I’ve been thinking about Maaza Mengiste’s piece on Ferguson, “From a Shrinking Place,” because her demand that the body is not a metaphor, that it’s not “the body,” brings me up short. It’s not the body. It’s that body. And that body comes first.
I can’t stop thinking about it, because the inadequacy of thinking is the place where it takes me, and I feel that place shrinking around me as well. She demands of us that the ethical demands of the body must interrupt the normal course of intellectual work. It has to come first. But she’s not talking about “the body” in the abstract. She’s talking about that body. And any body can be that body, and will be, when it’s yours. The 43 students whose bodies were burned at a landfill, placed inside plastic bags, and thrown into a river. Each of those bodies is not a metaphor.
As Maaza writes “I thought it was possible to live in the world of metaphors and literature, to eschew the physical trappings of the body.” But she is brought up short by Hassan Blasim’s words, as I am brought up short by hers: ““The body must be protected, not the thoughts.” And so she reminds us: “When we lose a body, we lose everything.”
The body has to come first, and “the body” is not a metaphor. It doesn’t have the luxury of being a metaphor. It’s a real body, bleeding to death on the pavement, for four and a half hours. It’s his body.
I’m thinking about this because to be scholarly, “impartial,” to have a “conversation” in the midst of violence, is to continue the violation, to normalize it, to take it away from him. To intellectualize “Ferguson,” without starting by protecting the body, first, last, and overall, is an abdication of our humanity. You don’t have an intellectual conversation when the body is not a metaphor. The body must be protected. The body is still warm, still lying ignored on the pavement like a piece of meat. The killer is still waving at the camera. The hands are still up. The blood is still flowing. The body must be protected, not the thoughts. The body must be protected, not the thoughts. The body must be protected, not the thoughts.