Afternoon with Fred Moten is a limited Brittle Paper series. Catch up on the story behind these unusual class notes @ Afternoon with Fred Moten Note # 1

Note # 2

A man stopped them on their way from the river. He said he wanted to read them a poem he had written himself. They interrupted him. They said they were in a hurry. They said it was rude of him to stop them just like that. Yet they did not say they were not in the mood for some kind of spectacle. If nothing else, it could distract the sun from taking an all too keen interest in their tired bodies. So they waited. The poet cleared his throat.  But no sound came. His face twitched. His bushy brows fluttered. His stomach crunched. A fly buzzed by and perched on his upper lip. For a moment the onlookers thought the fly was the poet’s puppet. A puppet master and a fly. What a show! They waited for the fly to sing like flies do. But the fly simply buzzed on. Taking the poet’s open mouth as an open invitation, the fly lost itself in the deep silence of his esophagus.

At this point, it became clear that the problem was not that the poet was silent but that he was silent in spite of a widely gaping mouth. The spectators could not leave, trapped in expectation. The poet would not speak, caught in the grips of potentiality. At least, that was how a man in the crowd later explained what happened. He had been reading the writings of one Avicenna, a great Persian philosopher who  lived in the 12th century. Avicenna was a doctor, so he wrote medical books. But he was also a philosopher, so he thought about a lot of things. Things like Aristotle and his concept of potentiality or can we say possibility without fulfillment? Anyway, like any good student, Avicenna kinda outstripped Aristotle and came up with the idea of “perfect potentiality.” He chose as its sublime example “the figure of the scribe in the moment in which he does not write.” But it could as well be the image of a poet caught in the threshold of speech and silence.