Over the past years, I have become increasingly attentive to my own affective responses to things, all things, every thing. I am in the world, flesh and all, something happens, and I am moved, affected. I don’t know quite how to talk about this (affect theory is still quite puzzling to me), but I try. Like this attempt from one of my recent posts:
Often, when I talk to people about this, or read a text that resonates, or even, on the rarest of occasions in the best of times, when I am writing, I suddenly get goosebumps. Sometimes, tears well up in my eyes. If I am talking, I pause or stutter, stumbling over the words. I immediately know that something is going on, even though I typically can’t tell what it is, not yet. () Is my body, this crude affective registering device, becoming slightly better attuned, marginally more sensitive towards the ephemeral and that which is barely visible?
It just happened again.
I was trying to write about world-making, slowly making the argument that we, as researchers and as people, are always in the process of making worlds, and hence, we are ethically committed to making better worlds than the ones we know.
Coincidentally, I stumbled upon a live talk by Ruha Benjamin at the PublicSpaces Conference, where she argued that “most people are forced to live inside someone else’s imagination” and even if it was not far from the argument I was desperately trying to shape, this was so much clearer and more to the point.
As I have made a conscious decision to embrace non-linearity, to never succumb (too much) to neoliberal aspirations of efficiency and clear goals, I followed this promising detour. Down the rabbit hole. I watched the talk, which completely made me lose my bearings, while simultaneously speaking directly to the issues I was grappling with.
We can “weave new patterns, practices, politics”, and as such, thread by thread, we can collectively enact other, more just worlds. I couldn’t help myself, so I bought her book, “Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want” (what a title!), and started reading. Just a bit, you know, I was already busy doing something else, but this was so tempting.
Even across the first few pages, she makes a number of important arguments. First, while we are talking about radical change, about living more just worlds, the steps we can take are small, and thus, easy to disregard:
it may be tempting to dismiss these efforts as small, fleeting, and inconsequential, as we’re still taught to only appreciate that which is big and grand, official, and codified. But a microscopic virus has news for us: a microvision of justice and generosity, love, and solidarity can have exponential effects.Benjamin, R. (2022): Viral Justice
This resonates, deeply. I dream of big change, because radical change is indeed needed, but I know that the only sustainable, viable, meaningful way to real change is through small steps, where ““world-making projects emerge from practical activities of making lives; in the process these projects alter our planet.” (Tsing, 2015, pp. 21–22).
Drawing on Octavia E. Butler, Benjamin insists that there is an essential decision for us to make, right here. Even if we know that there is no one answer, but “thousands of answers – at least”, do we dare to come up with such small, seemingly inconsequential answers? We should.
We can be one of them, if we choose: vectors of justice, spreaders of joy, transforming our world so that everyone has the chance to thrive.Benjamin, R. (2022): Viral Justice
Just now, minutes ago, as I was reading this, my body started shaking and tears welled up in my eyes. I believe, even if I cannot know for certain, that these were tears of hope. I read Ruha’s words, and I was moved to tears, because they bring me hope. Not optimism, but hope that other worlds are possible, not certain, not predictable, but possible.
Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.Solnit, R. (2016): Hope in the dark: untold histories, wild possibilities
This is the only kind of hope I am able to maintain in these times, and it is exactly the kind of hope I can draw from the work of Ruha Benjamin; the hope that we matter, our decisions matter, even if we are just tiny dots in the universe, who furthermore always only act in assemblages, in conjunction with other humans and non-human actors, cautiously, slowly, limited and deeply, deeply flawed. That is the hope we need, I think. I hope.