ITERATIVE INTIMACIES: REFUSING LEGACIES OF THE CHANGING SAME
By Sophia Monegro and Candice Lyons
The 2020-2021 volume of the Ethnic and Third World Literatures Review of Books, “Everyday Anarchy: Communities in Action During a Pandemic of Unrest,” traced the emergence of multiple, anarchic responses to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Within this frame, the quotidian marked the liberatory, as those whose survival was deemed optional at best—due to forces including but not limited to anti-Blackness, queerphobia, classism, and misogynoir—found everyday ways to resist state and social consignment to disease and death. Now, only one year later, many of these same communities find themselves forced to navigate spaces ravaged not only by the risk and persistent reality of infection but also a uniquely insidious brand of amnesia. Even as COVID rages on, new variants continue to develop, and public safeguards steadily evaporate, those most vulnerable to the pandemic and its implications must confront an unfounded yet emphatic insistence that we are inhabiting a post-pandemic world.
This year’s Review, “Iterative Intimacies: Refusing Legacies of the Changing Same,” situates this claim as one of the many useful fictions by which the status quo—the changing same—is maintained. The texts reviewed in this volume underscore the ways oppressions persist even as notions of post-colonialism, post-racialism, post-feminism (and yes, the post-pandemic) dominate public discourse. Our contributors map the epistemological collapsing of interlocking systems of subjection into micropolitical matters of personal intimacies. Structures of ableism that inform COVID care policy become means of re-establishing the intimate impositions of the state in all facets of living beyond public health; systemic racism is reduced to an individualistic tear in the fabric of national intimacy; the assault on reproductive rights is limned as a natural affirmation of the state’s investment in the intimate space of our bodies; and homo-/transphobia is understood as the means of protecting the intimate inner workings of the nuclear family. Given this, our reviewers work to rethink the very notion of intimacy, to frame it—as Lisa Lowe does—“in relation to the global processes and colonial connections that are the conditions of its production” (The Intimacies of Four Continents, 2015).
Drawing from the depths of bell hook’s intellectual legacy, Keerti Arora’s section “Black Women’s Studies: Intimate Processes of Care and Critique” opens the volume by revisiting the revolutionary prowess of love. Considering hook’s theory that communities foster and maintain life, Arora asks us, “what constitutes community?” Arora maintains that whom we mourn and rejoice with, whom we share the intimacies of space and sentiments with, are larger indicators of community than socio-political prescriptions. The reviews in this section range from rich research dives into the afterlives of slavery to fictional stories where Black women willfully take on a deracialized consciousness to escape the exhaustion of the Black epidermal experience. Each text reifies that if “communities sustain life,” intimacies constitute communities. Etyelle Pinheiro de Araujo’s review of Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall emphasizes how the intimate vulnerabilities that shape Black women’s lives necessitate a “practice-oriented feminism.” The review walks us through Kendall’s numerous claims over the span of eighteen chapters, evidencing the various ways white women not only exclude Black women from the “feminist” movement but also oppress women of color, queer people, and marginalized communities by opting to protect their own privilege. Araujo’s review is emblematic of how categories of sameness do not amount to affinity; it is shared intimacies that formulate community.
“Intimate Subversions: Gender, Sexuality, and Queerness,” asks us to consider the ways resisting state and cultural interventions into the intimate realms of gender and sexuality can encompass a diverse range of strategies. From disidentification to defiance, the subjects taken up in the texts reviewed mark queerness as a site of possibility and reclamation. As section editor Sarah Frances Summers explains, these works “offer queer lenses through which we can examine our world, not just to move beyond it and envision a new one, but also to perceive the disciplinarities that shape our subjecthoods and understand more about the subversive movements already at play.” Sarah Schuster’s review of Elizabeth Freeman’s Beside You in Time: Sense Methods and Queer Sociabilities in the American Nineteenth Century pushes these understandings to their theoretical limits, as it traces Freeman’s move to place particular bodies and their attendant contexts in conversation with one another, using time as both a point of departure and a common thread. Schuster contends that this “theorization of time—its expansion and retraction, and the socialities and subjectivities it constitutes—seems an appropriate topic for our current moment.” While contemporary impositions of imperial intimacies continue to shape the realities of the gender and sexually diverse, this section de-centers these forces, imploring readers to instead embrace the possibilities of queer time, queer resistance, and queer subversion.
In “Visceral Visuality: Media Studies as a Practice of Revolt,” Editor Hannah Hopkins uses the dialectical relationship between theory and praxis to frame the section. Advancing James and Grace Lee Boggs’ concept of “flow,” Hopkins reminds readers of the flows between revolt and radical practices, emphasizing that their fluid interchange is always at play. The reviews in this section occupy this same crossroads, highlighting exchange across media, archives, theater, and geographies. Jackie Pedota’s review ofAesthetics of Excess: The Art of Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment continues this dialogue. Author Jillian Hernandez studies Black and Latinx women’s adornment practices to alter the negative perception of their “physical representation (e.g., large hoops, long colorful nails).” Excess is a practice of abundance, a mode of resistance that defies “their socioeconomic status and [establishes Black and Latina women’s] legitimacy within a neoliberal society that seeks to dehumanize them.” Walking through how participants of Women on the Rise!, a feminist art community, reclaim excess by changing its meaning through their lived praxis, Pedota’s review does not only show the relationship between theory and praxis; it also emphasizes how the intimate spaces of “charlas (informal conversations)” are conduits for redress.
Holly Genovese’s introduction to “Literary Studies: The Fleshly Politics of Life, Land, and Literature” considers the varied ways structural violence is and has historically been undercut by the intimate act of writing. The texts reviewed in this section, Genovese explains, “each share an emphasis on the conditions, space and material structures that allow…for the creation of literature and art,” even within contexts of erasure and subjection. Daisy Guzman’s review of Kevin Quashie’s Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being traces Quashie’s readings and re-readings of just these sorts of creations, wherein assertions of Black being and Black aliveness come to complement (and perhaps even re-animate) Afro-pessimistic investigations of Black dying and Black death. Guzman positions the text’s circuitous literary structure as an interrogative practice that dares the reader to rethink and revisit, in effect offering “a blueprint for alternative methods of reading and studying Black life, Black world-making, and Black relationality.” The contributors to this section insist that matters of life and death, past and present—taken up time and again by writers across geographical contexts—are ultimately matters of intimacy.
Equally intimate are the ways in which the state subjects communities to carceral mechanisms of surveillance and control while relegating particular bodies to prisons and early graves. In “Another Future is Possible: Justice, Carcerality, and Abolition,” section editor Jaden Janak frames these realities as manifestations of scarcity and stymied imaginations, explaining that the texts reviewed in this section work to combat carceral logics by considering what it means to “engag[e] in the messy and difficult process of building community mechanisms that provide health, safety, and wellness for all.” Shannon Woods’ review of Paul Passavant’s Policing Protest: The Post-Democratic State and the Figure of Black Insurrection delves into the ways the absence of this kind of care translates into the normalization of violent policing. Woods follows Passavant’s interrogations of historical and current political landscapes while concomitantly imploring readers (along with her co-contributors) to think even more broadly about the ways our oppression—like our resistance—is endlessly, intimately complex.
The introduction to “Enmeshed Exploitations: Work, Colonialism, and Death” offers the intimacies of Marxism as a lens for studying how our ethics frame our compliance, tolerance, and refusal of the capitalist economy. Editor Sophia Monegro brings Marxist analysis into interpersonal relations to highlight how the reviews in this section “discard the seemingly neat lines that separate the machinations of political economy from people.” Monegro maintains that the ethical decisions we make between the dotted lines that separate the superstructure from the base are what facilitate the dialectic between the two. Hélène Estèves’s review of When More is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency applauds author Roger L. Martin’s emphasis on solutions while also pointing to some ethical biases that foreground the book. Taking up the problem of rising social inequalities within capitalism, Martin identifies behaviors and laws that focus on efficiency as the culprit and offers regulations and laws as the solution. Yet Martin’s argument is contingent upon a belief that capitalism is the best economic model, failing to consider how beyond people, the system itself produces an efficiency ethos. Estèves’s approach to this review illustrates this section’s ability to read for how intimacy is ever-present even in the intricate matrix of political economy.
Leonard Cortana introduces “The Revolution Will Not Be Colorblind: Blackness, Indigeneity, and Struggles for Freedom” by highlighting how “colorblind ideologies or non-threatening diversity and inclusion policies” effectively sabotage change. Pointing to an interview with Angela Davis, Cortana positions the reviews in this section at the crossroads of academic scholarship and knowledge created by people active in the struggle. Spanning from books in the Black studies canon to the formulation of Black food geographies, the reviews in this section ask readers to “investigate the multilayered processes of erasure that have only further cemented extant colonial and anti-Black narratives.” Silvana Scott’s review of Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness spotlights the structural violence that impinges the Black fat body. Author Da’Shaun L. Harrison argues that Black people are deemed the “Beasts of Humanity” and that the health logics that vilify Black fatness were never created for Black people and constitute another method of policing Black bodies. Elucidating knowledge obscured by the arms, tools, and legacies of colonialism and slavery, this section better prepares us to work through the obstacles that impede effective revolutionary action.
This year’s Review invites readers to begin the necessary work of untangling the intimacies of continents, of bodies, of nations, and of history. Our contributors urge you—to borrow from Audre Lorde—to interrogate the origins of your deepest intimacies and “see whose face [they] wear…Then the personal as the political”—or rather, the intimate as the political—can begin to illuminate all our choices (Sister Outsider, 1984).