In the works I have brought together in this book, sexually dissident
bodies and stigmatized erotic encounters—themselves powerful reorien-
tations of supposedly natural, physiological impulses—perform the con-
test between modernity’s standard beat and the ‘‘sudden rise’’ of possibili-
ties lost to the past or yearning toward the future. W. E. B. Du Bois, in a
recently rediscovered essay, ‘‘Sociology Hesitant’’ (1905), recognized this
dialectic as the proper object of the then-new discipline of sociology, the
study of ‘‘modern’’ man.
Implicitly distancing himself from the linear logic of anthropology, Du
Bois articulates human existence as e√ectively rhythmic. For him, life
consists of the dynamic between the structures of ‘‘law, rule, and rhythm’’
in a given culture and the ‘‘something Incalculable,’’ the ‘‘traces of indeter-
minate force’’ that render agency possible.∞
Du Bois described these two
elements not in terms of fate or free will but as a primary and secondary
rhythm. Primary rhythm is inexorable; Du Bois correlates it with the
death rate. But the aids epidemic has surely shown us that there is noth-
ing natural about that particular rhythm; indeed, Du Bois fails to recog-
nize that there are very few natural tempos on a macrosocial level, though
the individual body may o√er them in the form of things like pulse and
heartbeat. More importantly, Du Bois correlates the secondary rhythm,
the incalculable one that contains the seeds of change, with chance. He
writes that it presents a ‘‘nearly the same uniformity as the first . . . [and]
di√ers from [the first] in its more or less sudden rise at a given tune.’’≤
The musical metaphor recalls the haunting bass line in The Attendant, or
perhaps the rise of Dido’s lament above that bass line. But Du Bois’s
concrete example of the secondary rhythm is actually ‘‘a woman’s club.’’≥
He doesn’t flesh out the example, but he very likely means one of many
progressive-era gatherings of black women who aimed to educate them-
selves, advocate for reform, and help their poor.∂
A women’s club o√ers uno≈cial, improvised forms of a≈liation that
can interrupt the seemingly inexorable meter of a given culture—here,
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