". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, February 27, 2015

Interstitiality of Racism, Bigotry, Criminality, De-personification and Literature

What has helped provide this week's warmth, life's snap and crackle that keeps us keeping on, is our Vanderbilt amiga being here. She's so frackin' brilliant! It's a terrific mind-workout challenge being with her, so stimulating, so interesting and I always learn something, see things in new ways.

Her capacity for using the professional languages designed to exclude, designed, even, to identify, those who are designated as expendable, extraneous, less than "human," is superb. She exposes the interstitiality among the professional languages, where the boundaries between religion and literature dissolve into the languages of case law and incarceration.  Further, this is enabled by the formulized rituals of the legal system to debase the body, and remove it entirely from the person's own control. When a person cannot control even her own body for a movement or a moment (i.e. as with slavery), there is no more personhood.

Angola Prison Plantation work gang 2014
The complete control of the body means complete control of the mind. I saw all of this in operation in how Monticello's master, more than any other plantation I've visited, implemented physical control via surveillance, and even minute arrangements of situation and organization. This includes armed guards, no different in operation and effect than at the contemporary Angola Prison in Louisiana, which I've also visited. Angola is deliberately kept as an antebellum plantation, with the cotton and other crops planted, cultivated and harvested, mostly by hand.  I felt the same creepy, oppressive, desolate depression at Monticello as I did at Angola. The entire antebellum south was a gigantic prison complex of interlocking systems designed to keep the captives incarcerated.  It started all over again, then in the Jim Crow era, where armed white men rode the roads and guarded the train depots to keep the labor force from escape to Chicago, New York, California.

CD exposes the ritualistic racism that further allows while obscuring, how our legal system and the others deliberately create classes of those who are slotted for de-personification.  It begins with the body, and the body then takes care of the mind.  This is the judicial system, the prison system -- and I will, as will she, insist this is what the plantation - slavery system of the colonial America and the antebellum era was deliberately created to be. However, without a foundation for thinking of, manipulating other human beings, as less, as like animals, i.e. not human, founded in the languages of sacred texts and "national "literature", we could not get from the conception of God's creation to society's throw-aways .

I'll go further than this, and insist that without that de-personification there is no control of not only the "poor" and others designated as social waste, but no control by the elite over labor and the wealth labor's production creates. We see this taking place now, not only in prisons, immigration agencies and other apparatus of state control, but in work.  See: the wildly expanding use of "employee monitoring," that tracks every single move an employ makes.  Its at the point that the UPS truck drivers are even monitored as to how they get out of and into their trucks.  There is a right way, which doesn't waste seconds, and all the other ways are wrong because wasteful, getting the driver called into the office for a talking to and warning that if s/he doesn't shape up getting in and out of the truck they will be fired.  See:
 Esther Kaplan uncovers many of these disturbing and intrusive behaviors, which inform hiring and firing decisions, and can push employees to their limits, in her article for Harper's, "The Spy Who Fired Me."
Exploring / exposing these matters from this perspective is fundamental to understanding the horrors of the world we're in. We'll never be able to make a more humane world without understanding this monolith that is sitting upon ever more shoulders, oppressing, repressing, denying our worth, our right to even "be."

I sit during her lectures, breathless and scribbling..

Among other things she does, CD works with prisoners in Nashville State Prison. She repeats that the men she's working with know all this better than anyone. They have a language themselves, that addresses, describes and embodies the ritual of humiliation, denial of personhood and exclusion as social waste.

And there, if I'm understanding CD correctly, is the only opportunity for all the rest of us, who as a class is growing globally every day, to push back, by understanding, taking into ourselves, the conceptual language of those who have been ostracized from "society."  I.e. it's another place to dissolve boundaries between us and the rulers.

CD first began this kind of work in Haiti.  Haiti, History and the Gods is a seminal work for examining the kind of society in which we are currently living, that has declared open season on young, unarmed black men, and the bodies of all the rest of us as well.

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