In the past several years--since suddenly falling ill--I've been a buried bone. Collectivity and gathering had been (what?) intuitive for me, collaboration and organizing isomorphic to "this body" and/or "David's identity," my life in New York absolutely populated, from working as labor organizer to navigating thru the narrow arteries of traverse that New York City alone poses as challenge to any commuter.
This was initially difficult, this drastic shift in my adaptability to physical environments shaped by a dominant cultural formation. Not long after the first of several bodily changes occurred, it became clear that too often, even in disability rights circles, our failure to "keep up" with our shaped environments was/is thought of as a shift in bodily capability that needs be dealt with, such that despite activism demanding greater access services/rights, the underlying discourse negatively articulates itself viz. "what the body can do," putting the onus of adaptability too much on those for whom access is denied by not fully acknowledging the underlying inequities effecting all of us, regardless of level of mobility: of the disappearing commons, the fact of who gets to have a say in urban planning, in how we gather, and why private interests get to decide what counts as a "habitable" environment (let alone a beneficial one), etc.
My initial timidity (or disorientation?) combined with the limits public and private spaces puts on us led me to what ostensibly counted as a house-bound life. House-bound at least in contrast to an earlier bodily existence. I've since learned to get around differently. But especially a few years ago, the house-bound life, of course, meant rather severe changes in the way I socialized, especially given the far-flung nature of many of my friendships. This narrative plays out ten times a minute in this country alone as politicos play roulette with what counts as "health" and what counts as "care."
It's Thom Donovan's recent Harriet post on Nonsite Collective that has gotten me thinking here about "disability" and somatic practices again, wherein Thom describes the trajectory of Nonsite thru collecting comments from those active in it (a call to which I came late, hence feel badly for having failed to contribute something as I'd promised). I'm thinking specifically of Amber DiPietra's comments, as well as her amazing initial contributions to the Aesthetics of Somatic Practices curriculum, and all the work that came before and after it: Thom's talk on a poetics of disability, the Collective's work on a poetics of patiency, and Robert Kocik's hooking those discussions up to systemic problems of the disappearing commons, omitted social services (omitted by capitalism), and ultimately translating nonsites (systems of metaphors or narratives serving to apprehend or map occulted phenomena, such as lacks or holes or omissions) into sites--habitable spaces/structures that nourish, that overcome, that fill extant voids. DiPietra recalls, that early on, after moving to SF and getting involved with Nonsite:
I also felt my disability being erased because I found that I was trying to emulate an avant-garde poetics (which had not existed so much on the coast I came from) and in that poetics, there was less room for the “I”, for a body’s history, for emotion around that history.
And that as she injected those feelings into Nonsite discussions (at first as blog entry), there was not only room for them, but action and lively discussion, a self-organizing pedagogy for which she was as responsible in sustaining as anyone else:
Then, one day I took a chance and wrote a blog post about this ambivalence I was feeling on the Nonsite Collective’s blog. I felt as though I were doing something risky and perhaps, not very refined. These were scary folks. They weren’t from the South (the opposite ended up being true), they were more intellectual than I and thus, had gone past the need to talk about the body (that wasn’t the case) ...But in fact, my blog post was met with an amazing response—and Nonsite events on disability began to unfold...
Though I am a participant of Nonisite Collective from afar, and though I feel I owe a huge amount of my thinking/feeling the world to friends active in Nonsite, I re-post Amber's comments not simply as a way to cheer us on, or to redouble Thom's already excellent write-up. It's rather to mention that though I am a Nonsite participant, my small contributions have been wholly online or in my own classrooms--I've never been to a general meeting or had an in-person Nonsite discussion (outside of many, wonderfully generative informal discussions with Thom and Rob, Eleni and others, far too late at night). My trip to SF in July will be my first, my reading and talk for Nonsite my first, and so my participation has been on the very outskirts of the Collective, or would be, were the collective not actually living up to what its baseline aims are at moment, that self-organizing pedagogy/set of investigations. So, this re-post is to extend Thom's collection of remarks by mentioning that it was this particular set of conversations--those around somatic practices/disability rights/poetics thereof--that saved me from myself, got me first plugged in to Nonsite discussions, that got me involved, and that ultimately got me re-thinking/feeling what the body can do.
It was at the time of my move to the West Coast from NY that I began teaching as visiting professor in Bard College's Language & Thinking Program each summer, which got me in touch, and facilitated friendships with, Thom Donovan, Eleni Stecopolous, and Rob Halpern, all of whom were active in Nonsite Collective, a collective with which I'd developed a keen interest a year or so before while doing some writing on Robert Kocik's Overcoming Fitness. I was at that time working on two manuscripts, one a book of poems written in hospitals and hotels and written for hospitals and hotels (Hospitalogy, which is ongoing), and the other ended up as Occultations, which had its Belladonna Series/Thom Donvan-curated release party as my first full-length poetry book in New York back in mid-April, and which is at the printers now for its official print run. This work is deeply informed by Amber's work, and by follow-up work from those Thom mentions in his post. My performative work before falling ill was very body-centric, very much interested in gendering and owning, and yet that work seems quite distant to me now as I recall how generative (how really intensely moving) those Nonsite discussions were. My (then) eavesdropping on the conversations that were playing out helped me re-feel a poetics, and I describe this at the end of Occutations as a sort of essay/set of notes (which I'll post in part in another blog entry as continuation/response to what I see as connection between Amber's Nonsite entry on somatic practices and some of the newer posts on commoning - can this body-as-shorn predicament be, consensually at least, a commons?).
Since 2007 I've incorporated Nonsite's resources into my classroom fairly consistently. It doesn't hurt that there are to be had on the website several documents and other resources related to key questions in contemporary poetry and poetics-as-connected to social justice. More than that, though, the very self-organizing pedagogy that Thom and Amber talk about over at Harriet, it's deeply realized, continues to help model for me different ways to "gather differently," as Thom puts it, to:
explore different platforms and social milieus in which poets can collaborate, converse, and connate.
If this returns us to many projects deferred and abandoned by radical social movements ongoing since the 30s, that is because the desire has not gone away to embody a form of assembly that reflects radical content.
As I wrote recently in an essay for Jacket Magazine, I don't think it does return us, precisely, to the radical social movements that have helped inform Nonsite Collective's collective practices, from Situationsist cross-disciplinary political interventionism to Freirean anti-banking pedagogy, but in the classroom, as elsewhere, the desire to assemble differently is certainly there, manifesting as response to managerial trends in education, increased corporatization hostile to any experimentation that doesn't garner dollar producing attention. Nonsite's work, incorporated back into the institution (which is essentially what I am doing when I teach, not to mention the many other participants who move rather freely between the classroom and Nonsite's events) helps highlight how radically restrictive a lot of institutional pedagogical practices are, how, for example, even at a place such as Evergreen (where I teach), a school known for its radical co-learning (even popular educational) models, we need push ourselves to go further in cross-disciplinary research; we can, and should, push ourselves outside of the morbid professionalization inherent in how schools, say, get funded. We should (and at Evergreen I can) do so while still bringing to our re-narrations, our explorations outside of given domains, our different assemblages, a rigor and intentionality necessary to know what we are asking and how to listen for it. Thom asks:
Is gathering a form of poesis—a form of active making?
Not necessarily, is my provisional answer--there is a premium in this culture on spectatorship. There is no sense, tho, in which one can participate in Nonsite Collective and be a spectator. The organizational pedagogy necessitates gathering as a commoning, which is an active making, and so every curricular discussion that spiders out in my classroom (our classroom) is an emergent instantiation of a constantly becoming (a radically dialectical) Nonsite Collective, its making and remaking, fashioning and refashioning. From CA Conrad coming to our classroom and building with us a new (soma)tic to 25 of us wrestling with what else Kocik's commons site for "sorely missed" social services might include (architecturally, structurally, and then again, poetically), there is something substantial, not simply semantic, about the claim that Nonsite has no central locus of activity. As long as this work recursively flows back into the refashioning of the Collective's draft proposal and its attendant makers, which is to say, into further avenues of collaboration, in echo of Halpern's "no work in isolation!"
So I'm extremely happy to see that Thom's put together a series of reflections on Nonsite Collective, where it's been and where it might be going (or can go). From both the classroom to (contiguously) the development of a poetics, Nonsite Collective has en-abled me in ways I can't fully apprehend, despite being able to state that what I appreciate most, perhaps, is precisely that which Amber speaks of--this desire to actively move from site to nonsite back into site, i.e., to make use of without using. Metaphor here is not terminal, but rather takes physical form when possible, thus Thom's mention of re-imagining poetry as not for itself, but "for us," I take to be a claim about the poem itself as part of a commons, a crucial site of activation for us who assemble, forming (and taking responsibility as) an aesthetic ecosystem--where aesthetic embodies the political-social-ethical practices of constructing/narrating some future(s) contra catastrophe.