[-empyre-] Eating dirt vs. biting the dust.... (and the insect layer)

margaretha haughwout margaretha.anne.haughwout at gmail.com
Mon Oct 9 02:23:22 AEDT 2017

I was on roads in so many different ways this week -- it seemed somehow I'd
fallen under an -empyre- spell woven by Lissette and Valentine. It made me
less able to write in because rather than being behind a computer I was
continually dealing with fixing my car and walking on roads that don't
often host human pedestrians. At one point I decided to walk several miles
of an oft-driven country road in upstate NY. It seemed like a really good
way to get to know my new home, as I'm a recent transplant. Cars flew by.
Occasionally a tractor trudged by. The smell of shit permeated the air --
this is a big cattle area.

As I walked I saw so many casualties of the road in many stages of decay.
Skunks, raccoons, snakes... Bones of other small animals -- perhaps
weasels. Frogs also often get hit in this area at night. I saw monarchs who
bit the dust presumably on their fall migration route, along with other
insects. I remembered a project on grief I did with a collaborative, where
we asked about how to grieve the loss of species in the Capitalocene. One
participant recalled driving roads in England in 1970s, and how the layer
of dead insects on his car was so much thicker than it is these days. A
strange way to mark the change in insect numbers, but one that many
participants resonated with. We began listing off names of insects, most of
which I have a very fraught relationship with, relationships which I am
often compelled to end. But somehow this was a moment where profound
collective grief was palpable.

I also noticed that amidst the kill of the road there was a lot of life,
crickets and flies, sumac and chicory. I know Elaine in Week 4 will help us
think through these dynamics; disturbances and death perpetrated by speedy
roads and cars, pesticides, or toxic waste to name a few, enable what
Deborah Bird Rose terms a "double death" -- a death we cannot grieve --
don't necessarily create spaces on non-living; there is still teeming life.
As (I believe) Elaine would argue, it is however, life car drivers are out
of sync with. I'm looking forward to thinking more about this because I
don't think I'm articulating it accurately. I initially wanted to say that
it is life "we" are out of sync with, but of course, who is this "we".

I also thought about personhood and power and the necessity of exchanging
personhood when entangling and enlivening. I wondered about the
distinctions that could be drawn between the Man of the Enlightenment and a
personhood that works across a matrix of human and non-human beings.

My best,


On Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 9:25 PM, Lissette Olivares <
liolivares at fulbrightmail.org> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> As I opened my facebook today I saw a post from Che Gossett, whose
trans*activism and archival research, mediated in part through their
facebook feed is an inspiring and constant source of
engagement/entanglement with the Black Radical tradition; they posted this
last night: "there's a way in which animal studies reflections on animal
suffering make legible and intelligible and empathizable the zero degree of
unimaginable suffering that is never acknowledged or thought of when it
comes to Black suffering.”
> I’d like to try to knot this to Margaretha’s question about what it means
to make a radical eco aesthetics, with Randall’s  “radicle” (having roots)
and Valentine’s becoming with edaphon, and her demanding question about
"how we live in myriad relations without losing our shit.” Shit, soil,
pain, trauma, slavery, capitalism, neoliberalism, colonialism, fossil fuel
economy, and plastic in our water. Hurricane Maria and half of Puerto
Rico’s population (at least 1.5 million people) without water, even if it
does have plastic in it. Trees ripped out of the soil, a beach named after
dead dogs where all the rescued satos died, and a nearby Monkey island
where Macaques survived. Incommensurate pains, incommensurate traumas, a
struggle to translate disparate affects across a myriad of diversity in
bodies and places and times in a myriad of ways that makes it impossible
not to lose your shit. I try to remember that this is not just now. I try
to remember that we are not in a teleological movement towards an end, that
the past and the present and the future collide and entangle and knot
together, and I remember reading about Cortázar and his men and how
surprised they were when upon making contact with the multitudes of deer in
Abya Yala they thought them to be stupid because they did not flee, for the
deer had not yet learned to fear Man; Man who is different than the
indigenous societies who lived with and ate the flesh of these creatures,
for Man, the Man of rational Enlightenment thought, the Man identified by
Sylvia Wynter, Man whose superiority would wage a war of contagion, whose
extractive logic would prey upon the land, upon the radicle, upon the
ephedra and its creatures, creatures who are different than humans,
creatures who are not the same as the anthropos. And I receive a flash from
an indio, from a healer whose videos my partner watches on youtube, who
teaches viewers to eat dirt from different sites to stay healthy, just a
little sprinkle of dirt in my mouth for my micro biome, and for my
ancestors, for the eight to twelve souls that Mohan Rai explained were
there in my body, not one, not two, eight to twelve, but sometimes one or
two get lost, and you feel it, you feel sick, and you have to call them
back. He and Parvati Rai and Donaxing showed me how. Did you know there are
tecnological sensors that find mass graves in the dirt, they can map bodies
in the earth with light and translate it into color? Will a device one day
claim to map the unimaginable pain, of and in Black, that Che brings from
the universe and onto my computer? I hope I will be able to grind it with a
mortar and pestle, I hope I will be able to place it under my tongue, I
hope that it will download to that code that we have not yet discovered,
that most of us mistakenly call DNA, that we believe we carry somewhere in
our shell or our bone, to transmit for the next generation, for those who
survive, for the Macaques and the others who will know how to weather the
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