BE/LONGING: THE FLIGHT AND FIGHT FOR HOME
Co-Edited by Alhelí Harvey and Hartlyn Haynes
AH: So, we started this project—and really thinking about these ideas—at a time when if someone had said “there will be global pandemic in six months” I would’ve thought it was an aggressive marketing campaign for a new Matt Damon led sci-fi thriller. I haven’t let my apartment in two weeks, and I’m lucky. But I can’t help but feel that now my notion of home will forever be inside of quotation marks. I don’t own this space; my security is a weird precarious balance as a student. But I’m finding that in the 362 square feet of where I exist daily, I’m being forced to answer some of the questions of our prompt. I think about your research on memorials and the shadow of HIV a lot right now. Maybe a good place to start would be to explain how we were thinking and what has or hasn’t changed for us. Talking to you, I think we can both say that we’re seeing the ramifications of what we’re critiquing—these large-scale inequalities—playing out in real time.
HH: Yes, it’s surreal to be living during a watershed, under conditions that lay bare not only flagrant systemic inequities but the lies we are told about them. I wonder if we might add “a world coping with a pandemic” to our list of places we can truly experience the “Present.” The “present” in which we are living is a contact zone that escapes easy categorization yet absolutely provides justification for the rigidifying of “Here” and “There,” “Us” and “Them,” and “Past” and “Future.” And, yes, the specter of HIV/AIDS looms large over the COVID-19 pandemic; I think about the ways viruses are ascribed race, gender, sexuality, and a sense of morality; I think about the ways government response has been grossly inadequate in both cases, though in quite different ways; I think, most clearly, about the ways that capitalism, ableism, and racism leave marginalized communities—low-income people, disabled people, people experiencing homelessness, people detained in ICE detention centers, among many others—the most at risk as we free-fall through this crisis without a strong social security net to catch us.
What’s critical to remember is that quarantine and public health management, while invaluable actions for slowing the spread of COVID-19, have also transhistorically served as modes of control and surveillance, as factors that are used to determine the “Us” allowed in and the “Them” kept out, as measures of who is fit for “Here” and who must be sequestered “There.” When I think of these tactics in terms of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, then, I immediately think of Andi Remoquillo’s review of A. Naomi Paik’s Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since World War II.
AH: Totally—your point about the lies we’re told about places, the event of the past and the present, and what’s “realistic” or “possible” for the future are also really prevalent in Rightlessness—which seems even more relevant now. Like: how do you contain a virus when the tradition of the State has been to contain people as a way of negotiating that “Them” and “Us”, “Here” and “There” boundary enforcement? I was also thinking about Nick Estes’ work reviewed by Annie Bares.
HH: Yes, Estes’ Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance about Indigenous traditions of resistance is a really useful way to think about this pandemic (and its resultation “contact zone” of the present) within a longer arc of settler-colonialism. Estes’ imagining of Indigenous history as the future also pairs nicely with Erin Yanota’s review of Mark Rifkin’s Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination.
AH: I was so taken by the possibility of working towards what Yanota describes as Rifkin’s description of “becoming” and “being-in-time” for contributing to Indigenous efforts to assert sovereignty.” Rifkin’s work is definitely something to read alongside Estes, but I also think that what I like about all the texts that have been reviewed is that we see these themes of rupture and tension and the contact zone come up in works like Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House reviewed by Camila Torres Castro. Considering how Rifkin frames “becoming” as “experiencing the past and of determining… futures that “encompass Native stories of both fragmentation and reinvention on their own terms” makes me think about how the contact zone is sometimes a place, but also it can be an intimate relationship and the people (and dreams) that can get bound up in the parameters of someone else’s sway. In this way queerness, and the process of feeling like a ghost, if very aligned with some of Native “becoming” in that they are both rejections of a settler-colonial project—in Machado’s it’s the abusive relationship that grows into this microcosm of domination and control.
HH: What struck me about Castro’s review of Machado’s work was how it really probed one of the themes of this section—“the flight and fight for home”—because the contact zone for Machado is certainly intimate queerness, but it’s also the notion of home itself. We asked in our call for reviews what it means to be “home” when the very environment you inhabit is designed with someone else’s identity in mind. These questions are salient when thinking about Emma Train’s review of Toby Beauchamp’s Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices. Beauchamp’s work explores transgender as a category, asks how it’s imbricated with post-9/11 surveillance practices and, as Train points out, tackles the “boundaries between fugitivity, freedom, and entrapment that all gender non-conforming people must constantly navigate.”
AH: I think what I find most appealing about these texts our reviewers have detailed is how they disrupt my assumptions about certain categories—that’s fruitful to me. There’s this push towards reworking the places that have been previously “closed off” or that we could have maybe gotten used to seeing in only a utopian sense: being at “home” in your identity, body, even dreams. And sometimes, these stories vary in their ability to be told; fragments are a big part of this section too. Alex Norris’s review of Maria Frederika Malmström’s The Streets are Talking to Me: Affective Fragments in Sisi’s Egypt presents the challenges of working with these kinds of political shards. For all our conceptual efforts there still exist real boundaries between hope, loss, memory, and the physical need to move on. How we negotiate those boundaries opens up methodological terrain. Wanting to balance all of these fragments (literal objects, memories, perspectives) is something we’ve seen mentioned in multiple reviews.
HH: What’s so illuminating about your review of C.J. Alvarez’s review of Border Land, Border Water: A History of Construction on the U.S./Mexico Divide is how it answers one of the questions we originally asked of this section: how might we slice at the structures of the world to unravel silences? Alvarez’s work slices at structures—the built environment, the infrastructure—of the U.S./Mexico border to destabilize it as natural (and silent) and reveal its longevity in projects of control and extraction. The region Alvarez details is also exploited as a site of political exceptionality; what seems the most quotidian about the border turns out to be deeply intertwined with that exceptional status and explodes familiar colonial histories we’re used to seeing and uni-directional stories about power.
Yet it’s precisely in these revelations that the fight for the “Home” we imagine can begin.
AH: I’m biased, but I tend to agree with you there. To me, all of these works revolve around the fact that what we tend to imagine as being stable, is more often than not, a very tenuous place. Sort of like a house of cards, they require so many devices to keep them propped up. And that is what interests me. There is constant contradiction, but I think that’s what keeps me coming back and looking for what could be a “Home”—the dream and the nightmare always coexist. It’s just a matter of which one we think we’re living in.