|(Taken from Bayo’s We Will Dance With Mountains: Let Us Make Sanctuary Course)|
Making sanctuary is my theory of emancipation that takes bodies, flows, fields, assemblages, networks, intensities, forces, maps, apparatuses, principalities/powers, territories, and terrains into consideration. It takes off from a realization that we cannot think through the primacy and stability of “the human” anymore. That we are not in charge. Not ahead of the curve. And that the “human” is – only as a complex concatenation of ongoing events, microbial secretions, archetypal stickiness, ecological allowances, geophysical stabilities, political and philosophical reductionisms, theological calculations, and historical discontinuities. The human is a processual becoming, not a pure category. In short, where the snotty-nosed Enlightenment elitism of humanism places a definite full stop, posthumanism – the field from which making sanctuary sprouts – places a fragile hyphen. A scandalous ellipsis. The shocking reminder that we are and have always been “smelly” (to play with David Abram’s beautiful word magic).
We are used to thinking about “the world” as a phenomenon of human doings: the fulcrum of change and transformation is always located within the human being. For instance, with regards to climate change and the associated loss of biodiversity, the bleaching of coral reefs, the thawing of permafrost, and the ceaseless production of greenhouse gases, contemporary discussions usually swing from one polar extremity to another: it is either the case that we have nothing to do with rising temperatures (and should keep on filling our rivers and estuaries with industrial by-products, unbothered by nonsense talk from the more liberal side of aisle), or that we are the cosmic villains interfering with what might otherwise be a harmonious stain-free world (and should do all we can to save it). In my view, both ideas – even though they are opposites – inadvertently preserve the concept of central human power and are therefore expressions of the same hubris.
In the same way, we usually think of race as something we did, an unfortunate error, a construction of economic power, a flaw in proper reasoning that might be located to the shady pseudo-scientific productions of white supremacists with lab coats and skull specimens, something we can shut down as we would do a laptop computer gone rogue. Notice that our definitions are usually limited to the human sphere, to things we can control, things we can index and classify. There is little space for mystery and flow, for threadbare skins and migrant edges, for dragon breath and unwieldy intelligences in most of our conversations about identity.
If the ways our bodies come to be racialized are entirely within the territory of language, data, legislation, doing inner work, intentions, awareness workshops, and therapy, then one might wonder why after centuries of stellar scholarship, progressive laws, anti-apartheid activisms and new institutions we still find ourselves flailing against unmasterable prejudices and deepening political divides. Why haven’t we achieved a post-racial social arrangement? Part of the answer to that might be that our conversations about race and racial justice limit the phenomenon of racialization to human-initiated institutions: we have put a handle on racial becomings that leaves out the contributions of the more-than-human. Such a move is beset with troubles and painful imperialisms. The poison is not so much in the pot as it is the pot.
Making sanctuary wants to take bodies seriously. And to take bodies seriously is to take seriously how they come to matter. Bodies don’t emerge in the world fully formed, essential identities intact. Organisms are not born, they are manufactured (Haraway). Neither are bodies stable things with fixed properties. To account for how our bodies come to matter, we must account for their becoming. We must come to touch the odd cousins and strangely shaped kin that have always been intimate (even though invisible) to our activisms. To our projects of living-dying full and well.
The key point to nail here is: nothing transforms on its own. We need a theory of change that decenters humans as the driver of transformation, and which resituates human becomings within racial complexities, geometaphysical events and ideological formulas. We need sensuous demise – where demise is the gifting of properties to another. In this case, our demise might involve a double-move of falling into the matrixial womb of our unfettered animality and allowing the inhuman world to rise to the luxurious sentience and agency we reserved exclusively for ourselves. We need a shared humiliation, a coming down to earth, a different politics.
Far from being a panpharmacon, a remedy useful for everything, making sanctuary is a modest move made in the face of daunting challenges, calibrated to exquisite outcomes too thick and curdled to be skimmed into instrumental solutions (as useful as those will often be). There are lurking shadows at the edges of this bowl of yogurt: the question of justice is difficult to sidestep in a time of urgent exclusions and exterminations. And the answer to the question – where do we go from here? – cannot be offered without biting one’s own tongue. The tricksterism of making sanctuary and posthumanism means there are more questions than answers, more cracks than roads, more departures than arrivals.
How does making sanctuary ‘begin’?
It begins with a crack. The ground rumbles and roars, threatening to withdraw its endorsement of steady walking. Hell screams at heaven, spitting lava. The sky bleeds. And then a fissure – the site where worlds intersect – zigzags across the land.
A necessary ingredient for making sanctuary is a breaking away from the familiar. It is the moment the otherworldly or the not-yet-worldly crashes into the this-worldly. Topographically, this is often traumatic because the event spills into a terrain and refashions bodies in the wake of these upheavals. Destruction folds into creation.
For an example of how this might play out, I often tell the story of the nuclear blasts of 1945, first in Hiroshima (August 6th) and then in Nagasaki (August 9th). Nearing the end of the Second World War, US President Truman ordered the deployment of the first bomb in fulfilment of his promise to rain down ruin on Japan – “the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. Of course, this was not technically true. On July 16th, the US conducted tests of its nuclear weaponry on its own land, detonating the first nuclear weapon at the Trinity testing site in Alamogordo, New Mexico. So, even though these tests were not close in terms of impact, the planet had a foretaste of what was about to happen in Japan.
Weeks later, US B-29 Enola Gay later dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. It detonated 600 meters above the ground, killing tens of thousands of people. But it did more than that. Just like the Trinity tests had created a new green and glassy radioactive substance, later called “trinitite”, the promised Hiroshima explosion spilled away from its formulaic objectives, and created the Hibakusha – atomic bomb survivors whose bodies were now irradiated with warfare and cancer. That event also created us. If you are living today, your body has trace amounts of the carbon-14 that exploded into the atmosphere, into the oceans, into cells and skins. Some tests conducted in 2016 found that babies born in that year had a little bit of that Hiroshima event in their cells.
Though its traumatic effects were not evenly distributed, the crack that was the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts disarticulated bodies, shapeshifting them, rendering them awkward. The question now is this: where do the disarticulated go? Where do the inappropriate/d run to? When explosions shock the land, when monoliths appear in deserts, when a virus unravels the predominant cosmology, when an iceberg loses its argument against the eloquence of rising plumes of heated hubris, when the colour of my skin shimmers with the incandescence of Atlantic crossings, when the computational algorithms of social networks glitch, and when the force of a compelling way of thinking upsets us, where do we run to?
We could run back to the nation-state and seek reinstatement. This is not a bad thing but seeking recognition in this way risks proliferating the conditions that led to the trauma. Another possibility is to see that disarticulation as a disruptive and potentially prolific contestation of exhausted standards of success, tired ways of speaking, toxic cycles of pain. It might mean entering strange, unprecedented kinds of politics. It might mean learning to make up new words, learning new rituals, opening our bodies to new gods (as the Candomblistas did and still do today). Whatever it invites, I believe this concept of making sanctuary describes the acts of the disarticulated and inappropriate/d. It describes their “re-turning” to the cracks that birthed their unruly bodies. It invites a touching of the expansiveness and generativity of those bodies. It posits the excessive hospitality of those cracks and compels them to “rebuild” those cracks as sites of inquiry and as new fugitive movements.
This is how I think of making sanctuary: not singularly as a place to shapeshift – as if by virtue of linear human agency, we could commandeer our own salvation with a tidy recipe received during an online course. Making sanctuary is the kairotic work of those that have already been (and might yet be) shapeshifted, re-rendered, recalibrated, repurposed, made porous, made awkward – though its hospitality is not limited to these disarticulated ones alone.
I find it important that medieval sanctuaries hung monstrous emblems on their doors to welcome fugitives from the law: perhaps it was an archetypally resonant way of saying “only monsters are allowed in”. Additionally, these sanctuaries acted as release valves – allowing the disarticulated or accused to perform exodus, to exile their bodies away from the traumatic terrain. Making sanctuary appeals to the lower powers, not to empires and palaces. The endgame is not to seek solutions, beg for recognition, or return to the state. The endgame is exile: other sites of power. Elsewheres. Other suns.
I will now take certain pedagogical risks to stabilize what might be read as “steps” to making sanctuary. It is important that you don’t see these fragile considerations as formulaic or authoritative. Making sanctuary is counter-methodological, post-anthropocentric, always rehearsed, and – like Bakhita – resistant of efforts to be fully named. If I could define from the get-go where we are going, then that human-centred, animal-denying confidence might be co-extensive with imperialism. As such, treat this as an entry point into the rhizome, and as contraband magical beans you are invited to play with and destroy in the soil (in an act of Abayomi!) so that it meets the imperatives of local constraints.
Z. Approach the cracks: Making sanctuary is not primarily “human” work. We do not initiate it. It is material shifts at large that instigate this by disarticulating bodies. Cracks disarticulate bodies, often violently. If you are gifted with “a sense of stuckness”, an inability to go forward as if everything is normal, a dwindling capacity to keep up with the Joneses, you might be called (I use “called”, not to pronounce a new identity project or create dualisms of worthiness, but to decenter humans and shift the burden of making sanctuary from the anthropological project of modernity to the vitality of the world in the ways it worlds itself. I think everyone is disarticulated in some ways: it is a matter of degrees and intensities).
Helpful questions: Where are the cracks? How do we sense them? How might we approach them?
G. Listen: The crack is the scene of the “crime”, which is the scene of inquiry. At this site of inquiry (which I prefer to think of as “dis/inquiry”, since it is not a matter of conventional human research), we take risks by listening to the world around us, by “attuning” ourselves to the bodies, networks, conditions, forces, affects, intensities and movements that have always been the condition of our disarticulated bodies. As a new-born child examining the face of her mother for the first time, listen for ways to come in touch with the crack. One way to rehearse this is to creatively adorn the crack as you might do to an altar – like Yeyo and Aerin performed in the second session. Adornment is the art of attending to sensuous matterings that compel us in unknown, tension-full directions. Adornment is art/tension.
Helpful questions: What materials want to be “used”? What calls out to you in your partial effort to co-constitute wilder alliances of responsibility and responsivity? What can you try? How are you listening? With which senses? Whose senses can you borrow?
M. Invite others in: Making sanctuary is research. It is end-time research. It is post-anthropocentric research. It is an invitation to “think” – where “thinking” describes the movements we make to follow the trails of our corporeal disarticulation. In a more compelling posthumanist sense, thinking is an enlistment in disruptive flows. As Deleuze notes, to think is to become otherwise. As such, making sanctuary – being research – is not about individuals: it is about collectives. Research collectives. Democratic collectives. Transformation is not an “individual” matter but a matter of assemblages. These collectives could involve human + nonhuman, human + human, nonhuman + nonhuman. Whatever the case might be, one is never alone doing this. It involves coming to terms with the agency of objects around us.
Helpful questions: What oddly shaped kin are we learning to approach? Where might we draw boundaries in determining who to invite? Why? What discourses and assumptions are at work in drawing those boundaries? What do we risk?
E. Share: I dream of a translocal network of making sanctuary, a sharing of recipes, a gift network of posthumanist inquiry that beats with the pulse of decolonial emancipation, with a weird politics that is not committed to subjects but to flows and fields, and with the electrifying promise of the otherwise.
Helpful questions: How can we share our practices and the journeys of dis/inquiry?
An additional note: It is not always practical to simply begin connecting with chairs, tables, pens, and generally, objects around us. In fact, doing so can often be unhelpful. We are not free-floating “beings” in neutral spaces; we are relational becomings, even with disarticulated bodies. So, when I think about cracks, I think of them as breaches of the “real” littered with bits of “trinitite” – alchemized shrapnel of memory, loss, despair, boredom, longing, and strangeness. These are points of contact– and they can take on any form. To locate them, we must learn to listen for hot spots… allowing ourselves to be taken. We might often have to begin approaching without much to show for it – without the spectacular results we are used to. It is important not to instrumentalize these haphazard relationships with the more-than-human, and learn to come in touch with the ways we have been trained to “get something out of it”.
Helpful questions: Instead of asking – what’s in it for me – can we ask, “how am I in it and how is it in me?” How are we implicated, hailed, called upon, tugged on, pulled, and invited by the world around us?
Find a broken place. Listen to those cries and the baying of the dogs… No, listen now to the great howling of the wolves. Magnificent, almost sublime, emanating from vertical legs placed in a triangle on the ground and from the mouth lifted straight toward the sky, already strangely musical. No, listen, there, uglier, raw, as though broken, to the chattering jackels. No, there, now, to the whistling of the wind. (Michael Serres, Biogea, 2012, p. 112)
Try listening to the cracks. Borrow other senses if you need to – it might be the first kindling steps to assembling your dis/inquiry project.
Latest posts by Bayo Akomolafe (see all)
- A REHEARSAL OF THE CONCEPT OF MAKING SANCTUARY - December 27, 2020
- The Meaning of Prophecy is to Look Again - September 12, 2020
- The Wilds Beyond Climate Justice: Opening Remarks - June 16, 2020
Pingback: opening roads for new understandings | notes from the wayside