This audio interview between Joohyun Kim and Che Gossett is part of the Housework at Chapterhouse series, a conversation between friends and with the history of this space. Housework is work undervalued, invisible, unpaid. It is classed, raced and gendered. It is also the work that allows life, it is “reproductive.” It is intimate. It’s necessary. It’s weird. It has been precarious. This is the kind of work we want to recognize.
Chapter and Verse was a series by Ryan Eckes and Stan Mir that ran for nine years at Chapterhouse and supported young writers and established voices. It supported us. There was something expansive and generous about this room that operated outside funding and institutions. We want to keep and expand that spirit. The transcription of this conversation was completed by Colette Arand.
Joohyun Kim: So there’s such a strong sense of flow between disciplines and periods of time, registers of thinking in your writing and your research, and you really show your conversities with black and trans archivists, scientists, historians, poets, activists. Your intellectual work really seems to embody the archive as you peer into it. Can you talk about how you came to do the kind of scholarship and activism you’re doing now? How did you end up doing Black Studies, Animal Studies, Critical Race Studies, Queer and Trans Studies, archival research, social media and activism all at once? And when did you begin considering yourself a scholar?
Che Gossett: That’s a great question, it’s so capacious. So thank you for that, and thank you for having me. Maybe I’ll kind of disentangle some of that. In terms of my most recent interests, I got really into thinking about blackness and animality in some ways after I went on a delegation to Palestine in 2014 of archivists and librarians, and reading Fanon, and also reading queer of color critical theory around questions of thingliness, which felt tied up with animality. Mel Chen’s book, Animacies, was really influential for me for a bunch of different reasons. He talks about animacy as a continuum and how the dyad of animate versus the inanimate has been used as part of a racial and colonial project. So we see that from everything from Hegel to the new object-oriented ontology that is claiming animate life for inert, so-called inert objects, but doing it with the backdrop of a colonial history that is unacknowledged. Where the last time people said that objects were alive, it was called animism and they were indigenous people. I think about the relationship between personhood, objecthood, subjecthood and how that also relates to questions of race and animalization became something that Fanon activated for me. I had a discomfort with a critical Animal Studies or history of Animal Studies that really is unreflective about whiteness and unreflective about anti-blackness. My work responds to that and tries to intervene in that, and to take black thought really seriously. So to say, how is it that blackness has been positioned ontologically outside of the category of the human so that there’s a human/black binary that precedes or is parallel to the human/animal binary, but what does the human/animal binary mean when to be human is to be white and to be able-bodied and to be neuronormative, etc. To think through how that proximity to animality changes the question of the human/animal binary and how something like abolition, which grows out of the black freedom struggle, is a way or a lens or a sight through which to approach these questions, not only as an object of study, but also as an object of struggle. So I guess I would say that what weaves a lot of this together is an appreciation for black thought and its political power, really, and also being involved in social activist movements that would shape how I thought about things.