When astronomers in fifth-century India conceptualized the zero, they gave the idea of nothing a figurative reality. When negative numbers were conceived in China circa 200 BCE, for the first time a presence could be made of an absence. At first, both ideas were taboo, but an imagination of the negative number gave voice to the clandestine, the underrepresented, the minus, the before. In the same way, the artist Isaac Julien, in making photographs from negatives of his 1989 film Looking for Langston, reasserts the voice of the silenced, homoerotic desire of black men.
Shot in 16 millimeter, the film is a magic-realist meditation on the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. It is a deeply moving portrait of the writer’s internal life as he glides through a glamorous speakeasy and roams dreamlike fields with a kind of desire that is, as the film would have it, only visible in the
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