To trace the mutation of bitchiness from a strategy of feminist disobedience to one of queer disorientation, I offer a line from Nicki Minaj’s “Did it On ‘Em”:
“All these bitches is my sons … if I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ‘em.”
I like how, by channeling phallic swagger as well as detaching a rubber penis from herself in live performances, Minaj castrates, cums, and gives birth: “You’re my seed–I’ll spray you with the germinator.” If Minaj’s name-calling and dick-strutting verges on the misogyny of typical hip-hop, it also deforms the genre’s body language from within, going so far as to parade defecation: “Shitted on ‘em.” A messy and exuberant derailing of the classical body, Minaj’s bitchiness disorients and thrills through a sensationalism that calls to mind the ‘death drop’ of contemporary voguing.
What kind of crazy bitchiness is this? By accelerating collapse, the death drop pushes each vogue dancer’s sashay to its self-annihilating conclusion. This is a defiant performance of death that resonates all too compellingly through disenfranchised bodies of color. A sensation of death that, as in Jasbir Puar’s description of the suicide bomber’s queerness, “brings forth waves of the future into the present.”
If Notley’s Disobedience does the hard work of diagnosis without prescription, of survival through sheer antagonism, today’s voguing invites death as a disorientation of identity politics. The vogue performer’s body takes on a ballistic charge that bypasses the politics of difference reiterated (and redefined) even by the 80’s drag ball culture of Paris is Burning. Instead, the death drop tends to undifferentiate bodies. Its backward descent creates an affect or echo that is sensed rather than signified: we feel, rather than fully comprehend, the death drop’s intensity in our own mortal bodies. In the series of clips above, the counterintuitive drop shocks us repeatedly regardless of identity or context, not to mention the tedium of our necropolitical times.
Such a sensation nevertheless carries with it voguing’s particular social circumstances. The death drop, in this sense, passes on a kind of tactile knowledge: the phenomenon’s emergence is contingent on the categories of race, class, and gender/sexuality that the image at once transmits and defies when it delimits itself, saturating our senses. What the death drop thus challenges is the abstraction and circumscription of bodies that takes place in even our most well-intentioned gestures. As Notley’s poetry suggests through its own obliterative tonal force, the horizon is sacred in that it resists linearity, prediction, and knowability: “I have defined degradation:/Your valuing of present time/above sacred time and its site/in the world’s body.” Instead of relying on the fixations of naming, identity, and representation, any politics to come must exalt the body’s utter porosity and instability as ground…