Listicle

Here’s a distillation of he hypothetical thesis I am proposing in my PhD applications, arguments which also inform the work I’m doing in my MFA thesis.

  1. Our conception of the body is always a historically contingent conception. When we talk about material things that affect our thoughts and emotions, part of what we negotiate with is the doubling effect of capitalist logic. Logic like–metaphysical transcendence being carried through physical substances. Feeling is a product of inputs–even circulating hormones and neurotransmitters are seen as static building blocks of emotions/thoughts. The sense that we should have an endless capacity for feeling better, and that the experience of pleasure is the ultimate indicator of accomplishment. 
  1. Part of what’s interesting about writing about health subcultures is their narrative approach to the body-mind connection and their often oblique negotiation with racial, ecological, geographic, architectural, and economic influences on embodied happiness.
  1. The literary and aesthetic genres which form around these health subcultures are capable of resisting this quantifiable logic and the colonial conquest which is its foundation, but also are often active perpetuate it.
  1. Sianne Ngai theorizes “minor aesthetic categories” as capitulating lived experiences in late capitalism; similarly, health genres capitulate something fundamental–though often unnamed–about the world we inhabit.
  1. Siegfried Kracauer: “The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself.” (The Mass Ornament, transl. Thomas Levin, 1995; page 75)
  1. In addition to a sense–real or imagined–of participating in tradition, herbalist subculture and similar health practices permit a hermeneutic approach to the body in the here and now: a reading-into the body which doesn’t reduce its functioning to biochemical (or even social) factors.
  1. This hermeneutic form isn’t just pseudo-scientific, it’s incompatible with the constraints of scientific objectivity. But the cultures which surround scientific medicine tends to weaponize objectivity such that narrative healing modalities can be seen as nothing except pseudo-scientific.
  1. And yet, even popular culture circulates domestic practice, daily habits, and even objects as remedies. These remedies tend to be couched in some small shred of scientific evidence–look at Women’s Health magazine–or are so fully aestheticized as to become a doubly-sanctified commodity: handcraft-as-remedy.
  1. It is also possible that the hermeneutic meaning-making of an ailment enabled by herbalism’s energetic diagnostic system reflects medical under-determination of how a human body can be acted upon by material substances. That the impact of substances on physical functioning–and the impact of physical functioning of thoughts–necessarily requires a framework more nuanced (and literary) than the one enabled by biochemistry or pharmacology.
  1. Further contextualization of health subcultures with psychiatry could potentially open rich, nuanced explorations of the drug war and the devastating, cross-sectional epidemics of addiction. The criminalization of certain botanical substances also puts into relief the oblique ways in which health genres negotiate with indigeneity, colonization, and the historical vilification of traditional medicine.
  1. More than particular remedies which might bring psychological solvency, I think some of the most compelling connections between health subcultures and the mental healthcare crisis are obscured by the minutiae scrutinized in the former: they both reflect contextually-specific physical and psychological needs disavowed by institutional medicine and care-taking. 
  1. These are questions which acknowledge that care-taking and medicine are at times distinct from each other.
  1. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that thinking about that also requires a negotiation with the forms that spirituality takes in this disenchanted, neoliberal context

Racial Justice Resources for Self-Education

“For my part, if I have recalled a few details of these hideous butcheries, it is by no means because I take a morbid delight in them, but because I think that these heads of men, these collections of ears, these burned houses, these Gothic invasions, this steaming blood, these cities at evaporate at the edge of a sword, are not to be so easily disposed of. They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this boomerang effect of colonization that I want to point out.”

— Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (41)

Amidst the global uprising and the newfound widespread public discourse around the ongoing traumas of white supremacy, I was taking a required MFA course on modernism and aesthetics, in which I encountered this excerpt of Césaire. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that colonization and white supremacy shape monsters, and how actively learning to undo or avoid reproducing its damages (its complicity with the destruction of other lives) is a way to become more fully oneself, rather than to withdraw or subtract oneself — a false binary between liberty and self-suppression which is in toxic circulation around the pandemic and the push towards racial justice. (Becoming more fully oneself can also include the acts of quieting oneself, and listening to the stories of others.)

I’ve been laying mostly pretty low social media wise these days, mainly due to the exhaustion that sank in as this academic year wrapped up, but felt aware of an urge to perform the ways that I was also personally undertaking the work of reckoning with these matters — something that seems a bit antithetical to undoing the deranged dialectic of white supremacy. I’ve been hesitant to be too visible or performative for that reason, but I did want to offer some guides and readings that I have found helpful (both in terms of participating in this moment, and in education myself around race and racism in slower, long-term ways). They are below.

Resource + Action Guides

Please get in touch if you feel one of these guides is no longer trustworthy or there’s something else you feel should be represented on a compilation like this. Also this is a shit-ton of information, just saying.

Articles, Podcasts, Panels, Etc

  • “The Fire This Time: Race at a Boiling Point,” Panel on 6.5.20 with Angela Davis, Robin D. G. Kelley, Gaye Theresa Johnston, and Josh Kun; moderated by Herman Gray.

This reading/listening list is scratching the surface of what’s out there; hopefully you find something that’s helpful. These conversations have been going on for a long time and will continue. I am working to believe that the work I do within myself–and continue to do beyond this moment of upheaval–is an important part of this necessary healing and transformation and unlearning the patterns of white supremacy–escaping the boomerang effect of colonization that Césaire described above.