This work contains visuals that may affect those who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy or have other photosensitivities. A plain text version of the essay is accessible below.
This work was produced across the stolen lands of the Boon Wurrung, Wurundjeri and Turrbal people. I acknowledge the genocide and pain their families historically and continually experience as a result of colonisation, and pay my respects to their Elders: past, present, and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded.
One has been slightly obsessively thinking about how things fall apart, and how things shatter.
One doesn’t know if this is meant physically, spatially, logically,
Politically, personally, locally, globally,
Perhaps all at once
or how some of these concerns cannot be kept apart.
When thought about materially, a shattering is a breaking apart of a whole, into many smaller pieces. It is the redefining of the ‘edge’ of an object—as the previous edges break apart and are reconstituted, new edges form in the cracks and breaks to further divide.
When an object, or an idea, or a thing, or an entity, shatters, this could refer to it falling apart, or the singular becoming many.
It could refer to the condition of being shattered—either being devastated by a circumstance or sequence of events, or an intense tiredness.
Images may sit in the periphery of this, and the micro-traumas they induce. Proliferating news cycles and bad things that are happening to people, bad things that have been happening to me. This containment of the bad is part of the problem.
Looking at images of the world going to pieces, a person going to pieces, one might feel a sense of shock as though this were all new. When I say ‘one’ I mean me. The world has been in pieces, has been in a continuous slow crumbling and collapse of going to pieces for so long. Perhaps forever.
Perhaps the condition of the ‘world’ or ‘reality’ or ‘things’ are that they are always in pieces.
A shattering of self could be a means by which the edge of the self, or the boundaries of the self, are opened to the world. It could be a means by which one becomes aware of how one is continuously rewritten as a relational subject. It could be a process of breaking down and building up again. It could be an eradication of self. It could be a constant changing-my-mind, constantly being influenced. It could be an ongoing process of being open and undone and available as a way of life, as the posture practiced daily.
These are the ways in which I enlarge my coast.
I enlarge my coast through my reading of external events, situations, or a quite literal reading of other’s texts, or a practice of being-together with others. When I refer to the coast I don’t refer to the physical boundary of a body, but rather the edges of my experience which are continuously re-written. Just as a coast is staked out as a means of arbitrarily claiming space, my coast may suggest the edges of who I am and what I know, and is equally arbitrary in its blindness to what impacts me beyond my conscious perception.
I use coast poetically, as an outer boundary of consciousness, which is continuously re-written, re-routed, shifts with the tides, is politicised, is guarded, is legislated, is contested.
A coast is also a boundary between matter that flows into space made available for it, and matter that is relatively solid in its formations.
Writing is a practice of flowing into space made available. When not-writing one is relatively solid in their formations, but writing unsettles this.
The direction of attention is a practice in itself. I see this in a practice of taking care of others, of looking outwards, of reading, and of how these outwardly projected attentions redetermine my relation to the world. A re-thinking of the direction of my attention can be, in fact, a misdirection—rather than my attention having a direction or a focus, I can practice an expansive form of outward facing awareness, or a practice of entangled care. By entangled care I mean an unsettling of singularity and a thinking of oneself bound up in other’s wellbeing. A practice of attention and care that is not attentive to who is looking, or whether attention is reciprocated.
Entanglement sits at the relationship between the prefix ‘en-’, meaning ‘in; into’; and ‘tangle’, as in ‘to involve in a difficult situation; entangle; to unite or knit together in intricate confusion.’
So, through entanglement I move into intricate confusion, or move into a difficult situation.
Like Anne Boyer, I locate care within the production of not-writing, as when not-writing one must be solid and predictable:
Not writing is working, and when not working at paid work working at unpaid work like caring for others, and when not at unpaid work like caring, caring also for a human body, and when not caring for a human body many hours, weeks, years, and other measures of time spent caring for the mind in a way like reading or learning and when not reading and learning also making things (like garments, food, plants, artworks, decorative items) and when not reading and learning and working and making and caring and worrying also politics, and when not politics also the kind of medication which is consumption, of sex mostly or drunkenness, cigarettes, drugs, passionate love affairs, cultural products, the internet also, then time spent staring into space that is not a screen . . .
Maybe I am too, gaps
butt up against each other.
Going to pieces implies broken, bits.
the Japanese process Kintsugi,
such wealth in reparation
When writing, one can go to pieces a little bit, becoming multiple in one-ness—just as all conversations deserve footnotes, one's writing is made up of other voices. One can be pieces not just in the many-ness of voices, but in the scattered practice of putting words down that don’t make sense and that being okay, because one is writing towards an opening of the shores that hold one together, rather than towards a further containment of logic and reason.
‘to consent to not be a single being’ is many things at once: a phrase uttered by the Martiniquan intellectual Édouard Glissant; the title of Fred Moten’s trilogy of work on blackness as a form of criticality and powerful disruptive analysis. It is a provocation to re-evaluate oneself socially and relationally, to open-up one’s corporeal boundaries through a practice of vulnerability and sociality.
Moten and Stefano Harney propose a haptic social practice of antagonisms against capitalist logic and the pedagogy of the university in their book The Undercommons, by encouraging self-organised learning that is relational and embedded in community:
We are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other people. It’s talking and walking around with other people, working, dancing, suffering, some irreducible convergence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice.
Hapticality is ‘the capacity to feel through others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them.’
Thinking about this doing-with-people, one is motivated to further the production of not-writing, and to bring a liquidity to a practice of not-writing and being together. There is talking which is like writing and which produces not-writing in equal measure to producing writing.
If one feels it is necessary to be solid in their support, one has forgotten what it feels like to float.
It has been a long time since one had the chance to be buoyed by the sea.
am beneath that water.
It falls with great force
When undoing, when undone, an edge is redefined, there is a reconsideration of what it is to be ‘whole’. Whole is a falsity. Undoing is done in relation; I am undone by . . .
Undone, undoing, are words I see a lot lately; meaning many things—meaning not-done, not-complete, meaning not-doing, not-in-action, not-present, also meaning untangling of some separate strings of thought which were leading in opposing directions, meaning freeing the strings from one another and letting them exist in their own right.
‘We owe each other the indeterminate.’
It feels like the world is exploding/imploding, things fall apart, through the process realign,
I feel I cannot even write in full sentences anymore:
how feelings splinter, identities splinter, countries, safety, communities,
virus, community, world, understandings, interests, networks
all splintering and making
I read a question in an article: ‘does climate change influence political practice?’ The article refers to how one’s practice can be affected by the physical impacts of climate change felt by the body beyond conscious awareness—perhaps, a more appropriate question could be, ‘how does climate change influence personal practice?’ or ‘how regularly does climate change make you feel unsettled because your body can sense affects your mind is not cognisant of?’
I am sitting in the sun almost in shock that spring weather could be so beautiful, so welcomed, and I begin to feel better that I can’t bring myself to write in full sentences.
It has been a warm winter, which on the surface I am enjoying, but which settles inside as a deep unease.
Stephanie Erev describes how large-scale planetary changes influence processes of thought, feeling, and perception on a visceral register, through the bodily feelings which compose an affective background of consciousness. Just as particular frequencies of sound are not heard, but can be felt in my body—and thinking about this always reminds me of feeling the beat of a drum in my stomach as I watched a Disneyland parade as a child—the calving of glaciers and the vibrations of the earth from flooding are felt subconsciously in our bodies, like invisible seismic events that are measurable despite their invisibility.
One feels the glaciers' calving vibrating up through palms, calves, belly—but can’t locate the cognitive event that made them feel unwell.
It makes sense that these movements of the earth may affect how we feel, and that these affects may determine or shape action. It makes sense that the vibrations of the earth may cause me to feel anxiety without a conscious awareness that the earth is shaking me. Thinking towards bodily sensations practices an embracing of the ‘more-ness of life, of excesses escaping even our best efforts to name and organise a more-than-human world.’
These processes may signal one’s (my) embeddedness within a larger system of forces, energies, and flows.
When I say ‘one’ I mean many.
Each of us is party to many more exchanges and participates in many more publics than we know or could know.
While reading: ‘Ecological patterns of light and temperature enter into experience as they help to compose our very habits of perception—and, further, that large-scale disturbances to such patterns can confound habitual ways of relating and behaving among citizens.
Ecological forces participate in dimensions of experience in ways that destabilise common-sense understandings of the boundaries delineating the self-other-world.’
It is not only my coast that is shifting, but the shores of countries whose coastline becomes ever complicated as the oceans rise to it. In other contexts, a shore shrinks, or disappears. In another context, a shore that was once safe becomes dangerous.
the good thing
about crying is you
don’t really have to
pick a subject
Skipping past some thoughts—I think this avoidance of subject is part of why I feel such affection for a cry. The cry is a subject, but the cry is also the avoidance of a subject, or rather it is an embrace of the space without one. A cry doesn’t need a subject, it just is. A cry inhabits a subject, the subject who cries, and overtakes them for a period, but this subject who cries is also quite external to their cry. A cry doesn’t have to pick a subject, but it also doesn’t have to be a subject.
A practice of porosity, not just in writing but in reading, precipitates the inclusion of
some very short bits
when I say porosity I mean being full of holes that things leak in or out through
Judith Butler asserts that we understand ‘the way in which we are constituted in relationality: implicated, beholden, derived, sustained by a social world that is beyond us and before us.’ In Giving an account of oneself, Butler shows that an understanding of self is grounded in vulnerability, and that an ethical agency springs from the ability to give account of oneself as vulnerable to the other, shifting the idea of agency from an exercise of control to one of openness to an ethical obligation to one another.
When I read, I take that text and that person into myself, and there is an importance in this act of attention in that it redefines my edge, or, rather, it demonstrates a practice of attempting to live beyond an edge—both taking a text in, but also putting myself out into it.
Reading is determined by the sociality of the act of reading-others, of being-read, and by the social engagement across boundaries of time that a text allows.
The event of the text demonstrates a changing-along-the-way. It is important to be open to changing along the way.
The neoliberal idealised vision of the self as self-sufficient is a fantasy, and the violent effects of this fallacy that structures much of our society are brought devastatingly to the fore as the pandemic continues—no countries, regions, people and bodies are affected the same, as the ability to isolate, work from home, home school one’s children, stockpile one’s shelves, access healthcare, and financially (and psychologically) put one’s life back together after the pandemic is class, gender, race, age, and geography dependent.
One must know themselves through interconnectedness and encourage this interconnectedness and porosity in their practice of being in the world. This applies not only to the ‘edge’ or the limits of the self, but in an eradication of the ‘edge’ of an identity that posits one’s wellbeing not within a mutual space of communication. George Yancy writes towards a rethinking of bodies without edges, the boundaries of invulnerability, and embodied connectivity in opposition to the neoliberal project, showing that:
we are beings who have already been touching. Our objective now is to understand how an ontology of no edges ushers in an ethics of no edges, one that is imbued and sustained by a vision of unimpeded mutual care.
I allow myself two ‘studio’ days a week, and these days are almost always spent entirely reading, or writing down what I read. I jump between books in distraction, concentration, awe, boredom. Reading becomes for me the most generative space to occupy, the most active yet at the same time the most passive and languorous space, that I turn to again and again because any other form of ‘doing’ or ‘making’ feels impossible. Reading is ongoing meaning making.
Reading is a material form of production in its porosity and sociality, and in its connecting and generating of ideas, thoughts, voices, histories, in how these are brought together, and relations restructured. Reading requires the memory of other things read, it involves the history of reading itself. When I read I have an encounter with what I do not already know and what I come to know through the act itself and everything that conditions it.
I am surprised and amazed that this is all I have done today—it is hard to find a rhythm,
boil water for tea, and top up my cup
until the teabag sits in
Julietta Singh writes towards a bodily archive. I think this archive through all the bodies that have affected my own, that already occupy my body, and to welcome and make a home for them within me.
The body archive is an attunement, a hopeful gathering, an act of love against the foreclosures of reason. It is a way of knowing the body-self as a becoming and unbecoming thing, of scrambling time and matter, of turning toward rather than against oneself. And vitally, it is a way of thinking-feeling the body’s unbounded relation to other bodies.
In the end, we are not bounded, contained subjects, but ones filled up with foreign feelings and vibes that linger and circulate in space, that enter us as we move through our lives. We likewise leave traces of ourselves and our own affective states (which are never really just our own) behind us when we go.
Not only am I a subject of traces left by others, but I leave traces wherever I go. Just as my body may be a catalogue of those that have been welcomed, those who have entered by force, those who have refused to leave, those that do not stay, it is also a catalogue of the teachers, principals, women, children, soldiers and revolutionaries that led to its existence, and it is likewise a catalogue of all of these bodies that I pass on as trace to those I encounter and create.
How can different experiences butt up alongside, to demonstrate not only a meeting and coming together of alternatives and variations, but an attention that is porous, an outside that leaks in?
Does an attention that is porous mean looking in many directions at once?
If so, how does one ever find stillness? Is stillness the problem?
A lake can be still.
The difficulty of being separate—separate in travel, movement, families separate, but also separate in experiences of lockdown.
How there is nothing linear or democratic about this, about everything, and that the idea of democracy is a fallacy that neoliberalism attached itself to, and overtook, like a virus.
If attention is porous, there is a celebration of the periphery.
A porous attention focuses equally on the centre as it does the periphery, or, maybe, it does not focus, but just lets all in.
This redirects attention to the periphery—the literal periphery, figurative periphery, the political periphery. In other words, to what is right beside you.
How does being beside figure differently to being in front?
When considering what constitutes a body, Karen Barad speaks to human and non-human entanglements, that a body is not a singular entity but constituted by diverse phenomena.
If ‘humans’ refer to phenomena, not independent entities with inherent properties but rather beings in their differential becoming, particular material (re)configurings of the world with shifting boundaries and properties that stabilise and destabilise along with specific material changes in what it means to be human, then the notion of discursivity cannot be founded on an inherent distinction between humans and non-humans.
A body is neither a discrete or definite object, but rather is a meeting and mattering of differentially enacted material-discursive phenomena—a body, if I am to even think of a body, is matter continually recomposed by coexisting matter in a world that encompasses and continually affects the body and its realities.
A body is matter continuously materialising and developing meaning. A body is its relations.
Or, as Julietta Singh explains, Barad demonstrates how bodies extend into space well beyond the skin. Molecularly, we spread into the outside world, mingling with it in ways that are not apparent to us. These feminist formulations of the body insist on our vital entanglements with the outside world, showing that for better and for worse, we are made up of an outside world which constitutes, nourishes, and poisons us in turn.
the structure of porous periphery could also be figured as a shattering of the centre
or, a shattering of the focus from one to many.
Just because something shatters, becomes shards, does not make it broken or something that cannot be looked upon—I just must pay greater attention to each piece on its own to consider how they fit together and differentiate, rather than my prior assumption of the whole.
There are different forms of breaking or shattering. When an arm breaks, a bone is broken internally while, in most cases, the arm remains a single entity. When a rock breaks, it makes many smaller rocks. When a window is shattered, it makes a hole. When a plate is shattered, it makes many pieces of broken plate. When a person is shattered or broken they appear to be materially the same, but are probably deeply changed.
I find myself up at six-thirty, sitting in an armchair with a cup of instant coffee, watching the sky move through blues grey pinks peaches as the spring morning approaches. I get up early with a feeling that I will be at my freshest and be able to get what I am thinking down before the non-events of the day cloud my perception. This daily needing to get-feelings-down seems related to an anxiety that I could hold onto time, that I could hold onto a feeling, if only it could be translated into language.
I remember a quote my friend sent me months ago about the immense difficulty of things to become language.
One could say that the reluctance to write or the evasion of writing is the fear of a flood, of what could leak or rather flood out once the boundary of a coast is shattered. Not-writing tries to hold back the formlessness.
how fragmented can
A re-routing of an edge incorporates a responsibility for others as boundaries become porous.
This taking-in of others could work many ways, from a literal opening of political boundaries to ensure safe passage across time and space for all people, to a radical practice of community care.
It is also a trajectory of openness and hope which doesn’t seek to resolve the ills of the world, but rather works towards an ongoing practice of betterment, entanglement, and potential to be otherwise.
Throwing the ball for my dog, I listened to the line: ‘souls that were open will eventually turn to scabs’, and considered the suturing process of scabbing, how being open allows for a continued process of letting in and solidifying in order to hold; re-opening and perhaps leaking out again (as puss); a soul in the process of breaking open and then solidifying against the outside world, before cracking open to it again with just a small movement.
something about the entanglement of it all.
We have always been touching.
no body is an island
James Baldwin, Untitled poem
Karen Barad, Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter
Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women
Judith Butler, Giving and Account of Oneself
Heather Christle, The Crying Book
Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things
Stephanie Erev, Feeling the Vibrations: On the Micropolitics of Climate Change
Saidiya Hartman, The Plot of Her Undoing
Astrid Lorange, How Reading Is Written: A Brief Index on Gertrude Stein
Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons
Outcast, ‘13th Floor/Growing Old’, ATLiens
Julietta Singh, No Archive Will Restore You
George Yancy, Bodies Without Edges: Rethinking Borders of Invulnerability