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Fires of Resistance

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Rage is the disavowed truth of what resistance tends toward.

“Don’t expect to see any explosion today. It’s too early…or too late.” – Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks 

Fire is raging across Turtle Island. Fire over Ferguson. Fire in the streets. Fires of protection in defense of Indigenous territories. Burning police cars: a hallmark of indignation, sedition or infiltration, provocateur-led sabotage. Cars aflame in Ferguson and Crown Heights, RCMP vehicles and tires ablaze in Elsipogtog. Fires that clear, nurture, destroy.

It’s too early or too late. The latest instantiation of respectability politics is performed as acquiescence to a status quo that cannot hold. It is a grim acceptance of governance ruled by rights and recognition, sunk under the state’s delineation of what matters, what is counted as “morally legitimate” politics, authentic protest, acceptable forms of resistance.

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What’s the Matter Boss, We Sick?

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Centuries of colonial domination have the leaders of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea more focused on not exporting Ebola than on curing it within their borders.

When Thomas Eric Duncan was suffering from the Ebola disease in a Dallas hospital, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf apologized to America and discussed punishing him if he survived.

With the US doing so much to help us fight Ebola and to give one of our compatriots… He’s gone there and in a way put some Americans in a state of fear and put them at some risks, so I feel very saddened by that, and very angry with him, to tell you the truth…

The fact that he knew and he left the country, it’s unpardonable, quite frankly. I just hope that nobody else gets infected. Fortunately, he’s in the United States where medical care, you know, is very good. And now that a few of the health facilities there are aware of Ebola because they have been able to treat certain people that have gotten cured of it. I hope he’ll get his treating and then after that they’ll send him back and then we’ll have to deal with him.

When asked, “What will you do after he comes home?” she laughed, and said she would “have to consult with the lawyers.”

Sirleaf based her threats on “the fact that he knew,” but we can only speculate whether Duncan knew when or where he contracted Ebola. He died on October 8th. We don’t know what he knew, nor will we ever.

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Of Suicide

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Questions of intent can’t get to the real roots of suicidal experience

Some suicides are akin to manslaughter. I don’t mean that they are criminal. I mean simply that some suicide belongs in that liminal category between the accidental and the intentional. An attempt is made on a life without premeditation, messy and unmeticulous. It is impossible to answer definitively, “did they mean to do it?”

These are those anguished leaps for oblivion, which—not for want of medical and psychiatric ­pathology—­remain mysterious. These acts stand in stark contrast to the deliberated acts of suicide, either assisted or solo, in which an individual determines that their life is better ended. When 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon—where it is legal to die with a physician-prescribed lethal dose of barbiturates—she asserted sovereignty over her own life. Facing swift and terminal brain degeneration from cancer, the young woman took to YouTube before her scheduled November death to publicize her case and argue that others, like her, should be permitted to Die With Dignity. Cases need not be as clean cut or imminently terminal as Maynard’s to be defensible. I see no moral ill in deciding to die; players should be able to fairly choose how many hours to strut and fret upon this stage.

Had any of my attempted suicides been successful, I believe they would have been equally morally defensible. But it would not have been death with dignity, nor deliberation. “Crime of Passion, Your Honor,” I’d tell the judge, “it was manslaughter.”

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Softer Than Softcore

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The overstimulated, quantified internet subject seeks the roots of intimacy in ASMR videos where strangers roleplay caretaking

Over the past five years, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) has become the focal point of a robust community of online enthusiasts. In its protoplasmic early life on blogs and message boards, it was simply dubbed “the Unnamed Feeling”: a blissful sensation of tingling along the scalp and vertebral axis that results from a set of reliable interpersonal triggers, distinct to each participant, but often with a great deal of overlap: soft voices, kind words, a conceit of caregiving.

The group’s coalescence was spontaneous and stumbling, in a way that seems typical for Internet-based discovery. Frequenters of online comment threads began offering halting accounts of a supposedly private experience that, it turns out, was enthusiastically shared. They reported a history of such reactions trailing back to their early youth, recurrent and unexpected glimmers of joy in response to close conversation and casual touch. Awareness of the phenomenon has snowballed as this proclivity has been profiled by various media outlets, mostly in a tone of wondering confusion.

Since coming into knowledge of one another and giving themselves a name, self-styled “ASMR-tists” have put forward countless videos specifically designed to provoke this response. The content of these videos range from the silent handling of common objects like hair brushes or cotton swabs to prolonged whispered monologues to role-play scenarios of impressive audiovisual nuance. In the role-play videos, performers look straight at you for the better part of an hour, gesturing around the camera lens to suggest that you are there, an arm’s length away, being gently manipulated. Clips tend to recapitulate standard scenarios (haircuts and doctor’s visits among the most ubiquitous), but new variations emerge each month: Now you are being fitted for a suit; now you are booking a cruise; now you are surviving an apocalypse.

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The Sororal Death

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Writing about a disease suffered almost exclusively by women presents the disordering question of form.

In 1972, Susan Sontag made notes in her journal for a work to be called “On Woman Dying” or “Deaths of Women” or “How Women Die.” Under the word “material” she listed 11 deaths, including the death of Virginia Woolf, the death of Marie Curie, the death of Jeanne d’Arc, the death of Rosa Luxemburg, and the death of Alice James. Alice James died of breast cancer in 1892, at the age of 42. In her own journals, James describes her breast tumor as “this unholy granite substance in my breast.” Sontag quotes this description in Illness as Metaphor, the work she wrote after undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Sontag is diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974, at the age of 41, but Illness as Metaphor is cancer as nothing personal. Sontag rarely writes “I” and “cancer” in the same sentence. As she explained in Aids and Its Metaphors, “I didn’t think it would be useful—and I wanted to be useful—to tell yet one more story in the first person of how someone learned that she or he had cancer, wept, struggled, was comforted, suffered, took courage … though mine was also that story.” Rachel Carson was at work on Silent Spring when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1960, at the age of 53. Like Sontag, Carson wrote one of the most significant books in the cultural history of cancer, but Carson won’t admit the link between herself and the disease she dies of in 1964.

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