Re-thinking

When I started my research project over 2 years ago, I had some questions about vulnerability, and how practising vulnerability could move beyond physical, social and political fragilities and the empathy they evoke in others, to the interruption of individual identity to allow for new encounters and forms of knowledge. My plan was to look at contemporary artistic practices that acknowledge and strategically use the fragmented, traumatized, split and multiple nature of our identities to form new alliances and ways of being together.

Letters – sending messages in writing between people over distances and through time-  are often necessary for survival, yet most have forgotten this need.  | Renée Green

And although I have spent a lot of this time reading books, thinking about these questions, and even speaking at conferences, but don’t feel like I have  been able to write enough to form the work of thought. This is partly because I have been caught up in taking care – of my family, friends, loves, colleagues, artists and my own fragile being that  at times struggles with  depression. This care is not something I want to lose, or even become more efficient in. But I do wonder whether we are missing something about the creativity of care.

Every identity that we take on is performed – this we know from Judith Butler’s important work on gender. According to Butler, we are continually reshaping and performing our identities as we live them. But it is important to note that each of these identies already contains fractures from the start, and these fractures come from the assumed patterns of our relation to others.

To care is not about letting an object go but holding on to an object by letting oneself go, giving oneself over to something that is not one’s own. | Sara Ahmed

We can choose to ignore these fractures, or try to cover up the inner contradictions of trying to constitute ourselves as separate from others, the categories we place others into and the patterns of power through which we keep our distance from them. Or, we can work with these fractures to undermine the borders of separation with others, to embrace the complex connectivity of our identities, and the responsibility that comes with this.

But how do we cultivate fragmentation and vulnerability without losing sight of healing and care? This is an urgent question, because boundaries are important for people who have had theirs breached unwillingly. At the same time, contemporary capitalist society seems to be increasingly promoting programmes of resilience and responsibilisation as an antidote to structural inequalities and vulnerabilities.

Resilience is nothing if not an apprehension of the future, but a future imagined as disaster and then, more importantly, recovery from disaster… Resilience thereby comes to be a fundamental mechanism for policing the imagination. | Mark Neocleus

Mark Fisher (k-punk), the cultural theorist and music writer who died just two days ago, and who was one of my lecturers at Goldsmiths, discussed the politics of mental health and the ways it relates to the capitalist government’s denial of societal responsibility several times, and this post was partly inspired by his legacy of courage and vulnerability in speaking out about his own depression.

The main problem with these state-led definitions of resilience and responsibility is that they are centred around the maintenance of a certain status-quo of power relations and categories of people. These tactics have nothing to do with the kind of healing that would allow us to trust and open up again, and everything to do with a shoring up of borders to create the illusion of impenetrable walls.

There can be no freedom without trust. Loss of trust is the greatest enemy of academic freedom since it leads to the replacement of autonomy and self-determination with surveillance and control. | Reclaim University of Aberdeen Manifesto

Rather than using our imagination to predict every possible threat from the outside, and recruiting ourselves into ‘active acquiescence’, a creative practice of care would work with the fractures between identities, and the complex porosity of borders. We cannot so easily decide which things are internal and which are external to us. Instead, we have to accept that most subjects are both, and find ways to continually work with and alongside them. Care can be directed at an individual body or consciousness, but it can only really be creative if it is practised in an interpersonal way.

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