beloved,’ when the elder, Baby Suggs, commands those who have gathered in a clearing to love their hands, themselves—because if they don’t, who will? While that sentiment is clear in Beyoncé’s film—she includes an audio clip of Malcolm X talking about how black women are the least defended in the world—it’s Butler’s fantastic evocation of the history of black women being unloved and somehow finding a way that is the spiritual source of ‘Lemonade.’ To live, the bright, resourceful heroines of Butler’s fiction must shape-shift to fit into various societies.
I often talk in classes about the voices that shape our vision of the world; I often encourage students to determine just who those voices belong to for them. Here Als moves seamlessly from Beyoncé to Toni Morrison—unnamed, but Beloved says it all—to Malcolm X to Octavia Butler. He’s already covered the “titanic pianist” Cecil Taylor, pictured above, and Prince, whose end remains unregistered because he “never ended anything.” (Als also issues this sharp critique of the words words words that have flowed following Prince’s death: “the avalanche of words marking his passing felt, for the most part, like dead leaves being blown about by the force of his ever-shifting continuum, which continues.”) So many visionaries shape Als worldview. In this essay he finds his own voice among theirs, in conversation about bodies and spirits, love and unlove. Go read.