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"The Dictionary of Dark Matters"

565 pages
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ORGANIZED BY American Artist and Zainab Aliyu
DESIGNED BY Zainab Aliyu (cover in collaboration with American Artist)
EDITED BY Jessica Rajko

CONTRIBUTORS (alphabetically):
American Artist, angus fletcher, brontë velez, Cameron Granger, connor trotter, David Lisbon, Diana Marin, Heather Snyder Quinn, ilona altman, Jessica Rajko, Kevin He, Krystal Maughan, Lauren Gardner, Lauren Monzon, LeAnne Wagner, Lissa Aguilar, Lluvia Nisaye, Makayla Bailey, Makshya Tolbert, Matt Ross, Miranda Shou, Paras Sanghavi, rahel aima, Ryan Patterson, Sara K.R., Sus Labowitz, Tash Nikol Smith, Teresa Snider-Stein, Timur Fattahov, Trevor Tatham, Tristan Sauer, Tyler Yin, Zainab Aliyu

ILLUSTRATORS (alphabetically):
ilona altman, Sus Labowitz, Tash Nikol Smith, Tristan Sauer, Tyler Yin, Zainab Aliyu

Assembled with the support of and Callil Capuozzo

Introduction This is the Dictionary of Dark Matters. During the Summer of 2020, "Dark Matters: On Blackness, Surveillance and the Whiteness of the Screen" was taught by American Artist and Zainab Aliyu (TA) at the School for Poetic Computation. For ten weeks, we stewarded and taught this class over the video platform Zoom. Thirty students convened over and through national borders to study alongside us and with one another. We engaged in intimate practices of unlearning, deep listening and reflection. Most importantly, we studied “under the university,” a framing we borrow from cultural theorist s Fred Moten and Stefano Harney which they call the Undercommons.

The class takes its namesake from Simone Browne's book Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. This critical text winds personal, political and pop-cultural narratives of racial gaze and sousveillance to address the origins of so many recurring dynamics of power that operate through high technology. The readings in our class began with Wendy Hui Kyong Chun's critique of software and ideology's tendencies towards obfuscation, as well as American Artist's Black Gooey Universe and imagining of an unsovereign technology. Over the four sessions that this class has been taught, we have introduced authors to the curriculum such as Jackie Wang, David N. Pellow, Lisa Sun-Hee Park and Ruha Benjamin. Selected work by these authors hold the origins of the interface to account for the continuation of racial capitalism, the debt state, colonialism, the white racial frame, and other global practices that are deeply rooted in the colonial history of the United States.

Dark Matters reminds us about the panoptic models and codes that construct the world we live in, their embedded value systems, as well as the need for our ongoing reckoning. This class has given us intentional time to tend to ourselves as we contend with this predatory state, to study the material while existing within the systems we are learning to name. Together, we studied theory, but theory is nothing without the lived experiences that inform it. The duration of our time together coincided with the COVID -19 pandemic, the ongoing movement for Black Lives (particularly in response to the murder of George Floyd), and the calling out of various academic institutions and places of work (including our own) for their perpetuation of anti-blackness. These issues framed all of our conversations and largely informed our communal ethic of shar ing, creat ing and relat ing with one an other. Through our co-learning, we can better understand how structures are compromised, and we can begin to imagine strategies for future resistance, and what an outside to the structures we participate in might actually look and feel like.

The self-published book you are reading is the culmination of all of that thought. It is a 500+ page (and growing) collaborative people's dictionary written over the course of ten weeks. It is an abundance of poetry, prose, creative writing, personal history and illustration filled with terms we have come across during our time together. For transparency, every voice within the dictionary is uniquely represented with the contributor's preference in typography. By archiving our histories and inserting our human experiences into the critical theories we are learning, we are looking inwardly and actively engaging with the way we move through the world. It feels progressively vital, helping us to not just interrogate the technologies, systems and policies that regulate civil rights, but also inquire about whose bodies remain captive.

— contributed by American Aritst and Zainab Aliyu

American Artist
angus fletcher
brontë velez
Cameron Granger
connor trotter
David Lisbon
Diana Marin
Heather Snyder Quinn
ilona altman*
Jessica Rajko
Kevin He*
Krystal Maughan
Lauren Gardner
Lauren Monzon
LeAnne Wagner
Lissa Aguilar
Lluvia Nisaye
Makayla Bailey
Makshya Tolbert
Matt Ross
Miranda Shou
Paras Sanghavi
rahel aima
Ryan Patterson
Sara K.R.
Sus Labowitz*
Tash Nikol Smith*
Teresa Snider-Stein
Timur Fattahov
Trevor Tatham
Tristan Sauer*
Tyler Yin*
Zainab Aliyu*

* Asterisk indicates that the contributor also has illustrations on the cover and/or sprinkled throughout the book in the color of their name.


Thank you to the School for Poetic Computation for holding space for us and Lauren Gardner for her immense support. A special thanks to Ingrid Burrington, Simone Browne, Zach Blas, Rashida Richardson, Stephanie Dinkins and Tsige Tafesse for joining our students in conversation throughout the session.

This book was designed by Zainab Aliyu (cover designed in collaboration with American Artist), edited by Jessica Rajko, and assembled with the support of and Callil Capuozzo.

Our digital website can be visited at and was designed and developed by Zainab Aliyu.

How to Cite

Cite the Dictionary of Dark Matters

Public Readings

On July 22nd, 2020, the Dark Matters cohort was joined on Zoom as they read their contributions to the culminating publication, "The Dictionary of Dark Matters".

Dark Matter

“The concept of dark matter might bring to mind opacity, the color black, limitlessness and the limitations imposed on blackness, the dark, anti-matter, that which is not optically available, black holes, the Big Bang theory, and other concerns of cosmology where dark matter is that nonluminous component of the universe that is said to exist but cannot be observed, cannot be re-created in laboratory conditions. Its distribution cannot be measured; its properties cannot be determined; and so it remains undetectable. The gravitational pull of this unseen matter is said to move galaxies. Invisible and unknowable, yet somehow still there, dark matter, in this planetary sense, is theoretical. If the term “dark matter” is a way to think about race, where race, as Howard Winant puts it, “remains the dark matter, the often invisible substance that in many ways structures the universe of modernity,” then one must ask here, invisible to whom? If it is often invisible, then how is it sensed, experienced, and lived? Is it really invisible, or is it rather unseen and unperceived by many? In her essay “Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality,” Evelyn Hammonds takes up the astrophysics of black holes found in Michele Wallace’s discussion of the negation of black creative genius to say that if “we can detect the presence of a black hole by its effects on the region of space where it is located,” where, unseen, its energy distorts and disrupts that around it, from that understanding we can then use this theorizing as a way to “develop reading strategies that allow us to make visible the distorting and productive effects” of black female sexualities in particular, and blackness in general.”

Excerpt from Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne

— contributed by American Artist


— contributed by Lluvia Nisaye

Poetic Computation

An act of resistance against the utilitarian notions of “efficiency” and "progress" that often replicate structures of domination and capitalist agendas.

— contributed by Zainab Aliyu


Zoom is a video-conferencing platform that became extremely popular in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within weeks many professional institutions and universities mandated the use of Zoom by employees rather than other more familiar video-conferencing platforms. Though applications such as Skype and FaceTime have built their names to be synonymous with the act of video-calling, Zoom immediately overcame their familiarity through mere ubiquity. Zoom’s popularity has raised privacy concerns for many critics of networked technology, and though the FBI issued a warning about Zoom’s teleconferences being hijacked to display violent imagery and hate speech, it is still considered a popular platform for mass video-conferencing in the United States as of August 2020.

— contributed by American Artist


“When you think about what study is, the way that we understand it as a practice, we’re talking about getting together with others, and determining what needs to be learned together, and spending time with that material, spending time with each other, without any objective, without any end point, without any sense that we will ever escape our feeling that we are permanently immature, premature, without credit, and in a kind of mutual bad debt to each other, which we don’t intend to repay.”

Stephano Harney on "Study"

— contributed by American Artist

Racial Gaze

the scrutinizing of blackness,
looking so hard that,
that-the-one-that's-looking’s eyes
into hallucination,

— contributed by ilona altman


sousveillance - instagram - surveillance - cops - profit

Sousveillance - we observe each other using our senses and what we gather remains in a closed loop. We interact person to person on social media, watching and wondering about each other through likes and clicks. In ways that are both obvious and obfuscated from us, police and advertisers monitor our behaviors and connections using data that could follow us forever. By storing our memories online, we are trackable and traceable in an ever expanding spiral outwards, with all roads leading to profit.

— contributed by Sus Labowitz



An anthropomorphic and intangible category of data prescribed by humans.

— contributed by Cameron Granger


A projection of ideas that may or may not be agreed upon but rather accepted by a dominant group / oligarchy (to be consumed)

— contributed by Krystal Maughan


at least one dream a week where someone is coming for me but can’t find me,
i’ve unmastered myself enough so as not to be found

black, fugitive dreams
encoded laughter
encrypted joy
inaccessible longings
protected prayers

— contributed by brontë velez

Black Gooey Universe

In collaboration with Angus Fletcher, Krystal Maughan, Rahel Aima and Sara K.R.

— contributed by Sara K.R.


The point of interaction and bases of interaction between a user, a surveilled being or a victim and a tool.

— contributed by Tristan Sauer

Racial Capitalism

a system of apportioning exploitability, humanity, and extractability along racial lines in order to subsidize whiteness as quality of life, as access to rights

— contributed by Makayla Bailey

Debt State

A normal condition we are living in. It is a state that has been constructed and reinforced in various forms that the indebtedness is neutral. The indebtedness is a stiff collar that confines and reshapes citizens' freedom in social relations.

— contributed by Miranda Shou


Colonialism is an aggressive predatory behavior in which colonized people are the victims of the extending practices of authority, selfishness, and cruelty of the colonizers. Colonialism also affects native people significantly as the colonizers occupy the land that does not belong to them as well as the negative impact of the ideology of imperialism to the descendants of indigenous people.

Defined by my father. A 47 year-old Chinese. He tries to understand the colonialism through a len of colonial lands in China and his own understanding of colony of the world history.

— contributed by Miranda Shou

White Racial Frame

The architecture of White supremacy that posits Whiteness as invisible, neutral, entirely abstracted into the mainframe. The blank white GUI, replete with a blinking cursor; the general culture of light. A transposition of culpability, to be replaced with weaponised fragility. 𝘐𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘪𝘵'𝘴 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘴𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘵.

— contributed by rahel aima


Thinking about how social platforms (databases) are a type of modern day panopticon, watching us and collecting information to be sold to surveillance and capitalist efforts.

Those social platforms also control our view of the world, taking our information and feeding it back to us through a lens of algorithms and capitalist in our personal echo chamber.

Dashed lines = data flow. Dotted lines = money.

— contributed by LeAnne Wagner


How's moving?

It's been hard, a lot of places won't even look at me because no job

5:02 PM

I was gonna move before this, but had to cancel.
Now I'm not sure if & when I'll have the chance to move, if I don’t manage to find a job.

6:24 PM

I feel like we're all up on the air right now, it's hard to find footing
I want to move back to Ohio and be closer to my fam, but I feel very stuck right now

I feel the same way
Destabilized, atomized, immobilized
Before this, some old co-workers assured me I had a place to
return to.
But now...
Friends are overworked, and always worried about losing their jobs.

7:49 PM

I guess it's like you said this immobilizing feeling.
I had such a clear idea of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be at.
Now I so much has lost its point.
Full of questions, very little answers, and I'm wondering if the questions are even worth asking right now.

3:24 PM

What are some of those questions?

11:45 AM

Questions like... am I doing enough? How can my art help? Is it selfish to even think about a career right now?
Trying to find my place in this moment but I haven't been sure where to even start

11:00 PM

I've been grappling with these same feelings too. I feel helpless and powerless. I'm skeptical that my impulse to make art or do something self-directed in this moment is not the kind of work that needs to be done.
Lately I've been reevaluating all the goals and dreams I used to have.

An excerpt from an ongoing conversation between two recent additions to the unemployed class.

In collaboration with Cameron Granger and Tyler Yin

— contributed by Tyler Yin

Predatory State

a system or economy set up to suck and withhold resources from those without access to power and capital to those deemed worthy within it. It is then sustained through the continuation of manipulative capitalist practices to maintain the state.

— contributed by Tash Nikol Smith


The Google search results for "unprofessional hair," feature mostly black women and their hair that is not straight

— contributed by Makayla Bailey

Communal Ethic

set of values or principle beliefs that individuals share through experience, regional proximity, and/or culture — often developed as a response to oppression and having a shared moral value for a reciprocally driven world upholding respect for nature and humanity.

— contributed by Tash Nikol Smith

People's Dictionary

An infinitely capacious, colorful lexicon of voices giving meaning to the breadth of our collective, lived experiences.

An assemblage of knowledge established within our mutual histories, liberated from predestined meaning, where there is no mandating of prescriptive language, nor any other tools of the elitist, and colonial literary industrial complex.

Toni Morrison reminds us that “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; [it] does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.”

A People’s Dictionary is a subversive inquiry into the constraints of language and the other inherently oppressive structures which hinder our potential to imagine the Beyond. It asks questions like: “Which experiences inform theory? What is intellectual authority? Who gets to dictate what it means to be human?”

— contributed by Zainab Aliyu


An excess of wealth and resources beyond the basic needs of an individual or company. Outside of natural ecosystems, abundance is often produced by practices of extraction, hoarding, and theft, and directly opposes sustainability and subsistence.

An excerpt from an ongoing conversation between two recent additions to the unemployed class.

In collaboration with Cameron Granger and Tyler Yin

— contributed by Tyler Yin


The ability to understand the material and immaterial processes which construct a thing, an idea, a system.

Sometimes, incomplete transparency is performed as complete transparency.
Performed transparency then obstructs understanding, misdirecting someone into an incomplete truth about the nature of that thing, idea or system.

— contributed by ilona altman


Automating guilt
Automating race
Automating indebtedness
Automating the imagination and potential of a people
Their hopes and dreams
Their purpose for living

Automating their future with algorithms
Optimizing the fate of others who have little power in the system
Who have no choice but to deconstruct those algorithms

Like the algorithms they self-organize
They protest for a future that includes their hopes and dreams
That does not discriminate
That gives them a future where they have a voice
In making
Not in automating
The human in these algorithms

— contributed by Krystal Maughan