Doing Things with Being Undone
Mis-hear the ‘cene’ in Anthropocene and we are not beholders of an epoch or witnesses to a prospect of distancing projection onto a deep past or lost future but, rather, in the scene of our undoing. In this scene that I reframe as the Necrocene, there are still ways of doing things with being undone. Current art practice offers a new ars moriendi to make contestatorily palpable and even transform the necropolitical conditions of the Necrocene crisis by working with the strangely resilient powers of death. Current practices that deform the landscape-form demonstrate how the vulnerability of living our dying offers a queer material medium to agitate for livable life toward a black, trans* more-than-human commons.
“Doing Things with Being Undone,” Journal of Visual Culture 18.1 (2019): 30–52.
Necropolitics at Sea
In this chapter on necropolitics at sea which forms part of a larger project on what I call death-in life, I consider the limits of devices of death calculation and exposure, their appeal to paternalistic fantasies of rescue that reinforce the authority and inevitability of policing, and what alternative necro-tactics might enable us to reckon with the unaccountable in the border-zones of the already dead, the marked-for death, and the living dead at the limits of refuge.
“Necropolitics at Sea,” Migration and the Contemporary Mediterranean, Shifting Cultures in 21st-Century Europe, ed. Claudia Gualtieri (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2018), 193-214.
To elaborate a contaminated ethics for negotiating the colonial Anthropocene situation of what I call death-in-life in the terrain of crisis ordinary, I turn to where my essay “Landscape in the Performative” left off with its thesis n+1. Here I insisted that there is no subjunctive or conditional formulation of landscape capable of reducing or even arresting the radical uncertainty of landscape’s performative and periperformative powers in an era marked by contestation over the ethics and politics of order- and genus-defying hybrids that constitute entirely unprecedented and yet viable forms of life as well as of their production, including techniques beyond those of sexual reproduction in this profoundly undecided terrain of the open-ended if/then questions of the unfinished histories of colonial biopolitics. Refusing the fantasy that “landscape” is somehow over, this essay, instead, develops “staying with the trouble” in another sense by thinking with queer, trans* experiments in the art of dying as a way of living with and making something habitable out of tainted aesthetics and the compost of discarded forms. Necro-landscaping, I elaborate, offers an aesthetic tactics of landscape in the deformative that mines the de-forming, volatile, but also strangely resilient powers of the negative—from shame to dirt.
“Necrolandscaping,” Natura: Environmental Aesthetics after Landscape, eds. Jens Andermann, Lisa Blackmore, and Dayron Carrillo Morell (Zurich: Diaphanes, 2018), 237-64.
Landscaping for Chimeras
Architecture Is All Over investigates architecture's simultaneous diminishment and ubiquity in the early twenty-first century. As a diagnostic and tactical guide, this collection features original texts and design proposals from emerging and established scholars and practitioners in the fields of architecture, art, the history of science, media studies, and philosophy. Together these pieces probe architecture's relationship to liminal zones and immaterial systems, reframing instability and mutability as enduring qualities that form architecture's motive core—a perspectival shift that carries with it new possibilities for architectural agency and resistance. The pieces in this book range from contrarian investigations of the opportunities inherent in scarcity, bureaucracy, and banality to projections of architecture as a mediatic practice or automated process. Case studies that propose new architectural strategies are placed alongside provocative historical examples to tease out the implications of architecture's indeterminacy in agonistic ways. In each contribution, a particular facet of the discipline's apparent obsolescence or endurance becomes a way to critically evaluate the ethical and entrepreneurial dimensions of architectural practice and theory. Taken together, the pieces in this volume reinterpret architecture's "all-over-ness" as an untapped disciplinary property rather than a temporary or terminal condition.
“Landscaping for Chimeras,” Architecture is All Over, eds. Esther Choi and Marrikka Trotter (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2017), 268-83.
A State of Foreclosure: The Guantánamo Prison
This short essay that stems from the book manuscript on what I term “death-in-life,” argues that closure cannot close. That closure cannot close but must, rather, transfer is not exceptional but integral to the suspension of the state of exception that is the ongoing war of terror. Transfer is not a problem with this closure plan but a tactics of the closure problem that is the carceral state. To transfer is to extend the temporal illogics of indefinite detention across an undefined and spreading geography. It is to produce state power by a transferential expansion that is precisely without end in a death-world motored by a psychosocial economy of violent foreclosure.
“A State of Foreclosure: The Guantánamo Prison,” The Philosophical Salon: Twenty-First Century Speculations, Reflections, Interventions, eds. Patricia Vieira and Michael Marder (London: Open Humanities Press, 2017), 226-28. http://www.openhumanitiespress.org/books/titles/the-philosophical-salon/
Republished from “A State of Foreclosure: The Guantánamo Prison,” The Philosophical Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 2016. http://thephilosophicalsalon.com/a-state-of-foreclosure-the-guantanamo-prison/
To take up the matter of “visual representation” in the making and transformation of the Atlantic world from the sugar plantations of the Caribbean to the heartlands of European empire is to confront a diverse array of genres and media: from natural history illustration to the tables of inventories to plantation diagrams to devices of cartography—to name only a few examples of visual efforts to comprehend the novelties encountered, and hence challenges of controlling, the Atlantic. These techniques of ordering, classification, and view-making participated in attempting to manage unstable regimes of power as well as enacting and contesting the Atlantic as a historical space of the world-scaping flows of people, plants, machines, and mass-produced artifacts that made the plantation and the cargo ship, or the slave ship, as much the laboratories of modernity as the European metropolis. Visual representations of the Atlantic—from survey maps and plans to diagrams to land- and sea-scapings—did more than just visually reproduce a world wrought by colonization, trade, and slave labor.
“Visual Representations,” in The Princeton Companion to Atlantic History ed. Joseph C. Miller, associate eds. Vincent Brown, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Laurent Dubois and Karen Ordhal Kupperman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 468-76.
Alter-Ovid—Contemporary Art on the Hyphen
This chapter engages the hyphenating energies of Ovid's 15-book poem Metamorphoses across nine diverse instances of modern and contemporary visual arts practice to show how the aesthetic-political work of hyphenation takes visible forms, unsettling the matter and mattering of bodily form in ways that go beyond the literal appearance of the hyphen's punctuation mark as the slash, dash, and bar. In making the hyphen of uneasy joins integral, not as assimilation or dissolve but rather as substantial alteration, an “alter-Ovid” emerges as an animating and restructuring principle of affective, political, and psychological reconnection, hybridization, and/or transformation through alterations in time, bodies, and worlds.
“Alter-Ovid—Contemporary Art on the Hyphen,” A Handbook to the Reception of Ovid, eds. John F. Miller and Carole Newlands (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), 416-35.
Handle With Care
At a moment when public support for care cannot be assumed to have social value, close attention should be paid to the particulars of affective labor that are the (im)material support of care. Tracing a deliberately false etymology of the term “precarity,” a reading of six “scenes” of care considers how it might be possible to reframe the question of deathcare through an ethical practice of “intimate distance,” and to enable the vital “as if” labor of imagining support for a good death.
TDR/Drama Review 56.4 (Winter 2012): 123–37.
Preliminary Version of Handle with Care written for Public Feelings Salon with Lauren Berlant and Response from Berlant, Event on April 12, 2011 and Responses published on December 19, 2012, Barnard Center for Research on Women
Epilogue: Landscape in, around, and under the Performative
This epilogue to the dossier on “Feminist Landscapes” asserts that, like the performative and its periperformative vicinities, landscape matters (and is volatile, fascinating, and queer in the ways it matters and performs). The 10+ theses that follow set landscape in motion as a verb in, around, and under the performative, which means that they do much, if not most, of their volatile, even alchemical, work (in aspect, mood, modality, voice) in what Eve Sedgwick theorized as the periperformative's neck of the woods. Each thesis inflects the verb “to landscape” by conjugating a conceptually significant verb form with a complex instance of landscape in the performative by a contemporary woman artist actively engaged with landscaping. These landscaping performatives and periperformatives do their work through diverse assemblages of media and technique. But this is not a turn from landscaping to its representation understood as some sort of second-order remove from the real dirt and raking muck in the scaping of land. Ultimately, these 10+ theses develop the vital alchemy of what it means for feminist theory and practice to put landscape into serious play as a transformatively shaping multi-tense verb.
“Epilogue: Landscape in, around, and under the Performative,” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory 21.1 (2011), 97–116.
What I find provocative in re-encountering the aphoristic appositions of Ways of Seeing at this moment is the possibility of another way of working with juxtaposition, one that brings out the charged, even perverse interlinings and potentialities already there in ‘old’ words and images and, most of all, in those border-policing binaries we never seem to get past. Cunning puns, promiscuous homophones, and the lures of likeness can expose the possibilities inside or on this side. Such metamorphic play is, I would argue, a vital matter of the politics of form, whether they implicate the geo-political, legal, and religious boundaries of the state (and its institutions, including marriage), the properties of medium, or the genres of gender.
“Cis,” Journal of Visual Culture 11 (2012): 140–44.
This essay theorizes the ethical potential of photography or what I call “pyrography” by enacting a version of care for death in attending closely to a sort of rehearsal for the deathbed in French photographer and writer Hervé Guibert’s photo-novel Suzanne and Louise first published by Gallimard in 1980, the same year as Roland Barthes’s famous essay on photography, Camera Lucida. The essay develops the transformative ethical possibilities of and queer political potentialities of pyrography by reading Guibert’s project with his two elderly aunts in relation to the work of two of Guibert’s intimates: Michel Foucault’s “The Social Triumph of the Sexual Will” and Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida and Mourning Diary. In Mourning Diary, Barthes describes the plan for Camera Lucida as an ephemeral monument to his dead mother whose loss he calls, following the last work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott: “the catastrophe that has already occurred.” Through its own writing with fire of the death we fear that has already occurred and that we cannot access directly, photography may most effectively enable the kind of “as if” work or projective imaginative enactment for which Winnicott calls. This essay develops the concept of the photographic pyre or pyrographies to demonstrate the power of a kind of photographic act, a facture of and with the flammable not of and about the past but for the present and future, as a practice of making volatile structures for feeling with the taboo scenes of the conjunction of old age, desire, and death that create spaces not just for mourning the losses that have actually happened but spaces in which one might begin to imagine and transact with care the losses and the letting go yet to come. Pyrographies, I am suggesting, may trade in the illusions of presence and give us the catastrophe that has already occurred in palpable form to enable us to negotiate shame and fear but also desire toward the seemingly impossible: the good death.
“Pyrographies,” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory 22.1 (March 2012): 109-31.
Chimerical Figurations at the Monstrous Edges of Species
While the results of transplantation are figured, even in medical discourse, as monstrous hybrids or chimerical combinations of human, plant, and animal, from the early beginnings of modernity in the eighteenth century, the action or process of figuration has also been conceived as the fantastic power to commingle, reshape, and materialize potent and often category and order-defying combinations, transgressing the bounds of species. Nathan Bailey’s 1730 Dictionarium Brittanicum: or a more compleat universal etymological dictionary, for example, defines figuration as chimerical vision, a means of not merely ambiguating form but also transforming and re-forming at the edges of species. This essay’s method matches its subject in assembling into promiscuous contact a set of protean, unstable, and even monstrous figurations from the current experiments with stem cell transplantation to La Méttrie’s l’homme-plante, the hydra of Abraham Trembley’s cutting operations on this animal that was understood to resemble and behave like a rhizomorphic plant, the very first live human transplants performed by John Hunter with human teeth, and early modern the slave plantation system.
I enlist these radical experiments in materializing figuration to think about the colonial history of the dangers and possibilities of transplantation for a queered environmental discourse. In thinking in and with these charged figurations, I engage not only Foucault’s understanding of the new forms of biopower in the micro-technics for the making and reconstitution of life but also Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s collaborative conceptualization of the power of aesthetic figures elaborated in What is Philosophy? (1991) as sensations, affects that radically alter both subject and matter toward a “nonhuman becoming,” (173) “a becoming animal, plant, molecular, becoming zero,” (169) envisioned, in an embrace of virtual possibility, as bringing forth from chaos the shadow of the people or as yet incompletely conceived entities—complex, protean assemblages--to come.
Arguing that the current imaginary of transplantation has not merely a mythological but also a colonial history, this essay extends my work on the way in which colonial transplants remade the Caribbean and relayed to radically alter the metropolis, work which I began in my book Sowing Empire: Landscape and Colonization. If contemporary discourses and practices of transplantation and the present use of the name "chimera" to designate transplant subjects do, indeed, have, as I lay out in this essay (and the larger project of which it forms a small part), a colonial history of race, sex, environmental preservationism, and landscaping and, as the early modern relocation and (cross)breeding of human bodies, animals, and plants suggest, the current discourses and representations of transplantation are deeply imbricated with colonial taxonomies of race, gender, and sex, with colonial hierarchies of what is "human" and what counts as "culture," and with early modern practices of what Michel Foucault called "biopower" (particularly, the production of power through efforts to control reproduction in all its forms), then I propose that we have something to learn and even to hope from the protean ontological possibilities of monstrous, chimerical, or “queer nature” and the new indeterminate figurations and subjects to come after the protectionism of “endangered species” and in creative agonistic contact with the colonial history of its before.
“Chimerical Figurations at the Monstrous Edges of Species,” Environmental Criticism for the 21st-Century, eds. Ken Hiltner, Stephanie Lemenager, and Theresa Shewry (London: Routledge Press, 2011), 61–83.