Quillwood Podcast

QP7: Coming Home to the Indetermiverse, with Bayo Akomolafe

March 18, 2022 Eric Garza Season 1 Episode 7
Quillwood Podcast
QP7: Coming Home to the Indetermiverse, with Bayo Akomolafe
Show Notes Transcript

Bayo Akomolafe is an author, speaker, a trans-public intellectual, post-activist, and a father, among many other things. In this episode he and Eric talk about resilience, the generative qualities of failure, finding safety amidst uncertainty, trauma as a capitalist project, cancel culture, individualism, and belonging as an artifact, among other things.


  • 00:00 - 02:18 — Episode introduction
  • 02:18 - 07:40 — Going into the cracks
  • 07:40 - 15:58 — Resilience, giving up, experimentalism
  • 15:58 - 21:11 — Nervous systems and feeling safe in uncertainty
  • 21:11 - 30:50 — Staying balanced, embracing failure
  • 30:50 - 57:21 — Trauma, cancel culture, and belonging
  • 57:21 - 58:15 — Episode wrap-up

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Eric Garza: Welcome to the Quillwood Podcast. I am your host, Eric Garza.

Today's guest is Bayo Akomolafe. He is an author, speaker, a trans-public intellectual, post-activist, and a father, among many other things. He is well known for teaching the course We Will Dance With Mountains, and he has a course called The Unbusinesslike Nature of Business that is open for registration right now, as I record this intro. You can find Bayo on the web at bayoakomolafe.net. You can find a link to his website, as well as a link to his course that is open for registration by going to quillwood.org, click on the Quillwood Podcast in the offerings menu, and then go to this episode. There's show notes there that includes links and resources, as well as a transcript. You might be able to find those links and resources in the episode description in your podcast app, too. If you enjoy this episode, I encourage you to leave a five star review on whatever app you use to listen. Also consider sharing the episode with anyone you know who might enjoy listening to it.

Before I start the conversation I recorded with Bayo, I want you to know that the Quillwood Podcast is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. Through Quillwood Academy I offer events to help people just like you learn to navigate the changing world we all live in. I have no events open for registration at this moment. I am in the middle of upgrading my email system. Once that is done, I've got some events that I will list and I'll send announcements out in my email newsletter. If you want to sign up for that—and I do hope you will—head over to quillwood.org. You can sign up for the newsletter on the welcome page. You can also learn more about Quillwood Academy in terms of its history and a little bit about me if you feel inspired.

So now with my plug for Quillwood Academy and Bayo's intro out of the way, please enjoy today's episode.

Eric: Welcome to the podcast Bayo, and thanks so much for taking the time out of your evening to join me.

Bayo Akomolafe: It's good to see you again, brother.

Eric: I participated in your We Will Dance With Mountains course for the second time this past fall and had a lovely time there. I would love for us to start out by exploring the title that you chose for this particular iteration, and that was Into the Cracks. I would love to hear where that came from, as a motivation.

Bayo: There is a story that I can offer here. It's part of the oracular gifts, the poetry, the storied poetry of the Yoruba people that is often gravitationally centered around the Trickster, called Eshu. In one of these stories, the chief god Olodumare, is with his servant, and they are walking in his garden somewhere. And I think the servant has some difficult feelings about how about his servitude that has not been expressed to the to the deity. And so he has maybe feelings of jealousy or anger or something, and he finds a moment when he can kill God, literally. So as they're walking, Olodumare is examining the beauty of his garden. On a mountain close to that valley, where the garden is situated, his servant situates himself and pushes a huge boulder, a rock, and it rolls down and smashes the head of God. Of course God lives again, there's always a sequel, but I'm about the origin myth, at least one of them. His head is cracked into many pieces and those pieces become the Orishas. An Orisha is, for those who don't know, a smaller God, like a superhuman deity. And so Ogun, Oriya, Oshun, all of them sprout, Sango, they sprout from the cracks.

What's very interesting is it is often said that Eshu is not one of the pieces. Eshu is a trickster, akin to Loki, Anansi the spider, he doesn't come from any of those pieces, and he's not a shrapnel. He comes from the spaces between the pieces, he comes from the cracks. And it speaks to what Eshu is like. Eshu is the one who was asked, So what do you want from Olodumare? So you can already tell that a lot of them are somehow alive in this other telling. Olodumare asks all his Orishas, what do you want? And Sango says I want the power of lightning. And Ogun says I want to be the God of victory and iron and metal and stuff like that. And Eshu says I want to travel, I want to see things, I want to create things that haven't existed before. So, in my reading of this beautiful myth, cracks are where everything comes from.Cracks are not just significantly of failure, which I reframe as generative incapacitation. Cracks are how we come to be. Cracks are the engine, the mechanism, of novelty. And they also signify events that are too dense, ontologically speaking, for the familiar to hold. So it requires a spilling forth.

So in a sense, the title came from that recognition that we are living in times of great metaphysical, ontological, ethical, moral, spiritual failure. And we don't know where to go except to recompose the ethnographies of healing and recovery and getting back to the familiar. But what if some transmutation wants to happen? What if we're stuck because of healing, using a very specific sense to signify covering up the wounds? What if the monster is waiting at the wilds beyond our fences, inviting us to do other things with our bodies instead of just return to the origins, or to the original, or to the originary? So that's where the title came from, in a sense. To go into the cracks and do something with the chaosmos, or with the indetermiverse that holds us.

Eric: That inspired me to think a lot of different things, but one of the things that that brought to mind, as you were talking about returning to what had been before and your healing metaphor, this could well be true in India where you are too, but in the United States one of the big buzzwords we have right now is this idea of resilience.

Bayo: Resilience, yes.

Eric: And the idea of creating systems that can handle this perturbation to then return to some semblance of their original form and function. I've grown hesitant, maybe skeptical of that, because I just feel like we need to be willing to let go of some of those ways of doing. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that?

Bayo: We do need resilience. We need persistence. We need Churchillian phrases like never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. There are instances, quite urgently, quite intimate with where we as a family right now, were never giving up has brought us some rewards. So it's a beautiful thing, this notion of resilience, to keep at what we know to do, to share with our children what we received over time. Ancestrality is a form of resilience. It is the rejection of convenient termination. It is to say that our lives exceed the birth and death moments. We live beyond our bodies, in a sense. And so resilience could be an invitation into community, into an ongoing commonwealth of resources, of ideas, of thoughts, of gifts, and of voice and story.

But what wants to be said as well is that this commonwealth could become toxic, that because we live in an indetermiverse—and that's my term, that's my reframing of the idea of the universe, rejecting some harmonious core, and signaling that the world or the universe language, doesn't help at this point, doesn't quite converge all the time, that it's also made of divergences, and bifurcations, and failures and cracks and ruptures and openings, not just things that are harmonious and come together. And keeping that in mind, we want to note how resilience can actually get in the way of transformation, that doing the same things, which can be quite advantageous, could actually postpone novelty, could actually form, or create some form of incarceration, whether we're stuck in the same ways, and there's nothing else to do but to stay there. So I feel resilience also has a shelf life, if you will, to speak in those terms. And the gift of that moment is to be able to seek out disruption, to seek out the Trickster. The Trickster is not good for resilience. But when things need to move, you need Trickster archetype energies.

Eric: I feel like one of the emergent themes from this last iteration of We Will Dance With Mountains is, and I don't know that you ever articulated it this way, or even anyone really articulated this way at least when I was around, but knowing when to give up. Certain times, you say, we don't want to give up. There's value in cultivating that sense of perseverance. And other times, maybe not so useful. Maybe it is time to give up.

Bayo: It's hard to know that beforehand. It I feel that like knowing itself is... My understanding of epistemology of how we come to know things is, in a performative relational universe, we know by trying. We know by making marks, and being marked in the same or self-same moment. So it's not that things are out there, waiting to be discovered, in a sense. It is that even discovery is performative, even discovery is relational. We are discovered in the self-same moment. We use our tools, but we're using the self-same moment that we use our tools, by our technologies.

So I guess we know by withnessing. And I use a different term, not just to witness but to withness by witnessing new realities. And this is something that's almost trial by trial and error, right? We experiment with the new. We will fail. We will break down, but somehow or some places somewhere, it will take, it will take root, it will sprout, and then we know what to do. There's no prophetic, in my conception—and my conception is obviously limited—there is no prophetic knowing before it happens. Because happening is richer than the ways we frame it to be.

Eric: I was thinking about that. It is like making a religion of experimentalism. Being willing to experiment with lots of different options and not letting ourselves get caught in the trap—and maybe this is trickster speaking in some respects—of, I know the one right way to do this, and we're all going to just do this one thing. How can we instead cultivate enough open mindedness to let people try a lot of different things and see how some of these things go, and then have the ability to discern which of these might be a useful path forwards.

Bayo: Yeah, I mean, it's easier said than done. If we were liberal humanist automatons with an internal locus of control, or what might be popularly known as free will, then cognition is focused here. It's focused in us. We are the ones manipulating the environment to experiment with it, to see what outcomes are possible. But we are immersed in cities. These were immersed and engaging in conversations that report back on us and shape the ways we are oriented in the world. We are constantly dabbling with ancestrality, archetypality, microbial flows, chemical secretions that are not our own, so to speak. Every doing is a doing with. Every experimenting is an experimenting with. So, yes to the beautifully worded idea of you might call it a religion of experimentalism where we're trying different things. But even then most of us, if not all of us, I guess I can safely say most of us, will need to be stuck. And we need to be situated in the familiar in order for maybe others to try those things out.

Eric: One of the things that I play with a lot is learning about nervous system and polyvagal theory and all of those things. And it's interesting how, for some people, that sense of certainty is what they need in order to help them feel safe in a moment and stay out of their fight-flight responses and things like that. And an idea I've been playing with that goes along with that is, What happens if we learn to feel safe in exactly these kinds of situations that you're talking about where we're not these completely independent entities that are exerting our free will on the world? How can we feel safe while we are being acted upon? I guess that's a question I will toss out there. Maybe not a completely formed one, but I think it speaks to living in connection. I think we use that word a lot. And living in that connection, I think, is a skill. And I need a lot more practice at that.

Bayo: I think I'll come to that question in this way. I feel that there are some gifts in feeling embattled or beleaguered or haunted. I don't know if they were an option for us to feel, or me personally, to feel safe in every open ended emergent moment, to trust that this is also part of our ongoing becoming. I don't think I will go for that. I don't think I'll click the button. I don't think I'll take that pill. Because there's also something emergent about distress, and prolific and productive and generative about the wide-eyed response to crisis. There's something, maybe I may not be able to exemplify now, but I feel that there's something that we should trust about distrust, or that we should be open to in not feeling safe about some things. That's the only wilderness of an indetermiverse.

Eric: Yeah, just thinking about that, one of the people that writes a lot about nervous systems is a man named Steven Porges. Maybe you've heard of him, or maybe not. But he talks about this idea of play, of playfulness. And he describes this as right at this edge of feeling safe, and also feeling a little bit unsafe. So like flirting with that edge of unsafety. And he thinks of that as being a potentially extraordinarily generative place for people to be as long as they don't have to be there all the time. Almost sounds like that's what you're alluding to is play. Even if we're not feeling safe, finding a way to feel playful.

Bayo: There is definitely something childlike and playful about the experiments, not that they are archived, these experiments, but that the spirit and aesthetic of decolonial experimentation is what I'm calling for. And there's something really childlike about that. And yes, my wife was telling me a while ago as we were on our terrace, she was telling me about the places she would stay with her sister when she was a kid, just on the edge of falling, many feet above the ground. But they found safety in that place of unsafety, if you will. And because it was playful, it gave them a sense of pride that they were on the edge of things. And I think that is a beautiful thing to aspire to. It will not be universal. I do not think that that's an ideal we should now situate this as a new Platonian ideal that we should look forward to or try to mobilize everyone to, collectively. I feel that that is a gift, and it's a gift from topographical shifts, from pedagogical movements, and there will be some of us that are quite capable, or not in an essential way, but made ready by events and stuff around us that are ready to receive that. And not at all times. And maybe that's okay, too.

Eric: In your writing, and in your courses, you deal with a lot of really challenging topics. And I've always been impressed by your presence and your countenance. And so I guess I have a little bit more personal question, I'm curious how you are able to keep yourself—and maybe this isn't the right word at all—but well balanced in the world that we are today doing the kind of work that you do.

Bayo: That is something I'm always returning to again. I'm not quite as balanced as I present myself. Not quite. The more balanced person in our family is my wife, she is like this, where I'm this. And I feel that I anchor myself spiritually to her, to our kids, to find some kind of, yes, I would say the word safety in meeting the chaotic realms that I engage in. But there's also something to be said about the generosity of the mythologies that I play with. So someone comes to me with a topic about cancel culture, or white supremacy, or racism and racialization, and all those things, not that I have ready made answers for them, but I guess when you come from a cosmology of play, even the enemy—let's just hypothesize, or create some room for some hypothetical enemy—even the enemy is welcome. Even the enemy is part of our emergence.

So I'm constantly looking for ways not necessarily to come to consensus, or to come to a manifesto, to come to an understanding, really, but I'm constantly looking for ways to come to touch, at least for us to touch each other, and maybe spill from there divergently or maybe converge, you know. I'm not looking for one result, I'm looking for a glimpse of how you're moving. The liminal flows that have brought you contextually to where you are at this moment in time. That gives me a sense of peace. That gives me a sense of grounding, that I'm not trying to impose evangelically my views on this person. I'm no guru. I'm not starting a religion. I'm playing with the world and it's ongoing emergence. That gives me a whole lot of peace, and maybe even faith that things will work out well. Or maybe not.

Eric: A couple years ago I read your book, The Wilds Beyond Our Fences. Part of the narrative involved you searching out what you called hushes. I don't remember if those were real things, or if that was a metaphor that you were playing with, but you had this task of finding 10 of them. And by the end of the book, you'd found nine. Did you ever find the 10th hush?

Bayo: No, no. No. And I think that's a beautiful way of saying everything I just said. A few seconds ago, it's the blessing of incompleteness. I refer to it sometimes or elsewhere as the gift of insignificance. It's the rejection of arrival. So I found the 10th one, where's the answer? Or I've been good all my life, whereas heaven? It's allowing the universe to be as anxious, and be as teenage as it is? It's still figuring things out. And I think I'm really attracted, maybe by some ancestral gifts, or some positionality that I am privileged to occupy culturally, somehow, I am really attracted to the incomplete, to the wound, to the opening. So when I find myself figuring things out in a way that feels final and universal, I shrink away from that moment.

Eric: And you've brought up—you do this a lot in your writing—you've brought this word up a couple times in our conversation: failure. And I wonder if there's a lesson there. Sometimes failures can be catastrophic. And sometimes they can be generative, if we learn to use them that way.

Bayo: I've reclaimed the notion of failure as generative incapacitation. There's a particular project that is convened in that reframe. I'm not speaking about missing the mark as failure, or a sense of inadequacy, not hitting the standard or rising above the benchmark. That's not what I mean by failure. By failure I mean, when our ways of making sense of things, our measuring devices, our lexicon, the ways we understand the world to be and to work, when all of that is broken open by something so irresistibly illegible, nonlinear, that we are forced in that moment, in that cripplingly disabling moment, to search for something different. It is the instance of a stone sprouting limbs and becoming a giant frog. This really happened for me. You could say that it was always a frog. It looked like a stone when I was hitting it in the dark, but it suddenly grew limbs and became a frog. And I screamed, and I ran away, because I'm not exactly fond of amphibians. But that moment is almost like failure, is like when the unthought creeps in, when the insensible spills back and forth and reframes spacetime in its own image. In that disabling moment, one of two ethnographies is possible. One is that we take the path towards restoration, and we want to heal and recover a sense of the familiar. I can tell myself over and over again, that that was just a stone, that was just a stone, or that was a frog, that was a frog, or something. That I'm all right. And those are also useful. We need that as part of embodiment. But there's also, in times of colonial impasses, in moments when we don't exactly know where to go, another ethnography is possible. The ethnography of the monster. It's the invitation to stay with the trouble of that moment, is the invitation to not cover our limbs, the third legs, or the second head that have sprouted from our bodies, not to cover it up so that we can make others believe we are okay. It is to uncover our monstrosity, and to seek community so that that monstrosity can blossom. I think that's how novelty happens. So I privilege failure as part of the mechanism for the indetermiverse in its becoming. And I seek a politics that celebrates this.

Eric: It makes me think of the word captivate. I'm used to using the word captivate, it's like, wow, that something is captivating me. And then within that word, captivate, is captive. So the other part of me is like, okay, I'm being transfixed by this. Have I been captured? Am I encaged?

Bayo: Since we're doing the etymological game... You didn't tell me that was the game we're here to play...

Eric: I did not know that was the game we were here to play. It has it is presented itself, and so we're playing it.

Bayo: And I love it. I love etymology. Cleave. The word cleave, that's a promising product in our etymological game right now. Cleave is a double edged sword, isn't it? It's like a trickster. It's simultaneously means, or could signify, openings. So to cleave open, right. Or to bring together, to close. So yes, it I think cleaving is always possible with failure. Now, what sense we're talking about cleaving, or captivating, is, what's up for grabs?

Eric: As you were speaking about failure, and about healing, one of the things that emerged for me is this discourse on trauma. And I know you've alluded to this in some of your speaking and writing, but I've started to wonder about whether this idea of trauma, the way that it is being articulated in media today, is really a form of embodied learning. We're young, things happen, our bodies learn to do particular things, and we think of trauma as when the outcome of that ordeal is negative. I'm sure our bodies learn things, when we're young, that result in us having good behaviors, something happens and it triggers a positive behavior too. So I guess one thing I've been playing with is maybe backing off of this moralization, or maybe this aversion to trauma and, How do our bodies learn? And when our bodies do that, how do we engage with that?

This emerges from your talking about failure, and maybe the fact that I have this "trauma" response is not necessarily a failure? It's an it's an invitation to look more deeply at my reactions to particular stimuli. I wonder if you have any reflections on that, or on trauma as it seems to be showing up in media?

Bayo: I love that sense in which you articulated the final thing you said about the invitation to calibrate, to sense here. It's very animistic. It's very creaturely, like to sniff out pheromones, or to sense where the wind is blowing. I love that sense. That's one sense I want to privilege, to hold dear in our conversation.

Another sense, which I find is not often spoken about, is that I feel trauma is a capitalist project. For those who study the history of the terminology, and its entrance into the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, DSM, for clinical disorders, in form of PTSD. Trauma first emerged in the texts and writings of Jay Erickson, in the 18th and 19th century, as mobility was beginning to change, the industrialized West was really emerging, and people were traveling faster and faster on trains, in a new way. And so the landscape had changed. What this new landscape may not have anticipated were accidents.

And so when people started to have accidents, and to present with barely symptomatic issues that did not seem to be tethered to their physiology, then everyone was worried. What does this mean for someone to present with sweating, sweaty brows, and leaning forward, or having no ability to articulate himself or herself, as eloquently as one used to? Erickson suggested the term railway spine. And it was the very seed, in a sense, that planted the idea of trauma. And over time, through Freud and other speakers and writers and experts, that idea of the railway spine, which was really psychological, started to gain some somatization. And now we have this psychosomatic idea of trauma. But the idea is that it was always tethered to the emergence of industrialization and industrialized society. It has always been networked with statehood, and the notion of compensation, and who's a true citizen, and who should be considered a victim. These questions have never left the politics of trauma. It's a moral question, just as much or maybe even more so than it is a clinical reality.

And this is not to dismiss suffering, or to dismiss victimhood, or victimization, none of that. It's to notice the prisms and the lenses with which modern civilization has framed suffering, and what possibilities are invited into that performative space, and what other possibilities are dismissed. And what you say is a very powerful cosmological critique of the notion of trauma. In a sense, and I think this is cross culturally valid, other cultures experience what we might call trauma as a breach of membranes, right? Like this is this, what we might call spirit, the spiritual imposing itself or pressing on the fabric of the familiar so that it wants to break our bodies out, or rather, and preferably, it wants to introduce our local bodies to its diasporic selves. And this always comes with some form of sacrifice or suffering. 

Modernity is the paradigm of locating the self in a pixel, packaging the body and the self, so that it's not as reticulated as we, as all spiritualities might compose it as.

Eric: You may be familiar with this book, but I recently finished reading a book called The 1619 Project. There's a lot of, as one would expect, especially in the United States, there's a lot of critics of this book. And I found it to be quite extraordinary, not not just in terms of the informational content of it, but also just paying attention to my body as I was reading through a lot of those chapters, and feeling that invitation to reengineer my understanding of the history of this place that I live. Not just the United States in general, but also my particular place here in Vermont. What you were saying brought that up for me, because just like the way that we contextualize ourselves is also very much a product of our understanding of how things came to be the way they are today, we can say that with respect to trauma. We can say that with respect to race relations and inequities. I don't know that there's necessarily a question that emerges from that, but just an acknowledgement, and maybe an invitation on your part to talk about historical context. I feel like that's one of the things that especially the last five years for me personally—I doubt I'm unique in this—but I feel like there have been a lot of invitations to re-envision myself as a product of history, and re-envision some of those historical contexts.

Bayo: Yes. These are the things challenging our liberal, humanist, traditionalist notions of self. I often wonder too, if the things we pathologize, if the things we name as the wilds and push outside of proper healthy functioning, sane functioning, aren't already imbricated with functioning, or maybe given the condition of functioning, so that in a sense, trauma is not merely intergenerational, it is intercarnational. It is how being comes to be. That being and becoming is, I dare say, inherently troubling. To exist is troubling. To be is to ignite networks of suffering, multiple geometries of harm. So that modernity's infatuation with trauma, it's fetishization of trauma, and especially the word as obtained in the stylized West—trigger—how everything has become triggering. It's a symptomatic of that shriveled cosmology, that world making process, which I appreciate, which has given us some idea of life in its way to relativity. But it exemplifies that world that wants to meet all the worlds, that is yearning for animistic conceptions of being and becoming.

So having said that, there's something to be said about meeting history again, and the ways that we are connected with things that are not yet done. So I notice when I'm in the United States, when I'm reading things that pertain to the United States of America, one of the most lively conversations is about black bodies shutting up, so just shut up about that slave thing, that happened hundreds of years ago. Let's get on, let's move past that. What is usually lost, and this is one of the motivations for psychologists taking intergenerational trauma seriously, and therefore not tethering trauma to experience, meaning I don't need to have experienced trauma to be part of traumatic territories, which already simultaneously makes a post-humanist conception of trauma, at least glimpsable. Because all of a sudden, it's not just humans that pass on trauma to themselves, trauma becomes cybernetic, it becomes algorithmic, becomes historical. So there is a sense in which historical relations still ongoing can encode traumatic embodiments and prolong suffering needlessly. There is a sense in which trauma can then be atmospheric, volatile, in the firmament. So it becomes some kind of domain. And that is what's missing in these conversations about trauma, and black bodies, and minoritarian bodies. It's that even though it's past, it's not done with. In a sense, trauma is yet to come. The way we think, and the way we dream about the future, the way we anticipate freedom, and emancipation, could be a reiteration, or reinforcement of traumatic relations, could be what Lauren Berlant called a cruel optimism, where our imaginations only stabilize relationships of suffering and harm. Where hope itself is a wound, or a weapon of an aggressor.

So, yes, the situation in the United States, but not just in the United States, around the world, here in Asia and Africa, where we're still struggling with colonial legacies, there is a sense in which we're being invited to situate ourselves beyond the present moment, to see ourselves as diasporic, to uncover old and buried archives, and to use that for our futuristic or anticipatory experiments, to not abandon the past because it was past. And maybe in doing that, we might find new questions, things to engage, that are missing in the contemporary.

Eric: Yeah. And to build on that, as you were speaking I was imagining trauma almost as if it was a person, it has its own motivations, and thinking about when we look at trauma in the particular way that we seem to be doing throughout much of the West right now., what kind of vision of the future does that captivate us with? What do we become captive of when we look at it that way? And what happens if we explore the wilds beyond those fences and go beyond that particular articulation of trauma?

Bayo: So here's one of the reasons why think of trauma as a capitalist project, as part of the computational capitalism of our time, where racialization, as Mbembe would say, is not just focused on skin, but has gone or migrated beneath the skin. So how we think, how we desire, is all labor. It's all caught up in this algorithm, so that we are becoming artifacts of these larger territories and systems. And sometime, or somehow in response to that, and this is also something that Mbembe notices as well, especially in his exposition on black reason, that in trying to counteract that, in trying to counteract this expansionism, this extractivism, we compose decoloniality as a search for insularity, or safety, or protectionism, or immunity, so that politics becomes reduced to the management of safe spaces, or shared experiences. And then it quickly becomes puritanical, it becomes this quest for purity. So everyone becomes, if you stray away from a particular way of speaking, a particular grammar or syntax, or whatever, if you stray away from that, then you're canceled.

So trauma, what might be speculatively postulated as cancel culture, they're all entangled in this project of maintaining the territory of the individual. But I often call this, and I'm writing about this presently, pixelation. It's a search for interiority. It's like, there's so much trouble outside, let's go inward, is what some other authors have called confidence culture. It's like telling women, for instance, you are beautiful, don't mind the world. You look good. Tell yourself this. Now, this feels innocent and beautiful. And at the same time, it kind of suggests that the reason why women haven't, or some women to be specific here, are having difficulties with the world around them is because of some inner turmoil or psychological block or obstacle. And what that navel gazing rhetoric does is to turn us away, most of the time, from social structures, from the sociomaterialities around us.

So, this pixelation gives birth to a politics of hyper recognition. A politics that does not allow for mispronunciation. A politics that trades or traffics in offense, or being offended. A politics that is—and by politics, I mean a form of inquiry, relational collective mobilized inquiry, so it's not good or bad, it just that it produces certain effects which we can always study, or sometimes study. So the kind of future that are materialized, that are aggregated by this notion of trauma, this specific iteration of trauma, is a politics of the familiar, is the politics of convergences and coherence and compliance, a politics that does not know how to stray from the usual. And that might be helpful, and could also be incredibly dangerous. I'm leaning towards it being dangerous at this point, because of other fascist or protofascist flows that are quite evident right now.

Eric: And it seems to me that the emergence of cancel culture that you alluded to is a manifestation of this question that maybe a lot of people have around Who are my people? And my people are the ones who use this word when they mean this, and who don't use this word ever, and on and on and on. You mentioned, with our individualism, how we narrow the scope of who my people are, more and more and more, until we get to this place of Wow, the only one who's my people is me. Now what?

Bayo: That's helpful. That's a helpful way to think about it too. You could say that belonging has become an artifact. Belonging, which we evolutionary desire, because it's one way we have become embodied successfully in the world. We've had a lot of practice belonging with each other. And all of a sudden we are isolated. Increasingly isolated. And in being isolated, we long for others, and yet do not have the limbs to reach out. It's almost like a phantom limb. And so this technology and media landscapes present an opportunity for that, but it presents it through their algorithms. It's not offering belonging as an ideal, is offering a mediated practice that pretends, or that performs belonging in a specific way. And what that does, belonging as product, is that it inaugurates this astatical vengeance of othering. It's that if you come, I want you to come close, but if you come too close, so as to model or to disturb, or to even touch my diasporicity—I just made up that word—or the trouble that is my being and becoming, or the idea that I'm not quite as situated as my avatars pretend me to be, then I will cancel you, or I will delete you. And that makes speech impossible. In the long run that makes belonging impoverished.

Eric: Yeah. It does. And not just impoverished. As social primates, this idea of belonging emerges because we feel safer in groups. There's that word safety again. And the way that belonging has been commodified, as you allude, I feel like that makes that feeling of safety or comfort that might come from belonging harder and harder to access, and maybe even harder and harder for people to imagine in terms of what that actually could be like.

Bayo: This is why I say that we are thinking with, desiring with, imagining with capitalism. We're not isolated, independent agents that are looking on the outside into capitalism. We are capitalism's machinations. We are it's rhizomes, if you will.

Eric: Its cells.

Bayo: Yes, its cells, its limbs, its roots. And so, in that sense, you could say it out. We don't even know what a new politics or a new day or a new world might look like it except in additive ways. Let's add a new USB port to this laptop, that's new. Let's make iPod six. I don't know what it's called, iPad six, iPad seven, and then tell ourselves this is progress, that we are proceeding towards some kind of technological or moral singularity where everything be fine and dandy. The politics of that is that it includes what has been lost and what we caught out in framing progress, in framing the images we have of the future. So we don't know what belonging looks like. Belonging is always yet to come. I'm not saying that there is an essential notion of belonging that we're missing out on. I'm saying the particular performances of belonging that we are enacting and reenacting with our media landscapes, with our social networks, with all the algorithms around us, is one that does not allow for sustainable conversation, does not allow for difference, is that it does not allow for even resilience.

A while ago, I was being interviewed and the interviewer, my host, mispronounce my name. Just said something that sounded Russian instead of Yoruba, something like Akomolovo or something like that. And then I said, it's Akomolafe. And he was like, Oh, I'm sorry. You could see the person felt that I was offended. And I said, No, not I'm not offended in the least. If the world did not contain misspronunciation, then the world will not be possible. The world is richer, because my name has other iterations that I don't know yet. I'm not trying to equate that with people's experiences of being misgendered, or mispronounced, or something. I'm trying to say, however, that those experiences do not predate the politics that made them possible, that experiences are also political events. And we are situated in a politics that could actually give us the wound of the horrible experiences we have. A short way to put that, is no wound predates its world. We are living in a world where belonging is an artifact. And that is something really troubling.

Eric: Yeah. And I'm glancing at the time, and I'm wondering if this is a good spot for us to stop for now. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me and to talk about all these things. It was a pleasure.

Bayo: It's my pleasure, brother. Thank you.

Eric: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Quillwood Podcast. Again, know that this podcast is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. You can learn more about Quillwood Academy, and some of the types of events that I offer through it, at quillwood.org.

Until the next episode, this is Eric Garza signing off. Walk softly and take good care.