Rules for Revolutions

7 Dec

It used to be, back when I began bogey, I wrote birthday posts for my people. The final one was for myself, the year I turned 25; the year I moved to New York. Since then, I realized recently, I haven’t slept alone on my birthday. I did last night, and while I remain too acclimated to the habits of couple-hood to occupy my entire bed instinctively, last night I sprawled. It had been a beautiful day, better than I expected, far better than I had earned, and reluctant to let it end I lay there, awkwardly spread-eagled, and thought about New Orleans.

Several years ago, tipsy outside the Spotted Cat, my companion and I were accosted (during a fraught half-conversation) by a person who identified themselves as a “mystic.” I was drunk enough to leave with that magical bar with someone I barely knew (and wanted with that gutting desire that happens so rarely in life), but not (yet) quite drunk enough to cheat on my then-partner, and I have always been grateful to said mystic for intervening when she did and offering to tell our fortunes. He left, and she informed me that I was “gifted with people” while I gazed in dismay at his receding frame and the promises it carried. (oh, but what if I had gone; that would surely have been a different life.) At the time, broke as fuck, I muttered I would rather be gifted with money and then she got huffy and intoned “you will not be easily forgotten.” I rolled my eyes, walked to my hotel, felt vaguely guilty for a few days, forgot the whole episode. Last night, drunk on my people— who called, texted, and emailed from every continent on earth after months (if not years!) of shameful and sustained neglect— I thanked her for her blessing, so thoroughly undeserved.

This was a difficult year, a lonely year, a transitional year. It was the year in which New York finally became home, by which I mean it became a city I could fathom leaving. Not quite yet, perhaps not even soon, but eventually. Most of all it was a surprising year, with an uncanny knack for allowing me to have only what I didn’t know I needed and literally nothing else. I’m proud to have survived it, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m looking forward to being me again. That is a lot to have happened, all in one day, but it wasn’t even all that happened, because last night, trying to explain dialectics to Vajra (as one does) I began thinking about revolutions and then— wait for it— I wrote my first full paragraph in four months.

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Windspiral, Bronwyn Berman, 2006.

So, right, revolutions. That’s what this post is actually about, cos this evening I read Supriya’s tweet about Shashi Deshpande’s keynote, the one about MeToo, in which she says that “the breaking of the silence is the beginning of revolution.” Yesterday morning I’d have said, oh fabulous but also what is a revolution, because for a while now I’ve been wondering whether revolutions are worth identifying at all, and whether the usefulness of the concept outweighs the violence involved in theorizing it. All abstraction is inherently violent, of course— to specify is to deny, dialectics 101— and I’m not arguing against, like, thinking. My point is only that concepts have to be useful to justify their own existence: establish a pattern, stake a claim, something that allows us to inflict our thoughts on the recalcitrant world, and for some time now it has seemed to me that “revolution” occludes more than it reveals and that the only patterns it allows one to trace are hackneyed ones.

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The Stakes of Silence

24 May

My favorite ex got married a few months ago. We broke up long ago (if you’ve been with bogey from the beginning you might remember him) but you can’t spend five years with someone unless you really like them, and when he first told me he was getting married I kept waiting for nostalgia or resentment or even envy. Most everyone I’ve dated is now married and it has never occurred to me to care, but I felt I owed him—or rather I owed the us-as-was—an attempt at appropriate emotion. Try as I did, though, all there was to it was happiness and the narrative satisfaction of loose ends neatly tied together.

Then the wedding happened, and there were pictures, and there were comments on those pictures (by various random humans) about how he had “saved the best for the last” and that was when my temper flared. It was comforting, after the stormy year I’ve had, to finally feel a small sorrow, and I started listening to the song in pursuit of a pleasantly maudlin night. I soon discovered I was “some silly girl” and growled I am a fucking woman and took the whole thing very personally indeed. It hurts to be reduced into a trivial obstacle in the drama of someone else’s life; it’s the sort of thing most of us know about ourselves even as we rarely face the full shattering reality of it. Other people, so to say, are always already the reserve army of emotional labor, and all it means to honestly love someone is to convince them that they are not expendable.

This past year I tried, belligerently and often ridiculously, to do precisely that—and it was the hardest thing, bar none, that I’ve ever done. But there’s no convincing people that prefer to remain indifferent; there’s only accepting it, which sounds perfectly obvious until you live through the knowledge that the person you love has no space for you in their life and is willing to be quite ruthless about it. (It took Hegel to teach me about indifference, because I am a very deep idiot.) The how, why, and where of it all requires rather more backstory that I’m willing to go into but essentially what happened last year was that two people I trusted beyond all reason betrayed that trust within a few months of one another and I lost my mind. Around the same time, I was harassed, if that’s the word, with devastating intimacy, by someone (else) who had clearly been far more attentive to my online existence (and those of the people in my life) than I had. It wasn’t all a coincidence, it was a… whirlpool. There were a lot of emails, there was a breach of privacy, there was a great deal of embarrassment; it wasn’t threatening, but it went on for far too long and eventually there was the grim vulnerability of knowing I had handed someone the weapons with which they hurt me.

At this point, I could have taken down bogey, deleted my social media, and gone to ground. I almost did. Perhaps, in retrospect, I ought to have. At the time, though, that felt like defeat—and I can be, have you noticed, a pretty pugnacious human. So I stuck around, made my jokes and my peace, and figured I would get over it and start publishing again; I was certainly writing enough, if not quite well enough. Each time I got to a pitch or a byline, though, I stalled. Last year’s post took me six weeks to upload, and the thought of actually publishing something made me feel horribly exposed. It took Aisha weeks to convince me to publish the Shape of Water review, and the only way I can cobble together Advocate editorials is by writing boring and/or obvious ones.

Speaking of that review— the first essay I published under my own name after the Deccan history essay last February— the title of this post was the working title on it, born as it was from a year in which it felt like I all was doing was throwing some sort of very principled tantrum even as I was utterly unable to say something (anything!) that might actually matter and that might give me some pride rather than steadily deplete it. I can’t quite explain it, if anything twitter ought to make me feel more vulnerable than writing a bogey-post six people will read. And so it does, but for precisely that reason it’s easier to feel brave (or something) every time I log in. In the act of preserving my right to have a voice, I seem to have lost my actual voice— I began bogey to be a writer, but these days I feel like I kept bogey and lost the writing.

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Keyezua, “Fortia,” 2017

A lot of this exhausting year has been about scavenging a life from the debris of my previous one. I’ve spent so long trying to sort out the kind of life I can have that I lost sight of the one I want to have. I don’t regret it; I would do it all again, fall in love, risk a broken heart, even sacrifice my dignity until it began to feel like I simply had none left. (I do, of course, I have enough dignity to drown a dromedary.) But somewhere along the way I began to… disintegrate, and it’s time to admit a measure of defeat. I’m, well, scared. Not of anyone else, all that’s sorted, just for myself. The past two summers have been bleak, and I don’t know what to do with this one except retreat and hope to emerge with some wisdom, some wit, some discipline. Which brings me roundabout to my point.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: I want to build a life I won’t eventually need to delete. I have erased novels and voices and cities and lovers and careers and I am just fucking done. And I want to write; since I can’t make myself write posts or essays, I’m writing letters. To you lot, to those of you who want them, anyhow. Mostly I’m doing this for the structure of it, and I’ll be quite content writing into a void, so long as I can pretend to myself it isn’t one, which was always the point of bogey anyway. I’m also kicking myself off the internet once I get home in June, so if you want me, this is where I’ll be. I’ll send one every Thursday starting next week, until September— and there will be no archives. If you see this in July or something and want to catch up; write me and if I know you we can work something out. If we’ve never interacted, I apologize for being rude, but I won’t respond.

The letters won’t be all about my life or anything, which is in any case not that interesting. It’ll mostly be stuff I’m reading and thinking through—some of which will be tinged with the personal; it’s just how I’m writing these days, especially with the exciting state of feminism—so they’ll be some sort of cross between my twitter account and what bogey used to be. I expect them to be much shorter than the traditional bogey post (certainly this one) and far chattier, but I tend to get obsessed with whatever I’m working on, so mostly it’ll be me blathering about trains or mythology or legal reasoning or fossils or whatever. If I get too arcane, please do write me, and I’ll fix it in the next letter and explain and so on. I desperately want to find my way back to writing for non-academic audiences and I’ll very much appreciate all the help I can get. Again, if I don’t know you and you email me: I will read, but I won’t respond, at least not directly. I’m sorry to sound pompous, it’s not that I think I’m above reproach or debate, I just need the space and silent strangers.

Below the fold, belying all that I just said, is a very academic thingamajig about Adorno’s reading of Kant, which is such a beautiful piece of philosophizing I thought it was the perfect way to start and couldn’t bring myself to tamper with it by simplifying it any further. I can, however, alert you to the stakes, so I’ll do that first.

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Across These Miles

12 Sep

A few weeks ago my life burned to the ground. Or perhaps that happened a few months ago, time grows slippery when measured in hasty choices. This occurs, anyway, every few years: I lose my life and I find myself. Last time I ran all the way to New York to do it, before that I started chaosbogey, even before that I quit science. This is not something that simply happens to me, of course; for someone so suspicious of origin stories I certainly concoct a great many.  As someone recently reminded me, my infallible instinct for erasure is why I delete most of the words I write and can’t bear to keep old diaries. Perhaps, she suggested, I ought to consider what that means. All it means is that I’m an obedient citizen of late capital, but who likes admitting they are the most banal of humans?

It was while I was pondering that, my point is, that bogey (born as she was from an earlier conflagration) returned with customary flamboyance. How tedious it must be, she observed, to recall one’s existence in epochs. Chaosbogey, laughing at Din since 2010. A few weeks later, she said something else I doubt I’ll ever forget: when, Din, did you become such a white woman? Now there is a question worth pondering.

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The Oasis of Now.

3 Aug

I wrote this essay for a seminar about democracy back in the spring, pretty well on a whim, once it became reasonably clear there wasn’t to be an Indian summer for the JNU protests. The midterm was a far more earnest affair about Laclau and Modi and Real Politics, and I’m sure my professor will be very grateful if you can enlighten her about what any of this has to do with democracy (in my defense, she assigned the Derrida and the Benjamin and it’s really all their fault.) She seemed to like it though, and it continues to amuse me, and it is sort of a companion to “Map of Lost Longings” if only in my own head. I was going to publish it, but I realized that I’m not done thinking it, not yet. Which means, naturally, that bogey was yanked away from her happy holiday. (It is far, far, far longer than Map, maybe move on now?) Anyway, onward. Oh, also, spoiler (?) alerts for the first nine seasons of the new Who. I haven’t seen the tenth yet, but I’m madly curious about the Return to Gallifrey.

The Prosthesis of the Other.

If you are looking for me,
I am beyond nowhere

—“The Oasis of Now” by  Sohrab Sepehri, translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati.

“I only have one language; it is not mine” begins Jacques Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other or The Prosthesis of Origin. A few pages later, he heightens (and arguably dissolves) the paradox into an antinomy: “We only ever speak one language—we never speak only one language.” Perhaps it is the verb that makes the second observation seem more quotidian than the first; it troubles my categories less: I speak in many tongues, but I express only myself. So long as the ipseity of “I”— a speaking-thinking-knowing subject—remains undisturbed, that’s an easy claim to accept.

What does it even mean, though, to “have” a language?

Treating language like a possession entails breaching the boundary between words and things, an unsettling provocation for anyone trained within the assumptions of a certain (mostly modern) rationality. To own a language is to exert a claim over a shared reality, an assertion that is both intimate and violent, and anything but natural. That is, I think, Derrida’s point: there is terror in language—“soft, discreet, glaring” (23)—and highlighting that terror points to the processes of historical and colonial usurpation that make more material hegemonies possible.  I speak, I have, the language I am given; I am trapped within the language that allows me passage, that makes my truths heard and hearable, inasmuch as I survive within the only history that makes me inevitable. Language makes reality credible and legible, and so makes reality itself.

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Morning Sun, Edward Hopper.

I inhabit a world made by language and by the promises that it extracts. But what if I didn’t? What if I could slip, magically and at will, across idioms, making them legible to myself even as I remain a cipher to them? What sort of being can traverse, but not transcend, the trap of wandering meaning? What if I lived, precisely, within the “incommunicable” that Khatibi identifies: lost in the translation between worlds? Would such a chimerical, alchemical figure even possess an “I” to speak from? Is that the bargain, then, that the price of having the impossible, universal language—and thus the capacity to narrate a universal history—is to be deprived of a stable self? Is that the only sort of creature that isn’t destined to write, but instead writes their own destiny?

It was in search of this quixotic beast that I began thinking about Doctor Who.

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This Awful Silence

4 Mar

O Alibi of Chronology, in what script
in your ledger will this narrative be lost?

This week I published an essay that was sparked into premature life by the JNU protests. Umar Khalid gave his speech on the anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder—the two links showed up nearly simultaneously on my TL—and I remembered, instantaneously, Malcolm X’s prophecy, made two days before he was assassinated: “it is a time for martyrs now.” No, my brain revolted, we have had enough martyrs. Pondering that on the subway, I looked up, and the six train’s “Heaven” caught my eye. It will be the past. We’ll all go back together.  That reminded me, as ever, of my very favorite poem in motion, Mary Ruefle’s “Voyager.” Memory, what can I make of it now that might please you—this life, already wasted and still strewn with miracles? 

From that constellation of strange associations was this essay made.

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Roerich, Star of the Hero.

A Map of Lost Longings was argued on the basis of an intuition that I’ve nurtured for a long while—that the crisis on the left is primarily epistemological. The ways in which we produce knowledge in the western academy make it incredibly difficult to theorize a politics of solidarity. That intuition is why I resigned myself to graduate school, and I haven’t gotten very far in thinking through what I want to say or how to say it. This brief essay was my first attempt to begin a public conversation, and the proposal I make for transversal history both terrifies and exhilarates me. The potential for violent erasure and cheap homologies inherent to the method I suggest is almost limitless; there is a reason fascism is so fond of mythology. Can I, with my big brahmin brain, rescue myth-making? Almost certainly not. Can I try? I certainly intend to, because there is also a reason that fascism so often wins. Is it contradictory to deploy failure and demand success? It is, but no more so than turning a theory of abstract labour against political economy. The paradox of good theory worked then, and fuck, it might again. (I know, I know, I’m not Marx, but Marx wasn’t Marx either, you know, until he was. He was just a broke bro in exile.)

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