ASAP/Journal Vol. 6 No. 3

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6.3 (SEPTEMBER 2021) AUTOTHEORY 6.3Vol. 2021SEPTEMBER INTRODUCTION Autotheory ASAP! Academia, Decoloniality, and “I” Guest Editors: Alex Brostoff and Lauren Fournier INTERVIEW Decolonial Queerness and 2 Spirit Becoming in Cree and Métis Video Art and Film: Thirza Cuthand’s Indigenous Autotheory Thirza Cuthand and Lauren Fournier DOSSIER Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments Migueltzinta C. Solís • Arezu Salamzadeh Sally Clegg • Sonia Fernández Pan • Gabrielle Civil Lukey Agnes Walden • Nicole Trigg Žana Kozomora FORUM Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques Leila C. Nadir • Ricia Anne Chansky Allison Yasukawa • Danielle LaFrance Allison Upshaw • Che Gossett ARTICLES Skin, Kin, Kind, I/you/we: Autotheory’s Compositional Grammar Vilashini Cooppan Dare (Again) to Not Speak Its Name? Translating “Race” into Early Twentieth-Century Western Armenian Feminist Texts Deanna Cachoian-Schanz Transmogrifying Guadalupes, Transmogrifying Selves: The Queer Inhumanist Aesthetics of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark Luz en lo oscuro Marcos Gonsalez The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers and Radical Research Practices: A Collage Suzanne Bost Borrowed Speech: Giving an Account of Another with Wu Tsang’s Full Body Quotation Summer Kim Lee Troublesome Knowledge: Autotheory in the Queer Classroom Shannon Brennan If That Which Is at All: Notes Toward an Allotheory of Grace E. Lavery Cliff Mak Oh What a Circus: A Response to Cliff Mak Grace Lavery

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ASAP/Journal welcomes articles of interest to those studying post-1960s international literary, visual, performing, and media arts. We publish work that articulates new arts movements, critically examines emerging aesthetic practices, discovers new critical methods and vocabularies, and investigates how the contemporary arts confront the historicity of artistic form. We welcome essays about international art, artists, or arts movements of any kind, unrestricted by national, ethnic, religious, or gender borders and boundaries. We invite contributions that address the aesthetics, ethics, politics, forms, and methods of the contemporary arts in any medium, including the cinematic, media, visual, plastic, sound, literary, and performance arts. In addition to scholarly essays, we also invite artist interviews and essays in alternative or multi-media formats; our online site will publish book and exhibition reviews. Special-topic issues, guest edited by scholars in any arts field, are welcome and vetted through our editorial collective. Guidelines for submitting special issue proposals are available at our submission site. Please send all inquiries to


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Published by Johns Hopkins University Press 6.3 (September 2021)

The Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present ASAP/Journal is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to exploring new developments in the post-1960s visual, media, literary, and performance arts as well as their historical provenance and global intersections. As the scholarly journal of ASAP, the journal seeks to promote dialogue between artists and critics across the contemporary arts and humanities. Recognizing the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art and criticism across the globe, ASAP/ Journal presents pioneering scholarship in numerous genres and platforms, including scholarly articles, interviews, dialogues, and book reviews. The journal publishes methodologically cuttingedge, conceptually adventurous, and historically nuanced research and essays concerning the arts of the present, broadly conceived.

FOUNDING CO-EDITORS: Jonathan P. Eburne and Amy J. Elias Journal Design: Sarah Lowe, University of Tennessee, and Samuel Bendriem, Independent Designer EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Laura Anderson Barbata Sarah Bay-Cheng Alexis JosephOrenLindaBirgitDeneBrentLisaRosalindTatianaKateJaneCraigSamuelHillaryBoylanChuteCohenEleyElliottElswitFloresGaltGitelmanGreenGrigarHopfenerHutcheonIzenbergJonghyun Jeon Carolyn L. Kane Barbara S. Krulilk Venus EditorialWilliamGabrielCarolineEdgarRamonIgnacioEldritchStevenW.J.T.BrianBenjaminLauLeeMcHaleMitchellNelsonPriestSanchez-PradoSaldivarSchmitzShawSolisUricchioAssociates RowenaUniversityKwan, of Hong Kong, 2021–2022 Supporting Institutions: The Department of Comparative Literature, The Pennsylvania State University The Humanities Institute at Penn State EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Elizabeth Ho / University of Hong Kong SENIOR EDITOR Michael B. Gillespie / City College of New York EDITOR, ASAP/J Alexandra Kingston-Reese / University of York REVIEWS EDITORS Michael Dango / Beloit College Jerrine Tan / City University of Hong Kong ASSOCIATE EDITORS (3-year terms) Visual Arts, Architecture, Art History Rachel Haidu / University of Rochester Elizabeth Harney / University of Toronto Lisa Uddin / Whitman College Media, Film, Digital Arts Rita Raley / University of California, Santa Barbara Elena Gorfinkel / Kings College, London Courtney R. Baker / Occidental College Literature Marijeta Bozovic / Yale University Rachel Galvin / University of Chicago Brian Kim Stefans / University of California, Los Angeles Music, Musicology, Sound Dale Chapman / Bates College Brigid Cohen / New York University Eric Lott / CUNY Graduate Center Drama, Dance, Performance Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson / Northwestern University Kate Elswit / Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

ASAP: The Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present ASAP is committed to exploring the richness and diversity of the international contemporary arts as well as the critical methodologies used to elucidate them. ASAP welcomes all forms of innovative or established scholarship that have as their primary purpose the advancement of humanistic learning about the contemporary arts. Predicated on the reality that the contemporary arts operate globally through the interaction of persons, cultures, systems of distribution, and translations of values, it encourages groundbreaking scholarship but also fellowship and scholarly interaction among its constituents. Opposed to any discriminatory practice that undermines human, nonhuman, and environmental flourishing and inhibits the free creation and dissemination of ideas, the association does not endorse any one critical methodology, political orientation toward the arts, or aesthetic criterion of evaluation. Member-at-Large: Summer Kim Lee / UCLA Secretary: Kenneth Allan / Seattle University Treasurer: Maria Bose / Clemson University Communications: Kinohi Nishikawa / Princeton University Journal Editor-in-chief: Elizabeth Ho / University of Hong Kong 2020-21 Motherboard: President: Karen Tongson / University of Southern California Vice-President: Dixa Ramírez D’Oleo / Brown University 2nd Vice-President: Amber Jamilla Musser / City University of New York Past President: Tatiana Flores / Rutgers University Member-at-Large: Joshua Javier Guzmán / UCLA

/ ASAP/Journal  v / 2021)(6.3SeptemberAUTOTHEORY Table of Contents INTRODUCTION Autotheory ASAP! Academia, Decoloniality, and “I” 489 Guest Editors: Alex Brostoff and Lauren Fournier INTERVIEW Decolonial Queerness and 2 Spirit Becoming in Cree 503 and Métis Video Art and Film: Thirza Cuthand’s Indigenous Autotheory Thirza Cuthand and Lauren Fournier DOSSIER Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments 513 Migueltzinta C. Solís Arezu Salamzadeh Sally SoniaCleggFernández Pan Gabrielle Civil Lukey Agnes Walden Nicole Trigg Žana Kozomora FORUM Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques 547 Leila C. Nadir Ricia Anne Chansky Allison CheAllisonDanielleYasukawaLaFranceUpshawGossett ARTICLES Skin, Kin, Kind, I/you/we: Autotheory’s 583 Compositional Grammar Vilashini Cooppan

ASAP/Journal  vi / Dare (Again) to Not Speak Its Name? Translating 607 “Race” into Early Twentieth-Century Western Armenian Feminist Texts Deanna Cachoian-Schanz Transmogrifying Guadalupes, Transmogrifying Selves: 631 The Queer Inhumanist Aesthetics of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark ⁄ Luz en lo oscuro Marcos Gonsalez The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers and 653 Radical Research Practices: A Collage Suzanne Bost Borrowed Speech: Giving an Account of Another 679 with Wu Tsang’s Full Body Quotation Summer Kim Lee Troublesome Knowledge: Autotheory in the 707 Queer Classroom Shannon Brennan If That Which Is at All: Notes Toward an Allotheory 731 of Grace E. Lavery Cliff Mak Oh What a Circus: A Response to Cliff Mak 753 Grace Lavery ANNOUNCE- Calls for Papers 757 COVERMENTS IMAGE Thirza Cuthand, Less Lethal Fetishes, 2019. Image courtesy of artist.

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T his special issue convenes artistic practitioners with early-career and established scholars to engage the burgeoning field of autotheory. As a point of departure, we begin first and foremost with a conception of autotheory as an art of the present. By hailing autotheory as an “art,” we bring together practicing autotheorists as well as scholars of autotheory—where the two are often one and the same. Intricately complicated, deliciously slippery: where to draw the line between the life and the work, between theory and practice? Does the attempt to draw a line in fact draw attention to the very impossibility of doing so? The line, it would appear, lies. Second, this issue spotlights the ways in which autotheory’s distinctive deconstruction of theory and practice unsettles Eurocentric ways of knowing, proffering a method of responding to contemporary calls to decolonize. Contributors animate decolonial approaches to knowledge production and subject formation in visual, literary, and performance arts, while attending to the ways in which autotheory may participate in broader projects of decolonial praxis. Third and finally, in keeping with the politics and polyvocality of autotheory itself, this special issue sutures self to social to structural, underscoring their emergence as mutually constitutive and interdependent. If there is an autotheoretical turn, then it is a turning outward, traversing what autotheory does in translation and in citation, in postcolonial, Black, and Indigenous epistemologies, in transfeminisms and queer pedagogies, in the archive and beyond the academic industrial complex. Johns Hopkins University


Lauren Fournier


Alex Brostoff and

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 489–502 © 2022


ASAP/Journal  490 /

And although Nelson credits Preciado with coining the neologism, the term has also emerged in other contexts, at other times. Stacey Young’s Changing the Wor(l)d: Discourse, Politics, and the Feminist Movement (1997) introduces the “ . . . why autotheory and why now? What motivates the methodological melding of an autobiographical “I” with academic scholarship? And what implications does theorizing the self have for the politics of knowledge production, broadly conceived? ”

Considering the rapid rise of popular and scholarly interest in works like Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Yonqui ( Testo Junkie) (2008), Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (2014), Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother (2006), and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), and renewed interest in works such as Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), and Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick (1997), among others, autotheory’s recent popularization suggests a pressing need for analogous critical discourse.

In the U.S., the term has garnered popular acclaim from Nelson’s The Argonauts

Fusing self-representation with philosophy and critical theory, autotheory moves between “theory” and “practice,” between “living,” “thinking,” and “making.”1 It is critical and it is creative; it is experiential and experimental; it is scholarly and it is popular. It brings theory to life and life to theory. It plays with personal polemic, positing a speaking self in the act of writing “I,” and then, self-reflectively and self-reflexively, it deconstructs itself. Autotheory’s gene alogies spring from the institutions it seeks to critique. It privileges thinking with over thinking against; its politics of citation unveil its relations. From social media technologies to the publishing industry, from live performance to visual art, autotheory’s escalating ubiquity in cultural production serves as a critical provocation: why autotheory and why now? What motivates the methodolog ical melding of an autobiographical “I” with academic scholarship? And what implications does theorizing the self have for the politics of knowledge produc tion, broadly conceived?

Autotheory, this issue collectively contends, does not merely crop up on literary or theoretical grounds, nor do its roots grow solely in Euro-American soils.

In the past year alone, autotheory has been read both as “theory” and as “prac tice,” although current definitions of the term remain limited by the particular genealogies they trace. In the introduction to “Autotheory Theory,” a special issue of Arizona Quarterly (2020), Robyn Wiegman confronts the contested internal reckonings of “autobiography” and “theory” as they collide and col lude in constructing the neologism. Like Wiegman, we seek to “honor the multiple traditions that inform autotheory as a practice of creative and critical invention.”3 In doing so, however, this special issue also departs from genealo gies (like the majority of those outlined in the articles in the Arizona Quarterly issue) that peg autotheory’s experiments to the headboard of poststructuralism.

Brostoff & Fournier  491 / English-language adjective “autotheoretical” to describe queer women of color anthologies published by American indie presses in the early 1980s.2 Young’s approach to the autotheoretical texts is linked to activism, illustrating how self-theorizing is bound not only to structural critique but to social change writ large. In this issue, we echo Young’s insistence on the centrality of the work of queer women of color to the emergence of autotheory.

Where “Autotheory Theory” looks to poststructuralism as autotheory’s “the ory,” so to speak, Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism references “theory” as a “master discourse” against which artists position them selves. And where “Autotheory Theory” looks to autobiography studies to unpack the “auto” of autotheory, Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism positions lateral citation and collaboration against exclusionary

While the Arizona Quarterly issue appears to understand autotheory as a the ory with this marked genealogy, Lauren Fournier (in another context) has read autotheory as a multimedial practice by artists and writers who have ties to a global art world. Fournier’s Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism (2021) contextualizes autotheory within contemporary art to consider ways in which LGBTQ2SIA+, women, and BIPOC artists and writers wrestle with and subvert the dominant logics of the “master discourse” of what has been called theory and philosophy in Euro-American academic spaces through their embodied and autobiographic work. Fournier considers the subversive possibilities of works by Indigenous, Black, POC, and white settler artists, working largely in North America, who theorize about the self and cite a great many others in their artmaking practices—all the while doing so on stolen and colonized lands.

ASAP/Journal  492 / histories of “narcissism.” This special issue’s overarching aim is to continue to render an even more capacious conception of autotheory, one which destabilizes the very meanings of the words “auto” and “theory.” More specifically, we do so by spotlighting the inextricable relationship between subjectivity and sociality across a range of disciplinary contexts, and by making visible the field-forming contributions of Indigenous studies and decoloniality, comparative studies in race and ethnicity, settler colonial studies, critical university studies, trans feminism, and their allied relations. In doing so, this issue centers historically marginalized perspectives on autotheory, dialoguing across Black, Indigenous (Plains Cree, Métis), Asian American, Chicanx, and Mestizx epistemologies, among others. As a site of multiple investments, autotheory cuts across disci plinary and national borders, providing a mode of responding to the desires and demands of scholarship in the humanities. In contrast to other hybrid genres of academic-adjacent writing (including but not limited to creative nonfiction, lit erary nonfiction, creative criticism, fictocriticism, etc.), as an art of the present, autotheory’s acute and explicit response to contemporary crises in and beyond higher education unfolds methods of contributing to decolonial praxis. On that note, beyond the initial interventions laid out in this special issue, we also main tain that more work needs to be done with respect to autotheory’s decolonial potential as it continues to move transmedially and transnationally: discursively and symbolically, materially and institutionally.***

Autotheory, like the contemporary, remains ever shifting: it is proximate and it is elusive; it is present and it is an art. As scholars in this budding field, we remain aware of the ways in which autotheory continues to take shape in new ways, even as this introduction goes to press. This is the paradox of studying autotheory and its attendant questions of political efficacy: how to reconcile

As guest editors, we began with an initial aporia: on the one hand, the desire to be radically open to what autotheory could be—without, on the other hand, collapsing its criteria to the extent that “everything is autotheory.” The aim to maintain provisionality appeared to ensure expansiveness; however, such open ness also risks a loss of referentiality and, with it, an evacuation of meaning: if everything is autotheory, then nothing is autotheory, and its power as a practice diminishes. To echo an aphorism embedded in ASAP’s own mission, “This is the paradox of the contemporary: what is nearest to hand is hardest to grasp.”4

“ If autotheory’s marked criticalcreative method insists that the self cannot be excluded or extricated from scholarship, what might this tell us about the status of knowledge production today and in the future?

Such critical-creative praxis notably takes place in specific areas of stolen and colonized land. As communities and governments reckon with reparation and repatriation, ever-present is the need to address the interlocking histories of slavery, colonialization, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples globally. As contributors to this issue show, just as autotheory serves as a mode of working through theory, so too may it be a way of speaking back to empire and unset tling Eurocentric ways of knowing. In addressing and wrestling with the twin pillars of modernity and coloniality, contributors collectively illustrate how autotheory participates in decolonial approaches to knowledge production and subject formation. To be clear, this is not a claim to be decolonizing autotheory. Rather, we seek to show how autotheory contributes to decoloniality. Following Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano’s delineation, we understand decoloniality as an interrogation of the very structures of knowledge production and subject formation established and maintained by colonial modernity and its ongoing institutional instantiations.5 If, as Walter Mignolo attests in a 2017 interview, “decoloniality blurs the bound aries between theory and practice, scholarship and activism,” then autotheory offers a mode of resituating the subject within and against legitimated modes of knowledge production in solidarity with coalitional politics.6 Autotheory seeks to transform totalizing frames and claims through critical and creative praxis.

Brostoff & Fournier  493 / a turn to the self when pandemic times have given rise to coexistent calls for both collectiv ity and self-isolation, alongside the prevailing place of social media in our daily lives? The specter of neoliberalism persists, just as capi talism does, even as the world enters an era of unprecedented urgencies, marked by environ mental catastrophe. With such convergences in constant motion, we ask: What might auto theory tell us about the contemporary as a field of inquiry, and the status of “the self” and its mutability in contemporary life? If autotheory’s marked critical-creative method insists that the self cannot be excluded or extricated from scholarship, what might this tell us about the status of knowledge production today and in the future?

ASAP/Journal  494 /

“ If there is an autotheoretical turn, then it is a turning outward, a recursive, inclusive, movement, one that began long ago, and which continues to turn, and turn. ”

With decolonial praxis in mind, just as autotheory is placed, so too is it rela tional—the autotheoretical “I” draws shared breath with communal bodies of knowledge. In contrast to an “auto” that may appear to imply a narcissistic and solipsistic insularity, in this issue, the “auto” of autotheory not only occasions critique but situates subjectivity as inextricable from sociality. In thinking through collectivity and community as ethical stakes of autotheory, contri butions in this special issue conscientiously work against the self-containment of the “auto.” From its politics of citation to its merging of self-figuration and structural critique, autotheory’s formal methods and modes of knowing reach out in encounters with others. In this sense, the auto theories in the pages that follow are indebted to the coalitional politics of queer women of color feminisms and the broader Third World Feminist movement. If there is an autothe oretical turn, then it is a turning outward, a recursive, inclusive, movement, one that began long ago, and which continues to turn, and turn.

“Decolonization,” as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang famously state, “is not a metaphor”; we reinvoke this phrase as a fervent reminder, acknowledging (as Scott Challener recently has) Tuck’s subsequent clarification that “decoloniality is not only a metaphor.”7 When contributor Migueltzinta C. Solís speaks of the “landlessness” of the settler, they are speaking of Indigenous-led calls to decol onize in the literal sense of giving stolen land back to Indigenous peoples. What this means for universities and art museums located on stolen lands, or nonIndigenous peoples, including immigrants and refugees, who now live and work on those lands, remains unresolved. In this sense, Solís’s work reverberates with Tuck and Yang’s imperative, insisting that decoloniality “is not accountable to settlers, or settler futurity.”8 Such ethical irresolution haunts contemporary scholarship committed to autotheory’s decolonial potential. On that note, this special issue also follows in the footsteps of “Decolonize X?” in echoing edi tor Scott Challener’s introductory assertion that “in appearing to suggest that everything can be decolonized, this discourse tends to displace subjects and par ticipants alike, distracting us from needful attention to our relations with the lands and waters we all depend on.”9


Brostoff & Fournier  / And yet, in describing a hypothetical “turn,” we also wish to spotlight auto theory’s continuing detours and consolidated divergences, which emerge from ongoing experiments with genre, method, medium, and form. Rather than refer to autotheory as a radical break from what came before, which risks eclips ing the histories in which its tendencies are latent, we understand autotheory in the present as marking a moment of coherence. Refusing to subscribe to a single prescriptive definition, we look to a range of possibilities that authors and artists propose. And like the contributors of this special issue, we locate autotheory at the intersections of “I” and “we,” singular and collective. “We,” after all, are two editorial voices heard here as one: our first-person plural spins on the false singularity implied by an “auto,” always in excess of itself. Let us volley with the referents of “auto” and “theory” as they merge and diverge across contexts. In what follows, we constellate clusters of problematics that emerge in autotheory as an art of the present.


Autotheory speaks in and through polyvocal forms. In this section, an inter view between issue coeditor Fournier and Indigenous (Cree, Métis) video artist Thirza Cuthand looks to practices of performing for the camera in video art histories as a site of autotheoretical play. Autotheory has also been engaged by artists for a number of decades—sometimes under other names—and Cuthand’s experimental time-based media becomes a retrospective mode of considering the contributions that Indigenous artists have made to autotheory in its earlier forms. In conversation, Cuthand discusses the ways in which her video and film practice, which began in the early 1990s, reveals her subversive embodiment of philosophy in collaboration with 2 Spirit artists and communities.


In the dossier, enactments of autotheory as art and art writing represent a range of transmedial, literary, and conceptual art practices. This section features per formance, video, sculpture, painting, poetry, art writing and criticism, and artistic text-based interventions, including experimental writing as forms of self-knowledge production and institutional critique in contemporary art and academia. Where Sally Clegg’s “That Dangerous Supplement” engenders a comedic intervention in response to the work of Jacques Derrida, for example,

Arezu Salamzadeh’s “The Tyranny of Language” creates a series of conceptual word puzzles that both reveal and conceal her lived experience in a graduate program in the visual arts. Together, dossier contributors demonstrate the myriad ways that contemporary artists, curators, and critics engage autotheory through critical-creative writing, citational strategies, and materialist play.


A digital companion to the special issue of ASAP/Journal, this online cluster animates the autotheoretical intersections of art and art writing in time-based media. Transmedial in form and provocative by design, these works appear accompanied by autotheory’s telltale synthesis of critical-creative writing. The cluster includes film and video by Maïder Fortuné, Annie MacDonell, and Ree Botts; performance for the camera and documentation of live performances by Ceylan Öztürk, Calla Durose-Moya, lo bil, and Mel Keiser; web-based work, including memes, by Simon Evnine and Piper Curtis; other moving images, including GIFs, by Migueltzinta C. Solis, and sound-based work by Arezu Salamzadeh. Off the page and on the screen, these autotheories invite as much as they imagine, contest as much as they con trive, and exude as much as they include.


ASAP/Journal  496 /

The web of worldmaking in which we’ve found ourselves and others in auto theory is one at once indebted to and insurgent in the academic industrial complex. With the words “indebted to,” we conjure the dual precarity and priv ilege engendered by autotheory’s affiliations with the university. By “insurgent in,” we summon autotheory’s active and ongoing revolt against institutional ized forms. The short forum, in other words, activates autotheory’s institutional critiques. Hailing from critical university studies while exceeding disciplinary bounds, contributors contend with autotheory in academia. If autotheory flirts with the neoliberal university, then, arguably, it simultane ously resists cooptation and commercialization as such. At worst, autotheory “ . . . these autotheories invite as much as they imagine, contest as much as they contrive, and exude as much as they include. ”

ARTICLES Constellating Divergent Genealogies

Brostoff & Fournier  497 / risks becoming coopted into neoliberal problematics of a “self” propagated and sustained by liberal humanism. And yet, aware of these problematics, authors in this forum show how they might self-reflexively transfigure their own autothe ories toward subversive ends. Contributors ask how autotheory participates in exclusionary practices of naming and claiming, calling out and canceling. At once skeptical and hopeful, the forum unearths autotheory’s potential as a mode of para-academic production that emerges from and stands in solidarity with BIPOC feminisms. To echo Leila Nadir, “[autotheory has] been a way for me to find my way back into the academic practices that have alienated me, after I retreated from traditional scholarship.” The short forum conceives of the conditions through which otherness emerges without eclipsing liminal move ments between disciplines and identities. The forum concludes with the words of Che Gossett, who engages the ways in which Black study challenges and redefines autotheory. In readings of W. E. B. Du Bois, Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, and Sylvia Wynter, among others, Gossett sheds light on how the relationship between autotheory, Blackness, and abolition not only “exceeds the boundaries of the personal but problematizes the category of personhood itself.” In theorizing lives lived in the liminal spaces of academia and beyond, contributors remind us of the structural analysis imbricated in intersecting axes of oppression.

This special issue fleshes out a range of plural and possible histories of auto theory. While poststructuralism never entirely recedes from the scene, neither does it take center stage. Instead, relationships to canonical European and American theorists are queered and new ones are premiered. Alongside con tributions that engage multiethnic, 2 Spirit, trans, queer, and intersectional feminist epistemologies are those engaging critical whiteness studies and critical settler perspectives. Genealogies take shape as diverse, diffuse, plural, provi sional, and in-process. In “Skin, Kin, Kind, I/you/we: Autotheory’s Compositional Grammar,” Vilashini Cooppan invokes an assemblage of autotheoretical doings that derive from genres of relation, ranging from Black studies to postcolonialism and from phenomenology to French feminism. Cooppan’s method reveals the potentiality

As Marcos Gonsalez writes in “Transmogrifying Guadalupes, Transmogrifying Selves: The Queer Inhumanist Aesthetics of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark ⁄ Luz en lo oscuro,” “Autohistoria-teoría is a way of storytelling that blends the personal and critical, individual and plural, secular and spiritual, human and nonhuman, all in order to rework existing epistemologies, ontologies, and per ceptions.” In practice, writing as and alongside what she calls “the embodied scholar,” Suzanne Bost’s “The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers and Radical Research Practices: A Collage” assembles snapshots of her visits to the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, animating a series of objects that unpack the ambivalence of desire as it runs up against the problematic of archival preserva tion. Like Anzaldúa herself, these autotheories are out to “loosen the dead hand of traditional disciplines and habits in order to allow a new way of doing things to emerge.”10 Studying Self, Citing Others

Anzaldúa’s “Autohistoria-teoría”

ASAP/Journal  498 / inlaid in constellating a range of genealogical configurations. Crossing linguistic and disciplinary borders, in “Dare (Again) to Not Speak Its Name? Translating ‘Race’ into Early Twentieth-Century Western Armenian Feminist Texts,” Deanna Cachoian-Schanz attests to the autotheoretical position of the transla tor as a diasporic subject, one with a marked responsibility to break through the racial formations that she has inherited. The art of translation, in this instance, necessitates an autotheoretical mediator, one who crosses cultural, disciplinary, and linguistic borders.

Despite their sonic and semantic similarity, a scholarly gap materializes when it comes to the undeniable resemblance between autotheory and what Gloria E. Anzaldúa calls “autohistoria-teoría.” This section seeks to bridge that breach, tracing genealogies of autotheory back to the foundational interventions and coalition-building praxis of queer women of color as well as in the context of Chicanx studies today. Returning to Anzaldúa’s archive and aesthetics, these articles probe the ways in which an intersectional politics of the body reflexively transform and transmute methods of theorizing. At the fore are the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality bear on theorizing from and about the body.

In thinking through intellectual community-building as an ethical stake of auto theory’s pedagogical imperative, contributions conscientiously work against the

At a moment when the humanities are undergoing sustained attack, the auto theories in these pages anchor scholarship in activism, community engagement, and everyday life as sites of meaning-making. It is this aspect of the auto theoretical impulse—at once additive and aporetic—that we find energizing as


In “Borrowed Speech: Giving an Account of Another with Wu Tsang’s Full Body Quotation,” Summer Kim Lee interrogates the indebted relations of col laboration that emerge from Asian American study. This collaboration takes center stage when speech is not only borrowed but exchanged. In “Troublesome Knowledge: Autotheory in the Queer Classroom,” Shannon Brennan turns to the classroom as a troublesome site of subject formation, one which risks capit ulating to neoliberal prerogatives of individualism even as it challenges stable notions of selfhood. As an analogue to autotheory, such pedagogical conun drums circle back to Cooppan’s opening claims: “Autotheory never speaks in/as a singular I or in one recognizable genre of the sort that says ‘Do’ or ‘Don’t,’ ‘I am’ or ‘I am not.’” Sam-I-Am would tell us to open our mouths wider, to take in something even if it’s not what we already know, and to follow the crumbs of the compositional grammar (I/you/we) through which autotheory undertakes.” Autotheory, in other words, attends to relation. In their per formative call and response conversation, Cliff Mak’s spin on Grace Lavery’s autotheory thus becomes allotheory—that is, “to theorize the other, to theorize through the other and their textuality.” Unlike the dialogic exchange enacted in the epistolary address so endemic to autotheory, Mak’s allotheory engages autotheory’s alterity vis-à-vis text and textuality.

Brostoff & Fournier  499 / self-containment of the “auto.” In contrast to solipsism or neoliberal individu alism, contributors underscore the relational. Ambivalent and ambiguous, such relations cast light and shadow on multiple vectors of identity as they intersect with others. Albeit not new, one of autotheory’s marked ways of doing things is citational. And because specific works of theory tend to be referenced in auto theoretical work, questions of legibility, intelligibility, and accessibility emerge. Contributors in this issue ask whether and how autotheory risks participating in exclusionary practices of naming and claiming, calling out and canceling. Can the latter be reconciled with its more optimistic optic of collective becoming, where citation is a practice of acknowledgment and recognition?

ASAP/Journal  500 / coeditors. The launch of Passage, a peer-reviewed journal for autotheory based at Hasselt University, concludes ASAP/J’s digital companion to this special issue with a new call: “for modes of writing that are too scholarly for the art world, and too biographical, too ‘artistic,’ and too outlandish for most academic jour nals.”11 As a connective space, Passage constructs a corridor that links the ASAP community with broader publics and autotheoretical futures across disciplines and borders.

By way of conclusion, then, we offer an additional passage. In her introduction to “Autotheory Theory,” Wiegman concludes by noting that the special issue of Arizona Quarterly aims “to lessen the burden that [autotheory] might other wise be asked to bear as it becomes the object of greater critical scrutiny.”12

It is not our intention to place a disproportionate onus of responsibility onto autotheory. We do, however, launch this work into the world tempered with the hardships and hopes of two early-career scholars and practitioners. As col laborators, the burden of hope remains ours—and yours—to bear. We hold the burden of hope just as we hold the burden of ambivalence. We hope these autotheories become a mode of bridging. We hope these autotheories enliven alternative modes of being and becoming. At a moment when the crisis in the humanities has been compounded by a global pandemic and polarizing populism, autotheory could enable us to imagine inclusive possibilities for critical-creative writing, writing that reaches out: in excess of the “I,” beyond the parameters of the page, out of the closet, scaling the walls of the ivory tower, onto the streets, into the public-facing humanities and beyond. For a generation of scholars seeking futures for the arts and humanities, this future otherwise, this autotheory, this is for you.

Notes 1 Autotheory has been described as “life-thinking,” as differentiated from more established histories of “life-writing.” As Lauren Fournier explains in the introduction to Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism, “On October 1, 2015, the British Indian writer Bhanu Kapil tweeted: ‘This is the year I heard the words “autotheory” and now, from Sofia Samatar, “life-thinking”—for the first time.’ Kapil was retweeting the Somali American writer Sofia Samatar, who describes the blogs of Kapil and Gukira as ‘a kind of life-thinking.’ Autotheory, Samatar explains, is ‘a word for writing that integrates

6 “Interview—Walter Mignolo/Part 2: Key Concepts,” E-International Relations, January 21, 2017, -key-concepts/.7EveTuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–40. Scott Challener also cites this point in his introduction to “Decolonize X?” which we go on to discuss in more detail. 8 Tuck and Wang, “Decolonization,” 35. 9 Scott Challener, “Introduction: ‘Not Only a Metaphor,’ ” in “Decolonize X?” ed. Scott Challener, special cluster, Post45, July 30, 2021, introduction-not-only-a-metaphor.10GloriaAnzaldúa,“WritingNotas,” Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942–2004, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin. 11 Passage, 12 Wiegman, “Introduction,” 11. ALEX BROSTOFF is a writer, educator, and Assistant Professor of English at Kenyon College. At the intersections of critical pedagogy and queer and trans cultural production across the Americas, Alex’s work delves into genre-defying bodies of theory—from “theory in the flesh” to “autotheory”—which reconceive the relationship between the structural conditions that produce a writing subject and the collective function of that writing. They are the guest co-editor of a special issue of ASAP/Journal on autotheory, and their writing and

translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Synthesis: An Anglophone Journal of Comparative Literary Studies, Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory, Literature Beyond the Human: Post-Anthropocentric Brazil, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Teaching Gradually, and Reading in Translation. Alex received their Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 2021.

Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, https://www.artsofthe D. Mignolo and Catherine E. Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

Brostoff & Fournier  501 / autobiography and social criticism.’ One could make the case that much of the work that falls under the categories of philosophy, theory, literature, and art are modes of lifethinking. But terms like autotheory and life-thinking underline the relationship between criticality and the personal in ways that are self-aware.” Lauren Fournier, “Introduction: Autotheory as Feminist Practice: History, Theory, Art, Life,” in Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021), 15. 2 Stacey Young, “The Autotheoretical Texts,” in Changing the Wor(l)d: Discourse, Politics, and the Feminist Movement (New York: Routledge, 1997), 61–98.

3 Robyn Wiegman, “Introduction: Autotheory Theory,” in “Autotheory Theory,” ed. Robyn Wiegman, special issue, Arizona Quarterly 76, no. 1 (2020): 9, doi:10.1353/ arq.2020.0009.4“About,”

ASAP/Journal  502 / LAUREN FOURNIER (she/they) is a writer, curator, filmmaker, and interdisciplinary researcher of white settler descent who writes autotheories and autofictions for the page and the screen. Her book Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism was published by The MIT Press (2021), and she is currently working on her second monograph Autotheoryfictions in the 21st Century. Her novella, a hybrid work of autofiction and literary criticism, is forthcoming through Fiction Advocate in San Francisco (2022). She regularly publishes creative nonfiction, fiction, art writing, and criticism, and her scholarly writings have been published in ASAP/Journal, Environmental Humanities, a/b: Autobiography Studies, Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy, Angelaki, and Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art: Health. They are the creator and director of Fermenting Feminism , a transnational, site-responsive curatorial platform that has featured over 100 collaborators globally. She recently completed a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in Visual Studies at the University of Toronto.

Thirza Cuthand and Lauren Fournier

THIRZA CUTHAND’S INDIGENOUS AUTOTHEORY T HIRZA CUTHAND (LITTLE PINE FIRST NATION) is an Indigenous filmmaker and video artist of Plains Cree and Scots descent. She was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, on the colonized lands known by some as Canada, and currently resides in Toronto. Since 1995, she has been making short experimental narrative videos and films about sexuality, mental health, age, desire, trauma, love, colonialism, indigeneity, and land. Many of her works use tactics from performance for the camera and experimental video art, including monologues, to engage these issues from an embodied place. Her work has screened in festivals internationally, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Mix Brasil Festival of Cultural Diversity in São Paulo, imagineNATIVE in Toronto, Frameline in San Francisco, Outfest in Los Angeles, and Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in Germany, where her short film Helpless Maiden Makes an “I” Statement (1999) won an honorable mention. CUTHAND completed her BFA in Film and ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 503–512 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press.


ASAP/Journal  504 /

Figure 1. Thirza Cuthand, Reclamation (2018). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

In 1999, she was artist in residence at the media arts artist-run centers Videopool and Urban Shaman, where she completed her experimental film Through the Looking Glass, which allegorizes Cuthand’s Cree-Métis identity through the characters of a Red Queen and a White Queen. In 2012, she was an artist in res idence at Villa Magdalena K. in Hamburg, where she completed her video Boi Oh Boi that follows the artist deliberating a possible gender transition through the performative use of a phallic banana. In 2015, she was commissioned by the Indigenous-run festival imagineNATIVE to make 2 Spirit Introductory Special $19.99, a video work that engages 2 Spirit identity in community through a

Video at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, and her Master of Arts in Media Production at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has also written three feature-length screenplays, has created live performance art for festivals and galleries, and created the video game artwork A Bipolar Journey based on her experience living with bipolar disorder; this interactive work continues themes of mental illness, psychiatric institutionalization, colonialization, and trauma, which she’s explored in earlier works like Love & Numbers (2004) and Anhedonia (1999).

Figure 2. Thirza Cuthand, Reclamation (2018). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 3. Thirza Cuthand, Reclamation (2018). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

Fournier & Cuthand  505 / humorous pastiche of a tele vision infomercial selling imaginary products tailored to the 2 Spirit community, including a beaded whisk, a nonslip lube mat, and a telephone support line that responds to problems spe cific to 2 Spirit people living in Canada. “Don’t worry if you are just coming out as a 2 Spirited person, we have just the introductory special for you!” a smiling Cuthand announces to the camera. Both cheeky and sin cere, Cuthand’s performance for video uses humor and play to flesh out the intersections of indigeneity, queerness, and mad pride so central to her work, emphasizing the importance of kinship here to the health and well-being of queer Indigenous people living amid ongoing colonialism. This satirical impulse has been present through Cuthand’s work from its earliest days, cohering even more explicitly in these later works. Her earlier work, like Working Baby Dyke

In her more recent works, she collaborates with others from her communities— whether Indigenous, 2 Spirit, and/or LGBTQ2SIA+—as seen in The Longform Lesbian Census (2017) made with Riki Yandt and Reclamation (2018), starring Lacey Hill, Cherish Violet Blood, and Elwood Jimmy. Cuthand consistently shows an adept ability to navigate difficult, heavy subjects in a way that is often playful, comedic, and cathartic. Two of Cuthand’s recent works—Less Lethal Fetishes (2019) and Reclamation (2018)—were startlingly prescient of the COVID19 pandemic, with Cuthand using the gas mask as a performance object to engage kink scenes and fetishes (specifically the gas mask fetish) and breath play along side the politics of environmental racism (and access to clean water and fresh air) in the context of the colonized lands of Canada. In this interview, writer, cura tor and scholar Lauren Fournier convenes with Cuthand to discuss Cuthand’s video and film work in relation to the autotheoretical impulse so present in con temporary cultural production today. Fournier, also born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, as a white settler, has worked with Cuthand as a curator over the years, including in the group exhibition The Sustenance Rite at the Blackwood Gallery (2017) and the screening Autotheory at Vtape in Toronto (2018) and The Horse Hospital in London (2019). This interview was conducted via email.

LAUREN FOURNIER (SHE/HER)/ Your very first video work, from 1995, is entitled Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory. You followed this up in 1997 with the video Working Baby Dyke Theory: The Diasporic Impact of CrossGenerational Barriers, which engaged similar strategies—you’re working autobiographically, providing a voice-over narration from a firstperson perspective, and exploring, quite playfully yet seriously, topics around lesbian and Indigenous identities in the prairies in the late 1990s. I am curious about what inspired the names “Baby Dyke Theory” and “Working Baby Dyke Theory.” What did these phrases mean to you then, and how do they differ from each other? I’m particularly curious about your decision to call this work a theory.

ASAP/Journal  506 /

THIRZA CUTHAND (SHE/HER)/ I think call ing these two videos versions of Baby Dyke Theory was because when I was a teenager, I started getting into reading feminist theory texts—in particular bell hooks. So theory played a role, in my sense of my self in the world, then. I think also, because when I made these two videos when I was still a virgin, so in some ways it felt like my sexuality was a Theory (1997), shows the artist working from a DIY practice of performing for the camera on her own—a way of working that is characteristic of histories of Canadian and Indigenous video art histories since the early 1970s.

Figure 4. Thirza Cuthand, Just Dandy (2013). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

Fournier & Cuthand  507 / “theory” more than a practice at that time. Working Baby Dyke Theory was about putting that theory into practice. In some ways the two are very different videos, and in some ways they aren’t, because Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory was about trying to find other teenage lesbians in the small-town city of Saskatoon, and Working Baby Dyke Theory was about try ing to find lesbian community and dealing with the ageism that I faced as a youth. I probably also just felt those names were kind of funny to me. I think the other part was knowing that academics would be engaging with my work, so in a way it’s a nod to the dynamic between filmmakers who maybe don’t identify as academics, and the academics who write articles we might not understand about our own work. Ha ha, kind of like, “Is she [the academic who is writing about my work] insulting me? I don’t even know what this means!” LF/ Oof! Yes, from knowing these works but also your larger practice as an artist, I think of the ways you make lived experience (of queerness, of indigeneity, of madness/ as a mental health or psychiatric consumer) accessible for those communities that can relate; your work has the capacity to evade, and even parody, the “scholarly gaze” in subtle ways. The ambiguous status of “theory” in your videos—gesturing to the referent of bell hooks’s work, as you say, but also the other more personal, ephemeral senses, like your relationship to sexuality, then—is compelling. Identity takes a similarly fluid shape in your work, too. When I look at the video work you have made over the past twenty years, I witness a flexibility of language and terminology “ . . . theory played a role, in my sense of my self in the world . . . ”

Being genderfluid is confusing even to me. The markings on my face now are . . . Plains Cree women’s markings. But at the time I first felt called to get these markings done, I was twenty-nine and struggling with the pos sibility of doing a medical transition to male. I didn’t, ultimately, but the masculinity never left me. It took eleven years before I felt like I could wear these markings on my face and not feel like I chose the wrong gendered tattoo. I

Figure 6. Thirza Cuthand, Boi Oh Boi (2012). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

Figure 5. Thirza Cuthand, Bisexual Wannabe (1997). Singlechannel video. Courtesy of the artist.

ASAP/Journal  508 / in relation to your own identity or autos: Bisexual. Boi. Lesbian. Queer. 2 Spirit. Indigiqueer. All of these operate across your filmmaking and video oeuvre. The categories are in flux, aren’t they? TC/ Yeah, I don’t identify as a bisexual, I iden tify as a lesbian. But I’ve been homoflexible and made a video about that once (Bisexual Wannabe, 1997). I think my identity evolves over time. In some ways, all of those other descriptors are still who I am. I am interested by my decision to still identify as a lesbian but also as a boy. It’s been a struggle trying to get people to stop misgendering me: I think in some cases I just let it slide but in other cases I just feel like Indigenous women really want a sort of solidarity sisterhood kind of thing going on because they are so targeted in Canadian society for violence and shit. At the same time, I do identify sometimes as a woman and definitely get clocked as a woman most of the time in public (but not always).

Fournier & Cuthand  509 / feel pretty proud of them now, though, and I like that even though I can call myself a butch boy I still have this one foot in the identity of being a woman. It’s like juggling, always jug gling, and never wanting to drop a ball.

LF/ Your video practice has long engaged mental health and madness from an autobiographical perspective. Earlier works like You Are a Lesbian Vampire (2008), Madness in Four Actions (2008), and Helpless Maiden Makes an “I” Statement (1999) drew from cinema history with references to the highly stylized and gothic German expressionism, the anachronistic use of black and white, and the high-contrast, chiaroscuro lighting, all treated as pastiche. In later works, you lean in more to your roots in DIY performancefor-the-camera, and you start to work more with other Indigenous artists and friends in your communities. Could you speak to this shift, from working solo/performing alone in your bedroom—not unlike classic “sad girl theory” styles—to working with, directing, and performing alongside others, as in pieces like 2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com?

TC/ I think the change just came with age and how I was thinking of the world. A lot of early work was introspective, and I was more interested in how my personal complicated identity was operating. There’s not like a ton of nêhiyaw (the Cree word for “Cree”) butch lesbian boys with bipolar disorder, and I didn’t want to use actors to stand in for myself. I thought of myself as being a very politicized body and wanted to use that. More recently, I’ve been interested in com munity, though. It’s like looking to the outer world and how my particular communities are affected by the mainstream, or even just like the 2 Spirit community and how we are affected by the larger Indigenous commu nity. Also, I’m really interested in the land these days and our relationship to the land as Indigenous people, in particular the fact that we are still being colonized, still losing land, still watching serious environmental devas tation occurring here and around the world because of decisions by a larger paternalistic white society that keeps talking about how Figure 7. Thirza Cuthand, Homelands (2010). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist. “ I thought of myself as being a very politicized body and wanted to use that. ”

LF/ That certainly comes through in the evolution of your work, with collaboration with other Indigenous and/or LGBTQ2SIA+ artists becoming increasingly important in your later work. On the note of performing for the camera, which you continue to do in your work, but sometimes alongside your directing of others as actors, I’m curious about the ways our different bodies “perform” meaning in relation to gender, race, and so on. In a previous conversation we had around the curation of your video work, you described performance

ASAP/Journal  510 / it knows how to manage our lands better than us. It’s very infuriating, and even in the moments where I talk about this stuff and bring it back to the personal realm, I know I am telling personal things that are on the minds of more people than myself. I think also with the 2 Spirit videos, and Reclamation, and some of my newer work, I am making it for and about the 2 Spirit community, and so the responsibility feels different to try and show who we are and the things that are affecting us right now as a group.

Figure 8. Thirza Cuthand, The Longform Lesbian Census (2017). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist. “

. . . we are still being colonized, still losing land, still watching serious environmental devastation occurring here and around the world because of decisions by a larger paternalistic white society that keeps talking about how it knows how to manage our lands better than us. ”

Fournier & Cuthand  511 / for the camera as a way of foregrounding your own body—queer and Indigenous, or “otherly racialized” when it comes to the viewpoint of a colonial, Eurocentric, white-centered gaze— in your artwork. You discussed that visibility as being integral to the politics and aesthetics of the work you were making. Have your thoughts on the role of your own body, and the politics of visibility and representation, shifted over the years? How do you feel about using your body in your work today?

TC/ I think it was more important to use my body in my early work that was more per sonal. More recently, I’ve been letting that go as I talk more about community identity than personal identity. I think I learned a lot about performance and performance art within video, though, during my career, so proba bly my body will keep coming up. I’ve gone through a series of performances involving my nude body recently, and I think I’m done now Figure 9. Thirza Cuthand, Less Lethal Fetishes (2019). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist. Figure 10. Thirza Cuthand, Untouchable (1998). Single-channel video. Courtesy of the artist.

ASAP/Journal  512 / [laughs]. But I think also just as a person who feels a lot of physical needs and has the ability to go through some intense stuff, particularly in regard to BDSM, there are still things I want to explore with my body in my art. I’ve often felt that if I were a more sexually success ful person in my life, I would have made a lot more sexy/porn films. But who knows, maybe that’s something for my forties! You can access and support Thirza Cuthand’s work



MIGUELTZINTA C. SOLÍS Excerpt: the full text by the author is pub lished online in the ASAP/J special issue “Transmedial Autotheory,” the digital com panion to this print issue, along with original GIFs by the artist. The practice of listing identity labels in bylines for art and academia, profiles on social media, and other bios has prompted me to be gin labeling myself as mestizXXX. I have been using mestizXXX as a racial eth nic positioning, but I have put little effort into defining what exactly it means in academic terms. My use of autotheory manifests as a call for self examination, self reckoning, and self obsession. It serves here as a self defining that is about a specific experience rather than a fixed identity. This is my resistance to the scalpel of academic compartmentalization and knowledge commodification because it is not a methodology that I employ; rather, it is one that simply happens. It is a methodol ogy that possesses me, the “researcher,” the asker of the question, a reflective moment of encounter with myself as a researcher in this particular body at this particular place and time. To this effect, mestizXXX is perhaps more meaningful as a methodology than as an identity by virtue of being fluid, trou bling, wild, transtemporal, and unfixed. As an identity, mestizXXX is rather unoriginal and uninteresting to me. As a methodology, as a way of being, moving and making, I find the uses of mestizXXX to extend further than my own capacity to mestizXXXimagine.isan outgrowth of Gloria Anzaldúa’s hybrid mestiza, the queer Chicana who claims Aztlán as promised land, and new Chicanx criticism and reimagining in response to Anzaldúa’s work.1 It is an ethnic assemblage of experience that is defined by its sexuality—indeed, by my sexuality—a racialized positioning produced by a particular matrix of sexualized power between colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial bodies, genders, histories, and geographies. But what in particular sets my remix of mes tiza apart from Anzaldúa’s original ode to

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 513–546 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press.

Indigenous/colonial mixing is that mestizXXX has, by virtue of its ambivalent relationship to power, an important selfcriticism and self doubt folded into its DNA. My Mexican parents raised me within a Californian Chicano Indigenous back to the lander worldview, yet now I find myself as a guest, a student, a settler, and a Grindr user on Blackfoot territory. My own embod ied vectors of racial, gendered, and indigenal passing/not passing, and privilege/disempow erment, highlight territory and perversity as inextricably entwined. What is more, I am a passing transman with “female” genitalia and a reproductive system. This place, and this point of entwined territory, body, and perversity, is the axis of power on which my vectors of self seesaw, an undulating sine of being which needs to be acknowledged and discussed as part of new Chicanx futu rities and Chicanx as Indigenous discourse.

ASAP/Journal  514 /

mestizXXX appears here as a methodology borne of this particular positioning, poised to ask complex and often uncomfortable ques tions: If Chicanx is a landless identity, can it be Indigenous? And how does this question translate from post Mexican identities to other settler and/or immigrant political, eco nomic, and axiological positionings?

Someday I hope to steward property on which to be mestizXXX, but even then, I will be landless, and that’s ok, that’s good. I believe land back will be possible when the settler comes to know that it’s ok to surrender to landless ness, that life is possible without dominion over territory. mestizXXX invites the settler to experience the freefall of landlessness. It says, “Settler, baby, just let go.”

Notes 1 See Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987); AnaLouise Keating, ed., EntreMundos/AmongWorlds: New Perspectives on Gloria E. Anzaldúa (New York: Palgrave, 2005).

MIGUELTZINTA SOLÍS is a mestizXXX interdisciplinary artist and writer working in performance, video, new media and installation, fiction, nonfiction, and critical writing. His work considers questions of perversity and territory, unbelonging, (de) colonial imaginaries and Chicanx futurities. He is currently working on a PhD in Cultural, Social and Political Thought at the University of Lethbridge in Treaty 7 Territory, where he received his MFA in Art. He is trans.


Notes 1 See Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987); AnaLouise Keating, ed., EntreMundos/AmongWorlds: New Perspectives on Gloria E. Anzaldúa (New York: Palgrave, 2005).

mestizXXX appears here as a methodology borne of this particular positioning, poised to ask complex and often uncomfortable ques tions: If Chicanx is a landless identity, can it be Indigenous? And how does this question translate from post Mexican identities to other settler and/or immigrant political, eco nomic, and axiological positionings?

Someday I hope to steward property on which to be mestizXXX, but even then, I will be landless, and that’s ok, that’s good. I believe land back will be possible when the settler comes to know that it’s ok to surrender to landless ness, that life is possible without dominion over territory. mestizXXX invites the settler to experience the freefall of landlessness. It says, “Settler, baby, just let go.”

MIGUELTZINTA SOLÍS is a mestizXXX interdisciplinary artist and writer working in performance, video, new media and installation, fiction, nonfiction, and critical writing. His work considers questions of perversity and territory, unbelonging, (de) colonial imaginaries and Chicanx futurities. He is currently working on a PhD in Cultural, Social and Political Thought at the University of Lethbridge in Treaty 7 Territory, where he received his MFA in Art. He is trans.

ASAP/Journal  514 /


Indigenous/colonial mixing is that mestizXXX has, by virtue of its ambivalent relationship to power, an important selfcriticism and self doubt folded into its DNA. My Mexican parents raised me within a Californian Chicano Indigenous back to the lander worldview, yet now I find myself as a guest, a student, a settler, and a Grindr user on Blackfoot territory. My own embod ied vectors of racial, gendered, and indigenal passing/not passing, and privilege/disempow erment, highlight territory and perversity as inextricably entwined. What is more, I am a passing transman with “female” genitalia and a reproductive system. This place, and this point of entwined territory, body, and perversity, is the axis of power on which my vectors of self seesaw, an undulating sine of being which needs to be acknowledged and discussed as part of new Chicanx futu rities and Chicanx as Indigenous discourse.

7.No piece of theory has ever fucked me up as bad as Jacques Rancière’s Emancipated . I read that shit in my third year of undergrad and found myself in an ethical dilemma surrounding power dynamics and relational art, and legit couldn’t make performance or participatory art for the following eight months.

10.Wet, moist and tactile, feeling it slowly with your fingers and noticing it responding to you, pushing and pulling, and then hard, and fiery hot—never before had I thought it was possible to use so much sexual innuendo when talking about

4.I spent all of the first semester of my Masters program feeling incredibly drunk and 5.Those who ask me if the humor in my work, performances, and antics is “generative” haven’t yet come to see that I will do almost anything in hopes of a 6.There were times when he’d give helpful advice. But on that chilly morning, after I’d just finished explaining to him the trauma of loss of language, and my relationship with my mother and its influence on my practice, he just had one thing to say: “ politics is just a trend”.

13.Lauren Fournier’s Autotheory class was the first time I’d seen a syllabus with so many writers who don’t identify as white 3

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  515 / THE TYRANNY OF LANGUAGE (PT. 1)



1.I’m feeling the fever of feeling, but I’m not sure why is forbidden in an academic context. Chris Kraus separates from nostalgia in Video Green 2.Academia gives me hardcore syndrome.


11.Apparently, allegations of racist and sexually inappropriate behavior (the man took photos of us while we slept in our studios, which we immediately told staff and admin, for crying out loud) were not enough to draw the line, but how did you land a job chairing SVA’s MFA Art Practice program after being quietly dismissed for committing during your run as Director at the Whitney? (Cat’s out of the bag with this one, huh!)

8.“ has a financial or sociological meaning, and all I need to know about you depends on which meaning you think of first ” –Jenn Chan 9.God, this word sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me. The dispersion of people, in separate geographic locales from their homelands. If we look at its historical origins, isn’t its current frivolous, buzzword usage mildly appropriative? Can we rethink what we mean when we say this word? Can we make up a new one? I hate this word so much LOL.

3.I feel a bit bad about calling her work , a word deriving from the American term for someone in their second year of university, in front of all of our classmates at senior critique; I was bitter at the thought of yet another white girl taking unironic black and white glamor selfies with vases of roses as their fine art practice, and riding off into the sunset with a freshly-minted and unchallenged BFA.

12.I had to look up what this term meant last semester; it’s a sort of broad term for a system of dominance and influence, and I’ll be damned if I go a single day of class without hearing it.


5.I can’t seem to escape this word, from debating whether or not certain methods of making and eating dumplings are , to talking about how much sincerity resides in my work. Are you being or are you performing? Can you perform ity? There’s also what CK said to my friend AG, “You’ll never make Cantonese BBQ because you’re 50% Chinese and I’m 1000%.” I would like to avoid conversations about ity in white institutions because they seem to go nowhere.

2.In my opinion, Bourriaud makes a great case for a specific type of practice, but isn’t all art in some way?

4.A favorite critique question seems to be “What is at for you? I never know if the asker means that in a literal or metaphysical way.

12 3456 78910 11

3.Is there a term for when is your sexual fetish? Oh baby, talk Althusser (yikes) to me! Oh! Oh! Harder! My **** is interpellating your ****!

10.Almost everything I make starts and ends with thinking about my audience, because it would be an honor for my practice to be thought of as a form of ment.

1.“Won’t you please be my lover? We could indulge each others’ cynicisms and worship Mallarmé together. You would feed me poetry with the tip of your tongue and the mussels and clams would dance around our toes. I would tickle your teeth and you would talk type to me under the brightest green of palm trees.” It’s too bad I wrote you this love note and then proceeded to use it as an caption.

9.Isn’t it hypocritical for our activist to harbor abusive and tyrannical characters for the sake of our ’s reputation? Yes, the white developers are evil and capitalist, but it’s somehow ok for one of our “leaders” to be a landlord because they’re the face of our organization? Because they are loud and have pep in their step? Is being of a racial minority and having an edgy haircut now a license to exploit the labor and disrespect the boundaries of those around you? I remember when H called me at the beginning of lockdown and explained that they were going through a mediation process with JS, whom they’d slandered and canceled from the space because he didn’t disclose to H that he was in a relationship. H asked me to tell the mediators that JS made me feel “uncomfortable” in the space (not true he’s definitely an eager flirt and an eye roll, but nothing close to what that was insinuating). What part of a false accusation is decolonial, anti-racist, queer-positive, disability justiceoriented? Why do we give power to someone who only wants to use our for clout?

7.Isn’t it funny how in academia we have to bedazzle what we’re saying with all this elitist vocabulary? For instance, we can’t just refer to the conversations surrounding a subject we have to use the term

6.We spend so much time contemplating this and that, but I just want to be around more folks who want to discuss a practice. Tell me about the s you’re using in your installation. What do they smell like? Feel like? Did you have fun using them? When was the last time you touched something? 11.“ in the stream, that is what we are.”

8.A good phone camera and abundant white wall space seem commonplace now. Why do so many young Toronto artists not their work? Yes, I’m talking to YOU!

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  517 / THE TYRANNY OF LANGUAGE (PT. 3)

2.You casually mess around with the girl you’ve been crushing on for months and think you’re falling in love with. She gets back together with her boyfriend, and when you return to visit NYC, she grabs both your hands in a trendy restaurant in the LES and tells you that you are one of her “best friends”.

1.You dream that you make a fortune selling NFTs.


4.You are in a relationship with someone who gives you all their love and care. Someone who would drop everything in a heartbeat if you needed anything. Sure, they’re not an art person and have no idea what “postmodern” means, but they are so, so, so good for you. You just don’t know why you can’t bring yourself to feel the same way about them as they do about you.


3.Youday.invest a chunk of your money into a cryptocurrency which skyrockets and then crashes in a month.



4.You work a soul-sucking job as a self-appointed “Creative Director” (glorified graphic designer) of a small tech startup. You have serious back pain from being hunched over your desk all day, but feel great shitting on company time.



4. You don’t need money you photosynthesize like a plant and only trade in cultural capital, AKA the Currency of Cool.

trains *deep in thought emoji* 2.Palermo, Sicily *heart eyes emoji* 3.London, UK *angry emoji* 4.Mississauga, ON *sigh emoji*


1.You are in undergrad, dating one of your department directors, which is supposed to be a secret but everyone finds out. You walk past the fibers lab and can hear everyone whispering about you. When you double back and stand cross-armed in the doorway, everyone quiets, because you are more aggressive and intimidating in undergrad. People in other years that you don’t even know come tell you that they support you in the face of your slut-shaming, like your relationship is some kind of feminist martyrdom. The whole department takes sides. You will never speak about how hurt you feel that none of your angry friends want to sit next to you at graduation, or how you will be haunted by that bad rep. You were 20 then. Now, five years later, you reflect on how letdown you feel by so many people who were supposed to be your mentors and support systems.

3. Chelsea gallerina: you must wear all black and not say “hi” to visitors unless they say “hi” to you first or are visibly wealthy.

1.University professor (no tenure though).

3.In a passionate moment you agree to be in a relationship with someone in your arts/activist community. When you realize how emotionally draining the relationship is, you call it off and your now-ex is furious. The “leader” of your community, who is better friends with your now-ex, and gets free weed from them, asks you to stay away from the space on all days except for Mahjong Mondays, and to text them if you’re going to show up, because your presence is triggering for your ex. You’ve never been disrespectful or abusive, and you now feel like the labor you’ve contributed to the space has been devalued and disrespected, and your community has been torn away from you. Worst yet, they tell you this in the Airbnb you share at a conference in NYC that you spent nine hours (each way) driving them to.

2.Bartender: it’s a hustle but your job doesn’t depend on the art world. You feel physically fit. A global pandemic repeatedly puts you out of work.

Hugh Jackman walks into the gallery but your manager doesn’t recognize him in his everyday clothes. She is annoyed when he asks for the price list, and then embarrassed when he leaves his contact info.

2.You are doing an unpaid gallery internship for “experience” but the gallery reimburses you up to $10 USD of lunch money every

1.Off the stop on the M L

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  519 / AREZU SALAMZADEH (SHE/THEY) is a Mississaugabased artist who enjoys creating things for people to interact with and spaces for people to move through. She is interested in asking questions about hospitality, cultural identity, power, love, and loneliness through a language of entertainment, humor, and play. Their work takes shape as performances, writing, socially engaged work, objects (ceramics, bookmaking, how-to guides, and more), and spaces (by means of installations, relationships, and communities). They received their BFA with Honors from the School of Visual Arts, NYC, in 2016. She has since exhibited at galleries, museums, and unconventional venues throughout Canada, the U.S., Italy, and the UK. They are currently a Master of Visual Studies candidate at the University of Toronto.

THATSUPPLEMENTDANGEROUS SALLY CLEGG When Sara Ahmed wrote “theory can do more the closer it gets to the skin” in Living a Feminist Life, she probably wasn’t suggest ing that we make painstakingly sculpted silicone vibrators of our favorite philosophers’ heads.1 But as an artist in love with theory yet unschooled in how to theorize, I decided that perhaps I could know Derrida in the biblical sense, if not the scholarly. So I prototyped him in modeling clay, made a mold, cast him in silicone, painted him, and added a switch and a motor. Standing alone in my MFA stu dio, I pushed the button on the bottom of the finished piece (Fig. 1). I held his palm sized vibrating head in my hand, locked eyes with him, and made a promise to both of us: no one will ever see this. Things went a different way. I began materi alizing theory in the realm of erotic objects. I read a little Lacan and made dozens of Möbius strip cock rings. ‘Traverse the fantasy’ they say in letters imprinted in the silicone, which I’m told have a pleasant texture for the wearer. In alignment with a rich history of random stuff being used for masturbation (e.g., the inter net’s ever growing archive of listicles on this subject, women’s magazines, and vintage sexual self help books), I turned quotidian objects into hybrid sculptural sex toys (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Sally Clegg, Hold at a distance and master (2020). Cast silicone, pigment, vibrating motor, 2 × 3 × 2 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  519 / AREZU SALAMZADEH (SHE/THEY) is a Mississaugabased artist who enjoys creating things for people to interact with and spaces for people to move through. She is interested in asking questions about hospitality, cultural identity, power, love, and loneliness through a language of entertainment, humor, and play. Their work takes shape as performances, writing, socially engaged work, objects (ceramics, bookmaking, how-to guides, and more), and spaces (by means of installations, relationships, and communities). They received their BFA with Honors from the School of Visual Arts, NYC, in 2016. She has since exhibited at galleries, museums, and unconventional venues throughout Canada, the U.S., Italy, and the UK. They are currently a Master of Visual Studies candidate at the University of Toronto.

Figure 1. Sally Clegg, Hold at a distance and master (2020). Cast silicone, pigment, vibrating motor, 2 × 3 × 2 in. Courtesy of the artist.

THATSUPPLEMENTDANGEROUS SALLY CLEGG When Sara Ahmed wrote “theory can do more the closer it gets to the skin” in Living a Feminist Life, she probably wasn’t suggest ing that we make painstakingly sculpted silicone vibrators of our favorite philosophers’ heads.1 But as an artist in love with theory yet unschooled in how to theorize, I decided that perhaps I could know Derrida in the biblical sense, if not the scholarly. So I prototyped him in modeling clay, made a mold, cast him in silicone, painted him, and added a switch and a motor. Standing alone in my MFA stu dio, I pushed the button on the bottom of the finished piece (Fig. 1). I held his palm sized vibrating head in my hand, locked eyes with him, and made a promise to both of us: no one will ever see this. Things went a different way. I began materi alizing theory in the realm of erotic objects. I read a little Lacan and made dozens of Möbius strip cock rings. ‘Traverse the fantasy’ they say in letters imprinted in the silicone, which I’m told have a pleasant texture for the wearer. In alignment with a rich history of random stuff being used for masturbation (e.g., the inter net’s ever growing archive of listicles on this subject, women’s magazines, and vintage sexual self help books), I turned quotidian objects into hybrid sculptural sex toys (Fig. 2).

A set of padded coat hangers dipped in silicone became a series of functional double dildos in a range of girths. A delicious cheeseburger from Five Guys implanted with a vibrating motor and placed on a pedestal became the piece titled Five Guys (Jacques, Jacques, JeanJacques, Sigmund, Michel). (I ate it before I could snap a photo). I made 121 six inch silicone dildos of my entire body, my contribution to the art his torical tradition of mise en abyme, an allusion completed in the realm of suggestion (Fig. 3). Each has a functional suction cup base. I also made a series of vibrators titled Invaginations: silicone casts of existing interior spaces such as a seashell, a cabbage leaf, a lightbulb, a con dom. Back in my studio, as I crushed a Florida horse conch in a table vise to retrieve my sculpture from within it, I thought about the language I would use in presenting this work.

ASAP/Journal  520 /

Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, Thomas Laqueur cites “imagination, excess, solitude, and privacy” as masturbation’s “core elements,” to which I would add a supplement: supplementarity.2 If I am honest with myself, couldn’t these be keywords of my own art Figure 2. Sally Clegg, Every thing is a vibrator (video still) (2019). Single channel video, run time 1:09. Courtesy of the artist.

“What is your research question?” they would ask. “How could I masturbate with negative space?” I would answer. “No one wants their artwork to be mastur bation,” a professor said to me in earnest. I replied, “the more I research it, the more I actually think it is sort of a sweet and gener ous analogy.” Maybe more than an analogy, I Inthought.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  521 / practice? Shame and prohibition surrounding the act of masturbation have lingered well past any medical risks were debunked. What about the derogatory designation of masturbatory art? I have become suspicious of the expecta tion to consistently position one’s artwork as outwardly productive, intelligible, and useful. Has unease about self pleasure caused some of us to deny the complexity, silliness, self­interest, or outright filth of our art practices? In the recent past, I have made outward facing impact claims about my work, mostly in contexts where I was asking for money. I have suggested that I was somehow destigmatizing female pleasure, for example, or argued that my work could be “transformative” in the #MeToo era. I have instinctively tacked on stories of over coming real personal hardship to make myself and my practice make sense for applications and grants. I have wondered if the way capital moves in the arts at times indicates a taste for pain over pleasure, and an insistence on an entrepreneurial selfhood that reduces vulnerability to a solu tion oriented personal branding exercise.

Theory became a strange respite. At one point, I found myself standing at a podium at Figure 3. Sally Clegg, Eternal feminine (self portrait as 121 dildos) (detail) (2020). Cast silicone, pigment, 84 × 84 × 7 in. Courtesy of the artist.

ASAP/Journal  522 / a conference on visual culture, my first. I was delivering a paper and shaking imperceptibly with fear and excitement. I said, “canonical art is as canonical sex: procreative. But most art is as masturbation: of limited audience and impact.” I argued how interesting supplemen tal objects, experiences, and works are—secret side projects and side passions, the things we make, or buy, and then hide in a drawer. Saying this out loud was revelatory, awkward, a thrill. Was this how Annie Sprinkle felt on stage with her Hitachi? Afterwards, people came up to me and gave me names of things to read or writers to look up. In theory, I gather, there is always another book, or article, or per son to email. There is never a solution, and that is a

My work will not always look like sex toys. But I am interested in staying with the question of how and why we affect ourselves, and the tools we use to do so. In this era of isolation, as social media echo chambers shape our world views, new forms of self care help us to soothe ourselves, digital content supplements our sen sory experiences and our erotic imaginations, and video conferencing has us watching rather than simply hearing ourselves speak. Posed by philosophy and answered by culture in many ways, including in art, I am glad to have come upon this question as a graduate student. In my own work, the result has been defining my practice in new terms. I hope everyone considers, with care and curiosity, their own practices of auto affection, private rituals, and dangerous supplements—especially if they are creative ones, and despite whether they appear to lead anywhere. By “dangerous supplement,” I mean that seductive category of things that both enhance and threaten what is supposedly natural and complete (paraphrasing Derrida on Rousseau, here): this is the place art holds in my daily life.

Ultimately,relief.Derrida affirmed for me what I already sensed as my personal truth regard ing art and self experience: that my work is generated from the imaginative and sensual space of self relation. Contrary to a story the wellness industry sells, this is a gap that will never be closed or healed—but it can be toyed with, enjoyed. Resolved is my primary con cern with answering the questions of what my artwork does and whether contemporary art is (or must be) self interested, prosocial, or productive. I no longer believe that this can be controlled. That which is self centered is also always social, and that which is social is also always a function of self. I don’t want to force impact claims about my work anymore. I want to make objects, make jokes, make theory, and, sometimes, I want to make mas turbatory art. Back in the studio, dismantling the guts of a massage chair to create a hypothetical inter media thrusting machine inspired by Gilles Deleuze (Fig. 4, 5), I was thinking about what I would say if I were challenged on the (in) significance of my subject area. “The gap of self relation is irreducible,” I would say. “And Derrida reminds us that ‘sexual auto affection, that is auto affection in general, neither begins nor ends with what one believes can be cir cumscribed by the name of masturbation.’ ”3

Here is one of my own rituals, begin ning with the last ounce of water at the bottom of my drinking glass. Into this I plop a ripe blackberry. I raise the glass to my mouth, pausing when I see the light of the candle on my kitchen table right in the center. It is warm, fragrant, and pleasurably confined in here. The back washing water becomes the sea, my own breath is the sound of the surf, and the berry is an island just offshore. Tipping the glass, I give myself the presence and the pleasure of a personal sunset. Later, I will document this ritual in video and screen it for a large group. I will sit through three minutes of mild discom fort as the amplified sound of my own Figure 4. Sally Clegg, The sensuous woman (machinic assemblage for up to nine holes) (detail) (2020). Cast silicone, motors, found objects, 3D print, 50 × 27 × 10 in. Courtesy of the artist. Figure 5. Sally Clegg, The sensuous woman (machinic assemblage for up to nine holes) (2020). Cast silicone, motors, found objects, 3D print, 50 × 27 × 10 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  523 /

ASAP/Journal  524 / heavy breathing fills the room. Afterwards, people will approach me with the most banal stories about sunsets, fruit, and sexual fan tasy. They’ll tell me about their own object and video mediated self soothing rituals, like their vibrators and weighted blankets, or about watching hours of ASMR to fall asleep at night, or porn, or nail art. We will exchange minor, juicy intimacies, and it will be tender, limited, and refreshing. When I am home again and alone, waiting out the period of skin crawling anxiety I only feel after I’ve done something worthwhile in my work, I will replay these conversations to myself. I will draw from this little well of other people’s secrets for relief.

OF THEORYREADING#TOPLESSSONIA FERNÁNDEZ PAN In #ToplessTheoryReading, artists, curators, writers, critics, and others post topless with books of theory and fiction. These images cir culate online, primarily through Instagram, and are organized through this hashtag so that they can be found by others. This emerged from a specific artistic community of folks involved in contemporary art, mostly in Spain and Germany, and has grown into a decentralized form of online community that exists trans nationally. In what follows, the “founder” of the project, curator Sonia Fernández Pan, tells the story of its emergence. At the end of August 2017, Ania Nowak arrived at my home in Barcelona from Berlin. It was a very hot and humid evening. We were on the terrace of the space where I lived at the time, excited and nervous about the project


SALLY CLEGG is an artist from Pelham Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in Art from The University of Michigan, and a BA in Art from Goucher College. Her work can be found in collections at Yale University, The New York Public Library, The University of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Drawing & Printmaking and was recently granted a 2020 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award by The International Sculpture Center. Her writing has appeared in BOMB, and her artwork has appeared in Sculpture magazine. She is a lecturer in art and design at The University of Michigan.

Notes 1 Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 10. 2 Thomas Walter Laqueur, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation (New York: Zone, 2003), 21. 3 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1967; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 154–55.

Notes 1 Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 10. 2 Thomas Walter Laqueur, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation (New York: Zone, 2003), 21. 3 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1967; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 154–55.

OF THEORYREADING#TOPLESSSONIA FERNÁNDEZ PAN In #ToplessTheoryReading, artists, curators, writers, critics, and others post topless with books of theory and fiction. These images cir culate online, primarily through Instagram, and are organized through this hashtag so that they can be found by others. This emerged from a specific artistic community of folks involved in contemporary art, mostly in Spain and Germany, and has grown into a decentralized form of online community that exists trans nationally. In what follows, the “founder” of the project, curator Sonia Fernández Pan, tells the story of its emergence. At the end of August 2017, Ania Nowak arrived at my home in Barcelona from Berlin. It was a very hot and humid evening. We were on the terrace of the space where I lived at the time, excited and nervous about the project

ASAP/Journal  524 / heavy breathing fills the room. Afterwards, people will approach me with the most banal stories about sunsets, fruit, and sexual fan tasy. They’ll tell me about their own object and video mediated self soothing rituals, like their vibrators and weighted blankets, or about watching hours of ASMR to fall asleep at night, or porn, or nail art. We will exchange minor, juicy intimacies, and it will be tender, limited, and refreshing. When I am home again and alone, waiting out the period of skin crawling anxiety I only feel after I’ve done something worthwhile in my work, I will replay these conversations to myself. I will draw from this little well of other people’s secrets for relief.


SALLY CLEGG is an artist from Pelham Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in Art from The University of Michigan, and a BA in Art from Goucher College. Her work can be found in collections at Yale University, The New York Public Library, The University of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and elsewhere. She is a 2018 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Drawing & Printmaking and was recently granted a 2020 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award by The International Sculpture Center. Her writing has appeared in BOMB, and her artwork has appeared in Sculpture magazine. She is a lecturer in art and design at The University of Michigan.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  525 / we were doing together as part of a one year program of solo exhibitions that I was curat ing at Arts Santa Mònica. She was the third artist in the program, with her choreography project Matters of Touch. It was the first time we worked together, after years of intense epistolary intimacy as friends. Contact, some times unbearably intimate, was a fundamental condition of her project. It was also part of our daily relationship living together at the time. Our coexistence was developed by a common cause in the form of a project. As she unpacked her luggage, Ania showed me a collectively authored book she was read ing as part of her research: What’s Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It? (2017).1

I still feel uncomfortable promoting the proj ects I am part of, but as a way to overcome my social media professional embarrassment, I asked Ania if I could take a picture of her reading (or, rather, pretending to read) that book. She immediately answered me, with her usual sparkling energy: “Of course! But I want to do it topless!” From all the texts in the book, she chose the conversa tion between Elizabeth A. Povinelli and Kim Turcot DiFruscia to perform reading.2 When we looked at the image together after ward, she told me that I should keep taking more pictures of people reading topless, and that I could call the series of images: ToplessTheoryReading

Two days later, Agata Siniarska, also a Polish choreographer and performer, came to visit us at home during her vacation in Barcelona. When Ania showed her the photograph, Agata eagerly volunteered to be the second person in the Bothseries.were naked prior to the capture of the second picture, and I found this intimacy between them extraordinarily moving and unusual. The context of the so called visual arts, of which I am a part, tends to have a different relationship with the body than the context of performance arts. In the former we talk a lot about the body but neglect the material presence of our own. In the latter, bodies also speak from their blatant Posingpresence.with Octavia Butler’s Dawn (1987), Agata Siniarska would turn this image into the beginning of a series with Butler’s novel. That the second book in #ToplessTheoryReading was a work of fiction and not an essay seems to say something about my understanding of theory beyond theory writing. The third person to pose for #ToplessTheoryReading would be the playwright and curator Mateusz Szymanówka, a friend of Ania and Agata, who coincidentally was also

I still find it very ironic that Ania Nowak does not yet have an account on Instagram. But Ania is present in the form of this single image and a hashtag.

With #ToplessTheoryReading, something that began as pure amusement promptly became an entity with a life of its own. When other people started talking about the series as “your project on people reading topless,” I felt the perversity of the artistic context hit me directly: that any gesture we make reads immediately as our “work.”

My use of hashtags in social networks is lim ited to the title of this series and the proper names of people who don’t have a profile in it. Although I think they are a tool for the decentralization of knowledge, they carry the lurking algorithm perversely. In a very simple but effective way, the practice of the hashtag produces different new taxonomies of knowl edge and information search in a collective way. For better and for worse, we become uninten tional algorithm trainers. The perversity of the algorithms is that they tend to conceal not only the ideology of the system that produces and develops them but also the impact they have on our identities and our relationships. Moreover, when accrediting and mentioning the people who appear in the series, am I simply indicat ing who they are, or am I doing an exercise in self referentiality through other people?

ASAP/Journal  526 / in Barcelona at the time. Addressing my own hesitancy about appearing on social media, I myself would be the fourth person.

Figure 1. Topless Theory Reading (Sonia Fernández Pan reading After Finitude) (2017). Photo by Lúa Coderch. Courtesy of Sonia Fernández Pan.

2 “Shapes of Freedom: A Conversation with Elizabeth A. Povinelli,” by Kim Turcot DiFruscia, e-flux, no. 53 (March 2014), https://www.e flux .com/journal/53/59889/shapes of freedom a conversation with elizabeth a povinelli.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  527 / When other people appear in our social pro files, even when we share a quote from a book we are reading, are we really sharing selflessly, or are we expanding and promot ing our identity through other lives, people, objects, and research materials? I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet, but I am still enjoying taking pictures of people reading topless from time to time. Berlin, 1 August 2020 Note s 1 What’s Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It?, ed. Julieta Aranda, et al. (Berlin: Sternberg, 2017).

SONIA FERNÁNDEZ PAN is a (in)dependent curator, art writer, researcher and podcast-maker. Emphasizing the value of conversation as a methodology of research and work, she is the host and editor of several podcast series for the Institut Kunst in Basel in addition to her personal project esnorquel . Although her reading time is spent daily on the screen, sometimes books appear that take her out of the digital frenzy and read her too. She especially enjoys fiction because of its ability to say in a simple manner what is complicated.

Figure 2. Topless Theory Reading (Anu Cze reading Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick ) Photo by Sonia Fernández Pan. Courtesy of Sonia Fernández Pan and Anu Cze.

The painting is gorgeous full of rich water and blues and birds in flight and surging, resplendent waves

The black family is still floating at sea except they’re cruising satisfied kicked back even with the acute tilt of the sail Who am I playing in the movies?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Taylor Russell playing Emily in Waves

ASAP/Journal  528 / from “WAVES” GABRIELLE CIVIL an excerpt from the déjà vu, published by Coffee House Press (2022) and used with permission. Who would play me in the movies? How can I get the movies to play? When the black feminist performance artist regards the silver screen, she must make her own mirror, expand the frame, and theorize herself. Coming Soon: Waves: An Action Movie on Self & Cinematic Representation! Grab some popcorn, refocus your projector, and enjoy the preview. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ In our independent study on Identity & Representation in Animation I am supposed to be the professor but Benni Q teaches me a lot They teach me animation doesn’t happen in the stills how a movie comes to life between the frames ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ A painting spills out beyond the frame and becomes a black motion picture My friend Amy Hamlin sends me an article on pandemic looking with a huge close up of Gulf Stream by Kerry James Marshall In movie terms, it’s a remake of The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer but in Homer’s work, a black man is alone in a broken boat, ragged and surrounded by sharks Marshall’s painting is a sea change and balm

After the violence, after the red dissolve, in the heart of being shunned, in the wake of grief, a black girl sits quiet in the radiance of the sun. Imagine this written in yellow gold. . . .  School is almost over: it’s the end of year. And maybe now she can start to live. Emily does a lot of things in Waves. She whines and witnesses and slips away. She holds her brother close when he is falling apart. She exchanges lip gloss with his girlfriend, the goddess. What does it mean to take a life or finally have one? Emily is allowed to drift. She sits on her bed beneath a collage of pleated fans. She strokes her asthmatic cat. She drinks milkshakes with a boy who asks her out. Everything becomes wet. They buy liquor underage, gambol through sprinklers at night. She consoles him in bed when he comes too soon. You know they’ll try again in a few hours. They soak together in a bathtub, listening to Frank Ocean on her phone. The phone sits in glass to amplify the sound. She turns it off to say, come on, your father is dying. We have to go see him before he’s gone. Her brother is not her demon. Her boyfriend is not her savior. Even her father whose arm stretches across her back on the poster of Waves is not her raison d’être. She becomes herself the answer. Not selfless, it’s just that she has so much self to spare. The camera loves her. She begins to gleam. Waves starts as one thing then turns into another. When you see it again, you realize it was always that all along. The black girl rides off on her bicycle into the sunset listening to Alabama Shakes’ “Sound and Color.” Like at the end of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Maud Martha, her hands stretch out into the air. ~ What do movies mean to me? What can we make of movies? ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Trey Edward Shults says his summer making Waves was the best summer of his life remembering living remaking I wanted to remake Purple Rain with my friends . . .  this time with no woman of color dumped in a trash can and we would all be Prince and we would all be stars

~ ~ ~ ~

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  529 / ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ WAVES: A SYNOPSIS

ASAP/Journal  530 /


GABRIELLE CIVIL is a black feminist performance artist, poet, and writer, originally from Detroit, Michigan. Her performance memoirs include Swallow the Fish (2017), Experiments in Joy (2019), (ghost gestures) (2021) and the déjà vu (2022). Her writing has appeared in small axe, Dancing While Black, Kitchen Table Translation, New Daughters of Africa, and Experiments in Joy: a Workbook. She has premiered over fifty original performance artworks around the world, most recently Vigil at the 2021 Northern Spark Festival and Jupiter premiered at the 2021 Salt Lake City Performance Art Festival and reprised at the Velocity Dance Center in Seattle (2021). A 2019 Rema Hort Mann LA Emerging Artist, she teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the California Institute of the Arts. The aim of her work is to open up space.


John Berger describes Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits as “paintings in the second person”—the only intended viewers were gods upon entry to the afterlife.1 I appreciate that I have no way of knowing whether the artist’s experience of painting a death por trait for an audience of gods was an existential nightmare or a simple, functional act of ren dering someone recognizable to a friend. I think I’m most moved by old paintings by dead painters because of this speculation and limited context, this irreconcilable yet some how bridgeable divide between their concerns and mine. This experience of asymptotic nearness to an ultimately opaque subject has come to define my relationship to paint ing. I want to contribute to a vocabulary for expressions of care that precede the desire for understanding. I question the primacy of empathy as a goal in portraiture or as a pre requisite for acts of protection, stewardship, and solidarity. Love for one’s family and love for seven billion people necessarily take Figure 1. Anonymous (Egyptian), Fayum Portrait of a Woman, Egyptian (Hadrianic period, c. 2nd century CE). Encaustic on wood, 13 × 17 in. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, fayum_portrait.png.

GABRIELLE CIVIL is a black feminist performance artist, poet, and writer, originally from Detroit, Michigan. Her performance memoirs include Swallow the Fish (2017), Experiments in Joy (2019), (ghost gestures) (2021) and the déjà vu (2022). Her writing has appeared in small axe, Dancing While Black, Kitchen Table Translation, New Daughters of Africa, and Experiments in Joy: a Workbook. She has premiered over fifty original performance artworks around the world, most recently Vigil at the 2021 Northern Spark Festival and Jupiter premiered at the 2021 Salt Lake City Performance Art Festival and reprised at the Velocity Dance Center in Seattle (2021). A 2019 Rema Hort Mann LA Emerging Artist, she teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the California Institute of the Arts. The aim of her work is to open up space.



ASAP/Journal  530 /

John Berger describes Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits as “paintings in the second person”—the only intended viewers were gods upon entry to the afterlife.1 I appreciate that I have no way of knowing whether the artist’s experience of painting a death por trait for an audience of gods was an existential nightmare or a simple, functional act of ren dering someone recognizable to a friend. I think I’m most moved by old paintings by dead painters because of this speculation and limited context, this irreconcilable yet some how bridgeable divide between their concerns and mine. This experience of asymptotic nearness to an ultimately opaque subject has come to define my relationship to paint ing. I want to contribute to a vocabulary for expressions of care that precede the desire for understanding. I question the primacy of empathy as a goal in portraiture or as a pre requisite for acts of protection, stewardship, and solidarity. Love for one’s family and love for seven billion people necessarily take Figure 1. Anonymous (Egyptian), Fayum Portrait of a Woman, Egyptian (Hadrianic period, c. 2nd century CE). Encaustic on wood, 13 × 17 in. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, fayum_portrait.png.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  531 / different shapes. Some forms are transparent, and some forms are opaque. Some conceal; others expose. Some present themselves, and others refuse legible names. Strangers ask the portrait to mediate private and public life. The portrait was once elastic and wet. It was tasked with measuring the boundary between painter and Fromsitter.painting, I ask for a place to grow my own capacity for care across distance. The language of paint is a vocabulary of intimacy: touch, attention, accumulation, compro mise, repair. I have faith in paint as a tool for naming the places where language and other structures fail. I try to imagine a scrutiny free from transaction and authority, where time and generosity are not scarce. If real gener osity divests from the expectation of returns, then what are the full implications of imag ing someone in this way, through touch? My sitters gave me permission to stare at them in private. What happens to this momentary con sensual gaze over time, prolonged into months of looking? Prolonged into an abundance of labor, abundance of attention, abundance of precious materials? With these questions in mind, I want to briefly connect my painting practice to the emergence of autotheory as a genre of inquiry. Great paintings oscillate between the registers Figure 2. Lukey Agnes Walden, Book of Hours (2021). Charcoal on paper.

Paintings inhabit a dual identity: as highly per sonal devotional objects that are also plugged into a global historical network of material and critical processes constituting painting as a category. The tethering of these personal and theoretical domains to the painting object makes the genre of painting uniquely suited to autotheoretical readings. As Isabelle Graw puts it in her essay “The Knowledge of Painting: Notes on Thinking and Subject Like Pictures,” “theories of painting are also theories of the painter.”2 Graw goes on: When painting is conceived as an intellectual pursuit, a cosa mentale, as Leonardo da Vinci famously put it, the painter’s status rises accordingly: he or she becomes a thinker. That’s why codes of conduct for the paint er are integral to the early theories of painting—Leonardo, for example, envisions the painter sitting “before his work at the greatest of ease, well dressed and applying delicate colours with his light brush. . . . His residence is clean and adorned with delightful pictures, and he often enjoys the ac companiment of music or the com pany of the authors of various fine works.”3 Da Vinci’s writing and Graw’s analysis reveal a slippage between theory and daily practice that can be discerned in some of the earliest writing on painting. Five hundred years later, this slippage is still a basic feature of how a painting functions in the hands of the artist and in the eyes of its viewers.

A painter’s influences and citations are never intangible. When we scrutinize a painting and speculate about an artist’s influences, we Figure 3. Lukey Agnes Walden, Room Before Moving Away (2019). Oil on canvas.

ASAP/Journal  532 / of the personal and the theoretical; the liquid logic of paint skirts any obligation to name a boundary between the two. I propose that recent and historical discourses around sub jectivity in painting are consistent with autotheory’s indistinct boundaries between theory and daily practice.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  533 / Figure 4. Lukey Agnes Walden, Skylight (2019). Oil on canvas. Figure 5. Lukey Agnes Walden, Tulip Collectors (2021). Charcoal and ink on paper.

LUKEY AGNES WALDEN (b. 1994) is a painter concerned with portraiture and trans subjectivities. They teach at Rhode Island School of Design as Assistant Professor in the Division of Experimental and Foundation Studies. Walden has mounted solo exhibitions with An Sylvia Exhibitions and AMFM Gallery in Chicago. They are the recipient of an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant, and they were recently named one of 30 “Rising Stars” by Saatchi Art in 2021. Walden holds a BA from Colorado College and an MFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design. They live and paint in New York City.


ASAP/Journal  534 / recognize a surface where centuries old phys ical gestures have been revived and embodied in the name of kinship or commentary. The choreography of this touch is citation. It is rehearsed in private. It is devotional. I admire writers in the genre of autotheory for the way they hitch their personal baggage to the supposedly sterile gesture of academic cita tion. The mess of autotheory is a painterly impulse. Portraiture excites me because of its similarly disorganizing structure. The paint er’s relationship to the sitter and the painter’s relationship to the theory and history of painting are co­constitutive in the same gestures. A viewer cannot isolate a reading of the portrait subject or the portrait genre without the necessary context to be found in the other; every touch is a consequence of both. To schedule a portrait sitting, to finish a painting, to metabolize my influences and bring a picture out of the studio, is an auto theoretical operation: to uphold that I have a place in the history of images and thought that belongs inextricably and simultaneously to the private lives of the loved ones I depict and to the mimicked public residues of paint ers I’ll never meet. Not es 1 John Berger, Portraits: John Berger on Artists, ed. Tom Overton (New York: Verso, 2017), 20. 2 Isabelle Graw, “The Knowledge of Painting: Notes on Thinking and Subject Like Pictures,” in The Love of Painting: Genealogy of a Success Medium (Berlin: Sternberg, 2018), 51. 3 Ibid.

I wanted to make a book that rambled a little, you know? It’s what really bothers me about critics, where you won’t find it, this sense of rhythm, this passing from one topic to the next. The critic is always so dogged instead. To me . . . I can’t tolerate that sense of the mind hounding after one thing.


—Carla Lonzi, Self-Portrait1 Self is in the middle, and it wants to slide away. I experience myself as alternately restric tive and expansive: restrictive when held to the expectation to reproduce myself as

LUKEY AGNES WALDEN (b. 1994) is a painter concerned with portraiture and trans subjectivities. They teach at Rhode Island School of Design as Assistant Professor in the Division of Experimental and Foundation Studies. Walden has mounted solo exhibitions with An Sylvia Exhibitions and AMFM Gallery in Chicago. They are the recipient of an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant, and they were recently named one of 30 “Rising Stars” by Saatchi Art in 2021. Walden holds a BA from Colorado College and an MFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design. They live and paint in New York City.



I wanted to make a book that rambled a little, you know? It’s what really bothers me about critics, where you won’t find it, this sense of rhythm, this passing from one topic to the next. The critic is always so dogged instead. To me . . . I can’t tolerate that sense of the mind hounding after one thing.

—Carla Lonzi, Self-Portrait1 Self is in the middle, and it wants to slide away. I experience myself as alternately restric tive and expansive: restrictive when held to the expectation to reproduce myself as

ASAP/Journal  534 / recognize a surface where centuries old phys ical gestures have been revived and embodied in the name of kinship or commentary. The choreography of this touch is citation. It is rehearsed in private. It is devotional. I admire writers in the genre of autotheory for the way they hitch their personal baggage to the supposedly sterile gesture of academic cita tion. The mess of autotheory is a painterly impulse. Portraiture excites me because of its similarly disorganizing structure. The paint er’s relationship to the sitter and the painter’s relationship to the theory and history of painting are co­constitutive in the same gestures. A viewer cannot isolate a reading of the portrait subject or the portrait genre without the necessary context to be found in the other; every touch is a consequence of both. To schedule a portrait sitting, to finish a painting, to metabolize my influences and bring a picture out of the studio, is an auto theoretical operation: to uphold that I have a place in the history of images and thought that belongs inextricably and simultaneously to the private lives of the loved ones I depict and to the mimicked public residues of paint ers I’ll never meet. Not es 1 John Berger, Portraits: John Berger on Artists, ed. Tom Overton (New York: Verso, 2017), 20. 2 Isabelle Graw, “The Knowledge of Painting: Notes on Thinking and Subject Like Pictures,” in The Love of Painting: Genealogy of a Success Medium (Berlin: Sternberg, 2018), 51. 3 Ibid.

What if today’s art writing isn’t (only) writ ing about art so much as writing as art? To say so is to willfully obfuscate the category.

Art writing as art shares key features with autotheory: its fuel is the encounter, and its trajectory is outward from identity.

Like the autotheoretical, art writing is another compound idea with space between its parts that I prefer to hold open. The influences of poststructuralism, feminism, queer stud ies, critical race studies, posthumanism, the philosophy of science, and other deviant, interdisciplinary impetuses have de formed a genre that was once all about securing the myth of the ‘great man’: the solely viable, entirely unoriginal ego ideal under patriarchy.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  535 / more of the same, and expansive when I can stray, and make more of myself in excess of identity. Autotheory sublimates this tension.

A hybrid, creative critical genre, autotheory is writing and thinking the self in relation to the world by way of close encounters with others—people and things. It thrives on the encounter and thus entails departing from self certainty; in this sense, it is an absent center or placeholder for what we are not, or not yet. Autotheory reflects becoming. We cannot anticipate the formal or aesthetic qual ities of autotheory because we cannot predict the encounters that generate it; we lean into unknowing as an outlet from the melancholy of identity. Whereas autotheory has been cen sured as narcissistic life writing that shores up and consolidates a self, it actually docu ments the self’s dispersal, collaboration, and mutation in complex relation to the world. If narcissism “arises when libidinal cathexes are called in away from external objects,” the I of autotheory is subject to the opposite pull, moving excentrically, unfailingly inter ested in others.2 Autotheory views the ban on personal pronouns from critical discourse— which autotheory’s own shaming as narcissistic life writing demonstrates—as a twisted exten sion of the dubious claim to self mastery at the heart of patriarchal logic.

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) is said to have inseminated the Western art historical tradi tion. By staging the writing of art as a series of encounters with the “lives of the artists,” he helped boost the artist’s status during the Renaissance: from mere worker to singu lar genius. By pointing to the continuity between artwork and artist biography, Vasari rarefied both, inflating the value of the pack age. What’s more, he secured his own status and remunerable occupation as the artists’ savvy proxy if not intimate acquaintance.3

Griselda Pollock offers a salient reading of the classical artist biographer à la Vasari as mas culine narcissist, trapped in a never ending Oedipal loop, where idolatry of the artistgenius, the longed for father figure, flows over into rivalry. In this conception, the proto art writer identifies so strongly with the artist he admires that the boundaries between them interpenetrate, and the writing moves back and forth between distant adulation of the art ist’s works, and details from his life—yielding a hybrid text that evinces the writer’s narcissis tic fusion with his externalized ideal.4 What is lost—besides the contributions of all “others”

The book is a cut up of her interviews with thirteen known artists, arranged according to sonic and semantic resonances that surfaced between the voices, her own included.9 With Lonzi, I relish the dialogic space of encoun ter—the slit in common between autotheory and art writing—like a delicious and bountiful spread. Note s 1 All translations are my own. “Volevo fare un libro un po’ divagato, come dire? Perché quello che mi dà molto fastidio nei critici, dove non c’è, Figure 1. Carla Lonzi on the telephone, Rome, Via Frattina, early 1970s. Photograph by Jacqueline Vodoz. © Fondazione Jacqueline Vodoz e Bruno Danese.

Carla Lonzi (1931–1982) described art crit icism as “un mestiere fasullo” (a bogus profession) after working in the field for over a decade and prior to leaving it for femi nism.5 Reflecting on her career, she explains the predisposition that inclined her to the art world—mixed feelings of estrangement and possibility—as well as the promise that it posed, and the betrayal of that promise by structures of power. She writes that “for me the critical approach coincided with a need to intrude into the situation of others,” and “I perceived the work of art as a possibility for an encounter, like an invitation to participate.”6 She indicates the resultant scandal, that “the critic, instead of someone who is available and has needs, becomes someone who judges and creates hierarchy.”7 Not only did Lonzi call out the front of mastery and the routine dis avowal of needs as endemic to her profession, she orchestrated an alternative. Autoritratto (Self Portrait) (1969) consists of “fragments assembled in such a way as to reproduce a kind of banquet [convivio] that I actually lived.”8

ASAP/Journal  536 / who misfit the “great (White, property own ing) man” prototype, master of intellectual and cultural production—is the kernel of art writing’s potential: namely, the movement away from sameness and recursion, from recognizable forms, into unauthorized contact zones. Rather than mediating art and artists, thus preserving hierarchies, roles, and statuses, the art writer autotheorist, whom I fantasize, encounters them. In the space of exchange, a dynamic, collective “self portrait” emerges, which confounds the proper(ty).

NICOLE TRIGG is a writer, translator, and PhD candidate in the department of Interdisciplinary Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She researches feminist, queer, and antiracist methodologies, in constellation with experimental art writing and radical feminism/s in postwar Italy.

Taken at his word, Vasari was particularly close with Michelangelo Buonarroti, and includes much of their correspondence in the outsized chapter devoted to him.

The first time I was called a vještica, or “witch,” the word came from my mother, and was not a jovial reference to a presumed Halloween

4 Griselda Pollock, Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories (London: Routledge, 1999), 13–19. 5 Lonzi, Autoritratto, 33. In 1970, in Rome, Lonzi cofounded the feminist collective Rivolta Femminile (Female Revolt) with artist Carla Accardi and writer Elvira Banotti. They cowrote and published one of Italy’s first feminist manifestos in July of the same year, “Manifesto di Rivolta Femminile.”6“perme l’atteggiamento critico è coinciso con un bisogno di intromissione nella situazione di altri.” Lonzi, Autoritratto, 33–34; “L’opera d’arte è stata da me sentita, a un certo punto, come una possibilità d’incontro, come un invito a partecipare.” Ibid., 3. 7 “Il critico, invece di essere colui che è disponibile e ha bisogno, diventa colui il quale giudica e crea tutta una gerarchia.” Ibid., 34. 8 “brani montati liberamente in modo da riprodurre una specie di convivio, reale per me che l’ho vissuto.” Ibid., 5–6. 9 Francesco Ventrella, “Carla Lonzi’s Artwriting and the Resonance of Separatism,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 21, no. 3 (August 2014): 282–87.

The following text is an excerpt of a larger, unpublished autotheoretical work by artist and curator Žana Kozomora. In it, Kozomora engages an autotheoretical, ex-Yugoslav fem inist mode to consider representations of Balkan women in contemporary art. In the larger text from which this piece is excerpted, Kozomora takes American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s Lustmord (1993–1994), a work that looks at violent war crimes against women in Bosnia, as her starting point, reconsidering the ethics and politics of Holzer’s work. Here, Kozomora writes reflectively through the fig ure of the Slavic “witch” via feminist scholar Silvia Federici and works by artists Selma Selman and Šejla Kamerić.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  537 / è questo senso della misura, questo passare da un argomento all’altro. Invece, il critico è sempre una persona accanita. A me . . . non posso sopportare il senso della mente che si accanisce su una cosa.” Carla Lonzi, Autoritratto (Milan: et al./Edizioni, 2010), 16. 2 Sigmund Freud, General Psychological Theory: Papers on Metapsychology, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 43. 3 Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists: Volume I, trans. George Bull (London: Penguin, 1987).




The first time I was called a vještica, or “witch,” the word came from my mother, and was not a jovial reference to a presumed Halloween

NICOLE TRIGG is a writer, translator, and PhD candidate in the department of Interdisciplinary Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She researches feminist, queer, and antiracist methodologies, in constellation with experimental art writing and radical feminism/s in postwar Italy.

Taken at his word, Vasari was particularly close with Michelangelo Buonarroti, and includes much of their correspondence in the outsized chapter devoted to him.

4 Griselda Pollock, Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories (London: Routledge, 1999), 13–19. 5 Lonzi, Autoritratto, 33. In 1970, in Rome, Lonzi cofounded the feminist collective Rivolta Femminile (Female Revolt) with artist Carla Accardi and writer Elvira Banotti. They cowrote and published one of Italy’s first feminist manifestos in July of the same year, “Manifesto di Rivolta Femminile.”6“perme l’atteggiamento critico è coinciso con un bisogno di intromissione nella situazione di altri.” Lonzi, Autoritratto, 33–34; “L’opera d’arte è stata da me sentita, a un certo punto, come una possibilità d’incontro, come un invito a partecipare.” Ibid., 3. 7 “Il critico, invece di essere colui che è disponibile e ha bisogno, diventa colui il quale giudica e crea tutta una gerarchia.” Ibid., 34. 8 “brani montati liberamente in modo da riprodurre una specie di convivio, reale per me che l’ho vissuto.” Ibid., 5–6. 9 Francesco Ventrella, “Carla Lonzi’s Artwriting and the Resonance of Separatism,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 21, no. 3 (August 2014): 282–87.


The following text is an excerpt of a larger, unpublished autotheoretical work by artist and curator Žana Kozomora. In it, Kozomora engages an autotheoretical, ex-Yugoslav fem inist mode to consider representations of Balkan women in contemporary art. In the larger text from which this piece is excerpted, Kozomora takes American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s Lustmord (1993–1994), a work that looks at violent war crimes against women in Bosnia, as her starting point, reconsidering the ethics and politics of Holzer’s work. Here, Kozomora writes reflectively through the fig ure of the Slavic “witch” via feminist scholar Silvia Federici and works by artists Selma Selman and Šejla Kamerić.


Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  537 / è questo senso della misura, questo passare da un argomento all’altro. Invece, il critico è sempre una persona accanita. A me . . . non posso sopportare il senso della mente che si accanisce su una cosa.” Carla Lonzi, Autoritratto (Milan: et al./Edizioni, 2010), 16. 2 Sigmund Freud, General Psychological Theory: Papers on Metapsychology, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 43. 3 Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists: Volume I, trans. George Bull (London: Penguin, 1987).


ASAP/Journal  538 / costume or school play, although amusingly I would take up both of those roles from child hood to adolescence. To be called a vještica as a young girl in our Balkan context is a scathing label reserved only for the most atrocious lit tle girl who has done something egregious. In adulthood, the sharp insult feels similar except for the fact that what is constituted by “awful” behavior or actions is immensely expanded, here no longer hurled at me as a measure of discipline but solely to bestow shame. The second time I was called “witch” was as a slur in childhood, as playground boys easily spotted my insecurity and preteen angst. In these experiences, I recognize the presence of a sharp twofold visibility: the institution of shame and the ways in which the mascu line gaze determines the validity of feminized Thepresence.conniving image of the witch that is conjured is dualistic: the threatening, hyper visibility of the always sexualized female body (either raped or nation bearer) alongside the invisibility of the ugly, usually elderly woman (possessing social influence). In ancient Slavic folklore, another dualism is found in the witchy figure of Baba Yaga, who exists in the liminal space between life and death, youth and old age, human and animal, male and female, constantly shape shifting to carry on through cycles of death (cremation) and growth (fertility).1 Demonized today as a gro tesque and threatening figure of horror for young children, her roots are traced to pagan matriarchies where women were traditionally the bearers of sacred knowledge, performing practical and ceremonial assistance in death, birth, and marriage.2

Marxist feminist Silvia Federici theorizes that the witch hunts borne out of the rise of capitalism in the Middle Ages necessi tated a new regime of terror that subjected women to mass killings, pain, and torture, enforcing a new model of femininity for a capitalist society: sexless, obedient, submis sive, and subordinate (to men).3 Federici contextualizes land expropriation during the fall of medieval feudalism and rise of colo nial expansion through two methods: war as a means to transform territorial and eco nomic arrangements, and religious reform.4

She contends that the European population crisis in the sixteenth and seventeenth cen turies, instigated by failing markets and disease, wreaked havoc on peasant classes, turning reproduction and population growth into a state matter and an object of intellec tual discourse, which ultimately prompted the persecution of witches and criminalized women’s reproductive control over their own bodies.5 While the South Slavic Balkans didn’t experience the particular witch hunts that Federici’s reading of history charts, her theory helps consider contemporary condi tions that reflect neocolonialism, particularly the outbreak of the 1990s Yugoslav war with the official destruction of socialism and transition to fully fleshed capitalism.6 If this violent transition casts women as witches, then the degree of power they held was

Exiled Yugoslav writer Dubravka Urgešić, author of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (2007), recounts another kind of witch hunt unfold ing simultaneously. A prominent writer in her native Yugoslavia, Urgešić describes how the increasingly inflammatory political dis course in the early 1990s siphoned academics and writers into categories of pronationalist or insufficiently patriotic, dubbing her and five other women as communist feministwitches; Urgešić subsequently found her name and phone number publicized in newspapers, and posted on both official gov ernment and unofficial neofascist group lists of “intellectuals for the firing squad.”9 Fearing the escalation of threats, Urgešić left the newly independent Republic of Croatia in 1993 for the TheNetherlands.revelationof progressive women’s rights, female intellectuals and women working within traditionally male professions within a socialist/communist society may come as a surprise to those scholars who assume Yugoslavia was positioned behind the iron curtain, ignorant of President Tito’s break with Stalin’s USSR in 1948.10 A shared sur prise and ignorance can then be measured by the regression of these rights, the degrada tion of women’s bodies and roles in society and the escalation of violence at the outbreak of a conflict that was presumably positioned to establish independent, nationalist democ racies. Curator and art historian Bojana Pejić reflects on the first international femi nist conference in Yugoslavia (1978), where misunderstandings arose between Eastern and Western attendees who could not com prehend that Yugoslav women held certain freedoms unimaginable in the West, such as the same salaries as their male colleagues and the right to abortion.11 The dissolu tion of socialism, the onslaught of war, and the “transition” to capitalism then staked a traumatic rupture for ex Yugo women, a condition shared across various postcom munist nation states since 1989. With the collapse of economies and the corrupt pri vatization of property in the independent ex Yugo nations today, their presumably

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  539 / reaffirmed as a threat to the construction of the new capitalist nation state.

The immediate recognition by women’s groups in Belgrade and Zagreb of increased and new forms of domestic violence during the onset of the Yugoslav war found women classed as “national traitors” by an increasingly dominant, chauvinistic discourse that under stood women as metaphoric markers of the national body, a symbolic battlefield in which women’s bodies not only represent national and religious values but are also ethnicized by violence.7 Media surveillance and contes tations of facts surrounding numerical figures of war rape were used as political fodder by nationalist groups alongside religious determi nations of these crimes: “The Bosnian Islamic Community pronounced raped women ‘she hids,’ or holy warriors. The Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic churches appealed to women to give birth to more nationals.”8

(ii) EN ROUTE / BUT WHERE? In 2003, Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić and Bosnian photographer Tarik Samarah visited the army barracks in Srebrenica, document ing graffiti text on the walls that read: “No teeth. . . ? A mustache. . . ? Smells like shit. . . ? Bosnian Girl!” The text had been written by an anonymous Dutch peacekeeping soldier while the base was held by the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), a mili tary unit intervening in the secession wars of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, in which the multiethnic make up of the newly independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was carved out by nationalist forces according to ethnicity. The UNPROFOR ultimately surrendered fleeing Bosnian civilians to the Serbian military, an event that devolved into the 1994 Srebrenica genocide of Bosniak men.13 When remem brance events for this genocide proceeded in 2003, Kamerić, then working as a designer and fashion model, decided to turn the cam era on herself, superimposing the graffiti text atop the photographs of her. In opposition to images of the swarms of nameless women suf fering in camps, hair wrapped in head scarves, and bodies heavy, carrying what they could of their former lives, Kamerić is seen with her hair disheveled and uncovered as her gaze alone is directed at the viewer in a pose akin to a mug shot.14 At once coy and direct, her singular, feminine, and youthful appearance draws the viewer toward her gaze and to the text ascribed against her body. Kamerić performed a veiled protest by casting herself opposite the media’s essentialist marker of the suffering and cruelly stereotyped “Bosnian girl” described by the peacekeeper’s graffiti. The return of the gaze is evidence of a sub ject’s direct glance at her spectator, proposing a refusal of the West’s orientalizing structure of looking at cultural Others, and potentially recovers a semblance of “agency for those nameless masses trapped like insects within modernity’s visual archive.”15 Plastered as posters and billboards on routes within the Sarajevo city center, and later in galleries and public spaces across Europe, Kamerić’s image and its English language text confronted the complicity of international agents, tourists,

ASAP/Journal  540 / democratic survival depends on what Pejić notes is a regression that then renders women as a “demographic problem to be cured by non working mothers, pro life parties, [and] anti abortion policies.”12 This Slavic witch emerges for me as one that eludes the trial of burning, hanging, or other modes of violent obliteration. She is a spectral entity, but also one on to which I can easily project my own living mother: the midwife turned nurse, equally capable of whipping sharp criticism enfolded in gestures of care. Despite the twinge of shame I feel anytime I hear the scathing vještica, there remains some thing empowering in how it connotes a being that moves without trace, sweeping away the ash trail of cremated bones behind her. As a liminal entity she allows me to consider the ways in which the violent gaze could be faced, and returned.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  541 / researchers, journalists, and others who trav eled to the region for war tourism, particularly to report on the procession of identified human remains salvaged from the Srebrenica genocide en route for reburial.16 In her refusal to offer an image of a suffering mass, Kamerić’s gaze is multiplied in the public space as a repe titious confrontation of this construction of an Other gazing back. Roma multimedia and performance artist Selma Selman pursues an autoethnographic practice that further complicates the already complexified and essentialized constructions of the othered Balkan woman. This is most politically addressed in the trial for Roma peoples to obtain citizenship and rights status in the nation states they live in, as well as the ongoing practice of child brides and arranged marriages in Roma communities. Politicizing and re forming the image of the Romani peo ple and culture in both the Eastern European and Western artworld frame, Selman turns the camera on herself to reclaim agency Figure 1. Šejla Kamerić, BOSNIAN GIRL (2003). Public project: posters, billboards, magazine ads, postcards. Black and white photograph. Graffiti written by an unknown Dutch soldier on a wall of the army barracks in Potocari, Srebrenica, 1994/95. Royal Netherlands Army troops, as part of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992–95, were responsible for protecting the Srebrenica safe area. Photography by: Tarik Samarah. Installation view at Sarajevo Street (Sarajevo, 2003)—photo by Tarik Samara.

A 2016 performance for camera and photographic self portrait entitled Viva la Vida (2016) depicts the artist seated against a traditional carpet backdrop, gutting a halved watermelon with her bare hands and swal lowing its fruit, at once a disconcerted and indifferent expression on her face. Using the symbol of the watermelon, Selman seeks to reference the fruit’s transnational relations, bridging its prevalence in the Balkans as a fruit farmed and enjoyed across various regions but also particularly by ostracized Romani communities, with the fruit’s cultivation as enmeshed with Black emancipation in the post Civil war era—alongside its use as a sym bol of femininity and sexuality in canonical still life paintings, and its metaphor of sexual violence in the state of the carved, gouged, and devoured fruit.17

ASAP/Journal  542 / in representation, doing so by once again returning the gaze and engaging criticism of interwoven structures of patriarchy and ethnic subjugation.

It is in this reach from her Roma neighbor hood to American and Western European colonial history—after she arrived on a full ride scholarship to complete an MFA in New York State—that Selman’s work seeks to confront an international gaze outside the Balkans, perhaps to access an intersectional feminist one in which sympathies for femi nist activism might lend an ear and an eye.18 This resurfaces through Selman’s activism, in which she independently formed her own grass roots initiative in 2017 entitled Marš u školu (Get the Heck to School), funneling the proceeds made from her burgeoning interna tional art career into an educational and studio program that enables Romani girls in her hometown of Bihać, Bosnia, to break the leg acy of illiteracy and child marriage.19 Bringing in close proximity her resources and experi ences between the U.S.A. and Bosnia, Selman has referred to herself as an artist and woman working through Roma, Bosnian, and even American identity as transient and fluid.20

Figure 2. Viva La Vida (2016–2018). Installation with photo and carpet. Photo by Selma Selman and Dinko Hosic. Concept and text by Selma Selman.

In both Selman’s and Kamerić’s work, there’s an exchange that occurs between the gaze of a non Bosnian, perhaps “global art world/ International Art English” viewer and the returning gaze of the “ethnicized” woman

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  543 / that always lingers on a layer of opacity—in the ambiguities that occur when the artist does not always seek to clearly articulate for the viewer—or seeks to instead make fluid—lines or categorizations of nation, citizen, and ethnic ity. The identity of Kamerić’s “Bosnian Girl” is ambiguous and multiple, engaging the trope of the Bosniak/Muslim as merged with the “Bosniak victim” woman. But here it is with out the ethnic marker of a veil or hijab because it is tied to the “de­ethnicized” or atheist legacy of the communist era of Yugoslavia—a period in which religious markers on the body were largely prohibited—and the ongoing politics of antinationalism in Sarajevo, a nation state in which multiethnic populations coexist in the ongoing trauma of the 1990s conflict. The works compose a returning gaze that muddles the liberal multicultural conflation of victims along ethnic and nationalist lines.21 These returned gazes do not adhere to a Western media’s inclination to visually symbolize a sin gular victim against a singular injustice that comes to be projected in these zones of con flict, the very modes of ethnological reading engaged by scholars and international media, edged on by regional nationalists and nonprofit governmental organizations (NGOs) export ing a singular victim narrative without regard to intersectional readings of gender, ethnicity, history, and local politics that position the seri ous crimes of humanity against citizens enacted during Selman’sconflict.most recent work, Do not be like me (2019), pictures the artist seated in her mother’s lap with tenderly held hands, both women facing the camera. The title is borrowed from a statement that has been constantly repeated to her by her mother. In my question of where to go from here— from the position of always being “en route” between identities, experiences, and locations of home—I share in Selman’s sentiment to hold close our relations. As we traverse shift ing borders, and as our borders are traversed in the case of Kamerić’s work, the politics of our homelands continue to haunt us in ways Figure 3. Selma Selman, Do not be like me (2019). Color Photo Art Works. Photo by Hamza Kulenovic. All rights belong to Selma Selman.

4 Silvia Federici, “The Accumulation of Labor and the Degradation of Women,” in Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2004), 68. 5 Federici expands on how the heightened sur veillance of women reinforced the criminalization of terminated pregnancies, infanticide, and even the presence of unmarried, pregnant women in the community. The consequences for women ranged from public ostracization in the latter case, to a death sentence without trial in the former. Ibid., 86–88.6Yugoslavia existed as a hybrid; socialism and capitalism were not distinct worlds and discrete categories throughout the forty five years of its existence. Tanja Petrović, “(De)Colonising Socialist Experience,” in From the Highlands to Hollywood: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Southeastern Europe: Festschrift for Karl Kaser and SEEHA, ed. Karl Kaser, et al. (Vienna: LIT, 2020), 102. 7 Competing media narratives espoused that only one ethnicity rapes, only one ethnicity is a victim. Women lose in every case. Vesna Kesić, “Muslim Women, Croatian Women, Serbian Women, Albanian Women . . . ,” in Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation, ed. Dušan I. Bjelić and Obrad Savić (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005), 312–14. 8 Ibid., 315. 9 “Yugoslavia, an ‘Almost Forbidden Word’: Cultural Policy in Times of Nationalism—Interview with Dubravka Ugresic,” by Natasa Kovacevic, Women & Performance 17, no. 3 (2007): 302 07,,thisshouldnotbesaidwithoutnotingthatworkingwomenwerestillexpectedtoalsobeentirelyresponsiblefortheunpaidlaborofhomemakingandchildrearing.“GenderRolesinRevolt:BojanaPejić,CuratoroftheExhibition

ASAP/Journal  544 / that may not be recognized by the locales in which we become transplanted. In looking to my mother, and reflecting on our shared identity as refugees displaced in the collapse of Yugoslavia, there lies the necessity of inheritance with the agency to move ahead, not as a dismissive gesture to move on from traumatic histories and contemporaries, but to insist on searching for a place to foster healing, learning, and a multiplicity of experiences in solidarity. For me, the location of that place is no longer a singular, static notion of place or nation, but the question of how to keep close relations as geographies and political ideolo gies continue to shift beneath our feet.

Note s 1 Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz Peralba, “Baba Yaga, The Witch from Slavic Fairy Tales,” in Fierce Feminine Divinities of Eurasia and Latin America: Baba Yaga, Kālī, Pombagira, and Santa Muerte (New York: Palgrave, 2015), 15–39. 2 Ibid., 42. 3 Silvia Federici, “Witch Hunting, Past and Present, and the Fear of the Power of Women,” in 100 Notes–100 Thoughts N°096 (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012), 13. I understand Federici to mean that women were positioned as not having the right to desire sex, or derive pleasure from sex, within this patriarchal structure.

Gender Check, Talks About the Fall of the Iron Curtain and Its Effects on Gender Roles,” by Matthias Dusini, MUMOK Insights, no. 12 (November 2009/February 2010), 6,

“Gender Check, Feminism and Curating in Eastern Europe: An Interview with Bojana Pejić,” by Katrin Kivimaa, in Politics in a Glass Case: Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions, ed. Angela Dimitrakaki and Lara Perry (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015), 176. 13 “Bosniak” refers to ethnically Muslim populations within the nation state of Bosnia, whereas “Bosnian” refers to all citizens of the nation state, regardless of ethnicity.

Dossier: Autotheory’s Artistic Enactments  545 / 11 “Bojana Pejić on Gender and Feminism in Eastern European Art (Interview),” by Hedvig Turai, Art Margins Online, December 18, 2009, https:// pejic gender feminism eastern european art interview.

15 Paula Amad, “Visual Riposte: Looking Back at the Return of the Gaze as Postcolonial Theory’s Gift to Film Studies,” Cinema Journal 52, no. 3 (Spring 2013): 49–74, cj.2013.0015.16Elissa Helms provides a succinct analy sis in her chapter concerning the gendered con structions of victimhood within Bosnia through the representation of local and international me dia. Elissa Helms, “ ‘Bosnian Girl’: Nationalism and Innocence through Images of Women,” in

21 Helms writes that the ambivalence held in images such as Bosnian Girl contends with the potential that those audiences “who privilege the logic of ethnic collectivities require ethnically defined victims and perpetrators,” further presenting a dilemma for confronting gendered violence in multiethnic regions. Helms, “Bosnian Girl,” 218–19.

Activism: Get the Heck to School, to school. 20 Selman is forthright with her ability to pass as a “white” Balkan woman, noting she stood out in her neighborhood as a fair skinned Roma, was referred to as “unclean” by her schoolmates, and catches Eastern Europeans off guard when they warn her of thieving gypsies on the beaches in Croatia and she responds she is, in fact, one. Dalibor Tanić, “Selma Selman: I Believe Art Is Powerful Enough to Have an Impact on People’s Lives,” Kosovo 2.0, May 13, 2020, selman i believe art is powerful enough to have an impact on peoples lives.

14 The head scarves are actually a marker of women in rural regions where aggressor forces easily displaced and executed Muslim Bosniak communities, rather than an ethnic/religious marker such as the hijab. Moving into the multiethnic urban space of the city of Sarajevo, it would not be evident to a nonlocal spectator the ethnic identity of the women in the conflict zones as their faces appear in media.

Retracing Images: Visual Culture after Yugoslavia, ed. Daniel Šuber and Slobodan Karamanić (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2012), 193–222, https://doi .org/10.1163/9789004224230_010.17Theartistweavesherown experiences of ethnic difference as tied to systems of racism and racial inequities of Roma peoples in Europe in her work as one approach of exploring oppression under different historical contexts in an effort to access transnational solidarities. “VivaLaVida,” YouTube video, 0:33, posted by “Selma Selman,” January 21, 2018, ?v;eqzgKhGzKE88o.,“QueenofArts:SELMASELMAN,”

Syracuse Woman Magazine, April 29, 2017, .com/2017/04/29/queenhttps://www.syracusewomanmagofartsselmaselman.19SelmaSelman,

12 Pejić also notes that women questioning these policies are “accused of importing foreign ideas that destabilise the nation ( just like socialists believed that ‘capitalist feminism’ was not needed because they had ‘solved’ the ‘woman question’).”

ASAP/Journal  546 /

Kozomora’s current research explores transnationalism, the archive, and the politics of transplanted and hybrid objects. She sits on the Program Committee and Board of CAFKA (Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener + Area) and is pursuing a Master of Visual Studies, Curatorial Studies at the University of Toronto. ŽANA KOZOMORA is an emerging, interdisciplinary artist and curator. She has completed studio residencies with the Dundas Valley School of Art and Centre[3] for Artistic + Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario. She has worked with Cambridge Art Galleries, Open Sesame, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Xpace Cultural Centre, and Factory Media Centre.

Traditional academic scholarship and many forms of autotheory traffic in names. My introduction here is more powerful, more authoritative, more readable, more useful, because I might reveal a famous name. If you know the name I’m talking about, I’ve just established my theory bona fides. If you don’t know, pay attention and you may accumulate a smidgeon of capitalizable gains in the pillag ing competition that has become neoliberal academia. Autotheory simultaneously partic ipates in, and disrupts, this hackneyed holy practice. And that is what excites me, and con cerns me, about the turn toward autotheory.


A reflection on my autotheoretical essay, “Life After Ruins: Ruderal Ecologies, Afghan Diaspora, and Another Anthropocene,” published in ASAP/J on September 27, 2019. “A name makes reading too easy.” A famous philosopher, who wanted to remain anony mous, said this in a now-famous interview. He withheld his name “out of nostalgia for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.” He dreamed of a year of “anonymous books,” published with no authors’ names attached, but he knew this would do no good: critics don’t truly want to read, he said, so they would ignore this year of difficult books.

Autotheory has been an evolution of selfdiscovery for me, a recognition that my experiences as an Afghan-American from an immigrant Muslim family matter, that my own life is in dialogue with the most lauded names and ideas of our time. It’s been a way for me to find my way back into aca demic practices that have alienated me, after I retreated from traditional scholarship to become an artist and creative writer. It has been a redemption of some kind—a way to speak back to the academic managers, editors, and administrators bestowed with the power to monitor the boundaries of what counts as scholarship, the academic employees that,

ASAP/Journal  548 / through the subtleties of institutional proto cols and policies, work (often unknowingly) to exclude and invisibilize racialized Others who cannot conform to so-called detached, professional objectivity without erasing our bodies and experiences and ways of inhabit ing the world. Now, if I cite enough famous names, perhaps I can be published and heard. AndPerhaps.this is what concerns me about auto theory. When I read works like Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother or Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, or when I pen my own personal essays injected with critical theory, I’m hope ful that we are producing an antidote to the parochial understandings of intellectual work passed off as R1 rigor. But I wonder, in this merger of the personal and the critical, the aesthetic and the philosophical, would we be taken as seriously without the citation of authoritative names? What if Nelson left out the theorists in the page margins of Argonauts? Or if Hartman deleted the endnotes that anchor her memoir in critical theory? (I do love how Nelson and Hartman relegate the authorities to the periphery.) What if my essay “Life After Ruins,” published on ASAP/J, hadn’t mentioned James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Donna Haraway, Henry Thoreau, and Sun Ra? Would the story of my embodied experiences of living in the post-Cold War Afghan diaspora, and how they relate to my environmental art practices, be as digestible or useful? Would I truly be read ? What if I hadn’t articulated my ideas in relation to the con cept suddenly invigorating the Environmental Humanities, the one and only Anthropocene, or the emergent discourse on Ruderal Ecologies, introduced by Bettina Stoetzer into Anthropology? “Life After Ruins” was an explanation of my creative artworks, which so many critics hadn’t taken the time to read until I pulled in the names. Like the famous masked philosopher said, readers don’t read until they see road signs announcing that these pages have referenceable merit, that they are collecting fractionated shares of academic cap ital. Would we, as autotheorists, be taken as seriously without trading in the stock market of Yetnames?Ialso feel that what we are doing is a rec lamation: hacking academic structures and repurposing them with our stories. But while the names make our stories more easily read, we must continue to ask why we can’t crit icize without Criticism or theorize without Theory? How many beautiful humans, how many spectacular artists, critics, and theo rists do you know whose minds don’t work this way? Immigrants who don’t know how to read? Refugees of another colonial war? Afghans abandoned by the US’s imperialis tic military withdrawal, trapped, as I write, within geographical and bureaucratic bor ders? Working-class creatives who never quite fit bourgeois communication expecta tions? These are the people I grew up with. Most will never cite or reference or quote or follow scholarly protocols. They are some of the smartest people I know, and some don’t have high school degrees. Where do their knowledge and experiences go? “A name

“Life After Ruins,” they were told, could not be republished in print, even though its online appearance remained unindexed and, as the ASAP editors conveyed, capable of disap pearing anytime, under eventual erasure. My writing, my story—and the work most cen tral to my personal and political experiences as a scholar—was now ephemeral, the pub lishing equivalent of precariousness. And so, in lieu of the article being published in this issue, I worked with the guest editors of the autotheory issue on creating a short-forum

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  549 / makes reading too easy,” but it also gets you in the door. Even anonymously, Michel Foucault had the platform of France’s popular Le Monde news paper to explore whether he could be heard, so rather than total anonymity, he had author itative mystery. Most autotheorists don’t have that privilege yet: while tenured professors, with platforms and security like Foucault, have published successful autotheory works, it is not uncommon for those of us existing in academia’s margins, in our so-called con tingent yet actually essential positions, to be told that our autotheorizing does not qualify as scholarship. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit I felt exactly this way after publishing my auto theory essay, “Life After Ruins,” on the ASAP/ J online platform, two years prior to this special issue on “autotheory.” We need the names, but sometimes the names are not enough. Only after I’d agreed to publish “Life After Ruins” on ASAP/ J, did I learn that the essay was not, in fact, peer-reviewed; nor was it eligible for indexing in scholarly databases. Furthermore, the editors noted that “Life After Ruins” had no guarantee of future availability to readers, and thus I was encouraged to PDF the essay and upload to my personal website or to

When I expressed dismay about the ethical implications of not being told about these restrictions before publication, and the con sequential nature of such restrictions to a junior scholar like me, I was told that I should have known these limitations were con veyed by the term “online-access.” Within these parameters, I couldn’t help but feel that one of the most heartfelt scholarly essays I have ever written—an autotheory work that articulated the entanglements of diasporic experience, particularly diasporic survival amidst ongoing colonialisms, and the story of Afghans, whose homeland has been inter fered with, and manipulated, by the US since World War II—was now locked into a state of scholarly ghostliness. No peer-reviewed publication will re-publish an essay already published online. I felt like my scholarship had been reduced to web copy, to trendy online content.

Two years later, the editors of this special issue on autotheory, Drs. Fournier and Brostoff, approached ASAP Journal in the hopes of including my article as part of this issue. This request was rejected, due to the afore mentioned terms (peer-reviewed journals not publishing content that has been pub lished previously, including online).

LEILA C. NADIR is an Afghan-American interspecies kinmaker, creative-critical researcher, undisciplined storyteller, eccentric educator, and healer of a modern memory disorder that she calls “industrial amnesia.” She works within disturbed ecological zones to explore restorative gestures and collaborative repair amidst disaster and ruins. She has written that “all my work has been about survival amidst the rubble,” including intergenerational trauma, environmental justice work, and the experiences of the Afghan diaspora. Nadir has a doctoral degree on a complicated subject and has an academic position at a good university and also founded and directed a program there. She’s won some awards a few times for creative stuff she does with the public, has some interesting publications that might be impressive, and is working on a memoir that makes people laugh and cry. She’s especially excited right now about an essay she’s working on about everything we can learn from American goldfinches, the happiest and most vegan birds of the forest.

on emotional and scholarly borderlines. Lila Abu-Lughod wrote that eth nic “halfies” need to “write against culture” with their “hyper-personal” stories and “par ticular lives, inscribed in their bodies and their words.”

ASAP/Journal  550 / contribution reflective of my original piece in Autotheoryretrospect. may show potential for disrupting old scholarly rituals, but there are still institu tional parameters, managers, editorial boards, and administrators monitoring the boundar ies of what counts as scholarship, enforcing (rather than rethinking) protocols and poli cies. These everyday practices work to exclude Others from the historical archives that are most permanent and “legitimated”—not explicitly, not overtly, but through institu tional negligence and undisclosed “rules” that work to the advantage of some. Sometimes citing names is not enough. But this is where we Autotheorystart. may constitute a chance to over turn academia’s unjust hierarchies and its disciplining, censoring, and invalidating of life stories that don’t fit its exclusionary edi torial and tenure policies. But its promises are still inhabited by arbitrary power and profes sional precariousness. Let’s make sure we keep responding to the lives that haven’t made it through a PhD commencement or that don’t trade in the currency of big names. Let’s stay weary of our complicity with the system we are trying to upend—our complicities in rules that should be broken, in bureaucracies that hide exclusions behind regulations and Wepaperwork.are“halfies”

Gloria Anzaldúa wrote that borders are “a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural bound ary” (my emphasis). While we mobilize our hyper-personal stories and our heretofore excluded “emotional residue,” and try our best to establish our credibility by citing names, let’s also attend to the stories that cannot cross the border, to the stories that will never be archived.2

Notes 1 Copies of communications with ASAP and ASAP/J editors are available on my personal website:, I ask that you employ faith that the names and quotations I include in this article are legitimate and instead focus your attention on close reading the prose.

My unusual brunch was the most food she’d seen since her home was destroyed by the hurricane, almost two months earlier. Feeling lucky to be able to sleep on a friend’s couch, she hadn’t wanted to trouble anyone about

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  551 / WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYING?

RICIA ANNE CHANSKY What rights do scholars have to their own emotions as they conduct research on issues that directly impact their lives? And how do unscripted emotional exchanges function within critical disaster studies? These ques tions are ripe for further discussion given our situatedness within the COVID-19 global pandemic. All studies of the novel coronavirus in the coming decades will be conducted by survivors of this shared trauma, whether they involve witness testimonies or not. Like many scholars attempting to stay con nected with research communities from home during the pandemic, I have attended several remote conferences, some of which addressed the theme of conducting research in times of catastrophe. At one virtual meeting, I was surprised to hear a speaker discourage listen ers from having overly emotional reactions when working in critical disaster studies. The suggestion was that if you’re crying while working, perhaps you aren’t ready for the labor of trauma and tragedy. This advice has caused me to reflect on some of the tears that have been shed in the masslistening project I direct, “Mi María: Puerto Rico after the Hurricane” (www.mimariapr .org), as a means of beginning to think through the role of emotional connectivity between researchers, collaborators, and sub jects in disaster-based projects, particularly when all parties are participants in the same collective trauma. This is an especially perti nent line of inquiry given that we are all now partners in a global crisis. Take, for example, an occurrence that happened approximately two months after Category 5 Hurricane María decimated Puerto Rico. A young woman entered my morning class about twenty minutes late. The other students directed her attention to a long table stretched out against the far wall of the room covered in a smorgasbord of oddities that I was able to pull together from the mostly barren grocery store shelves. Black beans with onions, chilies, canned oranges, and chopped Spam sat in a bowl next to a bright orange calabaza pie with a crust made from stale saltines.

I was eating with a small group of students in the back of the room, so I could clearly see her eyes widen as she registered the array of cobbled-together foods arranged on my old blue tablecloth. For a second, I thought that she’d say something funny or even cutting, but instead, her legs folded underneath her until she was down on her knees, clutching her books to her chest as she wept loudly.

I have discussed previously one of the functions of publicly disseminated disaster nar ratives as a mode to reach reading witnesses who might be moved to act on behalf of those impacted by catastrophe. This life story of a fraught walk to safety will become one of those narratives, and I have no doubt that it will move readers. However, in this instance, the narrative transaction between interviewer and interviewee was witnessed by my own emotional output and reciprocated by the storyteller. Together we cried over her expe rience and my tears became the signifier of an emotional receipt and recognition of the story she entrusted to me.

ASAP/Journal  552 / food. So each week, she just bought what she could afford: one box of Ritz crackers. Her visceral reaction to the meal conveyed the urgency of her situation and allowed me to attend to her previously unstated material needs from that day forward. Beyond these physical necessities, however, this experience, and others similar to it, ultimately led to the inception of the “Mi María” project as a space for students and community members to share their stories as a means of resituating them selves: not as disempowered peoples but as active agents guiding their life narratives and their Monthslives.later, as I began collecting oral his tories for this project, I interviewed a teacher who described the experience of walking several miles with her husband from their destroyed home in Aguadilla to her sisterin-law’s house in the neighboring town of Aguada. She paused from telling me about walking past overturned cars that had been caught up and tossed aside in a flash flood to ask, “How do you describe the smell of decay ing Andbodies?”suddenly, I was not the interviewer and she was not the subject of my interview. We were two survivors together in our shared grief. When our eyes met, hers were not the first to overflow. My tears fell, and only then did she cry.

In 2019, on the two-year anniversary of Hurricane María, a group of students, col leagues, and narrators involved in the “Mi María” project gathered for an interview with a local newspaper. One student discussed the oral history she had collected, the story of an elderly man sitting with his family on their porch as he waited to die. He couldn’t get the dialysis he needed to stay alive because there was still no electricity in his town. She wept.

Another student shared that she was coauthor ing a children’s book for young readers who couldn’t make sense of the disaster. She wept.

Given the machinations of the U.S. federal government to erase Puerto Rican voices from the national narrative surrounding the hurri cane, it’s no surprise that the opportunity to speak with a popular mass-media outlet trig gered an outpouring of emotion. Being seen has real consequences. These tears, however, also became representational of our shared

A colleague discussed the need for masslistening projects when marginalized peoples are barred from public discourse. She wept.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  553 / sorrow and the frustration that unites us as collaborators in the project and in our dedica tion to working toward social justice. We cry Disciplinarytogether.



norms requiring separation between the self and the subject need to be rethought in light of these contemporary contexts. Methodologically, autotheory and autoethnography are relevant strategies for studying cultural trauma; nevertheless, it is important to recognize the self in the schol arship in varying methodological approaches. My students have a right to their tears, as do my collaborators, as do I. We all have the right to be human in the face of overwhelming destruction and tragedy, even if our human messiness destabilizes the tropes of humanis tic inquiry. It is our task, then, to find the space for this humanness in our research as we are increasingly positioned as copartici pants in cultural trauma/s.

RICIA ANNE CHANSKY is Professor of Literature at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. She is the editor of the journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies and of the Routledge Auto/Biography Studies book series. She is the director of the award-winning mass-listening project, “Mi María: Puerto Rico after the Hurricane,” and a currently serves as a Research Fellow on two Mellon Foundation funded projects: “Climates of Inequality and the COVID Crisis: Building Leadership at Minority Serving Institutions” an initiative at the Humanities Action Lab and the “Archivo de Respuestas Emergencias de Puerto Rico.” Her forthcoming books include Mi María: Surviving the Storm, Voices from Puerto Rico (Haymarket Books, 2021), The Untied States: Untangling National Identity in the Twenty-First Century (U Wisconsin P, forthcoming), and Maxy Survives the Hurricane/Maxy sobrevive al huracán (Arte Público Press, 2021). She has recently won awards from the Modern Language Association and the Oral History Association and was recognized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance as a global human rights leader for her work in environmental justice.

I remember playing this memorization game years ago in an English teaching practicum in grad school. It works like this: Two players face off at the board. The instructor calls out a verb and a form, “Write! Past!” The first player to correctly draft “wrote” on the board wins a point for their team, then the turn moves on to the next two players.

I’ve always sucked at games like this. Not in school specifically, anywhere. It doesn’t matter what I’m playing—with anything time-based, I get so caught up in the immediacy and scarcity of it all that I go completely blank.

norms requiring separation between the self and the subject need to be rethought in light of these contemporary contexts. Methodologically, autotheory and autoethnography are relevant strategies for studying cultural trauma; nevertheless, it is important to recognize the self in the schol arship in varying methodological approaches. My students have a right to their tears, as do my collaborators, as do I. We all have the right to be human in the face of overwhelming destruction and tragedy, even if our human messiness destabilizes the tropes of humanis tic inquiry. It is our task, then, to find the space for this humanness in our research as we are increasingly positioned as copartici pants in cultural trauma/s.


I remember playing this memorization game years ago in an English teaching practicum in grad school. It works like this: Two players face off at the board. The instructor calls out a verb and a form, “Write! Past!” The first player to correctly draft “wrote” on the board wins a point for their team, then the turn moves on to the next two players.

I’ve always sucked at games like this. Not in school specifically, anywhere. It doesn’t matter what I’m playing—with anything time-based, I get so caught up in the immediacy and scarcity of it all that I go completely blank.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  553 / sorrow and the frustration that unites us as collaborators in the project and in our dedica tion to working toward social justice. We cry Disciplinarytogether.

RICIA ANNE CHANSKY is Professor of Literature at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. She is the editor of the journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies and of the Routledge Auto/Biography Studies book series. She is the director of the award-winning mass-listening project, “Mi María: Puerto Rico after the Hurricane,” and a currently serves as a Research Fellow on two Mellon Foundation funded projects: “Climates of Inequality and the COVID Crisis: Building Leadership at Minority Serving Institutions” an initiative at the Humanities Action Lab and the “Archivo de Respuestas Emergencias de Puerto Rico.” Her forthcoming books include Mi María: Surviving the Storm, Voices from Puerto Rico (Haymarket Books, 2021), The Untied States: Untangling National Identity in the Twenty-First Century (U Wisconsin P, forthcoming), and Maxy Survives the Hurricane/Maxy sobrevive al huracán (Arte Público Press, 2021). She has recently won awards from the Modern Language Association and the Oral History Association and was recognized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance as a global human rights leader for her work in environmental justice.


ASAP/Journal  554 /

The directive on the left-hand page reads, “DRAW THE EXPRESSION ON THE ASIAN!”2 However, in its function as social commentary, the blank spaces complete these faces by assigning a particular meaning to their Asianness. The text on the right-hand page explains. Here, Nguyen pairs the hashtag #ExpressiveAsians, coined by Maurene Goo, with a quote from Nancy Wang Yuen’s book Reel Inequality (2017).3 The quote is from an interview Yuen conducted with a casting director. It reads, “I work with a lot of different people, and Asians are a challenge to cast because most casting directors feel as though they’re not very expressive.”4

Seen through the eyes of Turner and his white female partner, Green, Old Asian Man’s expres sionlessness is tied to a deeper level of Asian unknowability.

Charles Yu plays on this stereotypical trope of Asian expressionlessness by playing it up in his satirical novel-as-script, Interior Chinatown (2020). In the following excerpt, a character identified only as “Old Asian Man” is being questioned by a Black detective named Turner: TURNER The dead Chinese guy. Did you know him? Old Asian Man doesn’t answer, the physiognomy of his exotic Eastern features, as exacerbated by the repressive conditioning of his Confucian worldview, turning his face into an emotionless mask. Foreign, unknowable even to the trained eye of these Western detectives, the titular Black and White not sure what to make of this strange little yellow man, trying to discern what he’s feeling inside.5

A blank Asian face is always already full; it is filled with Asian expressionlessness.

Vanessa Nguyen’s How Do You Say Your Last Name? A Coloring Book on Growing Up Asian-American (2018) includes a related kind of blankness. Midway through the book, a two-page spread depicts the faces of eight well-known Asian actors.1 They all have pre-drawn noses, hair, and jawlines, but the space where their eyes and mouth should be is empty. In its function as a coloring book, these blank spaces invite us to complete the drawings ourselves. And, indeed, we are even told so.

Wesley Yang adds a third characterization to the meaning of the Asian face: indistinguishability. In the essay “Paper Tigers” (2018), Yang writes:

“Boring but necessary,” some might say. “Outdated but persistent,” others might say. But let’s face it, rote memorization has long occupied a place in language teaching as an interplay between the method of instruction and the field itself. It produces language that is automatic or, we could even say, language that is automated. Now let’s turn this around a little, an axiological aboutface. Follow me here: Rather than thinking about what produces language that is automatic and automated, let’s think about who produces it. What if we swap out “field” and replace it with “personhood”?

Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible per son, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, con formist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally.6

Rote memorization has long occupied a place in language teaching as an interplay between the method of instruction and one’s personhood itself. Who are the rote learners?


Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  555 /

Asians as expressionless, unknowable, and interchangeable.

Asians as automated, automatic automatons.

Cutting back to my practicum class, the reason I sucked at the verb game wasn’t only because of the time pressure: English is my mother tongue, so calling up a decontextualized verb form is a real challenge for me. I am not alone in this. When we acquire language in the everyday rather than learn it in a classroom, our internal schematics of how that language works are not generally organized in lists and charts of things like irregular verb forms. Yet instruction through decontextualized lists and charts was seen as the right way to teach language for a long time—and often still is—because, like many languages, English has irregularities that students are usually expected to learn by rote.

This professor claimed her right to falsely replicate one “Asian student” as the other because, as my colleague tells me in a light, breezy tone, the professor found it too hard to learn Asian names.

Rote learners take up information—linguistic and otherwise—to be recited on command. They do not examine. They do not question. They reproduce and replicate pre-written, automatic responses. They consider it (their) right. Who are the rote learners?

A colleague of mine tells me a story: He was meeting with a student from Korea in a common space when one of the student’s other professors walked by and greeted the student with a quick “你好” “[ní haˇo].” After the other professor left, this colleague turned to the student in surprise and said that he didn’t know that she spoke Mandarin. The student said that she didn’t and that the other professor had been continuously mislanguaging her all semester. Rather than identify her as Korean, he reproduced his right to perpetuate her Asian indistinguishability by continually misrecognizing her as Chinese.

ASAP/Journal  556 /

There’s a photo circulating on the internet of a college midterm exam question written by the class TA.7 The question states that since they have spent half a semester together, by now, all of the students should know who he is. It then asks students to identify him from one of four pho tos depicting different Asian-appearing young men with short hair and glasses. It’s unclear how many of the students chose the right face.

Another colleague of mine tells me a story: A professor in her department sent “one of the stu dents from China with language problems” to speak to the dean. When the student arrived, the dean explained that the purpose of the meeting was to help the student find the right solution for her “limited English” so that she could succeed in the class. The dean assured the student that the program was there to support her and that they would solve the “problem” together. The student listened quietly until the dean finished. Then she told the dean that she was born in New Jersey and had spoken English her whole life.

Stephanie Syjuco’s I Am An. . .  (2017) is a nine by twenty-four-foot handmade black banner with white text that states, “I AM AN AMERICAN” when opened to its full width. The piece references a declaration of personhood and protest originating from a specific historic legacy: it is based on a large-scale, black and white sign of the same text made by Tatsuro Matsuda and installed on the face of the Matsuda family grocery in Oakland, California, on December 8, 1941,


We haven’t met yet, but I walked past your office earlier today and was thrilled to see your name on the door. I just returned from Japan where I spent a year teaching English on the JET program. I hardly have to tell someone like you that it was a fantastic experience! Now that I’m back, I’m looking for ways to continue my connection to the language and culture, so I’m reaching out because I’d like to take private Japanese lessons from you. Ideally once a week. I have roughly an intermediate level in spoken language and an advanced beginner level in written language. Looking forward to hearing from you soon! This is the email I received on my first day at a new job. My emailer’s presumption was not based on my professional credentials but rather solely on his misattribution of my family name to a certain type of personhood he ascribed (on)to me. According to him, I was a Japanese native speaker with a strong desire to teach “my language” to anyone who asked. In Women, Native, Other (1989), Trinh T. Minh-ha writes that “[a]s an abstract, dominant non-group, whites have always been tempted to define groups in their most superficial aspects.”8 To my emailer, I held default group membership among the perpetually foreign and the authentically Japanese. It was Rey Chow’s coercive mimeticism come to life in my inbox. In Not Like a Native Speaker (2014), Chow defines this concept as “the phenomenon by which, quite matter-of-factly, some groups of people are supposed to match undifferentiated notions of what they, collectively and always collectively, are supposed to be like, to look like, or to sound like, even though other groups are spared this mimeticist presumption.”9 There are indeed Japanese people who teach Japanese, both in the United States and in the world at large. There are also Japanese people who do not teach Japanese, and non-Japanese people who teach Japanese. I am neither a Japanese cit izen nor a Japanese language teacher. I don’t even have survival Japanese. Who reads as American, and who does not?

Dear Professor Yasukawa

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  557 /

Matsuda’s original wood-panel sign maximized the visibility of his full statement, “I AM AN AMERICAN,” to challenge the government’s claim against his Americanness. While Syjuco reproduces Matsuda’s words, she makes a material shift from a wood panel to a cloth banner and a functional shift from a static sign to a movable one. In her version, the section of the banner containing the words “I AM AN” is opened fully, while the section containing “AMERICAN” is partially closed. By making the word “AMERICAN” simultaneously visible yet obscured, Syjuco is gesturing toward national idea(l)s of what—and who—is legible and what—and who—is not. As Karen Shimakawa states in National Abjection (2002), “the literal and symbolic exclusion of Asians (among other groups deemed undesirable) has been fundamental to the for mation of (legal and cultural) U.S. Americanness.”11 This refusal to read Japanese Americans as “true” Americans is a refusal to accept articulations of American personhood that exceed Figure 1. Stephanie Syjuco, I Am An. . . (2017). Hand-sewn cotton fabric mounted on ceiling track, 9 × 24 ft. Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

ASAP/Journal  558 / the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.10 During this era, people of Japanese ancestry like Matsuda were subject to forced removal and incarceration by the U.S. government because their allegiance to the United States was seen as suspicious and ultimately untrustworthy.

The relationship between exclusion and inclusion manifests as a circular progression of both/ ands. In other words, at the same time that someone designated as an othered personhood is judged to be not quite American enough (exclusion), they are also too American (inclusion) because they are not enough of their othered personhood (exclusion). Therefore, embodying Americanness through one’s look or one’s “unaccented” speech is to have moved too far away from the markers of otherness that the construction of othered personhood relies on. For me, then, much to the grave disappointment of my emailer, I was neither Japanese nor American in the right way. I was too American, having lost connection to my Japanese mother tongue—a connection, incidentally, that I never had in the first place—and also not American enough in my hypervisibility of what Lisa Lowe calls the “foreigner within.”13 This is to say, again quoting Trinh, that being like is “a collective identification that includes or excludes me with an identical passion.”14Facingthe characterization of yourself as a “like us” rather than an “us” can result in an initial protective impulse of rejection. In “Flash in the East, Flash in the West” (2011), Miwon Kwon describes how and why she felt this way in the past: I consciously avoided being identified as a Korean/Korean American or even Asian/Asian American art historian/critic in the 1990s. . . . it was politically important for me not to be cast by the dominant culture as an expert on a “minority community,” or a spokes person for “my people.” . . . I had the ambition to engage a broader horizon for my work. . . . I did not simply want to be seen or heard or included as a Korean or Asian art

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  559 / what is assumed, accepted, and allowed to be true according to dominant national ideologies. Regardless of their citizenship status, Japanese Americans could never “really” be legible as American because American-personhood refuses Japaneseness. Japanese Americans, therefore, are like Americans, but not American.

Trinh describes the ways in which this distinction between being and being like surfaces in the relational expectations placed on those designated as Other: “ ‘Be like us.’ . . . Don’t be us, this self-explanatory motto warns. Just be ‘like’ and bear the chameleon’s fate, never infecting us but only yourself.”12 Safeguarding Americanness for certain types of persons and against others is not exclusive to Japanese Americans, nor Asian Americans more generally, but rather has played out again and again in constructions of othered personhood. While I am what I would describe as “very American,” my last name—and sometimes my ethnically ambiguous face—make me not quite American enough to participate in “true” Americanness. This othering, however, is not about exclusion alone; it’s also about a kind of perpetual inclusion.

To be like something is not to be it but to be a copy of it. Here we are again: Asians trapped as copies. Or are we?

What if being “like us” is about more than denying access to certain personhoods? What if, without minimizing the very real social, emotional, and material realities that othered person hood must contend with, there is a way to play into pushback, to mobilize the meaning so it does not require a flat-out denial of the designation of “Asian” in relationship to our other designations of art historian/critic/writer or of artist/designer/practitioner? What if we can find an important “and also” that is possible only for those who know what it is to slide between? You see, “like us” expectations can be turned against the very “us” who constructed these expectations in the first place. The question then becomes, do we know how to identify the slide of expectation when it’s happening? Asked another way, can we recognize what I have named othered personhood play?

To be like something is not to be it but to be a copy of it.

An unfamiliar familiarity. A familiar unfamiliarity.

To be like something is not to be it but to be a copy of it.

ASAP/Journal  560 / historian/critic to perform or speak or occupy a position that felt totally predetermined, if not managed for me. . . . I wanted to be an art historian/critic/writer whose Korean identification would not matter.15

What Kwon is pointing to here is that because othered personhood can never not matter for those named “like us,” complete denial of this othered personhood designation may seem to be the best response—at least initially. But she has more to say. Kwon’s reflection on the status of her own personhood is part of a larger meditation on the meaning and expression of Koreanness in the 2009 exhibition Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea.16 In her analysis, Kwon places the meaningfulness of what it is to be a Korean artist not in the work on display but in the variations present in the way the artists chose to Romanize their names: Some maintained a family name, given name word order, others inverted to the Western standard of given name, family name; Some employed capitalization or hyphenation, others did not; Some kept the parts of their name separate, others ran them together. Kwon argues that it is these decisions that “reflected the reality of what it means to circulate in body and name in the international art world today.”17 In the choices they make about their names, each artist is negotiating the requisite layers of exclu sion and inclusion in order to live up to the international art world’s “like us” expectation that non-Western artists be, in Kwon’s words, “an unfamiliar familiarity or a familiar unfamiliarity.”18

And let’s flip the script again. Cha cha again This time with a literal script: Parasite Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) is many things: personal and systemic horror, longing mixed with greed mixed with longing, and darkly dark humor that plays out through delicately crafted deception. Over the course of the film, the Kim family con their way into employment in the home of the wealthy Park family. Kim Ki-woo, who is known to the Park family as “Kevin,” secures the first position as an English tutor for the Parks’ daughter. Seeing the potential to add his sister to the generous Park payroll, Ki-woo suggests Ki-jung as an art therapist for the Parks’ son. However, in order to create an aura of professional distance from her, Ki-woo does not say that Ki-jung is his sister. Instead, he casts her as “Jessica,” the cousin of one of his university Inclassmates.thebeginning of the scene that introduces Ki-jung to the Parks, Ki-jung and Ki-woo are at the Parks’ door. As Ki-woo reaches out for the doorbell, Ki-jung stops him. “Hold on,” she says, then begins singing, one hand miming air quotes:

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  561 / PLAY/PLAYED/PLAYED

This is something new We’re going to get funky Funky19 Let’s flip the script.

Cha cha now y’all What Kwon is telling us about the Romanized renderings of these twelve artists’ names is that embedded in their acts of negotiation are also acts of display-as-play. Each artist is “weighing the extent to which the stylization and spelling of his or her name can signify degrees of Koreanness, or in contrast signify degrees of international cosmopolitanism, or somehow capture both.”20 Therefore, they are playing with the expansive potential found in engaging with multiple lim itations simultaneously, the result of which is to create orientations that are not about fixity but mobility. In other words, rather than accepting that the “us” resides on the other side of an uncrossable border, these interminglings dance desire paths across categorical divides between “the West and the Rest” to destabilize divisional stability.

ASAP/Journal  562 / 제시카,외동딸 [ Jessica, only child] Ki-woo joins in. 일리노이시카고 [Illinois, Chicago] They speed up. 과선배는김진모 [my classmate, Kim Jin-mo] 그는 네사촌 [is Kevin’s cousin]21

Reverse, reverse To return to Kwon for a moment, the othered personhood play she writes about concerns the Romanized representations of Korean names, not the adoption of English ones. In the same essay, Kwon does address English name adoption through her own personal history; however, her

This short verse that has become known as the “Jessica Jingle” is based on the famous national Korean song “Dokdo Is Our Land.”22 The original song claims Korean sovereignty in a long standing territorial dispute over a group of islets between the Korean peninsula and Japan.23 The song was written to maintain the importance of the Korean claim to these islets in national consciousness and is taught to school children to extend awareness to younger generations. The song’s presence in school has also had a secondary outcome: its catchy, upbeat melody serves as a memory device commonly used by students to retain information.24 When Ki-jung and Ki-woo sing Jessica into being to the melody of “Dokdo Is Our Land,” they are not cramming for a geography test but rehearsing a particular type of personhood that is aligned with the wealthy Park family’s expectations and sensibilities. Beyond its function in the film’s narrative, the “Jessica Jingle” uses expectations of Asian copy ing and roteness to assert tactical claim-staking through othered personhood play. As Kevin and Jessica, Ki-woo and Ki-jung perform a particular global cosmopolitan identity that serves as a status marker. The Kim family is not rich, and Ki-woo and Ki-jung do not have the univer sity educations authenticated by their Photoshopped degrees, so Kevin and Jessica do. These English names and the type of personhood they connote create a legibility that grants Ki-woo and Ki-jung access to the Park home.

The takeaway here is not that Asian-identifying and Asian-identified individuals can only be cre ative through imitation, that is, in making (or being) the copy. Rather, the question is this: who is

Slide to the right

Slide to the left

Returning to Parasite, Ki-woo and Ki-jung use their English names to engage in othered per sonhood play with the very systems of hegemonic power designed to assume their domination and erasure. This play is layered. As Kevin and Jessica, Ki-woo and Ki-jung stake claims to the figurative territory of the wealthy class by singing the “Jessica Jingle,” thereby exploiting the song’s double purpose simultaneously: the (literal) territorial claim-staking of the original song and its copied and repurposed use as a school mnemonic. By memorizing their own invention of personhood through the re-repurposing as the “Jessica Jingle,” Ki-woo and Ki-jung have used devices stereotypically associated with Asian noncreativity—imitation and rote memorization— to stake claims to their own agency and grant their own rights of expression.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  563 / perspective here is different. After her family moved to the U.S., her parents briefly considered giving her the name “Mary” to Americanize her name. For Kwon, the possibility of becoming Mary, “felt tantamount to breaking from, if not denying, my Korean past, and a kind of betrayal. In other words, to assimilate into my new cultural context by calling myself by a different name felt like a partial erasure of self.”25 Criss cross What’s especially interesting to me about this part of Kwon’s essay is the responses it evokes in my students—many of whom have themselves recently arrived in the U.S. and all of whom have faced similar decisions about what to do with their own names. Some agree with Kwon: choosing an “English name” is an act of assimilation and erasure. Others say that they chose to use an English name not to assimilate but to resist the hypervisibility that comes with endless requests for help pronouncing their names or endless mispronunciations by well-meaning faculty and peers. For still others, an English name does not minimize nor replace their sense of self but instead adds to it. Several students who share this perspective have said that they didn’t get to choose what Americans call their first names, which, as their given names, were about their parents’ expres sions of who they were, not their own. Their English names, however, are names they chose for themselves. Furthermore, those who do choose to adopt English names do not subscribe to one single way of naming themselves, often extending the boundaries of what an English name can be.26 Like the name Romanization Kwon discusses, creative practice is equally present here.

To my students who did not choose English names: Shout out to Zhuoxuan Shout out to Yusuke

Everybody clap your hands

ASAP/Journal  564 /

Turn it out

To my students who chose English names that sound similar to their given names: Shout out to Ian Shout out to Rey

Who are the rote learners?

permitted access to acts of creativity in the first place? When Asian personhood is about expression less, unknowable, indistinguishable replication, the probability of and, indeed, the possibility for creative production is denied and creative practice itself becomes racialized. Regardless of whether it is done consciously, this racialization has consequences, particularly in educational contexts. When we expect—and therefore know—“all the Asian students” to have strong technical facility but poor conceptual ability, we accept—and therefore manifest—limited readings of the kinds of artists/ designers/practitioners that students can be. This means that things like meaning-making, inter pretation, ideation, and critical thinking—things that are valued in our teaching of contemporary practice—may appear to be not only inaccessible to “Asian students” but wholly incompatible with Asianness. We might say that this way of thinking has been inscribed over and over again onto Asian personhood—a racialization of creative practice that art and design faculty, staff, and administra tors wrote and continue to write through repetition. A racialization of creative practice that art and design faculty, staff, and administrators rote and continue to misname as right through repetition.

While the “us” see the “like us” of othered personhood as peripheral and lacking in any number of ways, students’ responses to such expectations have not been, and need not be, reduced to passive compliance. Rather than conform to the restrictions they’ve been assigned, students claim tactical agency through othered personhood play to negotiate their own legibilities and rights of access to creative practice. In so doing, they turn, reverse, and crisscross across systemic divisions of power and personhood to slide themselves into critical ontologies of belonging.

To my students who love the English names they chose: Shout out to Shirley Shout out to Meredith


Notes 1 Vanessa Nguyen, How Do You Say Your Last Name? A Coloring Book on Growing Up Asian-American (Self-Published, 2018). The actors depicted are Lucy Liu, Kumail Nanjiani, Sandra Oh, Rinko Kikuchi, Steven Yeun, Jackie Chan, George Takei, and Dev Patel.2 Ibid. 3 Maurene Goo, Twitter post, September 8, 2017, 11:51 p.m., The Twitter account is no longer active, but the post is visually archived on BuzzFeed News and also attributed to Goo on CNN and HuffPost Canada: Rachael Krishna, “After Someone Said Asians Weren’t Expressive, People Created the Hashtag to Prove Them Wrong”

BuzzFeed News, September 11, 2017,;LisaRespersFrance,“#ExpressiveAsiansHashtagtoFireBackatHollywoodWhitewashing,”

HuffPost Canada, September 11, 2017, _23204786/.wood-stereotype-that-asian-actors-cant-emote_a2017/09/11/expressiveasians-challenges-the-holly,

Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2017), 45. 5 Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown (New York: Pantheon, 2020), 70. 6 Wesley Yang, “Paper Tigers,” in The Souls of Yellow Folk: Essays (New York: Norton, 2018), 30. 7 u/dovahkid, “After not taking attendance all quarter, my TA was out of town on exam day. This was the last question,” r/funny, Reddit, September 6, 2016, _my_ta_was/.51gyvc/after_not_taking_attendance_all_quarter

To my students who made up names as their English names: Shout out to Brubey Shout out to Monskey

And, to one of my first ever students who chose an English name: Shout out to Jessica I remember your face. I know your name. I recognize your play.

To my students who chose non-names as their English names: Shout out to Percent Shout out to Fancy

CNN, September 11, 2017, ThatAsianswashing/index.html;2017/09/11/entertainment/expressive-asians-white,“#ExpressiveChallengestheHollywoodStereotypeAsianActorsCan’tEmote,”

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  565 /,”-transparency-filter.Thebanner’sdisplayontheMatsudastorefrontwasphotographedbyDorotheaLang.HerphotoishousedintheLibraryofCongressPrintsandPhotographsOnlineCatalog,,

20 Kwon, “Flash in the East,” 204.

National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 5. 12 Trinh, Woman, Native, Other, 52. 13 Lowe states, “A national memory haunts the conception of the Asian American, persisting beyond the repeal of actual laws prohibiting Asians from citizenship and sustained by the wars in Asia, in which the Asian is always seen as an immigrant, as the ‘foreigner-within,’ even when born in the United States and the descendant of generations born here before.” Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 5–6. 14 Trinh, Woman, Native, Other, 53. 15 Miwon Kwon, “Flash in the East, Flash in the West,” in The Migrant’s Time: Rethinking Art History and Diaspora, ed. Saloni Mathur (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2011), 200. 16 Your Bright Future was co-organized and copresented by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). 17 Kwon, “Flash in the East,” 204. 18 Ibid., 202.

ASAP/Journal  566 /,thenametheseisletsisalsocontested.TheyareknowntheDokdoIslandstoKoreans,theTakeshimatoJapanese,andtheLiancourtRocksAlexandraGenova,“TwoNations

19 DJ Casper, “Casper Slide Part 2,” recorded June 1999, track 4 on Cha-Cha Slide: The Original Slide Album, Big Bobby Studio, 2000, compact disc. These lyrics are the opening lines to the “ChaCha Slide,” a Black step/slide/shuffle dance that participates in the lineage of U.S. line dances. You might say that the Cha-Cha Slide does not belong in this essay or that it is not for me to use, and you might be right. It’s here because it is part of my consciousness, my collaborations, and my own play: It was the song on the warm-up mix for my 2001 volleyball season, probably because of all of the hopping (because volleyball players have hops). It was the song my brother performed karaokestyle at a bar in 2007. And it was the song I danced to at a distance of sociality with Tisa Bryant and Gabrielle Civil on my birthday in 2020 after we workshopped this essay. It’s also here because it’s a long-ass song that requires stamina, like this essay, like justice work. And it’s here to theorize othered personhood play in the context of creativity and the copy because some might say the “Cha-Cha Slide” is a copy. But is it? DJ Casper has told us before: “As I told you before / This is the Casper Slide part two / I am the originator of this slide / If anybody tell you any different / They’re telling you dead wrong.”

8 Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 54. 9 Rey Chow, Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 36. 10 Stephanie Sjyuco, “Total

21 Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho (2019; Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2020), Blu-ray disc.

22 Yonhap, “Doorbell Song From Parasite Hits Internet,” Korea Herald, November 18, 2019,

i. In an Instagram DM exchange between myself and Philadelphia-based poet and fel low comrade Ted Rees, we discussed purging our theoretical idols, coming to terms with our relationship to a given text and its cre ator, a creator who caused irreparable damage.

Rees wrote: “[Fred] Moten said something recently about [T. S.] Eliot that he can’t get rid of Eliot’s influence. That he wishes he could disavow that racist motherfucker, but that he can’t totally.” What Moten is left with after negotiating his relationship with Eliot, calling Eliot out for being a “racist motherfucker,” is no longer a muddled middle ground. Everything is quite clear. The ideological line drawn between Moten and Eliot is right here. There is no question that T. S. Eliot is a “rac ist mother fucker,” and there is no complete disavowal of Fred Moten’s relationship to T. S. Eliot. There is no complete purge as Moten confirms his relationship to Eliot still forms him because it once formed him. What is left to contend with after we sever injurious relationships? These relationships consist of our ones to texts and their keepers and makers, to friends, family, lovers, com rades. To ways of being in the world.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  567 / Disputed These Small Islands for 300 Years,” National Geographic, November 14, 2018, -19207086.10,“Profile:history-dispute-photos-dodko-rocks-islands;,”BBC,August2012,,“DoorbellSong.”25Kwon,“FlashintheEast,”203.26SeePaulMcPherron,“‘MynameIsMoney’:NameChoicesandGlobalIdentificationsataSouth-ChineseUniversity,”in“BasicEducationReforminChina:GlobalizationwithChineseCharacteristics,”ed.YongbingLiuandYanpingFang,specialissue, Asia Pacific Journal of Education 29, no. 4 (2009): 521–36.

ALLISON YASUKAWA is an interdisciplinary maker and deep language nerd. She is also the Director of Multilingual Art and Design and Associate Professor in the First Year Core Studio Program at the California College of the Arts. As both an artist and educator, Allison is invested in what communication scholar Joanne Gilbert calls “heckling the status quo.” In her studio practice, she explores belonging, exclusion, aggression, and fear in acts of social encounter. She has exhibited nationally and internationally at spaces including the American University Museum (Washington, D.C.), High Desert Test Sites ( Joshua Tree, California), and Dak’Art OFF (SaintLouis, Senegal). Allison has presented her education work on art-language overlaps at conferences including College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education, and TESOL International Association. Her work is online at (studio practice) and (teaching/consulting practice).


Rees wrote: “[Fred] Moten said something recently about [T. S.] Eliot that he can’t get rid of Eliot’s influence. That he wishes he could disavow that racist motherfucker, but that he can’t totally.” What Moten is left with after negotiating his relationship with Eliot, calling Eliot out for being a “racist motherfucker,” is no longer a muddled middle ground. Everything is quite clear. The ideological line drawn between Moten and Eliot is right here. There is no question that T. S. Eliot is a “rac ist mother fucker,” and there is no complete disavowal of Fred Moten’s relationship to T. S. Eliot. There is no complete purge as Moten confirms his relationship to Eliot still forms him because it once formed him. What is left to contend with after we sever injurious relationships? These relationships consist of our ones to texts and their keepers and makers, to friends, family, lovers, com rades. To ways of being in the world.

i. In an Instagram DM exchange between myself and Philadelphia-based poet and fel low comrade Ted Rees, we discussed purging our theoretical idols, coming to terms with our relationship to a given text and its cre ator, a creator who caused irreparable damage.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  567 / Disputed These Small Islands for 300 Years,” National Geographic, November 14, 2018, -19207086.10,“Profile:history-dispute-photos-dodko-rocks-islands;,”BBC,August2012,,“DoorbellSong.”25Kwon,“FlashintheEast,”203.26SeePaulMcPherron,“‘MynameIsMoney’:NameChoicesandGlobalIdentificationsataSouth-ChineseUniversity,”in“BasicEducationReforminChina:GlobalizationwithChineseCharacteristics,”ed.YongbingLiuandYanpingFang,specialissue, Asia Pacific Journal of Education 29, no. 4 (2009): 521–36.

ALLISON YASUKAWA is an interdisciplinary maker and deep language nerd. She is also the Director of Multilingual Art and Design and Associate Professor in the First Year Core Studio Program at the California College of the Arts. As both an artist and educator, Allison is invested in what communication scholar Joanne Gilbert calls “heckling the status quo.” In her studio practice, she explores belonging, exclusion, aggression, and fear in acts of social encounter. She has exhibited nationally and internationally at spaces including the American University Museum (Washington, D.C.), High Desert Test Sites ( Joshua Tree, California), and Dak’Art OFF (SaintLouis, Senegal). Allison has presented her education work on art-language overlaps at conferences including College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education, and TESOL International Association. Her work is online at (studio practice) and (teaching/consulting practice).


ASAP/Journal  568 /

I presented these notes on aftermath on June 2, 2019, for the ACCUTE (Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English) conference held at the University of British Columbia, on stolen Indigenous lands. I sat on a panel with Clint Burnham and Lauren Fournier organized by ryan fitzpatrick and Deanna Fong called “Bad Deleuze! Bad Lacan!” I came late, after having spent a week in the desert and one last night in Las Vegas, the epicenter of American hubris. The pro posal itself was written while I stayed solo at a resort in the Dominican Republic, yet another epicenter of American excess and conceit. The panel asked us to “interrogate our approaches to theory in literary study,” which prompted me to consider my relationship to theory and theorists. Not unlike a friendship, how have these theories and theorists shaped me as much as provided me a shape, a pattern, a structure in which to live by? Admittedly, I am not the best at letting go. At the moment, I am treading, wading through an approach that wrestles with what to hold onto and what is held onto in the aftermath of injury. Not as a means to recuperate what is lost, as it is gone now, the relationship is over now, the text has been removed from the shelf, but what it means to continue mov ing and persisting. Moten’s relationship with Eliot, that he can’t “get rid” of him, points to how Eliot in part made Moten. Eliot is still a part of Moten’s continuing on without him. It does not do us any good for the reader to replace the author, imposing their I on the author’s I, nor does it do us any good to treat the author as the sole authority of their own text. Copyright notwithstanding. What I am also getting at here is how the relationship is indeed a relationship, meaning it is subject to resentment, desire, disappointment—breaking up and moving on with catharsis. Everything is subject to change. We die as do those around us. “We all drown alone,” Josh (Rose), a rousing creature I know and love, reminded me recently. This is a given. And this is good. “Well, we don’t live alone. . . .” Josh corrects himself. And this is also good. These notes are based on the aftermath of events that brutalize relations (to one another, to theories, to theorists) to the point that they become beyond repair. ii. Inside the aftermath holds the now less than acute effects of the event that ruptured a pre viously held vision of what was. It ruptured what once was constant. Such a rupture also holds the power to realize politics in a way that could not have been realized before. It holds the power to radicalize those who were once soldered to normalized ideologies. The boundary, the lines are that much more vis ible. Sometimes these boundaries and lines injure just as much as the initial injury because they call attention to it and require acting on it to come to be there at all as boundar ies and lines. Sometimes these boundaries and lines catalyze more relationships ending and beginning; recurring and new intimacies are reinvigorated. Whatever paralyzing incapacity

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  569 / to move beyond the line drawn in the sand or constant return to that line (constant berating of that line) once drawn, reconstitutes and dismantles the subject as the subject confronts what is impossible to disavow: that which has made Theseher.notes belabor the aftermath of the event By aftermath I refer to a type of affective and cognitive process that holds the residue, the shit, the mess, which precipitated from the event. I imagine the residue, the shit, the mess, to be writhe with multiple contradic tions and incompatible situations. Following Alain Badiou’s logic, where an intervention is necessitated to change the rules of the situa tion in order for the event to take place in the first place, contradictory and blurry patterns unfold in the aftermath in a way that offers space to radically change the rules, the scripts, for a new situation to emerge.1 Or—the fear of incoherency solders the subject to reenact the rules, the script, from the old situation. Is aftermath another way to perceive trauma—as trauma does not occur in the moment of the event, but is a proponent of aftermath? iii. What is an example of the aftermath in the following case? A comrade is accused of rap ing a woman in her sleep. We call him in and call him out; we do not initially sever ties; we ignore emails, we respond to emails, we share information, we make inappropriate memes, we cry, we rage; we don’t know what else to do, really, in the wake of the supposed courage to confront. What do we do? What do I do? What does “fidelity” look like in the after math of the failure of our comrade? What does fidelity look like in the aftermath of your own failures? Here lies fidelity to a conception or projection of yourself that was potentially injurious to come into in the first place. Now the aftermath calls to cede this conception or projection in order to distill our experience and access something else. [Reconnect with your comrade one of these days and ask him how he’s been sleeping lately.]

Cornel West quotes Samuel Beckett on the news with Anderson Cooper, “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”2 Police precincts are on fire, the precincts being another zone of hubris and white supremacist ideology, not unlike the Las Vegas strip. These particular fires are also good. iv. I want to go back to aiming outwards. What does fidelity look like in the aftermath of a text, another human, failing you? Another example: last summer, Ted Rees perused the contents on my bookshelf, scouring the shelves for Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena (2011). Here is a seductive text that showcased Land’s futuristic theory-fiction of cybercap italism run amok. Fuck Nick Land. He’s a fascist who tweets alt-right rants and doesn’t deserve any real estate in these notes. But alas, here he is. It is important for me to admit that Fanged Noumena is a book with a form I have admired—discombobulated and as messy as

STOLEN! Put that in your professional sig nature and spam it.] We are uneven while we

Aresources. . . . globalpandemic is the aftermath of the effects of global capitalism. What will be the aftermath of a global pandemic? I want to remain hopeful of another way of being in the world made available to everyone, a way where self-worth is not contingent on what a self owns or cannot own, a way where living matters. vi. A post on Instagram by @idealblackfemale spurs a dialogue on what it means to divest of whiteness and all it represents (i.e., geno cide, the epicenter of American capitalism, colonialism). Letting go of whiteness means divesting of power and complacency, and it also means holding onto the reality that white people like me will always benefit from white supremacy, regardless of how much white sage is purchased and burned. When I write “we,” we should always hesitate. Hover loosely over “we” before moving on to the next word. If I spend a lot of time overthink ing the relationship I have to “we,” I might be inclined to dehydrate myself with just a torch. Hearing the overly enthusiastic phrase “we are all in this together” that has come with this pandemic has me problematizing that “we” all the more. The ground “we” stand on is uneven, the ground “we” stand on is sto len. [Did you hear that City of Vancouver?

ASAP/Journal  570 / the mired mess that late-capitalism feels and looks like. It is important to admit I paid good money for this book. And now I am hoping to make a buck from it rather than burn it. What must be let go and what must be held onto? Sometimes that object is all you have left. Sometimes the grief produced in the aftermath is all you have left. ryan fitzpatrick messages me the following: “I think maybe you need to more clearly articulate how the aftermath is about holding on to something but there are multiple ways/things/structures to hang onto. What are you holding on to when you get rid of Nick Land’s book by burning it vs. by selling it? Also, if I want to stop holding on to Althusser but Stuart Hall needs him and I need Stuart Hall, what hap pens then?” v. I want to preserve, like a good auto-archivist, what was presented a year ago, while also inter jecting with notes on the living and observed conditions of today: a global pandemic that disproportionately affects communities made vulnerable by a capitalist economy that will always put profit over people; a reopening of businesses that has only contributed to an influx of unmasked bodies on the sidewalks of so-called Vancouver, compromising too many people’s already compromised immune systems and anxieties; an onslaught of neo fascism and the relentless lynching of Black life; a CGL pipeline under construction in the midst of said pandemic that perpetu ates the Canadian State’s ongoing pursuit to eliminate Indigenous peoples and exploit land

viii. X reproduces Y, Y being that which we aim to, purport to, hope to, yearn to, et al., destroy. We at times confiscate words and interpreta tions until it is difficult to employ them again without oscillation. But maybe the real issue is not the declarative in and of itself, it is when we fall prey to it as a full-stop. Next time, let’s be sure to rename a structure and all its ridges before deflating at the declarative. Life is not an essay. What an obvious thing to discern and yet it took so long for me, us, to get here. A structure will always be here, over there, but perhaps not this one, that one, we have been so thoroughly sapped by. It’s exhausting, yes, but don’t stop there.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  571 / voluntarily employ a city’s empty horizonal rhetoric at the same time we reject it.

vii. What is the definition of structure if not the arrangement of and relations between the parts? A movement of parts within a struc ture of conflicts. As the aftermath spurs and contains disappointment along with a kind of impasse, it attempts to embark on “new ways” to act on the aftermath that has been known to produce anxieties over the possible reality of reproducing structural problems. Negativism is a possibility, but we are at a time where getting caught in the stickiness of impasse is dissatisfying and not enough. Can a theoret ical framework hold every contradiction in tandem when every contradiction is substan tial and Applyingfelt?any theoretical framework to comprehend an event does nothing to sat isfy, particularly when conclusions offer no recourse other than “it is a structural prob lem.” Conjoined to a pattern in analysis, in understanding, the conclusive declarative “it’s a structural problem” is where we tend to land. In part, it rounds the edges of the actual messy relations that arrange the complex parts and elements of the structure. Concluding with “it’s a structural problem” comes from an exhausted place. As I assess each part or element, anxiety-filled by having potentially missed any outlying part of an element, which I will always do, even with “the best inten tions,” we exclaim, occasionally in unison: “it’s a structural problem.” We nod, know ingly. The declarative offers some respite. We have done a work of much work to be done [sic]. Yes, what kills and harms bodies, plants, reservoirs, and animals is a structural problem. But it is not enough. How do we move past the impasse of the structure? What good is theory for coming to understand the ins and outs of a system if this is all it can do? It bears repeating, what do we hold onto when we reproduce the thing we are trying to destroy? When we refuse a theory, or a particular theorist, that once shed light on a structural problem, how do we move forward with or without? I refuse replicating a punitive response to the problem, to the person, even when I have participated in such a response in the past.

“Remember your structural analysis,” reminds

How to kill a text without being anti-intellec tual? How to kill a text without accumulating erasures? How to be anti-intellectual without being stupid? How to be stupid without being silenced? Ted Rees responds to my concerns, “it seems to me that many who we deem toxic or exhibit toxic behaviors are displaying a type of will to countless recurrence of their own poor behaviors and, other than project that back onto them, the cycle continues.”

x. So what is your starting point in the after math? With Marx or Federici? [Federici’s new work Beyond the Periphery of the Skin (2019) is critiqued by Cory Austin Knudson as perpet uating the false consciousness theory of 1970s

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate professor at the University of Alberta Kim TallBear in her musings on settler sexuality. Remember a structure only lasts as long as you leave it stand ing. I came to Kim TallBear’s writing by way of Vanessa Kwan’s curated readings for NO PERSON’S LAND (2018). The conclusive declarative “it’s a structural problem” should instead be replaced with TallBear’s reminder: “Remember your structural analysis.”3 Given that a structure consists of relations between the parts, structural analysis calls attention to that very word “relation.” Relationships. Relating. All my relations. Related. You pick one shape, one pattern, repeat, repeat, and then what? Relations are not without being codified and marked by ideological structures, i.e., the marriage industrial complex, the colonial relationship to property ownership, careerism. Even when attempting to “do things differ ently,” old and current structures influence the advent of something else. Sometimes you happen with someone rather than marry them, but then you find yourself divorced anyway. ix. Ted Rees makes notes on another series of notes: “But don’t let it get to you too much! Shit. I use a Berryman and Burroughs quote in my book! It’s hard when those who’ve influenced us end up shit people.”

The aftermath is not something I want to get stuck in like an impasse. Ann Cvetkovich already notes how an impasse, nodding to Lauren Berlant’s oeuvre on cruel optimism, is “a holding station that doesn’t hold but opens out into anxiety, that dog-paddling around a space whose contours remain obscure” and later writes how “an object of knowledge becomes a (productive) impasse when it slows us down, preventing easy recourse to critique or prescription for action and instead inviting us to see it as ‘a singular place that’s a cluster of noncoherent but proximate attachments that can only be approached awkwardly, described around, shifted.’ ”4 I do not want to consider the aftermath as productive or unproductive, nor as a necessarily temporal turn where things slow down in order to contemplate produc tively. Rather, I want to consider the aftermath as the holding station that continues to hold while simultaneously tossing and hoarding in unsatisfactory and frustrating ways. The point is never to find satisfaction in critique.

ASAP/Journal  572 /

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  573 / feminists, with edited ripples of transphobia, stating Federici “attack[s] those people who its author appears to see as complicit in those systems via the erosion of the definition of ‘women’ as it was understood in the femi nism of the seventies.”5 At this very moment, I am thinking about how Caliban and the Witch (2004) has shaped me. I’ve relied on that text, but now this late-career academic is suspect. Is this paranoia, righteousness, or critique?] Kant or Moten? Lacan or Burnham? With colonial contact or an Indigenous temporality, way of being, which isn’t defined by contact or con tingent on its settler opposition. Sometimes I am afraid to start, to move, to act, because starting, moving, and acting means potentially ignoring something vital. It means following my own bias. So constantly stopping and start ing is necessary without becoming stuck. And yet stuckness is a part of these notes, isn’t it? But maybe not in a way where you become a flake of cumin ground by mortar and pestle. I do not need to grind Louis Althusser’s notion of ideology to a fine grain of dust only to snort it back up my nose with a rubber hose. And yet when I refer to ideology, I echo him. It bears repeating that when I speak of “ideology” I embody the logic of a wife killer, just as when I sing “Oh Canada” I’m singing along to the tune of genocide. If I think about an idea too much without acting on it, the idea dies. Any reliance on any theoretical rubric to solve the problem will always run the risk of co-option, of complacent speech acts. In the aftermath, how do we both stay invigorated by language, by echoes of our own understandings of life and death in texts, while also letting said invigoration die a little bit without leaving us empty? Let’s not end with “it’s a structural problem” or “relationships are messy” as if they are solely determined and produced by a master discourse. What I am asking is: after the revolution, are we still reading Marx? I’ll be rewatching Tamika Mallory framing buildings burning as a message to the nation and the world Black people are saying enough is fucking enough. I guess what I am asking is, what’s the most affective [sic] way to bleed out a text let alone an idea, an ideology? Let it burn, let it burn. xi. Something here is precisely what aftermath means to me right now. It means getting into precisely why relationships are messy. It means rolling around in the shit together, the residue, the mess, and ruminating there. It means my identity is in flux and undetermined other than I am a settler and have advantaged from white supremacy. It means outlining a struc tural analysis and over/underlaying my pattern with your pattern. It doesn’t mean a healthy middle. It means not wavering at the word rape and replacing it with sexual assault. It means not wavering at the word capitalism and replacing it with “we live in a society.” It means communities made vulnerable, follow ing Harsha Walia’s call for a shift in language use, not vulnerable communities. It means colonialism, not gentrification. It means sto len land not usurped by the word unceded because a city fears the legal consequence of language. It means all cops are bad, not my son will reform the system from within. It

Note s 1 See Alain Badiou, Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (1988; New York: Continuum, 2006).2 “Cornel West on CNN Anderson Cooper 360°—America as a Failed Social Experiment,” YouTube video, 8:01, posted by “giannidgmad,” June 1, 2020, JNfqr-rzj5I.3KimTallBear, “Yes, Your Pleasure! Yes, SelfLove! And Don’t Forget, Settler Sex Is a Structure,” The Critical Polyamorist, April 22, 2018,,quotedinAnnCvetkovich,

DANIELLE LAFRANCE is a poet, librarian, and independent scholar who lives, rents, and works on the stolen lands of the xʷməθkʷəy᾿əm, Sḵwxˍwú7mesh, and Səlílwətaʔ peoples. She is the author of JUST LIKE I LIKE IT (Talonbooks 2019), Friendly + Fire (Talonbooks 2016), and species being (Capilano University Editions 2010). Chapbooks include Tentacle Rasa (Asterion Press 2020) and Pink Slip (Standard Ink & Copy Press 2013). Her forthcoming poetry project #postdildo thinks and writes through the limitlessness and limitations of sexuality and desire. Focusing on the dildo as sexual object and social relation, she asks “How shall You fuck without causing harm?” Her poetry and critical writing have appeared in The Capilano Review, LESTE , Organism for Poetic Research, among other journals and magazines, some of which can be accessed at

Depression: A Public Feeling (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 20. 5 Cory Austin Knudson, “Beyond the Periphery of the Skin—Silvia Federici,” Full Stop, May 28, 2020, -skin-silvia-federici/.cory-austin-knudson/beyond-the-periphery-of-the

ASAP/Journal  574 / means people are speaking so we better empa thetically shut the fuck up and listen. It means I was cruel to you, and it means I will not self-flagellate over it anymore. It means guilt is a wasted affect and only demands emotional labor from those who are already so fucking tired of having to explain why violence hap pens to some social subjects more than others. It means tenderness and care. It means the whip is not for the woman. It means careers actually end because there are no careers any more. It means not when, but we’re already here in the aftermath. We’ve been here for a very long time now. And not always together. And it’s just as hard to be here as it was not to. Heartfelt appreciation to Andrea Actis, Josh Rose, Ted Rees, Deanna Fong, Roger Farr, ryan fitzpatrick, Alex Brostoff, and Lauren Fournier for engaging with these notes through conversation, texting, and editing.

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  575 / PUT ON MY ROBE, TELL THE STORY ALLISON UPSHAW I am an administrator and a new professor. I am a caregiver and a caretaker. I am a performative autoethnographer, an opera singer, and a professional actress. I am educated and I am poor. I live in the liminal spaces created by overlapping Venn diagrams. James Baldwin said, “The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.”1 This essay, Putting on my robe, telling my story, laying my questions bare

Notes 1 James Baldwin, “The Creative Process,” in Creative America (New York: Ridge, 1962), 19.

ASAP/Journal  576 /

DR. ALLISON UPSHAW, a native of Forest Home, Alabama, holds the position of Assistant Professor of voice at Stillman College. Dr. Upshaw is an arts-based researcher, a trained opera singer, a professional actress, and a playwright. She has held positions as a diversity trainer, a college counselor, a cultural center director, and even a professional poetry performer. For almost twenty years, Allison has designed arts-integrated curriculum for schools and arts organizations. Allison holds a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Alabama. Her publications include traditional and multimodal formats.

I have written then what is meant to be not so much my autobiography as the autobiography of a concept of race. —W. E. B. Du Bois2 What is the relationship between autotheory, blackness, and abolition? Where does the auto biographical end and autotheory begin? What is the relationship between the autobiogra phy of the concept of race and personhood? Between autotheory and the autotelic? What does the notion of the self as a possessive prop erty have to do with the carceral metaphysics of the subject? Saidiya Hartman’s critical labors on and ever urgent diagnosis of slavery and freedom’s historical and contemporary, political, and ontological “double bind” are a condition of possibility for such questions and abolitionist aporias.3 Not aporias, however, in the sense of an unsurpassable impasse or fore closure to which we must surrender. In his seminars on the death penalty and abolition, Jacques Derrida argued against the carceral conception of the impasse as “a prison,” resisting the predominant figuration of the aporetic as “what stops or arrests, often in the form of a judgement or verdict.”4 Rather than a deadlock, an aporia, then, might be seen as a Inthreshold.thisbrief reflection, I follow the piercing insights of blackness as identity’s critique. By identity’s critique, I mean the way in which blackness explodes what Frank Wilderson so aptly calls the “assumptive logic” undergird ing the aesthetic, political, philosophical, and ontological edifice of the human and the pred icates of personhood.5 Poet and critical scholar Fred Moten profoundly and beautifully invites all into the fold of the “ensemblic” (inter)play of “study.”6 I turn toward the shimmering illuminations within and the lifelong (and life-exceeding) thought of Sylvia Wynter, Katherine McKittrick, Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, W. E. B. Du Bois, George L. Jackson, Cedric Robinson, Brent Hayes Edwards, Fred Moten, Laura Harris, R. A. Judy, and M. NourbeSe Philip. Blackness not only exceeds the boundaries of the personal but problematizes the category of personhood itself. I touch on moments where the consonance of the self is rendered dissonant and problematized under the crit ical analysis of blackness’s relation to the human and being. The aesthetic-political and ontological infrastructure of the self is jolted, short-circuited by another frequency of thought: a live wire.


I’m always looking for terms that are not “memoir” to describe autobiographical writing that exceeds the boundaries of the “personal.” —Maggie Nelson1

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  577 / THE ENDS


ASAP/Journal  578 / And notice!

Mind as neurology’s warden, the executive function as precinct. Wynter’s approach thinks the sociality of mind, as opposed to its ipse ity. The neurocentric figuration of the self is demystified and denaturalized.

One major implication here: humanness is no longer a noun. Being human is a praxis. —Sylvia Wynter7 Sylvia Wynter has dedicated her synoptic, capa cious, generative, and generous brilliance to not only diagnosing the human as a genre of the racial but also through and as that critical labor, an outside: praxis. This is made available through the generosity of thought shared between Wynter and editor Katherine McKittrick in the phenomenal 2015 anthology that both gathers and is a gathering—in the sense of celebration and engagement—for her remarkable work.8 Wynter’s work is also an indispensable contri bution to philosophy of mind and interrogates the very premises and grammar of that disci plinary formation. She shows how the genre of Man and all its predicates, including mind, are part of a racial and colonial episteme. Wynter deviates from functionalism, which posits that mind is purely its operations, and instead argues for the primacy of sociogenesis: “if the mind is what the brain does, what the brain does, is itself culturally determined through the media tion of the socialized sense of self, as well of the ‘social’ situation in which this self is placed.”9

Swarm W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America, first published in 1935, is a required text and fundamental touchstone for the study and theory of abolition. In this paradigmaltering work, Du Bois enacts an epistemic break with the historiography of the Civil War of his time and shows how Black struggle—via a Marxist optic on fugitivity and “the revolu tion of counter property” through the general strike—determined the course and outcome of the war. He writes, “the movement became a general strike against the slave system on the part of all who could find opportunity.”10 This movement of insurgent resistance to racial slavery was calculated, and this type of insur gency differed from that of Haiti: This whole move was not dramatic or hysterical, rather it was like the great unbroken swell of the ocean before it dashes on the reefs. The Negroes showed no disposition to strike the one terrible blow which brought black men freedom in Haiti and which in all history has been used by all slaves and justified.11

Du Bois traces the historical rhythm of rebel lion, its radical immanence and global scale. Black insurgency against slavery was always a global affair, a field of innovation and internal differentiation—each rebellion echoing and reverberating in its universality and historical “Thisparticularity.wasthe beginning of the swarming of the slaves,” argues Du Bois, putting into play and circulation the metaphor of the swarm.12 He continues expanding this metaphor in order to demonstrate the radical capacity of a continuum of Black refusal and resistance to

This form of critical as ontological fabulation persists transversally for Robinson.19 Black rad icalism is in service not of individual heroism, exceptionalism, or the episteme of the “case,” but rather toward collectivity, a certain surplus that cannot be held captive as commodity. Black radicalism cannot be understood within the context of its genesis as Robinson argues because the cognitive and political map for its form of radicality is available to given revolu tionary schematics.

The notion of bodily sovereignty and its corollaries of autonomy are put under pres sure through George Jackson’s analysis in the excerpted section. On the run from capture, both as the prison itself and as its “grammars of

The swarm has had a long career as racialized and sociobiological metaphor (via the itiner ary of the insect) and, in this case, a sabotaged and reactivated one. In Du Bois’s reworking of the swarm, we find swarm as swerve, the imagery of swirling, nonlinear, punctuated and punctuating, and rhizomatic sociality that resists isolation and, perhaps most impor tantly, resists the figure of the leader, now so celebrated and monumentalized. The general strike of the enslaved as what Du Bois meta phorizes as swarm runs diagonal or subjacent to the vertical axis of the figure of the leader, as underground and nonlocatable according to the optics of hierarchical social movement theory and historicity. Swarm evades both material and analytical Indivisibilitycapture.theory I’ve been asked to explain myself, “briefly,” before the world has done with me. It is difficult because I don’t recog nize uniqueness, not as it’s applied to individualism, because it is too tightly tied into decadent capitalist culture. Rather I’ve always strained to see the indivisible thing cutting across the arti ficial barricades which have been erected to an older section of our brains, back to the mind of the primitive commune that exists in all blacks. But then how can I explain the runaway slave in terms that do not imply uniqueness?14 Perhaps the “indivisible thing” that trans verses the “artificial barricades” might be what Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism described as the “ontological totality.”15 Robinson makes clear how Black radicality and the rad icality of blackness disorients the coordinates of radicalism itself. “Black radicalism, con sequently, cannot be understood within the particular context of its genesis. It is not a vari ant of Western radicalism whose proponents happen to be Black.”16 Here, Robinson might bracket or diverge from George Jackson’s raci ological rhetoric of innateness—“the older section of our brains . . . the mind of the primitive commune.”17 Robinson argues that the ultimate goal of Black radical praxis is not material conquest, moral vengeance, or polit ical dominance, but “the preservation of the ontological totality granted by a metaphysical system that had never allowed for property,” as Brent Hayes Edwards assiduously points out.18

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  579 / slavery: “of the quiet but unswerving deter mination of increasing numbers no longer to work on Confederate plantations, and to seek the freedom of the Northern armies.”13

ASAP/Journal  580 / capture,” to extend Hortense Spiller’s brilliant concept, Jackson isn’t only on the run, he is also “articulating”—reworked in the etymo logical sense by Stuart Hall, a concept which Brent Hayes Edwards brilliantly analyzes in the prologue to The Practice of Diaspora 20 Jackson refuses the parameters of conventional biography and resists the carceral metaphysics of the subject, as proprietary and privation. “I’ve been asked to explain myself. . . . it is difficult because I don’t recognize unique ness,” he writes. What then is the self ? How to explain a self without the backdrop of the unique as the condition of possibility and ref erent? What is the self without recourse to singularity? (Auto) “theory in the flesh”—to think in concert with Spillers and Moten, Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.21 Jackson’s refusal of uniqueness and individual ity as sutured to “decadent capitalist culture” accents the anticapitalist critique of possessive individualism, demonstrating how the under side of possession is racial dispossession. In his fugitivity, Jackson evades the question, side steps it; he moves diagonal to the imposition of the question that would in a linear fashion ask him to give an account of himself—especially through the temporal coordinates of life confined through the register of the individ ual as exception. Angela Davis also resisted exceptionalization from “scrawlspace” of the prison cell, maintaining in the preface to her 1974 political autobiography that “the forces that have made my life what it is are the very same forces that have shaped and misshaped the lives of millions of my people. . . . I am convinced that my response to these forces has been unexceptional as well. . . . The one extraordinary event in my life had nothing to do with me as an individual”22 Davis depar ticularizes her struggle and renders it within a universalized horizon of movement(s) against the forces she names and in concert with Black radicalism. Grasping Prehendere: “to grasp with the senses or mind . . . to seize in the name of the law, arrest . . . to lay hold of.”23

How might “be” come unapprehended? M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! discloses that being arrives apprehended. Following Laura Harris’s brilliant theorization of the “aesthetic sociality of blackness,” perhaps one way to appreciate the significance of Philip’s magnificent text is to consider what R. A. Judy terms the “poetic sociality” of blackness.24 The whole conceptual universe that rests on the antiBlack violence of individuation as what Fred Moten terms the “incarceration of difference” dissolves under the force of Philip’s “poetic sociality.”25 Zong! performs a poetics of free dom beyond the liberal claim to recognition, beyond the political ontology of freedom— which Saidiya Hartman so indispensably and powerfully discloses is slavery.26 Freedom and slavery are bound in their mutual arrest. Philip undoes the apprehension of freedom. The carceral metaphysics that subtends their arrest and apprehension are also abolished.

4 Jacques Derrida, The Death Penalty: Volume II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 30. 5 Frank Wilderson’s term and work incisively track the ontological underpinnings of the “Human,” and the anti-Black “assumptive logics” that uphold its sovereignty. See Frank B. Wilderson III, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) especially but also his oeuvre in its entirety.6I’m taking up Moten’s term and concept of the “ensemblic” that he writes about, with, across, and through in In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), 110. 7 Sylvia Wynter, Being Human as Praxis, ed. Katherine McKittrick (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 23. 8 Ibid. 9 Sylvia Wynter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, Identity, the Puzzle of Conscious Experience, and What It Is Like to Be ‘Black,’ ” in National Identities and Sociopolitical Changes in Latin America, ed. Mercedes F. Durán-Cogan and Antonio Gómez-Moriana (New York: Routledge, 2001), 31. 10 W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935; New York: Free Press, 1998), 64. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid., 65. 13 Ibid.

Notes 1 Quoted in Micah McCrary, “Riding the Blinds,” Los Angeles Review of Books, April 26, 2015, Toward-blinds/.,“DuskofDawn:AnEssayanAutobiographyofaRaceConcept,”in W. E. B. Du Bois: Writings, ed. Nathan Huggins (New York: Literary Classics, 1986), 551.

The law is not merely transgressed. Rather, it is subtracted and negated, undone in specula tive suspension.

To close the circle, in the spirit of endings that are also always new beginnings as departures, I have tried to examine how blackness pro foundly questions the very figuration of the autonomous subject itself—undermining the normative premises and paradigm for selfhood that accompanies the figuration of the human as a racial dispositif.

3 On the “double bind” of freedom and slavery, see Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12, 55, and especially her chapter “The Burdened Individuality of Freedom,” 115–25, in the section on “The Subject of Freedom.”

Forum: Autotheory’s Institutional Critiques  581 / Suppose the law is not Does “SupposeBeWouldnotnotnot27thelawis not.” The power of the speculative to hold in suspension the law and then suppose what happens after the law is not. Here, the law “does not”—and even more in Philip’s speculative and profound rendering, the law “would not” and “be not.”

22 Moten attributes this brilliant term, “scrawlspace”—an invocation of Harriet Jacobs— to Spillers. See Fred Moten, Black and Blur (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 69. Angela Y. Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1974), ix. 23 Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “apprehend,” accessed February 22, 2021, https://www.etymonline .com/word/apprehend.24LauraHarris,Experiments in Exile: C.L.R. James, Hélio Oiticica, and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018), 2; R. A. Judy, Sentient Flesh: Thinking in Disorder, Poiesis in Black (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), 21. 25 “Ensemble: An Interview with Dr. Fred Moten,” by Nehal El-Hadi, in “Opacities,” ed. Mark V. Campbell and Pamela Edmonds, special issue, MICE Magazine, no. 4 (Summer 2018),, Scenes of Subjection 27 M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 20. CHE GOSSETT is a critical theorist and racial justice postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University.

ASAP/Journal  582 / 14 George Jackson, Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2006), 13; emphasis added. 15 Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 168, 171. 16 Ibid., 73. 17 Jackson, Soledad Brother, 13. 18 Brent Hayes Edwards, “Dossier on Black Radicalism: Introduction: The ‘Autonomy’ of Black Radicalism,” Social Text 19, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 6. 19 Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” small axe 12, no. 2 (June 2008): 11. 20 Hortense Spillers, Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 14. See Brent Hayes Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 11–12.21See Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. The question of the flesh is explored throughout both Spillers’s and Moten’s work. See in particular Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” in Black, White, and in Color, 203–29, and Fred Moten, “The Touring Machine (Flesh Thought Inside Out),” in Stolen Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 161–82.


VILASHINI COOPPAN Professor of Literature and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her articles and essays on comparative and world literature, postcolonial studies, memory studies, affect theory, and genre theory have appeared in symplokē, Gramma: A Journal of Theory, Comparative Literature Studies, Public Culture, PMLA, Concentric, Qui Parle, and Critical Times, as well as in the edited volumes Loss: The Politics of Mourning, Postcolonial Studies and Beyond, Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in the Contemporary South African Novel, The MLA Guide to Teaching World Literature, the Routledge Companion to World Literature, Approaches to Teaching World Literature, The Cambridge Companion to the Novel, The Handbook of Anglophone World Literature, and The Cambridge History of World Literature. She is the author of Worlds Within: National Narratives and Global Connections in Postcolonial Writing (Stanford UP, 2009) and, with Alex Brostoff, is editing Autotheories: Transdisciplinary Experiments in Self-Theorizing. Her voice eventually gave way to mine, as my father recorded me singing nursery rhymes, pretending to be my nursery schoolteacher calling roll, and reciting from memory the stories my mother had read. “Say it off by heart,” my father would say, and I would. There’s a tender monstrosity to the scene as there seems to be to autotheory, a vampiric feeding and self-replication. Heart-song, life-blood, story-time. I want it, I get it, I am it. “Getting it” is part the self ’s dream fulfillment, a momentary

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 583–606 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press.

Vilashini Cooppan SKIN, KIN, I/YOU/WE:KIND,

ell me a story.” After the familiar childhood injunction, in the microspace of that pause and its calm assurance that what is asked for will be given, comes the strangeness of a self made apposite; me, a story. I want it, I get it, I am it. When I was three and four, my ceaseless demands for just one more bedtime story led my mother to record them, eight-track tapes the size of a dinner plate spooling out surrogate presence.

answering of desire’s demand that, like Shahriyar listening to Scheherazade, fuels the want all the more. But “getting it” is also shorthand for understanding something external to the self—the moment when a concept’s opacity lifts, when another’s experience or emotion, bad day or baggage enters (I get you), when we sense what is felt beneath the surface of what is said. Autotheory enacts both senses of getting: the narrative appetite that makes me a story or I a theory, and the intersubjective opening to something previously unknown. In that double state, autotheory reveals its own frame narrative, the story of an I containing a you. The I that wants to tell the story is always hungry (acting like Scheherazade, consuming like Shahriyar). In its most phobic version, autotheory’s economy seems eager incorporation of the listening other and monstrous inflation of the speaking self. Its image is an open mouth, swallowing while talking, an I in the shape of an O, endlessly circling back to itself. Bad manners. Bad form. Bad for politics. Self-talking while everything burns, voicing “I” when what we desper ately need is to remake “we” and world. And yet that open mouth is not merely self-projection or other-incorporation, autotheory’s negative fantasm, but its decisive act, the allocentric opening hidden by that hungry I so eager to tell its tale. If autotheory is about anything, it is about the extent to which I is not only I, and not only the I who speaks and the you who listens, but a multiplicity, the I that thinks itself as what it is not so that something else (let’s call it change) might come to be. “Could you, would you, would you, could you?” Sam-I-am demands of one who wants none of those green eggs and ham in his mouth until he does. “Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.”1 Open mouths everywhere. If we let I be, what can be seen? I am/you are/we are trying, seeing, opening, changing.

ASAP/Journal  584 /

Autotheory is more than theory with a strong index of I’s and a propensity to tell its own story, as Paul Preciado’s “theory of the self, or self-theory” asserts when it announces, “I’m not interested in my emotions insomuch as their being mine, belonging only, uniquely, to me. I’m not interested in their individual aspects, only in how they are traversed by what isn’t mine.”2 Despite the long shadow of the cogito, theory’s grammar needs not unfold from I alone. It’s not

Cooppan  585 / in thinking that this I’s am lies but in opening, in being traversed and transformed by what is not the self. Spoken as I, oriented to you, built from pieces, always overflowing its container, autotheory is a spillage of a style in which lies an aesthetics, an analytics, an ethics, and a politics. How does autotheory get from I to you to we? How does a style seemingly coextensive with the self regularly, perhaps even constitutively, reveal the relationalities and positionalities that condition and transform how and as what the self speaks? Autotheory catalyzes voice, demands hearing, reconstitutes the self through self-expression, and in that very act calls for the world to change through recognition. Autotheory never speaks just in/as a singular I, or in one recognizable genre of the sort that says “I am” or “I am not.” Sam-I-am would tell us to open our mouths wider, to take in something even if it’s not what we already know, and to follow the crumbs of the compositional grammar (I/you/we) through which autotheory engages the world.

This essay is an autotheory retrospective, an exploration of its kind of critical mode and of the kin it makes with other intellectual traditions. The open mouth is a generic marker, encompassing 1) autotheory’s constitutive act of telling, grounded in the speaking subject; 2) the connective impulse that disaggregates a singular selfhood into multiple ports of entry through which the world flows in; and 3) the unstillable pulse of the body animating a poetics of embodiment. I assemble a heteroglot chronicle of autotheoretical doings (try them, you will see). One cluster is embedded, like the work of Preciado, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Luce Irigaray, and Maggie Nelson, in poststructuralist, fem inist, and queer thought as they negotiate the circuits of language, love, and desire through an autotheoretical address, an I speaking to a you. Another cluster routes that address through the phenomenology of the Black body and the poetics of Black love, and includes W. E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, and Ta-Nehisi Coates; the fugitive, fleshly poetics of Fred Moten, Ronaldo V. Wilson, and Hortense Spillers; and the “endarkened” collective-life writing of Jeanine M. Staples’s sociology of Black women’s love and adrienne maree brown’s ruminative-germinative Afrofuturist Emergent Strategy. I explore how these texts relate (both telling and joining) subject and world, textuality and cor poreality, history’s weight and now’s demand, where we find ourselves and who “ It’s not in thinking that this I’s am lies but in opening, in being traversed and transformed by what is not the self. ”

With echoes of set theory and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s flesh phenomenology, Derrida describes how a genre’s outside (what it is not) becomes its inside, how it folds: “With the inevitable dividing of the trait that marks membership, the boundary of the [generic] set comes to form, by invagination, an internal pocket larger than the whole; and the outcome of this division and of this abounding remains as singular as it is limitless.”5 To read autotheory in the fold is both to enlarge it and to see it cut across by a host of particularities, specificities, and differences. It is both to describe generic traits and workings and to turn genre theory back on itself, to think autotheory as a thing but not one thing. If the open mouth’s speaking I is a distinguishing mark of autotheory, it is detectable in the genre’s iconic texts as well as in those that have been lower-frequency voices, deemed outside the genre but in fact folded within it, “travers[ing] yet also bound[ing] the corpus” and sharing the compositional grammar of an I/you/we held in relation.6 Strangely enough, the mouth is itself a fold, a pocket pushed into the body where outside and inside, self and not self meet, the fleshfold where relation happens. It is as versions of open-mouth or relational thinking

ASAP/Journal  586 / and what we might be if freed. I track the passage between self, body, word, and world across multiple autotheoretical essais (essay; attempt; a genre that is a try ing), unfolding through citation and quotation an intimate opening to fugitive thought and fugitive love. I can’t deny my I ’s presence in these selections, my sieving hand, selective eye, ventriloquizing mouth. Going back to some of these works felt like exhuming a body, a close encounter with words buried deep in me, part of my critical DNA. Perhaps the resulting body of this text, stitched and joined, reassembled to speak, is in equal part my own. This essay’s form is an exercise in critical kinship, my I pulling in other I’s in order to tell you a story. Where did I come from? asks the child. Where did autotheory’s “I” come from? asks this essay. And what work does it do?

REASSEMBLING A GENRE: AUTOTHEORY IN FOLD AND FLESH “ ‘Do,’ ‘Do not’ says ‘genre,’ the word ‘genre,’ the figure, the voice, or the law of genre.”3 With this observation Derrida opens a path to a different law, one that operates not by conformity (recognition of the distinguishing trait or mark that confirms belonging) but rather by “a principle of contamination, a law of impu rity, a parasitical economy . . . participation without belonging.”4 Genre’s law of mixing means that it cannot be thought autonomously, as proper to itself alone.

Cooppan  587 / that I take up Du Bois’s, Fanon’s, Coates’s, and Moten’s embodied philosophy of what goes on “between the world and me”; Irigaray’s écriture feminine of two lips that touch themselves; the love letters and lover’s discourses of Derrida, Barthes, and Nelson; and the body-feminisms and flesh-theories of Spillers, Staples, and brown. Not all of this is autotheory, some will say. But these texts are outside the autotheoretical fold only if genre is understood not to be itself a fold that lets the outside in. I seek a genealogy of autotheory disarticulated from the logics of particular belonging to a genre, a tradition, or a school of thought and elaborated instead through proximities and foldings, a critical touching of one text to another to another that reveals a critical kinship, relational synergies and strange bedfellows within a many-voiced, nonexclusive genre. It is autothe ory’s multiplicity that I pursue, its refusal of a self-same location, definition, or canon even as it regularly mixes public and private, sociohistorical and intimate, registers, enacts a fleshly, bodily poetics, and adopts a formal practice of bring ing things together.

To think autotheoretically is to think with the I, not merely as the I. Saidiya Hartman says “the autobiographical example . . . is not a personal story that folds onto itself; it’s not about navel gazing, it’s really about trying to look at historical and social process and one’s own formation as a window onto social and historical processes, as an example of them.”7 In connecting self to world, autotheory works less by “fold[ing] onto itself” (here, folding connotes a myopic self-mirroring) than by assemblage, the piecing together of disparate fragments of history, sense, memory, knowledge, feeling, what’s read or dreamt or felt or touched, what’s held, what’s lost, what remains. A criticism of remain ders and reminders, an archive at the most intimate of scales but also one that regularly tips its balance outward to the world. In Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Hartman, inspired by a single archival trace of her enslaved great-great-grandmother who told an interviewer she remembered “not a thing” about slavery, amasses a vast story of “people who left behind no traces,” the enslaved who passed along Ghana’s nine slave routes to the sea.8 As she retraces those routes and enters the holding places they led to, Hartman’s I emerges as both hers and more than hers: “I am a reminder that twelve million crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the past is not yet over. I am the progeny of the captives. I am the vestige of the dead.”9 An I whose I am is a we stretched out across time and space, an I that inherits, an I that is sociohistorically produced, an I that says “I, too, am the afterlife of slavery.”10 This extension of the I is one

More than a century separates Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 Between the World and Me and Du Bois’s 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, whose first chapter begins “Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question. . . . How does it feel to

ASAP/Journal  588 / result of a narrative stylistics that cuts back and forth between the historical and the personal, the record and the recollection, as it assembles both the story and the self that tells the story.

Autotheory demands description in assemblage’s mode, as in Rachel E. Silverman and Desireé D. Rowe’s coinage of “autoethnography/autotheory/ embodiment as method/theory of the flesh.”11 This mode of critique joins rather than breaks. Instead of breaking down prior models and arguments and clearing ground, autotheory stitches together snippets and fragments, like a quilt wrapped close around the self or laid out for others to lie on. In writing like this, Tiana Reid notes, specifying Christina Sharpe’s 2016 In the Wake: On Blackness and Being and Nelson’s 2015 The Argonauts, “assembly posits criticism as a poet ics that offers an occasion for thinking associatively and an occasion for attending to relations.”12 If what Reid calls “attending to relations” is autotheory’s con cern, its form is “essentially a curatorial process, an enactment of picking and choosing, pairing and questioning, and mixing and melding that constitutes poetics without poetry.”13 In other words, a chimera of form, a hybrid making, an assemblaged poiesis. Citing Sharpe’s In the Wake, which pieces together mem oir, historical records of the slave ship Zong, the poetry of Dionne Brand and M. NourbeSe Philip, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and photographic and filmic images of modern Black migrant and carceral economies around the four hori zons of “The Wake,” “The Ship,” “The Hold,” and “The Weather,” Reid detects “a criticism that requires the textures of poetics to conjure the ethical problematics of what it means to live in the aftermath of the historically spe cific trauma of the transatlantic slavery.”14 The assemblage of an afterlife is one way to understand the autobiographical turn in the criticism of Hartman and Sharpe, the fugitive poetics of Moten, the fiction and criticism of Morrison, and their many confrères/consoeurs. All share a metaphoric analytics of being torn from, being in flight, traveling across, circling back, and opening to—a literal animation (making something move) of critical thought. A connective, fleshly tissue binds this corpus, unfolding both the violent processes through which racialized bodies are dehumanized and the embodied thinking and writ ing through which racial-colonial subjects are collectively re-presenced.

Cooppan  589 / be a problem?”15

Both works stitch together genres of relation—letters to sons, personal vignettes, family histories, national history, white-hot burning archives of violence done to Black bodies, entretiens between the Black American mascu line subject and the fiction of democracy. At the century’s midpoint is Fanon’s 1952 Black Skin, White Masks, whose own midpoint is a chapter famous for its indelible account of the passages of a Black I through an avalanche of white culture’s white words. The assemblage aesthetics of these three works, with their movement between racialized discourses (political, historical, socio logical, psychoanalytical, philosophical) and their regular soundings of an I-you dyad variously exposing racism, demanding recognition, and voicing freedom, are autotheoretical constants. The works are filled with the tableaux morts of racist depersonalization, moments when a scene of potential exchange short-circuits, freezes, draws down the veil of difference. Against what Fanon calls the “legends, stories, history, and especially the historicity” in which the Black subject is made object, simply to claim the voice of a Black I is an auto theoretical gesture.16 That I goes high and low, first appealing to a white other it imagines “would give me back the lightness of being I thought I had lost, and taking me out of the world put me back in the world,” only to find itself “fixed” by the Other’s taxonomizing gaze. Man made object, self turned to species—“I crawl along.”17 Such moments of the self ’s disaggregation or, in Fanon’s word, “amputation” are bound up in pleas for a rejoined self. Du Bois envisions this as the Black American’s “merg[ing of ] his double self into a better and truer self,” while Fanon casts it as the embrace of a humanist uni versalism. “Superiority? Inferiority? Why not simply try to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other?”18

For all the affective intimacy of Fanon’s and Du Bois’s chronicles of the shat tering of the racialized self, for all their rage and grief and despair and yearning, for all their startling generic heterogeneity, these particular I-heavy manifestos nonetheless cohere around a rights-bearing, democracy-demanding, mascu linized Enlightenment subject calling for recognition. Listen, Europe; Listen, America; Listen, white world; Listen, colonialism. This form of address for redress constitutes autotheory as a message, in the style of a letter or postcard uncertain of reaching its destination. The method is familiar, the story it tells even more so. It’s the same old story of racism, of Coates’s letter to his son, of Langston Hughes’s 1951 “Montage of A Dream Deferred,” of James Baldwin’s 1962 letter to his nephew James, “My Dungeon Shook,” of Martin Luther

In the face of “Look! A Negro,” the depersonalizing, deindividuating instant and endless loop of racism, Fanon writes, “I transported myself on that particu lar day far, very far, from my self, and gave myself up as an object.”20 Although Fanon’s saving vision issues as a reclamation of self-identity (“I wanted to be a man, and nothing but a man”), it is the suspended space between subject and object that interests me. Autotheory is in that space as in some genealogical crypt, in the ghost gesture of making myself both subject and object over and over again. Me, a story; me, a scene; me, a setting; me, a subjectivation that is also an objectivation; me, seen from myself and seen from the other. That ges ture freeze-frames racism, as in Fanon’s “I existed in triple. . . . I was responsible not only for my body but also for my race and my ancestors” and Du Bois’s double-consciousness.21 But it is also the locale of a writing that envisions a place beyond racism’s blanket negation. Autotheory here is both plaint and paradise, a dissection of the vulnerabilities of excluded being and a plea to make the world bigger. These texts evince a desire to hold things to account, to answer historical occlusion with a carving out of space in time, within which I/you/them/we are brought together in an act of collective witnessing. A long and violent tradition of ocularcentrism gives way to the piecemeal of proximity. Call it critical touch.

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It’s there in the moment when Du Bois imagines a life above the veil where “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas.”22 It’s there in Fanon’s refusal of amputation and his proposal “simply try to touch the other, feel the other, discover each other.”

King’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail. As Morrison writes at the conclusion of Beloved, “all of it is now it is always now.”19 This protest tradition of auto theory is an important one and can easily get lost in the critical genealogies of the mode. But I want to draw attention to another note sounding forth here, one that hints at the autotheoretical joining of the I to/as/with the other.

These are instances of autotheoretical touch, fleshly encounters or wincings not, from which a later Black radical poetics flashes forth. That poetics is fleshed, in Elizabeth Grosz’s sense of flesh as “an inherent intertwining of subject and world” or Merleau-Ponty’s definition of flesh’s “condition of both seeing and being seen, of touching and being touched, of their intermingling and necessary interaction, the commonness in which both subject and object participate, a single ‘thing’ folded back on itself.”23 This kind of autotheoretical touch turns the self inside out for a larger purpose, that of

And then Wilson opens a riff, a rift, a rivulet down which pours his liquid self.

This intimate dance with philosophy (ante-solo long/love song) is an autotheoret ical gesture, one whose sounding and resounding within a nominative-iterative tradition seeks to bring names, categories, and words into a fleshly thick fold with sound, sense, feel, motion. In “Part One of the Anti-Memoir” in his 2015 Farther Traveler, Ronaldo Wilson quotes Merleau-Ponty: “we must go back to the working, actual body—not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement.”26

A pointy Merleau-Ponty is this what I am getting at? In the weight of critique, the body, not quite, or almost—where’s my strap on? This writing into memory, sexual urge, as if this catalogue were possible, as if each gesture a litany of urges that begins with one border layered onto another, like the au gratin stack that hold[s] the filet mignon like a tro phy, or the bits of squid swimming in oil on my plate—all these bodies saturated into the next.27

Cooppan  591 / not just being seen but being in relation—in relation to self, other, and world, to what has been and what may be, to Morrison’s all of it that is now. Consent not to be a single being, writes Fred Moten in his insurgent aesthetics of Blackness’s phenomenological folding.24 Reading Levinas’s philosophy of alterity and its grounding in a repeated slicing cut between European man and “other” cul tures of animate expression, Moten insists: We must appeal to another way of thinking of things that is offered in the social aesthetics of black radicalism and its improvisatory protocols. Perhaps some critical inhabitation of the other, dancing civilization black radicalism is and calls. . . . Abiding with and in this boogie-woogie rumble—this underground, outskirted, fugitive deferral and differing— will constitute something like an out-of-tune and out-of-round so long to Levinas from near and far away; an ante-solo long-song and an an tiphonal love song, antinomian to him and to itself; something like a burial with music that is open to ascension, to repetition of and with the animateriality of différance, which is what blackness is (and ain’t).25

Wilson’s mixed-media corporeal symphony often eyes the “I,” capturing the Black body seen and not seen, seen through (“Do you work here?”), seen dead on (“Looking back from looking/at one torn open after the next”).28 “Is your project Fanon’s? Is this all a setup? Fan—on—it was a jolt in perception, then.”29

The most sustained encounter between flesh and Black poetics is Hortense Spillers’s “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” writ ten in the same year as Morrison’s Beloved. “I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name. ‘Peaches’ and ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘Sapphire’ and ‘Earth Mother,’ ‘Aunty,’ ‘Granny,’ God’s ‘Holy Fool,’ a ‘Miss Ebony First,’ or ‘Black Woman at the Podium.’”32 The epithets that mark her as “signifying property plus,” “layers of attenuated meanings, made an excess in time, over time” can not be dispelled by the mere enunciation of an “I,” a self-presencing. Instead, “personal pronouns are offered in the service of a collective function,” that of laying bare the centuries-old but still active descriptive grammar that withholds personhood from Black subjects.33 “Flesh” is Spillers’s term for life and death absent the subjectifying structures and syntaxes of personhood, family, kin, gen der, language, and the body.34 Emerging through “the calculated work of iron, whips, chains, knives, the canine patrol, the bullet” on bodies understood not to be subjects, not to have agencies or pleasures, not to matter except insofar as they were matter, flesh is a “primary narrative” designating a historical condi tion (“seared, divided, ripped-apartness, riveted to the ship’s hol[d], fallen, or ‘escaped’ overboard”) and its lasting imprint.35 Dense with meaning yet almost unreadable, flesh bears “the marks of a cultural text whose inside has been turned outside.” It is a fold, then, but also a writing, what Spillers calls the “hieroglyph ics of the flesh whose severe disjunctures come to be hidden to cultural seeing by skin color.”36 To decipher flesh is to reencounter the violence done to Black

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Wilson’s perceptual apparatus is far more than eye, though. It’s organ and ori fice, heart and hand, skinthink. The body moving, pulsing, arm slicing with the racket (as Wilson’s father taught him to hit), knees rooting into the ground, bodywork. “Call it form, or a first form, or a sense, or perhaps, even, a sensibil ity.”30 In Wilson, autotheory is flesh-work, marked by a perpetual pinprick of defamiliarization at the very divide of subject and object (all these bodies satu rated into the next) and an ongoing entretien with self’s otherness. The poetics of critical touch places the self at the crossroads of seeing and being seen. It fleshes the self out—“a single ‘thing’ folded back on itself.” Hartman’s insistence that “the autobiographical example is not a personal story that folds onto itself” nar cissistically but rather a relational hinge between “historical and social process and one’s own formation” is perhaps in fact imaginable through this kind of fold, a fleshy fold, a fold that enfleshes, which is also to say, a fold that makes a relation with alterity.31


Cooppan  593 / bodies, a violence that racism normalizes. But it is also to reassemble another ground and grammar of being, where I/you/we and skin/kin/kind find other forms of relation. It is in this sense that Alexander Weheliye argues “flesh is not an abject zone of exclusion that culminates in death” but a “modality of rela tion” and even “a stepping stone toward new genres of human,” the opening of “a vestibular gash in the armor of Man, simultaneously a tool of dehumaniza tion and a relational vestibule to alternate ways of being that do not possess the luxury of eliding phenomenology with biology.”37

Flesh is the condition of Black objecthood but also ground zero for a recon structed Black subjecthood, one that does not take “man” as its destination (as in Du Bois’s and Fanon’s gendered figurations of freedom) or shore up the forms of categorization undergirding the construct of race, but rather invents an embodied language for future being. That language is there in Pauline Alexis Gumbs’s Spill, each of whose poems is inspired by a line from Spillers’s writing and whose riff on the social “hieroglyphics of the flesh” reads: “papyrus. she was inventing a language. herself. she was lighting up the darkness. her skin. . . . her pain. the spell she scratches in her skin. her name.”38 Something persists, insists, resists here, as in Spillers’s work, which she describes as an effort to “introduce a new semantic field/fold more appropriate to [African Americans’] own historic movement.”39 That field’s fold is a fleshfold, that language is a fleshform. Like the X that marks the spot, flesh’s hieroglyphics point to something marked in and by the past yet also still to be discovered, lying in wait, “in the break” as Moten says, and escaping into a future form.40 The rest of this essay turns to the fugitive futurity of relational being and the fleshforms of embodied writing, both of which show autotheoretical genre in extended kinship with thought bursting free.

One day we’ll manage to say ourselves. —Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One (1979)41

In thinking fleshfolds and language, it’s hard not to hear the echo of Irigaray’s This Sex Which Is Not One, with its reclamation of the theoretical force of an entity (Woman) that “‘ touches herself’ all the time . . . for her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact.”42 Irigaray continues, “She is neither one nor

ASAP/Journal  594 / two.”43 Female sexuality’s plural nature leads Irigaray to wonder, presciently, “Is this the way texts write themselves/are written now?”44 It’s how Irigaray writes, “within the intimacy of that silent, multiple, diffuse touch” that ensures whatever she says “is contiguous. It touches (upon).”45 This folding together of speaking/writ ing subject and critical object crescendos in the final chapter “When Our Lips Speak Together.” A love letter from a woman to her body, from a woman to a woman, from a woman to philosophy. A dialogue without a Socrates. A dec laration (“let’s leave one to them”) and a talking to (“if we keep on speaking sameness, if we speak to each other as men have been doing for centuries, as we have been taught to speak, we’ll miss each other, fail ourselves”).46 A call to liberation (“How can we shake off the chain of these terms, free ourselves from their categories, rid ourselves of their names? Disengage ourselves, alive, from their concepts? Without reserve, without the immaculate whiteness that shores up their systems”).47 Irigaray’s terms here could be described as taken from another history of oppression. They could also be described, given the text’s autotheoretical economy, as shared. “You/I: we are always several at once.”48 This compositional grammar in which I/you/we touch, this skinthink and kin think, is autotheory. It has another genealogy as well, one less bodied in its voice but equally attuned to the multiple nature of the self.

Woman of Color feminism has long adopted an autotheoretical register, beginning with the foundational work of the 1981 anthology This Bridge Called My Back, Audre Lorde’s 1982 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name—A Biomythography, Cherríe Moraga’s 1986 Loving in the War Years, and Gloria Anzaldúa’s 1987 Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. The critical race legal theory of Patricia Williams and Kimberlé Crenshaw continues the linking of intersectional analysis by injecting first-person epistemologies into the fictive neutralities and lived asymmetries of the law, while the 2020 volume Theories of the Flesh takes up Moraga’s and Anzaldúa’s embodied decolonial feminism to emphasize “storytelling, self-styling, and healing as modes of U.S. Latinx and Latin American feminist praxis” across philosophy, literature, anthropology, and sociology.49 Recent genre-bending works include adrienne maree brown’s 2017 Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, a manifesto for relational living inspired by Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books, and Jeanine M. Staples’s 2016 The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love of Self. brown’s encounter with “the connective tissue of all that exists” uploads self into “life-code,” a complex of connections, systems, and patterns that web the world.50 Although

Cooppan  595 / she gives a shout out to the final scene of The Matrix when Neo, that archetypal dystopian I, sees everything this way, brown’s imaginary is more organic. Its I is modeled on the spreading life-force of dandelions and mushrooms, the com plex proliferation of cells, and the transformative growth of human love that is the “connection between the nodes in the patterns” and “a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience.”51 brown’s assemblage aesthetics turned assemblage politics envisions liberation movements that pattern transformation by scaling up things that happen in small, like adaptation, interdependence, fractal awareness, resilience, nonlinear change, relationship, and love. Selves blowing in the wind. “If I’m honest,” brown admits, “it’s a philosophy for how to be in harmony and love, in and with the world.”52 In and with the world is a pretty good way to locate the auto in autotheory.

Staples’s experimental text (less Enlightenment than “endarkened”) pieces together the voices of multiple Black women into a cast of “fragmented selves” in search of self-realization. A collective “authoethnographic story,” it compiles seven selves, each named and marked by its own recurring font. Each of the seven represents an amalgamation of multiple experiences and affects that “rose up within narrative data” collected by Staples in interviews with her subjects.53 No one member wholly or only gave rise to one fragmentation. That is, no member exclusively spoke from, for example, the place of her anger, inquisitiveness, melancholy, or wisdom. Rather, each member gave rise to multiple fragmentations as she shared her readings of the objective world and her subjective world after 9/11 (i.e. what she determined as REAL).”54

As they speak in Staples’s text, the named voices—fleshly, introspective, wounded, resistant, mourning, caretaking, fugitive—assemble identities that integrate spirit, soul, and body; interrelate self, other, and community; and invoke multiple scales of intersecting being. Staples calls this think[ing] “afrofuturistically” . . . mystically, in quantum forms, in bal ance with fragments and wholeness, with attention to how the NOW is both then and later . . . think[ing] about these things and in these ways in relation to everything that is Blackness, and, to many extents, wom anness, and in all things temporal.55

The NOW that is both then and later, like Morrison’s all of it that is now, are critical punctures in time’s fabric, moments where it is possible both to hold

But while Staples’s polyphonia of fragmented selves recalls the shattered cor poreal schemas of Black masculinity described in Fanon, Du Bois, and Coates, her work is less invested in reaggregation and it orbits less around recognition than around love. In contradistinction to the love that sounds in The Souls of Black Folk and Between the World and Me as Black fathers address their sons, The Revelations of Asher, like brown’s Emergent Strategy, embraces a love that is not filial but filiative, love that interconnects all parts of the self and all horizons of being. brown calls this [o]ur afrofuturisms. Developing enough of a common dream language that we can be that much more explicit about the real futures we are shaping into existence. We are touching the future, reaching out across boundaries and post-apocalyptic conditions to touch each other, to call each other out as family, as beloveds.56

ASAP/Journal  596 / accumulated loss and to open identities realized through recomposition (rewrit ing) and relationship. In generating an endarkened feminist epistemology from multiple “I” s within and outside the self, “I”s constituted in and as story, and “I”s caught in the act of toggling back and forth between the objective world and the subjective world, The Revelations of Asher joins a long tradition of deco lonial autotheory.

When we learn to read and write the cumulative Self—through en gagements with fragmented selves—with all their myth, lore, drama, humor, irony, satire, wit, charm, tragedy, hyperbole, and triumph, with all their ugliness, laziness, ruin, error, mistakes, sinister ways, and vio lent sensibilities, we learn REALITIES, knowledge, and ways of being, anew. We learn again and again what we deem worthy of REALNESS, who we see in Self, what it is we really know, and how we really be 58

Staples defines “Supreme Love” as a “Loving [that] leaves nothing out.”57

As generically mixed and assemblaged as the autotheoretical text itself, the cumulative Self is Staples’s alternative to the Enlightenment subject of knowl edge. The bolded term knowledge bolts across these concluding pages, no longer the ocularcentric product of perception but rather the result of auto conception, learning that proceeds from the site of a Self writ (and spoken and textualized and storied) large. Archiving this cumulative Self creates a break into the future, an opening where Supreme Love can “grow, grow, grow,” where “we become composed,” where “we can read, write, speak, and listen

Sounding this Black feminist liberationist Afrofuturist tradition invites further consideration of the place of what I have called the compositional grammar of autotheory. Autotheory, as Jessica Ruffin and Simone Stirner acknowledge, can certainly tend to the “idealizing, universalizing” that “any theory requires” (they note how easy it is to go from I to we). But as attested by Ruffin and Stirner’s own essay, crafted as an epistolary back-and-forth between two friends guest editing a journal issue, autotheory’s constitutive mode of exchange never settles down into I, you, or we.60 And as Staples and brown show, there is a powerful torquing of the way the world is, a bending to justice, that comes with the voicing of we. That this liberatory call voices itself as love is yet another of its autotheoretical markers. Autotheory is bound up in love. Autotheory is also what unleashes love, snaps it apart from the I-you dyad, that smug we, and imagines love as a force of radical desire, desire untrammeled by the object it wants to possess. How is it that this I-heavy discourse could end up freeing us from a particular version, a proprietary economy, of the I? To answer this, the final section turns to what might be called “high autotheory.” I hope it feels more like an echo than a foundation, a whispering with other voices already here, longtime here, in autotheory’s speaking.

The auto in autotheory is partly that of the self-referential play of language, as such practitioners as Barthes and Derrida showed. Deconstruction’s signal ges ture is to create an opening for alterity, that which has been excluded from an institutional formation (philosophy, knowledge, reason) and also domesticated within it. If language’s flux offers one leverage point against the complacently “ Autotheory is bound up in love. Autotheory is also what unleashes love, snaps it apart from the I-you dyad, that smug we, and imagines love as a force of radical desire . . . ”


Cooppan  597 / not only in relation to Self through fragmented selves . . . [but] also in rela tion to Others.”59 With its mix of poetic animism highlighted by orthographic diversity, the intimacies of self-realization discourse, an Afrofuturist tumbling together of worlds and planes and times, and the transformational reach of social justice activism, Staples’s idiom can feel estranging. What’s alien is not so much this sense of self (storied texture and fragmented multiplicity is a poststructural ist given) but rather this sense, this sensing, of critical theory.

ASAP/Journal  598 / closed systems of verity, genre provides another. The two unite in the form of the address, which issues, in Derrida’s words, a “sort of promise—that is, to address the Other as Other, not to reduce the otherness of the Other, and to take into account the singularity of the Other.”61 Derrida’s 1980 La carte postale: De Socrate àFreud et au-delà (The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, 1987) adopts this form into a text constructed as a series of envois: postcards or letters to an anonymous lover, “the singular one.”62 But really, “Who is writing? To whom? And to send, to destine, to dispatch what? To what address?” “I do not know,” Derrida confesses.63 The fantasy of the lover’s address is that “the lan guage remains self-evidently secret, as if it were being invented at every step, and as if it were burning immediately, as soon as any third party would set eyes on it.”64 But with the postcard, readable by anyone, there can be no direct delivery: There is no destination, my sweet destiny you, under stand, within every sign already, every mark or every trait, there is dis tancing, the post, what there has to be so that it is legible for another, another than you or me, and everything is messed up in advance, cards on the table. The condition for it to arrive is that it ends up and even that it begins by not arriving.65 In other words, there is no “just I,” no “just you,” no “just us,” for language cuts through all. The condition of arriving by not arriving is the state of living in transit, of being made not of stories with their implicit telos of journey and arrival, but of language with its detours of address, its uncertainties and excesses of meaning. The inevitable routing through the other of language (for which “the post” is a now archaic metaphor) has the effect of rendering the distinction between self and other, as between public and private and the genres associated with each, “rightly undecidable” in Derrida’s words.66 Other texts in Derrida’s oeuvre have strong autotheoretical coefficients [Glas (1974), Mémoires for Paul de Man (1986), Circumfession (1991), The Politics of Friendship (1994), Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin (1996), Veils (1998), with Hélène Cixous], suggesting that the line between self-writing and philosophy, as much as that between literature and philosophy, is a blurred one. In literature, Derrida writes, “what always interests me is essentially the autobiographical— . . . the autobiographicity that greatly overflows the ‘genre’ of autobiography.”67 The autobiographical genre that seems a stable container is opened by autobiograph icity, an I-ness unconfined by the I alone, spilling forth in unexpected places.

The economy of excess is important, for it orients us to a fork in the critical path. If autotheory is a genre in the classical sense, it can be classified and tax onomized, constituted as an inventory of markers among which one marker is paramount. Not X but I marks this critical spot. If, however, autotheory’s genre is something more on the run, errant, hybrid, in process, then another approach is required. Look beyond the I, the nominative identity, the “per sonal” pronoun, to its operations: the addressing of words, the confession of secrets, the telling of stories, the leaching of insides, the assembling of self, the making of worlds, the witnessing of history, the speculation of futures. What matters is less the I in the theory than the theory overflowing from the I. And to see that, you have to agree to be led all over the place. Circling back is fine, but arriving is no longer in the cards. Autotheory’s I is fount, not foundation or destination or explanation. Its existence is not pregiven nor forsworn to the self-constituting act of Cartesian percep tion and reflection. It’s not in thinking that this I’s am lies but in allocentric opening (another name for which is loving).

If Barthes adopts that discourse’s “fundamental person, the I ” it is “in order to stage an utterance, not an analysis”: “the lover is not to be reduced to a simple symptomal subject” but rather “heard.” The language occupies center stage, it is its own topos, “the site of someone speaking within himself, amorously, con fronting the other (the loved object), who does not speak.”69 This one-sided address, like that of The Post Card, spreads language out like someone turn ing out their insides, letting go of words knowing they won’t be coming back, speaking into a void via a deeply citational, assemblaged discourse. A Lover’s Discourse is lonely but also crowded, jostling together etymologies for love’s “ Autotheory’s I is fount, not foundation or destination or explanation. ”

Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is a canonical example of spillage in the form, an assemblage in the name of love and in the voice of I. Its interweaving of the dictionary’s form, the lover’s plaint, language’s embrace, and words’ flesh aims to surface a discourse so “forsaken . . . ignored, disparaged, or derided by the surrounding languages [of criticism]” that it has been buried from sight.68

Cooppan  599 / Here is yet another instance of the folding movement through which what is deemed internal to a genre takes up residence outside it, and vice versa.

Autotheory involves wrestling and remodeling a genre or form to the oscillat ing scales of desire, the pushmi-pullyu of cracking open inside and cleaving unto another. Maggie Nelson gives the state an animal force in The Argonauts’ chronicle of the “falling to pieces” and coming back together she experiences in pregnancy and childbirth, within a structure of queer love and family. Pieced together in fragments and quotations from high theory, scenes from a marriage, internal monologues and lover’s dialogues, and speculation on procreation, and suffused with the pulsing tactility of a feeling knowing, The Argonauts is assemblage (and poetry) in motion. If Nelson’s love letter of a book roves her world, it also never quite leaves home. Home is what it (re)makes, reclaim ing identity’s fugitivity, identity in fugitivity, a move that recalls the tradition in which Nelson works—Barthes, Sedgwick, Butler, Koestenbaum, Wilson. The Argonauts reaches out to a whole world of queer kinship while spooning close around it, encircling couple, child, and family, domesticating desire’s scene without in the least taming all that courses through its capillary networks.

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lexicon (“I am engulfed, I succumb,” “Adorable!,” “I Love You,”) and love’s states (“Agony,” “Dark Glasses,” “Inexpressible Love,” “Love’s Languor”); stream-of-consciousness monologues; literary fragments from The Sorrows of Young Werther, Tristan and Iseult, Baudelaire, Proust; assorted quotations (Plato, Nietzsche, Freud, Sollers), and a vague temporal plot of endless waiting (“Am I in love?—Yes, since I’m waiting. The other never waits”).70 The point is not the I but the discourse, although it’s hard not to interweave them, hard to disen tangle this dancer from the dance. That inevitability of proximity, that catching closeness, is quite possibly the signal effect of autotheory. You think you’re alone now, writing it, reading it, but you’re not. For Barthes, as for Derrida, you’re always with and in language (there’s no outside) and language will never fully capture you, me, or us. If you start with the I, they tell us, you will necessarily not end there. You move through it to something else, something more, what ever it is (language, the other, love, world). That compass arcing out from the I is what makes this style of criticism so alive here and now, after the poststructur alist arrangements (they are music to me) of Derrida and Barthes.

Citing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s statement, “Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive—recurrent, eddying, troublant . . . relational, and strange,” Nelson invokes queer’s mobility. Queer is “a nominative, like Argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip.”71 Argo is a reference to Jason’s mythical ship rebuilt in every port yet never

Autotheory taps into this roving energy. Its whole archive is queer (relational and strange) and its loves are poly, the critical “I” skin-tight close to a “you” and another “you” and another “you,” as in the citational assemblage favored by Nelson and Barthes and which I have also attempted in this essay’s flood of quo tation. Autotheoretical practice is constituted by an intimate circle (our critical loves) in which, as Nelson says, “we are for another, or by virtue of another.”73 But autotheory is not just the closed circle of reciprocal being but also the invaginated folding in of the generic outlier that expands the set, as well as the errant flight of something bursting out without container or end—language for Barthes and Derrida, the long past and breaking future for Spillers, Moten, and Wilson, the world-scale community of lovers Staples imagines, and the decolonial reworld ing invoked by Du Bois, Fanon, and Coates. The bigger autotheory’s circle gets, the more “arrived” its love letter is as the next new thing, it’s that much more necessary to know your history, channel your kinfolk, keep it slant. Perhaps this is one way to understand the love to which autotheory returns again and again, a love that spills over beyond the object of its affection to suffuse the medium of its Ironically,telling.autotheory’s drive to narrate comes right up against the pull of the unnarratable, the unspoken tellings that unfold in a story, the opening of the spaces in between the subjects of narration. That space keeps its secrets, retains its edge, resists wholesale incorporation into theory’s corpus. Another way to say this is that if autotheory is about the self, the self it constructs is fiction (and poetry and prose and letter and diary and memoir and confession and dreamscape and assemblage and collage and accumulation and . . .). Autotheory’s merging of self and theory means that theory too emerges in this hybrid form. When it goes high, it also goes low, down to depths (interiority) that are also surfaces (skin, flesh) and textures (the weave of language). Not everything unleashed in autotheory’s address arrives into the critical theory of the form. What’s left unsaid, which is what’s most compelling, demands a different kind of critical voice and a different imagining of critical practice. A little less talk and a little more action. The opposition, of course, is a joke because autotheory’s saying is a doing. Autotheory’s address (address to the absent, silent other, address to a

Cooppan  601 / changing its name, a phenomenon Barthes compares to the necessary repeti tion of “I love you.” With words like these, Nelson notes, “meaning must be renewed by each use.”72

ASAP/Journal  602 / dominant other, address for redress) makes something happen. That something can be reckoning, witnessing, recognition, repair, endarkened understanding, change, worldbuilding, the list is long. With and through autotheory’s I, a long debt of nonrecognition, historical unseeing, political unresponsivity, closed ears and eyes and hearts, is coming due. For all the errancy of its linguistic medium, autotheory’s wrestling with/rustling out of a language for being offers a blue print for how to live with the present, that time constituted (like autotheory’s self) by retrospective griefs, flashes of joy, complexities of address, openings to something you don’t yet have the words for. “Don’t cry,” says Irigaray to her self/other/sex/body/reader, “one day we’ll manage to say ourselves.”74 To read auto theory puts you in the intimate place of the other who gets to hear, who is free to say nothing back, who can get lost and found as she wishes in someone else’s words. Perhaps autotheory makes lovers of us all, puts the critic in the doubled space of I and you and, in that dyad of recognition, lights a fire under established ideas of what theory does, how it speaks, who it’s for, why it counts, where it lives. Imagine a critic confronting a text. Is this autotheory?—Yes, since I’m . . . what? In love, maybe. But with everything. Notes 1 Theodor Seuss Geisel, Green Eggs and Ham (New York: Penguin/Random House, 1960).2 Paul Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacophornographic Era, trans. Bruce Benderson (2008; New York: Feminist Press, 2013), 11. 3 Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” trans. Avital Ronell, in “On Narrative,” ed. W. J. T. Mitchell, special issue, Critical Inquiry 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1980): 56. 4 Ibid., 59. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid., 70. 7 Patricia J. Saunders, “Fugitive Dreams of Diaspora: Conversations with Saidiya Hartman,” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 6, no. 1 (2008): 5. 8 Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008), 15, 17. 9 Ibid., 18. 10 Ibid., 6. 11 Rachel E. Silverman and Desireé D. Rowe, “Blurring the Body and the Page: The Theory, Style, and Practice of Autoethnography,” Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 20, no. 2 (2020): 91,

Cooppan  603 / 12 Tiana Reid, “The Shape of Poetics to Come: On Taking Up the Task of Criticism,” American Quarterly 70, no. 1 (March 2018): 144. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid., 145. 15 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Penguin, 1989), 3. 16 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin/White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (1952; New York: Grove Press, 1989), 89. 17 Ibid., 95. 18 Du Bois, Souls, 5; Fanon, Black Skin, 206. 19 Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987; New York: Vintage International, 2004), 210. 20 Fanon, Black Skin, 92. 21 Ibid. 22 Du Bois, Souls, 90. 23 Elizabeth Grosz, “Merleau-Ponty and Irigaray in the Flesh,” in “Sense and Sensuousness: Merleau-Ponty,” ed. Johann Amason, special issue, Thesis Eleven 36, no. 1 (1993): 54,; Maurice Merleau-Ponty, quoted in Grosz, “Merleau-Ponty,” 45. 24 Fred Moten, The Universal Machine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 10. 25 Ibid., 11. 26 Ronaldo V. Wilson, Farther Traveler: Poetry, Prose, Other (Denver: Counterpath, 2015), 110. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., 76, 81. 29 Ibid., 80. 30 Ibid., 48. 31 Saunders, “Fugitive Dreams,” 5. 32 Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” in “Culture and Countermemory: The ‘American’ Connection,” ed. S. P. Mohanty, special issue, diacritics 17, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 65. 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid., 68. 35 Ibid., 67. 36 Ibid. 37 Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 43, 44, 45. 38 Spillers, “Mama’s Baby,” 67; Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 20. 39 Spillers, “Mama’s Baby,” 79. See also Hortense Spillers, et al., “ ‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’: Revisiting ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book’: A Conversation with Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly

ASAP/Journal  604 / Eversley, and Jennifer L. Morgan,” in “The Sexual Body,” ed. Shelly Eversley and Jennifer L. Morgan, special issue, Women’s Studies Quarterly 35, nos. 1–2 (Spring/Summer 2007): 300. 40 See Fred Moten, In The Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). 41 Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter, with Carolyn Burke (1977; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 216. 42 Ibid., 24. 43 Ibid., 26. 44 Ibid., 28. 45 Ibid., 29. 46 Ibid., 207, 205. 47 Ibid., 212. 48 Ibid., 209. 49 Andrea J. Pitts and José M. Medina, introduction to Theories of the Flesh: Latinx and Latin American Feminisms, Transformation, and Resistance, ed. Andrea J. Pitts, Mariana Ortega, and José Medina (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 4. 50 adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (New York: AK Press, 2017), 3. 51 Ibid., 14. 52 Ibid., 24. 53 Jeanine M. Staples, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love of Self (New York: Peter Lang, 2016), 22. 54 Ibid. 55 Ibid., 541n139. 56 brown, Emergent Strategy, 162. 57 Staples, Revelations, 512. 58 Ibid., 514. 59 Ibid., 515-16. 60 Jessica Ruffin and Simone Stirner, “Between Friends,” Qui Parle 27, no. 2 (December 2018): 513, 61 “An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” by Nikhil Padgaonkar, Prometheus Unbound, November 23, 2018, -padgaonkar-and-jacques-derrida-interview/., The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (1980; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 4. 63 Ibid., 5. 64 Ibid., 11. 65 Ibid., 29.

Cooppan  605 / 66 Jacques Derrida, “Remarks on Deconstruction and Pragmatism,” in Deconstruction and Pragmatism, ed. Chantal Mouffe (New York: Routledge, 1996), 79. 67 Jacques Derrida, “I Have a Taste for the Secret,” in A Taste for the Secret, by Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, ed. Giacomo Donis and David Webb, trans. Giacomo Donis (1997; Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2001), 41. 68 Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (1977; New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), 1. 69 Ibid., 3. 70 Ibid., 39. 71 Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2015), 29. 72 Ibid., 5. 73 Ibid., 95. 74 Irigaray, This Sex, 216.

rectangular mirror that rests atop the table. Her eyes are cast down. “No one sees me,” narrates the voiceover of a little olive-skinned tomboy who enters the frame. She fidgets uncomfortably in a pink dress. She’s just escaped a moment of awkwardness among her peers and skips behind the woman in the mirror, “wait[ing] for a moment of belonging.”2 They are in the kitchen of an Armenian church, Revolutions only snap dried branches, and trim old trees. Whatever has life and is good will remain, and if it too dies, it will regenerate. Today always has a claim over yesterday and tomorrow always on —Vartouhietoday.

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 607–630 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press. Deanna Cachoian-Schanz DARE (AGAIN) TO NOT SPEAK ITS NAME? TRANSLATING “RACE” INTO EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY WESTERN ARMENIAN FEMINIST TEXTS

DEANNA CACHOIAN-SCHANZ is a part-time literary translator and PhD candidate in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania. Working in the geographies of Armenia, Turkey, and their diasporas, her work sits at the intersection of critical theory, postcolonial, feminist and queer theory, critical race studies, and theories of the nation, translation, and the archive. Her current research focuses on collaborations and contestations among dissident (ethnosexual) subjects in these geographic territories whose works disrupt the normative identity formations of bodies and borders. Her articles and translations have appeared in Words Without Borders, Asymptote, The Armenian Review, and Critical Approaches to Armenian Identity in the 21st Century: Vulnerability, Resilience and Transformation, and are forthcoming in Social Text and Critical Approaches to Genocide: History and Politics and Aesthetics of 1915 (Routledge, 2022).

Calantar, “A Response to Hay Gin’s Question” (1921)1 I I n an empty room with beige walls, a middle-aged woman with black skin and ear-length curly hair sits at a table set against a wall. Although her back is to the camera, her reflection faces the audience through the

ASAP/Journal  608 / somewhere in North America, 1970s. The woman fixes herself in the mirror as the little girl watches, inquisitively. The voiceover continues, in English: I see too much. Words come in our direction, and I overhear them talk about the woman near me. I stand apart from mouths that slant slurs. That she doesn’t belong here. Noses turn up at her. “Why is she here?” they say over again. “Black, sevamort, who has brought this black woman here, inch gene gor hos? This odar.” Other, they call her. “Sev e.” Why do they say that? . . . She . . . ignores . . . them . . . pretends this language is alien to her. She is silent and waits for the awkwardness to leave the room . . . No discrete gestures made by others, no welcomes uttered to the Sunday guest . . . lips suck words of hate against her. This is not the first time I have heard this before.3 So unfolds artist Tina Bastajian’s short film Pinched Cheeks and Slurs in a Language That Avoids Her (1995); as the DVD jacket’s epigraph riffs, it is “An Ethiopian blend.” With its main protagonist played by an actor who, by the film’s end, speaks flawless Western Armenian, the short tells the story of exclusion through a tedious, predictable, and well-weathered trope: nation alism. In the frame, the little girl’s voiceover, expressing its own gendered discomfort as she gravitates toward the outcast woman, struggles to speak or remember the language of her ancestors. At the same time, the adults who chatter in the background cannot even consider how this woman with dark skin sitting in their church kitchen could be Armenian. She is sev, a Black; a foreigner-Other, odar, who has no legitimate place among their kin. The nameless woman is mocked, in a language the viewer later learns is all-toomuch her own. Even during the film’s various screenings, Armenian audience members were unconvinced: “How did you so perfectly synchronize the Armenian dubs with her lips?” viewers often asked the filmmaker.4 We learn two things from this question: while the codes of normative gender are sub verted by the (trans) actor who plays the woman (viewers don’t cast doubt over the protagonist’s status as a normative “woman”), her “race” remains unques tioningly fixed and unsubvertible. Due to the material-discursive practice of difference-making by the name of “race,” in the film “race” is understood as inherited (through blood) and indelibly tied to visible somatic qualities like skin color. For the background voices, a black-skinned Armenian is a logical fallacy, lest the racialized boundaries of their normative or purified

Cachoian-Schanz  609 / Armenianness begin to blur. Thus, she remains an outsider; as a woman with black skin, she cannot “pass” as Armenian.

Once considered nonwhite in the United States, through what turn of events has blackness for Armenians stateside become a slur? That nationalist discourse is predicated on exclusion is not a new story; it is imperative, rather, to trace its contours.5 Feminist scholarship in particular has shown that the imagined community of the nation, a collective extension of the domestic realm, is both a gendered and patriarchal construct, which defines belonging through the colonial-qua-capitalist reproduction of its members’ heterosexuality and social ity. Women of color feminism and queer of color critique have further nuanced these approaches to include race as an integral yet oftentimes concealed category that intersects with class, gender, and sexual practices to “antagonize and/or conspire with the normative investments of nation-states.”6

Roderick Ferguson particularizes this phenomenon, calling it a “genealogy of the West” to further specify the nation as arising out of colonial taxonomies that, from their incep tion, locate whiteness, heteronormativity, and specific racial affiliations as the normative standards of belonging to national ideals. Writing from the purview of critical race studies and its objects in the United States, Ferguson identifies that the structures of nationhood emerge from the European Enlightenment and its civilizing/whitening mission—what scholars of Orientalism like Joseph Massad describe as “developmentalist temporal schema[s] whose telos is assim ilation into Europe.”7 Thus, one becomes civilized and recognizably “human” in modernity through a rejection of “tradition” and the adoption of rationality, objectivity, science, secularism, etc. How, then, to read beyond heteronormative, colonial/nationalist, and racist frames, to translate and disentangle these genealogies in order to disarm their effects and (re)production in the present? Indeed, the silent orientalist telos of Armenian American racism depicted in Pinched Cheeks is not simply a dias poric phenomenon of assimilationist amnesia. What the trans body with black skin in Bastajian’s film evinces, in a language often avoided, is that such racial ization is not just a result of Armenians’ assimilation to American whiteness but also, as I will show, an importation and translation of racial identity that was being constructed in texts written by Armenians across the ocean, hail ing from their homelands from the banks of the Bosphorus to the Euphrates in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.8 The body with black skin

In thinking translation through autotheory—and indeed imagining what autotheory itself might be as a theory or praxis in this groundbreaking spe cial issue—we must consider translation as an art of the present integral to the intersection of the literary arts and its critique. Indeed, while translation theory “

Retroactively attending then to co-consti tutive racially and sexually deviant subjects whose silent exclusions become “commen surate with reality and suitable for universal ideals,” how might the narrative of Armenian racialization, which has gotten lost in transla tion, be revisibilized in order to critique those same racial ideologies still alive in the present?9

ASAP/Journal  610 / that speaks Armenian indexes and echoes an entirely different, non-U.S. centric history of the Armenian encounter with blackness.

Disidentifying with the historical materialism of orthodox Marxism, which privileges class to the exclusion of the silenced yet nonetheless material realities of race, gender and sexuality, Ferguson suggests a revision of Walter Benjamin’s historical materialist method, which focuses on history-writing as inhabiting the struggle in the present to rewrite the past. Instead of revision and attending to the opacities that haunt normative, fixed, and exclusionary histories, the work to be done is to render these hierarchies visible in order to rupture the universal ideals that they continue to normalize in the present. As an “Ethiopian blend,” Bastajian’s film poses a demanding question. My present objective, in thinking translation as an autotheory, is one attempt to offer up some answers. Much like an artist’s relationship to their canvas or stage, the translator’s relation ship to their work is not just subjective; it is creative, and tenuous. Translation is also an embodied experience.10 A text in-translation is inhabited by a subject with an embodied knowledge of both the source and target languages, a posi tion that uniquely constitutes their subjectivity intellectually, emotionally, and historically. Luring the “original” outside of its linguistic territory across bor ders and into a foreign tongue is a performative and interpretative process that reconfigures and reanimates the source text. As the agent of this reterritorializa tion, the translator also and equally speaks the text she translates.

. . . how might the narrative of Armenian racialization, which has gotten lost in translation, be revisibilized in order to critique those same racial ideologies still alive in the present? ”


611 / remains an ever-growing yet somewhat insular field that discusses praxis, it is less often conceptualized beyond its discipline as an artform in its own right. And yet translation finds itself at the intersection of the expression and application of creativity, imagination, skill, and social life. Translation is not just an art but also the method through which all artforms are produced: a translation of an idea through an embodied subject who creatively generates something new in the context of their times. Translation is a praxis of autotheory, and autotheory is a theory of translation. In what follows, I explore the possibilities of autotheory— taken up as a theory of the self—by examining the process of translation. As a result, I aim to show how translation as a contemporary artform made by a specific and politically aware historical subject (the translator) can contribute toward a working definition of autotheory. This said, I begin with a series of inquiries— II What are the translator’s ethical imperatives as responsible mediator of the past, creative fabricator and queer feminist resistor in the present, when called on to translate racist nationalist texts? How might the translator—a political subject who passes readers through the liminal threshold from one language and tem porality to the next—disrupt the historical continuity of the racist structures upon which the texts she is translating are predicated while still rendering a careful interpretation of them? Such questions are the beginnings of what I imagine in order to understand translation as autotheory, and an autotheory of translation. In 2016, I was invited to join my colleague Jennifer Manoukian on a (since dissolved) transnational team of Armenian-identified women from Armenia, Turkey, and the United States working as historians, literary translators, critics, and editors to translate prose for Feminism in Armenian: An Interpretive Anthology edited by Melissa Bilal and Lerna Ekmekçioğlu.11 As a genealogic revival project reminiscent of the second-wave feminist imperative to unsilence marginalized voices, the anthology will feature the works of twelve women who wrote in Western Armenian from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. Many of these texts are leaving the archives for the first time, in addition to being translated. The book’s target audience are lay readers in the Armenian diaspora,

For what was to be an iteration of Feminism in Armenian, I translated the works of four authors—Yevpime Avetisian (Anayis), Zaruhi Bahri, Vartouhie Calantar, and Hayganush Mark—over the course of one year as they accompanied me on my circular returns. In Istanbul, I translated Anayis and imagined her boat arriving from the island of Büyükada as I sat carelessly sipping tea in Kadıköy, her port of entry. I imagined what the vapors of the steamboat she was traveling on with Mr. Papazian must have looked like over the Bosphorus that day when flocks of frightened Armenians crowded the docks to leave the city, anticipating massacres as a fallout from Sultan Mehmed VI’s constitutional reforms. What might their clustered footsteps have sounded like over the cobblestones now peeking through the pitted pavement I sat atop?

In short, as theory in postcolonial feminism has taught us, these texts illustrate the global double-bind of women’s liberation struggles within national/izing and decolonial/izing contexts alike.

As an agent who embodies queer feminist political orientations that seek to go beyond heteronormative, colonial/nationalist, and racist frames, what options are there for the literary translator when confronted with such problematic texts?13

Might a translation, which “passes on” through language transfer, fall into the genealogical trap of rearticulating, reproducing, and reinscribing normative/ originary national history if the translator does not also find a way to critique those same racial ideologies still alive in the present? Walter Benjamin asks of translation, might the “deviant,” the “copy”—that is, the “translation”—undo the “original”?14 Instead, as theory in feminist translation suggests, perhaps it is not the translation but the translator who must herald such undoings.

ASAP/Journal  612 / as well as scholars of feminism, Ottoman and Middle East studies, the Global South, and within the largely patriarchal field of Armenian studies.

Each of the authors I translated imagine in different ways the “new” Armenian woman in the wake of the 1915 Armenian Catastrophe. Yet, while their texts espouse their own localized fervor of feminist revolution from patriarchal structures, they are also tinged with the anxiety of ethnic extinction, which informs their imperative to re/produce the traditional family structure, preserve the nation through the sacred calling of motherhood, or define ethnic identity through discursive practices of racialized othering. Certainly being Armenian ethnic minorities in postgenocide Turkey further contextualizes this tendency.12


Through sheer physical proximity, could I resummon the pangs of guilt Zaruhi Bahri must have felt just meters from my walk home in the Armenian neigh borhood of Şişli where she cared for some of the Armenian women who had survived the Catastrophe? So desperately did they want to abort the remind ers of their rapes. Instead, they were sedated and forced to give birth by the Armenian Red Cross hospital staff. The Armenian nation couldn’t bear to lose another soul, no matter if they were to be the half-breeds of genocide perpetra tors; being half-Turkish, or half-anything, didn’t matter so much then. Curious how belongings and exclusions change over time. . . .

613 /

In the neighborhood of Sultanahmet stands the luxury Four Seasons Hotel: the former central prison of Constantinople. Yesterday’s prisoners of the empire, today’s neoliberal globetrotters. If I stood outside the walls of this prison-turned-hotel, could I still hear the echoes of what Vartouhie Calantar recounts in her prison diaries: the sounds of the women from the room of the lepers, beating their hands like drums on the wooden floors of their cells, then cupping them over their mouths as they circle dance, eyes wild, rumbling cries of devilish laughter as they shout yallah, yallah! into the air? I’m encircled by their eyes, lined heavy with charcoal, as they dance to welcome the political prisoner and her mother. Can these tourists feel, as I bring it back to life, the ghost of Fatma the Arab who, right there where they sit each morning unfolding street maps of the old Byzantine capital, cast her magic love spell over İbrahim the prison guard? Fatma stood just there, ninety-seven years ago to the day, naked beside the blazing fire, “her lead-colored body only half lit through the midnight darkness, her curly hair lost in the smoke as she called out ‘bismillah’ seven times.”15 Casting grains of pepper, seven-by-seven, into the c(r)ackling flames, she then reached “her arms out toward the door from whence, as if by a miracle, her love would come forth.”16 I’m the silent phantom from the future who will speak them into the present.

And how I felt filled with excitement, pride, cheeks tickled pink, that Hayganush Mark laid bare her idea of the Women’s Cause in Constantinople in the first issues of her feminist journal Hay Gin [Armenian Woman] as early as 1922! In utter exasperation, she writes, “the word feminist is still completely misunderstood. . . . thus, it’s not in vain that we again explain its mean ing: ‘Feminism is a cry for justice, which extends to the rights and duties of men and women.’ ”17 Justice. . . .

ASAP/Journal  614 / And then, my fingers, my voice, my emotions, give life in English to the follow ing words in Anayis’s 1921 sociological retrospective entitled “The Conditions of Women in Primitive Societies”: Among the women [of the non-Christian white races residing in Asia]—there is no veritable ambition to progress. . . . The races that make up half-civilized societies are . . . the brown-skinned races of In dia, the non-Christian races of Asia, the brown-skinned races that live in the northern parts of Africa . . . and the Peruvian Incas of America and the Aztecs of Mexico / All the Christian branches of the white race [ts‘egh] can be found where there is civilized society. . . . Our civilized society [the white race] has already passed through all the phases which still exist today among the savage and half-civilized races.18 How to make these words my own, imbibe them responsibly in order to ethi cally relay them to my reader without revealing my own disgust? A far cry from affective embodiment. Translation became regurgitation. How to translate in a way that I believe echoes feminism’s ongoing cry for justice, and challenge the nat uralness of racism, patriarchy, or heteroreproductivity, or any position founded upon violence or subordination? Is it also the translator’s task to critique while responsibly passing words from one linguistic code to the next? In 1921, Anayis sets up the narrative of feminist progress in the European West through racial taxonomies. Seventy-four years later, in 1995, Bastajian’s short exemplifies that we cannot avoid by writing (sanitizing) or explaining (excusing) away these sys temic issues whose branches extend into the politics and power dynamics of today. Bodies are at stake at the heart of this material-discursive formation, and they matter. Among other things, Anayis’s text illustrates an inherent ambigu ity: she doesn’t challenge the authority of the sociological accounts provided by European patriarchs. Instead, she uncritically bases her study on their gendered, racialized hierarchies to buttress her narrative of Armenian relative progress toward gender equality. In addition, gender and race are mutually dependent and constitutive of the paradigm of racial hierarchy that privileges the white Christian subject. Here, Anayis adopts the Western feminist progressionist telos of emancipation that is putatively universalist yet structurally relative. And so, translating into the colonial language par excellence while embodying Anayis’s reality to orient myself as an historical subject within it became a necessary phase in perceiving the inheritance of one’s historical position, diasporic hybridity, and toward a more ethical praxis of history-writing and representation in the

Cachoian-Schanz  615 / present. If we are to theorize from practice, then how to situate the translator as she reproduces these colonial models of naturalized, eugenicist claims for white, Christian, Euro-American superiority? Is it possible to mobilize alternative strategies through translation to not reproduce these same logics?

When I began to translate Anayis’s text, my immediate impulse was to ease my discomfort in her problematic language through an albeit unwitting act of maintaining a level of neutrality in the present. In Armenian, the word ts‘egh [ցեղ ] most generally means “kind,” with earlier variations like ts‘egha gan [ցեղական] (changeable or variable), ts‘eghli [ցեղլի] (unstable, transient), or ts‘eghapakh [ցեղափախ] (subject to change, mutable, inconstant).19 Entries in 1843 of ts‘egh suggest “kind” or “species,” while 1905 translations into English suggest “tribe, caste, race, branch (of a family), dynasty, stock.”20 The term can also be translated more broadly as a “people.” Such a variety of English transla tions helps demonstrate the ideological morphology of the Armenian word over “ As a theory of translation, autotheory—a theory of the self—emphasizes and reminds the translator of their embodied subjectivity in time and space while translating . . . of how their historical positionality affects what they write. ”


Autotheory as a theory of translation provides us a critical framework through which to begin imagining translation as both a necessar ily creative and historically nuanced artform, in addition to a method that functions at the intersection of art and critique. As a theory of translation, autotheory—a theory of the self— emphasizes and reminds the translator of their embodied subjectivity in time and space while translating; in other words, of how their his torical positionality affects what they write. On the flipside, autotheorizing translation— when the translation and translator theorize themselves—is a queer endeavor, as it asks the translation to both accurately depict what’s written in the source-text while also providing a critique of that text. In this way, translation as an autotheoretical practice is a genre of the contemporary arts. Taken together, let us glance at translation as autotheory—quite literally, a theory of the self through the act of translation—at work.

Yet, when I initially touched pen to paper, I sensed the nostalgic afterglow of my own pinched cheeks: the unspoken validation and time-honored pressure to be the self-disciplined, loyal daughter who had inherited these texts and their lega cies, tasked with introducing her Armenian foremothers to the English-speaking

ASAP/Journal  616 / time—like the Latin genus—to help us understand the changing ways Armenians thought about and projected their changing conceptions of “race” within their linguistic and political worlds. Fittingly, the term ts‘eghapakh—“subject to change”—exceeds itself as an inherent reminder of this contingency: what comes to categorize “race” is never constant.21

For medieval scholar Geraldine Heng, who has written against criticisms of being anachronistic when using the term “race” in her scholarship, she argues that the word “race” is important because it “bear[s] witness to important strategic, epistemological, and political commitments not adequately served by the invocation of categories of greater generality . . . [that thus] sustain the reproduction of a certain kind of past, while keeping the door shut to tools, analyses, and resources that can name the past differently.”24 There is much to glean from attention to such a critical perspective in light of ideological shifts that may be named differently throughout the epochs yet describe the same ideological technologies. In Anayis’s case, we see that her conception of race is directly influenced by European (specifically British) colonialism. What does this suggest about the fashioning of “Armenian” “identity” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in relation to Armenians’ geographic and linguistic neighbors, or in response or contradistinction to their political and cultural entanglements?25 As any translation project exemplifies, such interconnected histories are integral when considering and accounting for the various entangle ments of a global past in order to (re)write them in the present.

Work by scholars across an array of fields has demonstrated that “race” is a func tional category and a technology of hierarchical differentiation that, as Wendy Hui Kyong Chun describes, “has never been simply biological or cultural [but instead] has been crucial to negotiating and establishing historically variable definitions of biology and culture.”22 Race, then, has both a capacious and particular function. Through the false dichotomies of biology versus culture, it continually manages categories of difference and belonging over time and place—from religion to ethnicity, culture, lineage, bloodlines, class, geography, and genetics—in order to organize material and ideological power relations.23

Cachoian-Schanz  617 / world. This is the insidious tension between the disciplinary force of national ism that reproduces patriarchal genealogies and an autotheoretical translation praxis that seeks to disrupt them. I first drafted: “the black-skinned peoples of Africa,” “the peoples of Oceania.” This was a politically neutralized domesti cation of the original for a contemporary U.S. readership instead of writing the “Black” or “Negro” “races.” However, I was sanitizing the slurs . . .  erasing and forgetting . . . passing off the racist undertones that attended the rise of European modernism and narratives of progress as euphemisms in the interests of main taining a seemingly transparent, normative, and reparative genealogy of recently unarchived Armenian feminist materials. Yet, if I didn’t sanitize, redact out of refusal, and so in this case translate toward neutrality, wouldn’t I (over)expose Anayis’s racial biases, betraying her in this critical feminist revival project? Instead, such a decision would mean to expose nationalism’s racist (and sex ist) logics. I parsed through my options during the nights and days I sat before that text, swallowing words that have structured my privilege, that violate my politics, and yet have unavoidably inscribed my historical position: “[Unlike in Oceania,] it is rare that the negroid race of Africa is inclined to eat its women. Instead, they give women the most burdensome jobs”26 And the words them selves kept haunting, insisting: civilized, uncivilized, primitive, half-civilized, white, black-skinned, Negro/id, blackamoors, yellow races, red, brown, they eat their women, those primitive races, ts‘egh, ts‘egh, ts‘egh . . . not peoples. . . .

My aim was not to reinscribe injustice, but to responsibly interpret a text antithet ical to my politics while providing readers with a framework disentangled from comfortable euphemisms in order to construct their own critical readings in the present. Reflecting on her recently published feminist translations of Homer’s Odyssey, translator and scholar Emily Wilson suggests that such an aim may be accomplished through a praxis of visibility that works against the “silenc[ing] [of] critical impulses” through sanitization or obfuscation, or providing polit ically correct readings for contemporary audiences. Visibility, Wilson argues, invites readers to make “critical and engaged response[s],” and in the case of ts‘egh above, it does just that.27 From “kind” to “race,” ts‘egh is a construct. It is changeable or variable (ts‘eghagan), always unstable (ts‘eghli ), and constantly mutable (ts‘eghapakh). In this case, translating this word as “race” instead of a politically euphemistic “people” in order to save the text from itself offers the possibility for a more robust reading of the political dimensions of Armenians’ performative alliances with racial ideologies of Western Christian whiteness. In

In ruminating on alternative ways to disrupt language while decentering a poli tics of visibility, transparency, or oppositionality, translation as autotheory brings a “queer optic” to a method of translation. As a deconstructive approach in its inversion, autotheorizing translation does not merely mean to provide literal translations or desanitized euphemisms of the source text to make them visible; instead, it refuses the depoliticized neutrality of the target language while also gesturing toward the unanticipated intimacies of its regulatory regimes through a genealogical mapping in the translation. Beyond the logics of edulcoration or

ASAP/Journal  618 / his translations of Anayis’s male contemporaries of the Mehyan literary move ment from 1914–1915 Istanbul, Marc Nichanian chooses a similar strategy not to “edulcorate the Armenian texts . . . [from] overtly ‘racialist’ thinking” in order to “elucidate the conditions under which this degeneration came about.”28 And so, do we dare (again) not to speak its name? To avoid, naturalize, and thus excuse language—past and present—that subordinates Others? To not resist the oft-repeated exoneration, “She is a product of her time”? Such a dismissal speaks from a position of unthreatened power and privilege because it refuses to acknowledge how those legacies oppressed and still operate, or how—as they oft remind—Armenians have “suffered by the sword” of similar logics.

Yet should a praxis of visibility be applied in all cases? To what extent might the approach of “visibility” reinforce the familiar logics of recognition, which tends to presuppose a hegemonic framework that can grant this recognition? Queer diaspora scholar Gayatri Gopinath reminds us that “visibility” is also reminis cent of the “violences of colonial modernity [in] the consigning of gendered, sexualized, and racially marked bodies to hypervisibility and/or invisibility within a hegemonic visual field.”29 To this end, I am intrigued by the critical, aesthetic, and political practices of deconstruction toward which queer writ ers, translators, and scholars like Shushan Avagyan, Roderick Ferguson, and Gopinath gesture—practices that, as Gopinath explains, enact and produce a queer optic that allows us to apprehend the inter twined nature of the historical forces that produce this in/visibility; [a] queer optic [that] . . . enables us to grasp the unanticipated intimacies between bodies, temporalities, and geographies that are the product of overlapping histories of racialization and diasporic dislocation, settler colonialism and empire, war and nationalism.30

Cachoian-Schanz  619 / making the invisible visible—obeying a hegemonic framework that rejects the “right to opacity”—such an approach resignifies language both appositionally (in the target language) and from within (the source language) to communicate the layered and overlapping temporalities, histories, and geographies that constitute it—a redaction of genealogies.31 In the example below, an autotheoretical praxis of translation comes into even sharper focus in order to note the distinction between greater visibility versus mapping the unexpected intimacies through a word or concept’s ideological genealogy through translation.

Cultural hegemony, as it goes, does not flow in just one direction, and British colonial texts were certainly not the only ones informing Armenians’ develop ing conceptions of race at this time. In her essay “The Conditions of Women in Primitive Societies,” Anayis compares the social conditions of women in African and Oceanic societies. She explains that hunting meat is plentiful in Africa unlike in Oceania, and so “it is rare that the African khapshig [Ափրիկեցի has a tendency to eat his women.”32 I’d heard the term khapshig before. Embodied knowledge told me, derogatory, yes, but connotes a Black per son nonetheless. My first drafts read “the black-skinned Africans,” “the negroid race of Africa,” or the “black African.” A Practical Dictionary: Armenian-English, published in Constantinople in 1905, fifteen years before Anayis writes her text, offers “negro” and “blackamoor” as translations.33 “Blackamoor” echoes English travel narratives dating back to the fifteenth century, which uniquely conflate blackness with Islam, distinguishing between the “whyte moors” and “black moors” of the African continent.

An autotheoretical approach to translation, however, calls for further attention to the word’s naturalized and seemingly innocuous roots in the source text. For fifteenth-century English travelers, the “black moors” referred to the peo ple “black of colour” of sub-Saharan Africa, paired with descriptions of their laziness, unsophistication, and physical deformities.34 These terms index the interconnected genealogies of blackness (not Blackness) and orientalism that contributed to a racial ideology of religious-race that came to center the white Christian European subject as the legitimate, God-ordained colonial force mor ally called on to civilize, enslave, and convert Blacks in the South, and dominate putatively despotic, morally perverse oriental rulers in the East. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that such violent histories were also indexed by my body through irrepressible spasms of discomfort, a muscle flinch, or a constant hesitation as I


For the English, like for many Europeans, the term “Ethiopian”—another unconvertable trait—later carried similar tropes of indelible blackness (color), aptitude for servitude, and religious infidelity. Incidentally, khapshig is likely the Armenized version of the Arabic Habash [حبشي] or Habashi, meaning “Ethiopian” or “Abyssinian.” As Anayis’s text bears witness, the 1905 usage of the term denigrates blackness rather than neutrally connoting a person from Ethiopia, as does its Arabic equivalent. Incidentally, Hrachya Ajarian (1973) discusses the etymology of the Armenian khapshig alongside Greek references that link the use of the Arabic Habashi to the Greek kampsikízō [καμψικίζω] or barbarízō [βαρβαρίζω] to behave or speak “broken” Greek, i.e., like a barbarian.35 Further inquiry here is needed, yet I speculate to what extent it can be coinci dental that the root khap, spelled with the same p [փ] as khapshig, also connotes “hindrance, impediment, obstacle; [something] encumbering; [or indicating] inactivity, idleness [and] sloth” (see khapan [խափան]). However, it is beside the point whether the equivalence of these words can be verified philologically. That all of them reference one another, and that their meanings overlap over the centuries, demonstrates that the concepts of barbarity, otherness, and blackness share historical, auditory, and linguistic continuities that circulate/d outside of a Eurocentric frame, ideologically informing language communities in geogra phies across the Mediterranean and beyond. And so, an autotheoretical praxis of translation is slightly askew from the praxis of making visible. It does not seek clarity and exposure. Instead, it works from within the possibilities of the language itself to bring forth the various and lay ered dimensions of its meanings in order to gesture toward particular ideological genealogies in a specific cultural, historical, and geopolitical context; ones that intimately mark the source-text yet can remain ambiguous in them through their naturalization or equally euphemistic renderings in translation. Indeed, such alternative methods have also informed the more radical voices of con temporary queer feminist artistic production and scholarship in the Armenian milieu. In Armenian translation theorist Shushan Avagyan’s estimation, transla tion is queer because it “enlists the foreign text in the development and revision of domestic values . . . to expose that what we come to understand to be ‘real’ or naturalized is, in fact, a changeable and revisable reality.”36

ASAP/Journal  620 / translated—the tremors of an invisibilized dilemma that affectively looms over the translator. . . . The body senses the phantom limbs of oppression.

Cachoian-Schanz  621 / Perhaps it is impossible for the English translation to hold the varied meanings of khapshig. However, with the creative license of the autotheoretical trans lator, I chose to infuse, with a nod to Bastajian, something of “an Ethiopian blend.” Instead of the “black-skinned African,” the “sub-Saharan African,” or the “blackamoor,” I rendered instead the “Ethiopian sambo-coon.” I foot noted the text here to explain the wider usage of “Ethiopian” from Arabic to Farsi to Armenian to Turkish to Hindi. Disambiguating “African khapshig” by steering away from a literal translation to provide a more culturally specific reference to the use of “Ethiopian” signals attention to the localized history and usage of khapshig in the greater Ottoman territories. Similarly, the addi tion of “sambo-coon”—a mix of two contemptuous terms for a Black person that connotes slyness, slavery, and being either of monkey-yellow appearance or of mixed race—further modifies Ethiopian, linking the denigration used in the Ottoman Empire to the colonial histories of Spain, Portugal, and the United States. The choice, I believe, highlights khapshig’s problematic conno tations more so than “Negro,” “negroid,” or “Black” could. Together, both are my creative attempts as a translator in the United States to signal to the contemporary English-language reader a very different yet interconnected nexus of exchange and history of knowledge production from the genealogy of the English “blackamoor.” Finally, mixing the hybrid racialized concepts of “Ethiopian” and “sambo-coon” traces a geographic flow from east to west that mirrors the historical migration of the Armenian diaspora in the United States today—the same one that constitutes Bastajian’s audience, which cannot imag ine the existence of a Black Armenian. I’d hoped in this way that the translation would have offered a refreshed, histor ical, and more critically engaged interpretation for readers today. I’d also hoped that translating autotheoretically, with an optic toward opening up the intercon nected histories that constitute the word from within, would incite discussion regarding how particular ideological and epistemological conceptions of race were being used in Armenian as they were shared across languages and terri tories beyond, yet also being shaped alongside the West. Perhaps these kinds of slurs cannot be avoided. Such a lens invites us to think about the racial and colo nial logics that overlap and come to bear on how Armenians, and other ethnic constituencies of the Ottoman Empire, began to situate themselves globally by negotiating identity and power, in both Anayis’s time as well as in our own. This lens also rouses the questions: how did Armenians exchange in the discursive

III In a response to the question posed by Hayganush Mark’s feminist journal Armenian Woman in September 1921 about who is more preferable from the per spective of the Armenian national revival, the old or the new woman, political activist and writer Vartouhie Calantar tersely concludes: “Revolutions only snap

ASAP/Journal  622 / and material economy of race; or how and why did their own self-fashioning mobilize around logics that oriented them away from their Ethiopian coreli gionists and instead toward white, Christian Europe, aided by the specter of “blackness” circulating in the Mediterranean, Arab, and Ottoman worlds, especially in the very period of Armenians’ own dispossession in postgenocide

IfTurkey?37language is considered as one of the carriers of national identity, then translation—the interruption of language’s “purity,” as Susan Sontag describes—may be considered the “equivalent of an act of treason.”38 Yet against whom or what does the translator transgress? In so doing, does the trans lator threaten infidelity to the source-text, or does she act as a creative agent who regrounds the stakes of her present? Translating autotheoretically—with a nod to one’s own positionality—the translator mediates an embodied site of transformation. By providing readers with more politicized and historically charged language instead of softer euphemisms, I had hoped to open a space for the varied meanings of ts‘egh, khapshig, and their critique. My aim remained to disrupt a narrative of Armenian feminism as inherently emancipatory or univer sally inclusive. Perhaps the paradox of “Armenian feminism,” or any feminist movement under a national banner, is itself room enough for pause. It was my hope that these translations would have highlighted the texts’ nationalism, which privileges an “Armenian” subject, encouraging its readers to consider the exclusionary boundaries of Armenianness; that is, who is “in” and who is “out” of the “civilized” Armenian community at any given time and place—both then and now. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari remind us in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, even the “most individual enunciation is a particular case of collective enunciation. . . . The [subject/the artist] and the virtual community— both of them real—are the components of a collective assemblage.”39 If these structural oppressions have informed Armenian feminisms, then how do “we” work on them and how do they still work on “us”?

And so, what is implied in “passing” a text from one language to the next, to “pass” as a “race,” to “pass” as a gender? I do not put these categories together to conflate them, but instead to highlight their shared structural logics. As both critical race studies and trans* studies have argued, “passing” is predi cated on a very material dichotomy of privilege that assumes unequal access to resources.

“Normativiz[ing] . . . the acceptable and recognizable subject,” as Jasbir Puar contends, the act of passing is an act of becoming legible, concealing


Cachoian-Schanz  623 / dried branches and trim old trees. Whatever has life and goodness will remain, and if it too dies, it will regenerate. Today always has a claim over yesterday and tomorrow always on today.”40 While hopeful for change in what she understands as a hypertraditional, patriarchal Armenian society, Calantar neither celebrates nor claims that the new woman is the woman of her today. Instead, the “new” woman belongs to tomorrow. She will never have been fully accomplished, she is always becoming, always to come.

Presciently reminiscent of an historical materialist approach to history-writing, Calantar’s is not an unfulfillable promise but an ongoing provocation: attend to the constant dynamism of the present’s influence on the past by questioning how the events of past-present-future are relational; then, ask how they might lead to radical change, knowing that we too have always yet to arrive. Like Calantar, Deleuze and Guattari also turn to the metaphor of a tree to describe the West’s obsession with roots, origins, and hierarchies. They warn that we shouldn’t confuse a retracing of the past, or a genealogy, with a radical act.41 The Foucauldian practice of writing genealogies is essential. But after mapping the tree, how to start the revolution? How to radicalize the roots? How to take the past and understand it as actively and simultaneously re-forming the present; that our ghosts still haunt us; that racism among Armenians persists, slurring “sev”; that race, unlike gender after performance theory, is still seen as an immutable category tied in the neoliberal era to identity politics; and to see how, as trans* theorist Susan Stryker writes of transgender subjects, the “trans” prefix, as body and discursive act, “call[s] attention to the operations of normativity . . . [and] the structuration of power.”42 There is no beginning or end to this task, no original or copy in this practice. There is relationality, and it has always to be reworked.

ASAP/Journal  624 / its deviance by approximating the hegemonic (and not necessarily Ameri- or Eurocentric) norm.43 As such, passing is a process that privileges the concept of an original: an original text, an immutable or normative “race,” a normative or “biological” gender.44 Subordinating to the terms of the hierarchy, a passing slips silently and transparently under the radar in order for its agent not to risk destruction. But as the Latin prefix demonstrates, trans- is never a full-fledged return. Instead, it is a movement across, over, and beyond.45 As a process of throughness, trans- transforms; it is a form of nonreturn to an origin that never was, so as to look back on it, changed. For translation and trans* studies, as Puar contends, trans- is a striving for new bodily relationalities, not a striving for wholeness that “reproduces [Western] liberal norms of being.”46

Rejecting the notion of the difference between a hegemonic original and a sub ordinating imitation—one that “passes” or “poses”—the Black queer/trans* subjects of Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black, or of Bastajian’s Pinched Cheeks, unsettle the naturalized narrative of a “genealogy of the West,” whose roots run geographies wide and centuries deep. Ferguson and Bastajian both call for disquieting the normative terms of recognition through a queered translation of the familiar. This unexpectedly gives rise to the hauntings that continue to reanimate subjects who silently “pass” within the in/visible binary as a matter of survival (much like the Armenians in Turkey have done to varying degrees since 1915). Thus, a renewed poetics of translation as autotheory is necessary as a method for a creative, genealogical disruption of the concept of the original and its normativizing tendencies, a disruption of the structure that necessitates passing by not passing on. Perhaps it is at this juncture that a queer praxis adds to a feminist one—not working within or against the structure but finding ways to refuse and work in apposition.47 By not passing on, the translation betrays its expected place of arrival, refusing our own horizon of liberal expectation in order to seek new possibilities for justice. As creative fabricator in the present, I chose a translation praxis that attempts to reorient that destiny. In queer feminist scholar and activ ist Sara Ahmed’s words, it is the practice of the “backward glance . . . an openness to the future, as the imperfect translation of what is “ As creative fabricator in the present, I chose a translation praxis that attempts to reorient that destiny. ”

Cachoian-Schanz  625 / behind us . . . not [to] reproduce what we follow, but instead create new textures on the ground.”48 In refusing the individualizing, identitarian, and homonor mative frames of neoliberalism that operate through the logics of transparency, visibility, multiculturalism, colorblindness, and a neutralization of difference, I read such a praxis—of translation as autotheory—as a site of struggle that seeks to both disorient and reorient emerging Armenian feminist historiographies. I hope that through such autotheoretical approaches, readers are jolted. I hope they also contribute to renewed translations, viewings, and rewritings of situa tions like the one in Bastajian’s short film. I envision this autotheoretical method as a hope for a community of readers who, reflecting on the past, enact a hopeful, more just vision for the future of a feminism that flies under no national banner.

If, as queer of color theorist José Esteban Muñoz contends in Cruising Utopia, art and critical imagination help us to see the “not yet,” then translation as a creative art—when it is embodied by the translator and not yet materialized on the page—also thinks “beyond the moment and against static historicisms.”49

4 This anecdote was shared with me by David Kazanjian, who attended an early screening of Bastajian’s film, noting, apparently, that such reactions happen(ed) repeated ly. For further commentary on Bastajian’s film regarding the nexus of gender, sexuality, race and genocide discourse in the Armenian diaspora, see David Kazanjian, “Re-flexion: Genocide in Ruins,” in “What Remains?” ed. James Leo Cahill and Akira Mizuta Lippit, special issue, Discourse 33, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 367–89.

2 Tina Bastajian, Pinched Cheeks and Slurs in a Language That Avoids Her (KINOStudio, 1995), film, 10 min.

1 Vartouhie Calantar, “A Response to Hay Gin’s Question,” Hay Gin [Armenian Woman] 2, no. 21 (September 1921).


“Today always has a claim over yesterday and tomorrow always on today.” I read Calantar’s vision for what is still to come—one that is simultaneously influenced by the past and the future—as a prescient, possible iteration of this revolution. . . . If we are radical enough to arrive.

3 Bastajian, Pinched Cheeks, 3:58–5:06.

5 I should note from the outset that I do not intend to indict Armenian nationalism over any other nation’s exclusionary nationalist expression. Instead, I engage one example of

Roderick A. Ferguson, Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 3. 7 Joseph Massad, Desiring Arabs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 17.

8 Admittedly, it was only in the editing phase of this paper that I read Marc Nichanian, Mourning Philology, in which he makes a similar observation about the writing of early twentieth-century writers in Istanbul, pre-1915 Catastrophe. Consequently, he provides an intellectual history regarding the emergence of (Armenian) nationalism in tandem with the discourse of Armenians’ “racialist ideology”—an effect of what he calls “philological orientalism.” Such racialist thinking is what Nichanian identifies as part and parcel of a “national-aestheticism” being sculpted by the writers he studies, and as he laments later, it is either “despite or perhaps because of its naïveté, [that such thinking has] enjoyed great success with the Armenians.” Marc Nichanian, Mourning Philology: Art and Religion at the Margins of the Ottoman Empire (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 24. 9 Ferguson, Aberrations in Black, 5. 10 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Translating into English,” in Nation, Language and the Ethics of Translation, ed. Sandra Bermann and Michael Wood (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 94.

ASAP/Journal  626 / nationalism to challenge the rhetorical expressions of identity, nation, and power at large. As such, this critique does not minimize the tragic historical and political circumstances that have come to characterize the specifically Armenian brand of nationalism, particularly in regard to Turkish (and by consequence, Azerbaijani) people, especially in light of the most recent (2020) forty-four-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.


The anthology, Feminism in Armenian: An Interpretive Anthology (former working title) forthcoming from Stanford University Press, is an expansion of a compilation by Melissa Bilal and Lerna Ekmekçioğlu entitled Bir Adalet Feryadı: Osmanlı’ dan Türkiye’ye Beş Ermeni Feminist Yazar 1862-1933 [A Cry for Justice: Five Armenian Feminist Writers from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (1862–1933)]. The team for the expanded English-language project included the editors and scholars Bilal and Ekmekçioğlu, prose translators Jennifer Manoukian and this author, Shushan Avagyan as the poetry translator, and Maral Aktokmakyan as the translation editor. This collaboration has since dissolved, and the prose translations for the book have changed hands. I wish the editors a successful publication.12Anayis (Yevpime Avedisian), “The Conditions of Women in Primitive Societies,” Hay Gin [Armenian Woman] 2, nos. 8–11, 13 (1921). For an extensive (though selective) discussion of Armenian feminism in postgenocide Turkey and its service (or deference) to the Armenian national revival project, see Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, Recovering Armenia: The Limits of Belonging in Post-Genocide Turkey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016). For a discussion and critique of the internal contradictions of “national reconstruction” and its gendered dimensions in postgenocide Turkey, see Vahé Tachjian “Gender, nationalism,


14 See Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1968), 11–25.

17 Hayganush Mark, “What Is the Women’s Cause,” Hay Gin [Armenian Woman] 3, no. 3 (December 1921). This honeymoon phase, however, was short-lived. In a critique of selective historical narrations of Armenian feminisms, Vahé Tachjian references an overlooked problem in Mark’s sentiments on race and propriety in an article she wrote on “fallen women” (angyal giner). Purportedly referencing rape, sex work, exogamy and/ or Islamization during and postgenocide, Mark argues that Armenian women’s blood had been poisoned: “the war . . . poisoned our race’s present and many successive generations. The Armenian women who returned from the deportations are morally and physically dead. In their veins most of them carry bad and disease-inflamed Turanian blood. They cannot scientifically provide a healthy generation for the nation” (see “The question of fallen women [Անկեալ in Hay Gin, no. 9 (1 March 1920), Istanbul). Vahé

կիներու հարցը],”

Cachoian-Schanz  627 / exclusion: the reintegration process of female survivors of the Armenian genocide,” in Nations and Nationalism 15, no. 1 (January 2009): 60–80.

16 Vartouhie Calantar, “Fatma the Arab,” November 1, 1920.

While Turkish nationalist rhetoric sought secularization through a distancing from Islam, Anayis’s texts mobilize nearly two thousand years of Armenians’ religious affinities with Europe in order to, as an internalized Orientalist gesture from the “East,” align Armenians closer to it. Race is thus mobilized through religion to secure Armenians’ civilizational superiority and kinship with Europe compared to their secularizing Muslim “co-nationals.” Even as European political discourse continued to promote the ideal democratic state as a secular one, in orienting Armenians toward “secular” Europe vis-à-vis Christianity, Anayis intuits what Marx frustratedly reminds readers in his 1843 critique of the German philosopher Bruno Bauer: “the so-called Christian state is the Christian negation of the [free] state.” Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (New York: Penguin, 1992), 223.

13 I am most drawn to art historian Alpesh Patel’s concise explanation of the use the term “queer feminist” in Productive Failure to underscore the important interventions of each model, drawing attention to feminism’s intersectional approach that “demands attention to visual identification as always already raced, sexed, classed and gendered” and queer’s operative function to, in the words of Amelia Jones, “indicate the impossibility of a subject or a meaning staying still.” Alpesh Kantilal Patel, Productive Failure: Writing Queer Transnational South Asian Art Histories (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), 190; Amelia Jones, Seeing Differently: A History of Theory of Identification and the Visual Arts (London: Routledge, 2012), 174–75.

15 Vartouhie Calantar, “The Women’s Block of the Central Prison: The Room of the Lepers,” Hay Gin [Armenian Woman] 1, no. 12 (April 1920).

22 Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “Introduction: Race and/as Technology; or, How to Do Things to Race,” in “Race and/as Technology,” ed. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, special issue, Camera Obscura 24, no. 1 (2009): 8. For further discussion on my understanding of “race” as a material-discursive practice of difference-making that entangles institutions, laws, and science by way of technology for the purposes of producing, reinstituting, and patrolling the borders and mobilities of bodies and geographies, see my cowritten paper with Katia Schwerzmann, “ ‘One Unique You’: Affective Attachments and DNA-Testing as Ethnotechnological Apparatus,” Social Text, forthcoming.

Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Construction of Peoplehood: Racism, Nationalism, Ethnicity,” in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, by Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein (1988; London: Verso, 1991), 77.

ASAP/Journal  628 / Tachjian, “Mixed Marriage, Prostitution, Survival: Reintegrating Armenian Women into Post-Ottoman Cities” in Woman and the City, Women in the City: A Gendered Perspective on Ottoman Urban History, ed. Nazan Maksudyan (New York/Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2014), 86–104, footnote 20. 18 Anayis, “Conditions of Women.” 19 Rev. Matthias M. M. Bedrossian, New Dictionary Armenian-English (Venice: S. Lazarus Armenian Academy, 1875–1879), 306. 20 Soukias Somalian, A Pocket Dictionary of the English, Armenian and Turkish Languages, vol. 2 (Venice: Press of the Armenian College of San Lazarus, 1843); Zakaria D. S. Papazian, A Practical Dictionary: Armenian-English (Constantinople: Press of H. Matteosian, 1905), 477. 21 Indeed, as Immanuel Wallerstein writes, “maybe . . . peoplehood is not merely a construct but one which, in each particular instance, has constantly changing boundaries. Maybe a people is something that is supposed to be inconstant in form.” He then goes on to ask, gesturing toward the legal and political realities such definitions are responsible for constructing and so, silenced: “But if so, why the passion? Maybe because no one is supposed to comment on the inconstancy. If I am right, then we have a very curious phenomenon indeed—one whose central features are the reality of inconstancy and the denial of this reality.”

26 Anayis, “Conditions of Women.”

23 See Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton, eds., Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2007), 2. 24 Geraldine Heng, “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages I: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages,” in Literature Compass 8, no. 5 (May 2011): 322.25 See Veronika Zablotsky, “The Making of Anglo-Armenian Law in Colonial India,” in Governing Armenia: The Politics of Development and the Making of Global Diaspora (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2019) for an extensive discussion about the Armenian colonial encounter and the fashioning of the secular and landless Armenian “nation” vis-à-vis Armenians’ adoption of an internalized colonial gaze.

Cachoian-Schanz  629 / 27 Emily Wilson, “Epilogue: Translating Homer as a Woman,” in Homer’s Daughters: Women’s Responses to Homer in the Twentieth Century and Beyond, ed. Fiona Cox and Elena Theodorakopoulos (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 284, 286. 28 Nichanian, Mourning Philology, 265. 29 Gayatri Gopinath, Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 170. 30 Ibid.

35 Hrachya Ajarian, Armenian Etymological Dictionary, vol. 2, E-G (Yerevan, Armenia: Yerevan State University Press, 1973). Reference to use of Habashi found in Müller SWAW 42, 253 as meaning καμψικίζω according to Lag. Arm. Stud. sec. 983: Lag. Gr. Agath. 152. 36 Shushan Avagyan, “Queering Translation,” in Queered: What’s to Be Done with X-centric Art, by Queering Yerevan Collective (Yerevan, Armenia: Samizdat, 2011), 69; emphasis added. Avagyan calls this a process of defamiliarization. In taking this defamiliarization one step further (and thinking through Lawrence Venuti’s famous “foreignizing effect”), I have elsewhere called the foreignizing effect that the translation has on the original a double de-domestication: a translation praxis that estranges the text in English translation beyond the comfortable ambiguity of the original (Armenian), so that the translation becomes a renewed reading of the source-text over, against, and beyond it. That is, the translation itself also seems excessively strange, bringing further attention to the source-text’s obvious ambiguity. See Deanna Cachoian-Schanz, “Deviations: A Translator’s Note on Shushan Avagyan’s Book-untitled,” in “Queering Armenian Studies,” ed. Tamar Shirinian and Carina Karapetian Giorgi, special issue, Armenian Review 56, nos. 1–2 (Spring/Summer 2018): 114–22. See also Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (New York: Routledge, 1995).

37 For a discussion on Ottoman-Armenians’ relation to rising European colonial hegemony and subsequent shifting ideological positions regarding centuries-long relations

31 In his essay “For Opacity,” Édouard Glissant calls for the consideration of the absolute irreducibility of each and every human for their right to opacity. Beyond the right to difference, the right to opacity is the right not to be categorized and identified; it is the prospect of arriving at “subsistence within an irreducible singularity.” Glissant contrasts opacity with transparency, a tenant of multiculturalism in the secular, (neo)liberal state, which requires from the subject to become transparent in order to be understood and thus subsumed under a universalist totality, read usually as white, (male,) and Western. Édouard Glissant, “For Opacity,” in Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (1990; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 190. 32 Anayis, “Conditions of Women.” 33 Papazian, Practical Dictionary, 185. 34 See, for example, Shakespeare’s descriptions of Othello and Caliban in Othello and The Tempest, in addition to a wide range of scholarship on this topic.




ASAP/Journal  630 / with Ethiopians, see James de Lorenzi, “Caught in the Storm of Progress: Timoteos Saprichian, Ethiopia, and the Modernity of Christianity,” Journal of World History 19, no. 1 (March 2008): 89–114. Susan Sontag, “Being Translated,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 32 (Autumn 1997): 15. 39 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (1975; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 83–84. 40 Calantar, “Response.” 41 See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Introduction: Rhizome,” in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (1980; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 3–28. 42 Susan Stryker, “Transgender History, Homonormativity, and Disciplinarity,” in “Queer Futures,” ed. Kevin P. Murphy, Jason Ruiz, and David Serlin, special issue, Radical History Review, no. 100 (Winter 2008): 149. 43 Jasbir K. Puar, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 42. For the function of racial “passing” in a legal sense, see Cheryl I. Harris’s formative essay, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (June 1993): 1709–91. 45 Merriam-Webster Online, s.v. “trans,” dictionary/trans.46Puar,Right to Maim, 49; emphasis added.

The Queering Yerevan Collective refers to such translations as translation drag, complicating and disrupting the given (hetero)normative frames of the nation and aesthetic practice. See Queering Yerevan Collective, Queered 48 Sara Ahmed, “Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology,” GLQ 12, no. 4 (2006): 570. 49 José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 17.

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 631–652 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press. Marcos Gonsalez SELVES:TRANSMOGRIFYINGGUADALUPES,TRANSMOGRIFYING


A ltered by a storm and subsequently repaired by an arborist with a saw, a Monterey cypress tree takes the shape of the Virgen de Guadalupe off the coast of California. Or perhaps this is the Virgen de Guadalupe herself taking the shape of a tree. This miraculous scene of the divine in the ordinary takes place in GLORIA ANZALDÚA’S posthumously MARCOS GONSALEZ is an essayist and assistant professor of literature. Gonsalez’s debut book of autotheory, Pedro’s Theory, published in 2021 by Melville House/Penguin, has been reviewed by The New York Times and Kirkus , and nominated for a Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize. Gonsalez’s essays can be found at Public Books, Los Angeles Review of Books , Literary Hub, Ploughshares , New Inquiry, and elsewhere. Gonsalez is currently researching and writing a manuscript on the work of José  Muñoz and the cultural importance of queer of color theory. They live in New York City. published dissertation, Light in the Dark ⁄ Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (2015). In this work she intended for publication but couldn’t complete in time due to her passing in 2004, the queer Chicana anthologist, writer, and activist recounts witnessing this Guadalupe tree:

I suddenly saw her coming out of the hollowed trunk: It was la Virgen de Guadalupe, head tilted, arms extended, halo spread all around. From a distance, the bright live tans and browns of the raw newly cut wood and dangling trunk fibers looked like the folds of her robe. . . . But once I saw la Virgen emerging from the tree, my imagination picks her out every time I walk toward her, no matter how age, storm, or sea alters the cypress’s trunk.1

The description becomes even trickier in determining if, upon subsequent vis its, the tree is La Virgen de Guadalupe, or if she emerges from it, animatedly inhuman. Regardless of how the tree’s shape ages or alters, Anzaldúa bears wit ness to the Virgen de Guadalupe each time she encounters the arboreal entity. This Guadalupe tree is both divinity and tree in Anzaldúa’s phrasing, and pars ing distinctions of form, matter, and species becomes difficult. Later on, further difficulty arises when Anzaldúa herself transforms into the tree, both becoming one, human and nonhuman at the same time. Such slippages in imagery and form reveal how perceiving the world is a shifting, transmaterial, and embodied experience in Anzaldúa’s unfinished dissertation manuscript.

ASAP/Journal  632 /

Like her other published and unpublished writings she produced in her decades-long career, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro merges the theoretical, spiritual, Catholic, and Indigenous iconography with the autobiographical. These dissertation chapters range from reflections on 9/11 and U.S. imperi alism, diaristic ruminations on the labor-intensive work of drafting a piece of writing, narrating a visit to a 1992 museum exhibition on Aztec culture, and other expository chapters touching on her ideas about healing and composing identities. Anzaldúa worked on Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro for well over a decade, producing various outlines and drafts, and there are many iterations of the project that scholar AnaLouise Keating pieced together and published after Anzaldúa’s death. The scene of the tree as Guadalupe and the Guadalupe as tree is not unusual as Anzaldúa’s onto-epistemic aesthetic practice generally makes these assemblages quotidian, part of the very fabric of reality and con sciousness. Yet Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro is a unique contribution to her oeuvre, critical thought, and autobiographical writing because the manuscript draws particular attention to scenes of unwieldly, indeterminate, and shapeshift ing transformations of being-knowing, and instances depicting the pleasures and intimacies of human and nonhuman becomings. This uniquely multispe cies, transmaterial aesthetic, coupled with the unfinished quality of Light in the

Like the shapeshifting Guadalupe tree, other various scenes of multispecies, transmaterial intimacies are contained in the manuscript. For instance, in the opening sentence of the preface to the book, Anzaldúa notes how, “[w]hen writ ing at night, I’m aware of la luna, Coyolxāuhqui, hovering over my house.”2 The moon is both literal entity and figurative muse, at all times present and real. In the chapter in which we first bear witness to the Guadalupe tree, for exam ple, she documents a transformational encounter with a snake that has entered her house. She sees the snake both as a guardian spirit and as an entity one can become-one with. Many of these instances, like the encounter with the moon, are also scenes documenting the struggles and triumphs of writing and creativ ity. These scenes outlining the writing process are intensely corporeal, spiritual,

Queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetics is a useful framework with which to track the uncanniness of multispecies, transmaterial becomings in Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro, which challenge colonial paradigms and lib eral humanist logics. How does, for instance, a Guadalupe tree on a cliff shape our reality, or the potentiality for other realities? How does such an unusual transmogrifying entity in Anzaldúa’s critical-creative autobiographic writing animate another kind of ethico-political sensibility that is not dependent on settler coloniality and capitalist imperatives? The Guadalupe tree she references across Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro, for example, is a queerly inhuman anti colonial entity that proffers ways of thinking of human-nonhuman worlds as porous, attuned, pleasurable, attendant to differences, and responsive to other beings and environments. The Guadalupe tree is not rendered as an entity use ful for capitalist extraction, nor disposable for the sake of settler expansion, nor construed in post-Enlightenment terms as inert, unthinking matter. Rather, the Guadalupe tree is a shapeshifting being deserving of care, consideration, and respect, one which is not only part of our world but mutually shaping and determining it, and potentially other ones too. In turn, such understandings transmogrify human relations to self, others, and land. Our sensibilities are oriented to take better notice of our coextensiveness, to how human and non human entanglements create avenues for mutual care across differences, and to pay attention to the enticingly pleasurable intimacies that can arise when dis tinctions of form, matter, and species are reconstituted.

Gonsalez  633 / Dark ⁄ Luz en lo oscuro, advances what I am identifying as a queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic.

In this passage, Anzaldúa elaborates how the process of writing is an embodied and transforming practice. Her metaphor of writing as “pulling miles of entrails through your mouth” attests to the otherworldliness that is the undertaking of

Titled “Putting Coyolxāuhqui Together: A Creative Process,” chapter five of the dissertation is on Anzaldúa’s writing process, specifically addressing the queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetics this article traces. Named after the Aztec goddess of the Moon, a goddess beheaded and cut into pieces, she is deployed metaphorically for what Anzaldúa calls the Coyolxāuhqui imperative: “the struggle to reconstruct oneself and heal the sustos resulting from wound ings, traumas, racism, and other acts of violation que hechan pedazos nuestras almas, split us, scatter our energies, and haunt us.”4 Anzaldúa identifies the act of revising as part of the Coyolxāuhqui imperative, seeing this writerly process as a form of complex healing, a way of creating self and selves through recon structing. Originally intended for an edited collection, the chapter undergoes at least seventeen drafts between the years 1998 and 2003, and changes from first-person to second-person narration.5 Stylistically, the chapter is organized as a series of descriptions (digressions, wanderings, chit-chat) centered on drafting. In detail, she describes the (second? third? fourth?) beginning of the writing’s time to start composing the next pre-draft. Anticipation and mild dread course through your body. You walk from desk to files to shelves, looking for something, a lost note, to anchor your attention. A part of you wants to write and a part of you doesn’t—there’s always a conflict as to which of you is running the writing. The part representing internalized goals and a personal standard of perfection has grandiose plans for your career, wants the story to be a work of art. Your con trolling authoritarian spirit wants you to apply willpower and discipline; it wants you to produce and to be efficient about it. . . . Writing is like pulling miles of entrails through your mouth.6

ASAP/Journal  634 / processual, erotic, and transformative.3 Taking seriously such material trans mogrifications—human and nonhuman morphings of body, psyche, matter, and being—elucidates aesthetic strategies that can be of use for contemporary social critique and anticolonial theorizing. Staging such transmogrifications boldly invites other modes of being, knowing, creating, and writing that defy capitalist colonial paradigms and liberal humanist logics.

It is important to highlight, rather than downplay or strategically overlook, Anzaldúa’s dependence on mestizaje and Indigenous imagery and concepts across her early writings and even into Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro. By doing so, we can better contextualize the limits, as well as possibilities, of her

Anzaldúa’s manuscript, as Keating notes, “underwent numerous shifts in title, table of contents, and chapter organization; it exists in numerous partial iterations—handwritten notes, outlines, chapter drafts, e-mail communica tion, conversations with writing comadres, and computer files.”8 No writing for Anzaldúa was ever really finished and scholars have amply reported on Anzaldúa’s insistence to revise all of her work even after it is published.9 In pieces, then, and also under revision, the dissertation is doubly incomplete. Organized based on what Anzaldúa left behind, Keating puts it all together into a manu script, inevitably, constructing a text that is Anzaldúa’s, and also is not. What to do, then, with a text that is unfinished in such a way? There is something to be gained if we think of Anzaldúa’s dissertation writing, as well as the editorial caretaking done by Keating, as an open-ended, intercalated, and collaborative undertaking that is variable and variably different over time, critical approaches, and hermeneutics.10 The incomplete nature of the book, however, is not a hin drance or detriment to critical inquiry. Instead, we can read these writings as instructive for highlighting the difficult, labor-intensive, and sustained com mitment required for queer inhumanist anticolonial aesthetics and worlding. The reader bears witness to multiple kinds of entanglement: the exploratory and experimenting writerly voice and style, the grasping at other kinds of lexicons and texts, and the sensitivities to not knowing and finding things out.

Gonsalez  635 / writing and of producing knowledge. Writing is a struggle of the body to put ideas into words on the page. She documents what seems to be writer’s block and being unproductive, affective comportments that Sianne Ngai has called “ugly feelings,” those negative emotions that do politically ambiguous work.7

Being unable to write, stuck in thought, and being unproductive are affects that deny neoliberal capitalism, which only values the immediate, the timely, the efficient, the finished product. Such comportment attests to the importance of the processual, the indeterminate, open-endedness, plurality, and the necessity of transforming ourselves for imagining better worlds. Being unproductive and incomplete in such a way is crucial for the queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic found in these writings.

ASAP/Journal  636 / work. María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo mounts a critique of Anzaldúa’s work for the ways in which it reifies state-sponsored mestizaje and indigenismo, where indigeneity’s invocation by Anzaldúa is “to the exclusion, and, indeed, erasure of contemporary indigenous subjectivity and practices on both sides of the border.”11 Jared Sexton incisively points out how Anzaldúa’s mestiza con sciousness relies, unexamined and unproblematized, on Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos’s notion of racial mixture, which in turn perpetuates harmful and violent antiblackness under the guise of multiracial liberalism.12 My critical interest in Anzaldúa is not in adopting wholesale her concepts deriving from explicitly white supremacist foundations of mestizaje, as scholars like SaldañaPortillo and Sexton hold into account. In fact, I do not find value in trying to rework or resuscitate these terms and concepts in the way she has proposed them since they far too frequently depend on reductive and simplistic under standings of Indigenous epistemologies and cosmologies. Instead, my analysis makes the wager that the scenes of otherworldly transmogrification and non human intimacies are in and of themselves compelling aspects of her writing and warrant critical attention. These scenes in her dissertation manuscript are rendered as anecdote and narrative rather than in the typical expository, didac tic, and neologism-heavy mode found in the book, the mode through which her concepts and terms are normally proposed. Although she fits these anecdotes of the Guadalupe tree and the snake into her various theoretical apparatuses, they can also stand apart and distinct from such fixtures. They can do a different and unintended critical work that the author herself could not predict. Casting these scenes of transmogrification and nonhuman intimacy under this aesthetic rubric, as well as maintaining analytic attention to the form of these writings, reframes how we study this posthumous work and how we can study Anzaldúa altogether.13Adoptinga queer inhumanist formulation taps into how these writings cru cially articulate other ways of being human on a damaged planet. Anzaldúa’s transmogrifications are in dialogue with key theorists who have drawn con vergences between the nonhuman and critical race studies, queer theory, and disability studies such as Mel Y. Chen, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Neel Ahuja, and Jasbir Puar.14 In their introduction to the coedited GLQ special issue, “Queer Inhumanisms,” Mel Y. Chen and Dana Luciano explain how identifying the critical term “inhumanist” “points to the violence that the category of the human contains within itself,” and “its dual temporal and historical resonances,

Gonsalez  637 / since we do not as yet foresee a form of the inhuman that liberates itself entirely from histories and processes of dehumanization, nor one that does not risk fall ing back into them.”15 Thinking the inhuman is to think the human against the grain of the Enlightenment Man, to think the human as porous and coconstitutive, allowing for a different kind of humanistic inquiry to emerge. This effort to theorize the nonhuman in such a way admits how “the human has always been a thoroughly exclusionary concept in race and species terms,” and a critical retheorizing of the human needs to be understood as “not an extensionist one (expanding the definition of the human to allow a few racialized groups or preferred ape species in) but rather a reconstructive one (reimagining humans, ani mals, and nature outside of systems of domination.”16 Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s work has proven particularly generative for my thinking in that she extends these interventions by postulating how understandings of what it means to be human, to be a rational and autonomous human within Westernized liberal humanism, is mediated by blackness. “Blackness has been central to, rather than excluded from, liberal humanism: the black body is an essential index for the calculation of degree of humanity and the measure of human progress”; Jackson here poignantly clarifies how blackness is foundational to how the human and the nonhuman has been constituted, an essential plasticity as she terms it, in establishing hierarchical logics and categories.17 Anzaldúa’s aesthetic transmogrifications expand on these interventions into how we understand the human and nonhuman, yet it does so by distinctively documenting in an auto biographical mode how daunting and unusual, though necessary and pleasurable, becoming inhumanly otherwise can be. The autobiographical as it operates in these transmogrificatory scenes puts pressure on the genre of autobiography and its enmeshment in the production of liberal subjectivity, depending as it does on progressive narratives tethered to rational authorings of self, pursuits of possessive autonomy, and political emancipation.18 The generic legibility of autobiography upholds distinctions about what it means to be human, how we prove ourselves to be human through discourses of race, sexuality, gender, ability, and species, and how we perform that humanness legibly.19 The inhu man transmogrifications and intimacies like the Guadalupe tree reveal how difficult putting theory to the test can be, but this is precisely why Anzaldúa’s writings in this manuscript are important.20 She showcases the uncomfortably autobiographic and labor-intensive nature of epistemic and corporeal transfor mations, which require delinking from colonial, anthropocentric, and capitalist logics, while not evacuating the sociopolitical differentials constituting human

Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro contributes to these various areas of inquiry like anticolonial theory, the nonhuman turn, critical race studies, and autobiography studies by enacting the theory itself in/as a queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic practice. In the transformational, in the promiscuous playing around with forms, bodies, and materialities, the queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic found in these writings demonstrates how we do the messy work of

ASAP/Journal  638 / and nonhuman worlds. She traces the unexpected pleasures, intimacies, and possibilities that straying from the codified modes of relating, sensing, knowing, and being afford. These scenes of transmogrification and nonhuman intimacy also extend the queer inhumanist framework by emphasizing an avowedly anticolonial analytic. Coloniality configures how we know humanness itself.21 The otherworldly transmogrifications that take shape in the book strive to challenge and imagine elsewhere from settler colonial and white supremacist fantasies of human (read: white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual) omnipotence, all-knowingness, and violence.22 Identifying what she calls a “decolonial queer femme method,” Macarena Gómez-Barris’s attention to queer decolonial perception and embod iment is an important formulation for contextualizing Anzaldúa’s later writings. Gómez-Barris puts in constellation Indigenous and Afro-diasporic epistemolo gies from Latin America in queer ways, prioritizing “nonnormative embodied femininity as sources of knowing and perceiving,” and thereby providing a means in which to articulate submerged and emergent perspectives to perceive the world against the destructive forces of extractive capital.23 To alter one’s per ception in such ways is to better attend to those unperceivable or unnoticeable events that colonial logics have stifled. Perceiving in this way is about construct ing realities and entanglements from what is already there, already present. The nonhuman transmogrifications and intimacies in Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro similarly build on this mode of queer femme perception, yet they stress how human-nonhuman transmogrifications, multispecies intimacies, and transma terial becomings are crucial to sensing an anticolonial world. It is not only about perceiving what is, by spotting what is already there, though underexamined or ignored, but actively committed to composing a reality that might not oth erwise be, that might need to be willed into existence to make for something else. Here is where the Guadalupe tree materializes and, in turn, materializes alternate configurations of the human, the nonhuman, and the world.

The two title phrases, divided by an em-dash, signal to the reader how the tree, in Anzaldúa’s various referencing of it across the manu script, is many things. It is lifegiving. It is the Virgen de Guadalupe. It is part, of, and with the Earth. It is an intimacy, like a friend, like a lover, and an actual merging of human and nonhuman to become one. She narrates such becom ings thusly:Today I walk to the ocean, to my favorite tree, what I call la Virgen’s tree. Most days, I put my arms around the tree and we have una “pla tica” (talk), but today I straddle and stretch out on la Virgen’s gnarly protruding roots, thick as a horse’s back, absorbing the tree’s energy, in kinship with it. . . . With my back against its trunk, I meditate, allow ing it to absorb my body into its being; my arms become its branches, my hair its leaves, its sap the blood that flows in my veins. I look at the broken and battered raíces dangling down the edge of the cliff, then stare up at the trunk. I listen to the sea breathing us in and out with its wet sucking sounds, feel the insects burrow into our skin, observe the birds hopping from rama to rama, sense people taking shade under our arms.24 This is an erotically charged scene of encounter and then transmogrification. There is the initial encounter between human and nonhuman Virgen/tree, both discrete and autonomous subjects, wherein the human puts “arms around” in an embrace, followed by the straddling and stretching across “protruding roots, thick as a horse’s back.” The scene of encounter between distinctly different “ . . . the queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic found in these writings demonstrate how we do the messy work of creating these other kinds of consciousness, realities, epistemologies, aesthetics, and worlds.

Gonsalez  639 / creating these other kinds of consciousness, realities, epistemologies, aesthet ics, and worlds. Transmogrifications take center stage, and The Virgen de Guadalupe tree exemplifies this transformational promiscuity. Queerly inhu manist transformations occur, for instance, when the Guadalupe tree returns in a later section of the manuscript titled “El árbol de la vida—la Virgen de Guadalupe’s tree.”

ASAP/Journal  640 / beings turns into a scene of becoming tree/Virgen/human. Anzaldúa becomes the Virgen tree, and the Virgen tree becomes Anzaldúa, where the narrative voice itself reflects such a becoming one together. Even more enticing, this becoming is one that ushers in another erotic scene, though now no longer between human and tree as it is in the beginning of the passage. Rather, the erotic manifests between their newly combined transmogrification and the rest of the world around them: “the sea breathing us in and out with wet sucking sounds, feel the insects burrow into our skin.” They are now indistinguish able beings. There is no Cartesian distinction between mind and body, and no rational and irrational binary. Concern for the self is a concern for a larger, more entangled web of entities. The human is suprahuman, a nonhuman entity erotically cohabiting with another nonhuman entity like that of sea air and insects. All this unfolds as a textual experience. Anzaldúa’s prose is alluringly vivid and sensuous, all the while executed in a distinctly queer inhumanist autobiographic mode. The scene of writing is otherworldly transmogrification itself.

Another human-nonhuman transmogrification transpires when Anzaldúa finds a snake in her house. She informs the reader this snake has visited her twice in the span of ten years, as well as having crossed paths with her in a dream. After dreaming with this snake, two days later she encounters another in Lighthouse Field State Beach, which is where the Guadalupe tree lives. She is unable to determine if these were “real” snakes or not, but she maintains that this distinction between real and unreal is irrelevant since “we must redefine the imagination not as a marginal nonreality nor as an altered state but, rather, as another type of reality.”25 Our imaginings create reality, in her understand ing, as well as creating routes for healing on a planet structured by systems of domination, violence, and oppression. Nevertheless, she interprets the snake sightings as a sign, and identifies the snake as a guardian spirit, a form of heal ing spirituality. Though unspecified whether it is the snake that entered her living room, or another encounter with the snake guardian spirit, she narrates a deeply visceral, entangled experience of being-with the víbora, “a deep stillness comes over me. I’m aware of my breath and my heartbeat, but nothing else. Time collapses. Mi cuerpo becomes part of, merges with, ‘disappears’ into my surroundings.” This encounter with the snake culminates in a transformational “ The scene of writing is otherworldly transmogrification itself. ”

“My body sends tendrils of awareness from my solar plexus to the snake’s body, and my consciousness flows out along these threads and into la víbora. My tongue becomes her tongue, testing and tasting the air.”26 Like before with the transmogrification scene with the Guadalupe tree, Anzaldúa traces the convergences of distinct bodies and then their ultimate becoming one. The anecdote is punctuated by erotically tinged language: the “tendrils” sent out through the solar plexus, and their subsequent flowing into the snake. From such human-animal and nonhuman-animal erotics comes transforma tion. Her tongue is the snake’s tongue, both human and snake, tasting the air, sensing out the world from this new form. These transmogrifications occur within the context and conventions of a schol arly dissertation intended for publication. Anzaldúa did not share any of her drafts with her dissertation committee or undertake any other common proto cols affiliated with dissertation writing and doctoral program degree timelines.27 Such queerly inhuman passages put pressure on our categorical essentialisms by evidencing how the critical, scholarly, and autobiographic can work in tan dem. The queer inhumanist anticolonial autobiographic idiom operationalized in these writings is utilized as a form of knowledge production that refuses to be disqualified as illegitimate because it is not objective and impersonal, not sequestered or transcendent from the world but rather contingent and relational to human animals and nonhuman animals, animate and inanimate beings, producing situated embodied knowledge. This speaks to what Anzaldúa iden tifies as autohistoria-teoría, an assemblage of autobiography (anecdotes, lore, supernatural experiences), myth, theory, history, dreamings, linguistics, and spiritualism. Autohistoria-teoría is a way of storytelling that blends the personal and critical, individual and plural, secular and spiritual, human and nonhuman, all in order to rework existing epistemologies, ontologies, and perceptions. This concept is much like Lorde’s biomythography, where “the term,” as Karen Weekes elaborates, “reflects the biography of the figure who speaks for collec tive experience, along with a mythologizing impulse that enlarges this quotidian figure and inscribes it—in its both mundane and legendary aspects—into a con temporary cultural mythology.”28 Or like Saidiya Hartman’s “the chorus,” the ways in which Black people have collaborated and improvised the space of enclo sure, where “the vehicle for another kind of story, not of the great man or the tragic hero, but one in which all modalities play a part, where the headless group incites change, where mutual aid provides the resource for collective action, not

Gonsalez  641 becoming-one:/

Tonally, the preface of the book diverges from the other pieces of the disserta tion. It is presented in a more standardized and conventional scholarly stylistic voice. Yet Anzaldúa also deviates from the regularized idiom of the scholar, and such stylistic diverging adds further dimensions to the transmogrificatory aesthetic I have been outlining. The preface is written close to the time of her death. It is as if she knows through some kind of divine foresight that the end is near and some kind of preface, an act of prefacing one’s unassembled fragments, revisions, chapters, would be needed. It is the closest we get to writing that can be considered dissertation-like: “Using a multidisciplinary approach and a ‘storytelling’ format, I theorize my own and others’ struggles for representation, identity, self-inscription, and creative expressions”; “By focusing on Chicana/ mestiza (mexicana tejana) experience and identity in several axes—writer/ artist, intellectual, scholar, teacher, woman, Chicana, feminist, lesbian, working class—I attempt to analyze, describe, and re-create these identity shifts.”30 More of these kinds of scholarly stylistic flourishes occur in the eight pages of preface. Simultaneously, however, she works against such conclusive, definitive, declara tive language: “I use various storytelling formats consistent with the experiences that I reflect on, and I use whatever language and style correspond to the ways I do the work. . . . I don’t write from any single disciplinary position,” she declares to the reader.31 She explicitly invokes a nonhierarchical, multispecies, transmate rial, and entangled worldview for what she imagines the project to be: We are connected to el cenote via the individual and collective árbol de la vida, and our images and ensueños emerge from that connection, from the self-in-community (inner, spiritual, nature/animals, racial/ ethnic, communities of interest, neighborhood, city, nation, planet, galaxy, and the unknown universes).32

The tree is invoked again in this passage as a transformational entity that radi ates throughout these pages and is summoned by/through/with Anzaldúa to speak to the nonhuman assemblages needed to alter our relation to reality. She uses the language of the scholar, those oft-overlooked stylistic conventions like

ASAP/Journal  642 / leader and mass, where the untranslatable songs and seeming nonsense make good the promise of revolution.”29 Lorde, Hartman, and Anzaldúa’s terms form chimerical genres that allow for more capacious ways of understanding the self, scholarly inquiry, autobiographic practice, and the networks of entanglement that are possible therein.

The construction of a dissertation, of critical and creative knowledge, she tellingly reminds us, is owed gratitude to entities like a tree, a cliff, a lighthouse, and the ocean. “You arrive at your aboreal amada, the giant gnarled cypress you’re in love with,” she notes in her chapter on the writing and creative process, vis iting the Guadalupe tree in the early mornings before she undertakes extensive writing, “You “ Healing of self and community happens in the unceasing process of becoming, of thinking, and of writing. ”

Anzaldúa is attempting something, to put it bluntly, messy. The “messy mate riality of her archive,” as scholar Suzanne Bost notes, is testament to the kind of aesthetic practice she develops.33 This messiness continuously takes center stage in the otherwise human transmogrifications and intimacies across the book, par ticularly troubling distinctions crucial to colonial rationality such as self/other, human/nonhuman, rational/irrational, and real/unreal. For Anzaldúa, the self, particularly as writer and the writing, is processual and prone to change: “You realize it’s the process that’s valuable and not the end product, not the new you, as that will change often throughout life.”34 The I constitutes itself through and with the differences of other human and nonhuman entities and is thus trans mogrifying. Healing of self and community happens in the unceasing process of becoming, of thinking, and of writing. And this process of restoration is realized by acknowledging all the becomings and matterings that shape us, and the con texts we inhabit. In her acknowledgments for the project, for instance, Anzaldúa gives thanks to The Virgen de Guadalupe tree: “To nature for inspiring me, Lighthouse Field, the Guadalupe tree on West Cliff.”35

Gonsalez  643 / the declarative statements that denote the disciplinary boundaries and meth ods used, and the projections of where the work will go, what will happen, and how it will end. However, as the examples above demonstrate, she subverts these scholarly syntaxes in the very use of them. She makes herself legible as a scholar but then challenges that very legibility. In the preface, she crafts a style, a tone, a scholarly-creative voice that suits her aesthetic goals. Her phrase “self-incommunity” is revealing for how she wants this dissertation to conjure forth the autobiographical and a commons, the self in dialogue with communities imag ined and unimaginable, for more than just a scholarly audience. She advocates a writing of the self that is more than the individual, more than just human, nation, planet, and universe.

You hate having incompletes hovering over you—the all-butdissertation doctoral degree, the projects promised—but what you hate most is passing something off as finished when you feel it isn’t, when it hasn’t lived up to its potential. Disgusted with yourself, you look around your study. Every surface is covered with folders, faxes, requests for sub missions and letters of recommendation, manuscripts sent by friends and strangers who want you to write introductions or blurbs for the cover or take a few days out of your life to critique their five-hundredpage masterpieces. You’re angry at your own internal demands that you should be able to do everything. You resent the pressure—your own and that of editors, publishers, and readers—to produce.37

One must likewise take into acknowledgement how Anzaldúa’s queerly inhu manist aesthetic experimenting in Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro goes against the normativized demands for scholarly and creative productivity. Scenes of inactivity, contemplation, and writer’s block abound, and they must be taken into account as part and parcel of her transmogrificatory aesthetic. This demand to produce weighs on Anzaldúa, and transforms her notions of self, reality, and her relation to precarity.

ASAP/Journal  644 / sit between its thick exposed roots and let them cradle you.”36 The tree is a lover to Anzaldúa. Her “amada,” which cradles her, caressing and caring for her body in its gnarled roots, before the labors of writing and thinking begin. The tree is integral to her writing process and work ethic. The Guadalupe tree returns time and time again, establishing to the reader the necessity of needing to think a multispecies, multimaterial politic for how we acknowledge and understand care. The tree is not an entity to be cut down or extracted for its economic value. The tree is not deemed unimportant or dislocated from human ecologies and networks. Rather, as Anzaldúa’s acknowledgements and her positing of the tree as a lover demonstrate, the tree is important for mutual well-being, essential to everyday intimacies, pleasures, and sustenance. Our worldviews expand by such understandings of human-nonhuman transmogrifications that allow room for an ethico-political sensibility centering on care, restoration, coentanglement, and making livable worlds for humans and nonhumans alike.

How heavy falls the final, “—to produce.” The concluding em dash drawing the reader’s attention to that burdensome infinitive, to produce, followed by that emphatic period, all of which connote the taxing conditions of existing

Let us return to the introductory vignette of Anzaldúa witnessing the trans mogrifying Guadalupe tree. This scene opens chapter two, “Flights of the Imagination: Rereading/Rewriting Realities,” chapter in which Anzaldúa grapples with perception, reality, and trauma. Situated in the beginning of this chapter, the transmogrifying Guadalupe tree evidences the need to understand reality as many reconstructions and uncanny transformations of matter and form that normative understandings of perception and reality would actively discount, disavow, and criminalize. Re/constructing reality, or being with the strangeness of the ever-transmogrifying Guadalupe tree, is an ongoing process, a writing practice, and a mode of being/knowing that centers a healing that the fantastic can provide. “We revise reality by altering our consensual agreements about what is real, what is just and fair,” Anzaldúa posits, postulating the need

Gonsalez  645 / within capitalist modernity. The words, em dashes, and periods in this para graph materialize as more than just a means to express oneself. The conditions of the human body—overworked, stressed out, ill, overcome by the demands to read, to comment, to think, to write, to produce—transmogrify into ink and paper. Anzaldúa takes shape in/as the writing, transforming her state of mind and bodily condition into a prose that startles us.

The em dashes, in particular, literalize the struggling she outlines, as well as enacting her resistance to such destructive demands. The em dash is a breaking, a severing, an accentuating, a connecting, a paying attention, a stylistic touch that asserts a disruption on normative syntactic time. We must follow the path of the line to what comes no matter how jarring, discomfiting, or displeasing to the reader. We must move with these lines, feeling and sensing in the cuts across white space they make, schematizing as they do the human body put and pressured to work. The transmogrified self emerges in these em dashes. In Anzaldúa’s formulation, their disruptive and digressive nature is the autobi ographical. Her telling description of production’s demands is not exceptional. She writes the personal that can speak for so many who live with the pressures of productivity in order to survive in societies structured by coloniality and cap italism. Documenting this pressure to produce, in this candidly embodied prose and provocatively presented grammatical execution, speaks to the arduous labor involved in transforming what is and what might be. The writing needs to move differently and express differently from the regimented protocols of productivity and legibility if another consciousness and reality is to become possible.

These otherworldly beings, configured in part by settler colonial moderni ties, shape other kinds of worlds away from the structures of coloniality. The Guadalupe tree’s transfigured self outwardly refuses the limitations of what must be, and what is, which settler colonial rationality imposes. Such inhuman ist transmogrifications create possibilities for epistemic and aesthetic production that then “begins with the impulse to push boundaries, to shape ideas, images, and words that travel through the body and echo in the mind into something that has never existed. The writing process is the same mysterious process that we use to make the world.”40 The Guadalupe tree is this being that pushes us into the realm of the “never existed,” where what cannot be is, and which is what we must strive after and aspire toward. Inexplicable, though sensed and known, Anzaldúa figures such otherworldly beings and phenomena as ones that alter the human body and consciousness, allowing for writing and thinking that has never existed. The never existing—in this case, a transmogrifying entity like a Monterey cypress tree that is La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Virgen de Guadalupe that is a Monterey cypress—becomes a critical site of aesthetic and epistemic possibility. We must dwell in that space of the never existing in order to determine what can come into existence.

ASAP/Journal  646 / to rethink our relationships to reality so we can usher in complex forms of healing that can work with the fragmentation colonization and social oppres sion have wrought: “We can trans-shape reality by changing our perspectives and perceptions. By choosing a different future, we bring it into being.”38

The transmogrifying Guadalupe tree exemplifies her anticolonial approach to reality, one built from Catholic imagery derived from her Tejana Mexican American background and recuperated for otherworldly purposes, queerly nonhuman anticolonial means. “I need a different way of organizing reality,” Anzaldúa writes, and had she had more time to think on this sentence, return ing to it as she returned to the Guadalupe tree, to her writings published and unpublished, she would have possibly edited reality into realities.39 For her writing, her many writings, prove to us there is more than one, more than a, more than self The Guadalupe tree is not just a container for thematic concerns or a useful metaphorization of hybridity. It is not a figment of imagination. The trans formational becomings of the Guadalupe tree are a material literalization of an actual being, transmogrifying multispecies and multimaterial assemblages, con stituted by interlaced realities, and consequently shaping the material world.

Notes 1 Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark ⁄ Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 23. 2 Ibid., 1. 3 In her introduction to The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, AnaLouise Keating strikingly remarks in this way about Anzaldúa’s approach to her work: “Her careful, deliberate writing process relies on rigorous self-excavation, multiple revisions, and extraordinary,

Gonsalez  647 / Light in the Dark ⁄ Luz en lo oscuro strikingly presents the possibilities for a queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic. The chimerical genre-bending Anzaldúa performs in these writings, the queer inhumanist transmogrifica tory mode that emerges, tests the limits of the autobiographic, the scholarly, the dissertation, and the book form. These challenges to form imagine a nonhierarchical, multispecies, transmaterial, and anticolonial aesthetic practice that is always emergent, always forming, always transmogrifying.

Attuning ourselves to a queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic frame work and critical sensibility is an unsettling endeavor. Such an effort asks us to call into question what we hold to be true, what we hold as common sense, what we hold to be reality itself. It is risky to reimagine reality, to trans mogrify ourselves into many-mattered, many-formed entities, ones responsive, participatory, and open-minded toward entanglements that do not reinscribe what we have already known for so long. By doing so, we allow ourselves to discern what may otherwise have been foreclosed or unimaginable. Is the tree in the front yard, or on the city block, an entity that holds unexpected multitudes? How might those multitudes alter our sensibilities, perceptions, senses, ethics, and politics about the world we are in, part of, and shaping?

What other modes of relating and being-together are possible with the tree in the front yard or city block? Tapping into a queer inhumanist transmogrifica tory aesthetic and sensibility allows for the quotidian to become more than the quotidian—a tree as entity as becoming-many—all enfolded in a thrillingly animate, affecting, and world-shifting dynamism. The Guadalupe tree is the exemplar of this labor-intensive aesthetic work. She transmogrifies into her peculiar multitudes, nurturing and revitalizing in her many-shapes, guiding us into unimagined elsewheres, worlds comprised of this one and others here tofore known. The Guadalupe tree is there on the edge of the cliff, rooted yet malleable, as Anzaldúa met her and became one with her, waiting.

12 See Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 198–201.

11 María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 282.

13 In their introduction to an ASAP/ Journal special issue on “Queer Form,” Kadji Amin, Amber Jamilla Musser, and Roy Pérez explicate on the ways, “[ f ]orm informs queerness, and queerness is best understood as a series of relations to form, relations not limited to binary and adversarial models of resistance and opposition.” They particularly make the gambit that form and aesthetic inquiry are important to social critique and queer of color theorizing in part because they don’t hamstring artists of color to serve merely representational or identity-based readings. I similarly read Anzaldúa’s work in

ASAP/Journal  648 / painstaking attention to image, metaphor, and individual word choice. Flesh becomes text as she intensely self-reflects and strives for words that can move through the body, transforming herself and her readers on multiple levels.” Writing itself was a transformational act, for reader and writer, as Keating suggests. AnaLouise Keating, “Introduction: Reading Gloria Anzaldúa, Reading Ourselves. . . . Complex Intimacies, Intricate Connections,” The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 8. 4 Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark, 1. 5 Ibid., 196. 6 Ibid., 102. 7 Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). 8 Ibid., x. 9 Betsy Dahms explicates on the shamanic qualities of Anzaldúa’s writing, where her perpetual desire to revise her writings (even after being published) is the quest for “a more whole representation of her experience.” For more on the shamanic features of Anzaldúa and the role of revising writing in self-making, see Betsy Dahms, “Shamanic Urgency and Two-Way Movement as Writing Style in the Works of Gloria Anzaldúa,” Letras Femeninas 38, no. 2 (Winter 2012): 9–27; AnaLouise Keating, “Speculative Realism, Visionary Pragmatism, and Poet-Shamanic Aesthetics in Gloria Anzaldúa—and Beyond,” in “Enchantment,” ed. Ann Burlein and Jackie Orr, Women’s Studies Quarterly 40, nos. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2012): 51–69. 10 AnaLouise Keating, in her introduction to the book, speaks to Anzaldúa’s writing process in this way: “After completing several pre-drafts, Anzaldúa developed her first draft, which she would then begin to revise. She reread this draft multiple times, making extensive changes that involved some or all of the following acts: rearranging individual words, entire sentences, and paragraphs; adding or deleting large chunks of material; copying and repeating especially significant phrases; and inserting material from other works in progress.” AnaLouise Keating, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark, xii.

14 Special issues like GLQ’s “Queer Inhumanisms,” TSQ’s “Tranimalities,” and Social Text’s “Interspecies” have anthologized necessary interruptions in how we theorize the human and nonhuman, stressing, rather than willfully overstepping, the importance of not evacuating the human from socially constituted axes like race, gender, ability, and nationality that configure both the human and the nonhuman. For more on the intersections between race, sexuality, and new materialist inquiry, see Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (New York: New York University Press, 2020); Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

15 Dana Luciano and Mel Y Chen, “Introduction: Has the Queer Ever Been Human?” in “Queer Inhumanisms,” ed. Mel Y. Chen and Dana Luciano, special issue, GLQ 21, nos. 2–3 (2015): 196.

Similar to the concerns over Equiano’s autobiographical slave narrative, the genre form known as testimonio—and standout here is K’iche’ Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú’ s testimonio, I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala—produces its own particular tensions under the umbrella of autobiography. Critics have for some time critiqued the limits of the testimonio and its claims to the autobiographic because of the kind of mediation it requires to give voice to the subaltern, its effort to represent the Global South subject for a Global North readership. Autobiographical legibility, which, like the

Gonsalez  649 / this critical light by paying close attention to the form of her writing, and how the form of her writing unlocks queer inhumanist transmogrificatory aesthetic strategies. Kadji Amin, Amber Jamilla Musser, and Roy Pérez, “Queer Form: Aesthetics, Race, and the Violences of the Social,” in “Queer Form,” ed. Kadji Amin, Amber Jamilla Musser, and Roy Pérez, special issue, ASAP/ Journal 2, no. 2 (May 2017): 228.

16 Claire Jean Kim, Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 287. Like the human who can be animalized and thingified, nonhuman animals and nonhuman matter can be racialized, gendered, disabled, and otherwise constituted along axes of human difference.

17 Jackson, Becoming Human, 46. 18 Lisa Lowe’s reading of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography in her book, The Intimacy of Four Continents, is formative for outlining the limits of autobiography and how the formerly enslaved person’s narrative, “calls attention to the tensions and inconsistencies that arise when the genre of liberty shapes the story of a former slave.” Lisa Lowe, The Intimacy of Four Continents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 47. These tensions arise where the genre that is autobiography, premised on the narrating of overcoming one’s struggles through industrious individualism, the freedom of free will and autonomy, to transcend the limits on the self, is a way of eliding the structural conditions that allowed for, and perpetuated, enslavement of African peoples.

21 “There is no modernity without coloniality,” Walter Mignolo writes in the preface to his seminal text Local Histories/Global Designs, “and that coloniality is constitutive, and not derivative, of modernity.” Walter D. Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (2000; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), ix. This inseparability of modernity/coloniality, of modernity

20 Scholars writing autobiographically have articulated the liberal humanist limits of autobiography, as well as how else to imagine the genre. In his posthumously published autobiographical book, Familiar Stranger, Stuart Hall sets out not to write “a memoir in any formal sense” but to articulate “the connections between ‘a life’ and ‘ideas’ ” and, by doing so, refuses the logics and strictures of the autobiographic. Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 10. Throughout his antimemoir, Hall cites the Trinidadian theorist C. L. R. James and his autobiographical book on cricket, Beyond a Boundary, as an antecedent: “This book is neither cricket reminiscences nor autobiography,” James asserts in the preface, “It poses the question What do they know of cricket who only cricket know? To answer involves ideas as well as facts.” C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary (1963; Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), xxvii. In an interview with scholar David Scott, Sylvia Wynter, when asked if she would write an autobiography, articulates how “I have never been able to think that way. I don’t know quite how to explain it. My generation, I think, would find it impossible to emphasize the personal at the expense of the political—even speaking to Richard Hart you would find the same thing, that his autobiography would be linked up with those political movements. The idea of what happens to you would always remain a secondary subject, because that’s how you lived and experienced it. The circumstances have changed, and one would experience it quite differently now.” “The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,” by David Scott, small axe, no. 8, (September 2000): 137.

19 In his tract on the animal, The Animal That Therefore I Am (2002), a text many have turned to when posing the concerns around thinking the nonhuman, Derrida elaborates on how the Western philosophical tradition premised itself on the severing of the philosopher from his philosophy, the self from the ideas. This, in turn, allowed for the production of knowledge to codify and legitimize itself as a rational, impersonal, objective, and universal undertaking removed from the self that is the philosopher.

ASAP/Journal  650 / popular slave autobiographies of those like Equiano and Frederick Douglass, demands a transcendence from the masses, an overcoming of political struggle through free will and good moral compass. See Georg M. Gugelberger, ed, The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). For more contemporary analyses of testimonio, see Kimberly A. Nance, Can Literature Promote Social Justice: Trauma Narrative and Social Action in Latin American Testimonio (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2006); Dolores Delgado Bernal, Rebeca Burciaga, and Judith Flores Carmona, eds. Chicana/Latina Testimonios as Pedagogical, Methodological, and Activist Approaches to Social Justice (London: Routledge, 2017).

Gonsalez  651 / being instantiated by colonization, dispossession, and enslavement, is foundational to pinpointing how narrating being human and liberal subjectivity is tethered to modernity and coloniality, to the making of a new world order that holds U.S./European epistemes and subjectivities as center and all others as peripheral. 22 Decolonial theory, and important thinkers like Chela Sandoval, Walter Mignolo, Macarena Gómez-Barris, Emma Pérez, María Lugones, and Aníbal Quijano, are critical for thinking other ways of constituting humanness, coloniality, and the Americas at large. 23 Macarena Gómez-Barris, The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 9. 24 Ibid., 67. 25 Ibid., 37. 26 Ibid., 27. 27 AnaLouise Keating, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark, xiv. 28 Karen Weekes, “Othered Writers, Other Forms: Biomythography and Automy thography,” Genre 39, no. 2 (June 2006): 337. 29 Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (New York: Norton), 348. 30 Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark, 3. 31 Ibid., 4. 32 Ibid., 5. 33 Suzanne Bost, “Messy Archives and Materials That Matter: Making Knowledge with the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers,” PMLA 130, no. 3 (May 2015): 615. 34 Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark, 43. 35 Ibid., 161. 36 Ibid., 96. 37 Ibid., 110–11. 38 Ibid., 21. 39 Ibid., 43. 40 Ibid., 5.

Suzanne Bost

Loosen the dead hand of traditional disciplines and habits in order to allow a new way of doing things to emerge. —Gloria Anzaldúa, writing notas1 ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 653–678 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press.

SUZANNE BOST (SHE/HER/HERS) is Professor of English, and Affiliate in Women’s and Gender Studies, at Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of three books, Mulattas and Mestizas: Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850–2000 (U of Georgia, 2003), Encarnación: Illness and Body Politics in Chicana Feminist Literature (Fordham, 2009), and Shared Selves: Latinx Memoir and Ethical Alternatives to Humanism (U of Illinois, 2019). She has also published numerous articles on Latinx literature, archival practices, disability studies, and posthumanism and co-edited, with Frances Aparicio, The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature (2012). Her current work explores “quiet” methodologies and collaborative forms of creativity. She is also in the process of rethinking her previous arguments about intimacy and permeability in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The question then becomes not so much what is a queer orientation, but how are we orientated toward queer moments when objects slip. Do we retain our hold of these objects by bringing them back “in line”? Or do we let them go, allowing them to acquire new shapes and directions? —Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (2006)2

T he work of ANZALDÚAGLORIA taught me that sometimes rules must be broken, tired ways of thinking


In this collaged essay, I develop and practice a radical research method, one that gets at the root of what we do with “data” and expands beyond the assumed parameters of scholarly labor. In order to highlight the material processes of archival research, I focus on nonliterary objects, things that are opaque and con fusing. I won’t say they aren’t texts, because we can “read” them in many ways, but we can’t look through them to get to the layer of content. In my many visits to the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, I have turned and returned my attention to these objects, but they never resolve into any single thesis. With them, I reflect on the various ways (and ethics) of making meaning, focusing in particular on my capacities and responsibilities as a scholar.

ASAP/Journal  654 / pulled out by the roots. I anticipate that most of my readers already know something about the ways in which ANZALDÚA broke rules governing language, identity, and genre, but some of her lesser-known works challenge ideas more fundamental than these. Her never-defended doctoral dissertation, which was published in 2015 as Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro, challenges the belief in one empirical reality: “Spirit and mind, soul and body, are one, and together they perceive a reality greater than the vision experienced in the ordinary world.”

A few critical works have been particularly important in motivating this proj ect.4 In Queer Phenomenology (2006), Sara Ahmed ascribes meaning-making capacities to the objects, like tables, that orient our lives and give shape to our

3 ANZALDÚA was a shapeshifter, a seer, a believer in afterlives. This expansive otherworldly epistemology is particularly palpable in the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, the massive archive left by ANZALDÚA when she died in 2004. In this unruly collection of objects—drawings, artifacts, magazine clippings, and multiple versions of written documents—the author “loosen[s] the dead hand” of academic orientations, defying empirical archival research. My question, then, is how this looseness should alter the ways in which we read and write about ANZALDÚA’S work. How should we process such archival cacophony? What sort of claims can we make about ideas that transcend what we perceive in “the ordinary world”?

In Ordinary Affects (2007), Kathleen Stewart’s explicit intent is to honor the fluid capacity of things we encounter. She arranges verbal clusters (prefiguring the one-hundred-word units she and Lauren Berlant later used in The Hundreds [2019]) not to tell a story but to animate the affects of everyday life. Says Stewart, I am “[c]ommitted not to the demystification and uncovered truths that support a well-known picture of the world, but rather to speculation, curiosity, and the concrete.”6 In highlighting the clunky activities and processes that attend the transmission of knowledge rather than simply pointing to meaning, I am, like Stewart, “trying to create a contact zone for analysis.”7 One way of avoiding the illusion of transparency is to disrupt linear communication. I am inspired by Stewart’s gathering of everyday scenes and encounters in collage-like juxta positions; her opaque scenes lead to three-dimensional exploration rather than passive consumption.

Images and objects played a central role in Anzaldúa’s writing methodology. In the preface to Light in the Dark, Anzaldúa discusses the ways in which her work is mediated by images; her knowledge emerges in engagement with the world she encounters:Informulating new ways of knowing, new objects of knowledge, new per spectives, and new orderings of experiences, I grapple, half-unconsciously,

She invites us to re-encounter and reorient ourselves to these objects: To re-encounter objects as strange things is . . . not to lose sight of their history but to refuse to make them history by losing sight. Such wonder directed at the objects that we face, as well as those that are behind us, does not involve bracketing out the familiar but rather allows the famil iar to dance again with life.5 Engaging the archive as a living, fluid entity keeps it in “sight” rather than on the dusty shelves of history. And honoring the objects we face with wonder, rather than pinning them down as already known, allows them to “dance again with life” that might exceed our comprehension. Can we replicate this aliveness in the static form of print and paper? Most scholarly arguments implicitly shut down the vital possibilities of an object by establishing one avenue for experi encing it.

Bost  655 movements./

Who am I to say what someone else’s work means? Inspire. Touch. Be touched. Map. Get mapped. Do not let language contain you. From this perspective, there are no “secondary” methods. All our works intra-act together.10


This object invites me into a space of fantasy, discovery, and intimacy with another. It welcomes me to enter—the hotel room door, the vaginal opening to the mythic grass shack, and, presumably, the “exotic” woman who shares her legs with viewers—but I am loath to participate in this use of the image. I do not go in. I might wonder instead why it was saved in Gloria Anzaldúa’s archive. What stories lie behind it? This, too, is an empirical research ques tion that I do not intend (and really would not be able) to answer. Trying to answer these questions would probe inner worlds that are not mine. This sign shares space in a document folder, labeled “Miscellaneous Memorabilia,” with

ASAP/Journal  656 / with a new methodology—one that I hope does not reinforce prevailing modes. . . . I come to knowledge and conocimiento through images and “stories.” . . . I gain frameworks for theorizing everyday experiences by allowing the images to speak to and through me, imagining my ways through the images and following them to their deep cenotes, dialogu ing with them, and then translating what I’ve glimpsed.8

In another passage from the same preface, Anzaldúa rejects “the old critical language” as well as “secondary methods,” favoring the primary method of cre ation over the derivative level of analysis and evaluation: I cannot use the old critical language to describe, address, or contain the new subjectivities. Using primary methods of presentation (autohisto ria) rather than secondary methods (interpreting other people’s conclu sions), I reflect on the psychological/mythological aspects of my own expression. I scrutinize my wounds, touch the scars, map the nature of my conflicts, croon to las musas (the muses) that I coax to inspire me, crawl into the shapes the shadow takes, and try to speak with them.9

Rather than imposing preexisting frameworks on new objects of knowledge, Anzaldúa allows them to speak “to and through” her, and she is transformed in the process.

Bost  657 / another doorknob placard, from Hotel Fiesta Americana Tijuana, which has “No Molestar” (do not disturb) printed on one side and “Favor de Hacer el Aseo” (please do the cleaning) on the other. The preserva tion and juxtaposition of these two placards make them a composite object of analysis in Anzaldúan studies, no longer an anonymous hotel room messaging system. The placard from Tijuana Mexicanizes the first (which isn’t necessarily the first; these objects are stuffed together loosely in the folder and surely become rearranged by the various research processes they meet), and “Come On In” sexualizes the “second” by means of the intellectual contamination that archival grouping creates. Although “no molestar” seems to be the opposite of “come on in,” asking for privacy also implies the possi bility of an encounter already in progress. Mysteriously, the “Come On In” placard has no message on the reverse side: no alternative, pure welcome. These objects ask questions about privacy and its opposites, about what happens in hotel rooms not our own. The folder of “Miscellaneous Memorabilia” also includes a bookmark embroi dered with Anzaldúa’s nickname, Prieta, and a ticket stub from a 1983 David Bowie concert at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. She saved everything. After Anzaldúa’s death, over two hundred file boxes of materials were transferred to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, where scholars now encounter hundreds of unpublished stories, poems, essays, and even entire book manuscripts, most in multiple, conflicting drafts.11

I have already written, in “Messy Archives and Materials that Matter” (2015), about the unpredictable and unending processes elicited by the materials that converge in archival research: those objects we consider to be the content of the archive itself (written texts with traces of the editing process and often doodles in the margin) along with the technologies that mediate our research (the limits and Figure 1. Doorknob placard (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, Box 5, Folder 13).

—Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart, The Hundreds (2019)13

Much time is spent searching for things that are needed to get started. But there are always treasures discovered. An object sets off a line of thinking.

ASAP/Journal  658 / possibilities of digital cameras, document request forms, and the ecosystem of the reading room). In my research experiences, my body and knowledge are con strained and enhanced by these commingled elements. Agency is not an object that a human either possesses or does not; agency comes in many shades and forms and emerges not just from humans or individuals but from relations with other-than-human elements. Toxic chemicals on the paper, preconceptions of value, and structures of authority all exert an influence on the library ecosystem.12 Materials in an archive are conventionally mined for “data” to defend a scholarly argu ment, but here I am thinking about my data as objects in themselves, three-dimensional and weighty. The Gloria Anzaldúa archive contains not just manuscripts but embroidered purses, prayer discs for “candle affirmations,” vitamin samples, and, as we’ve seen, doorknob placards. Rather than simply “reading” these objects, we handle them, flip them over, speculate about what the author did with them. In the process of encounter, we do not just gain new ideas but are also materially transformed. Paper contains markings that trigger intellectual response, but it also slices fingers, mildews, and disintegrates on its own. What matters here? My meditations on the blurred boundaries of archival objects takes the form of comparative analysis of texts and things (literary criticism and cultural critique), autotheory (developing theory based on personal encounter), and creative response. Recent insights in new materialisms, systems theory, object-oriented ontology, and posthumanism help to illuminate the status of archival things and the ways in which meaning is derived from them.


One of the most important research tools in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room at the Benson Latin American Collection is the Materials “ Materials in an archive are conventionally mined for “data” to defend a scholarly argument, but here I am thinking about my data as objects in three-dimensionalthemselves,andweighty. ”

Bost  659 / Request Form. Typically, one would see right through it as an object. It is a vehicle, the paper somewhat transparent even—a means of getting access to the “real” materials stored in the closed stacks. But what if we focus on this vehicle itself ? What if we, to borrow from Berlant and Stewart, “dilated”? (“Our cita tions are dilations. . . . [W]indup parentheses holding the things we think with: encounters, a word, a world, a wrinkle in the neighborhood of what happened, and reading we wouldn’t shake if we could. . . . [A]ll things are indirect sources.”14) Forms have requirements; they prescribe which words can and should go in which places. There is a place for box num ber and folder number; we are allowed to see up to three folders at a time. This is a wrin kle, compressing the potentiality of the archive into a narrow crease, thick but small enough that a researcher can presumably process it in a reasonable time frame without putting the “materials” in suspended danger. (The tables in the reading room are surely more dangerous than the archival box: pencils roll around, papers leave their folders, and laptops threaten to tear corners. All of these materials are the object here.) I dig into one piece of the archive—box 5, folder 2, for instance—and find recipes. Recipes with beautiful cadence and colorful ingredients, matters of ink and paper that I can turn into matters of enchiladas and sauce. Scholarship is alchemy: converting passive doc uments into theories, publications, honoraria, and dinner parties. But let’s dilate with one piece at a time. The Materials Request Form is both text— written words that record the doings of a moment—and object. The object consists of three layers: white on top, attached to yel low below, and pink down deeper. Triplicate.

Ghost requests. File copy: White. Researcher Figure 2. Materials Request Form, University of Texas Libraries. “ Scholarship is alchemy: converting passive documents into theories, publications, honoraria, and dinner parties. ”

ASAP/Journal  660 / copy: Yellow. Shelf copy: Pink. (How are filing and shelving distinct? Filing sounds important, saving, preserving, while to be “put on the shelf” can be a euphemism for neglect: not discarded, but also not kept free from dust.15) I have never received a yellow copy to take home with me, for my files, to dilate further, to open up to such an extent as to reach the limits of storage. Last I saw them, my yellow copies remained comfortably sandwiched between their white and pink siblings, presumably taking up space somewhere else—files, recycling bins, landfills. Yes, I have filled landfills and required the production of new forms from pulp. (Digitization would obviously help to cut down on the production and maintenance of paper but also present its own forms of environ mental aggression.)

What choices have gone into the design of the form, and under what constraints? Who determines the number of folders that a researcher can handle at once? Matters of security and preservation surely dictate some of these limits, as well as the capacities of the library staff. And what really happens to these request forms after they have been fulfilled? Gathering their data could tell us which materials are the most popular, could lead to speculations about taste, value, or critical relevance. We could also study the relationship between the business of libraries and the business of environmental degradation. We could develop theories without ever glimpsing the materials the archive was designed to house.

COLLECTION NAME OR RARE BOOK TITLE AND AUTHOR: RESEARCHER’S NAME: TODAY’S DATE: Answering these questions is a rite repeated by countless researchers in their processes of discovery. In a manuscript draft in the archive entitled “Magick and Poetry,” Anzaldúa talks about the rituals that go into her writing practice: meditation to quiet the mind, cleaning the chakras, symbol visualization, or “sympathetic magic” (defined as “the enactment of certain scenes to induce nature (or deity) to make it reality.”)16 My rituals include recording box and folder numbers, manic humming, and reviewing the archive catalog over and over again. These practices induce the appearance of folders full of papers to get into, cocked like loaded guns. There is a kind of magic, as Anzaldúa knows, in writers, texts, and readers as they transform each other in encounter. There is alchemy in the archive as shelved objects are opened to view and written about (as I right now am writing) and subject to public circulation. “Magic/writing

Bost  661 / becomes the development of techniques that allow communication with hidden parts of the self, and hidden parts of other ________.”17 The blank in this quote is original. The possibilities are endless, the hidden parts receding into an endless circuit of caves at the same time that they enter into communication. OBJECT: THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A POEM NameI it. Add a suffix. LookII up every word in the dictionary. ThinkIII of all possible implications of the metaphor. HumIV a few bars. MakeV plans for an operatic version. CloseVI your eyes. Close one eye at a time. ExperienceVIIIShout.VII a Coatlicue State.18 GiveIX birth. GetX tenure.

ASAP/Journal  662 / PutXI your ear against it. SqueezeXII it. RunXIII your finger along its edges. What are you touching right now? Inhale alongside the poem. Exhale. Feel your own hand, swollen with its breath. OBJECT: FUCK THE BAUHAUS I have long been a fan of collage and have been particularly inspired by the German artist Isa Genzken, whose sculptural works like Fuck the Bauhaus (2000) create seemingly chaotic three-dimensional environments. Genzken’s work is influenced by architecture, and her installations revolve around the Figure 3. Isa Genzken, MOMA Retrospective (2013–2014). Photo by Art Resource, Inc., © Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.19

Bennett proposes: I will try, impossibly, to name the moment of independence (from subjectivity) possessed by things, a moment that must be there, since things do in fact affect other bodies, enhancing or weakening their power. . . . I will try to give a voice to a vitality intrinsic to materiality,

Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010) begins with an accidental collage—a random collection of garbage that includes a bot tle cap and a dead rat—found in a sewer grate. Bennett notes how these items affected her and elicited a variety of questions about their human origins (lit tering, rat poison, etc.). But can we experience the world without asserting or projecting our own human authority over it?

Bost  663 / shared occupation of space. Collage is one of the tools she uses to expose the excess of things that proliferate in late capitalism, and Fuck the Bauhaus juxta poses objects like credit cards, mutilated dolls, and plastic construction fencing in order to highlight the problematic ways in which we are constructing our world. What I appreciate most in Genzken’s collages is their experiential com plexity, the shifting ground of viewers’ perceptions based on where they are standing and which pieces of the collage they hold in their mind at any given time. Value is textured and contingent: propeller, shell, food. In an essay on Genzken’s assemblage art from 1993 to 2013, Laura Hoptman notes how “the elements in all of Genzken’s three-dimensional works . . . cause them to inter act with the viewer and the space that surrounds them.” Genzken wants “not to represent the world but to be part of it.” The collages take viewers on a sort of “narrative journey” as they interact with various components and the other viewers around them.20

In walking through a gallery, you can see multiple pieces at once, back up, crouch low, or stand on tiptoes. Textual narrative, however, generally happens while sitting down. It is a linear process that operates sequentially while readers move their eyes across the pages. It is difficult to replicate in writing the simultaneity, environmentality, and sociality of architectural assemblage, but in this piece I gesture toward these experiences by juxtaposing unlike genres, including poems and visual images that defy linearity. Although it is impossible to see pages 14 and 21 at the same time, hopefully the friction between objects in my writing—and the multidimensional process of experiencing a collage in time and space—will keep this verbal assemblage alive, a text that is never fully owned.

ASAP/Journal  664 / in the process absolving matter from its long history of attachment to automatism or mechanism.21 I assume that the “impossibility” of this attempt lies in the fact that “nam ing” things makes them contingent on the subjectivity of the speaker. But this doesn’t mean that we have to regard things—as the anthropocentrism of Enlightenment Humanism has led us to believe—as inert matter until they develop meaning or purpose for a human. Bennett’s proposition has led me to reflect on the arrogance of conventional scholarship: humans assert knowledge claims about the outside world that can really be nothing other than projections of their own minds and creations of their own vocabularies. (I mean this as an ethical pronouncement rather than a postmodern one.) Bennett calls her pile of garbage a “contingent tableau” whose meaning resides in a particular context; she also recognizes that calling it garbage assumes, in Humanistic fashion, that its sole meaning lies in having been discarded by humans. What if, to borrow from Bennett, we approach our interactions with things as a horizontal experi ence, attending and listening without imposing a view from above? What if we “linger” in our encounters with objects, postpone critique, and appreciate their strangeness instead?22

Bennett’s use of “linger” resonates with an important contribution to Latinx studies, Joshua Javier Guzmán and Christina Léon’s essay “Cuts and Impressions: The Aesthetic Work of Lingering in Latinidad” (2015). “Latinidad” is, for Guzmán and Léon, loaded with internal contradictions, incoherence, and political contentiousness. Rather than claiming anything about latinidad with certitude, they propose that we “linger” within the term to unravel its complex ities and to disassemble its “sedimented” (or habituated) meanings.23 Working against “market-driven depictions of latinidad,” which “move too quickly in their desire to fully read subjects,” they propose that we pause and “remain with ambivalence, indeterminacy, and opacity.”24 This does not mean, in my interpretation, that scholars should silently stare at the object of their analysis. Rather, we must stop ourselves from reaching too quick of a conclusion and refrain from asserting as truth conditions that are actually contingent on partic ular encounters. In my desire to work ethically with the massive corpus left by Gloria Anzaldúa, I want to take time to linger, to look from multiple directions, to appreciate my own lack of understanding, and to mediate any claims I make with counterclaims that complicate singular interpretation. I want to pay tribute

Anzaldúa saved ten different folders—arranged by topics like “health,” “immi gration and border security,” and “astrology/psychic/supernatural”—filled with clippings to be used for story ideas. An article in a travel agency newsletter, “Tips on Staying Well While Traveling,” is circled and marked “idea for a poem.” The article focuses on the potential dangers of drinking tap water or consuming eggs in foreign countries. What sort of poem would that make?

One folder of story ideas includes dozens of pictures cut out of magazines and clothing catalogs, most from the 1980s. The ones that happened to be on top, as I opened the folder, are quite sexy: women (mostly Latinas) in lingerie and

Bost  665 / to the complexity of Anzaldúa’s archive rather than producing a flattened-out homage to my own position as a scholar. OBJECT: STORY IDEAS

Using both hands to hold in the remembered taste of too-strong eggs, I trip across the cobblestones, missing the basílica entirely, on my way to the bathroom. Or, Sitting in the outdoor café, feeling foreign, I feel something heavy, alien inside. Trying to come out. I wrote both of these poems. The first feels quite familiar and empirical to me, but the latter is more Anzaldúan (in my opinion of what that adjective means): it describes the thresholds of nahualism [shapeshifting] or perhaps a Coatlicue state. It recalls Anzaldúa’s poem “Interface” (published in Borderlands), in which a lesbian speaker gives birth to an alien woman inside her. It shifts around the meanings of “foreign” and “alien” to such an extent that they are muddled with the self, the here not there. But I am not here to write Anzaldúa’s poetry. I could just as well dispute the suitability of gastrointestinal bacteria as material for poetic composition. Instead, let’s leave poetry open to possible configura tions beyond my imagination.

bathing suits looking coyly over their shoulders and one man in overalls that fail to contain his bare pectoral muscles. A scholar could make all sorts of sala cious claims about Anzaldúa’s erotic life based on her choice to preserve these images, but why would we make claims about the sexuality of an author who so adamantly resisted “identity boxes,” who claimed that identity was a river that cannot be contained?25 Anzaldúa has done a lot of work to highlight the complexity of mestiza and queer identities; assigning sexual labels to her in her grave would be reductive. (Besides, one could, and I did, find other documents in the archive to indicate different erotic preferences.)

Figures 4 and 5. Story ideas: miscellaneous clippings (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, Box 83, Folder 11).

ASAP/Journal  666 /

Other story ideas include articles on immigrants held in detention centers, lesbian pregnancy, buskers, rock climbing, pyramid schemes, and yoga. I found a holi day catalog for Coldwater Creek featuring a blanket with “a design taken from the traditional Navajo wedding dress” and earrings in the shape of Kokopelli, a “rascal” trickster with a “good heart”—dozens of catalog descriptions begging for a critique of cultural appropriation, but I have no idea if that’s what Anzaldúa had in mind when saving them. There was even an American Family Publishers sweepstakes form preserved in the folder, with the entry ticket for “G Anzaldua”

Bost  667 / cut out. Was it ever mailed? The random clippings gathered in these folders reflect an order we can only guess at or maybe no order at all. The pleasure lies in their opacity, in wading through their dissonance and forming collages with our research and writing practices (as in the first two sentences of this paragraph).


I took photographs, during my most recent encounter in the archive, of four researchers huddled over Anzaldúa files in the chilled reading room, holding up interesting discoveries, making dinner after a long day in the library, but I don’t include those pictures here. I don’t want to privilege images of my own body, my friends and fellow scholars, or any single pose from our time in the library. These amazing humans certainly shaped my experience of the archive—asking and answering questions, sharing a rental car, plugging our laptops into shared outlets, dipping our chips into the same bowl of salsa at dinner—but let them remain anonymous (though still very specific). In the archive, we sit still. There is supposed to be silent and sterile communi cation between the materials contained in the archival folders and the educated mind of the researcher. But if we leave our bodies at home, how do we turn pages? How do we type notes? How do we feel the ghost of the author left in the thin depth of ink pressed into the page by a typewriter? How do we avoid outside contamination? There is NO FOOD in the archive. Not even water. No pens. No sweating, please. Silence your telephones. Although the archivists might shudder to hear it, the transference of the archive is a two-way street. The materials I examine leave a mark on me, and I leave a mark on the materials: airing the pages, forget ting the order of randomly gathered clippings, smudging paper with my barely visible prints. The archive and I share an intimate experience, passing the cup back and forth between our ideas, licking each other’s lips. Our learning is Thecommunal.irresolutely material qualities of the archive create real moments of physical contact, “ The archive and I share an intimate experience, passing the cup back and forth between our ideas, licking each others’ lips. Our learning is communal. ”


Here, my research for Encarnación: Illness and Body Politics in Chicana Feminist Literature (2009) trails Anzaldúa’s research.27 Even before being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Anzaldúa conducted extensive research about alternative diets and nutrition practices. She saved articles and clippings in numerous folders labeled “diet and nutrition,” “health,” and “recipes.” These are the folders where I linger, and this article about butcher’s broom (also known as Ruscus aculeatus) caught my eye because of its cross-species ambiguity and because it

ASAP/Journal  668 / provocation, and mystification. I’ve come to prefer these sorts of research meth ods not simply because they more realistically account for the process of making knowledge in and with an archive but also because they reflect the intellectual humility to which I am deeply committed. Contrary to their name, the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers do not uplift or isolate the author. Nor do they feed the ego of the researcher. It is impossible to “master” the 237 boxes of drafts, notes, recordings, doodles, and memorabilia Anzaldúa left at her death. Instead, these materials provide an ecosystem for experiencing dissonant ways that ideas and feelings circulate. Anzaldúa’s writing itself performs as it describes. Writing for her is an act of shamanism, of honoring the aliveness of the material and its readers: “I am playing with my Self, I am playing with the world’s soul.” My “stories” are acts encapsulated in time, “enacted” every time they are spoken aloud or read silently. I like to think of them as performances and not as inert or “dead” objects (as the aesthetics of Western culture think of art works). Instead, the work has an identity; it is a “who” or a “what” and contains the presences of persons, that is, incarnations of gods or ancestors or natural and cosmic powers. The work manifests the same needs as a person, it needs to be “fed,” la tengo que bañar y vestir 26 Something ephemeral is created in these acts, in each distinct iteration. These works are “cosmic” but embodied as people perform and care for them. They are recursive rather than linear. Anzaldúa regularly (and famously) shifts between modes and genres (poetry, essay, mito, corrido, . . .) to elicit what each has to offer, to unfold an experiential cacophony of presences and powers. What kinds of knowing do we shut down by choosing one orientation?

Bost  669 / occupies at least three or four dimensions. The body sketched in its center has incomplete outlines, and the shapes meant to represent the hypothetical circulation of the herbal sup plement butcher’s broom seem more tree than human, branches sweeping and cleansing with no clear direction. In addition to the written information about butcher’s broom provided by this May 1983 issue of Let’s LIVE (a vita min retailer’s magazine), there is a sample of the supplement in a small bag stapled to the upper right corner. I did not take the sample. Evidently, neither did Anzaldúa. But someone saved the sample and stored it with the article for preservation. Why? What happens to butcher’s broom when it has aged for thirty-six years? This example opens up questions about preservation. What do we preserve, and why? How is archiving different from hoarding? Why is hoarding con sidered perverse and archiving considered serious business? Based on the stuff I’ve found in the Anzaldúa archive, I would not conclude that the contents of archives have any more inherent value—only their association with a human figure whose stuff is deemed worthy of taking up perpetual space, crowding the library ecosystem. How are the unused vitamins of a famous writer distinct from the unused vitamins of someone who is not? In thinking of ecosystems, compost, recycling, and refuse all come to mind. Is there a cultural-organic process like composting that goes on in the archive? Certainly objects do not retain any “original” status once they are “preserved” in an archive. Is the article about butcher’s broom decaying in different ways because of its attachment to the actual supplement and the plastic bag (with its potentially rusting staple) that contains it? The dry crumbles of newspaper clippings I found in the John Rechy archive at Boston University are evidence of the fact that even the archives of living authors decompose. Preservation itself appears to be futile. But decomposition also involves (re)composition. Preservation seems to me more like an invitation, perhaps even love: indicating (or pointing to) some thing valuable, something ephemeral. What follows preservation is encounter and transformation. Meditation and reverence. Light a candle. Figure 6. Butcher’s broom, Let’s LIVE (1983) (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, Box 4, Folder 9).

These altares also resemble the sculptural environments of Isa Genzken. They present a gathering of objects, objects that acquire value and meaning by vir tue of their juxtaposition, their preservation, and their categorization as “art” (or as “altar”). Unlike the linear ordering of archival folders, the altares present Figure 7. Altares/Anzaldúa’s house (Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, Box 146, Folder 12). Photo by Irene Reti, reproduced with permission.

ASAP/Journal  670 /

The collection of altars from Anzaldúa’s home is currently housed at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I have not yet seen the collection, but Irene Reti photographed the altars in 2004, six months after Anzaldúa’s death and before they were acquired by UCSC. Contact sheets with those photographs are available in the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Papers in Austin. These photographs preserve the altars as displayed in Anzaldúa’s home, frozen in time. I am looking forward to comparing these two-dimensional configurations with the envi ronmental ones in Santa Cruz. As is evident in the collection of photographs above and the ambiguous label of the folder the pictures are stored in (altares and/or Anzaldúa’s house), there is some fluidity surrounding the term “altar.” Was Anzaldúa’s house itself an altar? Altars are collections, collages, and deco rative displays. The defining feature of altars as a genre seems to be their sacredness, but sacredness is a subjective quality. In the case of Anzaldúa’s altares—especially given the elevated status of reading, writ ing, and making art in her work—many people would agree that the books, the photographs, and the tapestries found in her home hold as much of the sacred as the icons of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui (who also appear in her altars). One could further argue that the archives that hold these collections are in themselves sacred, places one goes to revere Gloria Anzaldúa (and the other authors and artists memorialized there). And what about photographs taken or essays written about these sacred collections?


Bost  671 / a multidimensional space through which we wander, becoming a member of their milieu, examining different surfaces, either searching for an order to the collection (chromatic? chronological?) or simply enjoying the reverberations between elements: books, a broken lamp, a Buddha-like goddess figure, a jack rabbit, some acorns.


The photograph, propped against my wall now, has developed a sway, a curvature of its spine, and one corner has been chewed off (how??). The cardboard has darkened with age. In my photograph of the photograph, you can also see a corner of a 2011 photo graph of my family and a collection of my weird things. One could easily describe the top of my dresser as an altar, assuming I assign sacred value to my family, my collection of rings and bracelets, or the gold-painted box with the Barbie bridal dress, black baby shoe, and fake pearls (my own cheap version of a Joseph Cornell box). While I don’t pray to the top of my dresser, I do regularly look to it for com fort or recognition. I have preserved various ways of remembering.

I have on my dresser a photograph of my mother and my grandmother taken in 1943, outside their brick two-flat on the South Side of Chicago. My grandmother is in a sleeveless dress, and my mother is in an elfin-looking snowsuit— in winter costume with no snow in sight. The photograph was colorized at some point, mak ing my mother pinker and grandmother bluer, and set into a cardboard matte. My mother looks to be about a year old (maybe taking a first step?), which would place the scene sometime in the late Spring. (Of course, in Chicago, Spring can mean snow and ice or heat and humidity; the urban treelessness of the photo provides no clues.)

Altars like these invite movement, contemplation, and faith, but our encounters don’t last. They exist in time, in actions. They accrue new material while others decompose. We must visit them over and over again.

Figure 8. My dresser. Photo by the author.

The major phytochemicals in butcher’s broom are steroidal saponins.[8] Saponins occur naturally in plants as glycosides and have foam forming properties.[9] The specific saponins found in butcher’s broom are rus cogenins, ruscogenen and neoruscogenin, named for the genus Ruscus [5] Ruscogenins function as anti-inflammatory agents[10] and are also be lieved to cause constriction in veins.[11] Currently the mode of action of ruscogenins is not well understood, but one proposed mechanism suggests that ruscogenins suppresses leukocyte migration through both protein and mRNA regulation.[10] . . . Newer research has also uncov ered that there are polyphenols present in butcher’s broom may also be physiologically active, possibly as an antioxidant.[12][13] As of yet there is not enough evidence to make a conclusion, but since they have now been synthesized in labs further research should be in progress.28 (I tried to delete the original reference numbers from this Wikipedia excerpt, but the effort made my word processor crash. Removing the supports for this view of butcher’s broom unraveled the universe of the encounter. I love how the superscripts remain like ghosts. If you click on them, they take you nowhere, but they remind you that there was once a somewhere and some-when of ref erence, a somewhere that still lingers on a digital plane. They “may also be physiologically active.”)


These guys matter. Their mattering comes from their own squirrel matter, whose nuances remain hidden from me, as well as the anthropomorphizing projections put on them by the humans they encounter in their very pub lic horseplay, gamboling between benches, garbage cans, and grackles. Because I don’t want to sweat across blocks of Austin Summer to the nearest restaurant, I bring a small lunch and eat it outside the library, with the squir rels, who are very interested in my lunch, my wrappers, my water bottle. They get very close, and I study them. I wonder why they prefer pretzels over apples. I continue to watch them after lunch, through the windows from Figure 9. Squirrels outside the Benson Latin American Collection. Photo by the author.

ASAP/Journal  672 /


SB/ I agree about both the overwhelmingness and the intimacy. I sometimes feel like a lecherous voyeur gazing into personal details that never would have been available to me if Anzaldúa was still alive. But I don’t feel annoyed by our incapacity as researchers in the face of “so many insights waiting to be discov ered.” I feel like the marvel outweighs the annoyance. My glib adjectives would be fun, fun, fun! But my serious ones are risky, impos sible, and deskilling.

Intimate in its invitations to enter Anzaldúa’s life—or rather, what Anzaldúa has curated about her life.


SB/ What adjectives would you use to describe the Anzaldúa archive?

Marvelous in what it indicates about the depth and range of Anzaldúa’s interests, thinking, artistry, and work.


Bost  673 / inside the library: document, squirrel, document, squirrel. They are still run ning around, running around, free from the brisk air conditioning and formal apparatuses of the archive. The words on my page dance like sudden leaps of scruffy fur. FROM A BRIEF CONVERSATION WITH ANALOUISE SCHOLAR AND ACADEMIC EXECUTOR TO ANZALDÚA’S ESTATE (BECAUSE DIALOGUE IS BETTER THAN MONOLOGUE)

ALK/ Overwhelming in its enormous range. Annoying in its slipperiness, its resistance to useful description. (Take the writ ing notes—often consisting of 100+ pages of handwritten material on a wide variety of topics. So many unpolished gems, so many insights waiting to be dis covered. There’s no way for future readers to know what lurks within each thick folder of notes—no index, no summary, nada. These notes could be really use ful in understanding Anzaldúa’s theories more fully and perhaps in expanding them in transformative ways. The same goes for her many unpublished essays, stories, and so on. . . . so many insights buried within the yellowing pages.)

SB/ You already know that I feel the same way about keeping our minds open to surprises in Anzaldúa’s work. Maybe this could be a way of “protecting” her legacy: honoring the fluidity of her views and the heterogeneity of her writings.

ASAP/Journal  674 /

SB/ What is our responsibility as scholars to the legacy of Gloria Anzaldúa? How might that affect our research processes?

ALK/ I often feel like a voyeur too, and I have to remind myself that Anzaldúa was very intentional in curating material for her archives. I agree entirely that the marvel outweighs the annoyance (though it’s interesting that “annoying” was the first word to emerge for me). I attribute my annoyance in part to my impatience; there are so many buried treasures, and I want us to discover them all now!

ALK/ This is a great question, and I look forward to learning your views on this topic! When Anzaldúa first passed, I felt compelled to protect her legacy— whatever “protect” and “legacy” might mean. Now, though, I feel that our responsibility is to act with respect, integrity, and reciprocity—to be as open as possible to engaging in dialogue with Anzaldúa and all of the material she pre served. (As I’ve explained elsewhere, she was intentional in her collection; she saved her stuff for readers.) I feel especially compelled to work with the unpub lished material for several reasons, including these: (1) it expands and deepens our understanding of Anzaldúa; (2) it contains hints and clues that enable us to more fully understand the published theories; (3) the numerous drafts and extensive revisions help readers to appreciate and understand her artistry; (4) the huge mass of papers shortened Anzaldúa’s life (who knows, maybe the writ ing killed her). To explain further: Anzaldúa devoted her life to her writing and often sacrificed her health, friendships, romantic relationships, and material possessions to the work. In terms of how it might affect the research process, I’d like to think it encourages intellectual humility; we remain open and do not put Anzaldúa into boxes, not impose labels on her, allow the work to speak to and with us.

Gloria Anzaldúa, as an academic commodity, has done a tremendous amount of intellectual, political, and creative work and has a very important role in the development of queer theory, Chicanx/Latinx studies, and feminist thought.

But I suspect that for some scholars and friends protecting means preserving Anzaldúa’s status as the author of Borderlands, like a rare insect saved in glass.


SB/ It’s a collage!

3. Roll a thing over in your mind, in space, in time, in your mouth. Never stop.

1. Don’t rush to conclude.

ALK/ Those are important insights, about the desire to preserve Anzaldúa’s status at the forefront, and I suppose that I was doing my own version of this after she passed away. But Anzaldúa is too complex and contradictory to be squeezed into a box. For those interested in preserving Anzaldúa’s image in these ways (or, really, in any specific way), the archives are a landmine. Who knows what might leap out of some random folder? I’m reminded of this passage that I recently stumbled across, from a draft of Borderlands/La Frontera (Box 33, Folder 3): “I am a series of masks / one on top of another, / all occupying the same space.”

Bost  675 / As Anzaldúan studies turn increasingly toward her spirituality, mysticism, and otherworldliness, I think some preservationists might feel like their hero’s image is being tarnished. I, myself, looked away from the astrology references the first couple of times I read Borderlands

4. Keep a bowl of salsa out and be ready to discuss with friends.

2. Feel wrong.

Since Anzaldúa became famous for a tiny fraction of the work she actually pro duced in her lifetime, new publications of and about her work have the power to dramatically shift what we thought we knew of “Gloria Anzaldúa.” We should tread with care. Is our job as scholars to bolster (or promote) the ideas of the author we thought we knew or to allow her to be remade for a different sort of future? I am a participant in shifting the perception we have of “Gloria Anzaldúa,” of preferring living fur over sedimented rock. And I know that some scholars might find this disturbing. But I’m not offering any definitions or declarations. Any scholarship I pro duce will be “speaking nearby” (Trinh Minh-ha’s term) the archive rather than standing on top of it or trying to take its place.29 It adds a supplementary layer,

I am now at a place in my life where I can take some additional risks and make suggestions that might strike (at least some) readers as rather crazy—as pretty far out there, out on a limb. I do so both to honor the women-of-color theorists whose work inspired and emboldened my own and, perhaps, to make things easier for oth ers. . . . I hope that my attempts to rattle the box, to move further, to shift into different spaces, might embolden you to do so, as well.

—AnaLouise Keating, Transformation Now! (2012)31 Consider this text an experiment, an index, an oracle, an archive. Let this text be as alive as you are alive. Might be enough.


New styles baffle editors, original stylists must imitate themselves com peting with imitators. . . . Surprise, unexpected words and loopy im ages catch readers off guard. Juxtaposing words of different character linked for effect. Spleen, bitchy words that satisfy taste for vengeance. Concrete images, words that readers can see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Muscular verbs, words of action and power, kinetic verbs, action verbs.

—Alexis Pauline Gumbs, M Archive (2018)32 What do you call an epigraph that comes at the end? Not epitaph or epithet but another way of entering.

ASAP/Journal  676 / a parallel universe (even as Anzaldúa and I have moved through the same phys ical spaces). These are my own scraps of memorabilia: entrances to fantasies and possible worlds, places built on feelings and aspirations rather than solid ground.Now deceased, you are ultimately a closed door. When I put my hand on it, I imagine your vibrations on the other side, feel the pulse of my own hand, and my wish to see you.

—Gloria Anzaldúa, “Com-positioning”30

The list of influences is long, including contemporary theorists, autotheorists, modern poets, and collage artists. Beyond those I discuss in this piece (Sara Ahmed, Jane Bennett, Lauren Berlant, Isa Genzken, Joshua Javier Guzmán, Christina León, and Kathleen Stewart) are also Steve Baker, Karen Barad, Elizabeth Bishop, Ian Bogost, Joseph Cornell, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Donna Haraway, Graham Harman, Bruno Latour, Maggie Nelson, Juliana Spahr, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. 5 Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 164. 6 Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 1. 7 Ibid., 5. 8 Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark, 24. 9 Ibid., 4. 10 In Karen Barad’s terms: “ ‘Things’ don’t preexist; they are agentially enacted and become determinately bounded and propertied within phenomena. Outside of particular agential intra-actions, ‘words’ and ‘things’ are indeterminate. Matter is therefore not to be understood as a property of things but, like discursive practices, must be understood in more dynamic and productive terms—in in terms of intra-activity.” Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 150. 11 According to the eighty-four-page catalog, the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers measure 125 linear feet and consist of more than two hundred boxes of materials. 12 Suzanne Bost, “Messy Archives and Materials that Matter: Making Knowledge with the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Papers,” PMLA 130, no. 3 (May 2015): 615–30. 13 Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart, The Hundreds (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 103. 14 Ibid., 20. 15 Carolyn Steedman foregrounds dust as a metaphor and a material reality in archival research. As Steedman notes, the verb form of “dust” has a dual denotation: it signifies both the removal of dust from the surface of things as well as depositing a “dusting” of material on those surfaces. Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 160. 16 Gloria Anzaldúa, “Magick and Poetry,” Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942–2004, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

Bost  677 / Notes 1 Gloria Anzaldúa, “Writing Notas,” Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942–2004, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin. Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 171–72. 3 Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 24. 4


ASAP/Journal  678 / 17 “Ritual, Poetry, Magic,” Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942–2004, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

18 Anzaldúa developed her theory of the Coatlicue State in Borderlands. Coatlicue states revolve around the need to surrender self-control and habitual ways of living. Like a therapeutic deconstruction, “those activities or Coatlicue states which disrupt the smooth flow (complacency) of life are exactly what propel the soul to do its work.” Anzaldúa describes her experience of Coatlicue states as a rearrangement of her self, a process in which pain meets pleasure and death meets new life. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987), 46.

20 Laura Hoptman, “Isa Genzken: The Art of Assemblage, 1993–2013,” in Isa Genzken: Retrospective, ed. Sabine Breitwieser, et al. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013), 132–33. 21 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 3. 22 Ibid., 4–5, 10, 17. 23 Joshua Javier Guzmán and Christina A. León, “Cuts and Impressions: The Aesthetic Work of Lingering in Latinidad,” in “Lingering in Latinidad: Theory, Aesthetics, and Performance in Latina/o Studies,” ed. Joshua Javier Guzmán and Christina A. León, special issue, Women and Performance 25, no. 3 (2015): 263. 24 Ibid., 270. 25 Gloria Anzaldúa, “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 163–75.26Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 70, 67. 27 Suzanne Bost, Encarnación: Illness and Body Politics in Chicana Feminist Literature (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009). 28 “Butcher’s Broom,” Wikipedia, accessed July 10, 2019, wiki/Ruscus_aculeatus.29“‘SpeakingNearby’: A Conversation with Trinh T. Minh-ha,” interview by Nancy N. Chen, Visual Anthropology Review 8, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 82–91. 30 Anzaldúa, “Com-positioning.” 31 AnaLouise Keating, Transformation Now! Toward a Post-Oppositional Politics of Change (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 27. 32 Alexis Pauline Gumbs, M Archive: After the End of the World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), xii.

19 One might compare the bright colors and violent images in Genzken’s collages to Anzaldúa’s preference for “concrete images, words that readers can see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Muscular verbs, words of action and power, kinetic verbs, action verbs.” Gloria Anzaldúa, “Com-positioning,” Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, 1942–2004, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 679–706 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press. Summer Kim Lee

QUOTATION W hen multidisciplinary artist WU TSANG was an MFA student at the University of California, Los Angeles, she conducted archival research on JENNIE LIVINGSTON’S well-known 1990 documentary, Paris Is Burning, which followed the queer, trans, Black, and Latinx drag ball scene in Harlem during the late 1980s. TSANG visited UCLA’s Film & Television Archive, where she viewed unedited footage cut from the film that contained LIVINGSTON’S interviews with drag ball participants. While the final cut of the documentary does not include


LIVINGSTON’S visible presence or audible questioning, the unedited footage includes LIVINGSTON’S prompts and interactions with the interviewees, who in turn respond at times playfully and at other times guardedly, clarifying what they mean or trying to clarify what LIVINGSTON means. This footage, housed in the archives, reveals LIVINGSTON’S own role as the filmmaker and a white lesbian woman outside of the drag ball scene she documents, as well as her investments, intentions, and relationships to those interviewed. Moreover, the footage sheds light on how LIVINGSTON’S interviewees navigated her

SUMMER KIM LEE is Assistant Professor of English at University of California, Los Angeles. questions in order to give an account of themselves through, and also in spite of, the documentary film’s genre and narrative conventions.


ASAP/Journal  680 /

In Tsang’s video artwork, For how we perceived a life (Take 3) (2012), excerpts of dialogue from Livingston’s footage she encountered in the archive, along with dialogue included in the final cut of the film, are enacted by herself and four other performers through a performance practice she calls, “full body quotation.” In full body quotation, Tsang samples, inhabits, embodies, and re-cites the speech of others, of friends, acquaintances, collaborators, and subjects she encounters in the archive. Full body quotation makes evident Tsang’s mastery, discipline, and training as an artist familiar with the breath and bodywork of both operatic vocal performance and lip-synching in drag performance. Yet I also understand full body quotation as a practice akin to the citational practices developed by a stu dent working on their studies. Indeed, Tsang’s gathering and curation of unedited archival materials is enabled and precipitated by her status as a student with access to the university’s archives. However, while the scene of Tsang’s encounter with the archive is institutionally bound, Tsang’s studies as a student carry outward, like the voices of those she quotes, like the lifted sample, creating another role for the student by way of aesthetic practice. While the student might be enabled by entrance to the classroom or the archive, they are not relegated to the role either institutional site has assigned. In other words, the student can learn to approach their studies in a different way: through the role of the artist. The university’s logics would compel Tsang to speak as the student in class or in the archives, as a representative of the university’s socialization and education of students into responsible, dutiful, productive subjects. Faced with this expec tation that so often makes students feel indebted to the university—in addition to literally accruing financial debt—Tsang grounds her work in scenes of study that beget other kinds of indebted relations, which make up the social worlds she holds close. These relations, such as those with Tsang and her fellow performers in For how we perceived a life and the interviewees of Paris Is Burning, deexception alize the idea of the student as an autonomous, rational, disinterested scholar in the making—an idea that works to affirm and protect the university’s relevance and validates its regulatory role in civic life.1

At the same time, such relations also, as Kadji Amin might put it, “deidealize” the student as a figure who, since the social movements of the 1960s, is often made to represent both the past and future promise of radical politics’ relation to the university.2 To be wary of this idealization is not to discount the historical significance of student-led social movements, nor is it to demean or belittle the

For how we perceived a life (Take 3) was shot on 16 mm, the same format as Paris Is Burning. It is not a documentation of a live performance, but rather a “ Full body quotation brings our attention to how one cannot give an account of oneself without giving an account of another. ”

This article considers how Tsang’s full body quotation, as the practice of giving an account of another through quotation, brings attention to the necessity of our indebted relations to another. Full body quotation offers a theorization of the self, wherein autotheory’s citational politics are performed through the act of speaking as another, without whom Tsang’s studies, as a student and artist, are not possible. Full body quotation is the act of giving an account of oneself through another with no institutional, proprietary claims over what one comes to learn about oneself, which is also always about what one comes to learn about others. By speaking as another, Tsang leaves herself open to the social failures and charges of imposition and appropriation that the practice entails in order to inhabit and experiment within the difficult, ethical scenes of relation that are constitutive of a student handling their studies. In Tsang’s documentary film, Wildness (2008), her accompanying installation Green Room (2008), and her video artwork, For how we perceived a life (Take 3) (2012), full body quotation is rooted in the desire to learn about one’s relation with others and how it must not be assumed, but forged. Full body quotation brings our attention to how one cannot give an account of oneself without giving an account of another.


Kim Lee  681 / student as a politicized subject. It is, however, to be critical of the ways the uni versity has proliferated regulatory discourse around and about the student in order to affirm and protect its relevance and role in civic life, and to validate its view of itself as a transformative site of knowledge production rather than a site of capital accumulation.3 Tsang’s full body quotation of what she finds in the university’s archives shifts the role of the student into someone who may move in and through institutional sites, but whose studies are not in service to the university’s account of itself. Instead, she and her studies are indebted to those she quotes, to those she encounters in the university with whom relations emerge that make the universi ty’s designation of the student irrelevant, no longer the point.

ASAP/Journal  682 /

Desiree Burch, Cherrye Davis, Nicholas Gorham, and Mikéah Jennings, who begin to speak the sampled dialogue from Paris Is Burning and its archives, as well as a scene of Crystal LaBeija from the House of LaBeija in Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary, The Queen, and excerpts of an interview Tsang conducted in 2012 with Hector Xtravaganza from the House of Xtravaganza. Some of the dialogue, then, might sound familiar. One might think they have heard these lines before, in some other context, at some other time. One continues to watch and listen, inclined toward the scene.

performance made for film, wherein the camera plays another character along side the other performers. Using the precise length of a 400-foot roll of film, it was shot in a single take—the third take—with no editing. The film is made to be screened a particular way, with installation instructions stating that the projector for the film should be placed behind a visible wall, projecting through a hole, as the film plays on continuous loop.4

The film begins with a steady beep that synchronizes sound and image. The soft click of analog film rolling and a single synth tone bring together its soundtrack, swelling then dissipating into a muted silence. The camera slightly falters, mov ing through a bare warehouse space dimly lit with free-standing stage lights on gray cement floors, reflecting off of brick walls painted white. Four pillars stand in a row, holding up a white ceiling with exposed pipes and hanging wire. On the other side of the room lies a huddled mass on the ground, partially obscured by a pillar. As the camera slowly approaches, the mass comes into view and reveals the intertwined, slowly moving bodies of Tsang, and fellow performers

The performers’ voices are low, dry, and soft, as if close to one’s ear for a secret intimately shared. Given the audible proximity of these confiding voices, one senses they do not resonate throughout the same space that these bodies share, for otherwise the voices heard would be washed out by the space’s cavernous, hard surfaces, reverberating and diminishing into echoes and murmurs. These voices come from another time and place, recorded elsewhere, layered as a sep arate track lends an interiority to the mass on the ground, as voices resonating from within, but dubbed from without. Tsang, Burch, Davis, Gorham, and Jennings lip-synch quotations they previously recorded, which play back in ear pieces worn throughout the performance. The performers’ nondiegetic voices deliver quotations that are mediated and at a remove, yet felt as if spoken nearby, in that moment, only a breath away. They lip-synch to their own voices, as if

Kim Lee  683 / they are ventriloquizing themselves, animating their bodies with their speech and their speech with their bodies.

A voice speaks softly, “I believe that there’s a big future out there. A lot of beau tiful things, a lot of handsome men, a lot of luxury.” Another voice joins, “I want a car.” A different voice sighs, “I want to be with a man”—as another voice finishes the thought—“I love.” Voices overlap with one another, all beginning with the declaration, “I want.” These voices want “a nice home, away from New York . . . somewhere far where no one knows me,” “my sex change,” “a normal happy life,” “to get married in a church in white,” “to be a complete Aswoman.”thecamera draws closer to the huddled mass, individual bodies slowly and collectively move, churning and flexing their parts. Arms reposition themselves, reaching out and upward with a twist of a torso or wrist, with the turn of a head, eyes closed or open, looking up, down, or to the side, with hands that touch the floor, with bent feet that arch and dig into the ground for traction and support. The camera soon hovers above an entanglement of bodies, all dressed in black, holding each other, encircled in each other’s arms. There is support in the hold Figure 1. Wu Tsang, For how we perceived a life (Take 3) (2012). Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

For how we perceived a life came out of a live performance with the same group of performers called Full Body Quotation, part of Tsang’s 2011 performance resi dency, “We Remember Stories, Not Facts,” at the New Museum in New York City. New Museum’s description of the performance for the residency states: Full Body Quotation was an austere interpretation of drag culture and revelry as it has been caught on camera by films and news media of past decades. In the tradition of realness, Tsang maintained a studied and irreverent relationship to the source material, calling into question the authenticity of narrative, self-presentation, and intention.6

ASAP/Journal  684 / of the huddle’s constraint.5 Like a chorus and a crowd, the performers continue layering words and phrases, interrupting one another, finishing each other’s sen tences, switching positions, lines, and roles: “I want” —“I want so much more”;


The all-black clothing that the performers wear in Full Body Quotation and For how we perceived a life contrasts with the expected campy spectacle of drag per formance. And yet Tsang’s study of drag within the formal institutionalized museum space, as out of place as it might seem, is indebted to the traditions of drag culture, with its performances of lip-synching and interpretations of ball categories of realness. With her “studied and irreverent relationship to the source material,” she is not untrustworthy or ahistorical in her practice. She knows that her relationship to her sources—the archive and the canon of transgender cinema—cannot be an assumption in and of itself from where she stands and studies.

In an interview, Tsang explains full body quotation and For how we perceived a life further.Full body quotation is a performance technique I’ve been working on, but the name could change as it evolves. The performer has a hidden audio source and she re-speaks voices mimetically—not just the text but tone, breath, accent, idiom, etc. The idea is to question authenticity and

“I want my name to be a household product.” Then, their voices say in unison, “I want this, this is what I want, and I’m gonna go for it.”

Kim Lee  685 intention/ of the speaker, and understand content differently, out of its original context. . . . This new film [For how we perceived a life (Take 3)] is quoting various sources from research and field work about the mak ing of Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning. In both instances, I chose material where the performers all had complicated relationships to the sources. The full body quotation technique is a way to perform our ambivalences.7

In the film, the performers pulse, surge, breathe, and move in an embrace that falls away, dissolving into distinct, separate figures. They lie on the ground, stand at attention in a line or alone center stage, sit on chairs taking up poses with a hand behind the head and head thrown back with a smile. They face each other sitting still, they frame each other’s faces with their hands as if angling a camera lens to get the perfect shot. In their grouping and regrouping, they embody quotations “out of [their] original context.” They unmoor quotations from proper citationality to put into question their own “authenticity” and “intention” as speakers and performers. The archive of unedited footage and Tsang’s own interviews and research risk becoming indistinguishable from what belongs in the preexisting canon of transgender cinema.

The study of one’s own voice is made possible through the studied account of Foranother’s.RitaGonzalez and Tavia Nyong’o, For how we perceived a life gives body to the media forms through which Paris Is Burning, its archives, and The Queen move—as cut, spliced, edited excerpts of monologue, dialogue, call and response that interrupt the linear time of documentary film.8 Tsang’s full body quo tation interrupts historical time, not with the intent of delegitimizing their

Throughout For how we perceived a life, attention is drawn to the desynchronous relation between performers’ lip-synchs and their own prerecorded voices. These lip-synchs are not seamless: there are small hesitations, pulls, tugs, and twitches at the corners of the mouth; breaths misplaced mid-sentence that reveal the performers’ relation to their own voices as one of temporal inter ruption, lag, and delay. These moments in between draw our attention to how these performers’ studies of the self—of their own voice—cannot be separated from how they give an account of another. They must study the speech they have borrowed; they must listen to the words of another, in their own voice.

Tsang encountered Paris Is Burning when she was studying film editing with Jonathan Oppenheim, who had edited the documentary.9 This is a reminder, too, that films like Paris Is Burning are often first discovered in the classroom. For me, they were. As José Esteban Muñoz points out, Paris Is Burning is specifically canonical to queer studies: “It is curricular. It is taught regularly.”10 These films are assigned and taught, guided by a teacher’s instruction. From there, they seep into one’s conversations with peers outside of class, showing up in group chats and social media in the form of a gif, an image, or a line memorized, recited, and well-delivered. Paris Is Burning is a pedagogical object that within the social ity of a space like the classroom, divulges lessons on drag culture, appropriation, the fraught desires for whiteness and white femininity, as well as on the ethics of documentary filmmaking, positionality, and citation.11 Additionally, the film is an archive of Black, Latinx, trans, and queer New York nightlife during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with footage of the balls as well as intimate scenes of trans sociality and livelihood on the West Side piers and in the private, interior spaces

ASAP/Journal  686 / significance within transgender cinema or within more broadly queer and trans of color histories. By entering into the archive and gathering samples and quotations that require curation, cutting, and recomposition, Tsang loosens the hold of documentary film genre’s sense and logic of linear historical time in relation to queer, trans of color narrative accounts of the self. The formal qualities of the film take the shape of Tsang’s engagement with the archival materials she finds.

Tsang’s quotations of these films do not sediment generational divides, nor do they uphold a vertical, hierarchical notion of knowledge passed down. Through full body quotation, knowledge is transmitted laterally, passing through, back and forth, and beside those who encounter each other in the scene of study.

When prerecorded speech eludes a performer’s lip-synch, as that which either jumps ahead or falls behind, the desynchronous moment of full body quota tion opens up into a pedagogical one, where the artist as student must tune in, study, and listen more closely, more carefully, in order to try out lessons received and passed on. Therein lies the desire to learn, to keep up, to stay patiently behind, first with some guidance, and then maybe without. In For how we perceived a life, the performers play the role of the student, attempting to speak as those they follow.

Kim Lee  687 / of drag ball participants’ homes. The film moves throughout institutional spaces like the university, museum, and art space as an object from which the student has more to learn. But Tsang’s practice and the indebtedness to her teachers and peers extend beyond academic institutions and her formalized training. This insistence on one’s indebtedness toward those from and with whom one learns, exceeds the university’s production and valuation of knowledge. It is true that going to art school provides privileged access to art and museum spaces, as well as to the networks such institutions foster and enable. Tsang does not obscure or disavow such advantages and opportunities in her work. At the same time, Tsang does not settle for hollow confessions of privilege as the grounds of liberal allyship and solidarity with others—as if knowing one’s privilege were the only les son one needs to learn to be a politically conscious subject. Such confessions often become scenes of address, where the one with privilege makes an enti tled bid for recognition from another, asking that they be comforted, affirmed, and given credit for their gesture. Tsang does not participate in this scene of address. She experiments with her relationship to her source materials in pursuit of the challenges—the risk, imposition, and failure—that emerge in the absence and withholding of affirmation. An account of herself, in its need for others, becomes distinct from an account of one’s privilege.

Tsang’s movement through the UCLA archives, classroom and studio spaces, the bars, clubs, and performance/party venues of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York nightlife, as well as museums and gallery spaces, illustrate how her artistic practice encounters the university’s proprietary claims to knowledge. Such institutional claims capture, evaluate, and separate minoritarian ways of knowing into legible, discrete disciplines, programs, departments, archives, and objects of study according to what, as Kandice Chuh writes, they are “about.”12

The claim of knowing what something is about—the claim of “aboutness”—is the avoidance of an engagement with difference through “an assessment of relevance” that would purport to already know what there is to say about difference “within the racialized economy of academic knowl edge.”13

In Tsang’s artistic practice, there is a willful unlearning of institutional claims to knowledge and a positing of relation over and against the relevance of “aboutness.”


Tsang describes full body quotation as “a kind of mimetic channeling of voices that is task-based but appears expressive. The tension is between the voice that you’re channeling and the actual embodiment of that voice.”14 Tsang’s body is not made to stand in for the subject as whom she speaks, but instead is made into an open, resonant body, attuned to the particularity, or what Adriana Cavarero calls the “uniqueness” of the voice of another.15 For Cavarero, the uniqueness of one’s being is communicated through the voice, through the throat, chest, flesh, and body of the one who emits it. This uniqueness is a singular “deep vitality” irreducible to essence or a supposed secret truth of the self.16 It is rela tional; it takes pleasure in being shared out to another through the voice, as the feminized phonic assertion of the body that overwhelms the masculinity of the semantic. Uniqueness is “epistemologically inappropriate,” as the “secondary, ephemeral, and inessential” that confounds the ways one comes to know oneself and others.17

To be a student is to have a complicated, cautious, eager relationship to source materials—to perhaps not always yet know what those relationships are “about.” This is what preoccupies Tsang and her work. She grapples with the “ambivalences” around her sources, which is itself an ambivalence around time, around what it means to come after the sources you cite, sources that are no longer around for you to follow up with, to one day meet for clarification or recognition. When watching For how we perceived a life, one becomes aware of the duration, mobility, and circulation of the multiple historical, cultural, and aesthetic sites it contains. With their voices and bodies, the performers study who and what came before them. This is is not to discipline them or keep them in their place. To let in who and what comes before them puts less value on the new, less pressure on the student to masterfully stake original claims in one’s studies. This letting in of another might offer comfort in the realization that one is not alone in grasping for words, in feeling like one’s language needs the language of others, and therefore needs translation, explanation, and quotation. What emerges in full body quotation is the feeling that one can never have a firm grasp on one’s source materials that precede you, and that such source materials hold something to be encountered, acknowledged, and handled in the scene of study.

ASAP/Journal  688 /

In an interview, Tsang states, “With my work, I’m always asking ‘what does it mean to speak for oneself, but on behalf of a group?’ ”21 With her question, Tsang offers a theorization of the self as one who, in speaking for oneself, comes up against a group, as another entity on whose behalf one also speaks. The turn her wording takes—“but on behalf of a group”—positions the group as a social

Kim Lee  689 / Tsang’s attunement to particularity and uniqueness is not just about precision and exactitude, of getting the words and voice just right. This attunement is the practice of tapping into the way that the voice, the words spoken, and the forms of material, social difference in excess of both, carries and passes through her body. Tsang does not quote to own the voice and speech of another. Rather, the voice and speech of another presents Tsang with the challenge to become affected through the “tension . . . between the voice that you’re channeling and the actual embodiment of that voice.”18 This is distinct from possession, where her body would be wholly evacuated of the self for another. As Rita Gonzalez writes, “Tsang’s innovation of ‘full body quotation’ does not demand the relinquishing of one’s position in relation to the quoted text but establishes the simultaneity and proximity of the subject re-speaking/quoting/delivering with the original author of the text.”19 In the contentious undercurrents of a res onant embodied attunement with another, Tsang makes room in her body for others, as the host who works at the task of being simultaneous and proximal.20

In For how we perceived a life, the interviewees are not passive informants or raw source material in need of Livingston’s narration. The interviewees’ accounts of the self are what enable Tsang and the other performers’ resonant bodies to move and touch one another. The performers’ relations are conditioned by the interviewees’ stories culled from the archive, animated by the stories and statements they have taken on the task of telling. They await their move ment as it is directed by another’s account of the self. The distinction and delay between the prerecorded voices heard and the lips that move make clear that the words uttered do not belong to the performers themselves. This loosened audiovisual seam suspends the performers authority and control over the words they lip-synch, holding in tension how the interviewees are not just subjects from whom something is taken but are also subjects with something to give in telling Livingston, Tsang, and the other performers of their hopes and desires: what they want.

ASAP/Journal  690 / commitment and obligation to something and some others who intrude on the self. The self always already implicates another: what is “for oneself” is also “on behalf of a group.”

Scholars of feminist theory and critical race and ethnic studies have long debated the problems that arise around difference when “enacting others,” “speaking for others,” and speaking as oneself, from one’s own identity, sub ject position, and personal experience.22 There have been critiques of how the privileging of lived experience, of a given account of oneself, becomes uncontestable evidence of identity, which renders difference a static, know able fact, removed from its production and context.23 In her work, Tsang confronts these ongoing problems, approaching the quotation as that which holds difference—the difference of another. Tsang interrogates the unidirec tional, imbalanced power relation embedded within the “behalf,” insofar as “the group,” as a collective entity, undermines and contradicts any fantasy of an autonomous self who can, on one’s own, speak on behalf of another. Tsang experiments with the troubling discomfort of the “behalf” so that she may elaborate the ways it produces and implies a debt to another, on whose behalf she Debtspeaks.isaform of racial, gendered subjugation by way of economic dispos session and the constraints of the temporality of repayment.24 As such, it can also, as Fred Moten, Stefano Harney, and Sarita Echavez See point out, become the site of Black study, where the indebted or the debtor teaches us what we must learn about what we owe each other in a life that remains too costly and unaffordable.25 Tsang enters this scene, as the student who follows the desire and dimensions of the debt she owes to those she quotes. This debt is, as Moten and Harney call it, “bad debt” that cannot be repaid, and what Mimi Thi Nguyen also describes as “another economy of intense contact with . . . multiple, heterogeneous, not-same strangers.”26 Debt also structures a student’s paraphrase or citation. Therefore, in her need for others to speak, act, perform, and study, Tsang places her work within the language and nar ratives around the relation of indebtedness in contemporary life. Quotation becomes a means of communicating the debt that shapes one’s relations to the self and others. Her accounts of another, her acts of speaking as another, are the reflexive practice of the self as artist and student, who enters into scenes of study and the relations of debt that are structural to them.

Kim Lee  691 / Tsang does not claim to represent or speak on behalf of a silent, absent other who cannot speak for themselves. Instead, Tsang inhabits the multiplicity, com plicity, and citationality that constitutes the ethical risk of giving an account of oneself. For Tsang, to give an account of oneself is to always be in the indebted practice of quoting others. Tsang’s practice of full body quotation operates within a tense social dynamic that does not relieve or resolve such tensions but brings our attention to them. Tsang’s full body quotation is a virtuosic artistic practice insofar as it requires close attention to those whom she quotes—to their breath, tone, inflection, pacing, and rhythm, as well as their framing and con text. At the same time, it is a practice that requires Tsang to leave herself open to the kinds of mistakes, slights, oversteps, and errors that make up a student’s learning. It is the meticulous, thoughtful inquiry into the thresholds between self-indulgence and giving, between an invitation and an imposition within the social relations that constitute scenes of “study,” which is to say, what Harney and Moten call the commitment to “what you do with other people.”27

Through full body quotation, study is enabled by the admission that one cannot come to learn and know about oneself—cannot given an account of oneself— without an account of another. One is then always implicated in the account of another and, moreover, complicit.

In Giving an Account of Oneself, Judith Butler writes, “the subject cannot fully furnish the grounds for its own emergence.”30 The subject’s emergence, into

For Ricardo Montez, complicity provides an alternative framework to the ide alization of collaboration within scenes of artistic practice. While collaboration presumes “a more egalitarian, polyvocal working relationship” between artists, or between artists and their objects of study, complicity names “the dynamic uncertainty of intimate and creative exchange.”28 Particularly in the case of cross-racial artistic production, Montez writes that “collaboration cannot ulti mately remake the social world of privilege.”29 This does not mean that artistic collaboration cannot escape the reproduction of these same social worlds, but that such worlds, and the kinds of desire and difference moving within them, cannot be mapped onto the fantasies of symmetrical, reciprocal relations oper ating within notions of collaboration. Tsang’s full body quotation creates scenes of complicity that wrestle with the reality of the structural imbalances between artists and their subject matters, as well as between artists who occupy different relationships in and to the art world, the university, or both.

oneself and one’s social world, takes place in the encounter with another, which is also one’s dispossession from oneself. This dispossession does not imply the loss or lack of self, but a self that is caught up in the midst of a multitude of relations. In order to speak as an “I,” one must become a “social theorist” who invents and communicates a working theory of oneself that will always fall short, in excess of the social.31 Even so, one keeps trying through dispossessive encounters with others, wherein “a mode of reflexivity is stylized and main tained as a social and ethical practice.”32 Reflexivity, then, becomes a “stylized” relational practice that experiments with the difficulties of narration.

Tsang’s full body quotation is one such practice of social and ethical reflexivity. Through full body quotation, Tsang becomes the theorist whose performance practice works through the social, ethical, and aesthetic possibilities of study founded on scenes of address and encounter at the limits of what one knows of oneself and others. For how we perceived a life is the enactment of the simultaneous emergence and dispossession into the social by way of risking the impingement and imposition of borrowed speech, as the expressed desire to be recognized and addressed by another. This risk necessitates that one’s ethical relation to others be theorized, performed, and studied.

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Tsang’s quotations drawn from pedagogical and archival scenes require her to inhabit the role of the student, not to represent the student in her work but to take on the role as a self-reflexive, indebted one, as the social theorist with more to learn. In her film Wildness, Tsang deploys full body quotation in a way that stresses the pedagogical relationship between herself and a bar on the east side of Los Angeles named the Silver Platter. The first voice we hear in “ Tsang’s quotations . . . require her to inhabit the role of the student, not to represent the student in her work, but to take on the role as a selfreflexive, indebted one, as the social theorist with more to learn.

Kim Lee  693 / Wildness, speaks as the Silver Platter, which has served a predominantly lowerand working-class Latinx, gay, and transgender clientele since it first opened in 1963. Over passing, drive-by images of the rapidly gentrifying LA neighbor hood Silverlake at pollution-pink twilight, the Platter wistfully muses on the possibility of its own disappearance. In the voice of Tsang’s collaborator and friend Mariana Marroquin, the Platter asks, in subtitled Spanish, “And I won der . . . what will become of me? How can I explain my legacy?”33 The camera then follows a solitary figure walking on the street at night as the Platter relishes the lines, “I’m a beacon, guiding my young out of the darkness. This story is one of those journeys. Told through my youngest: Wu. And the Wildness they brought to me.” The figure we follow is Tsang, approaching the street corner where the Platter resides. Tsang looks up, and as the film cuts to a shot of the Platter’s glowing neon sign that pulses like a heartbeat, there is a moment of recognition between Tsang and the Platter. The camera looks down, from the vantage point of the Platter’s signage, and Tsang looks up, then down, as she enters the Platter’s hold. In this scene, the Platter and Tsang’s first encounter is reenacted as one between an elder and its “youngest,” perhaps between a mother and child, but also between a teacher and student. The Platter looks to Tsang to tell her “legacy,” which is passed down through lessons that Tsang comes to learn in the film. In an interview, Tsang explains, “It’s about my character being this younger, more naive version of me that comes to the bar with a need, and the bar is this elder parent figure who helps me and is tough with me when it needs to be.”34 The relationship between the bar and Tsang is a family drama, as well as a love story and coming-of-age narrative. Ultimately, it is a story about learning how one’s needs are met when one shows up to meet the needs of Tsang’sanother.entry into the Platter requires that she become the student, indebted to what and who has come before her in the Platter’s space, to the histories that have preceded her. However, even as the student tells her story of a lesson learned, she must also give an account of the Platter, speaking as herself and as the Platter, but through the voice of another. Tsang is a student, but also the artist who has set this scene, written its dialogue, and staged this encounter to be witnessed and shared.

ASAP/Journal  694 / Figure 3. Wu Tsang, Wildness (2008). Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York. Figure 2. Wu Tsang, Wildness (2008). Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

In Wildness’s last scenes, Tsang and the Platter tell us what Tsang has learned about collectivity and community-building: what community can give and what it cannot; how it can be created and maintained, but also how it precedes oneself, does not last long, and sometimes falls apart; how a space can promise safety but only to a certain extent; and how what José Esteban Muñoz calls the “brown commons” of Wildness is constituted by what ultimately cannot be found in common, within “a choreography of singularities that touch and contact but do not meld.”36 The Platter and Tsang’s voices enter into this chore ography of the commons through their accounts—alternatively conversational, nurturing, diminutive, and quarrelsome—of what it takes to be in relation to the Theother.Platter

Kim Lee  695 Throughout/ Wildness, the Platter and Wu’s voiceovers give tender and at other times prickly accounts of what has brought them to each other. From 2008 to 2010, Tsang and her friends from the Los Angeles art and nightlife commu nities—Asmara (Asma Maroof ), Daniel Pineda, and Total Freedom (Ashland Mines)—threw a weekly queer dance party at the Platter called Wildness. During that time, the Platter also became a space for live music, experimental performance, and art.35 Additionally, Tsang and her friends rented a store front next door that became a legal clinic called the Imprenta Transgender Law Project. With Tsang’s vision, in collaboration with the bar’s owner Gonzalo Ramirez and his partner Koky Corral, the Platter became a multifunctional space that built and sustained the LA art scene as well as activist coalitions. It was also a place for Tsang to rehearse, prepare, and film her work. Yet, as the film documents, the differences across and between the bar’s regulars, the younger queers who came to Wildness, the gentrifying crowds that followed, and trans phobic media coverage, jeopardized the safety and undocumented status of some of the Platter’s clientele and created tensions that led to business disputes, as well as Imprenta’s and Wildness’s end.

teaches Tsang that they live on “borrowed time,” a lesson deliv ered through the Platter’s borrowed voice Tsang loans to it. By the end of the film, we know that Tsang and the Platter have left Wildness behind with more to do and more to study. At the end of the film, over shots of Tsang with the women of the Platter at a picnic in MacArthur Park, Tsang narrates, “I thought that Wildness was about trying to create a movement. I didn’t

When interviewed by Thomas J. Lax, Tsang reiterates how growing up Chinese American shapes her artistic practice, one wherein full body quotation is

Full body quotation emerges out of Tsang’s estranged relation to language as well as to her scrutinized relation to her own racialized, gendered body, as a person who identifies as queer, brown, and trans, and who has been criticized for identifying as such, particularly with regard to Tsang’s relation to brown ness as a mixed-race Asian person. In Muñoz’s essay on Wildness and the sense of the brown commons, he writes, “In a conversation after a screening [of the film], Tsang talked to me about how she once used the term ‘brown’ to describe what was happening at the space on an internet forum, which led to criticism in the comments section for using that word. She was sarcastically asked if ‘Asians are brown now.’”37 These criticisms of Tsang arise from the fact that she does not validate an identity for herself through her artistic prac tice. She does not make any claims to a knowable, authentic subject position within her work. She holds in contestation her relation to transness, brown ness, and Asianness, as the student who must learn what such claims do, what they might look, feel, and sound like in her own body, and who else that might implicate, invite, let in, or let out. The skepticism with which others read her work and her accounts of it are necessary parts of her practice, like the ambivalence she feels in relation to the archive and her source materials as a student with access to them. Full body quotation requires Tsang to leave her self open to questions around authority, intention, and representation, which a student knows, at times frustratingly all too well, are a part of one’s studies, experimentation, and thought.

ASAP/Journal  696 / realize until it was over that we were already a part of one. It just didn’t fit with the stories I’d been told about what we’re fighting for.” Tsang concludes that there can be no standardized lesson with which to walk away, particularly one that would be valued for its newness, for how it adds up to a properly formed “movement” built to last. Instead, there is the need to pay attention to who shows up to the bar, the party, the legal clinic, or picnic with a need, to invite them in, to figure out what those needs are, and to figure out how those needs can be met at the time.


Tsang’s response ends with a question that invites Lax into a discussion on what it means to give and take, to host and be hosted, to interview and be inter viewed, to be possessed and dispossessed by another as a subject who often passes “as a lot of different things.” She explains that her “first-hand experiences” of encountering another’s assumptions of her are in fact second-hand ones, inso far as another’s experience of oneself—another’s “identity issues”—become the means through which she experiences herself. Tsang’s “first-hand experience” is the second-hand account of another. Full body quotation takes on the formal dimensions of this encounter, wherein Tsang’s performance of another’s firsthand account of the self renders herself the second-hand host—both a site and invitation for further study.

Being ethnically and gender ambiguous, I often “pass” as a lot of differ ent things. I find that people’s assumptions about what I am, become more a reflection of their own identity issues. I guess these first-hand experiences lead me to a very intuitive understanding of identity as per formance. Hosting is similarly like being a container or catering to the needs of others. Do you think that hosting is similar to taking?39

Kim Lee  697 / something akin to drag performance but also “about a body being a ‘host’ for other creatures.”38 When Lax asks, “What do you think it is about your body that allows or even wants you to play host?” Tsang answers:

It is worth considering how Tsang’s “first-hand experience” of passing and second-hand account of brownness come up against the question asked in response to Tsang’s work of whether or not “Asians are brown now.” It might seem like Asianness becomes that which would rather go by another name—by “brown”—in Tsang’s work. However, this makes assumptions about the relation between Asianness and brownness. Theorizations of brownness necessitate critical discussions on its relation to racial difference— to Latinx, Black, Asian, and Indigenous formations—with which, as Muñoz writes, it is adjacent and coterminous, not absorptive and analogous.40 These adjacent and coterminous relations cannot be assumed. They must be thoughtfully forged, contextualized, and examined, and in ways that do not always adhere to the egalitarian ideal of collaboration that Ricardo Montez describes. At times, then, the work of relating can feel alienating, uncertain, and nonreciprocal.

Tsang’s relation to brownness does not subsume Asianness, nor does Asianness become the same as brown, for some Asians are and have been brown.41

Asianness also need not enter into an analogous relation with brown by becom ing “yellow,” a term which Tsang does not use. Tsang’s relation to brownness, as what might otherwise read as a disavowal of Asianness, is a telling gesture toward the unsayable and the unnamable.42 It is a confrontation with the risky negotiation between “hosting” and “taking”—between hosting and taking Asianness and brownness. This negotiation constitutes relations that cannot cohere around what is claimed or owned by oneself and others. This is inev itably the risk—what Katherine McKittrick describes as “risking the sovereignty of our own stories”—where the self is not furnished by the quotations embodied, and instead indebted to them, as that which unmoors, decentralizes, and dispos sesses the self from itself and its others.43

Tsang’s account of the self through full body quotation contributes to a the orization of what Kandice Chuh calls the “necessary reflectiveness” of Asian Americanist critique.44 Asian Americanist critique continues to confront what has by now become the familiar limitations of the term, with its homogeniza tion of class, ethnic, geographic, and regional difference. In particular, it must face the ways the field formation of Asian American studies becomes moored to what Nick Mitchell describes as “the university’s efforts to take responsibility for, and to locate an interest in, racial difference as a site of production” for its own instrumentalization of “diversity.”45

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Asianness is not brownness, nor is it like brownness. Perhaps it is indebted to brownness, as much as brownness is indebted to Asianness. One cannot give an account of itself without the other. While relation cannot be assumed, it is nec essary, and as such, it presents the ethical imperative to figure out how to make that necessity livable, sustainable, and perhaps, even pleasurable. Tsang cannot give an account of herself without giving an account of those she encounters, nor can she give an account of herself and her studies without what is owed Black study, from which she learns about her debts to others. Tsang’s account of her Asianness, a second-hand account wherein another’s quotations are bor rowed, becomes an account of those with whom she is in relation, which is to say those with whom she is in difference and indebted.

During the 2012 Whitney Biennial, alongside Wildness, Tsang created The Green Room, an immersive two-channel video installation, which took place in the museum’s green room for its performance programming. Tsang created The Green Room as a space for artists and performers participating in the Biennial.

With these representational burdens and constraints, one can understand the inclination toward brownness, as well as to its seemingly analogous term “yel lowness,” within Asian Americanist critique. There is a political desire for another term that names a nonidentitarian sense of one’s relation to others, yet one that is materially bound to difference and histories of Asiatic racialization. Another term holds out the possibility of different political, social, and aesthetic horizons shared with others. Yet it is worth refraining from offering another term, precisely because of how such a desire presumes that relation is only pos sible through analogy, through the equivalence of terms meeting one another in an idealized, collaborative, reciprocal encounter. What if, instead of offering another term, we considered how the indebtedness of full body quotation pres ents the challenge of borrowing, citing, and handling what has preceded us, and what always already has been available to us? With this question in mind, I hold back from the lure of the analogous, the equivalent, as well as the new. I stay with the indebted reflexivity of Asian Americanist critique, which grapples with the desire for another term and makes repeated attempts to give an account of itself and its objects of study that are always also an account of the relations it holds with others. Asian Americanist critique gives an account of itself, which is always also an account of another.

In Tsang’s conversation with Lax, she states, “There is a lot of power to hosting and being a host.”46 Tsang and Lax touch on hosting as taking and receiving: a host can take something from another (“let me take your coat,” “let me take your drink ticket,” “let me take your song request”) and is also compelled to take what ever is given. At the same time, hosting is also the act of giving, of making space for others in the form of a queer dance party or performance. Tsang’s full body quotation experiments with what Vivian Huang describes as the Asianization and feminization of hospitality through the risk of speaking as another but also through the pleasures found in giving, hosting a party, and carving out provisional hospitable spaces of rest, like the muted privacy of a green room.47

Kim Lee  699 /

In 2014, Tsang and Moten began leaving voicemails to each other every day over the span of two weeks. During that time, they did not speak directly, only through voicemails. These voicemails became the soundtrack of a two-channel

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The Green Room is an extension of Tsang’s artistic practice, which is also her capacity for hosting and giving. She hosts a party the way she gives a space for rest, and in recreating the Platter, she acknowledges her own citational relation to the space, borrowing what it offers down to its signature silver curtain that hangs on the Platter’s stage. In Green Room, Tsang shows that she has no own ership of the space. Whether it be the Whitney or the Platter, Tsang is passing through both spaces as it lets her in and lets her leave.

When they were not using it, the room was open to museum visitors, who, by walking in, entered the Platter. The room was made to look like the Platter’s interior: it was flatteringly lit; there were black vinyl couches and wood bar stools; a tissue box, a stack of plastic disposable cups, and a bottle of water were left on the tables facing mirrors lined with marquee light bulbs for touching up one’s makeup or wiping sweat away. On perpendicular walls played a twochannel film, Que pasa con los martes? (what the Platter’s usual clientele asked once Wildness was over). On one channel, Tsang sits on a bed with women from the Platter, including Erika, with whom she shares a close yet incommu nicable relationship due to a language barrier. On the second channel, Erika recounts in Spanish her migration to Los Angeles and the dangers she encoun tered on her journey.48 Between the two channels, the comforting touch of the group entangled on the bed contrasts with the story Erika tells alone. One does not come before or after the other. Erika’s account of her journey in the second channel does not ensure an arrival to the collective scene in the first channel. In their simultaneity, Erika’s account is enabled alongside the group encounter and vice versa.


While I have engaged with the works in Tsang’s oeuvre that take up full body quotation, the scope of her work moves beyond what can be addressed here. However, I want to gesture to her other works, specifically those in collabo ration with Fred Moten, where full body quotation has further moved Tsang toward other ongoing scenes of study also enabled by the risk of quotation.

Kim Lee  701 / film, Miss Communication and Mr: Re (2014), wherein Tsang and Moten’s images face each other on opposing screens. Since then, they have collaborated on var ious other writings and artworks, such as the video work Girl Talk (2015), the sculptural performance installation Gravitational Feel (2016), which was accom panied by a publication of their drawings, transcripts of their voicemails, and cowriting in Who Touched Me? (2016), and a double-channel projection, We hold where study (2017).49 In Tsang and Moten’s collaborations, quotations are shared between two friends who miss each other’s calls and leave messages for one another, wherein both start to talk like the other, taking up language already in use. Like the perform ers in For how we perceived a life, they finish each other’s sentences because of the familiarity of their phrasing, and like the quotations from Paris Is Burning, these quotations become lessons to and for each other. Like an inside joke, borrowed speech remains a point of contact, departure, and return—as material a group can always use to pick things up right where they left off, at any time, when someone calls.

Tsang’s performance practice of full body quotation is a mode of study that does not aim to speak for another as a form of mastery in order to make claims

In a conversation with Tsang, Moten says, “I have all these shorthand ways of putting shit that I steal from other people, but what I mean is that there are other words that one could use, but none of those words is replaceable. Not only are they not replaceable, they are not substitutable.”50 Tsang and Moten talk about what it means to be communicable, legible, and visible as trans, brown, and Black subjects with words that are not one’s own. To communicate with another, one must use the words given, the words already at play, for while there are other ways of getting oneself across, the words already present are not replaceable or substitut able. Those words given and borrowed hold a debt that becomes a lesson to learn about relation. As Moten describes it, this kind of “shorthand” communication can sort of be like stealing, and it can also be a way of letting the other know that the specificity of one’s words are intentional, a means of making the coincidence mean something between two people. When words are borrowed, something incommunicable and untranslatable is exchanged in that relation of complicity: there is debt and there are the distinct, unique voices speaking to one another.

Notes Thank you to the special issue editors, peer reviewers, and journal editors for their generous engagement. Thank you also to Nijah Cunningham, Kemi Adeyemi, and Kareem Khubchandani, as well as interlocutors at ASAP/10, “Proximities: An Asia/America Studies Symposium” at Dartmouth College, Post45, and the Wesleyan University Queer Studies Research Collective for their thoughtful comments on previous iterations of this work.

Tsang’s full body quotation shapes scenes of study that are hard and uncomfort able as much as they are careful and loving. It seeks out difficult forms of relation that are a necessary part of giving an account of oneself, since that account is always grounded in the self’s need for others, in how the self is complicit with a collectivity larger than oneself. Without others, there is no account to give, no story to tell, no words to borrow and exchange. As both artist and stu dent, in the bar, in the green room, on stage, or in the classroom, Tsang gives an account of herself through an account of another, which she cannot keep, only borrow.

ASAP/Journal  702 / on one’s source materials and the lives of others. As a practice, it seeks out the moments when a performance will not hold up, when the seams of the quo tation stand out like a lip-synch, a phonic punctuation, as the sound of voice and speech moving in tense relation to the body in which it briefly resides.


On the liberal incorporation of difference into the academy, see Roderick A. Ferguson, The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Robyn Wiegman, Object Lessons (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Nick Mitchell, “(Critical Ethnic Studies) Intellectual,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 86–94; Abigail Boggs and Nick Mitchell, “Critical University Studies and the Crisis Consensus,” in “Doctoral Degrees in W/G/S/F Studies: Taking Stock,” ed. Leisa Meyer and Ashwini Tambe, special issue, Feminist Studies 44, no. 2 (2018): 432–63.

2 On what Kadji Amin calls “the heuristic of deidealization,” see Amin, Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 4–11. “ Without others, there is no account to give, no story to tell, no words to borrow and exchange. ”

Kim Lee  703 / 3 See Abigail Boggs, Eli Meyerhoff, Nick Mitchell, and Zack Schwartz-Weinstein, “Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation,” Abolition University, https://abolition .university/invitation.4JoséEstebanMuñoz, The Sense of Brown, ed. Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong’o (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), 138. 5 Here I am thinking of Ethan Philbrick’s writing on the huddle, as “a relational form of disorderly proximity,” as “provisional conglomerations thrown together at a remove and secretive gatherings held quickly in order to plan.” Philbrick, “Huddling, Then and Now: Simone Forti and the Nonsovereign Collective,” TDR: The Drama Review 62, no. 4 (Winter 2018): 183. 6 “Wu Tsang: Full Body Quotation (Presented as part of Performa 11),” The New Museum, November 19, 2011,

7 Wu Tsang, “ ‘I Dislike the Word Visibility’: Wu Tsang on Sexuality, Creativity, and Conquering New York’s Museums,” by Chloe Wyma, Blouin Artinfo International, March 2, 2012, .com/news/story/761447/i-dislike-the-word-visibility-wu-tsang-on-sexuality-creativity’o, Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (New York: New York University Press, 2018).

11 Most notable are two essays by bell hooks and Judith Butler on the relation between mainly lower-/working-class Black and Latinx queens and the upper-middleclass white femininity that influenced drag categories of “realness.” See bell hooks, “Is Paris Burning?” in Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 145–56; Judith Butler, “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion,” in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge), 121–40. 12 Kandice Chuh, “It’s Not about Anything,” in “Being With: A Special Issue on the Work of José Esteban Muñoz,” special issue, Social Text 32, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 127. I am also thinking about how Lisa Lowe writes of the archives, often organized on the basis of relevance, in ways that obscure the broader relation of the continents through colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and empire. See Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015).

9 Rita Gonzalez, “Speech Acts,” in Wu Tsang: Not in My Language (Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2015), 27. 10 Muñoz, Sense of Brown, 139.


Ibid. 14 Quoted in Gonzalez, “Speech Acts,” 26. 15 Adriana Cavarero, For More than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression, trans. Paul A. Kottman (2003; Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 7. 16 Ibid., 4. For more on the voice in relation to embodiment and techniques of ventriloquism and lip-synching within both a performance and audiovisual context, see

ASAP/Journal  704 / Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema, trans. Claudia Gorben (1982; New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006). On the voice in music, particularly in feminist critiques of sound studies’ devaluation of the voice and its association with the materiality of the gendered body, see Licia Fiol-Matta, The Great Woman Singer: Gender and Voice in Puerto Rican Music (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017); Alexandra T. Vazquez, Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013). 17 Ibid., 9, 6. 18 Gonzalez, “Speech Acts,” 26. 19 Ibid. 20 Roy Pérez, “Proximity: On the Work of Mark Aguhar,” in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, ed. Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press and The New Museum, 2017), 281–92.21Wu Tsang, “In Both Bi- and Triennial, Wu Tsang Talks Community,” by Aimee Walleston, Art in America, February 10, 2012, wu-tsang-3-58700.22CheriseSmith, Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Linda Alcoff, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” Cultural Critique 20 (Winter 1991–92): 5–32; Nancy K. Miller, “Untitled Work, Or, Speaking as a Feminist . . . ,” in Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts (New York: Routledge, 1991), 31–37.23Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (Summer 1991): 773–97. 24 There is a rich body of scholarship on debt in contemporary life. I offer only a limited list of references here: Annie McClanahan, Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First-Century Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016); Miranda Joseph, Debt to Society: Accounting for Life under Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Andrew Ross, Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal (New York: OR, 2013); Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, trans. Joshua David Jordan (New York: Semiotext(e), 2012); Angela Mitropoulos, Contract and Contagion: From Biopolitics to Oikonomia (New York: Minor Compositions, 2012); Richard Dienst, The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common Good (New York: Verso, 2011); David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2011). For more on the racial and colonial logic of global capitalism and the “postcolonial/racial subjugation” of Black and Latinx debtors, see the special issue of American Quarterly, and Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s introduction to the issue: “Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism—An Introduction,” in “Race, Empire, and the Crisis of the Subprime,” ed.

Tsang and her friends came to realize the extent to which their notions of safety did a disservice to the community to which they aimed to be accountable. They overlooked

Kim Lee  705 / Chakravartty and da Silva, special issue, American Quarterly 64, no. 3 (2012): 361–85; also Jodi Kim, “Debt, the Precarious Grammar of Life, and Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest,” in “Debt,” ed. Rosalind Petchesky and Meena Alexander, special issue, Women’s Studies Quarterly 42, nos. 1–2 (Spring/Summer 2014): 215–32. 25 Sarita Echavez See, “Gambling with Debt: Lessons from the Illiterate,” American Quarterly 64, no. 3 (September 2012): 496; Fred Moten, The Universal Machine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013).

26 Harney and Moten, 61; Mimi Thi Nguyen, The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 189. 27 Harney and Moten, Undercommons, 110. 28 Ricardo Montez, Keith Haring’s Line: Race and the Performance of Desire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), 10, 11. 29 Ibid., 9. 30 Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003), 116. 31 Ibid. 32 Ibid, 114. 33 Wildness, directed by Wu Tsang (New York: Electronic Arts Intermix, 2012).

35 Tsang encountered the archival footage from Paris Is Burning during the Wildness years, moving between Los Angeles’s art world and queer nightlife. She invited artists and performers to share their work at the Platter, offering them a space and hosting them and their work, while at the same time bringing back what she witnessed and learned into class and her own work, which was conceived of, practiced, and filmed on the Platter’s stage, as seen in The Shape of the Right Statement (2008). Alongside UCLA’s archive, Tsang created her own, by documenting the nightlife and experimental performance of the Platter, filmed by herself and others. There are grainy glimpses of this rich archive throughout Wildness, where those in her queer performance art family, such as Nao Bustamante, Flawless Sabrina, and Dynasty Handbag, appear on the Platter’s stage. As the party’s host, she held the space for those performing and passing through.

34 Wu Tsang, “Artists at Work: Wu Tsang,” by Carol Cheh, East of Borneo, June 30, 2014,

36 In Wildness, Tsang describes how she wanted to protect the Platter as a “safe space” by giving back to its owners and clientele that existed prior to Wildness and the gentrification of the surrounding area. Such intentions are well-meaning yet fraught, particularly in the face of Wildness’ popularity and the bar’s subsequent visibility, which left not only its clientele but also the surrounding community vulnerable to the rising housing prices and police surveillance that come with gentrification by the creative class.

Katherine McKittrick, Dear Science and Other Stories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021), 16. 44 Kandice Chuh, Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 8. 45 Mitchell, “(Critical Ethnic Studies) Intellectual,” 88. 46 Wu Tsang, ”Adjacencies,” 39. 47 Vivian L. Huang, “Inscrutably, Actually: Hospitality, Parasitism, and the Silent Work of Yoko Ono and Laurel Nakadate,” Women & Performance 28, no. 3 (2018): 187–203.48 Muñoz, Sense of Brown, 137. See Fred Moten and Wu Tsang, Who Touched Me? (Amsterdam: If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to be a Part of Your Revolution, 2016). Wu Tsang and Fred Moten, “All Terror, All Beauty,” in Gossett, Stanley, and Burton, Trap Door, 344.


ASAP/Journal  706 / the fact that the Platter had already been there, appearing to others who came before her. As Tsang comes to find, this does not mean the Platter is a space of resilience forever unchanged. It means that the work of collectivity, community, and care cannot be guaranteed, and for that reason it will and must show up in necessary, yet different, unanticipated ways. See Christina B. Hanhardt, Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013) for more on the racialized, gendered, classed constructions of “safe space”; Muñoz, Sense of Brown, 138. 37 Ibid., 137–38. 38 Wu Tsang, “Adjacencies: Wu Tsang in Conversation with Thomas J. Lax,” by Thomas J. Lax, in Wu Tsang, 38. 39 Ibid. 40 Muñoz, Sense of Brown, 132. 41 See Nitasha Tamar Sharma, “Brown,” in Keywords for Asian American Studies, ed. Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Linda Trinh Võ, and K. Scott Wong (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 18–20; Vijay Prashad, The Karma of Brown Folk (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). 42 See Susette Min, Unnamable: The Ends of Asian American Art (New York: New York University Press, 2018). 43


In a turn that’s also typical of the genre, what Cohen performatively frames as a “distrac tion” from her work is not a diversion at all but instead exemplifies her argument’s neces sity. The story she tells shows a failure of LGBTQ+ organizations to conceive of politics intersectionally, while it also “highlights the limits of a lesbian and gay political agenda based on a civil rights strategy, where assimilation into, and replication of, dominant institutions

SHANNON BRENNAN is Assistant Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Carthage College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, The New Edith Wharton Studies , and The Bloomsbury Handbook to Edith Wharton . She is Associate Editor of the Edith Wharton Review



ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 707–730 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press.

n the eve of finishing this essay my attention is focused not on how to rework the conclusion (as it should be) but instead on news stories of alleged racism at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).”1 So begins CATHY COHEN’S influential essay, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” COHEN’S opening salvo attunes the reader to the urgency of her project and draws into the political present the act of writing: the “rework[ing] [of ] the conclusion.” Present on the surface of the text are COHEN’S “attention,” her “mixed emotions,” and the recursive process of revision. Such moves constitute what readers of this special issue might recognize as an “autotheoretical” gesture.

These two impulses—toward single-axis identitarian commitments and toward more dynamic conceptions of the subject—are both potentiated in autotheory, a genre in which the self, in its body and in all its particularity, is staged on the page as an object of, vessel for, or method of doing philosophy. Whether autotheory ultimately reifies the neoliberal self as expressed through identitarian taxonomies isn’t really the point; the question of the self ’s reification is always there—implicitly or explicitly. My aim is not so much to offer a political analysis of the works of autotheory that exist but to examine the works of autotheory that might be—the works of autotheory that undergraduate students produce (to personalize: the works that my undergraduate students produce) as they work through what, in the language of constructivist pedagogy, we might call queer theory’s “troublesome” knowledge practices.5

Given the genre’s feminist, queer, queer of color, and trans genealogy, I wish to consider its use as a tool for learning and, more, for “doing” queer theory—for

Two decades on, Cohen is still “rework[ing] the conclusion.” While optimistic about the intersectional work of the Movement for Black Lives, Cohen notes how LGBTQ+ politics has refused “Punks’s” intervention.3 Instead, the loudest mainstream LGBTQ+ voices continue to invest in presumptively stable iden tity categories, the security of which is expressed in well-meaning bromides such as the claim to having been “born this way” or tautologies like “love is love.” They invest, that is, not in the radical “identity politics” articulated by the Combahee River Collective, which emphasized the “synthesis of [interlocking] oppressions” on axes of race, gender, sexuality.4 Instead, much contemporary LGBTQ+ discourse emphasizes a putative “identity politics” that is single-axis (rather than intersectional), consumerist (rather than radically politicized), indi vidual (rather than collective), liberal (rather than radical), and organized around securing the identitarian platform from which a self can seek representation and redress rather than investigating the wily question of power’s operation in our connected biopolitical, necropolitical existence.

What are the uses of autotheory as a pedagogical tool?

ASAP/Journal  708 / are the goals.”2 Cohen advocates for a reconceptualization of the meaning of “queer”—not as a static identity marker but as the basis for a politics built on shared relationships to power.

Brennan  709 / doing queer theory as Cohen and other QPOC scholars define it, I mean: rec ognizing and theorizing one’s positionality in relation to power and in relation to potential coalitions of care, activism, and resistance.6 To what degree does the production of this genre of writing enable students to cross the threshold—as educational theorists Jan Meyer and Ray Land would put it—into the transfor mative ways of thinking that queer theory (and its cognate fields: women’s and gender studies, trans studies, ethnic studies) looks to enable?7

It’s a gnarly question, for contemporary autotheory, like contemporary queer theory, is positioned at a juncture that looks a lot like a fault line. Some of the genre’s most immediate forebears—autoethnography, testimonio, autohistoriateoría, theory in the flesh—have roots in the methods and practices of queer of color and U.S. third world feminisms; however, the genre is often described as originating with white writers like Paul Preciado, Chris Kraus, and Maggie Nelson.8 Similarly, contemporary queer theory has roots in the coalitional work of Chican@ and U.S. third world feminists, Black womanists, and queer of color thinkers—yet it’s not impossible for a student of queer theory to expect from the syllabus, or even to encounter, single-axis analyses of sexuality and gender, with intersectional concerns about race, ability, and class consigned to the margins.9 Thus, these constitute two epistemological fields that are defined by the desire to query the process by which power is inscribed on the body but which also make possible (or, shall we say, fail to render impossible) an incomplete portrait of power’s operation by/when they (ironically, incongruously) sideline intersectionality. Further, they both aim to make visible the process of interpel lation even as their particular instantiations may flirt with identitarianism. Thus, the genre of autotheory is uniquely positioned to make visible the troubles, the breakthroughs, and the failures of a pedagogy in queer theory. How might autotheory help students to move from a thin portrait of the stable, single-axis self to a thick notion of identity as in-relation and in-becoming? How/Does autotheory make visible the multiple axes of power that pro duce not only marginalization (as, for instance, white queer subjectivity) but also privilege (as, for instance, white queer subjectivity)?

“ How might autotheory help students to move from a thin portrait of the stable, single-axis self to a thick notion of identity as in-relation and in-becoming? ”

Testimonio, as theorized by Dolores Delgado Bernal, Rebeca Burciaga, and Judith Flores Carmona, “situat[es] the individual in communion with a col lective experience marked by marginalization, oppression, or resistance.”11 In my own queer classroom, I framed autotheory in relation to these cognate genres. Students read Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde beside Nelson and Preciado. But the particular aims and exigencies of our learning community meant that autotheory was tasked with a unique function: to help students to see not only their collective marginalization, not only their processual

The trouble I mean to describe emerged from these particularities. The ques tion, for instance, of students’ ability to recognize the collaborations between heterosexism and racism, and to track those collaborations in autotheoretical performances of their experience, hinged on their ability to make visible aspects of their identity that ideologies of colorblindness, economic uplift, and heter onormativity (as well as the places of homogeneity in our own classroom) had trained them not to notice—particularly whiteness and class.

ASAP/Journal  710 /

I ask these questions from my own position in the middle and on the margins.

Various strands of critical pedagogy, ranging from Chicana feminisms to queer of color critique, have emphasized the importance of self-reflexivity as a method of theorizing and teaching. For instance, E. Patrick Johnson’s “performative writing” offers “ways of understanding quotidian forms of knowledge production”: the epistemological sites, like church, where con ceptions of minoritarian identity (queer, Black, Southern, poor) emerge.10

White, queer, middle-class, middle-aged, masculine-of-center, a cis-gendered lesbian woman, I teach Queer Literature and Theory at a small liberal arts col lege in the U.S. Midwest. In the semester I’m describing here, my class was comprised entirely of white students, most of whom came from working- or middle-class backgrounds. Two were from Spain, the rest from the suburban and rural U.S. Midwest; some were straight and some weren’t and some weren’t sure; some were seniors bound for graduate school; two were, in fact, already graduate students in a different subject area taking this course for fun. When the pandemic hit, two members of the class were exiled from their home countries, while half of the students needed to limit our Zoom meetings to accommodate gigs they had acquired to support their families: enforcing mask protocols at Home Depot, Instacart shopping at the grocery store, donating plasma.


Whereas Cathy Cohen’s performance of distraction brings us back to the cen trality of her argument, I’m not sure mine does. Well, OK, I’m an historical subject, too. My distraction reminds me of the precarity of higher education under the neoliberal model. It reminds me that foundational to the definition of the “neoliberal university” is the understanding of students as consumers who are necessary not for the work they’ll do and the selves they trouble into and out of the process of becoming but for their tastes and their relative affection for the football team/TA/sorority/glee club/English club/whatever. That conceptualization of my students’ selves is pervasive. It’s possible to “write” this self into being, too—to write the self as valuable only to the degree that taste and spending power dictate. Or to write the self as under threat and mask but at least “out” in some articulable way—a certain satisfaction to being able to know oneself under at least one sign.

Could the genre of autotheory help students to see themselves as subjects-inrelation, along multiple axes, without reifying the stability of the self they were writing into being?


Brennan  711 with power as an aspect of subject-formation, but also the pro cesses by which they were interpellated as bearers of (not merely subject to) white cisheteropatriarchal power.12

On the eve of finishing this essay my attention is focused not on how to rework the conclusion (as it should be) but instead on news stories of 100,000 U.S. deaths to COVID-19, of the dangers of birding while Black, of the shut tering of safe spaces for gender- and sexually nonconforming folks, of the permanent closing of colleges, of faculty members cut from departments of African American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, of hiring freezes, salary freezes, of the anticipated layoffs of hundreds or thousands of adjunct and part-time professors. My attention is focused on fears for student health as colleges cut access to safe spaces and counseling centers; my attention is focused on fears for student satisfaction, as administrators weigh the relative value of individual workers, departments, divisions, and institutions.

ASAP/Journal  712 /

Much of the canonical work of the nascent (or, shall we say, newly defined) genre of autotheory stages the anti/identitarian friction I’ve been describing.

Stacey Young’s definition of the genre, which precedes Nelson’s putatively paradigmatic work by nearly two decades, emphasizes “the authors’ insistence on situating themselves within histories of oppression and resistance . . . pre sent[ing] the lives they chronicle as deeply enmeshed in other lives, and in history, in power relations that operate on multiple levels simultaneously.”13


Ralph Clare’s investigation of twenty-first-century autotheory argues that the genre “avoids the charge of essentialism that haunts identity politics by countering it with a notion of embodied experience that underscores the mal leability of identity itself.”14 Works like The Argonauts (2015) and Preciado’s Testo Junkie (2013), like the autofiction of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? (2013), inscribe the crosswise aims of writing, or writing one’s way toward, a stable identitarian self (on the one hand) and writing the instability of that self and the paucity of the categories made available to conceptualize it (on the other).15 Nelson’s work frames that instability by theorizing a Deleuzian love for Harry Dodge and for their children that transforms the body and the self. Preciado’s “self-theory” stylistically enacts the “somato-political” experience of his body’s shifting incitements as he takes Testogel.16 Claudia Rankine and Ann Cvetkovich work to illustrate what hegemonic operations like racial cap italism feel like as they reproduce themselves on the body 17 In each case, the “self ” that’s being written is not one who works toward proudly claiming an inter pellated identity—the coming-out-as ________ narrative; instead, that self is experienced in-relation and as a multiplicity of varying intensities (to quote one student, as a “pattern of individual moments,” or, to quote Jasbir Puar, as an act of Cohen’s“becoming”).18solutionto the stagnancy of single-axis, neoliberal identity politics is to advocate coalitional activism framed in relation to power. Autotheorists like Rankine, Cvetkovich, Nelson, Heti, and Preciado work to express what it looks and feels like to resist the sense-of or confidence-in identity as a teleological

How to trouble the self in such a context, at such a moment? To what degree can autotheory function as a pedagogical tool to channel neoliberal tendencies toward radical ends?

The most popular criticism directed toward autotheory and its cognate genres (autobiography, memoir, autoethnography, autofiction) finds an unsurpris ing analogue in right-wing denunciations of the university and, in particular, of disciplines whose pedagogy is explicitly directed toward social justice and activism. It’s a critique also leveled at the Gen Z-ers who mostly make up the college-age population. The writers, the students, the professors, the kids, all of them, the story goes, are petty narcissists, concerned only with their own prob lems and with the selves they write or the ones they project on the screens that they hold, like hand-mirrors, to their faces. Lauren Fournier and Irving Goh have interrogated the meaning of this charge when applied to (feminist) auto theory. Fournier notes the accusation’s foundation in a misogynist history that relies on paradox: “women are simultaneously (1) associated with narcissism by virtue of their ‘inherent’ femininity and (2) distanced from the very possibility of being narcissistic due to their lacking access to subjectivity and discourse.”19 Goh argues that autotheorists like Nelson and Preciado offer an “ethico-political narcissism” that refuses individualist notions of the self-admiring self.20 This forms the crux of the question of autotheory’s radical pedagogical poten tial. To the degree that “the self ” is rendered available as a single and articulable whole through the mimetic discourse of autotheory—made knowable, that is, through the given terms of interpellation supplied by a liberal identitarian context—the autotheoretical project carries the potential not merely to foster a narcissistic intellectual project, but, what’s more to the point, it carries the potential to foster a commitment to neoliberal individualism and the static, single-axis identity-based politics that it fosters. This question also pivots on the intersectional identifications produced or omitted within the writerly project. The critique of autowriting is founded as much on a resistance to minoritarian knowledge practices associated with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) subjectivities as to ambient misogyny.21 If autotheoretical writing has the advantage of enabling and enno bling the epistemological work of subjects whose “access to . . . discourse” has been historically curtailed, the genre also has the potential to manifest different

Brennan  713 / aim. They trouble the subject. It’s not the same as coalition-building, but that’s because it’s writing, not organizing. But writing can lead to organizing—which means we’re back to pedagogy again. More on this in a moment.

An equally powerful vector of neoliberalism’s pull is what Jorge Juan Rodríguez V calls “the neoliberal co-optation of identity politics.”23 Rodríguez notes that both radical U.S. third world feminism and neoliberalism begin their analyses by centering the individual subject, even though they do so for wholly different ends: the former, “to understand and combat systems of oppression”; the latter, to establish subjects’ worth via the deregulated market.24 Rodríguez goes on:[N]eoliberal ideology co-opts [radical Black feminist] Identity Politics by giving subjects value in relation to the productive capacity of their identity as defined by the market. . . . Stripped of any systemic critique, neoliberal identity politics emerges to give value to identities only in as much as they can demonstrate their market value in societal and insti tutional competitions.25 Thus, an auto-analysis of the self that begins from, or even moves toward, the stable operant position that one is “gay,” for instance, risks leaving intact the sociopolitical terms through which such an identity is made visible by intersect ing forces of power like racism, capitalism, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism; it also risks operationalizing that identity as a marker of competitive value vis-àvis the market: “I’m gay and a great day trader.”

ASAP/Journal  714 /

relationships to neoliberal identitarianism depending on the (economic, racial, ethnic, gender) positionality of the writer. In the classroom, autotheorizing the interpellative process occasions a particular kind of “trouble” when the chal lenge involves recognizing how the identity (or identities) being hailed carry power and privilege. Fournier raises some of these challenges in her reading of the “neoliberal fem inism” obliquely expressed in the autotheoretical projects of contemporary feminist social media artists.22 Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook allow for a more accessible feminist theory, Fournier notes. However, they also offer the occasion for self-branding, for the fetishization of theory accu mulated through privileged domains like art school, for the aspiration toward “likes” as markers of cultural capital. This use of theoretical discourse as both an unmarked sign of privilege and as a marketing tool is one way that autotheory flirts with capitalist prerogatives.

Writes Ganesh Sitaraman: “some neoliberals hold high the banner of inclusive ness on gender and race . . . [but] leave in place political and economic structures that harm the very groups that inclusionary neoliberals claim to support.”26

This can be seen, for instance, in the way that the popularization of “multi culturalist” rhetoric coemerged with a period of U.S. politics in which urban communities of color experienced overwhelming degrees of social harm and carceral control.27 This is the soup we swim in—me, and my students. And so, it’s the source of the trouble. In this context, to invite students to use writing as a way of doing, living, and being transformed by theory—to ask students to do autotheory in the queer classroom—is also to risk reinscribing a teleological narrative by which they come to recognize themselves as having arrived at their identitarian forma tions without necessarily recognizing those formations’ imbrication in a political system, and without necessarily recognizing those formations as demanding a social and collective orientation. Further, students can come to recognize the arrival at these identitarian formations as marking the consolidation of a mar ketable minoritarian (or minoritarian-friendly) self. This might not be the end of the world, of course. People come to college to “find themselves” (Foucault be damned) and there’s plenty of upheaval they’ll encounter along the way—they’ll move forwards, backwards, and sideways, again and again. We’re making better writers, not better papers, and learning is a lifelong process. Etcetera. Indeed, José Esteban Muñoz notes that “[w]ithin majoritarian institutions, the production of minoritarian knowledge is a project set up to fail.”28 This is precisely why Muñoz calls for “a theory of minoritarian pedagogy that owns failure, one that sees the process of teaching as being rife with what Austin calls ‘misfires.’ ”29

Brennan  715 /

That’s what I want to offer here. A story of—well, not of failure but of trouble. For if, as I propose, autotheory offers the potential to help students through the “troublesome knowledge” that constitutes the reframing of identity as dynamic, not static, of “queer” as a political commitment, not merely a singleaxis mode of sexual orientation, of the self as interpellated both by “culture” (/the state/capital) and in-relation-to others, then it’s necessary to notice the bottlenecks, quagmires, quicksands, and free-fall ledges that also attend the use of the genre as a teaching tool.

ASAP/Journal  716 / *

Christie Launius and Holly Hassel offer four Threshold Concepts for the field of women’s and gender studies: “the social construction of gender,” “privi lege and oppression,” “intersectionality,” and “feminist praxis.”32 To these I would add that, for queer theory, identity categories are invented and experienced as a response to particular historical exigencies. As I announce to my students in my syllabus for Queer Literature and Theory (an upper-level seminar cross-listed in English and Women’s and Gender Studies): Categories like “gay,” “straight,” “queer”—just like racial and gendered categories—aren’t metaphysical terms describing desires and subjectivities that persist in the same way across time. Rather, these categories are articulated in response to historical pressures and

Before we get to the trouble, let’s talk for a moment about what I want my students to know—or, rather, how I want my students to be able to see. In their landmark work on pedagogy in higher education, Jan Meyer and Ray Land coined the term “threshold concepts” to describe those “ways of know ing,” “ways of thinking,” and “ways of seeing” that define any community of practice—including academic disciplines.30 The distinction between professors of history and professors of literature, for instance, is not that one community of scholars studies events from the past while the other studies books. Obviously, both study both. Rather, the distinction concerns how they study these same objects, and how they represent them. When students struggle in their courses and in their majors (as they’re bound to do), it’s often because they are struggling to internalize a basic “threshold concept” that is simple to insiders, epistemologically foundational to work in the field, but dif ficult for outsiders or novices in the field to grasp. Threshold concepts serve as “gateways” to knowledge in a community; that is, even though our relation ship to those concepts might be recursive, we can’t progress within a field of knowledge without understanding them.

Threshold concepts are transformative (they change how we see the world), inte grative (they allow us to make previously hidden connections), reconstitutive (they change the learner’s subjectivity), and, perhaps most importantly, troublesome Troublesome knowledge, as David Perkins argues, appears counterintuitive, alien, or incoherent; it often undermines previously held beliefs, and, as such, can be disorienting and even distasteful to learners.31

The idea is troublesome to students, not least because so much of our contem porary popular discourse on sexuality, gender, and race emphasizes the putative fact of identity over the process of interpellation. The ten students in my Queer Literature and Theory course moved forward and backward in their efforts to understand this concept. When we read José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications (1999) during the first month of the class, students could articulate the prob lems of Freud’s original model of “identification” as opposed to “desire,” and they were able to explain and provide examples of Althusser’s concept of “interpellation”—both without much difficulty. They spoke in sophisticated ways about how Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman (1996) and Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied (1989) differently modeled (and might provoke) disiden tification. The idea didn’t seem troublesome, at first. The same held true for our encounter with scholarship concerning the affec tive and strategic modes through which queer community might be formed and mobilized. Cohen’s essay, Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic; The Erotic as Power” (1978), Lorde and James Baldwin’s “Revolutionary Hope” dialogue (1984), Baldwin’s “Go the Way Your Blood Beats” interview (1984), and Jordy Rosenberg’s antic novel Confessions of the Fox (2018) all found their way into our collective vocabulary with relative ease. What caused trouble was the attempt to think identity as a form always in the act of becoming in relation to power. On the one hand, students were able to repeat the foundational ideas of Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter (1993); on the other, some expressed concern that Butler’s theories might be offensive to trans folks for whom the experience of gender “feels real”—a question that reflects students’ difficulty processing that the social fiction of binary gender isn’t wholly volitional, that “feeling real” is a part of the way that this construction works.33 Folks who were able to define “pharmacopor nographic capitalism” struggled with the nonteleological aims of Preciado’s Testogel project—his examination and rejection of the “political tautology” that determines that “[e]ven before the effects of the testosterone are apparent in my body, the condition for the possibility of administering the molecule to me is having renounced my female identity.”34 Jasbir Puar’s “Bodies with

Brennan  717 / needs, ranging from the way that desire is defined, to the way that society is assembled and stratified, to the way that power is organized and maintained.

One of the features of troublesome knowledge is that we think we understand it—and then, as we grasp it in its greater complexity, we’re faced with limita tions in our comprehension. So students who had had no problem grasping Foucault’s reading of the “incitement to discourse” were suddenly flummoxed when we put the compulsion to confess in dialogue with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet. Where it had been easy to recognize how confession puts one at the mercy of power when that idea stood alone, it became more difficult to do when also thinking about the oppression of the closet.

New Organs,” read on the heels of Butler’s and Preciado’s texts, was more immediately decipherable: “In the oscillation between discipline and control, which is . . . about the constellation of relations between discipline and con trol, the question, are you trans? morphs to, how trans are you?”35 Students began to grasp the idea that gender and ability might be experienced not as identities realized in relation to fantasies of wholeness but as processes coming into being on the body in differential ways during differential experiences.

Indeed, the dominance of narratives in which the ability to claim a practice as an identity—narratives that define this as a salutary gesture (“Dad, I’m gay”)— made it difficult for students to see Sedgwick as co-operating with Foucault in

However, Amit Rai’s notion of “race racing,” which Puar uses as an analogue and as an intersecting valence for the experience of “becoming trans, becoming disabled,” caused students more trouble. Rai proposes analyzing the processes like “duration, sensation, resonance, and affect” through which race is produced “in its mode of becoming,” through which race is experienced in “immanent intensive variability across and within populations.”36 This understanding of race as experienced in varying intensities on a social and molecular level was once again difficult for students to fully comprehend. The hermeneutic density of these works might account for the “trouble” stu dents encountered, as might the racial homogeneity of our classroom. However, most of the trouble that I witnessed was not in students’ ability to recall or rephrase the material but rather in their ability to resolve the contradiction between these complex ideas about identity as differentially coming into being in ways variously and simultaneously racialized, sexualized, gendered, etc., and their preexisting liberal conception of identities as static locations of oppression, or bases for claims of rights, representation, and respect.

ASAP/Journal  718 /

Which is where autotheory fits in. As a genre concerned with the performa tive presentation of a somatic self-in-becoming, whose subjectivity is formed in relation to community and to power, and as a genre that stages the process of transforming and being-transformed-by theory (and especially theories of gender, capital, affect, community), autotheory seemed—seems—a use ful pedagogical tool for allowing students to process their process across this threshold. *

So I assigned my students to compose a work of autotheory—first, by writing weekly entries where they applied theory to their lives and their lives to theory; then, by producing a revised project that curated, reordered, remediated (or, in some cases, completely rejected and rebuilt) their previous reflections to create a final work designed for a public audience. To prepare, we read selections from Nelson’s The Argonauts, Preciado’s Testo Junkie, Cvetkovich’s Depression: A Public Feeling (2012), Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), selections from This Bridge Called My Back (1981), and a few definitions of the genre. No less critically attuned than other scholars who have asked similar questions, members of the course professed ongoing uncertainty about what, precisely,

Trouble is interesting, because it allows us to see the jostling and elbowing that takes place when an old worldview tries to accommodate a new belief. The students in my Queer Literature and Theory course were ideologically varied. Some were committed Marxist-feminists with backgrounds in justice activism; some were committed Christians; many came from conservative households, and enrolled in the class hoping to find ways to change their family members’ minds. Their old worldviews were by no means consistent across the board, but while different students struggled in different places in the class, every student experienced some degree of “trouble” as they worked to understand a threshold concept that asked them to think of identity relationally, historically, and politi cally (in the most robust sense of the word).

Brennan  719 / historically situating the conditions for, and the phenomenology of, the emer gence of both the closet and the confessional.

“Is it like blogging?” “Is it just memoir but also where we use theory to think through our own stories?” “Is there a difference between this and blogging?” “Can it be more–theory than auto-?” “But seriously, I used to blog—is this a blog?” ”

ASAP/Journal  720 / this genre even was. “Is it like blogging?” “Is it just memoir but also where we use theory to think through our own stories?” “Is there a difference between this and blogging?” “Can it be more–theory than auto-?” “But seriously, I used to blog—is this a blog?” More germane to this discussion of the problems and potentialities of auto theory as a pedagogical tool are the questions my students posed concerning the degree to which this genre could carry radical potentials when employed by those whose identity taxonomies—straight, white, cis-gendered, male, middleclass—afforded them privilege. At first, many of these students began by writing the stories of others—in particular, of their LGBTQ+ friends and family. The choice was perhaps not unlike Nelson’s to try to “think” her sense of herself as a lesbian by contemplating the pronouns attributed to and claimed by Harry Dodge; that is, to approach the question of subjectivity-in-process by (iron ically) thinking and writing about the experiences of people whose identities were already most clearly interpellated as “other” instead of (for instance) think ing about how they experienced their own whiteness, straightness, queerness, cis-genderedness on the surface of their bodies. The results of this problematic choice were, of course, interesting. One student expanded the identificatory rubric of popular culture by describing herself not as “a Rachel” or “a Miranda,” but as “a Hella” (the woman whom Baldwin’s protagonist strings along in Giovanni’s Room). Another described how, as a child, she’d been told that her aunt’s marriage to a woman would take place in another state because it wasn’t legal in theirs—leading her to believe that marriage, as an institution, was against the law in Illinois. In their dialogues with one another, students quickly noted this tendency was, overall, appropriative and not reflec tive of the ethics they wanted their projects to produce. “

Brennan  721 /

The other interesting problem embedded in the question asked by my students (particularly those who identified as straight)—“What can I write and how do I make this queer?”—is the seeming assumption that to some degree the questions concerning identity, identification, and power that are posed by “queerness” and by the queer valences of autotheory ultimately weren’t really theirs to ask or, at least, to ask of their lives.37 Part of this attitude was linked to their working through trouble linked to other ideas circulating among women’s and gen der studies and queer communities: for instance, that the millennia-spanning archive of studies of race, gender, and sexuality is dominated by the opinions of white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men, such that perhaps we’re not in need of more; the desire to preserve the right for people on the margins to set the terms for these discussions. But part of the difficulty, too, was in thinking through how they might write, for instance, a dialogue with Muñoz (whose emphasis is the hermeneutic process by which queer people of color carve an affirmative place for identification within a landscape fraught with hostile representations along multiple axes) in order to interrogate the process by which they came to understand certain aspects of their own identities as visible or invisible, as “feel ing real” (or not), as unproblematic “goods,” or problematic “goods” or “bads.”

The “trouble” here seems to be rooted in students’ difficulty recognizing that normative identities are in-the-process-of-becoming, just as marginal identities are, and that recognizing how power functions on our bodies is work that we all owe ourselves and one another—even when what we discover shows how we’ve “profited” from those interpellations (in many different senses of the term). The racial homogeneity of our small learning community undoubtedly contributed to this impression: while gender, sexuality, and citizenship became visible as sites of difference within our collectivity, whiteness persistently faded in casual interpersonal discourse (if not in the responses to theory). It’s also possible that one reason for this trouble concerns some of the interpellative decisions that the authors we read choose not to make. For instance, Preciado occasionally marks the privilege of his race, noting that his ability to administer Testogel without certain state interventions is linked to his class and his whiteness, and he raises the intersectional quality of gender with regularity (as, for instance, “some semiotechnical codes of white heterosexual masculinity belonging to the postwar pharmacopornographic political ecology”).38 But his is not a somatopolitical experiment in whiteness, really. Not explicitly. Nelson’s whiteness, too, goes mostly uninterrogated, if not unmarked.39

ASAP/Journal  722 /

I’m describing here illustrate the trouble my students encoun tered as they worked to internalize a more complex relationship to some interrelated threshold concepts of queer theory and women’s and gender stud ies. While it’s possible that the archive of autotheory that we read didn’t robustly model a sophisticated performance of these interrelated concepts, it’s also true that writing autotheory forced my students to think this problem explicitly. A different assignment might have allowed them to performatively deconstruct heterosexism and racism without recognizing the need to interrogate the pro cesses through which heterosexuality and whiteness have been reproduced on their own bodies. Such a move would ultimately leave intact the notion that racism, heterosexism, and ableism only “affect” us to the degree that we are already identified/identifying-as other-than-white, other-than-straight, otherthan-able-bodied, etc.—thus reinforcing the neoliberal cooptation of identity politics as stable, single-axis, and consumerist. But in casting about to find ways of writing an autotheoretical work informed by and in relation to that genre’s participation in a queer theoretical archive, the students in this course were forced to consider how queerness (as defined here as intersectional, relational, and political) has operated in their own autobiographies.

The final projects that my students produced illustrated that some had made their way through this trouble, while others left the course still in the midst of it. For instance, one student wrote about the way that she had been dressed as a toddler for festivals in racially appropriative costumes. She interrogated the pleasures that such costuming had brought her as a child and meditated on the degree to which such pleasures might have been connected to white fantasies

As a result, those works of autotheory that we read that were most explicitly intersectional in their analyses—Lorde, Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Baldwin— were those authored by writers of color. (It’s also worth noting that these authors are often framed not as autotheorists but as proto-autotheorists, suggesting a possible whitening and concomitant distancing of the genre from its roots in U.S. third world and women of color feminisms.)

The implicit message, then, may have been that the radical work of autotheory is always oriented around an “I” whose subject-position is available to interrogation only to the degree that it is recognizable as marginal. Perhaps the received idea was that whiteness does not name itself in autotheory, that privilege does not name itself as an object of Theautotheory.questions

I think there are two major factors that contributed to this trouble. The first, as I have been arguing, concerns a neoliberal conception of identity-as-commodity. By this logic, identity is not a dynamic relation so much as a marketable product. Thus, the aim of a liberal narrative concerning gender or sexuality is to arrive at a place where you can claim your gender or sexuality, or your race (unless that race is “white”), the end. The messiness that these students were able to recognize, which pointed to the ways that social forces were operant in their daily lives, creating “whiteness,” “womanliness,” “straightness,” as things that

Brennan  723 / of mastery, to unsophisticated attempts to counteridentify with whiteness, and to the titillating fantasy of enacting the experience of an oppression that could then be taken off at will. She juxtaposed this analysis with a discussion of the contrasting ways that she and her brother were disciplined for dressing in styles that didn’t conform to socially gendered codes, suggesting how power can be performed differentially along axes of gender and race, and showing how costuming might serve as a strategy for melancholically acting out diverse rela tionships to power. By framing her interrogations as questions routed through scholars like Saidiya Hartman, Muñoz, and Butler, she also pointed to the limits of her own ability finally to “know,” defensively or affirmatively, the conflicting drives that ordered these impulses, and her contrasting ability to “know” how she might think their meanings as social and political actions.

Those students who stumbled on the threshold often did so because they strug gled to move beyond a teleological understanding of the self. For instance, one student’s autotheory project examined her high school friendships, interrogat ing how homosocial affection was routed within her social and cultural milieu. She connected that milieu to larger political and social factors (religion, poli tics, region, class) and meaningfully interrogated some of the ambivalences that attended her effort to think her experience of love along the lesbian continuum. Yet her drafts of the project were repeatedly marked by rhetorical gestures meant to reassure the reader that a behavior or desire wasn’t “weird.” This student was able to recognize and revise these turns, yet the conclusion of her final project nevertheless shied away from the irresolution and action-potential that informed the rest of the project in favor of an ending that assured the reader that things would all turn out OK. Another student examined the process by which she had recursively questioned and experienced her heterosexuality with a concluding assurance that she was, in the final analysis, straight.

ASAP/Journal  724 / “feel real,” was resolved, according to the logic of this dominant philosophy, as a single performative utterance.

As I suggested at the beginning of this essay, one of the potentials of autotheory as a pedagogical genre for teaching queer literature and theory is its resistance to this kind of resolution. The text of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen concludes with a dialogue in which she recounts a microaggression she experienced on her way to play tennis: “Did you win? he asks. / It wasn’t a match, I say. It was a lesson.”40 Nelson concludes with a meditation against teleology that never theless lacks certainty about teleology’s opposite: “the joke of evolution is that it is a teleology without a point, that we, like all animals, are a project that issues in nothing [Phillips/Bersani]. But is there really such a thing as nothing, as nothingness? I don’t know. I know we’re still here, who knows for how long, ablaze with our care, its ongoing song.”41 This resistance to narrative resolution is also formally enacted in Rankine’s pastiche of images, essay, and poetry; Nelson’s aphoris tic structure; Cvetkovich’s postmemoir reflection and post-post memoir essays; Anzaldúa’s code- and mode-switching. It may be no accident, then, that those students who were most able to go beyond the threshold of queer theory epistemology were also those who made the most radical formal experiments consistent with autotheory. One student produced a project that was organized in chapters that were ordered as a “play list” of songs by his favorite band. The essay, which explored, among other things, the queer sensation of “feel[ing] out of where I should be in a social

The other factor was a difficulty in understanding “life writing” outside of a frame that justifies the contemporary position of the subject. Recalling their struggle to think of Preciado’s Testogel experiment as processual (rather than teleological), these students strove toward a narrative closure that would resolve their projects in a way that justified or asserted the stability of their present subject-positions as expressed in part through identitarian taxonomies. This use of narrative to recover a once-conflicted self is present in plenty of lib eral LGBTQ+ media projects—for instance, the film version of The Danish Girl, which employs an anachronistic “wrong-body” narrative of trans iden tity to advance a tragically triumphal story of gender reassignment, or Glee, in which the ordering aspiration of gay characters is to be comfortably “out” and accepted by family and peers while also singing.

Brennan  725 development/ sense,” was designed to be read either chronologically, relative to his life; chronologically, relative to the order in which each song was released; or, via a YouTube playlist, on shuffle play. This project had no proper conclu sion, but it included ongoing revisions and reminders: “back to theory, back to theory, back to theory,” a chapter dedicated to revisiting “generalizations” he’d made in other chapters that needed to be interrogated or revised.

One student produced a chronological photo album on PowerPoint that linked to a series of interpretive essays that “concluded” with an un-Venn diagram of identity categories that the essay deconstructed. Another produced a video in which she paged through a journal containing graphic illustrations and theoretical commentary as she read aloud a series of “dear diary” entries that documented moments when the enforcements of gender, heterosexuality, and prohibitions against certain forms of self-knowledge were suddenly made visible. In each of these projects, the speaker’s self was framed as an object of interrogation along two vectors: An interrogation that queried the personal and political processes by which the speaker had come to know him/her/themself as a raced, gendered, and sexualized social subject; and an interrogation that que ried both the objects of knowledge and the ways of knowing that ordered that person’s encounter with the world. * The form of autotheory, then, made visible the ways that some students were still working to move across the threshold into a more robust epistemolog ical engagement with queer theory. But for many students it also enabled passage across that threshold. For these reasons, the genre has unique potentials for helping students to mud dle through the “troublesome” knowledge practices of queer and women’s and gender studies scholars. Yet certain limitations still persist that aren’t immediately answerable through the genre of autotheory. For instance, as I mentioned above, writing isn’t organizing, and it’s not clear that “ . . . the genre has unique potentials for helping students to muddle through the “troublesome” knowledge practices of queer and women’s and gender studies scholars. ”

ASAP/Journal  726 / the autotheory project, as I designed it, pointed students toward the kinds of communitarian commitments that are at the heart of Cohen’s definition of “queer,” or of, say, testimonio. While many students’ autotheory projects offered theoretically complex conceptions of the self as in-process, in-relation, and historically situated, only three explicitly pointed toward the necessity of advo cating for and with others whose “queer” positionality (defined along multiple axes in relation to power) had overlapping histories that could offer bases for collective work. This, by the way, is the conclusion I mentioned near the beginning of this essay. The one I’ve been meaning to revise as my attention is drawn, now, to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. I’ve mentioned Claudia Rankine in this essay, but I didn’t teach Citizen in my Queer Literature and Theory class. Probably I should have. Perhaps if I had, one of the factors that my students might have wished to consider in their projects might have been “To what degree does the state intervene in my life on a daily basis?” For my students don’t remember Lawrence v. Texas, which concerned the criminalization of sexual conduct; they remember Obergefell v. Hodges, which concerned the equal access to a (heteronormative) civic insti tution, and they remember U.S. v. Windsor, which concerned the ability to transfer property with estate tax exemption. There’s a particular challenge, then, in framing the queer theory classroom as a place for the interrogation of the social and political conditions of the (racialized, gendered, sexualized, dis/abled) subject’s emergence in relation to power, because the discourses sur rounding the classroom so frequently emphasize the monetizing of an insipid vision of “multiculturalism” or of “love.” This difficulty is aggravated by a neoliberal conception of the university that understands the “value” of programs via their ability to attract student dollars, the “value” of a degree via its ability to lead to greater personal wealth, the “value” of students in terms of their ability to generate tuition and, later, alumni donations. This discourse circulates with added vehemence and threat in the context of this current pandemic. At such a moment, it’s both more urgent and more difficult to help students not just to know but to understand the ways that our individual definitions of ourselves—in our confidence, in our fear, in our desire, in our loneliness, in our strength, and in our passion—is ongoing, historical, political, and urgent. At its best, autotheory can be an invaluable

Notes 1 Cathy J. Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” in “Identity/Space/Power: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Politics,” ed. Mark Blasius, special issue, GLQ 3, no. 4 (May 1997): 437. 2 Ibid. 3 Cathy Cohen, “The Radical Potential of Queer? Twenty Years Later,” in “GLQ at Twenty-Five,” ed. Jennifer DeVere Brody and Marcia Ochoa, special issue, GLQ 25, no. 1 (2019): 140–44. 4 Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement (1978),” in “Solidarity,” ed. Shefali Chandra and Saadia Toor, special issue, Women’s Studies Quarterly 42, nos. 3–4 (Fall/Winter 2014): 273, 271. 5 David Perkins, “The Many Faces of Constructivism,” in “The Constructivist Classroom,” ed. Marge Scherer, special issue, Educational Leadership 57, no. 3 (November 1999): 6–11. 6 “In some conversations,” Robyn Wiegman notes, “autotheory’s genealogy is forged in collaboration with transgender studies as both modes of address rupture the normativities safeguarded by traditional conventions drawn around genre and disciplinarity alike.” Robyn Wiegman, “Introduction: Autotheory Theory,” in “Autotheory Theory,” ed. Robyn Wiegman, special issue, Arizona Quarterly 76, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 7. See also Roderick A. Ferguson, One-Dimensional Queer (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2019).

8 When asked about “autotheory,” Nelson credits Preciado with the term. The same interview cites an archive of exclusively white writers, with the exception of Fred Moten. “Riding the Blinds,” interview by Micah McCrary, Los Angeles Review of Books, April 26, 2015, Lauren Fournier’s work pushes back against more limited genealogies: “[W]hile the term ‘autotheory’ circulates specifically in relation to third-wave and fourth-wave feminist texts . . . theorizing from the first person is well established within the genealogies of feminist practice.” Lauren Fournier, “Sick Women, Sad Girls, and Selfie Theory: Autotheory as Contemporary Feminist Practice,” in “Lives Outside the Lines: Gender and Genre,” ed. Eva C. Karpinski and Ricia Anne Chansky, special issue, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 33, no. 3 (Autumn 2018): 643–44.

7 Jan Meyer and Ray Land, “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines,” in Improving Student Learning: Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice—10 Years On, ed. Chris Rust (Oxford, UK: Oxford Centre for Learning and Learning Development, 2003).

Brennan  727 / pedagogical tool to help us see these selves come into being, and to see which work (and how very much work) we still have left to do.


10 E. Patrick Johnson, “Queer Epistemologies: Theorizing the Self from a Writerly Place Called Home,” Biography 34, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 430.

Dolores Delgado Bernal, Rebeca Burciaga, and Judith Flores Carmona, “Chicana/Latina Testimonios: Mapping the Methodological, Pedagogical, and Political,” in “Chicana/Latina Testimonios: Methodologies, Pedagogies, and Political Urgency,” ed. Dolores Delgado Bernal, Rebeca Burciaga, and Judith Flores Carmona, special issue, Equity and Excellence in Education 45, no. 3 (2012): 363. Cindy Cruz follows Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Christine Soto in emphasizing the need for educational practice and theory that “situate[es] knowledge in the brown body” through the centering of life narrative. Cindy Cruz, “Toward an Epistemology of a Brown Body,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 14, no. 5 (2001): 668.

ASAP/Journal  728 / 9 Michael Hames-García suggests that queer theory frequently centers white theorists, ignoring queer of color critique. He advocates a pedagogy that features this more complete genealogy. José Aguilar-Hernández champions a “queer critical race pedagogy” that unites critical pedagogy, critical race studies, and queer theory. Aguilar-Hernández offers useful exercises to help students think intersectionally, although autotheory is not among them. Michael Hames-García, “Queer Theory Revisited,” in Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader, ed. Michael Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 19-45; José M. Aguilar-Hernández, “Queering Critical Race Pedagogy: Reflections of Disrupting Erasure while Centering Intersectionality,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 33, no. 6 (2020): 679–94.

13 Stacey Young, Changing the Wor(l)d: Discourse, Politics, and the Feminist Movement (New York: Routledge, 1997), 69. 14 Ralph Clare, “Becoming Autotheory,” in “Autotheory Theory,” ed. Robyn Wiegman, special issue, Arizona Quarterly 76, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 86. 15 Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2015); Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, trans. Bruce Benderson (2008; New York: Feminist Press, 2013); Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be? (New York: Picador, 2013).

12 A critical function of queer and critical race pedagogies is to acknowledge minoritarian subjects as holders of knowledge. I track how autotheory in the queer classroom might also produce critical consciousness among students who hold privilege along intersecting categories. On the use of critical pedagogy as a liberatory model for minoritized students, see Dolores Delgado Bernal, “Critical Race Theory, Latino Critical Theory, and Critical Raced-Gendered Epistemologies: Recognizing Students of Color as Holders and Creators of Knowledge,” in “Critical Race Theory and Education: Qualitative Research in the New Millennium,” ed. Marvin Lynn, Tara J. Yosso, Daniel G. Solórzano, and Laurence Parker, special issue, Qualitative Inquiry 8, no. 1 (2002): 105–26; G. D. Shlasko, “Queer (v.) Pedagogy,” Equity and Excellence in Education 38, no. 2 (2005): 123–34.

Brennan  729 / 16 Preciado, Testo Junkie, 11. 17 Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014); Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).18 Jasbir K. Puar, “Bodies with New Organs: Becoming Trans, Becoming Disabled,” Social Text 33, no. 3 (September 2015): 45–73. Mieke Bal writes that she turned to autotheory as a mechanism for capturing the way that contemporary culture is “by definition still ‘in becoming.’ ” Mieke Bal, “Documenting What? Auto-Theory and Migratory Aesthetics,” in A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film, ed. Alexandra Juhasz and Alisa Lebow (Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 124. 19 Lauren Fournier, “The Paradox of Narcissism and the Philosopher’s Wife: Towards a Definition of Auto-Theory,” Working with Luce Irigaray, 2016, and-definition-of-auto-theory/,“Auto-thanato-theory:DarkNarcissisticCarefortheSelfinSedgwickZambreno,”in“AutotheoryTheory,”ed.RobynWiegman,specialissue, Arizona Quarterly 76, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 198. 21 Cruz, “Toward an Epistemology,” 658–62. 22 Lauren Fournier, “Sick Women, Sad Girls.” 23 Jorge Juan Rodríguez V, “The Neoliberal Co-Optation of Identity Politics: GeoPolitical Situatedness as a Decolonial Discussion Partner,” in “Thinking from Other Worlds: Decolonial Proposals and Interrogations,” ed. Hugo Córdova-Quero, Nicolás Panotto, and Santiago Slabodsky, special issue, Horizontes Decoloniales / Decolonial Horizons 5, no. 1 (2019): 101–30. 24 Ibid., 120. 25 Ibid., 121. 26 Ganesh Sitaraman, The Great Democracy: How to Fix Our Politics, Unrig the Economy, and Unite America (New York: Basic, 2019): 48. 27 James Kyung-jin Lee, Urban Triage: Race and the Fictions of Multiculturalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004). For analysis of “neoliberal multiculturalism,” see Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011). 28 José Esteban Muñoz, “Teaching, Minoritarian Knowledge, and Love,” Women & Performance 14, no. 2 (2005): 120. 29 Ibid., 118. Perhaps because they are offered as curatives to failures in mainstream educational practices, few of the works of queer pedagogy cited here describe how failure or trouble has functioned in the classroom. Notable exceptions are Bryant Keith Alexander, “Embracing the Teachable Moment: The Black Gay Body in the Classroom as Embodied Text,” in Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, ed. E. Patrick Johnson and

ASAP/Journal  730 / Mae G. Henderson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 249–65; and E. Patrick Johnson, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003). 30 Meyer and Land, “Threshold Concepts.” 31 Perkins, “Many Faces,” 6–11. 32 Christie Launius and Holly Hassel, Threshold Concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies: Ways of Seeing, Thinking, and Knowing (New York: Routledge, 2015). 33 Qwo-Li Driskill’s “Doubleweaving Two-Spirit Critiques: Building Alliances between Native and Queer Studies” was the work that most helped students to recognize that the binary construction of the heterosexual matrix is not, in fact, universal across all cultures. Qwo-Li Driskill, “Doubleweaving Two-Spirit Critiques: Building Alliances between Native and Queer Studies,” in “Sexuality, Nationality, Indigeneity,” ed. Daniel Heath Justice, Mark Rifkin, and Bethany Schneider, special issue, GLQ 16, nos. 1–2 (2010): 69–92. 34 Preciado, Testo Junkie, 60. 35 Puar, “Bodies with New Organs,” 62. 36 Amit S. Rai, “Race Racing: Four Theses on Race and Intensity,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40, nos. 1–2 (Spring/Summer 2012): 64, 65. 37 Cherríe Moraga arrives at a sense of her privilege as a light-skinned woman precisely through investigating her own oppression—a narrative process that was not immediately available to students who recognized themselves as white, cisgendered, straight men. Cherríe Moraga, Loving in the War Years (Boston: South End Press, 1983). 38 Preciado, Testo Junkie, 61, 121. 39 For instance, Nelson ruminates on the ethics of her and Harry Dodge, two white persons, deciding to give their child a Cherokee name. 40 Rankine, Citizen, 159. 41 Nelson, Argonauts, 143.

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 731–752 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press. Cliff Mak IF THAT WHICH IS AT ALL: NOTES TOWARD AN ALLOTHEORY OF GRACE E. LAVERY PREFACE

S ince she began documenting her transition in detail on social media, and especially since at least her 2018 challenge to CHRISTOPHER REED’S defense of the supposed right of academics to deadname and misgender students, GRACE LAVERY has occupied an exceptional position as a humanist scholar, public intellectual, activist, and trans woman.1 This has been due in part to her commitment to the open practice of what might be called an autotheory in which the manifold dimensions of her own hypervisible trans feminine body and life—including even the perhaps unprecedented levels of hostility and harassment she has received from some of the most virulently transphobic corners of the internet—have both informed and confirmed the central proposition of her work: that aesthetic judgment is materially felt in the world. Similarly, certain investments of my own work as a scholar of literary CLIFF MAK is Assistant Professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York. He is completing a book project on formalisms of instinct in modernist literature, and some of his essays have been published in PMLA , ELH , Modernist Cultures, and Modernism/modernity modernism have both shaped and been shaped by my friendship with GRACE, which, while less generative of controversy, was once no less vitiated by its own distinct but homologous form of bad faith. When

—The Gospel of John3 I. THE MAGICIAN Gnomically poetic and knowingly gnomic, the prologue of the Gospel of John can almost not help but resonate for the modern reader as an urtext for allothe ory. If to allotheorize is to theorize the other, to theorize through the other and their textuality, and if its two constitutive acts are to install to a degree the other as logically and temporally prior to the local scene of writing and to adhere to a kind of faithfulness to the integrity of the other’s alterity as such, then our evangelist falls into step: one cannot allotheorize without at some level echoing a “Word” that “was” in “the beginning” and without a “Word” that was “with God”—the wholly Other—and even “was God.” And if one is to allotheo rize through another who joyfully avows the inextricably embodied and sexual nature of her own autotheory, and if one is to avow how that embodiedness has passed through her words and into one’s own body, then our evangelist perks our ears up once more—“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”—asking alongside us whether allotheory is in fact impossible with out a theory of incarnation.4

it was suggested, then, that I contribute a piece on GRACE’S autotheoretical practice to which she would subsequently reply, it became clear that any such essay claiming that particular kind of privileged insight would have to account for its own origin story and conditions of possibility, and that to do so would perhaps necessitate that it hazard being part criticism, part narrative, and, inescapably—and this last part is for fans of the crime thriller Now You See Me (2013), from which this essay takes its section arcana-headings and the apparent central conceit of which is that we take seriously the idea of JESSE EISENBERG as a franchise-ready leading man—part gimmick.

Can one—or at least could one ever—begin to write without taking oneself for another?—Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1975)2 If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.

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Mak  733 /

The allotheorist here, however, proceeds with caution and is obliged to reflect on the methodological advantages and rhetorical disadvantages of framing a recently popular mode of theory and practice in shamelessly transhistorical terms. On the one hand, the allotheorist knows full well the dangers of a meta physics of presence, or what would interpretively amount to that which Barthes, this essay’s other ur-allotheorist, has taught us to recognize as the releasing of a “single ‘theological’ meaning” from a text—here, both the autotheorist herself and the auto-/allotheoretical mode as a whole.5 On the other hand, the allothe orist also knows that his allotheory, and his theory of allotheory, simply cannot avoid being dismissed as a magical gimmick, as if his interpretive confidence in the other were merely a confidence trick, an illusion under which there were nothing of value. And on the other, other hand, or perhaps under the third cup, the allotheorist wonders if allotheory as such, the theorizing from the other, were not simply a matter of theft, of stealing a kind of meaning from the other, a meaning that the allotheorist has no right himself to possess. Hence, the allotheorist turns to the heist film as his model. Few genres merge form and subject as well as the heist film: its success depends entirely on the degree to which the filmmaker’s technical skill rises to the challenge of repre senting the diegetic theft’s own difficulty. Such difficulty, however, is not that of certainty—the epistemological axis of certainty and uncertainty that is the grist of theory is irrelevant to the heist precisely to the degree that the MacGuffin of plot releases all the players from that consideration—but the difficulty that adheres to the confidence of the thief in the pleasures of his own practice, a confidence that is its own pleasure and pleasure its own confidence.6 In this manner, there is no room in the allotheorist’s own confidence for arrogance: just as to the heist belongs no knowledge of the future, no assurance and yet no doubt, so any allotheorizing of the other summons not a body of knowledge to be cited in a confirming fashion before the fact but rather simply a series of surprises at how one’s life has resonated with the other’s, and that shared life, even, with extant theory, bringing out the unseen feelings in each. How else to plunder, after all, the life of someone who has not only changed in more than one way but will continue to change in not wholly foreseeable ways—especially when such allotheoretical surprise is not just that of having pulled the whole thing off (if at all) but that of realizing that what one has gained is not exactly loot in any compensatory sense (“meaning”) but simply the conditions—and desire—for the next heist down the line? And it is thus to the degree to which

The key to the Gospel of John is that, for John, Jesus’s miracles are not really wonders. They are, in a precise manner, not magic.

As an epic in the Lukácsian or Auerbachian sense, there can be no magic in John.

It is no wonder, then, that the allotheorist here, a modernist scholar by train ing, should not only begin with a structural understanding of literary mode

ASAP/Journal  734 / theory and practice successfully meet each other that allotheory either stands or falls—or falls into step. II. THE HIGH PRIESTESS

Round, organic, complete: the value system of the society that determines the epic cosmos is one in which experience has not yet been alienated from nature, essence from existence. Its worldview integrates and is integrated into a whole, “too organic for any part of it to become so enclosed within itself, so dependent upon itself, as to find itself as an interiority—i.e. to become a personality.”7 Epic heroes are bereft of any recognizably modern sense of conscience or so-called character development. They do not move through the world in such a way as to overcome conflict and thereby accrue “meaning.” Indeed, meaningful conflict is impossible in a world defined by its smoothness, its homogeneity: in a world where anything and everything smacks of the divine and is therefore absolutely meaningful, the formal delineation of “action” as a function of meaning is arbi trary; action can begin anywhere, in much the same way, scaled up, an epic does not need to begin or end at any specific kind of point in action. What matters to epic heroes is not what their actions mean but that they are beautiful. In a Nietzschean sense, they are all intensity, they are nothing but their actions, and, free of ressentiment, all the nobler for it.8

In the same fashion, the miracles of John’s gospel—a true Biblical epic in the sense that John writes for the already-saved, presenting to his readers a Jesus already in his tabernacle, already “dwelling among us,” an epic that too begins in media res—are fully immanent to the fabric of life and are therefore not magical or wondrous, not weighted with the sense of a greater meaning that cannot be articulated, in the way that magic, especially as the fundamental motif of mod ern fantasy, always signals a degraded form of belief, an alienation from nature understood as theology itself.

Mak  735 / but also find the first draft of allotheoretical traction in the autotheorist’s inter vention into modernist studies. For what the allotheorist senses, and what the allotheorist believes everybody should register, is that the autotheorist has, by the good luck of her particular body’s draw amid the contingencies of social and disciplinary history, arrived as autotheorist at precisely the right time. What is at stake, after all, is precisely the ontology of “luck”—the sense that history has conspired to give nature and her bodies, those contingent containers of flesh, identity, and agency, a sense of meaning. So: before theory can make itself available to autotheory, and that autotheory make itself available, in this case, to a trans politics, modernism, the discourse of alienation par excellence, has to be disentangled from theory, the apparatus for the generation of universal meaning in the space cleared out by its suspen sion of identity claims. Where, traditionally, queer theory’s anti-identitarianism has found its home within modernist studies, it has done so along the lines of modernism’s general poetics of antifigurality, where that which might be straightforwardly represented or even denoted is therefore suspect. Yet cen tral to the autotheorist’s work is the argument that the identity claims of trans people do not traffic in the ambivalence of postidentitarian queer universalisms as propagated by cis theorists and should be understood far more literally—as denotations of fact: “We say ‘I am a woman,’ or ‘I have always been a woman,’ and do not imagine that such claims are necessarily scalable or possessed of any particular deconstructive nuance.” Transition, in this precise manner, is not a theory, but rather the factual postulate from which a trans theory might be developed, a theory that would “proceed to describe the speech acts necessitated by that remarkable event. Cis theory asks how transition could be possible; trans theory would ask what its implications are.”9

To this end, the autotheorist turns away from the performativity central to queer theory and modernist studies and toward what might be called modern ism’s more pragmatic strain, where modernism’s hallmark preoccupation with aesthetic autonomy and the impasse of the political swiveled around, almost startlingly, into an assiduous interest in the effects and ramifications of linguis tic and aesthetic objects operating in the world, in how such operations might indeed be the beginnings of unalienated discourse. Here, rather than under stand identity as the uncanny or ironized relationship of exteriority to some sort of inexpressible interiority, trans autotheory, or rather the conditions for

an autotheory of the self where transition’s efficaciousness is at stake, proposes a technique of the self whereby its theoretical objects, including the body itself, are valued not for any metaphysical content but rather for the fact that they have traveled through time and for the skillful ways in which they have done that.10

In this epic, miracles are not a wondrous sign of anything greater; rather, they are the thing itself. Not in the Romantic sense of a merging with the transcen dent, thus erasing any distance between the sign and the signified, but rather in a stricter modernist sense: the signified is the order of signification itself. “A poem should not mean / But be.”13 What Jesus accomplishes by his many mir acles in the Gospel of John is not a performative demonstration of his messianic identity, not the intoxicatingly magical confirmation that his person means his divinity, but the startlingly sobering disruption of the existing theo-legalistic order: hence, the pharisaical obsession with stoning him for performing just too many miracles on the Sabbath. And in this, he is all the more beautiful, all the more noble: for who wants to worship a god of mere intoxication?

One imagines, then, that the disputed provenance of the pericope of the woman taken in adultery—found only in John—indexes the anxiety of Christian

John, too, has no truck with the performative. In fact, his gospel often notice ably forgoes any depiction of the actual performance of Jesus’s miracles. The first miracle recorded, turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana? John is meticulous in not recording the actual miracle itself; what we get is the water first, and then the wine on the master’s tongue, but not the transformation: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.”11 What matters to John is not the wondrous nature of the miracle—for John, his savior’s first miracle is merely a party trick—but the effects the miracles accomplish, accomplished by what can only be called the Christ’s canny technique. Here, the effect is that the master realizes the rules of the party have been reconfigured in the name of the bridegroom—and by typological extension, by Christ himself, the bridegroom of Israel, who has dramaturgically reclarified the emplotment of soteriological history: “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”12

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Mak  737 theologians/ to allow their savior to be metonymically linked to the body of a sexualized woman. If the accomplishment of Christ’s ministry is to wrest Israel’s attendance into an awareness of a higher law that has already arrived and that supersedes the present order, done so by staging the impasses presented by that order’s ossification into the bad faith of legalistic hypocrisy, then John’s emplot ment of the pericope—the two episodes of imminent stoning bookend the eighth chapter—suggests that the enabling figure of the new dispensation is not only that of a fugitive messiah who spends his vocal energy making wryly uncon vincing claims about his own divine identity (“Very truly I tell you, . . . before Abraham was born, I am!”) but that of a woman whose nonconforming and embodied desires are finally given the space to be avowed in speech and practice.14

One might say, then, that the greatest miracle in the Gospel of John is its hum blest and least wondrous. For simply by writing on the ground with his finger, Jesus not only compels the accusing men to avow their own embodied desires (this is the moral reading: they are hypocrites) but reveals through a virtuosic stroke of intertextuality that the idolization of the existing theo-legalistic order is itself a form of carnal adultery, indeed the ultimate form, in which the democ ratizing spirit of the law is disingenuously forsaken for the psychic and material pleasures of serving the law down to the tittle, and at the expense of another’s body. (It is with his finger that Christ draws a line from the Pharisees back to the golden calf of Exodus, fashioned from the earrings of “your wives and sons and daughters,” and to the writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s concubinary feast in the Book of Daniel, two instances in which the sensual abuse of the institu tional implements of the law of holiness reveals a graver, idolatrous denial of the fact that the true power of that law lies in its avowal of desire.)15

To autotheorize, then, and to autopoliticize, is to imagine a different relationship to history: one in which the autotheorist’s self-becoming, her assumption of the autotheoretical mode, is less about the reconstruction of her past in such a way as to align her particular record of objects and pleasures, virtues, vices, and trib ulations, with the established metanarratives of disciplinary and political historiography and thus “confirm” her good luck, and more the “ To autotheorize, then, and to autopoliticize, is to imagine a different relationship to history . . . ”

To say, however, that the autotheorist here invites gossip would perhaps be an understatement. As the allotheorist remembers it, after all, it was once central to what was seen as the autotheorist’s “magic” charisma, the lived “good luck” of her propulsive good fortune, that her written and spoken manner was akin to boxing her way into and out of a corner. Many a conference paper or snap retort to an invited speaker there once were, and many a heatedly drunken debate in a Philly dive bar or sanguine San Francisco joint that ended not in either a decisive victory or a reconciliation so much as the imposition of an impasse— at which point the autotheorist would dramatically get up from her seat and announce her exit to the bathroom, her interlocutors’ mouths agape and at a loss for words. Like the “ending of a boxing-match or a judo-contest,” it was always “abrupt, like the full-stop which closes a demonstration.”18 In the same way, the autotheorist’s rhetoric turned always on the forceful demonstration of

ebulliently pragmatic arrangement of those objects, the contingencies of history, and the conditions of history itself together on the same plane in such a way as to illuminate the potential for each to activate the desires unarticulated in the other.

And in this way, to adapt what the autotheorist herself writes in a paper on Sylvia Rivera, the Stonewall riots, and the woman taken in adultery, what autotheory opens up in that space of desire between self and history is “a more radical possi bility: that the first brick has yet to be thrown, and that the work has yet to start.”16



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The allotheorist understands that any working-out of an unalienated mode of discourse—which here by virtue of its structural need to radically reimagine historical justice alights upon the Biblical epic—only doubles down on the risk of a suspicious reception already inherent to autotheory. To invoke a kind of nobility invites contempt and at worst—here the shadow of Nietzsche again passes underfoot—risks seeming risible. Barthes, himself reading Nietzsche in 1973, knowsPossiblethis:affinity of paranoia and distancing, by the intermediary of narra tive: the “he” is epic. Which means: “he” is wicked: the nastiest word in the language: pronoun of the non-person, it annuls and mortifies its ref erent; it cannot be applied without uneasiness to someone one loves; say ing “he” about someone, I always envision a kind of murder by language, whose entire scene, sometimes sumptuous, even ceremonial, is gossip.

It was an odd way to seduce: by a self-removal, by a kind of withholding. But each act, whether rhetorically in writing or in the dramaturgy of social display, could only ever be the performative expression of a bad faith, a “bad value of language,” that indicated even in the midst of its seductiveness a kind of barrier to and projective compensation for the frank expression of her desire. For what the autotheorist effected was the performative imposition on her audience of the same inarticulation, the same impossibility of speaking desire experienced by her herself. And in this way, the autotheorist seemed uncannily to draw “meaning” out of her interlocutors, out of their inability to respond immediately and, in kind, out of their interpellation into the failings of ideology itself. In other words, what the autotheorist effected was the ultimate move of theory itself: the gener ation of the feeling of meaning out of contrariety. But, of course, it was never magic, however much the uncanniness of her per formativity made it appear. And by the time the autotheorist arrived at her “ And arrogance, certainly, was a criticism that always followed the autotheorist, just as much as her startling egresses elicited a train of gossip in her wake . . . ”

Barthes calls this the “science of the future” in boxing, the mode of expectation built into the sport as a “demonstration of excellence”; at the level of language, he calls it the “foreseeable discourse,” the discourse of ideology—“Doxa”— and understands that the voice that takes it up becomes guilty of “jactancy, boasting”: “Transposed to the level of discourse, even a just victory becomes a bad value of language, an arrogance.”19 And arrogance, certainly, was a criticism that always followed the autotheorist, just as much as her startling egresses elicited a train of gossip in her wake: the point was to stun out of and into language by way of a violent pul sion, to dominate not only the field of discursive circulation but also its terms, to seduce, to fuck.

Mak  739 / an argumentative mastery: not the mastery of a self-assured body of knowledge, content and unperturbed, but that of her audience’s next sequence of moves, the set of possible courses of rhetorical action as determined and circumscribed by the total horizon of ideology—in which they, but seemingly not she, were irretrievably submerged—and therefore calculable in advance but, in the after shock, as if by magic. Now you see her, now you don’t.

ASAP/Journal  740 /

most recent and fullest self—or, rather, by the time the theorist had become not exactly suddenly, but naturally, the autotheorist—it became evident that her “good luck” was no longer so much the effect of a forceful and sometimes trou bling wondrousness as it was now the virtue of a life that had been able to take stock of its own objects and desires and set them up in right-sized, unlacquered relation to each other in the light.

In the ring of discourse, the autotheorist thus draws together her many objects and desires—not just tarot, astrology, or dreams but also her body, Chinese finger traps, Maria Bamford, the charivari of doggerel rhymes, volumes 1 and 2 of Capital, Matisse, rage, her mother—in such a way that their intersecting and often self-opposing formal relations are thrown into high relief. The contempt, say, she may have once thrown at an object without recourse she now recognizes alongside her enthusiasm for that same object and locates within the rhetorical and semiotic economy of that object the precise pneumatics

Less a boxer, then, than a wrestler. In contrast to boxing’s arithmetical “equa tions” of contingencies, professional wrestling holds forth a number theory of values in which the values signified by wrestlers’ bodies—their personality, their temperament, their place in the shifting tussle of Good versus Evil—are less weighed against each other than emplotted together according to the logic of their necessary though not “essential” qualities, in the way that numbers have no real “meaning” or “essence” but only a kind of necessary form, and that number the ory is less a “theory” in the critical sense than a technique that coincides absolutely with its theoretical comportment. In the same way, that is, that dreams, tarot, and astrology all “mean” nothing; what matters is what one does with them. This is what Barthes means when he says that wrestling above all portrays the “purely moral concept” of justice. Although it traffics in representations of Good and Evil, that “content” is not the end but the medium of the “pattern of Justice”: This explains why sudden changes of circumstances have in the eyes of wrestling habitués a sort of moral beauty: they enjoy them as they would enjoy an inspired episode in a novel, and the greater the contrast between the success of a move and the reversal of fortune, the nearer the good luck of a contestant to his downfall, the more satisfying the dramatic mime is felt to be. Justice is therefore the embodiment of a possible transgression; it is from the fact that there is a Law that the spectacle of the passions which infringe it derives its value.20

On Michel Sardou’s execrable pop song “Être une femme,” for example: what matters to the autotheorist is not for the song’s misogynistic figures to be simply scorned like one of Barthes’s wrestling bastards or held at a dispassionate distance and therefore ironically “enjoyed” but for them to be—like a Chinese finger trap—pushed lightly yet firmly through and literalized. What Sardou intends would be simple enough to extract and expel, “[b]ut it is delightful when anti-feminist transphobes fail to recognize the deep desires that they activate, in themselves and others. Plus it’s a bop!”21 Irony itself, therefore—“the terrible magic of IRONY” so key to performativity and so often allowed to molder into a tinny approximation of the uncanny—gives way to and reveals the need for avowal it had hidden, and with the gentle push of the autotheorist’s technique of the self, opens itself virtuosically up to a choreography of desire, fantasy, and fact.22 The nearer the good luck of an object to its downfall, of the salaud to the salope, to paraphrase Barthes, the more satisfying the dramatic mime is felt to be.23

Yet by what right does this allotheorist write from the autotheorist any more than the autotheorist writes from herself? How does he know that his own blindnesses and clumsy endoxal obscurities will not be held against him, that they, too, will not be performatively imposed back on him by his interlocutors? That he will not be accused of arrogance for presuming to perceive something necessary and essen tial about the autotheorist? That he has not just mistaken narcissistic projection or melancholic introjection for telepathy and, in so doing, merely reproduced, like the dullest of grandiloquent trolls, the object of his charge? Or worse, that he has merely used allotheory as an excuse for self-indulgence, that antonym of rigor? The other risk of an unalienated mode whose condition of possibility is literal ity, or, rather, the condition of possibility of the risk of suspicion itself, is that the overt insistence on literal fact often produces the opposite effect. As auto-/ allotheoretical postulates, assertions of denotative truth such as I am a woman, she is a woman, I know myself, or I know her have—because they are not only denota tions but assertions of denotation—all the double potential of the familiar phatic speech acts that found and confirm the discursive field of social and amorous relationality: I love you, I care about you, I know you, you mean a lot to me, I trust you, trust me. In their posture of or affectation toward meaningfulness, such speech acts

Mak  741 / of affect and desire. And to do any less would be, perhaps, to vacate the prom ise of autotheory for a trans feminism under the exigencies of our cultural era.


Trust my assertion of trustworthiness to be more than nothing, that is, or else you will get nothing (thus revealing my trustworthiness to be nothing in the first place).

ASAP/Journal  742 / rhetorically shed any unnecessary qualifiers, but, of course, it is as the absence of qualification that the bad value of language can too easily make itself felt.

In this way, the contractual nature of “sign, language, narrative, society,”

Let she knows me = (only) she knows me Let why know me? = I am singularly difficult to know Solve for x, and show your work. (only) she knows me = I am singularly difficult to know (only) she = I am singular she = me

“the controlled exchange on which the semantic process and collective life are based,” often collapses through its own bottom, flattening itself out into what Barthes again calls a “bad object”: “a bourgeois value which merely legalizes a kind of economic talion: nothing for nothing, says the bourgeois contract.”24 The assertion of literality, that one-to-one contract between signifier and signified, can thus readily modulate, with or without the metacommunicative calibrations of tone, inflection, etc., into all the violent valences of bad-faith discourse. One has merely to supply the missing qualifiers: I (alone) care about you, I love you (more than you could ever know possibly reciprocate), I know you (more than you know yourself), I trust you (because you have no choice but to trust me), trust me (or else . . .).

Trapped by his own insistent finger, however, the allotheorist has no choice but to admit that he was arrogant. For there was an arrogance in accepting the auto theorist’s arrogant discourse. To acquiesce to the autotheorist’s performative projection of her libidinal inarticulation was seemingly to have the “mean ing” of his own nonexpressivity avowed, and to assent to interpellation into the foreseeability of ideology was to have a kind of sense granted to his own incoherences, as if he were now understood. Yet it was in that simple feeling of recognition that a whole dark cosmos began to swirl, like a miracle that by virtue of its very nondiscursivity was able to bypass and supplement the failings of language. Through the shame that sometimes only a deeper narcissism can produce, a simple transitive algebra is generated, an anti-life equation:

But of course, such a friendship, built around the codependent extraction of meaning, the generation of an exceptional sense of necessity, contained deep within itself the further gnawing affectivities of embarrassment, shame, and fear. Embarrassment at its callow insufficiency, shame that there might be nothing else besides the feedback loop, fear that the delicate formal balance might be upset by some unforeseen contingency. (Even, or especially, if that contingency was one of the enabling catalysts in the first place: “Arrogance circulates, like a strong wine among the guests of the text.”)26 The selfalienation within performativity was inevitable even if never avowed, and so was barely consciously hatched a further plan for incorporating every contin gency back into its sense of necessity, with all the meaning-making powers of the religious.Sometimes, in the old literature, we find this apparently stupid expres sion: the religion of friendship (loyalty, heroism, absence of sexuality). But since the only thing in religion which subsists is the fascination of the rite itself, he liked to abide by the minor rites of friendship: to celebrate with a friend the release from a task, the solving of a problem: the cel ebration improves upon the event, adds to it an unnecessary addition, a “ Because of the allotheorist’s own foreseeability, the autotheorist in turn became foreseeable. For every swing, a reciprocal and matching duck, and by the end the allotheorist felt that he, too, knew the autotheorist. ”

Mak  743 /

Because of the allotheorist’s own foreseeability, the autotheorist in turn became foreseeable. For every swing, a reciprocal and matching duck, and by the end the allotheorist felt that he, too, knew the autotheorist. All her actions were circum scribed in advance in a way that was determined by her own inarticulation, and through this performance of love-as-mastery, the allotheorist found meaning in his own and thereby a subject for his own grandiloquence. A bobbing and weaving around each other, a feedback loop not of content but structured by the formal homology of each being the object of the other’s pride and shame, yet which nevertheless made itself felt as identity. “You yourself can be the arrogant text of another text.”25 An arrogance of arrogances.

ASAP/Journal  744 / perverse pleasure. Thus, by magic, this fragment has been written last, after all the others, as a kind of dedication (September 3, 1974).

What Barthes gestures toward but does not here quite name or depict, beyond the blush of embarrassment, is the potential bad value of the ritualistic. Without the “effort” that must be made, the logic of the rite can, again, too easily bottom out into the logic of the threat, become the instrument of coercion, as if the rite itself, the rite of “doing things together”— that which should naturally mark the texture of an old friendship that has eased into itself—could make the friendship happen. Where the implicit threat was that if the other did not fulfill her side of the contract of friendship, it was broken, even as the allotheorist willfully did not recognize that he had made it impossible for the autotheorist to fulfill her side, all while continuing to ask her to participate in the rite and thus confirm her desire—and vice versa. Where everything, even the smallest contingency—the ironing of pants, the watching of television, the saving of money by waiting for Two-Piece Tuesdays at Popeyes, the burning of a couple hundred dollars at a strip club, whatever was at hand, whatever bread or wine—was turned into a rite to be held over the other’s head, where everything “had to mean something.” How, then, to speak about friendship, let alone to allotheorize? Is not speak ing about friendship, after all, something like the ultimate rite of friendship, the metacommunication whereby intention and relationality are clarified and perhaps, repaired? But the allotheorist knows too well that the metacom municative can itself turn suffocating, even, or especially, as it aspires to a respirability of signification, just as much as the postulates of auto-/allotheory certainly still risk their bad values: I (alone) am a woman, I (alone) know her. A suffocation that is both a hyperventilation and a vacuum, the prattling banality of a “discourse without body,” in which the unremitting insistence on good faith merely becomes itself the instantiation of bad faith, in which it becomes exasperatingly clear that whatever the overtly asserted desires, the only opera tive desire is for the rectification of desire, that the endless renegotiation of the terms of the relationship itself has become the relationship’s condition, that the

The effort must be made to speak of friendship as of a pure topic: this releases me from the field of affectivity—which could not be spoken without embarrassment, since it belongs to the order of the imaginary (or rather: I can tell from my embarrassment that the imaginary is very close at hand: I am getting warm).27

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

—The Gospel of John29 I have not adequately conveyed how overwhelmed I am by the image of a body too weak to carry a manuscript on which are written more words than those required to pump out the seventeen syllables of juice. But, at some point since I set down the sentences above, which still seem to do the work they need to do, my relation to the idea of daily practice has changed. Accordingly, what began as writing on the subject of (in the precise and brutal formulation of one of this chapter’s early readers) being too cool for the haiku, must end by reflecting on what I have learned from it. That there is something one must do every day, but equally that the “day” in that phrase shifts with rhythms beat out in the pit, or offstage; that there is something in banality that cannot be coopted, but which nonetheless obdures and must be endured; that the touch that works, the hand on the knee or the glance, is not merely percussive but also corrosive; that the unfathomable condition of having something to prove will tend to outlast the act of proving, however virtuosically that act is carried out; that one will never know how the Other knows, even if one knows what it is that is—Graceknown.

Lavery, Quaint, Exquisite (2019)30 ~

“It was about four in the afternoon”: The allotheorist remembers very well how, one summer afternoon some seven years into their friendship, the Oakland light sunning warm their living room, he had broken down.

Mak  745 / object of knowledge supposedly at stake is no more than the terms by which the other might know him.28 V. DEATH

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were young er you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

In the same way, it is in the interval where the contingent facts of friendship, or of the gendered and sexual body, are perceived to asymptotically approach the condition of an essential meaning or risk the accusation of such, that the blush of overmeaning—on one’s own part or of one’s interlocutors—metonymizes the body’s capacity to function as a metacommunicative grammar. Like Kafka’s tightrope, the body is not just the site of identity but the function of a con stantly shifting set of limits that are less a matter of definitive constraint than the vectors along which biological, affective, psychic, and social forces might be traced, affirmed, negotiated, and, with skill, literalized.32

The condition of allotheory, perhaps, begins with this fact, and that what had seemed like the fracturing of their contract was in fact its first mend.31

ASAP/Journal  746 /

The autotheorist had curdled at him. The immediate reason, likely unremarkable, has been forgotten, had even then been instantly forgotten. For already then, the theorist was on her way to becoming the autotheorist, but the allotheorist had not yet learned to understand himself. And so, unable to rise to the metacommunica tive occasion, the allotheorist’s system for *meaning something* gave way, and the affectivity that inhered within its compensations resolved overpoweringly into affect itself, into Feeling with a capital F.

VI. THE FOOL But it is also in the gap of qualification that one can recognize and wrestle with the movement of contingencies being made to mean too much, a movement registered so often by embarrassment’s blush, that tinge just under the skin by which the body makes itself inconveniently known. Darwin knew the blush was the most uncontrollable but also, counterintuitively, therefore the most human expression of emotion—not human in any essential sense but simply as a matter of contingent, operational differentiation, that expression which ani mals do not do.

John, too, registers the prospect of embarrassment. ( John for whom, else where, “there is no fear in love.”)33 One can easily enough, after all, imagine an alternate version of his gospel, one with a straightforward narrative voice and unitary monologic in which the messianic power of Jesus Christ was pre sented heroically and without evasion. (Although one does not even have to

It is for this reason that John’s gospel resolves into a dazzling array of narrato logical techniques and sublimations to rival those of Barthes. Not only does the Evangelist demur from overtly identifying himself as one of Jesus’s disciples (if, of course, he is indeed the diegetic “disciple whom Jesus loved”), but he also scatters his appellation back throughout the timeline of his narrative as if to distribute the weight of possible embarrassment in advance, a Johannine retcon matrix, a typology in reverse. There is Peter, the most embarrassing of disci ples, who is “Simon son of John,” or, depending on the translation, the “son of Jonah,” the name of the most embarrassing of prophets—and whose “sign” John omits, the only sign that the other evangelists’ Christs ever give (because “an evil and adulterous generation craves a sign”). And there is, before all other Johns, the Baptist, who arrives on the scene in a cascade of discursive and tem poral interarticulations, like a locust-munching time traveler—“He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” ’ ”—and whose only function is to deictically identify the messiah deferentially from a distance, like wrestlers circling the ring, and withdraw at the appropriate time.34 In this manner, perhaps, the Gospel of John arrives at the cusp of the Nietzschean morality of the body Barthes puts in opposition to morals but cannot quite conceptualize, and which nevertheless seems to provide the ground for the “magical text” or even “religion” of friendship. In which the contingencies of different lives produce within each a heterotopia and each friend “must be appre hended there as external/internal ”—“where am I among my desires? Where am I in relation to desire?”—and comprehend pneumatically, like a wrestler’s “good luck” and “downfall” slicing into and across each other, how one has changed in counterpoint with another over time—with the self no longer a continuous

Mak  747 imagine,/ of course; such a version is no more than that which is found in every popular, often filmic, depiction of the gospels.) But to take seriously what we might call the “literal” story of Jesus would simply be too much: not so much the diegetic content—although the legend of a humble carpenter performing signs and wonders in the desert would certainly retain a whiff of embarrassment in its quaintness—but in the straight narratology of interpretation, whereby the Evangelist’s confidence in his theological assertions, in the exceptionality of his insider’s knowledge, that he (alone) knows the Christ and the meaning of his works (and perhaps too well), could only be cringe-inducing.

procession of meaning but necessarily refracted into two Johns, or three, or four—and how each one’s words have passed through the other’s, and perhaps even left one at some point behind, but also come back to meet one again in the end.35


2020 Notes 1 See Grace Lavery, “Grad School as Conversion Therapy,” Los Angeles Review of Books, October 29, 2018, Screenshot, 2020, courtesy of the author

ASAP/Journal  748 /

In which what Barthes considers the “good contract” of signification— modeled by sex work’s scandalizing relief from the “imaginary embarrassments of the exchange: what am I to count on in the other’s desire, in what I am for him? ”—is met not by a constant renegotiation of terms into the foreseeability of necessary meaning (stone her!) but by the recognition of a synchrony of potential overmeanings and its necessary fraughtness, where “everything is at stake” (like a finger that escapes the trap not by pulling, and not by relaxing, but by writ ing on the ground).36

And in which any rite, including writing, marks not the extraction of essential meaning from contingent fact, not flesh becoming word ( John’s gospel, uniquely, does not include the institution of the Eucharist), but an almost-chance encounter, a falling-into-step whose accidental nature could certainly produce a momentary embarrassment but just as much, if not more, an ease (its “exact antonym”), wherein “the celebration improves upon the event, adds to it an unnecessary addition, a perverse pleasure,” the “joy” of which is the Baptist’s and, upon the bridegroom’s arrival, “is now complete.”37 4,

Mak  749 / 2 Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (1975; New York: Hill and Wang, 2010), 99. 3 Jn 5:31–32. 4 Jn 1:14. 5 Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press, 1977), 146. 6 Fredric Jameson has commented in passing in various locations on the “utopian overtone” of the heist film as “an inscription of collective non-alienated work,” “in which activity is akin to play.” Fredric Jameson, “War and Representation,” in “War,” ed. Srinivas Aravamudan, special issue, PMLA 124, no. 5 (October 2009): 1535; Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 14. 7 Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature, trans. Anna Bostock (1916; Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1971), 66. 8 See Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale; Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1989), 24–46. 9 Grace Lavery, “Transition Is Not a Theory: From Performativity to Technique,” The Stage Mirror, October 18, 2019, -theory-from-performativity.10Theautotheoristishere building off the work of, among others, Cáel Keegan, Emma Heaney, and Lisi Schoenbach. See also Lavery, “Grad School as Conversion Therapy”; and also Lavery’s reorientation of the temporality of the closet away from the uncanny logic of repression and toward that of “an earworm that eventually overwhelms one,” in “The Old-School Transsexual and the Working-Class Drag Queen,” The Stage Mirror, November 4, 2019, -and-the.In this manner, moreover, the autotheorist’s technique builds toward a trans Foucauldian technology of the self and answers Foucault’s suspicion that it is “impossible today to constitute an ethic of the self.” To the degree that “all of Western culture” revolves around the “obligation of truth” and that, for Foucault, “nothing so far has shown that it is possible to define a strategy outside of this concern,” trans feminist autotheory responds by installing the truth of one’s self and gender not as the object of inquiry or practice but as a simple fact from which to start. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France 1981–1982, trans. Graham Burchell (1982; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 252; Foucault, Ethics, Subjectivity, and Truth: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press, 1997), 295. 11 Jn 2:7–9. 12 Jn 2:10.

ASAP/Journal  750 / 13 Archibald MacLeish, “Ars Poetica,” in Collected Poems, 1917–1982 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985), 107. 14 Jn 8:58. 15 Ex 32:2; Dn 5:1–31. 16 Grace Lavery, “The First Stone,” The Stage Mirror, January 11, 2020, https://grace, Roland Barthes, 169. 18 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (1957; New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 23. 19 Ibid., 16, 15; Barthes, Roland Barthes, 149, 47. 20 Barthes, Mythologies, 22. 21 Grace Lavery, “Michel Sardou, ‘Être une femme’ (1981),” The Stage Mirror, April 24, 2019, 22 Founded on literality, the autotheorist’s trans feminist technique might thus be distinguished from some recent autotheory informed by a mode of “creative nonfiction” whose essential condition is the uncanny frisson of uncertainty. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, notably—an autotheoretical memoir of a relationship with a transmasculine partner—trades its theoretically informed insights with surprising frequency for an ironic abdication of clarity, wondering, for example, “if prose is but the gravestone marking the forsaking of wildness (fidelity to sense-making, to assertion, to argument, however loose)”—even concluding with a sentimentalized gesture toward the ultimate limits of knowledge: “But is there really such a thing as nothing, as nothingness? I don’t know. I know we’re still here, who knows for how long, ablaze with our care, its ongoing song.” In this way, as the autotheorist observes, Nelson’s “casual” references to writers and theorists, whose names are inscribed on the side of the page, “configure erudition as promiscuity and as cruising” but in such a way that they “end up being hived off, away from sex, in an area reserved for the fanciful and (often knowingly) trivial play with mere ideas.” Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2015), 52, 143; Lavery, “Intellectual Masturbation (I’m Going to Write About Sex More),” The Stage Mirror, January 5, 2020,, Mythologies, 24. 24 Barthes, Roland Barthes, 59. 25 Ibid., 47. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid., 65. 28 Ibid., 137. To the degree that allotheory, like any good heist, might be understood as one species of the “truth games” that Foucault historically excavates as technologies of the self, it affords a fuller, more concrete understanding of how, even in a secular form, knowledge of both the self and the other cannot easily escape the Christian logic in which “to know

Mak  751 / oneself was paradoxically the way to self-renunciation.” If the condition of an ethic of the self (or other) is an epistemology of the self, then that ethic—its good- and bad-faith potentialities—is absolutely structured by the formal metacommunicative dimensions and rules that make it possible in the first place. As Foucault observes: “Thus, one escaped from a domination of truth not by playing a game that was totally different from the game of truth but by playing the same game differently, or playing another game, another hand, with other trump cards.” Foucault, Ethics, 228, 295. 29 Jn 21:17–18. 30 Grace Lavery, Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 112. 31 Would the allotheorist be remiss not to note that behind every step of this essay has hovered the question of oedipality—both “diegetically” in terms of the gendered and sexualized body’s relation to the Law and metadiscursively in terms of the way its citational practice has proceeded horizontally rather than vertically? The genre of the heist film, after all, is perennially tempted by the same question: why did you, of all people, become a thief ? But such a MacGuffin, even if “necessary” at the cosmological outset of the plot, is ultimately superfluous: the serial nature of the heist both diegetically (implicitly or, as franchise, explicitly) and metagenerically (as a genre invested equally in being inventive and rote) exhausts the potential dramaturgical “meaning” of Oedipal conflict with startling efficiency. The guiding ethos for each thief—follow the rules and be yourself means that oedipality can only ever be dispatched as a gag or mere footnote—once, that is, its presence has been made to cast back on its wielders their own desires: why do *you* care so much? In this manner, the heist installs a fraternal order over and against the filial: honor among thieves, not teachers of the law. Such oedipality, too, is the substance of a high-theoretical tradition that has taken up the question of “the self” and “the other.” Thus, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, examining the connection of “the autobiographical compulsion” to “musical obsession” by way of Theodor Reik, suggests that autobiography is always “allobiography,” and that allobiography might as well be understood as “allothanatography”: to write of oneself is to imagine eulogizing oneself as an other who has died. In what ways are allotheory and trans autotheory distinct from this? LacoueLabarthe’s excursus, after all, hits many of the same dramaturgical beats as this essay— narcissism (posthumous “glory”), guilt, cathartic intersubjective affectivity, and selfrenunciatory powerlessness—and yet it does so in a manner that is just as knowing and self-admittedly “passée.” The impasse of such a fantastic (Batesonian-Girardian) “double bind,” of course, is autobiographically meaningful only insofar as it is intractably uncanny (“As Freud would say, no one ultimately believes in his own death”), and from the perspective of this tradition, most attempts to theorize one’s way out of the bind are, perhaps, unsustainable: Derrida calls Reik’s failure to do so, his self-renunciation and Oedipal capitulation to Freud, a “relapse,” but to what degree does this not also stand as

ASAP/Journal  752 / a limit—and aim—of much of high theory itself? Lacoue-Labarthe resolves his inquiry through the figure of the maternal: Reik’s “compulsion” cathartically gives way, via music, to a return to the rhythmic “One” of the womb, the primal source of the uncanny, and the question is closed. And yet the heist evades such closure: the thief cannot strive after such cozy bourgeois glory, posthumous or otherwise (narcissism “the most classical theoretical schema”), because his “agony” is not to outlive his own death; the heist’s pleasure derives not from notoriety but from accepting the inevitability of arrest and death as an iterative fact of life. Take what you need and leave the rest.

See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics, ed. Christopher Fynsk (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).

32 This allotheoretical consideration of the autotheorist’s trans feminist technique might thus again be distinguished from another transmasculine autotheoretical work of note: Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, which conscripts itself into a knowingly codependent fantasy of desire as oscillatingly legible. For Preciado, testosterone affords access to an absolute literality of sexual desire on one’s own body in the form of the erect penis and also to the experience of compelling one’s partner to confront the ultimate phallic unknowability (castratability) of one’s own desire: without “illumination” and only tactile “feeling around in the dark,” this uncanny indeterminacy metonymizes a return “to cyberreptilian life, a regression, tasting the electrically viscous truth of being, with small strokes of your tongue.” But with “no other solution than to lick at being,” Preciado hits bottom: “It is here that the secret of addiction reveals its arithmetic.” The allotheorist is not, of course, un-canny to the logic of addiction as it is formalized by the mechanics of embodied desire: far from it. In contradistinction, however, to the machismo that valorizes the metacommunicatively dysfunctional body as the site of some primal “real,” a trans feminist auto-/allotheory asks what bodies demand from language, even in their muteness. Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, trans. Bruce Benderson (2008; New York: The Feminist Press, 2013), 248–49, 254. 33 1 Jn 4:18. 34 Jn 1:15. 35 Barthes, Roland Barthes, 64. 36 Ibid., 59; Lavery, “Intellectual Masturbation.” Barthes, Roland Barthes, 45, 65.


GRACE LAVERY is Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley, and editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly. She specializes in trans feminist studies and the modern history of interpretation. ultimately irrelevant topic (in this case, also me) asking why you didn’t deign to consider the things I like to consider. And the psychic investments of such a move would be only slightly more cartoonishly self-serving than

ASAP/Journal, Vol. 6.3 (2021): 753–756 © 2022 Johns Hopkins University Press. Grace Lavery OH WHAT A CIRCUS:


ur profession periodically enforces a vestigial tradition, almost a superstition, concerning the delivery of lectures to faculties. That is, that the lecturer who is awarded with an invitation to deliver a forty-five-minute talk is really being invited to answer questions—at their best, vigorous, probing questions—from her hosts. (“The q&a is more important than the talk.”) You remember well that I have never given a successful job talk, so I should probably keep my mouth shut on this topic, especially since I very much enjoy giving such lectures, and the jamboree that they often entail, but it strikes me that the fictional premises of the departmental q&a are also operative as I attempt, now, to respond to your essay about me. The idea that I have anything to say worth hearing on this topic seems more than unusually importunate; as though, having heard you talk wisely on a topic (me) that you have studied assiduously for many years, I can dispute some aspect of your conceptualization, or reactivate your engagement with one particular piece of evidence. Attempting such a feat, I would be more than likely to commit the familiar faux pas of simply crowing about my own research into a related but


ASAP/Journal  754 /

I would rather talk about you, honestly. I’ve observed things about you, too; perhaps not as scrupulously or systematically, and with perforce less algebra (though I note your canny channeling of my Laing there, more than the Lacan that the passage will evoke for others) but with no less care. Love as sweet played in a different key. The movement of your Adam’s apple up and down your throat, your cruciform breastplate, your antique scrawniness sheathed in your vest: the body of a brilliant young novelist emerging in a Lower East Side tene ment. I would talk about your own privileged view, encompassing the horizon of your work, which you file with the confidence of an ophthalmologist, ready to cite precedent—audible parentheses—when asked for advice. Your creepi ness, which is the opposite of mine; mine is all out there, but yours is all oblique, sneaky. John Waters to my Jesse Eisenberg. You once told me that you thought porn was beautiful rather than sublime; this, I suspect, is the quiddity of our Todifference.gomuch further with this, however, to hum more than a few bars of the rhapsody in you by which I have certainly, from time to time, become enchanted, would be to annex the allotheorist’s position to the terrain of the autotheorist. And the allotheorist is a figure saying his own name, reading through. His body, “Chinese” in more senses than one, is more than a reposi tory of loving knowledge; it is, after all, the position of the critic. Nor will the dignity of the allotheorist be exchanged for or apprenticed to the autotheorist’s distinctive mode of self-becoming. Indeed, from John’s perspective, any such self-becoming is a Barnum-and-Bailey show anyway, only useful insofar as it can be put to the service of free, endless love. Love in all directions, in extremis. There is nothing ethically preferable about your position, vis-à-vis mine; the allotheorist’s mode rebuffs any such sentimental enchantment of the explicit when someone (me, for instance) blots out the second half of a visitor’s lecture because I have started to turn over in my mind, obsessively, that tidbit of suggestive reagent, that killer fact, that we tell ourselves will either elevate or obliterate our guest.

“ I cannot end except by admitting that I am not insensitive to the fact that I am undeserving of such attention, unless we all are, I think we all are. ”

Lavery  755 / and the implicit, the view from the top and the bottom. Your words are meant to be reignited, year on year, and so they shall be. I think that, since I was old enough to problematize my own narcissism (fifteen or so), I have sought to make myself an object, to find and dissolve within the animistic current that makes all one. As such, my taste is trash, and I cannot end except by admitting that I am not insensitive to the fact that I am undeserving of such atten tion, unless we all are, I think we all are.