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Homesick Blues: Excavating Crooked Intimacies in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Jook Joints

Abstract

This article traverses the bittersweet antagonisms of home and disorienting counter-privates inhabited by Black laborers during the decades following U.S. Reconstruction. I chart the inception of modern African American homes and the disorderly stages that queered homeliness. Drawing from snippets of oral history, blues lyrics, archival documents, and photographs, I excavate the material and spatial fabric of Black homes and their unruly counterparts—jook houses. This article facilitates a cross-disciplinary engagement with affect theory, queer theory, and ontological approaches to materiality in an attempt to understand how jook atmospheres generated disruptive intimacies. In doing so, this article examines how a coalescence of crooked bodies and homesick feelings threatened to throw the order of home into chaos. The assemblage of performers and materials that once resided in these rural spaces crafts a focal point for understanding the transformative possibilities of pleasure erupting in queer Black histories.

Extracto

El presente artículo recorre los antagonismos agridulces del hogar y los “counter-privates” desorientadores habitados por trabajadores Negros durante las décadas que siguen a la Reconstrucción de Estados Unidos. Trazo el comienzo de los modernos hogares Afroamericanos y las desordenadas etapas que frustraron el sosiego. Partiendo de fragmentos de historia oral, letras de blues, documentos de archivo y fotografías, excavo el tejido material y espacial de los hogares Negros y de sus rebeldes contrapartes—jook houses. El presente artículo facilita un compromiso transversal con la teoría del afecto, la teoría “queer” y enfoques ontológicos de la materialidad en un intento de comprender cómo las atmósferas “jook” generaron intimidades desviadas. Al hacer esto, el presente artículo examina como una coalescencia de cuerpos tortuosos y sentimientos nostálgicos amenazó con arrojar al caos el orden del hogar. El ensamblaje de intérpretes y materiales desviados que una vez residieron en estos espacios rurales crea un punto focal para comprender las posibilidades transformadoras del placer que brota de las historias Negras raras.

Résumé

Cet article parcourt les antagonismes doux-amers de la maison et désoriente les espaces contre-privés habités par des ouvriers Noirs pendant les décennies suivant la Reconstruction américaine. J’ai suivi la création des maisons afro-américaine modernes et les étapes désordonnées qui ont détruit la laideur. À partir de bribes d’histoires orales, de paroles de blues, de documents d’archives et de photographies, j’ai effectué des fouilles du matériel et du tissu spatial des maisons des Noirs et de leurs équivalents turbulents, les jook houses. Cet article permet une mission pluridisciplinaire avec la théorie des affects, la théorie queer et les approches ontologiques de la matérialité pour tenter de comprendre comment les atmosphères de ces établissements générait des intimités déviantes. Ce faisant, cet article examine comment une coalescence des corps déformés et de sentiments de mal du pays menaçait de plonger l’ordre de la maison dans le chaos. L’assemblage des artistes déviants et des matériaux, qui a autrefois résidé dans ces espaces ruraux, élabore un point focal pour comprendre les possibilités transformatrices du plaisir qui apparaissent dans les histoires des Noirs queers.

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Notes

  1. “Black” and “Blackness” are capitalized throughout the text to indicate the ubiquitously political valences of race, particularly in the context of late 19th-century racial subjugation. The term “white” is not capitalized in an attempt to disrupt vectors of white privilege. Ethnoracial identities are presented as contingent, heterogeneous, and intersectional.

  2. Margot Weiss uses BDSM and SM interchangeably to describe bondage, domination/submission, pain play, power play, leather sex, role playing, and fetishes (Weiss 2011).

  3. Saartjie Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus,” was brought to Europe from South Africa in 1810 and was displayed as a spectacle of grotesque sexual primitiveness (Somerville 1994).

  4. One-story rectangular buildings roughly 14 × 64 ft. in dimension, divided into 12 × 14 ft. rooms with small porches (Vlach 1986).

  5. Platform-framed houses with a front room (13 × 15 ft.) and one or two rear rooms (each measuring approximately 15 × 10 ft.). Evidence suggests poorer houses lacked rear rooms, while some stores and public buildings included three rear rooms (Reinberger 2003).

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Acknowledgments:

I am very grateful to Christopher C. Fennell for his generous guidance in all aspects of my research and, in particular, his feedback and comments on this paper. I also thank Timothy R, Pauketat for his continued support and direction. I thank Martin F. Manalansan and Virginia R. Dominguez for their wisdom, thoughtful advice, and theoretical inspiration. I thank William White for inviting me to participate in this thematic issue and for graciously organizing the structural dimensions in his editorial capacity. I express many thanks to Anna Agbe-Davies, Annelise Morris, and Rebecca Schumann for their comments on and edits of this article. Finally, I would like to thank the National Science Foundation––Graduate Research Fellowship Program, University of Illinois Graduate College Distinguished Fellowship, and the University of Illinois Department of Anthropology for funding my research.

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Arjona, J.M. Homesick Blues: Excavating Crooked Intimacies in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Jook Joints. Hist Arch 51, 43–59 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-017-0003-9

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Keywords

  • African American archaeology
  • sexuality
  • queer materiality
  • affect