H. Stallings’s Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures is a “book that one should read as well as feel; hear as much as see, touch and taste; and forsee as well as see” (xvi). It is an ambitious, sensual, and deeply engaging text that traverses black studies, women’s studies, queer theory, and performance studies, taking funk as an analytic and method that challenges the imagined universal applicability of the erotic. Instead, Stallings asks readers to consider the superfreak, sexual magic, and sex work (to name just a few sites the book lingers in) and celebrates “funky erotixxx” or “sacred-profane androgynies” that “create identity and subjectivity anew and alter political and artistic movements” (xii), and centers funk as a theoretical framework that can help us encounter work and sexuality in new and more complex ways. As Stallings notes, the book is about funk—but not about funk music necessarily—instead, it centers on the “etymological triad for funk”: smell, dance and embodiment, and mood. In other words, it treats funk “as a philosophy that usurps the divide between eros (life) and thanatos (death) since it is sustained by otherly human and nonhuman beliefs in the supernatural, afterlife, and reanimation” (3). In Stallings’s hands, funk becomes a critical analytic for examining black erotics as power and liberation, for studying “new sensoriums and ways of being that cannot and do not align with Western traditions of humanism” (11).
The contributors to this forum take up much of what is rich and complex about Stallings’s work, and I want to add one more. I want to underscore the project of writing itself, funking the academic monograph, as central to what Stallings is up to, and to consider what it might mean for black studies and women’s studies to encounter a book that begins with epigraphs from Ralph Ellison and Vanessa Del Rio, a book that tells its readers that if it were possible, it would be “encased in a hard cover made of feathers, cotton, or fur, and printed with embossed letters in deep purple or red on silk paper scented with jasmine, patchouli, Egyptian night, or some other incense ‘real black’ people love” (xvi). This is a book that collapses binaries, that jams disciplinary borders, that is promiscuous with theory and method, and thus imagines not just new forms of black sexual freedoms, but new practices of writing about black erotics.