Fumi Okiji

Research Expertise and Interest

black study, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, sound and music studies, black feminist theory

Research Description

Fumi Okiji arrived at the academy by way of the London jazz scene in which she took an active part as a vocalist and improvisor. She works across black study, critical theory, and sound and music studies. Her research and teaching looks to black expression for ways to understand modern and contemporary life, which is to say, she explores works and practices for what they can provide by way of social theory. For instance, her book Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford University Press, 2018) is a sustained engagement with Theodor Adorno’s idea concerning the critical potential of art. She proposes that the socio-musical play of jazz is not representative of the individualistic and democratic values, the music is most readily associated with. The book centers blackness as a more appropriate analytic through which to understand its social significance.

Deepening the engagement established in her first book, Okiji's current project, Billie’s Bent Elbow: The Standard as Revolutionary Intoxication, explores the features of a genre of socio-political gathering that does not rely on (non)identity nor on an insistence on a universal project. Drawing from Adorno and Walter Benjamin on aesthetic theory, music, dialectics, mimesis, this interlocution in turn provocative and affirming, she intervenes in key conversations taking place in black theory concerning the (im)possibility of social life and futility of political struggle. Music from Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Nina Simone, among others, not so much provide example as a further area of theoretical resource. By way of this ensemble of thinkers and musicians, her study takes jazz practice and aesthetics as a portal through which one might access a sociality not necessarily led by identity (neither its identitarianism or universal tendencies) but, rather, oriented by moments of communion in which contradictory or divergent positions might be held.

As an ongoing part of her research and teaching, she experiments with approaches to study and writing, drawn from sound practices. She is a member of Le Mardi Gras Listening Collective, a group of friends who, whenever possible, study, listen to music and eat good food together.

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