S&D writing back and forth 1/18/20


Dani & Sheilah ReStack

D: Is it possible to be a political agent via fantasy? I want to be like Donna Haraway, Octavia Butler, Leonora Carrington.


S: Yeah, I like the way Octavia Butler constructs new alliances and structures of support between people within her stories, and Donna Haraway offers kinship with animals. I’m craving ideas and articulation of what radical inhabitation of family could look like.


D: Let’s maintain our vocabulary of feral domestic.


S: See, you don’t want to use the word family.


D: No, I’m a family member. But if the “radical inhabitation of family” includes gentle parenting, then I think the term “feral” qualifies. Anything that goes against the patriarchal and authoritarian concept of family is feral.

S: Ok, I agree, feral is a good word to put a crack in the hetero-normative ideas of a family. I like to think of how we can use the language of control to exit control. A kind of doubling.


D: If we see the family as the seed place for political agency, then what if we exposed the co-dependent triangle in the new vid?

S: OMG. We can’t even figure out how to talk about it ourselves, much less exit it. That seems absolutely terrifying to me. But, isn’t that what our work is already about? At least in the collaborative part of it – power and shared power, differentials of power and existence — always the push/pull of power dynamics and triggering and then, our friend, co-dependency. I dunno – I just feel more comfortable when our relationship can be in existence alongside the other questions and not feel so self-help or self-involved. Maybe like what Korakrit Arunondchai said in the Bomb interview about empathy.


[From interview with Korakrit Arunondchai and Martha Kirszenbaum in Bomb magazine, fall 2019


MK: I think I know what you mean because at the core of your work is empathy. You are the audience because the audience is inside you. Everything is so porous in your practice.


KA: Empathy is the whole point of the circle I’m talking about, which, for me, connects back to that concert circle from high school. And it was a feeling that was very palpable when I first saw boychild perform. To be empathetic is written into the code of being human. It’s one of the most important traits of a person, but you don’t speak about it. And you can’t really obtain it or program for it—that’s why I talk about storytelling. You can’t fake empathy; you can only make it happen through true presence. So in the footage, I’m speaking to a filter or medium—Chantri or boychild—and that’s how I’m there and that is the present.

You can watch a video of boychild performing and it can generate empathy. But when you’re in the space where she’s performing, together with all these different bodies in the room, it creates a collective sense of empathy that’s impossible to record or hold onto. The ritual, with all the bodies going through an experience together, brings you outside of normal life, to look back into life. That’s the empathetic moment—you can’t name it, and you can’t recreate it.


So empathy underwrites everything I do, but I never want to think about it as the goal for a video, because that would fail.]


D: And how do we talk to the UNDO fellows about all this?


S: We could ask them about other forms of communication and community. What is their take on ritual?


D: But what is our video about?


S: It is a journey.


D: Where to? What for?


S: Wait a second, it was a journey, and I was going to get pregnant along the way. I wanted this trope of journey to hold it together– the implication of going somewhere to find something and also to convince you to want a baby. Now it is something else. Maybe it’s a new survival strategy for the water babies that we invented in SOTD. Maybe we need to return to them. Maybe we have to help them figure out how to have relationships with other life forms. For the children we enabled to survive the climate crisis…


D: Like how to communicate using sine tones and finding out how the trees warn each other of danger by excreting chemicals into the wind, or playing dead like opossums. We could teach them about AA which has the most radical functional community I know of, and based on what Danny Marcus said, the anarchists are vibrant right now, beyond hopeful, we could give them that.


S: I love how trees are give to each other, it’s outside the Darwinian approach… And remember what we saw about whales, the way they have the capacity to feel empathy? We think we are so special with our language. But so much of what words try to do is describe feelings, indescribable things. I like that you bring up AA, too, and in the same sentence as anarchy. I feel like they are structurally so different – structure vs. structurelessness but then, at the end of the day, they are both trying to deal with the excruciating unknown of the future through strategies of engagement with others.

D: I think Judith Butler’s understanding of narrative would include these alternative methods of making sense, that would allow in the excruciating unknown. A way where the “I” narrative doesn’t dominate everything.

S: Yeah, I think she is suggesting something about this kind of opaque experience that exists that cannot be translated. I love how it feels like she is prying a place open for a recognition of the unknown and unknowable in our traditional concept of narrative.


D: Her ideas about the unknowable unconscious makes me want to get closer to that. I’m not saying through language (another tradition of patriarchal control) but via sound and color. I wish I had read Butler earlier. I think the unconscious is the infinity place where god is, a god that surrounds us and is in animals and rocks and every granule of sand.

S: I think the primacy of “I” is everywhere in our capitalist paradigm, even the way she talks about how the unconscious becomes a possession. It kind of does my head in to think of the vastness of something unknowable, I don’t go to god, but I can see how one would. I understood that the unknowable seems to be activated in relation. In the transference between the speaker and listener. I like this idea of how things, including an unknowable narrative, exist as a function of relation activated by telling and listening.


D: Story telling is the most accessible way for me to relate, the linear kind.


S: She talks about that- the fleeting addicting notion of control. Her text makes an argument for experimental forms, to leave the chains of the linear narrative behind in search of new ways of making documents, making a felt sense, perhaps.


D: Maybe the only way we can do it is through visceral body activity, the mud and blood and sex way… instead of language… Her idea is turning me upside down. The unknown is a scary violent place to me. Except that in The Black Stallion when the boy and the horse are alone on the island, after the ship wreck, I didn’t feel too afraid. Their unknown circumstances yielded the most beautiful non-verbal relationship I know of.


S: You managed to bring The Black Stallion into this.


D: Yes, another linear narrative…