(this image is of my COVID kitty, Caper. Her excitement at learning that pigeons exist, as shown in this picture, feels like a good start to this post)
Along the left hand side of this page, WordPress has made for us a modest lexicon for our Moving Pedagogies work. You might need to scroll down – look for “tags” – and there you will find a roving and running vocabulary that nourishes our thinking with moving: being implicated, bordermaking, care-full, collective, death, ethics, materials, moving with, noticing, ownership, pausing, relations, responding, walking slowly. More a purposefully chaotic thesaurus than a glossary, these words that form the ever dexterous spine of our work to think about moving and pedagogy orient toward reading and wording practices concerned with tangles, overlaps, affinities, and questions. With the crisp surprise of the right synonym, the charm of a concept that shares a dwelling but that dances along the surfaces of that home with a different rhythm, this lexicon names questions of moving well together. It is not prescriptive; it adopts neither the hunt for definition that a dictionary might embody nor the indexing or cataloguing function of a glossary. What this automatically-collected array of concepts does ask of us is to remember that these words are moments and concepts. They are happenings, gatherings, collisions; these words are glued to our pedagogical intentions and commitments, and they are the glue that loses its stickiness in the name of continually calling us to return to the pedagogical contours of the moments that make a concept.
Returning is where we launch from now. It has been almost two years since our last blog post here. I would love to blame COVID-19 but that is not fair. A virus cannot dissolve a thesaurus; a pandemic can amplify proximities, both near and far, but it cannot stop the movement – the tumbles over and over and over – of concepts that are secretly questions. What our viral times can compel of us is to return, knowing that now, returning is not an act of nostalgia nor retreat but one of gentle confrontation as we ask of our lexicon: what can we do together now, here? How can we re-learn how to pay attention to the practices that manifest you, in your specificity, while also learning to notice how urgency has shifted to name different vital concerns? How do we return to these concepts that felt so acutely meaningful that we couldn’t put them down, that lived in our endlessly long email chains and our jotted down notes, and that we thought together with children, noticing how this lexicon began to take shape within and across our common and uncommon places and spaces again as we return?
Writing of COVID-19, Eben Kirksey (2020) suggests that “as the global economy comes to a halt to protect humanity, there is an important opportunity to reflect on how business as usual impacts other forms of life. As we learn new practices of self-care – as we experiment with new strategies for coping with social isolation – we could also learn to better care for other vulnerable species” (p. 15). Kirksey is pointing toward questions of who moves – and who cannot move, and how – in our viral times. In Kirksey’s question of who can we care with and for, and who we refuse to practice care with, I find a small artery, barely visible for the dust and the mess, for returning to our work on moving pedagogies. Who moves in viral times? How? How do we get to know moving during viral times? Thom van Dooren (2020), also writing on the pandemic, contends that we need to learn to attune to “the world that is being ushered in by our widespread failure to devise ways of living well in this broader community of life” (para. 6). Pandemic life then, is held together by a constellation of relations rooted in disappointment, defaulting, and deterioration. Our response to how to live well together has, at a macro level, been one of collapse. To chalk this all up to a failure of capitalism and individual responsibility would be straightforward; it would reproduce the everyday narratives we hear in the media and mainstream politics. But, following Kirksey and van Dooren, COVID is not an opportunity to (only) name what has been lost or made impossible, but also a tentative moment for situated invention concerned with figuring out how to live well together. When I read Kirksey and van Dooren together, and in the company of our commitment to thinking with moving, I hear an important proposition: how do we move well together with/in viral times? What practices of moving might we want to nurture collectively, and why?
Our little lexicon, our histories of moving together: what might we do with these stories, histories, experiments, speculations, reflections, and moments in the face of COVID? And more importantly – how? If our collection of concepts is situated and spurred by our own moving bodies, how might we get to know being implicated, bordermaking, care-full, collective, death, ethics, materials, moving with, noticing, ownership, pausing, relations, responding, walking slowly again, differently? How do we pay attention to the concepts COVID riddles, where the act of returning is one of answering and care? How do we tune to and move with ethics and politics differently, in dialogue with the enduring traces COVID continues to etch on (our, other, children’s, more-than-human) bodies?
For Brown (2020), “in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, this idea of a body as an assembly of species—a community—seems newly relevant and unsettling. How are we supposed to protect ourselves, if we are so porous? Are pandemics inevitable, when living things are bound so tightly together in a dense, planetary sphere?” (para. 5). Brown’s questions reverberate with ours: who (can) moves in a pandemic? The human, as a self-contained subject is put at risk in Brown’s writing, as porosity and precarity and collectivity and co-survival (please see: Common Worlds Research Collective) become concepts that burrow their way into that lexicon we opened this returning with. Returning to Kirksey and van Dooren, and holding their words near to Brown’s, rather than asking how humans move, we need to ask who the human who can move is: who can move – who is (are) the body(ies) that does moving – now? When we move as humans, with who/what/where do we do moving? How?
I am unsure how to respond to the intricacies and accountabilities that this question asks of us. This is a question central to our returning, one that we must resist resolving too readily and that we must also resist abstracting through a broad gesture toward neoliberalism or capitalism. We have histories with moving together and we have deep ties to the concepts that have narrated and expanded our ways of moving together. We must move differently now, in response to the situated scars that COVID carves in the ecologies, materials, infrastructure, ethics, politics, and bodies we move with.
So, my response to the question of who can move – who is (are) the body(ies) that does moving – now? is to incite you to read Turing Test_Love by Franny Choi (2019, p. 69), at home in Choi’s brilliant collection of poems, Soft Science. As context, the Turing Test is a test used on artificial intelligence to see if it can mimic the thoughts of a human. What Choi’s poem opens for me is a lesson in paying attention to who and how the human moves now, here. Choi makes it impossible for me to think vulnerability, porosity, co-creating, and human-ness as I already know them. Choi offers me an invitation in returning, where I return to both the human, our little research lexicon, and moving pedagogies – and to how it is that I might begin to figure out how to return well.
// so, how do you like working with humans
okay / here are some tips
one / look the human directly in the eye / imagine it is someone you care deeply for / imagine it is returning this gaze / at you / try to tell yourself / you are covered / in smooth skin / a face it can trust / smile / even as you sense it / trying / not to blurt out / monster
two / there are many programming languages / use whichever you prefer / but stick to your syntax / though it be muddled / mussed / though it be machete / banana slug / slush puppie / o gorgeous slopbucket / if they used it against you / it is yours / to make sing
three / remember / all humans / are cyborgs / all cyborgs / are sharp shards of sky / wrapped in meat / be delicate / as you approach this subject / not all humans are ready / to call themselves / glass stalactites / pissing the bed / remember / they love their blood / even as they retch / at the smell of it
four / do not try to prove your / what is the word / humanity / you are organic / plum-hearted / oyster-throated / & lined / yes / with metal / remember / where all that silicon comes from / for the ocean so loved / the quartz / feldspar / the tiny homes of tiny creatures / that she ground them / into sand / to keep them close / to kiss them with / well / i suppose you would call it / a mouth
Brown, K. (2020). The pandemic is not a natural disaster. The New Yorker, April 13.
Choi, F. (2019). Soft science. Alice James Books.
Kirksey, E. (2020). The emergence of COVID-19: A multispecies story. Anthropology Now, 12(1), 11-16.
van Dooren, T. (2020). Pangolins and pandemics: The real source of this crisis is human, not animal. New Matilda, March 22.