“EVERYDAY ANARCHY”: COMMUNITIES IN ACTION DURING A PANDEMIC OF UNREST
By Xuan An Ho and Sophia Monegro
To characterize the past year would be an exercise in conceptualizing extremes. The global community has witnessed historic events from the continuing devastation of the pandemic to the unmatched magnitude of the protests in the wake of George Floyd to the ecological crisis in Texas. At the same time, what many of us feel in our daily lives is an overwhelming sense of inertia and monotony; as a New Yorker cartoon said with blithe resonance, “The apocalypse movies never mentioned all the sitting around” (July 22, 2020). We’ve been dealt an excess of the surreal, devastating, and groundbreaking, but these moments have been enclosed within a dense fog of the mundane and boring. Rather than insist on magnifying the already monumental, this year’s Review, “Everyday Anarchy”: Communities in Action During a Pandemic of Unrest opts to walk into the fog to illuminate the most ordinary, humble objects of everyday reality and experience them with fresh eyes.
Along with the participants of the Sequels Symposium, contributors to the Review meditate on anarchy as a way of life, as a poetics of relation. We borrow Saidiya Hartman’s phrase “everyday anarchy,” which she uses to describe and celebrate the radical thoughts and lives of ordinary Black women, to move beyond conventional definitions of anarchy that focus on the “chaotic” and the “criminal” (2019). Instead, our contributors look at the ways communities have expanded the praxis of anarchy into instances of civil disobedience and challenges to the status quo, and find political action and radicalism in seemingly minor, ordinary, and ephemeral experiences.
The six sections of the Review each offer an interpretation of “everyday anarchy” as it appears in the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class, and in mediums ranging from academic monograph to experimental theatre to hybrid prose-poetry. The first section, “Black Feminist Studies: A World-Altering Praxis,” edited by Candice Lyons, reminds us of Barbara Christian’s declaration that her people have always been a “race for theory” (1987). At a time when theory was at its height and dominated by white academics, Christian calls on us to recover how Black people, and particularly Black women, did the elusive: they closed the gap between theory and practice. A stunning example of this feat in the section is Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick: And Other Essays (2019). In Jessica S. Samuel’s review of the book, she traces Cottom’s study of her own body as a way to theorize the “problem” of the Black woman, especially one who takes up space. Samuel celebrates the book as “a call for Black women to be their very thick selves: robust in stature, full of contradictions, and replete with rebellion.”
Section co-editors of “Visual Scapes: Crisis, Decision, and Glitch,” Lindsey Holmes and Hannah Hopkins, focalize the pivotal role screens and media play in our daily lives and how they influence our actions and activism. This section frames how the idea of the glitch, usually seen as an error or flaw in a system, opens up new ways of engaging the body, gender, and identity. These social ideas inform a seemingly homogenous reality sustained by networks that glitch disrupts. Glitch theory as an opening up of homogeneity runs throughout the reviews in this section. Even beyond the literal screen, in I.B. Hopkin’s review of Underground, Monroe, & The Mamalogues: Three Plays by Lisa B. Thompson, glitch is detected in how Mamalougues adds unexpected layers to our perceptions of Black respectability. Hopkins highlights how “the Black middle class in these plays is less about Black triumphalism than it is about the slippages and foibles of such a class position.” Thompson’s plays take on the weight of history: in Underground, she propels us to the struggles of liberty seekers on the Underground Railroad, and in Monroe, we feel the trauma of families forever scarred by the relentless Jim Crow lynching. At every intersection, Thompson injects a casual playfulness and intimacy that unsettles our one-tone visions of these pasts. This tonal disturbance is a sort of glitch that opens up these histories for community conversations and healing aspirations that go beyond the stage.
In her introduction to “Weep, Laugh, Dance: The Body as Cultural Matrix and Embodied Experience,” Michal Calo writes that the “studies reviewed in this section compel us to reimagine the histories and futures of our bodies and embodied experiences and their always incipient potential to shape the here and now.” The idea of potential is especially resonant when we consider kt shorb’s review of The Sense of Brown (2020), José Esteban Muñoz’s posthumous work. Munoz’s former colleagues, shorb writes, “assembled the drafts of this monograph with devoted and respectful care.” The sense of collaboration and generosity found in the production of the book is also found in its theory. Muñoz’s work is largely a response to brownness being labeled as a problem, and he theorizes “brown” beyond conventional understandings of latinidad. shorb reminds us that Muñoz understands brownness not as a static category but as “a manera de ser, a way of being in the world.”
Jackie Pedota underscores both the difficulty and necessity of coalition-building in her section “‘Loving you is complicated’: Conversations between Activism and Art.” The reviews cover vast territory ranging from a reorientation of the elegy in the context of Black mourning to an investigation of the deep connections between prisons, psychiatric institutions, and institutions for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. That said, the works in all their diversity conclude with a meta-desire for closure, a true ending to injustice. In his review of Aleshea Harris’s What to Send Up When It Goes Down (2019), a ritual play performed each time a Black person is murdered, Zachariah Ezer poignantly considers the emotional and communal offerings of the play while recognizing that its deepest desire is to end its run.
In their introduction to “Reimagining Fugitivity: Improvisations on Justice,” Emma Hetrick and Kathleen Field urge us to read for fugitivity “in moments of love and candor, and also in the nooks and crannies of the types of totalizing institutions that generate and preserve a centuries-old climate of anti-Blackness.” Sifting through the systematic depths of racial capitalism, the reviews in this section range from readings of what we find when looking for justice—as Claudia Rankine’s poems in Just Us: An American Conversation offers—to critiques that move us towards more radical and abolitionist futures. Jaden M.B. Janak’s review of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms (2020) by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law disentangles how the attempted amelioration of the carceral system moves us farther and farther away from abolition. Essentially arguing that reform is devoid of justice, Schenwar and Law gesture to an abolitionist future that abandons surveillance technologies in exchange for a world where everyone—regardless of how they fair under capitalism—can live fuller lives.
Our final section, “‘Otherwise’ Futures: Resistance, Revolution, and Redress,” fervently recites this call for the defense of Black life. Section editor Joshua L. Crutchfield positions us in the fleshy, battered wound of Black genocide by recanting the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black lives. Crutchfield reminds us that the waves of protest heralded worldwide were not just engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic but by a Black radical tradition. A genealogy that runs through the section with reviews on Circum-Caribbean solidarities, conversations between Black Studies and Native Studies, and an interview with co-authors Gerald Horne and Charisse Burden-Stelly on their history of W.E.B. Dubois’s life-long contributions. Centering the vision of abolition within Black radical thinking, Crutchfield positions the reviews in this section as a map for approaching this new world. Especially, Christopher Ndubuizu’s review of Edward Onaci’s Free the Land: The Republic of New Afrika and the Pursuit of a Black Nation-State charts this radical history in the Republic of New Afrika’s (RNA) ardent attempts to combine Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina into an independent Black state. This section effectively highlights the transformative power of the Black radical tradition and its readiness to escape the foreclosure and craft “otherwise” futures.
Ending with the unlocatability of “otherwise” worlds allows us to return full circle to Hartman, particularly her statement describing her work as a “narrative written from nowhere,” which sounds to us like a gracious, vital, and creative enlargement of space. In that same spirit, we hope that the nowhere of this Review, this open and indeterminate space, invites readers to pause and slowly, closely ponder the minor object.