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.
She is currently focused on a second book project, tentatively entitled Billie’s Bent Elbow: The Standard as Revolutionary Intoxication. It is a response to praxes—including leftist and black feminist love-politics, hyper-relationality, and empathetic scholarship—that appeal to “eternal values” of imagined futures. She suggests that such frameworks arrive too soon, and lack the coevality necessary for truly transformational practice in thought. Again, she looks to black music, and especially jazz, to provide an anchor for these formulations.
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.