I don’t live alone in this world, I have all kinds of relations and meaningful relationships, you know, so I don’t think we should have to identify as single or coupled up. We are all in relation period, all the time. Whether those relations are good or not, we’re in relation. That’s an oppressive question. So stop asking people if they’re married or single. That’s what I think. Yeah.
Kim TallBear, All My Relations podcast ep. 5
I spend most of my time alone. Outside of the moments where I treat some coffee shop like my office, exchanging small talk with the barista, I live and work alone. Today, as I write this, it’s been the better part of a week since I’ve seen anyone I know in person. I’ve texted with a few folks. Visited with Haida over skype.
Even in loneliness, I am always in relation, living in the place where the demand for tact meets the assembled eyes of surveillance. Right now, I sit alone at a table. The lights are on and the building is heated. People are moving in and around. This tea was made my the barista standing 20 feet away, but also its components were made by whole sets of productive intimacies fetishized away by scale.
How are we structurally caught by our relations of care, of love, of sex, of desire, of touch, of tact, of surveillance, of awareness? What work must we do on our shared intimacies to move the assembly? Do we need to insist on intimacy with proximity? With touch? With care? Does Erin Manning try to answer this when she insists that touch requires reciprocity? What happens when (as Danielle reminds me over twitter) reciprocity comes over time? When it’s easy to slide into rhetorics around debt and credit? What do we think we owe to the room? To the steps and the choreography? To the historical development of our shared spatial practices? What can we do? What can I do?
Outside, a woman stands between two children. Another woman sits holding her small dog. A couple has a chat over coffee. A man and a woman walk both ways through the space with their bikes. A woman breastfeeds while the man next to her looks at his phone. Across the street, they’re putting up a highrise and, next to me, three people are checking their phones. The woman and her dog walk away with a man and his coffee. How can I grasp all of this? It’s difficult to simultaneously stand in the window and in the street at the best of times. Harder when you don’t want to be seen or touched. But it’s easy to feel caught up in the sweep of something that feels new. And most importantly, it’s easy to romanticize the mobile, even though the stable is what creates possibilities.
How do we negotiate this seeming contradiction between mobile and stable without falling back into Berlant’s separation of mobile attachments and institutional intimacies, between lines of flight and hardening structures as if its enough to refuse or escape without also imagining a set of spatial relations that allow one to be free. Freedom could be the word we’re looking for, but it’s troubled by an individualizing tension between freedom to and freedom from.
Writing about freedom from an Anishinaabe perspective, John Borrows argues that “freedom can be characterized by healthy interdependencies, with the sun, moon, stars, winds, waters, rocks, plants, insects, animals, and human beings” (Freedom and Indigenous Constitutionalism 6). He tells us that “the Anishinaabe term for citizen is dibenjigaazowin: he or she who owns or controls their associations” (7). This feels utopian (but it may only feel utopian for a white settler like me) and I want to live in this space of healthy interdependency and control over who or what to associate reciprocally with. But these forms of kinship depend on not the refusal but the demolition of the colonial and capitalist intimacies that swamp those healthy relations out. Those swamping relations are mine, even if I don’t want them. What if they’re a structure I’ve felt the need to break out of, but no one else has?
I feel like I’m consistently at a loss and at an impasse. It’s one thing to theorize care and another to carry it out, tilting at a zany spin for people who can’t care for you because they’re spoken for elsewhere, locked onto institutional lines or treating emergence like so much fooling around. Intimacy needs to change but can it? I hope so.