Worshipping Lali

On healing

Healing is not an “off” switch, a restoration to the previous, an expulsion of the ‘monster-exterior’, or a deletion of bodily marks. Not even vaccines work this way. Whichever method vaccine development and administration adopts, it always involves the introduction of the pathogen in some form (reduced virulence, dead, attenuated, for instance) into the body of the subject. Immunity happens at the crossroads, not on the highway and not in the safe distance. Even then, it does not happen once and for all. It is not an internal and independent state of achievement, it is a provisional posture that is dependent on an ecology of surprising movements (for instance, the mutation of viruses and development of resistance to antibodies).

This calls into question the nature of healing as a sealing of porous membranes. Or as closure. If the reiterativity of healing and/or immunity is anything to go by, then healing is the proliferation of monstrosity, an ongoing negotiation of boundaries, a ritual that meets the never-resolved crisis of form.

Seen from a non-anthropocentric perspective then, healing has the attributes we imposed on the experience of illness (though this doesn’t mean they are the same thing). The modern world with all its gestures and micro-gestures, addicted to rationalised closure and the rationalised subject, performs “sickness” as openness and healing as closure. As returning to an original shape. Of course, some form of closure is required for bodies to function; one cannot be radically open to the exclusion of resolutions. The modern body however dreams of making the cut fixed and permanent: its biases leave us bereft of our kinship with the microbial, the fungal, the monstrous, with grieving and with dying.

What’s at stake? This performance of the “human-interior” and “monster-exterior” leaves out our accountability to the manifold others that make us human. It loses sight of the ways we are already being changed, refashioned and reconfigured – perhaps at molecular levels that escape our anorexic tunnels of vision. It pathologizes the “invaders” and ignores the gifts that often stream in from the world we’ve ruled out. Perhaps most pressingly, it binarizes this trafficking of boundaries, blind to the idea that beyond sickness versus health is a third option: the imperative of shapeshifting.

Whether we find a coronavirus vaccine or not, whichever way we go, there will be monsters. What if we leaned into our ongoing monstrosity, touching our tentacles, our many eyes and long bodies? What might shift?

Bayo Akomolafe

  • Solomon Ikhioda on June 20, 2020

    Just feeling the asphalt on your lane. Now with one foot but it looks like I waka well, the way we say, in Nigerian Pidgin English to a guest who meets the host at a feast.

  • Lori Wallace on February 20, 2021

    I wonder . . . why must a continous negotiation of boundaries be considered monsterous? As a women, I offer the persepctive of the meandering spiral. Life is not linear, nor is it even a perfect spiral. It is a wild meandering spiral of emergence. Might the natural world be our guide? Rather than leaning into our monstrocity, might we simply rather give way to our wildness? And in doing that, might we reclaim our true natures?

    • Bayo Akomolafe on February 26, 2021

      I think the mistake here would be to assign the “monstrous” a negative charge – because of its close cultural and contemporary associations with “evil” or bad things. The monstrosity I speak, spoken by feminists like Elizabeth Grosz, thinkers like Deleuze, and famously adorned in the work of Mary Shelley (a little book called Frankenstein) and in Susan Stryker’s paper, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamonix” (in which she fully embraces her monstrosity and reprimands human claims to purity when she writes: “I call upon you to investigate your nature as I have been compelled to confront mine. I challenge you to risk abjection and flourish as well as have I. Heed my words, and you may well discover the seams and sutures in yourself.”) – this ‘monstrosity’ is a useful site to discuss the ways the ‘human’ is a performance of exterior superiority. What you call for – this rewilding, this ‘return’ to nature – is exactly what the figure of the monster facilitates, and why feminist studies and indigenous insights treat the monster as a significant event and not a horrible evil (as modern minds think it).

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Falling might very well be flying – without the tyranny of coordinates.