November 8, 2020

Sanctuary (in) Fugitivity

Bayo Akomolafe‘s statement goes both ways. I have been reading twitter responses to DJT, in response to his claims that he has won the election; the number of good-seeming people who pray for him, find him to be a great leader who is watching over them is astounding. Instead of deriding them as idiotic (they’re not) and misinformed (they are), it seems to me the question is whether there can be, ethically and economically a just transition to genuine and sustainable inclusivity.

People would first need to believe that there is abundance, not scarcity, and that there is enough for people of all colors and credos. But is there?

I go back to Amitav Ghosh’s brilliant and devastating chapter in The Great Derangement about the false promises white industrialized nations made to their “little brother and sister” nations, that they too could have what the West has: unlimited energy, prosperity, autonomy, mobility.

…This is how we are trapped deeper into our Age of Derangement, where every family in the world is racing towards an equal level of consumption. It is Asia, then, “that has torn the mask from the phantom that lured it onto the stage of the Great Derangement, but only to recoil in horror at its own handiwork; its shock is such that it dare not even name what it has beheld—for having entered this stage, it is trapped, like everyone else. All it can say to the chorus that is waiting to receive it is ‘But you promised…and we believed you!’”

So scarcity is a prerequisite of progress, limitless growth that is harnessed by those in power, using the power of fossil fuels to make that feasible fast, to make logistics slip without friction like riptides through tide pools of cheap labor.

Bayo locates this in the “loss of the miraculous.” He defines this as:

Modernity, still traumatized by the loss of the sacred, is a theology of scarcity. It is the metaphysics of the exiled anthropomorphic god whose regime of indulgences the Enlightenment outlawed. Because modernity centralizes rationality/human experience, and instrumentalizes the nonhuman world as resource for human ends (that is, refusing to see the nonhuman world as powerful on its own terms), power and enchantment are always in short supply relative to deepening demand. One has to make a great effort to leave the homogenizing lull of suburbia for some distant, exotic location in order to feel alive, for instance. As the deadening rationality of modern civilization spreads, and as its circumference expands, the intimate magic of a relational world becomes even more contraband and expensive, reduced to a ‘high’ on a street corner.

(The miraculous is) neither an escape from, nor the postponement of, the ordinary. It is the indeterminacy or incertitude of the ordinary: the embarrassing excessiveness of a relational world that grants ‘things’ the scandalous capacity to be more than just things.

So now we have moved into the territory of the imagination. He and Ghosh have a few things in common, such as their disbelief in the current forms of narrative or the imagination. Ghosh offers a turn to the epic form, to be able to contain, translate, process climate change because the novel cannot do that, can’t accommodate the unlikelihood, the strange stranger that climate change is: upheavals, chronos unbound and deregulated. Bayo has a different model in mind:

  • Why is power always located at a distance? what other forms of power are at our disposal?
  • Power exists everywhere. He uses the models of the slaveship (Man is not just the occupant of the upper deck of the slave ship, but the slave ship and the transatlantic crossings it enacts)
  • Restore the sacred, and understand how it imbues all things: adopt a more than human world / post-humanist / compost-centric world view, what Una Chaudhuri refers to as an ecospheric worldview, one that engages in the “ideas, feelings, and practices that attend to the multi-species and geo-physical contexts of human lives.”
  • Move away from carceral models (some of his other work on tricarcerality looks at ways in which identity politics reassert carceral models, creating a third one (I think) that locks the opponents in a prison of right/wrong in the struggle for power itself.) See Bayo’s video Cancel Culture and the Limits of Identity Politics
  • The logics of fugitivity (more below on this)

The problem of the Anthropocene is not clear, the boundaries not well delineated. It means nothing and it means everything: it exceeds the categorical concerns of survival and perpetuity, of longevity and adaptability. This lack of clarity is not a testament to the inadequacies of our measuring devices. We are not dealing with a want of methods or confidence. We are dealing with the corrosive incertitude and indeterminacy of collapse. We are dealing with the earthliness of measurement and the fragility of our sense-making approaches. This is not a simple cause-and-effect relationship – something we can resist with masculine fervour. Something we can defeat if we tried hard enough.

 …the Anthropocene means we are all fugitives. Or at least those of us gestating in modern worlds who have been touched by the material yearnings for stability and progress. We are being chased. The relentless curdling of the edges, the splashing of threatening ocean waves, the dimming of the sun by the dust in the air, and the disappearance of bees, all conspire to remove the post-Ice Age refuge we have long known as home. The ground has withdrawn her endorsement: we are no longer at ease.

So, how can we become fugitive?

  • Develop fugitive epistemologies
  • Re-sacralize the earth “by drawing ‘god’ closer – so intimately close, in fact, that we lose some of the categorical independence modernity burdened us with.”
  • Fugitivity is the theology of incalculability and hopelessness. The fugitive rejects the promise of repair and refuses the hope of the established order. By clinging to outlawed desires, barely perceptible imaginations, alien gestures, the fugitive inhabits the moving wilds.
  • Accept being marginal, do not bother with the center
  • (The) story of sanctuary is a fugitive site of dismantling ‘Man’ not by critique but by ironic intimacy – the kind that knows we are not exterior to the realities we find problematic. Nothing embodies this ironic intimacy quite like eating. When we eat something, tearing it apart with our teeth, ingesting it so that the thing becomes a part of us, we are performing this ironic intimacy.
  • Fugitivity requires the construction of sanctuary–someplace to rest, to be safe. It is an active process, made repeatedly, always on the run. It exists in and anticipates a continual state of instability. We are all fugitive, we just have been sold a bill of goods, that we are not, that there is some anthropocentric center to hold us in a stable format, on a background of this earth.

These notions of the loss of the sacred are echoed and described along different lines (after all, it’s not–cool/acceptable–to talk about animism or god or the sacred) in the work/play of