Future Writings, Writings for the Future

I think four years is a good enough break for this little blog.

I first started this site as a tiny space for barely developed thoughts. It has always been important for my own human functioning to find little nooks and slippages to sit and think and imagine and feel in difference, to find myself in relation with things otherwise too slow or irrational or obtuse. I like crumbling thoughts, useless things, messy feelings–for a while now, I have thought of failure as a heuristic for encountering worlds of effaced others and subterranean relations that are otherwise unattended to.

There are so many things wrong–an important support network of mine has disintegrated, at least a million people in the U.S. alone are dead and forgotten as we write “post-pandemic” over and over, and as usual, intersecting oppressions churn beneath and constitute the placid surface of the everyday. As my comforts and assumptions and safety have whittled down, I find myself returning to a place of aspirational inquiry, sensing, and speculation: when we are reduced to nothing, what persists? As I thought and read more around this question, it ceased to be–instead, emerging as a statement: scenes of negation are places of living encounter.

While the foundations for this project were laid in academic discourse, I have increasingly realized the necessity of creative forms as vital sites of enunciation. To that end, I have re-valenced my atrophied life of creative writing as integral to this critical project, rather than continuing to relegate it as an energizing, occasional distraction from “real” thought and work.

This means two things for this space. First, this blog’s little nap is over. Second, the content posted here will diversify. My scrambled brain blog posts, where I type up thoughts largely coalescing around a central concept, will unfortunately continue. However, I’ll also be posting my experiences reading poems, short stories, and maybe (probably not) a novel or two. I am largely uninterested in the modality of the critical review–I prefer the generous and tangential. There will also be some slovenly writing akin to journal entries–it’s my space and I will do what I want.

In short, I am using this blog as a pseudo-public facing notebook. A barely curated look at the canvas of chaos and bad ideas that I must work through to burble out one coherent sentence to other humans. I think a good metric for growth is whether or not you burn with humiliation as you read old writing. I have yet to fail in that regard. Here’s hoping I keep up the streak.

P.S. Speaking of humiliation, I have privated almost all my past posts, but left a couple just for nostalgia’s sake. I think they’re a useful measure for how I was thinking through things back then, which is at once familiar and completely strange, still generative in some ways but completely occluded in others.

Self-Care, Subjectivity, Silence

In the attrition of everyday life, self-care has become foundational for social activism. Rallying around Audre Lorde’s declaration of “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” contemporary activists have sought to reclaim self-care by positing it as the necessary precondition for organized action instead of a debased form of vacuous consumerist indulgence.

But what precisely is self-care? It can be meditation, yoga, writing, going for a walk, engaging in rituals or traditions, working out, spending time with animals, and a number of ever-expanding things. The actual activity of self-care is intended to not only promote physical health, but also to promote one’s mental and emotional health by reducing stress or getting in touch with one’s self. In a society where the anger, alienation, and bitter desperation of minorities are pathologized as aberrational character flaws of individuals rather than discursively produced, the recognition of and coming to terms with such feelings is itself a resistance of hegemony’s wielding of biopower, which casts political problems as inherent problems of certain bodies.

Self-care is unfortunately always a losing endeavor. Its status as preconditional to social activism is only true in the most basic sense– one has to be alive to speak. Similar to the insufferable romantic maxim “You have to love yourself before you can love others,” we often articulate self-care as an internal state that must be achieved before it can be turned outwards in a prosocial manner.

I do not think that definition holds true. Self-care is a palliative composed of interstitial moments of blocking and dodging in the face of unrelenting social antagonism. I do not mean to diminish the importance of self-care as it is still absolutely crucial to negotiating survival, but I think it cannot continue to be seen as the precursor to communal action. Otherwise, we will always be waiting for a certain threshold of self-care that will never arrive (how does one “know” what the self needs, and how can the self ever satisfy itself?) and recapitulate the mytheme of individualism.

When it’s not deployed as a desire to simply stay alive or as a palliative as I have delineated, self-care revolves around a notion of individuality that presupposes the centrality of knowing yourself and your own desires. To be effective social activists, minorities need to know their own emotions, dreams, and goals. While there are some who articulate this project of knowing the self with a creepy similarity to selling yourself to companies (here are my hopes, dreams, and temperaments which are all in line with the goals of this community…), more sophisticated takes instead advocate an alterity to normative modes of knowing. In this sense, self-care is about an individual striving to assemble an alternate knowledge about the self that cannot be indexed by normative modalities of feeling, thinking, and otherwise moving through the world.

In other words, self-care is oriented towards an individual forming other kinds of attachments and desires that elude or exceed what is imposed upon them. This is possible through a self-reflexive apprehension of the self made possible through self-care.

I am deeply suspicious of self-care’s claim to knowledge of the self. The subject is split and opaque; there is always an unknowability of the subject that has to be negotiated around rather than triumphed over. Some definitions of self-care are oriented towards a self-determined articulation of subjectivity that enjoys a frictionless, stable, and fully formed existence.

In this context, self-care reproduces a particular fantasy of minority discourse: that progress inaugurates more stable social relations. Brought to its logical conclusion, this horizon of possibility can only produce more identities with an authoritative claim to a totalizing/totalized self. Insofar as whiteness is a dead identity (in Lauren Berlant’s sense of the term, where dead here signifies similarly to dead metaphor), minorities are to join the hoary realm of assured mastery where one’s particular identity is simply what is.

The point is instead that there is an instability and ambiguity to identity and subjectivity as such, and we should therefore be organizing more porous societies and communities that don’t circle around sacrosanct identities and attachments. Far from a revolutionary thought, this is still often covered over in discussions of self-care and its relation to communal action. Self-care does not instate a fully formed and known/knowing individual who then engages in social activism; it is an improvisational strategy of negotiating survival in a conflicted world by conflicted subjects.

An example of what I am talking about is a situation faced by so many every day– being confronted by endless situations of bigotry. On the one hand, there is the desire to speak out, not just to play teacher but to reaffirm ourselves as speaking subjects. On the other hand, we run into so many situations like this in our everyday lives that it would be impossible to do so. I should emphatically point out that the responsibility is not on individual minorities to do the intellectual and emotional labor of spelling out everything for everyone. Minorities should not be treated as experts on invisible forms of oppression and ways of living, who then have an obligation to enlighten everyone else on what is going on.

This situation is often articulated as an impasse: if minorities don’t speak up about these issues, then how can they expect us to know what is going on? The refusal of minorities to be treated as nodes of data to be accessed by an insular public then justifies the active violence and oppression perpetrated against them. Here once again the problem of knowing resurfaces: an individual should not be presupposed as containing a knowledge that simply must be externalized, and this desire to be fed knowledge is similarly troubling. Interacting with others in general is never a matter of getting to “know” them, but to recognize their unknowability and to forge relations that take this into account. It is not a matter of circumscribing someone as being/knowing x, but to acknowledge the singularity of their own particular personhood and experiences and their complex relations to the world, self, and others.

To return back to self-care, people in the situation of choosing whether to speak out in one particular moment or not are often aware that avoidance or silence is a necessary path to take. When this particular silence is registered as self-care, the primacy of the person’s well-being overrides an obligation to speak up. The lapse in “fighting the good fight” is seen as a recuperative moment, or at least an avoidance of harm, that allows one to resume the fight later. I think if we are to embrace the radical dimension of self-care, we have to look at such a silence as not a strategic retreat but as a kind of political act unto itself. In the (much needed) focus on speaking up, falling silent has been reduced to a debased form of self-effacement and the absence of subjectivity.

Silences are multivalent and are themselves intercalated within different conversations and interactions. What kinds of silences are ennobling, or empowering, or restorative? What kind of language needs to be developed to speak to silences? Is there a silence divested of the finality of death? What does it mean to fall silent?– as imposed, as that which cannot be said, as that which doesn’t have to be said, as that which gestures to a something else…

Intimate Knowledge

A common theme when people articulate an ideal relationship among intimate others is one of intersubjective knowledge; couples, best friends, etc. are idealized as knowing what the other “really” means whether that meaning is expressed frankly or obfuscated through some kind of seemingly unrelated idiosyncrasy.

Following upon this framing of what ideally intimate relationships look like (and that intimate relationships are ideal), liberal American culture attempts to support and show solidarity with minority subjects by articulating an intimate relationship with them. White liberals seek to articulate themselves as “really” knowing what’s going on and what minorities “really” are (black people aren’t just criminals, they are x).

What this fantasy papers over is how falsely intersubjective intimate relationships are; they are constituted by painful misrecognitions, apostrophe, and subjects with completely different “facts of life” (race, gender, political views, etc.). The claim of intimate knowledge is predicated upon a desire to render another knowable. At worst this involves completely dominating another through structures of intelligiblity and fields of knowledge; white liberal discourse looks irrevocably towards some kind of “at best.”

Intimacy, then, in this cursory glance, is not some kind of transcendental connection or free-flowing link between the minds of one to the other; rather it is forged by unknowable subjects constantly negotiating misrecognitions, conflicting fantasies, the attrition of everyday life, and uneasy confessions. Intimate connections are sensed as meaningful not because it provides a window into the mind of another, but because they have been forged out of radically contingent circumstances.

So when people are consenting to an intimate relationship, they are not and cannot be promising/promised an absolutely safe, comfortable, and completely mapped out space; but are agreeing to enter an unstable, messy, and wobbly relation where everyone is showing up with radically different “stuff.” This is why articulating clear parameters for intimate relationships is an important focus for feminism: the very grounds of what constitutes intimacy itself (which is supposed to be unspoken/inherently known) has been an important site of control for patriarchal authority. (Note: this is not an excuse for abusive behavior in relationships, where abusers cast themselves as “just figuring things out” or “trying their best to learn.” Physical and emotional/mental abuse belies how the abuser has already located their intimate partner(s) as objects subordinated to the abuser’s own sense of self.)

A clichéd faux pas is when a white person, after listening to a person of color talk about their experiences, replies with “I know exactly what you mean!” Such a familiar response is troubling precisely because the white person is claiming to have completely rendered the minority experience knowable. This is not problematic just because the speaker in my little reenactment is white (can POC even claim to know what a monolithic minority experience is like?) but because the claim presupposes complete knowledge of the very mind of the minority subject, a knowledge predicated upon assimilating the minority into normative discursive systems of power.

Just as the conservative demand to “know” who is coming into the country renders immigrants knowable through exertions of power and the complete penetration of the immigrant (demanding access to all their personal information, demanding to know if they are “morally sound” i.e. Christian, keeping them under complete surveillance and marked off as potential threats, demanding proof they are sympathetic towards American imperialism, etc.), liberal hegemony’s demand to “know” the minority encloses them into a position constituted by the knowledge produced by white liberal discourse (minorities are “just like us,” oriented toward a rhetoric of essential human rights, merely want to engage in “respectable” conversations, want a fair chance at participating in global capital, etc.).

It would be interesting to see how intimacy extracted from the particular couple form can be articulated differently and imagined all sorts of political/personal attachments.