I’ve never before written a letter to an author that I did not already know. I’m not telling you this because I want this letter to seem particularly special. It’s more to allow me to introduce a small amount of context about where I’m at as I started to read Experiments in Imagining Otherwise.
I’m in Berlin right now and the idea that I came to Europe for a long, hot summer is already feeling distant as the days become shorter and cocooned in the grey, chill of autumn. I return to my home in Naarm (otherwise known by it’s colonised name of Melbourne, in so-called Australia) in less than two weeks. The mood is definitely one of contemplation and deep thought about the next stage of life, how I hold onto a revolutionary imagination filled with rebellious desires as I get older and how I incorporate the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned while I’ve been here.
I write to try to make sense of such considerations. There’s been a small amount of writing I’ve been doing on this trip – some postcards and letters to loved ones, a couple of ‘travel story’ type pieces and one long(ish) piece of feedback to a friend about a draft of an excellent article that they wrote. But I have no more postcards to send now.
Not the sort of writing I usually post here, but a couple of pieces inspired by experiences while I’ve been traveling this year that touch on issues of anti-racism and colonisation.
1. A story about hanging with some hooligans at a football match in Ireland and a confronting moment of racism that is handled in the best possible way.
2. A somewhat free-form piece describing a beautiful place and the feeling of swimming in water that leads to reflections on history and place.
We had come to be there as a result of a night drinking Guinness at The Cobblestone in Dublin, where we met our Scottish football hooligan chaperones – from Glasgow, but not fans of either of ‘the Old Firm’ teams, instead choosing to follow the middling fortunes of Motherwell FC. We were invited to join them in making the trip from Dublin to Sligo in the west of Ireland for the match the next day. Motherwell were due to play Sligo Rovers in a game to qualify for a low-level Europe-wide competition – a big moment for both teams and their fanbases.
From a review of The Time of the Peacock (1965) to questions of assimilation and adaptation amongst the diasporic, migrant multitudes of today.
Scents of otherness in the Australian bush
In the The Time of the Peacock, Mena Abdullah captures the out-of-place-ness of an Indian family in 1950’s rural Australia through a series of beautifully crafted, short stories. Abdullah weaves together the family’s experience of holding dearly to the memories and ways of a distant homeland while trying to make a place in a country that marks them as indelibly different. She depicts the nuance and complexity of migrant lives – not just as outsiders in a foreign land, but also in the interconnections between family members. They aren’t just ‘Indian’, the dad is a Punjabi Muslim, the mum from a Hindu Brahmin family and those differences matter. The politics of the partition of India briefly arises, yet ultimately these subtleties are in the background, adding layers of depth to this telling of the migrant experience.
Disclaimer: This was mostly written before the anti-lockdown/ anti vaccine mandate protests that broke out in Narrm on Monday, September 20th, 2021. While those protests added extra layers of complexity, I am still comfortable putting the ideas contained in this piece forward as being relevant to the whole mess we’re in.
Another lockdown drags its weight through the winter and into spring, embellishing hours into days and days into weeks. I endure time by going for runs, strumming my bass, reading, writing, cooking. Materially comfortable enough for now. Missing those I love. Staying close to the few I love that I’m able to. Sometimes bored, sometimes worried. Just passing time.
There’s another post saying not to complain about lockdowns because there’s people in jail or in detention centers or dying. I half nod, caught out by the instinctive call and response posture. Then I shrug. There’s always the guilt of someone worse off. These words are emptied of meaning precisely because of their transcendent righteousness.
Their emptiness is a mirror of the baffling mess that they critique – the anti-lockdown demonstrations. Whereas the righteous words sit in a hollowness of their own creation, of being so correct that they (seek to) leave no space for any other feeling, the protests are all feeling at their core with little interest in the sense they make or in being able to grasp something that holds true. And so we have a constellation of narratives seeking to unearth the greatest conspiracies, possibly entertaining if not for the darker endpoints they often lurch towards.
(An uncomprehensive look back on the era of the counter summit, anti-capitalist movement inspired by the recent 20th anniversary of the G8 protests in Genoa. Not going into detail about specific events or the content of debates, just a general reflection on lessons learned and some of the tactics, ideas and cultural markers that circulated during that time.)
The size, force and fury of the protests that confronted the G8 when it met in Genoa marked the peak of what was being called the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement. This naming never sat right with many of us who were around at the time for numerous reasons including that, to whatever extent it was a coherent ‘movement’, it tied together a series of disparate rebellious moments and ongoing struggles that occurred across the globe. The common affect of that time could most precisely be described as a sense of connection that we were part of the same thing happening in so many parts of the world. So instead of ‘anti-globalisation’, I’m going to refer to this as the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement, even though that isn’t perfect too.
Building anti-capitalist knowledges from disparate sources
One of the defining aspects of an upsurge in social struggle are the forms of knowledge that are generated and how these circulate, seeping into a broader societal consciousness. At the level of analysis, of creating a generalised understanding of the systemic conditions which shape our lives and the world we inhabit, the era of the summit protests made popular a wide-ranging discourse around its core idea: anti-capitalism. This wasn’t one central theory but a series of divergent, and sometimes conflicting, ideas and experiences.
marshals cannot protect us from police – marshals end up policing the protest, restraining rebellious energy – the authority imbued in the role of marshal makes people suspicious of other participants within a protest – the role of marshals exacerbates two negative tendencies of solidarity; laziness and distrust – an imposed, rigid structure to ensure ‘safety’ cannot be flexible enough to account for variables in danger – instead, organise with friends to look out for each other and then communicate with other groups across the protest – safety can’t be the only factor in determining what action looks like, we have to take risks beyond the pre-determined boundaries of a formal protest – conclusion.
This piece is influenced by a series of diverse and informal conversations about the entrenched role of marshals at demonstrations in this town. However, the political inflection it takes, the conclusions drawn, are mostly reflective of my own thinking. While there are common starting points, I don’t want to suggest that where I end up is necessarily representative of any greater collective intent. That is to say, I think some of you who I’ve had these conversations with will disagree with parts of this. I write this as part of the ongoing discussion, hopefully contributing to new forms of acting alongside each other at street protests that is open to taking risks and looking out for each other without always handing our power over to some higher authority.
It should be noted that there are 2 distinct layers that constitute critical conversations around marshals – one being the articulation of a variety of issues with how the current marshalling structure conducts itself, the other being a more general questioning of the very existence of formal marshals at demos. I start with the first, but quickly move to the second.
Reflections on the proliferation of borders from a pandemic world. (written mostly in 2020, finished off in 2021)
When the flames engulfed the home of the brave,
The stampede towards the the border was in vain.
Faces palmed, faces paled
As the wall they said would make them great could not be scaled.
– ‘Victory Lap’, Propagandhi
The nation closes its borders. This is both remarkable and not. Unremarkable because the militarised border regime that has governed the political trajectory of this island nation had easily created the capacity to enforce a total shutdown. It ordinarily walks the line between living up to the racist fantasies of a paranoid population and the economic need for certain types of migration to fill gaps in the labour market. But these aren’t ordinary times and so it flexes and the racists swoon while the ‘progressive’ liberals are appeased in their sense of (bio-)security.
Some fairly loose thoughts about how once radical conceptions of ‘safer spaces’ have been invoked in protecting us from COVID and reinforcing the State’s biosecurity apparatus. Written specifically from Narrm, but probably with parallels elsewhere.
I retain a lingering trace memory of safer spaces being a direct and vital intervention into the complacent expectations of radical and transgressive spaces, before it settled into its current form as a bland and lifeless procedural appeal to higher authority. As a radical proposal, safer spaces is about those whose well-being is generally deemed unimportant, being able to claim space and take the necessary actions to assert control over their own safety. These actions will more than likely be an uncomfortable interruption upon the normality of those on the dominant side of a power relation, and all the better for that discomfort. What it shouldn’t be is a blunting of sharp edges, where instead of a spiky interruption, there is simply a broadening of pre-established terms to include those who are more marginalised.
Thinking about the courageous resistance to white supremacy, fascism and police brutality going on in Turtle Island right now. I can’t form these thoughts into coherent words yet and, being an ocean away, maybe it’s not really necessary for me to try to. So instead i’ll leave this track here – says it all really.