Long time no post, Comrades. Welcome back. It has been a year (or so) since I last posted, and I’ll write more about that in the weeks to come, but for now: hello again. In this reboot, I’ve decided to use this newsletter-ish to share work in progress. One reason for this is that I’d like to make little offerings to whomever would like to receive them outside of the institutional structure of academic conferences and lectures and such. This is a way to make an adisciplinary space for stuff to grow: matter, as it comes, in its early stages. First drafts. Early workings-out of ideas. Much of the time it will be writing, though I might start playing with video for you when I have the time. I’ll keep these posts short. And I’ll try to post weekly. And in the process, I will get to those updates on the dehydrator, and the immersion circulator, and Deke, and housekeeping as art/scholarly practice, these happy companions that my June 2021 self so energetically and optimistically promised to share: all of that is woven into the book I’m currently working on, and most often, the work I’ll share here will be connected with that.
It’s a book about history as an art of decomposition, and what it is to carry the past inside of you, and it’s a cookbook for a time kitchen, and it’s a meditation on fictioning, and it’s essentially where and who I am as a maker of things, here, now. And some early thoughts on the nature of “here,” and of “now,” are what I’ll share this week.
Thanks for reading. xoxo
It’s not at all clear, where to begin. Starting is a way of rooting yourself in place, and the past 2.5 years and counting have undone my sense of being in space and time. I’ve gestured at this, in occasional writing, here and there. I’ve tried to raise the pandemic experience as a space of conversation in academic contexts. It never really takes. I have a sense that folks want to move on, to look elsewhere. Or maybe others’ lives and craft and work haven’t been profoundly upended. Mine have been. In terms of craft, my work is different, now. How I attend, observe, listen, understand, write: all of these have been changed, are changing. And I want to make space to reflect on that.
So we begin in the middle. In a kind of nowhere, which is often where I find myself, these days. If I belong anywhere, nowhere is where I seem to belong, these days. (These days. My sentences are chanting “these days” as they remember what it feels like to belong to nowhere, to a time out of time.) What do you call someone who belongs nowhere? Where is nowhere? What kinds of experiences of community can it engender? And what is it to be here, to be now, when you are where you belong, when where you belong is nowhere? My pandemic has curved my voice into questions.
If punctuation is bodywork, my punctuation is the question mark. The curve and drop and a piece falls off of you and still you float, reaching around to try to embrace yourself. Something is inside of that space carved by the curve, it’s the reach toward (always the gesture is the reach), a place to be. (Some of us are very good at going somewhere, not so good at being somewhere.)
So what is it to be a historian when where you are is nowhere? A historian, a craftsperson who weaves textile out of moments, who makes context like a potter makes a plate, context as the soil that roots a story, an understanding, an explanation, context as a place to be, to grow things, context as the place where things belong, how does this all work when your relationship to being in place, to belonging, is rooted only in moments of reaching out to handfuls of soil thrown into the air before they fall?
And what is it to write about a place or area – China, East Asia – when place is not somewhere you can be?
This all gets complicated when you find yourself in a house by yourself for years at a time. The usual words most often used to domesticate and understand that experience don’t work. It is not an experience that can be poured into bottles and stoppered up and placed on the shelf to be called an archive, a decoration, something to be observed from a safe distance, something to be controlled by being pathologized. (Look at the glass, look at the liquid inside, study the liquid, measure it, name it, label it as wrong in a particular way that can then be repaired in a particular way.) This experience is decomposition. It is an undoing. A coming-apart. You are someplace that is not a place at all. You are inside of a process, a rotting, a fermentation. Something is coming into being. Heat is being released. You are part of the breakdown, and you are being unmade, and you are becoming unmaking itself.
(Yes, I still wear a mask on campus.)
So, ok, here we are. What does it look like to grow a historical practice from that unmaking? What decompositional craft might you learn, as you carve stories from the flesh of that unbecoming like a divine butcher?
(I prefer to give Zoom talks, for the moment.)
I will write a book. And that is what the book will be about.