blackpalestinian breath

Jasbir Puar’s work in The Right to Maim is crucial to understanding not only that the nature of settler colonialism is genocidal but also how that genocidal nature operates. Settler colonialism is, in each and every case, a state operation, but the more fucked up–and therefore better–way to put this, because it bears at least a tiny potential to shock, is that in each and every case, the state is a settler colonial operation. Moreover, as Puar teaches us, the statist, settler colonial operation, in its genocidal nature, is given in the horrific resonance, the brutal articulation, the asymptotic non-convergence, of killing and maiming. In thinking—along with and by way of Puar—the unlikely and unavoidable locale of Ferguson, Gaza we encounter the instrumental rationality through which this bloody reverberation is ceaselessly achieved and announced. What she helps us see is that genocide is regulation unto the vanishing point of extermination; it is savage attenuation carried out and on with all deliberate speed. We can kill them one by one, they say, and this will have been interminable. They can’t kill us all, we say, but regulation is given in the interminable series of my black death. Then, we’re talking our way out of their freedom because it’s not just that freedom and slavery are in the same place but that their entanglement constitutes that place. Puar is a vital and indispensable part of the chorus that allows and requires us to ask, what if the terms and conditions of the ongoing genocide we survive, but wherein each and every one of us will have been murdered, is way deeper than, and cannot be encompassed by, the intimate opposition of slavery and freedom, exile and home, occupation and sovereignty?

Such militantly anti-military thinking requires considering another irreducible entanglement—that of blackness and indigeneity. This requires understanding, along with Robin D. G. Kelley, that Africa is a field of indigeneity violated by settler colonial incursion’s constant articulation with the constant articulation of slavery and freedom, given in what Hortense Spillers might call extended intramural, as well as extramural, catastrophe. Indeed, Afro-diasporic life, both within the continent of Africa and in all of its transoceanic variants, doesn’t just bear the trace, but is, more fundamentally, the residual of settler-colonial violation, recognizing that residuality, in the complex intra-activity of displacement and derivation, refuge and refusal, that it bears, can never be reduced to being either the effect or creation of the violator. So that the entanglement of blackness and indigeneity–given in a mode of solidarity that will have never been wholly voluntary in its ongoing emergence from and as something way on the other side of what is manifest in the coalitions of political subjects and their state or pre-state formations–is constantly disbursed in habits of displacement and sub-communal movement whose energy the political propriety of settlement comes to regulate and consume. Such disbursal is exhaustive, lived in and as exhaustion, as the solidarity of a shared atmosphere wherein an alternative (meta)physics of the alternative is implied. Such implication is manifest gesturally, in social life’s refusal of real politics, something Ashon T. Crawley might call mutually resuscitative, (pre)occupied, blackpalestinian breath. Ferguson and Gaza are also entangled—like settler coloniality and the state and like the violent two-state solution (i.e., the United States and the State of Israel) in which Ferguson and Gaza will have been dissolved—and we need to try to understand the difference between the people who know that and the people who don’t. Puar knows, and shapes common knowledge of our common, if neither proximate nor synchronized, aspiration.

In its inveterate statelessness, blackpalestinian breath is both imposed disability and elective affinity, against the grain of every deadly, fetishistic modality of vitalism given in the state’s serial self-support and self-consultancy, which takes its most venal form in martial intellectuality, a range of training protocols wherein scholarship fulfills itself, unto its vanishing point, as a branch of the armed forces. What are the implications for blackpalestinian breath of the necessarily settler-colonial state’s exercise of what Puar calls the will “not to let die,” which is a matter of military reason? Do the logic and metaphysics of the individual life continually lubricate the machine that exercises the right to kill in the will not to let die? If genocide, in the end, is just this continual maiming, which moves in the non-space between killing each and every one and the constantly cultivated, measured, and tested inability to kill all, then how might we offer, in practicing, a form of informal, enforming life that continually refuses the very idea of a basic human unit and its always already racialized embodiment? Such embodiment is a disability, a wound, our shared flesh shares and so we have to ask if debilitative individuation is fundamental to the logic of genocide because it exposes the limits of genocide’s implied metaphysics. Where attempts at mass death strain against the limits of accounting, the imposition of the body-in-individuation is this perpetual wounding and incarceration of the mass–an ongoing maiming that obliterates sacrilege and sacrifice.

But what do we say about the structures of incompleteness that attend and precede this maiming, which is not simply an imposition of incompleteness but the enforcement of a certain incompleteness, one given in the chalk-outlined conceptual figuration of the body itself when it is reduced to stasis, which is, if you’ll forgive me, its natural state. It is necessary, then, to unexplain such vicious culmination and the amputative diminishment it bears. The very idea of Black Lives, or Palestinian Lives, those carceral sets of pluralized singularities, bears the incapacitating capacity to be counted, a burden that is not a matter of mattering but is, rather, the ghoulish convergence of de-materialization and de-animation. Here, it is important to note, by way of Puar, that this is as much a denial of death as it is a reductively repetitive and representational death sentence, which seeks to detach decay from decomposition and, thus, from (re)generation. What’s at stake is something paradoxical—like a local anaesthesia that seeks to impose a general anaesthetic effect. Blackpalestinian breath is genocidally cut short in the complex, structurally separable instantiation of Black and Palestinian Lives, one by one. Meanwhile, the new, co-constituting assemblage of Ferguson, Gaza that Puar critically celebrates allows and requires us to ask what it would mean to recognize, but also to embrace and enact, the exhaustion of the state solution. We give life to the state solution when we breathe air into the dead language of lives and bodies. Perhaps we can embrace and enact that exhaustion when we say another naming, against the grain of nominalized individuation and the state and stasis for which such naming inadvertently settles. This would be the enactment of a healthy incompleteness arrayed against order and its terms, as Cedric Robinson might say, where blackpalestinian study’s interinannimation of ascent and descent and assent and dissent—its improper complexities of hostility and hospitality, its jurisgenerative harvest on unowned land, its sounding ululative height in melismatic underground—works like an organ without a body, as more + less than one.

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Fred Moten

Fred Moten teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University.