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South/South
By Maryam Monalisa Gharavi
Whose universal is it anyway? South/South 2009-2012
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The Killing Class

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“It cannot be neglected that the mythology of the democratic polity avidly recounts the heroic combat against the police agents of the old order. But even if the police officer of today did not evoke the images of the past at all, he would still be viewed with mixed feelings. For in modern folklore, too, he is a character who is ambivalently feared and admired, and no amount of public relations work can entirely abolish the sense that there is something of the dragon in the dragon slayer.” (Egon Bittner, The Functions of the Police in Modern Society, 1970)

Late last year I started a series called “The Thick Blue Line,” based on documented, widespread, and ongoing police impunity in the United States. At the end of each month (here are the first, second, and third installments) I compiled national “no charges against police officer” cases verbatim from reported incidents. A one-person operation, the sheer register of unchecked violence at the hands of police—assault, rape, battery, killing—became logistically and spiritually overwhelming. That such wanton state violence goes unchecked indefinitely—forever ever, forever ever?—remains among the most taxing facts of modern life. Of course I was far from the only person to keep a register, as such efforts include a 2011-2013 statistical summary of “police involved shootings,” a crowdsourced national database of police killings, and a more recent database of police-involved shootings. And efforts to organize legal, psychological, and medical support to victims of police violence are innumerable and severely underhyped; let them not go unmentioned here.

While the headlines and press accounts are jackhammered into history with the tone of “objective” reporting (encounter it enough times and “no charges against police officer” morphs from reportage into eery command) the details of single incidents slink darkly into your consciousness. I cannot forget the Roswell, New Mexico police killing of Cody Towler, on whom police discharged at least four tasers. Towler’s heart stopped, and his death was ruled a homicide (“the level of stress on his body from the tasers and the restraints was just too much”). He was allegedly holding a baton when police found him, a detail I mentally note whenever the descriptor unarmed is deployed, the insinuation being that to be “armed” is to lose your capacity for an “innocent” death. I cannot forget the killing of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year old retiree who was shot and killed in his bedroom by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They claimed to be looking for meth. None was found in Mallory’s home. And I cannot forget Kim Nguyen’s kidnapping, sexual assault, and near-death experience at the hands of two uniformed members of the Los Angeles Police Department. In the struggle to free herself from the officers who handcuffed her in the backseat of their cruiser and attempted to rape her, Nguyen was thrown at high velocity from the car. She lost all her teeth from the impact and spent two weeks in the hospital. Neither officer was taken off the field and both “continue to patrol the streets pulling over women for alleged traffic violations.” The summer of 2014 was a deluge of death with the police killings of Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, and Michael Brown. Each of their deaths—and let the preciousness of their lives be counted with every mention—dug up the scars of carceral regimes past, the ones that yielded the not-strictly-speaking-police killings of Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, and others, and others, and others.

In a previous essay (on, among other things, the final photograph taken by Oscar Grant, militant suffragettes, and North by Northwest) I discussed the police as the entity endowed with the power of ordering space. That came about when efforts to dig up a theory of the police in critical scholarship, particularly sociology, came up wanting. Emile Durkheim’s The Division of Labor in Society (1893), Max Weber’s work on the police’s legitimation of the use of force, and Egon Bittner’s 1970 monograph (cited in the quote above) on the police as an institution possessing coercive social power are distinguished efforts at forming a consistent theory. The common denominator or minimal difference in these delineations is that the police are endowed with the sole, legitimate right to use force. I favored instead a maximum value, borrowing from a line of thinking between Althusser and Rancière (with whom I nonetheless have significant differences) that premises police not merely as legitimate wielders of force but the maximal rights holders to maintaining circulation. To order spatial operations, to command bodies, to keep things moving along.

Bittner, the most prominent police theorist of his time, cast them as tainted by that which they fight (“there is something of the dragon in the dragon slayer”). While an attractive idea psychologically, that line of thinking foregoes the idea that the “bad guys” are never endowed with the same impunity as the “good” police guys. It also inadequately considers that “several truths about the police [can] coexist,” as I discussed in another essay. #NotAllCops liberal discourses, where the police’s capacity for “good works” are seen to negate their provenance, still abound. (It goes without saying that police are far from the only major players in modern criminalization: the power of U.S. courts and corrections therein is staggering.)

But the police impunity chronicles had the effect of pushing me further beyond not just the sociological premise of the police as rightful heirs to force nor even my own prior casting of the police as architects/guardians of space. The more one pays attention to the conspiratorial way (and I mean conspiracy factually, as in a plot that has a familiar narrative end) that police walk away scot-free from the storm of violence they enact the more one reaches toward a higher definitional value. The police are defined by the power to kill with impunity, period. The police are the killing class. And it is in clarifying, not reducing, that existential value that the “theory” can become generative and useful beyond the mole-like venues of the “local” or “municipal” or “federal.” In Palestine, where I am currently living and from where I continue to watch Ferguson unfold with urgency, the IDF is both “foreign” occupation regime and “local” police force, maiming and eradicating human beings with impunity.

If the police are supremacists in the act of impunity, the work of the righteous is organized opposition to that supremacy. The 2014 Summer of Death was unfathomably chilling. I feel its traumatic aftereffects both on those immediately around me and those at a digital-intimate distance. But the steadfastness of survivors, and the daily effort to maintain one’s self and community safe and alert, keeps the plight of deadening disillusionment at bay and solidarity and mutual respect deeply alive.

A Translation of Waly Salomão’s “Jet-Lagged Poem”

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My translation of Syrian-Brazilian poet Waly Salomão’s “Jet-Lagged Poem” is in the new issue of Asymptote, which focuses on literature from Latin America. (Special thanks to editor Aditi Machado.)

Asymptote, which is committed to the international encounter of language and literary translation, requested an audio recording of the poem being read in the original Portuguese, so one is included on the site.

Here’s an excerpt of “Jet-Lagged Poem“:

Large bird of an international route sucked
by jet turbines.

And bridge, rope, cable car, catacombs
of the wine club, sorbets, sherry, scanners,
hydrants, magasin d’images et de signes,
seven types of ambiguity,
all things
lose the commas that separate them
a wagon full of connectives explodes-implodes
the gentian violet sky reflected
in the needle of the glass skyscraper
stations Bouqinistes megabookstores
la folie du voir bistros cinemas cities
whole countries engulfed in the storm drain.
High cuisine and junk food alternate.
The kaleidoscopic carnival of the streets
where the hard metallic alloy of tongues
spills into the slangy verve of trip-ups
full of the bullshit of the motherfuckers and
mothersuckers and fuck yourself up.
Is it day? Is it morning? Is it evening? Is it night?

Sleeping? Awaking? Somnambulent?
Dayambulent or noctambulent?
Like an arrow, ripping the lap of the maternal
tongue. From the warm vagina, like a shooting
arrow.

Wall of Names

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As the massacre of Gaza reached its tenth day we began laying out the names of the dead, their ages, and the locations in which they were attacked.

We consulted information registered by the Gaza Health Ministry (who risk their lives to make this record possible) and compiled by Al-Akhbar English and Al Jazeera English.

We are trying to keep pace with the names as they are released, but the list grows before cartridge ink has dried on the page.

The document we are using is available for public viewing, downloading, and printing. We are updating it as often as we can.

(This is not an art installation.)

—Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Judith Kakon, and Cecilia López
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Canceled Message (Part Two)


Part One
 precedes this post
.

◊     ◊     ◊

Social Media as Corporate Cannibal

“You won’t hear me laughing, as I terminate your day
You can’t trace my footsteps, as I walk the other way”

“I’ll consume my consumers”

—Grace Jones, “Corporate Cannibal

◊     ◊     ◊

How to Almost Completely Disappear (on Twitter)

Last March I spent some time in Iran, where my access to the internet was severely hampered. This limitation made me snappy and tense, possibly in the throes of some sort of vacant withdrawal that I didn’t get over until eventually landing somewhere with airport wifi.

In a connection-deprived space a lack of self-control can’t be faulted as the culprit of this aimless malaise. One could blame the false promise of ubiquity. Going from a country with near-limitless access to one without is like having the water abruptly cut off before you’re done taking a shower. It leaves a cold and shrill sensation.

I have heard from people who think and write more exclusively about this issue that the best relationship one can engender is one in which the internet becomes a “stream,” an image that conjures more of a gently babbling brook than the digital culture shock I just described. The ubiquity of the internet frees us from the shackles of compulsion, goes the idea. There may be truth to this but it leaves out why off-gridding might still be desirable, difficult, or both. What if the magnification of solitude or at least simulating that one is in a semi-deprived state of access or connection is a positive value? (“It is very uncomfortable to be alone, and I think that is why we, as a globe, have fetishized connection the way that we have. But I think that we are losing a lot by losing the experience of solitude.” —Jennifer Egan.)

The Iran experience was uncomfortable, but in the same way that being thrown into a pool against your will is uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean you stop craving a deep-sea diving experience.

Beginning that kind of experience requires a real ending. Social media is powerful but stays too close to the surface, and requires too much squelching and self-flattening for any sort of dive. It is most “successful” when it is productive, in the sense of accumulation and accretion, and that is true regardless of the user. Whether someone engages in playful banter, sports predictions, or an aphoristic/literary Twitter creation, adding and multiplication always trump stasis or subtraction.

I more and more sought subtraction, or at least an addition without accretion. If the first part of “Canceled Message” was a dissection of that emerging concern with erasure in open view, here I am tackling the question of how one can enact it. 

Bio is a yearlong exploration of how to appear without accumulation. It is one approach—my approach—to the issue of becoming immersed in solitude in full “connective” mode. It’s a leave-taking without fully exiting the scene, casting a self-made ghost in the machine. From May 2014 to May 2015 I update the 160-character “bio” portion of Twitter every day. No record is kept (at least to my knowledge) save for the one I keep offline. There is no data storage center to aim a “delete tweet” command to. Formation and deletion work in unlikely harmony, like those intriguing canceled artists’ texts. And it’s a low-tech, and in my eyes, unsuspecting, hack in the system.

This conceptual approach, a two-month excerpt of which I’m leaving below, has precipitated more questions for me than it has answered. (If it has sown a “practice” it has done so with an open, plasmatic response, not a fixed agenda.)

How do you redact the self inside the very structure erected for self-appearance?

How do you un-stream something that is meant to be streamed? Similarly, how do you un-scroll an infinite open text into a into finite matter?

How do you produce “content” without obligatory time-stamping, all the while not totally disregarding the limits of temporality? In other words, how do you stay within a temporal limit without being marked by time?

As of this writing, Twitter Inc. does not allow mass deletion of bulk tweets. (This makes the sudden appearance of priorly deleted tweets all the more ghostly, even sinister.) How do you manipulate the superstructure of a medium—preferably in the most low-fi way possible—to produce cancelability in a medium that immensely restricts it?

In short, how do you use a medium against and within its own confines?

◊     ◊     ◊

Bio

30 June | If office-bound, not offing but offlining

 

29 June | Changing color in a dark, oceanic cave, like a private amphibian

 

28 June | Every day the encounters with the falsity all around us

 

27 June | Seduction by falsetto

 

26 June | Images disguised as speech acts

 

25 June | A dictionary in reverse, defining public terms in a private language

 

24 June | A 1-800 number reaching back and forward into previous and future centuries

 

23 June | Clocks reset, so hopeful become everlasting

 

22 June | In/process and/or out/bound

 

21 June | Ex tempore

 

20 June | Always procedure, always process. Sometimes proscenium, sometimes project.

 

19 June | Courting betrayal

 

18 June | Run, Mona, run

 

17 June | You say “cry like a baby” like any adult actually ever did

 

16 June | Going to tell it on the mountain so it can go tell it on the molehill

 

15 June | Capture, log, assemble, conceal, export

 

14 June | Treason in the age of military dominance

 

13 June | Clean windows are dangerous: just ask the young bird who learns the mechanics of flight in the safety of classroom instruction

 

12 June | A teen hotline for people in their late twenties and early thirties

 

11 June | Better a blind sailor near shore or a seeing swimmer lost at sea?

 

10 June | Desirous of making only things of no value, or more extremely, non-value itself

 

9 June | This is impacting my schedule

 

8 June | I placed a self on the internet and watched it spread

 

7 June | Anti-social media or non-mediated sociality are further options

 

6 June | Butter knives and machetes, in a particular order

 

5 June | Headless poet

 

4 June | Saudade is Portuguese for the wrangling haul of cardboard boxes and the brevity of feeling settled

 

3 June | New kids on the black bloc

 

2 June | Tehran Savings & Loans, LLC

 

1 June | Never not leaving; always already on arrival

 

31 May | Mud, mudder, murder; and other Hitchcockian themes

 

30 May | How to Wear a Mask (physician’s office poster / alternative book title)

 

29 May | A soft spot for quitting stories

 

28 May | Communication never ceases to mis-

 

27 May | A suggestion box like at Qalandiya Checkpoint, only a biography

 

26 May | Caraca, mané…

 

25 May | And there was always somebody calling you on the telephone, to interrupt the fantasies of suicide (Audre Lorde on the working definition of a friend)

 

24 May | Femmephilia in a femmephobic world

 

23 May | Passport renewal services, unincorporated territories

 

22 May | I make myself seeing

 

21 May | We can self-complete when we’re dead

 

20 May | I am fine to drink my wine. I have glee to drink my tea. I’ve the wits to drink my spritz.

 

19 May | Rushing less and less to fill irreducible voids

 

18 May | This month I operated power tools for the first time. It may sound delusional but I experienced them as tools that make you feel powerful

 

17 May | Face veils are really in right now

 

16 May | It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s capital and cops

 

15 May | How about we didn’t

 

14 May | Films, like __________, have to be finished

 

13 May | Erring and/or caring

 

12 May | Should I be trying to ‘own’ it? What are the terms of ownership? What is ‘it’?

 

11 May | A donkey will mother almost any animal

 

10 May | Refresh, delete, delete, delete, close tab, scroll down, expand, select, highlight, copy, scroll up, new tab

 

9 May | Wild and varied dreaming.

 

8 May | Maybe it unsettles you now but every real beginning requires a real ending

 

7 May | News? I had no expectation of news

 

6 May | Containing live fires

 

5 May | What if the difference between biography and autobiography were like the one between jail and prison? In one summary detention. The other, prolonged conviction.

 

4 May | No forced haha’s, only authentic haha’s

 

3 May | The battle to compose life is daily fought between rhopography and megalography, between the merits of the trivial and mundane against the heroic and important

 

2 May | Only daughter of an only daughter of an only daughter

 

1 May | Possessor of a telencephalon and highly opposable thumbs