Secretions or Obstructions
You come too late, much too late. There will always be a world – a white world – between you and us…. The other’s total inability to liquidate the past once and for all. In the face of this affective ankylosis of the white man, it is understandable that I could have made up my mind to utter my Negro cry. Little by little, putting out pseudopodia here and there, I secreted a race. (Fanon 2008: 92)
In the face of this affective ‘formation of a stiff joint by consolidation of the articulating surfaces’ – In the face of this affective ‘coalescence of two bones originally distinct’ – It is understandable that I, like a critical rub, could have the advantage of taking into your skin and the disadvantage of going off. You come too late, embarrassed by the analogy between you and us. You say what doesn’t come to mind: ‘toasted bread or potatoes, peat, lignite, withered leaves’. You say the utterly in common. There will always be a world in which this self, projecting inwards or outwards, separates. Likeness to likeness, we are marrow-scooped in the face of the articulating surfaces. Chins pointing down to the drops of oil in backlit water, we give ourselves away.
In On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Sara Ahmed considers the arrival of the stranger in the university (she discusses the implicit racialisation of the stranger elsewhere). In the institutional space, the body of colour is, statistically and otherwise, the body out of place. Reflecting on her experiences of working in British and Australian universities, Ahmed writes: ‘When an arrival is noticeable, we notice what is around. I look around and re-encounter the sea of whiteness. I had become so used to this whiteness that I had stopped noticing it’ (2012: 35). This impression of whiteness is an impression of coherence that results from a gathering of white bodies; the body of colour disrupts this coherence: It is important to remember that whiteness is not reducible to white skin or even to something we can have or be, even if we pass through whiteness. When we talk about a ‘sea of whiteness’ or ‘white space,’ we talk about the repetition of the passing by of some bodies and not others. And yet non- white bodies do inhabit white spaces; we know this. Such bodies are made invisible when spaces appear white, at the same time as they become hypervisible when they do not pass, which means they ‘stand out’ and ‘stand apart.’ You learn to fade in the background, but sometimes you can’t or you don’t. (42) The stranger who wishes to pass – whom Ahmed describes as ‘the “right kind” of minority, the one who aims not to cause unhappiness or trouble’ (157) – tries not to stand out. She minimises her difference in an attempt to blend into the surroundings, to reproduce the coherence of the white space by blending, by fading, by dissolution. Standing out is the cause and effect of uncomfortable feelings. The stranger does not like to sit down, for fear that she will be asked to leave. She does not like to make herself comfortable, for fear that she has misheard the invitation: Whiteness is produced as host, as that which is already in place or at home. To be welcomed is to be positioned as the one who is not at home. Conditional hospitality is when you are welcomed on condition that you give something back in return. (43) What may be given back in return? What may be given in order to return? The intensity of the stranger’s gratitude corresponds to the impact of her returns.
Frantz Fanon suggests that whiteness is rigidity, brittle coalescence; blackness is projection, extraction, supersaturated release. Ahmed’s rendering of the body of colour is similarly obtrusive – a cluster of sore points, swellings and stains. Although the ‘sea of whiteness’ implies fluidity, the body of colour may experience the continuous body of whiteness as an obstruction (‘like banging your head against a brick wall’): Things might appear fluid if you are going the way things are flowing. When you are not going that way, you experience a flow as solidity, as what you come up against. In turn, those who are not going the way things are flowing are experienced as obstructing the flow. (Ahmed 2012: 186-187) To come: the incoherence of our bodies is what we bring up, the condition of what we have to bring. To come up: despite the insufficiencies of the conditions, we don’t know when to leave. To come up against: (the impression of) settling deeply.
Kidney stones come to mind. The stones that pass through the body, leaving the body unchanged. The stones that must be shattered: they are broken, the body is left unchanged. The stones that must be surgically treated: the body is opened, they leave unchanged. The mass inside you that resists encouragement, that refuses the slip of the spontaneous passage. Sometimes obstinacy manifests as inertia, which is an apparently neutral position. It feels as if your body has not caught up to the world; it feels as if the world has not caught up to your body. Disinclination comes up against the fear of not being missed.
There are things that would delete themselves if only you would let them, damage to the circulation, and that is what I wanted. Was a gasped voice from the beginning, overly phlegmatic, striated to perfection, the colour of our facets and we wouldn’t be blind. And I could hold myself within me so tight that I might burst; prolapse of the epidermis – is that you, polymorphous pervert, moaning, ah, fuck me in the plural. (Uziell 2016: 4)
There are bodies that would dissolve, that would not be contingent upon the argument of their embodiment. There are arguments that would admit points to the point of atrophy. In moving round desires, we go from death to death: ‘But the advantage of syncope is precisely that one always returns from it. Asthmatics, epileptics, lovers – they recount explicitly how wonderful it is to breathe after the attack. […] We place ourselves in the before death, in the after death. The real crossing is forgotten’ (Clément 1994: 15). The inability to speak precedes asphyxiation; there is no question apart from the question of who comes first. The destroyer of strength said: ‘It is built up with bones, smeared over with flesh, covered with skin, filled with faeces, urine, bile, phlegm, marrow, fat, grease and also with many diseases, like a treasure house full of wealth’ (Radhakrishnan 1989: 807). I am full of fullness. The destroyer of strength said: ‘In such a world as this, what is the good of the enjoyment of desires?’ (797). My eyes are full of fullness. Over-identifying with you, I am unable to speak or listen or respond to you. Compressed by the fullness of bodies, my body implodes. (Inertia may manifest as love.) The argument is hypertrophic, admitting too many colours and consistencies. My desires are irreducible to the point.
बिन्दु bindu, a detached particle, drop, globule; a pearl; a drop of water taken as a measure; a spot or mark of coloured paint on the body of an elephant; the dot over a letter representing the anusvāra [after-sound] (supposed to be connected with Śiva and of great mystical importance); a zero or cypher (in manuscripts put over an erased word to show that it ought not to be erased); a mark made by the teeth of a lover on the lips
Orgasm is therefore the foremost means of attaining the dissolution of the individual subject, who thereby becomes the Absolute I, the Immense Heart, or a Forbidden Word. This notion of favouring the moment of syncope is pushed to its extreme consequences; it is true that afterward nothing of value remains. Not sex, nor death, incest, excrement, urine, or even God: it’s all the same, or rather, it’s All One. (Clément 1994: 139)
I light fires in your stomach to worship the tiger eye in your eyes. The body becomes rancid in the warmth of the embrace. I absorb your inability, in me the juncture is hardened in fire. I absorb your inability, in me the hardness reaches extinction. I absorb the world between you and us, in me the white world reaches extinction. The body comes into the world, continues into the world, dissolves into the world. ‘Thereafter it burns the world, devoid of lustre, devoid of limit, devoid of appearance. It burns the mahat tattva: it burns the Unmanifested. It burns the Imperishable. It burns Death’ (Radhakrishnan 1989: 890). In the deadness of night, our eyes filled with slime – Tell us the great secret of aloneness – Likeness to likeness, we are utterly fucked.
Ahmed, Sara, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) Clément, Catherine, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture, trans. by Sally O’Driscoll and Deirdre M. Mahoney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1994) Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. by Charles Lam Markmann (London: Pluto Press, 2008) Monier-Williams, Monier, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages (New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 2008) OED Online (Oxford University Press, 2016) Radhakrishnan, S., ed., The Principal Upaniṣads (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989) Uziell, Lawrence, ‘untitled’, ZARF, No. 3 (Spring 2016), p. 4
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