Bodies are notoriously difficult things to think about. They press themselves on thinking, interrupt writing, and impose sensation on philosophy. They fragment style, giggle at logic, and seek pleasure in formulations that favor prettiness over intellectual rigor. And just when we think we are finally writing the body, thinking the body, feeling the body, bodies respond: “That is not what I meant at all; / That is not it, at all.”
The archives I know best, and not at all, those of the black diaspora, make bodies difficult.
Something happened on the slave ship.
Hortense Spillers tells us that what happened is “unimaginable” from our vantage point: humans were transformed into objects.
Not simply objects of knowledge, as Foucault has it, but into things.
Fred Moten writes, “The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist.”
I hear Spillers and Moten as I read Nikolas Rose and Simone Browne on the contemporary management of bodies in real and virtual spaces through biometrics and other technologies of surveillance.
The archives I know best suggest that we need to return to the unimaginable then to apprehend our unbearable now.
We may have left that unimaginable world, where bodies were re-made by the constricted spaces of slave holds and the obscene logic of fungibility, but we still inhabit the precarious afterlife of slavery. Our bodies are marked by management and surveillance and exchange.
How can we think about the body in these precarious times?