The Air Above Our Tongues

The air above our tongues / prays for us to speak. -Ruth Forman     

It’s one minute past midnight on Tuesday night. I try to write these essays on Sunday evenings. But Time has been slipping through me lately, and I through it, of course.  My sleep pattern is starting to rock dangerously.  The way this week is galloping I want to write this essay now, though. I feel attached to this pole, this trunk, in my life. I don’t want it to slip away.  Now that spring is here the pace of the year is going to pick up.  But I know that if I stick to the things that matter most to me the rest will always fall into place. These are the things that make the shape of my life. I’m going to Toronto this weekend, to visit with Jarrett and hear Fred Moten and Robin D. G. Kelly speak.

I’d never heard of either of them until Laura had the idea for a small group of us to read Jarrett’s doctoral thesis together. It’s called Creative Combat. There is so much to say about it, even though as a group we have only reached the third chapter. It’s okay.  There’s something so special about reading in a group, I find I live into the readings so much more.

Fred Moten’s In the Break was one of the things J’s thesis introduced me to.  Also N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which is easily the most beautiful novel I have ever read.  To be more specific, the world of House Made of Dawn is alive, the land and the sun are characters who wrap the whole story around and live there, it’s the most incredible effect.  Because the sky and the roads and the bodies are so alive, so present, it’s as if the Time of the book is alive, too, pulsing and rhythmic.

In the Break is also an extraordinary book. It’s a work of critique, and a chronology and a hymn and a devolution and a scream, but all of it so perfectly articulated, and so deeply coded that to read it (it’s a work about the depths and heights of Black American art) from my cultural distance is like watching a rainbow form and disappear in the sky.

The morning of the election of Donald Trump I saw this very phenomenon.  I was sleeping on the floor in the front room of Joel and Dana’s waterfront condo in Vancouver.  The one whole wall is windows.  And I had not been sleeping.  But that night, I did.  I slept through the night and woke up just as it was barely beginning. A trickster’s charming grin. It climbed from the horizon on one side and then travelled down to the other. And then the second one appeared.  I was leaping.  I was calling to Kelly who was upstairs, I was taking pictures, I was standing on the balcony with my arms out to it, I was shouting down to the street below, I was ready to weep. Since then, I have had that light with me as the news travels and the sickening march of illness and greed moves across the tickertape, the out-there, the in-here.  The mobius strip of the News.

Khari has been reading a little book called On Tyranny which I picked up since I love to read what he reads. Since I’m about two hundred pages into Stamped From the Beginning (also read first by Khari) and trying to read a chapter (they’re short) a day (before I pick up Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway—but I won’t get into that one in this session, I think.  I really want to get back to Jarrett’s thesis.  But the flow flows on. We’ll see where we go. I’m not writing as furiously as I did last time.  I cracked 3300 works in an hour last time. How? Tonight my hands are moving at a different canter), since I’m reading Stamped in the mornings On Tyranny isn’t very impactful.  It’s too easy to see through the whitened perspective of Timothy D. Snyder and see how closely he holds the founding principles of his country. How can he write a book against fascism and still have nostalgia for a government founded on slavery and genocide?

In reading the first parts of Stamped, though, I feel re-armed. It shows without a doubt how there was hate, and fear and suspicion and ignorance against enslaved blacks (I’m in the time of Abraham Lincoln currently) but that was NOT what entrenched the racism that created the heinous conditions of the current era. The racism doesn’t come from hate.  The racism is callous, intentional, morphing and it is connected profoundly, explicitly and continuously to the amassing of capital.  Greed. Oh, it’s a chilling thesis.

I push the cold light from his thesis through the cracks in my own integrity. Ever since I heard James Hollis say a couple weeks ago, “there is nothing in humanity that is not within me,” I have felt closer to my own hidden hatreds, my slippery ignorance, my quick defense of the worst parts of me.  I told you about the vampire, Uzl Rahl, in the last essay. The light from Kendi’s book stings and illuminates her.

What is greed?  It’s connected to the theme of my little Love Trio of the last three essays.  I came to realize that when I want something from the object of my love, well then, I love an object. And the love toward an object is a love made of control. Made of domination.  Made of taking. Made of greed.  No.  The anti-capitalist cannot HAVE love. Love is the first thing that must be free. Not naive.  Free.

In the little book On Tyranny, there are ten principles, he calls them lessons from the twentieth century.  They are lessons on how, as an individual, in the field of choice I encounter every day, in each changing moment, I can push back against the rise of fascism, of totalitarianism.  One of them, maybe the fourth, is “don’t obey in advance.”  In advance of being forced into a change.  Don’t go ahead and pillage your neighbour’s home because they have been detained indefinitely. Don’t. The fascists never thought of that. They couldn’t plan for your obedience, your vampirism, your corruption.

To express love as domination is to obey fascism in advance.

Corruption. Greed. One of the loveliest parts of Jarrett’s thesis, which is itself a work of art even as it offers readings of some stunning works and collections of other artists, is how he opens up the idea of the “abject.” I’ve found this concept very helpful in finding ground to work and live from in the last year.  The thesis takes the idea of the abject from In the Break, but in the context of Indigenous resurgence. Here, though, not having read it since last Fall, I can only tell you what the idea has become in me.

Think of the subject-object. This double is a spectre that you find just everywhere, as soon as you try to look beyond the thing “everywhere” is trying to be. Now put it in the context of the Empire, of the Imperialist, of the colonizer.  Now, imagine the power holder creating through extreme violence an enslaved body to re-produce wealth (through unpaid labour and stolen/enslaved babies). This relationship is not one way. While it is the specifically controlling and dessicative gaze of the power holder that instigates the bond, the subject looks back.  And both, in being bonded together by this relating, become each other’s insight, each other’s “projection.”  We see ourselves as if we are weak, less, tortured, unwilling, unworthy under that gaze.  Or as special, as different than our peers and cohort, selected and superior (that’s what Kendi in Stamped calls uplift suasion.  He makes a very, very important point with it, I’ll try to come back to it) But what Moten and Jarrett offered (in my reading at least) is a third space called the “abject.”  Abject is commonly used, as Jarrett breaks down, to mean utterly impoverished.  But here they imbue it with another meaning.  It means coded, hidden, kept back from the Imperial gaze. It is everything the colonizer, Patriarch, Mediator, cannot see. Because they come with the eyes of greed and they see with the fingers of transaction. They do not see the holy, the spirit, the ancestral, the magical, the personal, the familial, the oral, the moving. Like a doctor trained to work on cadavers, they are not prepared to intuit and to unite.

For me, my drawings belong to this realm of the abject.  I think that’s why they have been so healing for me.  It’s like reaching for a power that has not been conditioned, and corroded. In internalizing the messages from my childhood, and from the bombardment of images, words, and acts against my body I lost track of parts of myself.  The parts that could not be seen by the Gazer.  In my looking back I could only see what It saw. I became a mirror, flat and vulnerable to what stands in front of it. Painted on.  My name full of things that never belonged to me.  But these drawings go, as Jullien calls it in the Great Image, upstream from the formation of my “self” as an object.  Up before the selfness emerged. They go up almost to the edge, the event horizon, of the collective unconscious, the swirling undefinable mass of disidentity, of de-ontology, where all is all is thou is I. They pour out from there, I move with them, they appear.

The abject is more than that, though.  It’s also things that do not need to put into code, they are codes because they can only be understood from the inside out. The code is not a barrier, it is more like DNA, a set of instructions that are inextricable from the matter itself, self-existing, self-locking and self- unlocking, and you can only know them by being them. This is the throbbing energy upstream from ethnicity.  Ethnicity is not clothes, or prayers, or names, or facial features. It isn’t gurus or history or geography. Ethnicity, upstream, is a set of interlocking, interpenetrative codes  that exist before behaviour, before words. The DNA of culture. The messages that string, invisibly but everywhere, across the universe and time.

Wow. I don’t know where this piece went. Firoze, I know it’s been four weeks since I wrote a proper story.  This rambling-thought style is exactly what you cautioned me against, isn’t it? But to me, with these essays, while I want to write more stories, I do, the joy of these essays is that I’m not trying to make anything in particular.  It’s the same process as with the drawings. The essays can be ugly.  That’s the premise. They can be whatever they are. They have to stick to an arbitrary convention of time, one hour to write a half hour to edit, and that is it.  Otherwise, it is not an act of respiration. It becomes an act of greed, of control, of corral.

There are seven minutes left.  I’m glad I sat down to do this even though it’s almost one a.m. It’s the time that makes the trunk strong.  It’s just growing, ring by ring.  When Jarrett was here last I took my hour to write one, and he said, it’s that you show up.  When you show up, then the work has an opportunity to come to you. I guess that’s true of everything.  I see it in my life, now that I’m living alone for the first time.  All those years in community houses, it was hard to see what I was showing up for, in a way, because of the noise of other bodies, the immediacy of interactions.  Here, I see my dishes, I see my prayers, the piles of books, the pencil crayons growing short, the clothes as they get worn, the dust that gathers.  I see my Time, manifest around me, and I see clearly as if it was a big, husky mirror, what it is that I show up for.

Life could be short. That has been so much with me all week.  I could die tomorrow, tonight.  With the way the body has been feeling, the pain in all the joints, the headaches, the stomach aches, it’s hard not to think about it.  I went to see a naturopath.  Had the second appointment today. She is a very, very loud talker and there is an echo in her office.  So she was screaming at me, sugar is a cancer, sugar is a neurotoxin.  It was terrifying.  She gave me a diet that will apparently help. No sugar, no dairy, no gluten. Seems extreme, but then, I have been in some extremes of distress in the last little while.  I wonder if I can show up for that? Can I show up for my body and its well-being the way I show up for these weird little essays? Is that part of unstopping? I want a permaculture approach to the earth of my body.


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