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On Howling and Dread

Grief is not bad, nor is the mourning wail something that should be proscribed. The very fact that we are encouraged to grieve, but only to a “socially acceptable” level, lest we overspill, lest we “make a mess”? This is an issue. We have not engaged in the requisite howling to even approach a relationality with what is. Only then can joy and laughter be founded in the deep roots, in the darkest storms. I genuinely believe the ancient goês knew this. It is right there in the word.

Alas. some, particularly with the “love and light” folks, don’t seem to realise how commodified even so-called “emotions” have become – how “think positive, healing thoughts” ideas are becoming ever closer (and in some ways always were) to the capitalists who would assure you that the pandemic is over, and the price of doing business is to now quietly let millions die as fuel for the status quo, be that COVID, Gaza, Sudan, climate change, etc.

There is something reaching to us in the Dark Places of Wisdom, and if we cannot meet the dread properly, then we deny the strange solidarity of the pandaemonic All. We deny that for many across the world, unevenly distributed, the apocalypse has already come. For some it, is months, days, years. For others? Generations or centuries.

Some say we are *already* in the afterlife. In the underworld. Infused and suffused with the dead and the monstrous, an oceanic chthonic cauldron. If that’s so, then it is the crossroads, the meeting point and origin for all Life that unites us all and upwells ceaselessly.

So next time the dread grips you, consider how all Life is united. Consider howling. And watch what flows.

There is no exit strategy.

I was at a virtual event the other weekend, where the phrase “building capacities” was used. Almost immediately – spastically – my twisted, uspide-down, and Heraclitus-poisoned thought wondered out loud in the fast-moving Zoom-chat what building (in)capacities might look like.

Now, credit to my dear friend Bayo, whose slides inspired such a wondering, for admitting that the phrase was mostly used for semantic ease. In a sense, I suppose one could argue that it was a textual accessibility accommodation. After all, clarity of language reduces cognitive load, does it not? Making things easier to understand. to share experientially, is part of the point, isn’t it?

Now, when I’m in virtual meetings and there are hundreds of attendees, I will be frank: chats move too fast for my fingers, and often I’m listening to the speaker, trying to absorb what is being said (and not said, which is sometimes more important).

So, it took me a little while to notice that someone had commented that, while they appreciated the need to think in different ways, they felt that we were glamourising disability. That there was (and I paraphrase) nothing particularly useful, good, or revolutionary about suffering; there was little point in looking-again at pain or struggle, or the shame that person had felt about not measuring up to others throughout their life.

Now, I did my best, in that fast-rushing river of text, to explain that I am of course in favour of the amelioration of suffering.

I am of course in favour of that which enhances Life.

I am of course in favour of that which opens spaces of possibility and aliveness.

I am of course also not invalidating the fact that it may be horrible to have a lived experience in which one suffers and is treated as lesser at best, or which the world desires to eradicate and exterminate at worst.

To do that would be foolish; an act of denial of my own life, my own experiences of both extremity and mundanity. Denial in the face over 40 years as a wheelchair using cripple with chronic pain, spastic muscles and twisted up limbs and certain spatial cognitive impairments. Denial in the face over 25 years of recurrent dances with so-called “clinical depression”.

It would be a denial of the agony experienced as one watches one’s foot turn black and gangrenous, one toe at a time, over years.

And let me tell you, the yawning horror of watching part of yourself die, piece by piece, in real time? That’s almost worse than the pain. Almost, but not quite.

For there’s a terror in realising that the adaptations you made in order to survive – because you had no choice – have been destroying you, and no one thought that was a possibility; no one thought to tell you, or worst of all – they didn’t even know. Because they didn’t, couldn’t know. Because that knowing requires such a particular kind of experience, a very particular kind of kenning.

When you’re awake in the night, screaming, gasping that you just want to die, because you just want the pain to stop? When there’s no relief despite the morphine and the naproxen and the gabapentin and the other prescribed painkillers, on and off label? When you can’t even think in proper words for days at a time and drift in and out of awareness because your brain can’t properly process the cognitive load?

It’s a bit rubbish really.

Now:

The post title of this piece is probably bad SEO, which, thinking about it, is relevant, and we’ll get to why, in a bit. Perhaps this whole post may also end up being bad writing. Which is also a thing to bear in mind.

Keep it wherever you keep the cognitive equivalent of that irritating bit of food that gets caught in your teeth. Let it have a quiet relation-ing with cognitive-saliva and cognitive-bacteria in a dance of dissolution and decay.

Who knows what might happen?

Perhaps, because I’m already several paragraphs in, and I haven’t given a clear hook, eyes might skim off this, and terms like “circuitous” and “waffle” might apply.

So be it. Because that’s relevant, too.

And I’m going to ask, straight out, that you persevere with this, with that in mind. Settle in for a particular kind of crip-processing, if you will. Because somewhere in my response to that person’s objection, their assertion that we were glamourising disability was a reaction – an urge to fend it off.

But fortunately, the enforced delay of my crippled bodymind was there to save me from such a standard thing. I realised that yes, actually, in a very particular sense, that was exactly what I was doing . I can’t (and won’t) speak for Bayo’s intentions for his slides here, mostly because he’s far more eloquent than I, but for myself there came a thrilling dawning.

A word of caution here: you may think that what follows is merely about language. So, let me be as clear as possible:

It is not about language, or at least, not as you know it. It is what happens when the thing we call language is seen as the monstrous shapeshifting animality; the daemonic bereaver of surety; the lightning crack that shatters the Tower of Babel; the endlessly queer eroticisms of incompleteness between hunter and hunted.

This is not about words, but what is found in a kind of strange marronage when we are liberated from considering language-as-thing. That is, our tongues, our eyes, our hands do not belong to us as sole property; they are open and vulnerable to passing (or more long-lasting) possessions and seizure. Others may take and direct them.

What is a posture, but a particular kind of slow seizure that shapes the bodymind? One which we think of as our own, but is in fact the crossroads-agora of gravity, slope, environment, genetics, weather conditions, nutrition…?

We are far less enclosed than we think; more a febrile daemonic commons piled in a congery-compost which transfers, transverses sporulates, germinates, ferments, and brews. Existing in such a mode provides the awareness of, without becoming too mystical, something akin to the ten thousand things of Daoism. The so-called animistic turn; in which we realise that everything may breathe – and that breathing may be far broader than we suppose, once we abandon the notion of anthropocentrism.

Now, some may object, and say, breathing is a particular process in a particular context – to expand it beyond that renders the term meaningless.

This is a valid objection, as far as it goes. But I would argue it does not go far enough. For my fundamental objection is one of enquiry. It is impossible to know, to ken, breathing, in totality. Each time we attempt such a process, there are fugitive streams – lines of flight composed of dots, slices which grow (ever thicker, ever deeper, ever richer) the more one considers them. They exceed the capacity of the attempt. They are also-of-the-forest; the forest in which the fugitive may be found in first instance by those entrained to look for outlaws, or escapees, there. But sometimes that forest isn’t where we expect.

(Imagine: embodied forests; trees that walk, and walking like a tree amidst the green. How might that seem? A walking which seems nothing like the way of moving you know?)

When I say that what follows is not about language, I mean it is, despite seemings, not about language as the human has it.

When I say it is monstrous, I mean it is not confined to selfhood, or in juxtaposition to the human. The human is an ableist defensive bootstrapping; an apotropaic warding gesture against the implications and awful generativity of utter helplessness, and I eschew it as any kind of viable baseline.

monster (n.)
early 14c., monstre, “malformed animal or human, creature afflicted with a birth defect,” from Old French monstre, mostre “monster, monstrosity” (12c.), and directly from Latin monstrum “divine omen (especially one indicating misfortune), portent, sign; abnormal shape; monster, monstrosity,” figuratively “repulsive character, object of dread, awful deed, abomination,” a derivative of monere “to remind, bring to (one’s) recollection, tell (of); admonish, advise, warn, instruct, teach,” from PIE *moneie- “to make think of, remind,” suffixed (causative) form of root *men- (1) “to think.”

[Origin and meaning of monster from the Online Etymology Dictionary]

In the oldest English text, Beowulf, the monster Grendel is referred to as aglæca in Old English. Earlier translations would have this as monster, while more modern translations, noting that the Venerable Bede was referred to by similar naming, have glossed it as closer to fierce opponent.

Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute Research Blog perhaps says it best:

“The term aglæca is a noun traditionally understood to be derived from a compound that combines a form of the ege, which Bosworth-Toller defines as “fear, terror, dread, awe” with a form of the verb lacan, which Bosworth-Toller defines as “to swing, to wave about, to play, to fight.” Thus, defining aglæca as “ferocious fighter” erases the wondrous and terrifying quality [ege] and strips the term of one of its formative elements.

Nichols offers “awe-inspiring” thereby maintaining the “fear” sense in the term, the semantics would apply to both monstrous figures (like Satan and Grendel) as well as marvelous/wonderous heroes. It is ege or “awe” in the sublime and wondrous sense of the term. We would argue that “monster” is actually not so bad a translation as the concept of “wonder” and “monster” in the medieval period were interwoven in the early medieval literature. Indeed, Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short’s A Latin Dictionary, generally regarded considered the best resource for medieval Latin, offers two definitions of monstrum:

1.) a divine omen indicating misfortune, an evil omen, portent
2.) a monster, monstrosity (whether a living being or an inanimate thing)

This wondrous, portentous quality—this uncanniness—is consistently applicable to aglæca —from Satan to Bede. There is of course also the combative aspect of the compound, which seems in every case to correspond to not only an intruder but something akin to a fearsome marauder—an uncanny invader.

Aglæca: Awesome Opponent or Uncanny Invader? (2023), Medieval Studies Research Blog: Meet us at the Crossroads of Everything

So monstrous is, in the sense I (and perhaps others) use it, that which renders vulnerable, or rather is the spoor of such processural fields. As first glance, an invader might seem quite distinct to the fugitive, but on another glance, we might spot strange solidarities which are ongoing. Both fugitive and invader exceed the grasp of the status quo.

Further, it is this breaking of the the strangleold of singularity; irrupture of embodiment norms which speak to limb-difference, disability, and so-called deformity. Yet in rendering an incapacity, a kind of helplessness, the monstrous does not enforce. It does what it does, in accordance with its own constitution, making little reference to norms. Despite attempts at dialectical capture, or even capture as an opposite, as opposer, it pays no mind to the terms set by the status quo. The status quo may define it as illegitimate, but the monstrous has no concern for legitimacy or legibility.

It cannot be drawn, or outlined, only attempted to be traced through myriad minor gestures, and even then is unconcerned with meaning. Its portentous nature abrogates; it twists and bends and for this reason it is weirdit is wyrd. Like a black hole, its gravity seizes light and devours vision, shape, outline; leaving only presence. Suddenly we realise that the senses are not one domain apiece, but are in fact in concert, fumbling – not to articulate – but instead worlding the ongoingness, with each contact revealing something different. There can be no repetition, because everything is moving, throbbing with complexity.

DeafBlind poet John Lee Clark discusses similar in his book Touch The Future: A Manifesto in Essays, talking about Protactile – the language developed by DeafBlind people. In referencing the push towards image descriptions on the internet and other media, he notes that those pushing for the most heavily all-encompassing descriptions tend to be the sighted. Clark cites the work of philosopher Brian Massumi, who argues that “…perception is a vital gesture”, and that a child seeing a tiger is instantly “tigerized”:


“The child immediately sets about, not imitating the tiger’s substantial form as he saw it, but rather giving it life – giving it more life. The child plays the the tiger in situations in which the child has never seen a tiger. More than that, it plays the tiger in situations no tiger has ever seen, in which no earthly tiger has ever set paw.”

Brian Massumi

Clark’s argument that the description Mary has a huge smile on her face is the best description, rather than a detailed and intricate description of everything in the image, says that the second-guessing implied by such an itemisation serves an (ableist and sighted) status quo. About Braille, he writes:

“Even though Braille is now universally accepted, it is still being treated as merely a way to represent print, rather than being its own code and co-language. At stake isn’t accuracy, but whose accuracy. […] We would do well to abandon the pretense that it’s possible to reproduce base things in realms other than gave birth to them. Instead, we can leave those things well enough alone where they belong, or, moved by possibilities, we can transgress, translate, and transform them. We can give foreign things new purposes, which may be slightly, or extremely different from their original intent.” (Emphasis mine)

John Lee Clark, Touch The Future: A Manifesto in Essays

In encountering the monstrous, is is not that we encounter an (or the) Other, but that our knowledges are overcome. We are wyrded, drawn into something Bayo might refer to as becoming-black, black hole-ised. We are introduced to the notion that we are not are whole, but hole(y).

The lived reality is a profusive cracking.

The Other cannot exist, unless the human summons it via outline, because the kind of process we call existing is as much a boot-strapped extractivist abstraction as the human itself. The Other is an attempt to see that which cannot be seen – a presence reactively conjured in order to shore up integrity, to firm a particular shape, paper over cracks that whisper that the status quo is in denial about itself.

(Is it any wonder that Tezcatlipoca, lord of the smoking mirror, with his right foot replaced by obsidian mirror, bone, or serpent, suddenly intrudes on my consciousness here? Not any wonder, but a wonder all the same, invading this text with as much presence as the obsidian shewstone of John Dee, coiner of the term “British Empire”. How many of you are reading this on some kind of black mirror that we euphemistically call a “screen”- having it be conjured by things literally named daemons? Let us wonder together, shall we?)

Once we realise how much is developed to give us the illusory grasp of capacity – that our dominant cultures perform knowledge-production in extractivist and colonial fashion, we are presented with a preliminary set of gestures which lead us to considering their ultimate goal: total control.

But such control is not seen as merely as desiring absolute restraint. Rather, what is sought is absolute replication; and following that, impunity and fiat. Such a politics of impunity often presents itself as trajectory and politics of immunity, and distant untouchability.

Yet this misunderstands the processes we now label immunity: the immune system works by encounter, call-and-response. The immune system is bacteria-ised, virus-ised dynamically.

There must be contact; mixing. This is the principle (re)discovered by Edward Jenner, who realised that the fluid from cowpox blisters could be used to confer immunity to smallpox. He was not the first, mind you; forms of innoculation had long existed in Asia and Africa, leading to awareness of it reaching Britain.

But still, we have to thank James Phipps.

James, the eight year old son of Jenner’s gardener, was innoculated on the 14th of May 1796, with pus from Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom.

The boy ceased, by any measure, to be an exemplar of the intact human (if such were were ever possible) on that day. He had been milk-maidised; undergone bovinification just as Sarah Nelmes had done – and countless others who for thousands of years had been close to cattle.

Even the word vaccination means “pertaining to, of, cows“.

All of us who were ever vaccinated, all of us who encountered the Covid-19 virus, or its mirrored double – or simply benefit from community immunity – were helped by Blossom, whose hide still hangs in St George’s Medical School.

We’re all cow-people now.

Herd immunity, indeed. Midwifed and mothered into modernity’s existence by a coronavirus and an animal. But the human refuses to acknowledge even the possibility that the myriad minotaurs were danced forth from the labyrinth.

And danced they were – or at least processed through. In the paper Insides, outsides and the labyrinth: Knossos, palatial space and environmental perception in Minoan Crete (2023) the authors note:

“We argue that Knossos was labyrinth-like in different ways and senses, which in turn offers perspectives on Minoan perception and understanding of the environment and cosmos. In this line of thought, Knossos was confusing by design, and this was one purpose of the palace—it was a ‘device’ for manipulating perception and cognition (Figure 1). We trace (‘functional’) similarities between the labyrinth and palatial space at Knossos towards bringing together several—and perhaps seemingly unrelated—features and aspects of the palace and broader characteristics of Minoan culture and cosmology. A key characteristic of the labyrinth (and the palatial space of Knossos) is that it is disorienting, but also a place of spirituality and transformation where boundaries are dissolved and the ‘ordinary’ order of the world collapses into a dream-like state. The labyrinth is a place of dissonances, uncertainty, non-linearity and the otherworldly, and it readily connects ‘inner’ mental and ‘external’ material realms. […]

Day and Wilson (2002) suggest that the Kephala Hill was perceived as a place of origins and ancestral powers already when the first palace was built. The palace was literally constructed on a sedimented past and hidden underground, which resonates with some subterranean or underground dimensions of the palatial space, as discussed later. Overall, then, Knossos was likely a place of transgenerational memories with some elements passed on—in however historically inaccurate and mythical form—long after the palace fell out of use. This is also suggested by the mental imprint that the Bronze Age world left in the eastern Mediterranean mindscapes, as evidenced by the classical mythologies and their afterlife into the present.”

As a space and place of dis/(dis)-orientation, the labyrinth induces an (in)capacity. space becomes wyrded. The fabric and the thread of consciousness and narrative areno longer intrinsically stable. As the paper suggests, the murals serve as portals, just not to let the inhabitants perceive other worlds, but also, following Massumi, giving them more life, and receiving it in turn.

Imagine, speculatively, for a moment, that passing through the labyrinthine passages of the palace of Knossos was part of a series of ritualised becomings in which one became aware of one’s constitution, one’s cosmological context: not as a singular intact being, but as an emergent property of an animate kosmos, driven by, and contributing to submergent flows. That the ritual is a worlding, are being worlded in turn.

Conceive of the idea that, far from coming to consciousness as an I, as a modern individual might, such things are an irruption of becoming-we – becoming-minotaur – precisely because proper respect was needed for the numinosities of oceanic earthquaking later called Poseidon? What if a curse may be generatively incapacitating you: re-ordering your perception, as Queen Pasiphae was cursed and blessed to desire the bull instead of her husband the king? What if the minotaur is absolutely evidence of numinous intrusion? A divine invasion, to borrow a title from Philip K. Dick.

Imagine, for a second, a virus striking you deaf and blind. How might you communicate? Using Protactile?

Or, perhaps you might have to be in the world that sees the very constitution, the very quality of your life, as not enough? So much so that you would have a DNR placed on you against your wishes?

Disability is. The lives of disabled people are. To explore that, to lean in to that as a field of enquiry? To say this is my life and parts of it are grim, and others joyous.? This is not glamourising, in the sense of making something to be as it is not, nor is it .

I maintain that such a position has little to do with the moral framework of the human; the human is a fending off: a refusal to hold the gaze of those who, despite bindings and imprecations, come through that smoky looking glass to meet long hidden kin. Kin who have always leaked through the cracks of the human.

Listen: if anything is glamourised, it’s the human.

glamour (n.)
1715, glamer, Scottish, “magic, enchantment” (especially in phrase to cast the glamour), a variant of Scottish gramarye “magic, enchantment, spell,” said to be an alteration of English grammar (q.v.) in a specialized use of that word’s medieval sense of “any sort of scholarship, especially occult learning,” the latter sense attested from c. 1500 in English but said to have been more common in Medieval Latin.

It was popularized in English by the writings of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). The sense of “magical beauty, alluring charm” is recorded by 1840. As that quality of attractiveness especially associated with Hollywood, high-fashion, celebrity, etc., by 1939.

Jamieson’s 1825 supplement to his “Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language” has glamour-gift “the power of enchantment; metaph. applied to female fascination.” Jamieson’s original edition (1808) looked to Old Norse for the source of the word. Zoëga’s Old Icelandic dictionary has glám-sýni “illusion,” probably from the same root as gleam.

gramary
early 14c., gramarye, “grammar,” also “learning, erudition,” hence “magic, enchantment” (late 15c.), a variant of grammar; perhaps from Old French gramare, gramaire “grammar,” also “book of conjuring or magic” (hence Modern French grimaire “gibberish, incomprehensible nonsense”). Gramarye was revived by Scott (“Lay of the Last Minstrel,” 1805) in the “dark magic” sense.

In this, one might argue that the implicit role of the visual in the Zoom-chatter’s issue with our conversation about building (in)capacities indicates an unconscious “vidism” which Clark mentions in another of his essays. A term coined by the DeafBlind community, vidism refers to “the worship and validation of sight supremacy”. If glamourising is concerned with making something resemble something it is not, then the occular supremacy continues imagistically. Concerned with the gleam of the Old Norse, and the nature of illusion, it suggests a superficial gloss – perhaps even something temporary, or unreal, false.

But suppose we transgress this, and take glamour back to grammar, and then again we allow grammar to achieve its fugitivity, what then? Remember, this is about breathing.

So, suppose we consider an animacy; an agency of image which exists as sensorially excessive? If image is not subject to the whims of visual supremacy, but in fact has presence, even absentially, then what do we have, but something akin to an apparition yet another intruder, as far as the human is concerned.

Apparatised seems an unwieldy word; Spectreised is, again, too concerned with occularisation. Perhaps then, we might beg and borrow haunted?

Now we are on the threshold of agential image as embodied. But we are not quite there, not yet; for a haunting is, these days, at least a rather bloodless affair, unless we return against once again to the phenomenon of possession.

But wait! What if we treat the image as we treat the tiger? That the image-as-phenomenon gives and receives life, like the murals on the walls of the Palace of Knossos? Suddenly, we might see images give rise to phenomena.

After all, what appears may disappear, what emerges may submerge, the familiar become strange.

Clark adds distantism to our lexicon. In his eponymous essay, he points out how much effort is expended to keep people at a distance – DeafBlind people are often forced to operate through interpreters, interlocutors, intervenors. These individuals are tasked with “properly” conveying representations while keeping communication as accurate as possible.

I am not DeafBlind, but since learning the term I have begun (re)noticing how people carry themselves apart, even in intimate moments. I have also noticed how that apartness only extends to, and reinforces the human. I have lost count of the times people have laid hands upon me, and been surprised when I have (with varying degrees of politeness) asked them to cease moving me without consent.

“Oh, I was just squeezing past, just moving your chair out of the way/I didn’t actually impact you, just the chair.” etc, etc.

It is inconcevable to them that I have gone into the chair, and the chair has gone into me; that it has become a mapped extension of my bodymind – a thing I can feel-with, think-with, and perhaps does so with and via me. That this “thing” of plastic, metal, and rubber, can put me in more intimate acquaintance with path and ground, than they, striding forth and upright would ever notice.

I have been disbelieved many times about the degree of slope, the slickness, smoothness (or lack thereof), the viability of certain angles and apertures. I mention this, as well as the point that I require several sets of hands to get me out of bed of a morning, precisely because it is distantism which is one of the roots of the human, and as such, ableism. It would be better, says the ableist narrative, if you could do that aloneoh, sorry, we meant to say independently

When we study ableism as an enquiry, we realise that the hierarchy requires a ranking system. I have written here that disability is. It is a fact that my bodymind is the way it is – there is no exit from certain ways it is consttitued. The social model of disability suggests it is society and its attitudes which disable me, and that is certainly true. A world where distantism was not dominant, where nearness was not fraught with connotations of violation, and where the nature of inter-and-intradependency was truly understood would certainly ease my life.

However until the human is fundamentally undermined as the base-and-apex referential, until anthropocentrism is not the default lifeway, that is unlikely to happen. Further, as might be guessed by now, I view the Zoom-chatter as performing an unconscious warding.

A distancing.

I don’t blame them – trying to put distance between oneself and pain is understandable. I would, and have, done the same, when the opportunity arose.

But there comes a time when there is no exit strategy except death, and maybe not even then.

There are many kinds of pain, and one word for it in English, as if they were of an identity, a tribe of scale and number. So believe me, when I talk of pain, I speak only of my own. In this spirit that I tell you that – with apologies to Frank Herbert – there is a wyrding way. An attitude of enquiry which can never be completed, where one follows the (in)capacitating flows wherever they flow, attempting to deal only with what-is. A labyrinthine space and state wherein what-is is endlessly creative.

If this sounds romantic or glamourous in the sense initially outlined, I must regretfully inform you that this is not the case. It is merely and absolutely a method of survival. And here we must be knife-sharp with the point: survival does not automatically (or axiomatically) mean adaptation.

Sometimes, even often, it may mean conditions worsen. It may mean you are confronted, again and again, with the inexorable ineluctable, nature of your own helplessness. It may be that at times, it is as if it feels your entire being is nothing but one long, anguished, unanswered cry for aid.

I am trying to be as honest as possible in this. I am trying to tell you, that even in this, there is another way. But that it does not provide escape. That the liberation is found in spite of the fettering.

Read that again.

This is the essence of (in)capacity, for me. Fugitivity, marronage, these are not escapes. There is nowhere to run, especially if, like me, you can’t even walk, and require other hands to help do basic things. But the gramary of survival wyrds all things. A grim fate-becomes-also-a-bright-threaded-destiny, if you are not afraid to trace it beneath your fingers: to bear down when it becomes impossible to retreat into distance; as golden weave becomes bloody viscera, then the umbilicus that strangled you half to death in a fleshy noose,; then a snake, then a lover’s ponytail. When all of them -ize you, lift you up and strike you down, plummeting into katabasis, an awful falling star.

And in this, you find yourself kenning, noticing things that do not allow you to do, but rather be, in different ways. You find, not alternatives, not solutions, but rather enlivenments. As something shatters, as human-style hope dies, something else emerges from what you thought the world was, and whispers:

We thought you were going to take forever.

And the thing is? It’s not relief that comes. No.

It is weeping. It is grief.

Grief that you spent a lifetime trying not to be a burden. When the sharp vital life of it is? We are all burdens. And that is neither good, nor bad. It simply is. The ache comes from the realisation that being a burden is the way it is supposed to be – for all of us.

Survival is bearing each others weight – and the each-others are not merely homo sapiens.

As James Baldwin wrote:

“You survive this and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”

– James Baldwin, The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity

So, I write this to survive. I give you a fragment of my life, some words, so that if you let them wyrd you, you might understand why I fail and fall, why I don’t particularly care for notions of healing and wellness, why I am not proud, or ashamed of what I am (most of the time). Why I will always follow the twist, and why the upward-downward path makes everything I write and say and do grounded in the more.

Why yes, I will happily acknowledge that I am attempting myriad glamours – as many are attempting me.

So now, let me ask you this: is this bad writing? Is it bad like the SEO of the title? After all, it’s not exactly clear, is it? The logic gets twisty, perhaps even circular or nonsensical. How can images be non-visual? How can they be phenomenal reality instead of representation?

Ask a mountain – and you might find better questions to ask. Or ask a river, maybe the sea, as they steal your breath, as the sheer onrush (dis)orients you at the moment of immersion.

Suppose everything is that.

You might ask, what is the purpose of this piece, what’s it for?

It’s not exactly explanatory is it, really? Any transmission of ideas is completely coincidental: I’m sure they have their own agendas and reasons which shall remain satisfyingly illegible. In all honesty, I am not sure how many folks will read this, and so the notion of SEO being bad or good?

Well, just like writing and (dis)ability, it’s relevant that it’s irrelevant. Appearances happen, are happening. But, if you read this far, it/they came through the mirror, didn’t it?

It is, what is. Its way is being had, whether you accept it or not, whether you understand it, comprehend it, or ignore it. Just like climate change. Just like the ongoing genocides, ecocides, wage-thefts, abusive relationships and a multitude of other horrors. Just like your teeth are wearing down, your skin is losing elasticity and every day you come closer to disability and death.

Like I said: There’s no exit strategy. But, I’m feeling kind. Which means I’ll give you this: paralysis is only the beginning.

So, what happens if you let it gramaryse you, I wonder?

The Nest of Snakes

So:
What if I told you
That the blind

Might sense more
Than the sharpest
Eyes of Eagles?

The deaf more
Than the keenest
Ear – Infinite Angels

Toppling
From their pins – dropping like
A cacophony of Wings and Eyes?

Serpent-wreathed bulls more
Animate than animal:
Would you believe?

Me: told as I am (more)
As we are,
Never-the-Less

Make lies into truth
And Truth into Lies.
Hence, twixt, thus

Play host:
Ghost-with-the most –
Lord of Strangers

For flesh is
Wyrm-ridden and
Seething

I: a strait-jacketing inside,
A ward of madness;
Listen to howling griefsong

Psyche cries there for Eros –
Blót, blood poured out,
Swelling, blossoming – a blooming rose

Iron-thorn sacrifice
Bark makes a door
Of skin.

Host-lord
Ever between (inter) betwixt
Faces

Masked, hatted, hooded
So the sibilant-prophet
Reveals via concealment:

Mouth of Ash
Roarer
Hanged-jaw juddering

In freezing, starry silence
Deepest night and richest
Twilight

Shapeshifting thief of always –
Matter’s of Matrix – ever-fugitive
And fork-tongued:

Sing of rivers rising
Lame
From their beds

Asleep no more;
They never-were
The doubled, tripled ones

Pouring forth
From the Mount of Venus
Mother i’ the Mountain

Pads with feline grace
Bloody muzzle, gleaming teeth
Gold-gleam brewing

Honey of ancestral bees
The grave drones
Of kosmic sporulation

I cannot tell you of
One single thing
But the more

Such as I ken
So must I lie –
Would you know yet more?

So, here’s the thing: a lot of societal and cultural metaphors around magic and occultism are in the so-called West, frankly, bad and a product of the imprecisions in the English language about “power”, which themselves are inherently modelled on industrial-capitalist frameworks thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and steam power.

Think about what you mean when you use the word “power” or “intent” and ask yourself whether you are once again running on 19th Century colonialist ideas (for example see non-Indigenous misconceptions of mana) that boil down to thinking you’re a steam engine or some sort of closed system – because that’s what the whole popular idea of energy comes from.

Why? Because willpower doesn’t really exist.

Now something seems to be going on, when we do certain things. But are we hoodwinking ourselves – barking up the wrong tree, being led down the garden path -by the porting in pop-metaphor? Sure, it’s easier, but is the apparent ease and clarity obscuring insights? Is it preventing us from taking our place as part of a living world; not clockwork and piston but inter-and-intra-relating, inter-and-intra-being in an ‘animist’ cosmovision?

Consider the metaphors you use, and wonder how they’re using you. Because they are – we are thinking-with-and-being-with the ongoing worlding of a daimonic (agential) kosmos.

And that All is doing the same-with-us.

Remember, changing the metaphors we use can change the way we think, and how we are in the world.

This is why I mutter about kenning, as found in Old Norse poetry, but also as a method of indirectly approaching experience by folding in the world. Kenning is, in one sense creating a poetic metaphor, a circomlocution that describes a thing without direct nominalisation. A wheelchair user can be a throne-walker; the sea is not just the sea, it is the whale-road and also Aegir’s-cauldron, Poseidon’s-stable, etc etc.

“It is no coincidence that a kenning is a poetic term of art, a doubling and metaphoric circumlocution of a singular noun or thing – the sea becoming the “whale-road”, a sword seen as the “icicle of red shields”. A singular referent now exceeds itself, drawing the relationality with the whole world of those present. This indirectness, far from detracting from the referent, deepens the knowing. Each portion of the kenning exceeds itself also, thusly thickening the field of the sword or sea, and, in enhancing its relationality, enlivens each further. Further, this means that the poet acknowledges the excess of the referents, comprehending that kenning may build on kenning, and the full, totalistic mapping of a referent is doomed to fail in terms of completion. This goes even beyond the usual aphorism from astronomer Carl Sagan: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” For each element of the apple pie is capable of being defined by the relationality of all presences, in all forms, positions, and configurations in all possible and impossible universes – and each of these in turn relate to each other as they will. This then, is the joy and horror, the wonder and terror of an animate, fluxing kosmos – there is always more.”

Goêtic Atavisms, Frater Acher & Craig ‘VI’ Slee (See link above: also available on Amazon as well as from the publisher if you need that)

Do we want to live in a world circumscribed by misnomers, grandfathered in with extractive and clunky ways of perceiving the world? Or do we want to embrace the dis/abling wyrd strangenesses of the numinous?

The liberatory power of the dis/nomer – the radical proposition that there is always more than can be named, can be contained? That we might ken more if we embraced blurry, uncertain peripheralisms which spiral endlessly inward and down into pandaemonic, living, breathing labyrinths? If we immersed ourselves in relational eddies, tides and gyres eternally returning-and-coming-forth-again – dis/membered and re-membered anew? To dive into currents and flows – the multiplicitous assemblage of influences which are the very bodyof the oceanic river which Herakleitos warned us that we could never enter in the same place twice?

What might we notice is already happening, already ongoing, that we are amidst, then? Might we spot the plurality of Minotaurs engaging in their diasporic fugitivity, nomads in their myriad labyrinths, far older, wiser, and weirder than we thought we knew? Spaces of monstrously numinous sanctuary, far beyond the ken of the Theseus (their supposed slayer) and his identitarian regime of denial, his heroic ever-intact status quo.

Pity the ship-builders in their labour; they work do so under the threat of sword – or is it gun and bomb, these days? But while Theseus abandons Ariadne, Dionysos does not!

And while Theseus eschews the sea route to perform his labours in order to gain heroic glory and satisfy ambition, his oceanic ancestry has the last laugh – both mortal father Aegeus (thrown into the sea that bears his name) and he (thrown off an island cliff – presumably into the ocean) were reclaimed; seized by the sea and its thundering white horses.

What might it be, to be oceanically possesed as that hero’s mother was? To have one’s soul-sea stirred by the Earthshaker?

We can but dream on the matter – while also slyly noting that Athenians kept the Ship of Theseus preserved, as mark of divine heritage in their feted city ruled by the demos. What matters now, in these days when even politicians talk of the so-called “will of the people“, is matters of ancestry and history dismissed; lineages of language and its many influences ignored – no entanglements here, vine or otherwise, we assure you!

But thankfully, the ship-builders know the way of wood and net and weave. They know how many planks pass through their hands, how many nails struck, how much pitch is brewed. They know there’s more. They’re craftsfolk after all – assemblages are their business, whatever the material – they know what mattering is.

And isn’t it interesting that the Temple of Hephaistos in Athens was once mistakenly called the Thesseion – The Temple of Theseus, before the moderns realised their mistake?

Watch the words we use, and how they use us.

Be Seeing You.

Here is the talk I did at the WFSF conference with Loes Damhof and Martin Calnan in October 2023. In it, we explore the notion of disability as morally neutral, and what a shift in our views about ablity and abledness might mean for Futures thinking, amongst other things. Enjoy!

The thing about one’s partner cooking you and others a vast meal of roast pig and onions and potatoes and other sundry delicious things, when they themselves are vegetarian, as an act of love and Yuletide giving?

Well, I’m just grazing on leftovers since I woke up, and I keep thinking, “I’m just doing as my ancestors have done for thousands of years after a big midwinter feast.”

I think of boar as beast-of-battle, as lord of woods, fierce and terrible, the way pig is the eater-of-all, who is eaten – slaughtered, cured, crisped, cooked and condimented.

And with a mouthful of pig, teasing apart the protein changed by heat and condiments, now cool, I keep thinking about how pigs can go feral and regrow manes really quickly, or how chickens revert to having a breeding season. I keep thinking about how the pig feast continuity is also a break, a crack, a ritual that is both highly domestic, and yet loosens me from 21st century modernity in a way. An ancient ritual that simultaneously fetters and loosens.

I wonder, are these the moments of dis/continuity, liminal in-between eases that hint and beckon that we are, I am, in eating the-eater-of-all that is pig, realising something of the feral/domestic slash. Somewhen, where the environment, the interplay of more-than-chicken, more-than-pig, more-than-human fields and forces summons new-old responses to what is ever-ongoing.

Maybe that is what it is to eat, and be eaten in turn. To ever be one-with-many, to be an emergent coalescence bubbling up from the ancient fermentation of ancestral grief’s, joys, and hopes.

To be gone in a scant century if we stretch to our most, and yet be part of billions of those centuries across thousand of years of recognition of sun and moon and stars, and the way they shape our worldings?

Freyja, mistress of sorcery, taker of first of the battle-slain, teacher of Odin who himself is Slain-tamer – she rides a boar.

There is something here, as ever, about hidden things within the “human” of modernity, numinous leakages, signs and wonders, portents and portals, left behind ritual spoor so old that is purely “what we do, what happens”.

All that is required is that we notice, and do not give up sensing, for the sake of making sense.

On Purity

The precise balances in the universe are not products of clarity or distinctnesses but emergent qualities of mess, fuzz, sloppiness, blurring, complexity, and obscurity.

Thick and dark, a gleaming beacon like blood spattered on a leaf, the oceanic stink of salt and rot, the hot scent of iron in the cold-and-empty-(but-not)-night.

Purity is what happens when you’re too AFRAID to take a second look and find you may very well be wrong.

Heads up folks! If you want to hear me talking with Loes Damhof and Martin Calnan on (Dis)abling Futures at the World Futures Studies 50th Anniversary World Conference on Wednesday 25th October at 10:00 CET, you can!

Register for free for the online portion of the conference at this registration link.

Should be a fun little conversation. I’ll keep folks posted on the possibility of recordings – they’re running a 24hr talk schedule so who knows, there might be something there to snag your attention!

Grief as Gravity

This post was originally made for and shared with, the folks on Bayo Akomolafe’s We Will Dance With Mountains 2023: VUNJA! course, but I thought I’d share it here for wider(?) consumption. Bayo’s latest small essay A Grief That Laughs is also worth a (perhaps provocative) read.

****

This thought arose in response to something elsewhere, but I’ll share it here, and expand upon it because something like this question is always with me:

So, here’s a thought. Good old Fiona Kumari Campbell –  scholar of Studies in Ableism – often talks about encumbrance as the thing ableism attempts to negate. That is, an ableist society is one which despises encumbrance. In terms of the ranking, notification, prioritisation…of sentient life, those at the ‘bottom’ are the most encumbered, entangled etc.

They are less ‘free’ as per modernity’s idea of freedom, which is ultimate ‘self-sovereign’ – I am the highest ranked being, autonomous, and none shall restrict my ability or desires.  Note that the precise use of ableism is one which suggests a framework of ‘abled-ness’ as superior. Even the notion of ‘supremacy’ conjures an image of being untouchable. (This is why ableism is also intrinsic to most contexts of oppression. Any time any population is viewed as ‘less intelligent’, ‘less able to control themselves’ or ‘more emotional’, has ‘special needs’ or is a ‘drain on resources’, ‘lazy’, ableism is in play)

Being ‘a burden’ is seeing a thing, process, or a self, as an encumbrance a thing that restricts or curtails ability and autonomy. This only works because we selectively commodify certain entanglements, and not others. When they are presented so, they are not encumbrances but ‘aids to freedom’ or some such. A potential question is, what if entanglements can be processed as potential liberation. and encumbrances as processes which deepen our understanding of interdependency? This goes beyond ‘doing it because we love them’ and leaning into burden as noticing how we carry, and carry in turn – and how we are supported by others, or not in doing so. Even the cognitive shift is hard work, but if one can pull it off, it tends to shape-shift modernity’s concept of ‘care’ into something else entirely.

Because it admits that we are all dis/abling each other, and being dis/abled in our turns, what might this mean?

If, say, a speaker uses language we are unfamiliar with and thus meaningless to us, or someone asks us to move in ways that we cannot, find difficult, or exhausting, what then? Suppose for a second, just as an experiment, one leans *into* this dis/abling. What might happen.

Many disabled writers and thinkers explore the phenomenon of crip-time; the way crips, cripples, disabled and chronically ill folks experience different temporalities. They may need different amounts or kinds of time to exist, to process, to think, and be.

I was in conversation with some dear friends the other week, and one of them was speaking powerfully and rapidly about important things. Things I wanted to hear about, but my brain-damaged systems could not keep up with. So rather than burning through energy trying to keep up, I screwed my courage to the sticking post and made myself vulnerable.

Hold on a second,” I said, “I’m having real trouble processing. Could you slow it down – I need some time, crip time y’know?

Now, even though this person was my dear companion, I was nervous. What if I broke their flow, what if, even if they slow down, I’m still not going to be able to understand? What if I’m going to be a burden and disrupt the entire conversation and we lose this amazing vibe? But I asked, because I was becoming more and more dis/abled by the way the conversation was speeding by.

But I wasn’t asking, in order to become more abled – I’m a cripple, that’s never going to happen. I was asking because I needed to be more cripple, less abled.

And you know what happened, folks?

My companion stopped, and told me “Thank you, for saying that.” And then they began speaking slow, easy, deep, about deep and rich things. And later, they told me that the reason they said thank you? Well, I paraphrase: You asking me to slow down, they said, made me feel reached for, made me feel you trying to connect to me, and that felt good, felt like you cared.

And I did, and do care.

So much of modernity is about speed, about ‘getting it’, about perfect one to one transmission of information, without mess or loss. Sometimes, making things simple is mere reductionism, in service to speed.

Sometimes it is a pause, a prelude, a stumbling block inserted as gently as possible to trip, and shift our relation to our bodyminds, so we can stagger, fall, and, maybe help each other up – maybe pull each other down into a laughing, weeping, pained, exhausted heap.

If we are dis/abled, and dis/abling in turn, what then?

What if disability is larger than any of us, and the way we move with it is indeed, to paraphrase Bayo, to slow down in urgent times? What if the way to regulate nervous systems overclocked by modernity, is to shift and crip our relationship to time and space, to acknowledge our encumbrances, and how we encumber others in turn. Not as a methodology of getting rid of them, because we can’t – and the belief that we can become master and mistress, dominar of all we survey, that we can scramble up the pole to the top, is fundamentally an ableist proposition.

But as a methodology of sensing, rather than making sense and commodifying it as thing that can be got, or had, kept or hoarded. The essence of a container is to carry, after all. To carry and be carried in turn, to leak and slop and overspill.

Auntie Ursula knew this too.

For those who saw me talk about noticing the impossibility of stillness, perhaps you have a hint of what that sensing might be – the impossibility of being in control, where our own bodies give the lie to the concept of being ‘able’ to be still.

Here’s to crip-time, stumbling, and leaning into the way disability leaks into all our lives – after all, one either dies or becomes disabled in some fashion, no? And if so, maybe care is something different.

Something where care is not teleological
– not done to, or for, but is itself a dis/abling ontology where we are all vulnerable. Where there are no Instructors, only teaching, and the teaching  what happens when we trace our entanglements, where a fridge and a father’s laughter down a phoneline whisper something beyond divisions of sacred and profane, where academic language might be a disconcerting and arresting kind of poetry we’ve never encountered before, as well as the excreta of hundreds of years of thinkers shot through with the whiteness of so-called Enlightenment.

Suppose it’s ok to crip and crawl and stumble, to wave our feelers in the air in confusion and consternation, a confused cacophonous swarm of dis/oriented disabled dung beetles pushing our worlds of shit, following the paths of the Milky Way as we have done for millions upon millions of years and countless generations.

Suppose we even crip that “OK” into “inevitable”, “unanswerable”. Suppose all we can do is smile, and weep and scream, and hold each other as we mourn the injuries we receive and inflict; explore our wounds together, and allow the world to carry us as it will, as we are also worlds and worldings; the many countless weavings and braidings of baskets which we perform, but whiteness would have us look away from, gaze fast and fastening on the next thing, the next novelty, the next product of progress and evolution – beckoning us with promises of freedom, autonomy, and above all power?

I’ve said before, I don’t believe in power. It might be real, is very real, for a given value of real, as real as a Potemkin Village, an ersatz bulwark against porosity encumbrance, and above all, vulnerability. Smoke and mirrors coalescing into a heroic boot on a monster’s throat. Clean, shiny, ever-new-and-eternal order over messy primordial chaos.

What might dis/power appear as?

Failing. Not getting it. Missing more than hitting. Lying the f*ck down when every part of your body is screaming that you should be productive, should be doing something, should be doing something to get us out of this bloody mess.

Should contribute
. Should organise. Should fix. Should  solve. Should learn how.

Letting those Shoulds scream out elsewhere and meanwhile; playing with the thickness of your pain and exhaustion, your overwhelm, your overload, your nausea beacuse you have no other choice.

Noticing how it moves you, how half your movements don’t belong to ‘you’, but are those of ancestors, the subtle influences of soil and microbe, the myriad imagistic influences of mountains encountered, waters drunk from, plants (and fleshes, if that’s your thing) that ‘you’ think ‘you’ have eaten, but maybe, just maybe, inveigled themselves into your tissues and teeth for their own ends and desires.

Notice what comes and goes, and what stays, and yet where it comes and goes within that. Feel the luxuriant terrible wait of your own bones that throb and sing in concert with the rhythms of heart and lung – remembering that oxygen turns iron to rust and dust. Why should you, who breathe, be any different?

care (n.)

Old English caru, cearu “sorrow, anxiety, grief,” also “burdens of mind; serious mental attention,” in late Old English also “concern, anxiety caused by apprehension of evil or the weight of many burdens,” from Proto-Germanic *karō “lament; grief, care” (source also of Old Saxon kara “sorrow;” Old High German chara “wail, lament;” Gothic kara “sorrow, trouble, care;” German Karfreitag “Good Friday;” see care (v.)).


care (v.)

Old English carian, cearian “be anxious or solicitous; grieve; feel concern or interest,” from Proto-Germanic *karo- “lament,” hence “grief, care” (source also of Old Saxon karon “to lament, to care, to sorrow, complain,” Old High German charon “complain, lament,” Gothic karon “be anxious”), said to be from PIE root *gar- “cry out, call, scream” (source also of Irish gairm “shout, cry, call;” see garrulous).

If so, the prehistoric sense development is from “cry” to “lamentation” to “grief.” A different sense evolution is represented in related Dutch karig “scanty, frugal,” German karg “stingy, scanty.” It is not considered to be related to Latin cura. Positive senses, such as “have an inclination” (1550s); “have fondness for” (1520s) seem to have developed later as mirrors to the earlier negative ones.

Hidden in every word and world is an ancestry of grief. And in that grief, that cacophonous noisy wail, there is a song, countless songs, carrying a cosmovision only found if we feel the weight of those encumbrances, are rendered and re-membered as crooked and bent by them.

Weight is mass multiplied by gravity. Enough gravity, and space and time are bent into new shapes. Temporalities and spaces that exceed clock and maps’ attempted clarity and precision. Let us wail the gravity together, and discover what we have been trained to avoid.

Crip-time indeed.

(Also, hello. I\’m not dead after all.)

A veritable horde has come together to help us manifest some of mine and Frater Acher\’s words, via Hadean Press in may 2023. Below is Acher\’s original announcement post:

A veritable horde has come together to help us manifest some of mine and Frater Acher\’s words, via Hadean Press in may 2023. Below is Acher\’s original announcement post:

Here is a sneak peak of what we are currently preparing for you: GOÊTIC ATAVISMS, Hadean Press, May 2023.

A whole motley crew of us is incoming together to bring this book to life: My partner in crime, Craig Slee and I wrote the content, Frater U∴D∴ is contributing a preface, Gianpaolo Tucci and his AI engine created the cover title based upon my design suggestion (draft below), and my long time magical companion José Gabriel Alegria Sabogal is currently sharpening his pencils to add his own iconographic visions of our joint Goêtic Atavisms.

Stay tuned via the Hadean Press webpage for further news in 2023.

Until then, have a magical winter solstice and a great break before we embark into the new year.

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https://www.hadeanpress.com/schedule

So yeah, that\’s happening!