“Community – or rather the in-common – is not based solely on the possibility of saying goodbye, that is, of having a unique encounter with others and honoring this meeting time and again. The in-common is based also on the possibility of sharing unconditionally, each time drawing from it something absolutely intrinsic, a thing uncountable, incalculable, priceless.”
— Achille Mbeme, The Universal Right to Breathe, 2020 (1)
Sitting in the winter sun on an early August morning, writing down scenes and abstracted thoughts in my journal—halfway through, almost September. Now Spring, though not as a cold as I thought it would be, a by-effect of anthropogenic climate change. I worry and then peck away. The words inscribed vibrate with light, the parchment blinding, pinching holes in my vision as I wander with notes on structure, community, healing. What is essential? What is indispensable? How do these words travel to you? This palimpsest is a process, a healing over trauma over healing over trauma. A matter of time, community coming together to grieve. But now, that seems impossible. During early morning routines, making a little dance. How to reconcile irrevocable change and upheaval in the minutiæ of everyday life?
My roommate walks in and sings a line, “There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” I ask her what she means. It’s poetry. By who? She replies, Eliot. Four Quartets. I look up the passage:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; / Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, / But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, / Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, / There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. (2)
This constantly turning world, so full of flesh and sickly sweet, yet fleshless too, like a Francis Bacon piece. I think of Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud, its canvas pulsating with raw figurations of sliced outsides turned inwards, derivative half-faces, a triptych of blood red, with repetitively unfixed movement, displaced, not there. Turning again—but there is always a point, as There would be no dance, and [yet] there is only the dance. The red recedes, viridian pastures roll forth. It’s the little things that make life worth living. I look out my window. A couple peer into the front garden, they take in the flowering peonies, the camellias, the tulips. We are so enmeshed with others, especially now. I don’t think of myself as homogenous. I defy taxonomical impulses. Time is in a process of exfoliation, the pandemic has made linearity redundant; it has blistered and erased any semblance of straight temporality. We are in constantly mobile times; we live in an ever-unfolding present. Now is porous with the chance to revise transformative struggle anew. Here, a glimpse.
Looking back, we saw early July court a ‘pretty ugly number’. Then, suddenly, homemade masks & borders & barriers & clinical effacements marked this disjointed autobiography. Hi, said the gap between my twenty-third and twenty-fourth year: pandemic night terrors, claustrophobic dislocations in salt-stained sleep, unsettlement, gradually, Spoonvilles, close contacts, the nature of the work “place,” appropriate & inappropriate levels of transmission, an increase, sponge-like, deep breaths, no, runny nose, now, shortness of breath, a fever, a change in smell and taste, a peak in ICU cases, active cases, inactive cases, wanting single figures, getting double figures, fearing triple figures, deliveries of parcels, potentialities, economies of public space, private affections, touch and Affect in the age of (detached affection), slash infection, chain of transmission, to this moment, now.
Susan Sontag once wrote, “Disease is what speaks through the body, a language for dramatising the mental: a form of self-expression” (3). Just as growth and progress are not linear, neither is our body’s relationship to itself and others. Think of the body as a site where the language can allow us an autonomy of the self. Agency through recognition of one’s own life as not confined to just the body, but rather, the self as “living all the time in relation to certain background rods or conceptions” (4). Lockdown presents to us challenges that overwhelm our sense of space and time. It is September and March all at once. Everywhere I go feels like repetition.
Stasis, no movement, the same events, unfolding again and again. Every day is the same. Time is sand falling through my fingers, catching in the lines of my hand.
I pick at these threads and try not to get caught up in detangling counter-cultural identity, place and space, history, and the (both macro and micro) cosmoses of our selves. Even through indefinite stretches of time, punctuated by the extreme, we make little villages out of wooden cutlery. How will public space be re-thought after this period? Touch and surfaces will forever be changed after this, but maybe art can tentatively begin to trace and reach across the numerous intimate private lives sequestered away, all around us constantly, pulsating forth, flowing onwards. As we encounter others, and tentatively attempt to write our own autobiographies, we must remember that our body is made and remade continually, through the collective referential of those who came before us. Knowledge can never just sprout from a single being, like the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, but materially, as understanding blooms through situational, citational practices, queer lineages and feminist exercises in illumination. We must be aware of the in-commonalities and sites of similarities and differences that are called forth in our work, in this present, for “there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt” (5). There is always a story. How has yours been shaped thus far?
Lockdown number two is more exhausting than the first. It is, initially, a compromise made with attachments and unmade detachments. Days are structured around the little windowed boxes from which I see your face. These atomised moments of being, projections on pixels on wires on air connecting us from worlds torn and reborn. Auxiliary command function, one-hour blocks of outside-ness, all things demand interpretation.
How can we consider a new practice of exchange stripped from financial and commercial implications? How can we trade, give, swap, without kneeling at the temple of commerce? Let’s radically reconsider, remake our relationships to others, not based on monetary transactions of (im)materialities. Recently, Arundhati Roy wrote that “unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow … Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different” (6). I sit up from my desk and pocket my poems. There, on the horizon, I see a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. I’m constantly thinking about this portal, this doorway, just slightly ajar. Let’s knock. Disaster capitalism got us here, a revolution is now needed to get us out. This moment is one ripe for rethinking, reimagining, re-embracing the affective communal need for solidarity against the catastrophic calamities of capital.
Morning: a renewal, a feeling, again.
Yes, I can do this. Oneness, but a cradling with in-commonality to others.