The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues
SEPT 2020 Issue
Editor's Message

World on Fire

“What matters here is to uplift the autonomy of our bodies and the dignity of our lives.”

Dr. Elizabeth Bishop. Pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui
Dr. Elizabeth Bishop. Pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui

An intertextual installation of joy to uplift the heartbeat that keeps us alive. Installation as party as mode of survival counteracting narratives of bodily shame and poverty porn, of “marginalized” people living only in suffering. COVID-19 civil disunity, writing through quarantine in NYC. Six months into crises of profound disorganization spawned by the unfettered greed of racialized capital, its delusional compartmentalization of the moment. Managing the disaster, a vacant phrase, exactly eliminates space for our dreaming.

We push back.

We defend ourselves against this assault. Respond to the system of evidence that is in front of us—a world screaming for recalibration, aftershocks of an overdue quake that has forever displaced us. Seismic shifts. Tectonic sidewalks. Germs. Fascists. White supremacists. Threats of civil war. Attacks on anti-fascists only come from fascists. The absence of punk is the refusal of vitalistic abandon. The triple negative of the repressive hypothesis. So how do we party? What does it mean to host an immersive installation at a distance? Party as survival was a framing long before 2020 was forever defined by pandemic and the senile determination that gave us Biden versus Trump. This is the backdrop. Inside, the details of a provocation in reply.

As for organizing principles: anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-corporate capitalist surveillance. What matters here is to uplift the autonomy of our bodies and the dignity of our lives. From there, we educate ourselves and share our knowledge with our communities. Anti-racist popular political education to protect our bodies, together as anti-oppressive co-conspirators. Data privacy education in an era of human behavior commodification as the shield and sword to protect the data body. Intersectional movement history education to understand why All Black Lives Matter, why digital rights are human rights, why there is a path forward in the ethically intersubjective, why rights require constant vigilance. A cynical old scholar told me not to write about the body because “the body has been done to death.” The violence of the ivory tower. This criticism centers libidinal economies in every instance—who we are as desiring bodies in search of sunshine and sustenance and love, in search of the peace that comes from understanding. Uplifting vitalism, beginning always again, the eternal return to capture what will become of our radiant survival. Fearlessness is the only way to the abundance of joy just past the depth of despair.

Tamsen Wojtanowski,<em> Bonfire</em>, 2020. Courtesy the artist.
Tamsen Wojtanowski, Bonfire, 2020. Courtesy the artist.

Data is our digital DNA, reflection of our analog lives. Our thinking, monitored well beyond the confines of the US Constitution. We have known this. Federal use of force, secret police in unmarked cars snatching protesters off of our streets. Fear mongering. Playing to the worst emotions. Forgetting history, rampant passivity—somehow the white middle class families are surprised when their children come back from college as Marxists, when Black communities explode with rage to defend joy in the face of state-sanctioned death, when sanctuary forms against the separation of children from families. Private prison profit margin. Attacks on human decency in interests of a market rebound. Call for intervention.

Jonas Salk refused to patent the Polio vaccine. Greater good. False morality of neoliberal states, intergenerational devastation of carceral systems, colonial prestige of cultural institutions—bankrupting the beauty of the world we live in now. We rewrite the terms of exchange. The abuses of objectification. Cognitive dissonance. Hypocrisy meets delusion in a place where white supremacist toxic masculinity thrives as evidenced in any internet search in which one learns about the desecration of religion by priests and the disavowal of the people by the market and the devastation of the planet for stock options. Shiny things.

We are not defeated. We strike back against empire because empire thinks it wins insipidly every time capitalism at a dive bar sounds like rockabilly bartenders and bearded filmmakers talking about producing indie films with Amazon credit cards and Black Friday deals before Thanksgiving and is it me or are there just so many careless people like that misogynist Fitzgerald said 100 years ago. Run on. Things are called deliverables and are expected to be pre-packaged and off-the-shelf but most packaging is plastic poisoning choking out the ocean and off-the-shelf is an artificial idea created by marketing executives that means one size fits none. Resist this. Radical honesty and true love are antithetical to dehumanizing price indexes and the wavering of machine learning markets. Turn tanks into tractors, turn vacant malls into health centers. Wrap around the services. Enact an ethics that do not moralize.

This collection of writing and art is a defense against the violence in our lives, an affirmation of life under the constant threat of erasure. Radical empathy. Stomp traces of fascism with precise intent. Culture jamming. Disruptors on the side of reimagined justice. The orchestration of crashing bricks. How it feels to survive being human in the midst of neverbeforeseen crisis such as we are living through right now. These pages bear witness as they break open words and images to make space for our bodies and lives. Kintsugi, golden joinery. What does it mean to repair? Compassionate urgency. Unlearning. Distance and perception. To be still in the still of the crisis. Biopower recaptured. The politics of survival is insufficient for the moment.

Do not retreat. Document the dance, marked by trauma, on the grave of respectability. A world on a thread. Survival runs deep as it repeats. We have to break what is breaking us. There are things to say when it comes to critical love. Look at the earth flourish in this crisis. Look at the violence. Take care of the self. Of each other. An abolitionist provocation. A hedonist’s alterity. An anti-oppressive framing. Always there is subtext. Find your pillars of wellness. Be surprised. True love is everywhere. This is liberatory anarchism, agreeing to protect our autonomous bodies and the free love of our communities in our processes of remembering and forgetting and healing and rebuilding. Punk forever. Sweat it out. Creativity at the imaginary horizon of our possible worlds.

August 1 2020
Playa Quarantina
Brooklyn NY


Elizabeth Bishop

Dr. Elizabeth Bishop is a writer, researcher, professor, youth advocate, Nietzschean, and surf monk. Bishop is the author of two books, Becoming Activist (2015) and Embodying Theory (2018). She lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Messy.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues