Carrie Mae Weems’ 1995-1996 installation “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried,” consists of 34 photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries. The installation provides an opportunity to meditate on the discourses of woundedness that permeate much thinking on race, affect, and masochism while also allowing us to theorize brown jouissance. Following Jacques Lacan, Amber Jamilla Musser takes jouissance to be the experience of being a body, what Nestor Braunstein describes as “positivity, [...] ‘something’ lived by a body when pleasure stops being pleasure. It is a plus, a sensation that is beyond pleasure.” This lecture dwells on jouissance to retain the ambivalence of emotion that is provoked by Weems' invocation of tears. Brown jouissance offers insight into thinking about this opacity as strategic, masochistic, and deeply connected to the flesh. Further, brown jouissance is not just adding race to Lacan’s concept, as Musser argues in her reading of Weems' installation. It enables a rethinking of the relationship between psychoanalysis, femininity, and race.
Amber Jamilla Musser is Assistant Professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research is at the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality studies. She has published widely on race and critical theory, queer femininities and race, race and sexuality, and queer of color critique. Her book Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (NYU Press, 2014) uses masochism as a lens to theorize different felt relationships to power. Her current research project, "Brown Jouissance: Feminine Imaginings," uses women of color's aesthetic labors to re-imagine epistemologies of sexuality so that they center brown femininity.