I had been making up stories and telling them to myself since I was five or six. Because my mother, in an effort to make me read, refused to tell them to me. I did read. We were lucky enough not to be able to afford a television at the time, so I read everything… — Octavia Butler
On my way to retrieve my coat I’m paused in the hallway in someone else’s home when a man approaches to tell me he thinks his greatest privilege is his height. There’s a politics around who is tallest, and right now he’s passively blocking passage, so yes. But greatest, no. Predictably, I say, I think your whiteness is your greatest privilege. To this, he pivots and reports that, unlike other whites who have confessed to him they are scared of Blacks, he is comfortable around Black people because he played basketball. He doesn’t say with Black men because that’s implied. For no good reason, except perhaps inside the inane logic of if you like something so much, you might as well marry it, I ask him, are you married to a Black woman? What? He says, no, she’s Jewish. After a pause, he adds, she’s white. I don’t ask him about his closest friends, his colleagues, his neighbors, his wife’s friends, his institutions, our institutions, structural racism, unconscious bias — I just decide, since nothing keeps happening, no new social interaction, no new utterances from me or him, both of us in default fantasies, I just decide to stop tilting my head to look up.
I have again reached the end of waiting. What is it the theorist Saidiya Hartman said? “Educating white people about racism has failed.” Or, was it that “hallways are liminal zones where we shouldn’t fail to see what’s possible.” Either way, and still, all the way home, the tall man’s image stands before me, ineluctable. And then the Hartman quote I was searching for arrives: “One of the things I think is true, which is a way of thinking about the afterlife of slavery in regard to how we inhabit historical time, is the sense of temporal entanglement, where the past, the present and the future, are not discrete and cut off from one another, but rather that we live the simultaneity of that entanglement. This is almost common sense to Black folk. How does one narrate that?” Her question is the hoop that encircles. — Claudia Rankine, from Just Us: An American Conversation*
In a dystopic global landscape that makes space for none of us, offers no sanctuary, the sheer act of living—surviving—in the face of a gendered and racialized hegemony becomes uniquely political. We choose to stay alive, against all odds, because our lives matter. We choose to support one another in living, as the act of staying alive is a form of world-building. These worlds are ours to create, claim, pioneer. We travel off-road, away from the demand to be merely “a single being.” We scramble toward containing multitudes against the current of a culture-coding that encourages the singularity of binary.
Glitching is a gerund, an action ongoing. It is activism that unfolds with a boundless extravagance.1 Nonetheless, undercurrent to this journey is an irrefutable tension: the glitched body is, according to UX (user experience) designer, coder, and founder of collective @Afrofutures_UK Florence Okoye, “simultaneously observed, watched, tagged and controlled whilst also invisible to the ideative, creative, and productive structures of the techno-industrial complex.”2
We are seen and unseen, visible and invisible. At once error and correction to the “machinic enslavement” of the straight mind, the glitch reveals and conceals symbiotically.3 Therefore, the political action of glitch feminism is the call to collectivize in network, amplifying our explorations of gender as a means of deconstructing it, “restructuring the possibilities for action.”4— LegacyRussell, Glitch Feminism*
Legacy Russell, author of Glitch Feminism, and McKenzie Wark, author of Reverse Cowgirl, “meet online to discuss the divide between the digital and real and whether this divide has in fact already collapsed, virtual as the ‘new normal,’ and whether it is still possible to find utopian space in the virtual.”
To r.s.v.p. to this Verso Live event, see link below. On October 15, the School of Visual Arts will host a Glitch Feminism launch, and Russell will join Zoe Leonard in conversation.
1.The glitched body is a body that defies the hierarchies and strata of logic, it is proudly nonsensical and therefore perfectly non-sense. I think here of philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Fifty-eight Indices on the Body,” Indice 27, wherein he muses: “Bodies produce sense beyond sense. They’re an extravagance of sense.” In Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus, translated by RichardRand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 153. 2. Florence Okoye, “Decolonising Bots: Revelation and Revolution through the Glitch,” HetNieuwe Instituut (October 27, 2017), https://botclub.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en/decolonising-bots-revelation-and-revolution-through-glitch. 3. Maurizio Lazzarato, Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity, translated by Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2014), 18, 26. 4. Ibid.
Hazel V. Carby, author of Imperial Intimacies, and Priyamvada Gopal, author of InsurgentEmpire, discuss the “media responses to Covid-19 and the kinds of discourse that are given a platform, appropriate forms of response, and the media more generally relating to who it is doing the writing—as well as looking towards what sorts of new theoretical frameworks we might employ to think about what has happened.”*
The authors will be joined by Annie Olaloku-Teriba. See link below for Verso Live registration information.
VERSO LIVE—HAZEL CARBY and PRIYAMVADA GOPAL, with ANNIE OLALOKU-TERIBA
You ask me what I read in quarantine but I want to tell you about where I read. I read from a location of privilege, for it is a privilege to be in lockdown in an affluent Connecticut shoreline town. I am reminded of this every morning. I see the lives and deaths of those who find themselves designated “essential workers”—the poor black and brown residents of New York’s outer boroughs of Queens and the Bronx who maintain the city, its transportation systems, and its hospitals—who live precarious lives, who cannot afford to stay at home, who cannot afford to be sick, who are dying of coronavirus and being buried in mass graves. These lives are being “seen” now because newspapers like the New York Times have just discovered the inequities of structural racism and the struggles for existence of those the paper usually ignores as not worthy of being written about. Structural racism and poverty constitute normal life in the United States: they are the fundamental characteristics of the normative social order to which corporate elites and their allies, reading in lockdown, wish to return.
You ask me what I read but I avoid reading a lot of things. What I read also depends upon when I read. Dawn finds me in the kitchen curled up with tea and cats in a chair reading TheGuardian on an iPad trying to avoid reading statistics of infection, hospitalization and death, accumulations of numbers which disguise the condition of life. I aim for The Guardian’s “Long Reads,” detailed investigative essays by thoughtful writers, for the sections on the environment and the amazing collections of photography from around the world. In the mirror I read my face, adjusting my mask before I leave for the grocery store. I try not to read the anxiety I see in the eyes that look back.
In the working part of my day I have been reading two books: Thomas ChattertonWilliams, Unlearning Race: Self-Portrait in Black and White, who imagines that “race” exists only in our minds. A generous reader could dismiss this as naïve, but generosity is not my reading of an author writing from an extremely privileged position in France who renders the racial formation in which he lives invisible by ignoring France’s colonial legacy and the present black and brown residents of the Parisian banlieues. In stark contrast, The Grassling, by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, a writer of Kenyan and English heritage, is a gorgeous geological account of the Devon village in which she grew up. She reads the landscape from beneath as well as above its soil, rendering its flavors, sounds and smells in poetically intense prose.
In the evening I retreat into fiction trying to immerse myself in other, distant worlds. HillaryMantel’s The Mirror and the Light, is absorbing me with its conjuring of political intrigue, of the wrangling for power between men who lie without compunction, and for its spiteful, vengeful, narcissistic ruler—a world that is, perhaps, not so far from our own.
The nation’s first and most successful underground paper of the Sixties, the Los Angeles Free Press (the “Freep”) at its peak in 1970 published forty-eight pages every week, had a guaranteed paid circulation of 85,000, and boasted a “faithful readership” estimated at a quarter of a million. At the time, among alternative weeklies, only the Village Voice, started a decade earlier, had more readers. The Freep’s founder, Art Kunkin (1928–2019) was not a naïve hippie or flower child, but rather an experienced Old Left journalist. When he published the first issue in 1964, he was thirty-five and already a movement elder. A New Yorker who had gone to Bronx High School of Science, he had become a tool and die maker, and—by then a Marxist—joined the Trotskyite SocialistWorkers Party (SWP), working at GM and Ford in the 1950s and becoming business manager of the SWP newspaper, the Militant. In the early 1960s he moved to L.A. and, he says, “went back to school to become a history professor.” A faculty member asked whether he wanted to work on a new Mexican-American newspaper, the East L.A. Almanac. It published eight pages, once a month, 5,000 copies, and was associated with MAPA, the new Mexican AmericanPolitical Association, headed by Edward Roybal—the first Latino on the L.A. City Council, and later the first Latino member of Congress from California. “I was the political editor,” Kunkin said, “listed on the masthead as Arturo, and I’m writing about garbage collections in East Los Angeles.” By that time he had left the SWP, joined the less radical Socialist Party, and become its Southern California chairman: “I was working closely with Norman Thomas and with ErichFromm, the famous psychologist,” he said. “I wrote some resolutions with Fromm against the Democratic Party drift of the Socialist Party.”
He started planning the Freep in January 1963, after a visit from the FBI. They had read his criticisms of LBJ in the East L.A. Almanac, and asked whether he was a Communist and whether he could identify names on a list of suspected Communists. He told them he was a socialist and an anti-communist, and that he refused to talk about other people. Two days later, after the FBI visited the East L.A. Almanac, he was fired. He had long been complaining to friends hanging out at the Sunset Strip coffee shop Xanadu about the Village Voice: while it excelled at covering the hip scene and ran some strong writing, politically it always supported liberal Democrats. People told Kunkin he couldn’t publish a Voice-type independent paper in L.A. because the city had no Greenwich Village; it was too spread out and fragmented, and besides, it would require at least $10,000 to get started. But Kunkin went ahead anyway, looking for financial backers…
The first stand-alone issue of the Freep was dated July 30, 1964. “A New Weekly,” it proclaimed in a front-page statement, “Why We Appear.” Kunkin opened by declaring that while the paper represented no party or group, “we class ourselves … among the liberals.” Of course, Kunkin himself was not a liberal; he had been a member of the SWP and at the time was a leader of the Socialist Party in L.A., which made it a point to criticize liberals. Apparently he thought that L.A. in 1964 was not ready for a paper that criticized liberals from the left. Kunkin did promise that the Freep would be “free enough to print material disagreeing with liberal organizations,” and indeed the paper would start doing that pretty quickly. But at the beginning, Kunkin declared his goal was “to link together the various sections of our far flung liberal community.” He also said “we do not plan to deal with national and international events”—instead, the paper would focus on Los Angeles. — from Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties*