Kevin Bell is a critic and theorist of twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature and film, whose work on Black figural production has appeared in such essay collections as Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic; Understanding Blanchot, Understanding Modernism; and The Cambridge Guide to Literary Modernism, as well as numerous journals. Author of Ashes Taken for Fire: Aesthetic Modernism and the Critique of Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), he is at work on an interpretive study of Black experimental writing and cinematography produced since 1966, entitled Drift Velocities: The Aesthetic Curve of Radical Black Film and Literature. He lives in Philadelphia and works as an Associate Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University.
In the urgency of what sounds initially like an auteur’s command, the fictional “Director” of Adrienne Kennedy’s 1973 play-within-a-play, An Evening with Dead Essex, discloses the unnegotiable terms of his own captivity before the phantasmal image.
It is in the frequent repetition of a one-word imperative from the Director—to “flash”—that its operational binding (as the instruction by which to advance photographic images in a slide projector) can be perceived to shred. The demand is at once a managerial spur for his actors to make headway in grasping their subject matter, and an abyssal first step in the momentum of the collective going-under necessitated by its deepest realization.
He wanted to leave nothing out. Given the film image’s powers of simultaneous arrest and dispersal, he may have believed it the surest means of preserving while imparting some measure of the densities and speeds generated across the spectrum of happenings, impasses, and transfigurations that marked what he and a few allies were engineering at San Francisco State that spring of 1967. The lambent play of sound and image might diffuse some of the private intensities driving their rupture of the knowledge-reproduction operations of the University—and might therefore document some slight tremor in the market systems of which it was part.
Excursions into irreconcilable and therefore alluring dimensions of innovative Black writing, filmmaking, and analysis.