[-empyre-] FW: Welcome Byron Rich to the September discussion

PaulLloyd Sargent paul.lloyd.sargent at gmail.com
Thu Sep 6 10:33:21 AEST 2018


Hello list,

Thank you to Renate and Byron for introducing and welcoming me to this
space. Thinking about Byron's prompt, I keep returning to a recent,
odd-but-not-uncommon border-embodiment moment: The other day, I had the
curious experience of babysitting my 15-year old niece and a friend as they
zipped about via jetski the various islands and channels of the St.
Lawrence River. By 'babysit' I mean that I sat in a small Boston Whaler,
covered in sunscreen and a towel, drifting with wind and current, reading
texts, emails, and other electronic detritus on my phone, occasionally
jumping from the boat into the water to cool off from the muggy heat of the
day, all while keeping an eye on the two girls as they bounced across waves
and wakes in the distance. They were having a blast, as one does at 15 with
privilege enough to own a personal water craft (PWC) and to be absolutely
oblivious to the international border they were crisscrossing the entire
time.

That stretch of the St. Lawrence is dissected by wandering lines, wholly
invisible without a map or GPS device, geopolitically dividing Canada, the
US, and, downriver from where we were, territory of the Mohawk Nation at
Akwesasne. The car-centric border infrastructure of each nation, on land or
via bridge in this region, is unambiguous: passport check-points, border
agents, duty-free shops, militarized vehicles, bold-font signage, long
lines of traffic, ubiquitous machine vision, and so forth. On the water,
however, the border appears as merely an abstraction. One must pay careful
attention to and be able to read subtle signifiers within the landscape to
conclude that there are multiple international boundaries slicing through
this massive river, rendering each mainland--and about sixteen hundred
islands--the territories of separate nations. Or at least, that is, until
this abstraction is made corporeal if one is not, say, a 15-year-old
American white girl in a bikini and sunnies listening to a Drake mixtape on
a PWC at fifty miles per hour but, rather, a crew of Chinese-Canadian
residents of Kingston docking their Ontario-registered cruiser at a town
pier on the US side for an evening of pizza and beers--having forgotten a
passport. Or a player for the Akwesasne Lightning lacrosse team, fishing
with buddies from the Onondaga Warriors, on a bass boat drifting in the
shallows off Croil Island with an out-of-date fishing permit. Or any of
myriad scenarios encountered by individuals and communities excluded from
hegemonic majorities within the US and Canada.

The above is to note that, as a practice, my work (increasingly) considers
such personal, embodied moments as points of entry into the complexity of
an "ecology of mind," following the influences of Gregory Bateson, et al.
My body has been through a lot over my lifetime (brief version: I have a
mechanical heart valve following a massive aortic dissection, compromised
kidneys, and seemingly endless resulting ripples through physical and
mental health). Noting Bateson, I (try to) take comfort from a rethinking
of the "unit of survival," from organism, species, family, etc to, instead,
"organism plus habitat." That is, as my body "fails" (it's not failing; it
is simply being a body) I increasingly understand my-self as merely a tiny
node along a near-infinite network. My body, positioned in space, recording
a set of observations that I might process as memory, anecdote, in visual
language, a photo, a sketch, an essay, maybe just a social media post.
Oversimplified, sure, but, for where I'm at, that's about the size of it.
I'll be curious to read how others on this listserv engage phenomena at
these scales, especially given the ceaseless barrage of ills and
apocalyptic updates ever clarifying just how precarious precarity is.

- Paul Lloyd Sargent
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