11. Mar, 2022

Death is the message and the message is love

I've been in Ann Arbor for 6 weeks now, wowza, time flies when you're scrambling to adjust.
Adjusting to a new place has made me have to think about being a novice. It's been a long time since I've had to think about starting something new, how I adjust (and fail to adjust) and mostly reflect on how I learn.

Wunderkind hubris will have me believing in effortless mastery. But oh, the past two weeks have humbled me! Kicking and screaming, I've had to admit, gingerly, that I am not a fan of uncertainty. Who knew? After 2 years of pandemonium panini, it seems I have failed to learn the lesson that we are never returning to normal. For all my pandemic insights, I have often felt unmoored by the growing pains of having to admit (gulps)..dare I say it "culture shock". Who me, anthropologist replete with all kinds of insights about the familiar strange, is feeling culture shock!

I have spent my whole life in universities (that's a story for another day). I erroneously thought its just right-clicks-synonyms and hey presto, whether I am in India, Argentina or America, its all kind of the same, right...right? yeah, but not so much. Since arriving in A2, I have been struggling with the uncanny, and thank goodness next week's seminar is all about that, so hopefully I will have some deeper insights into my experience of the uncanny valley.

Its hard for me to figure out which details to share about my current work, since its still in progress. Save to say, the experience of the American medical industrial complex is deeply violent in its estrangement (oh late capitalism, when will we quit you!). I'm finding myself splitting, in voice and action, ever mindful that I am a visitor and also just bamboozled at how unnecessarily difficult it was for me get basic health care.

I have had access to a prohibitively expensive medical aid in SA, and forgot that a mere 10 years ago, this was not my reality. Not having private health care made me a cyborg, and I can laugh about it now, but right now, experiencing the blunt sides of US bureaucracy had me reeling with Fanonian visions, recalling Akhil Gupta's "Red Tape" (2012). Its to be expected (having a mind to think and eyes to see) how deeply maddening it is to have language to describe a situation and yet still feel powerless to change it.

Paying attention to how race, gender and generation intersect in order to produce proximities to pain, illness and other marginalization is one way critical scholars have worked to give me vocabulary to name and articulate the true cost of what the psychiatrist Chester Middlebrook Pierc ecalls “microaggressions” (Su 2010). This term is erroneously understood to mean “minimal”, however, Su and numerous scholars have demonstrated that these indignities, especially if explained away as unconscious or unintentional, are significant in their short and long term effect. Physical illness as a manifestation of being weathered (pardon the unfortunate double entendre here, although Ann Arbor’s weather conditions are frustrating, this is not what I mean by the use of this term, although Jobson, R. C. (2020) points us to yet another important intersection here, but I digress). When I speak of weather here, I am referring to the work of American public health researcher and research professor at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center, Arline T. Geronimus. For the past two decades, her “Weathering Hypothesis” (Geronimus, 1992) has helped to explain “the premature decline of health observed with age in African-American women exposed to stress, dangerous environments, and general social disadvantage, which are presumed to cause accelerated wear and tear.” This numerous black women have been saying for been saying for a depressingly long time (cf: Priest (2008), Morrison (1992, 1994, 2019), Ogundipe-Leslie (1994), Maputsa (2008) and I could go on and on and on). I've been thinking a lot about Myisha Priest's (2008) paper "Salvation is the issue" when she says "death is becoming an occupational hazard of black female intellectual life" (2008:117). It sounds DRAMATIC, and I even gaslight myself sometimes (did you die tho?!) into thinking I'm being maudlin (gasp), but really she's right. I'm thinking of that sketch in "Random Acts of flyness". I've never been able to get with the Afropessimist movement, but for the first time, I really started to consider that they may have something to teach me about how to navigate this experience. Especially when so much of my imaginary of dystopia has been shaped by tongue and cheek satire, which probably should have sounded more like THIS.

Kuningi, issa lot. (redacted reflections on personal experiences with premature death). So umgowo is probably the most sane response to these experiences..mumbles something about reparations. But its late and I need to eat and take antibiotics and close the multiple tabs open in my head. Soon, soon, a podcast is coming soon...but while I work on my podcast, here are some pod recommendations for you:

In an effort to keep track of the numerous podcasts I consume, I thought I'd make a playlist of the top podcast episodes that have caught my attention. So here we go:

  1. Between The Covers (Ep. 1 March 2022). David Naimon's questions are so insightful, I often pause to replay them. I'm currently listening to his conversation with the poet Solmaz Sharif. So many many delicious ideas and thoughts, as I consider what it means to refuse legibility (find the episode here)
  2. Between The Covers (Ep. 1 Feb 2022). I cant stop thinking about James Hannaham's genre bending experiment and heteronyms (new word alert!). So delicious, I have listened to this 3 times as I walk about A2 and I am blown away by Hannaham's insights on what it means to speak with and not of identity. Again in line with my current preoccupation with refusal (find the episode here)
  3. This American Life (2 Jan 2022). Oh Ira, be my friend already! I think this was the first podcast I ever started listening to, and this episode is emblematic of the familiar 3 acts I have come to appreciate. As I sit with grief and try not to look away, I found Act 1 to be particularly moving, especially as I think about writing, AI and the power of algorithms in the time of surveillance capitalism (cf: Sheshona Zuboff's 2018, this week's assigned text for the Anthro-History seminar) (find the episode here)
  4. Working Class History (Ep 61) The league of revolutionary black workers. Learning about Detroit's history as I prepare for my trip there in April. Its a fascinating two part series, worth a listen. (find the episode here)
  5. Ok last one, I promise, but thinking of series, I would be remiss to not share the series I was hooked on a few weeks ago. The Trojan Horse Affair! I binged all 9 episodes in 2 days. For anyone who has ever thought about assimilation, meritocracy and the seemingly unending string of colonial mendacity. Audio documentary at its finest, and really loved the self reflexivity of the makers navigating the limits of objectivity and what it means to do good reporting. (find the series here)