In Defence of De-persons

May 10, 2016
by Johanna Hedva

 

“We must now collectively undertake a rewriting of knowledge as we know it.”
—Sylvia Wynter

 

I want to make a defence of “de-persons.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, I am one. That is, I have been diagnosed with depersonalization/derealization disorder (DP/DR for short), which means that I have “significant, persistent, or recurrent depersonalization (i.e., experiences of unreality or detachment from one’s mind, self, or body).” What that means is that, at various times, my body, self, environment, and the world itself do not feel real.

 

There are many ways to talk about “personhood,” and many of them are discourses about what isn’t personhood, or more sinisterly, who does not qualify to be part of that category. DP/DR falls into this kind of discourse on personhood: the kind that defines who is not. The suffix “–hood” as it is attached to the word “person” is important here: “–hood” means “a state of condition or being.” So, when we’re talking about personhood, by definition, the state of the condition or the being of a person can be said to be different than the person. In other words, personhood is apart from the person, personhood is not the person.

 

There is another way of looking at “hood”: the Proto-Germanic etymology of “–hood” can literally be translated to mean “bright appearance.” I am moved by this at the same time that I’m antagonistic to what it arrogates—the implication that to “be” anything one must not only appear, but also be bright.

 

Before I go further, I’d like to claim the soil that I stand on, so I can dig as deep as I can down into it. I am not a representative for a specific kind of experience; I am presentative of it. That is, I’m doing it right now, in front of you, and in front of myself. I am a proponent of aporia: thinking with holes in it, thinking that contradicts itself, that circles back, that reveals the knotting and fraying and re-weaving of an argument so that it contains all of its mistakes, so that you can see them, and so that I won’t forget how I got here. My address is from an affirmation of messiness, a testimony of and to disorder, an honouring of incomplete-ness. Anne Boyer writes: “It’s not just our errors we become brave about, but our projects’—and our own—incompleteness.” So here I am, in transit.

 

If I’m going to wander around personhood, I’ve got to reckon with universality, because universality is the foundation for how we construct “persons.” It’s the bedrock beneath the patches of soil upon which all of us stand. Sara Ahmed explains it:

 

The universal is a structure not an event. It is how those who are assembled are assembled. It is how an assembly becomes a universe… The universal is the promise of inclusion… Universalism is how some of us can enter the room. It is how that entry is narrated as magical; as progress.

 

I am guilty of hoping for such magic. I’ve played the game of universalism, as we all have: it’s the main game in town. So this is me trying to get out of town. The concept of the “person” that has been defined, deployed, policed, and immured by universality is one that promises self-determined completeness, wholeness, and power. In other words, that which can be both mastered and the master.

 

A defence of a de-person could be said to be an embodiment of incompleteness, a demonstration of bad thinking, a performance of un-comprehension, a refusal of mastery at all.

 

Again, I’m trying to get out of town—I’m headed for the wilds.

 

 

I start with the American Psychiatric Association (APA) because it is the institution that, so far, has had the most influence in my life in terms of how I’ve been constructed as a person by the medical-industrial complex, and also as a citizen who is a political, cultural, racial, gendered, economic, and social being. I’ve been diagnosed with four conditions recognized by the APA, which means my personhood has been defined, deployed, policed, and immured by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

 

Receiving a diagnosis from the DSM is a life sentence: its ICD codes (which stand for International Classification of Diseases), once scratched into your file, will remain with you until death, and even afterward. If you become famous, they can find you posthumously—think of the speculative diagnoses that have wormed their way into the soil of Vincent van Gogh, Jane Bowles, Virginia Woolf, oh, how I could go on.

 

Here is a summary of the DSM-V’s description of the main symptoms of “depersonalization” and “derealization” in DP/DR:

 

The individual may feel detached from his or her entire being (e.g., “I am no one,” “I have no self”). He or she may also feel subjectively detached from aspects of the self, including feelings (…“I know I have feelings but I don’t feel them”), thoughts (e.g., “My thoughts don’t feel like my own…”), whole body or body parts… Episodes of derealization are characterized by a feeling of unreality or detachment from, or unfamiliarity with, the world, be it individuals, inanimate objects, or all surroundings. The individual may feel as if he or she were in a fog, dream, or bubble, or as if there were a veil or a glass wall between the individual and world around.

 

Depersonalization and derealization are not the same thing, but more like two sides of the same experience: one describes a state of interiority (depersonalization), in terms of how one feels about oneself; and the other describes an exterior state (derealization), or how one feels about one’s environment. DP/DR could be said to describe the skin between the outside and the inside, and in both places, there is the feeling that neither is “real.”

 

The DSM-V has a little moment where it locates itself within the United States and its imperial horizon, with the following passage about “Culture-Related Diagnostic Issues”:

 

Volitionally induced experiences of depersonalization/derealization can be a part of meditative practices that are prevalent in many religions and cultures and should not be diagnosed as a disorder. However, there are individuals who initially induce these states intentionally but over time lose control over them and may develop a fear and aversion for related practices.

 

Then, the following is offered as a “risk and prognostic factor”:

 

There is a clear association between the disorder and childhood interpersonal traumas in a substantial portion of individuals… In particular, emotional abuse and emotional neglect have been most strongly and consistently associated with the disorder.

 

But the DSM has little to say beyond this passage on symptoms that can be correlated to a cause; that is, why someone might experience such feelings. And the extent that they allow trauma to reach is only interpersonal, never generational, institutional, or societal.

 

DP/DR is characterized as a disorder, not a disease, and it’s important to note the clinical difference between the two. It comes down to what’s called “etiology,” which is the cause for something. If the etiology is known, it’s a disease. If no one has a clue, it’s a disorder. So, embroidered into their own system of classification is the APA’s acknowledgement of both the failure and recursivity of its system. They’ve built in a kind of disclaimer for how they will recognize and validate your experience, and it is based entirely upon their own rules of what is recognize-able. It has nothing to do with how you might recognize, or feel validated within, or define, your own experience.

 

The clincher for all disorders and diseases, in terms of psychiatry—that is, when you go from being “well” to “ill”—is when symptoms “impair the individual’s ability to function normally.” When the normative stops performing is when psychiatry intervenes. But nowhere in the DSM is a definition of “normal”—and you’d really think there would be, since so much in its 991 pages seems to rely upon it, and what it is not.

 

As we saw in the clause about “volitionally induced experiences,” the main problem arises when control is lost. However, the agency of the individual person is the primary measure for what kind of control is at stake: the DSM and APA are only concerned with self-control—not the loss of control, freedom, or agency as it can be affected, granted, rescinded, and mitigated by the state.

 

Self-possession and self-mastery are the most legible and preferred forms of selfhood within a society built upon the ideology of possession. What the DSM and APA configure, and warn against, as  a “loss of self control” can be read as a refusal of the mastery and wholeness that Fred Moten and Stefano Harney have called “the object/ive of enlightenment self-control.” That one cannot possess one’s own self, it follows, precipitates the necessity of a society that can do it for you. In turn, this instantiates the construct of a self in ownership of itself as what is the most—the only—acceptable kind of person.

 

I think of the residents of Flint who had absolutely no control over whether they were in possession of the most basic resource needed for their life to be sustained: water fit to drink. I think of Joyce Curnell, a 50-year-old Black woman who died in the Charleston County Jail because she was not given water to drink, despite repeatedly asking for it. The article about the lawsuit filed on behalf of her family reads: “She spent the last 27 hours of her life behind bars. During that time she became too sick to eat or call for help, according to court documents filed this week. She vomited all night and couldn’t make it to a bathroom, so jailers gave her a trash bag.” Instead of possession of her life, the police gave her a trash bag.

 

When we confront the implications of these examples, we can see the state as a mechanism that creates depersonalization. It is a device that simultaneously produces and perpetuates de-personhood while negating the possibility of self-control. How about that for a cause?

 

I also think of the many books I’ve read on healing trauma, all of them written by white doctors, that inevitably tell me that I have to regain a sense of “self-mastery” if I want to live a “productive” life. In the recent bestseller The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. van der Kolk asks, and then attempts to answer, the question: “How can people gain control over the residues of past trauma and return to being masters of their own ship?”

 

Did no one stop and think about using the word “master” in the same sentence as “ship”?

 

 

The prefix “de–” as we use it in English today is inherited mainly from French and Latin, where it has meant “down, down from, from, off; concerning,” and also “‘down, off, away, from among, down from,’ but also ‘down to the bottom, totally’ hence ‘completely’.” It also functions as “a pure privative,” a privative being a grammatical device that reverses a verb’s action, as in: “not, do the opposite of, undo.”

 

So, a de-person, is a not-person.

 

(I am no one. I have no self.)

 

And it is also a down-from person: a person “down from” the status of personhood.

 

 

In December 2015, I had a dissociative panic attack for the first time in three years without my medication on hand. It was in the Copenhagen aquarium called Den Blå Planet, which has been designed to make one feel as though underwater—stupid of me to forget my meds, especially because for twenty years I’ve had the recurring nightmare of being underwater in an ocean of black water. One enters Den Blå Planet as though being submerged into a sea cave. Inside, there is only dim, blue light. Silhouetted shadows of fish, sharks, and whales are projected onto the ceiling. One can peer up at them circling overhead. The lapping, sloshing sounds of water stream from hidden speakers, but they are mostly drowned out by the voices of children running around, darting like little fishes.

 

In the bathroom, where I waited for the attack to pass, the only thoughts in my brain were “thing, thing, thing” (a fog, dream, or bubble). There was blue—blue paint on the wall of the stall?—which equaled “thing.” Each time the door slammed, it was with such ferocity that “my” body felt ripped—into two things, then three, then many. The sound of the hand dryer, even more ferocious and splitting—thing, thing, thing.

 

Language breaks down (I cannot speak, or understand what is being spoken to me, during these states) but not because it never existed, or because it is nothing, or because it seems inadequate in a postmodern way, but because it uncreates. As Simone Weil puts it, decreation is “to make something created pass into the uncreated.” Something that had been created—something that had created me—has passed into its twinned shadow state. No longer is the first-person intact, the “I” dissolves, and all the boundaries around everything that have hitherto contained them, are drained of their solidity.

 

Down-from-ness. Not-ness.

 

 

How many people, as I write this, have been declared—politically, legally, medically, culturally, economically, racially, socially, and gender-binarily—to be “de-persons”?

 

(as if there were a veil or a glass wall between the individual and world)

 

How many are struggling against such declarations? And how might we ever know the answer to this question?

 

How many are resisting? What does that resistance look like, what does it do?

 

I’d like to ask the APA: What about depersonalization when the state has made you that way, has removed your agency from yourself, has taken over the control of how you are identified and thus legitimized? What about derealization when the state has detached your environment from you, dispossessed you of your land, or turned your surroundings into something unbearable, something that cannot possibly be real?

 

When a person feels that they are not real, or that the world around them is not real, and that they have no control over either realm: how do they fit into the universal version of “person”?

 

In other words, who will they be allowed to be—or not to be? Hamlet’s famous question reveals his privilege, power, and, specifically, his authority: that he gets to decide whether to be or not. At its etymological root, authority is about authorship: Hamlet can be the author of himself.

 

How many are not allowed this? Whose stories have already been written for them?

 

“The self-determined thing cannot be so if it emerges in a relationship,” Denise Ferreira da Silva writes, emphasis mine. So, what about those of us who have not had the privilege that Hamlet had, to write our own story according to our own terms? (There is a clear association between the disorder and traumas.)

 

What about those of us who have emerged vis-à-vis others, in relationship to each other, and because of our own Other-ness? (My thoughts don’t feel like my own!)

 

Da Silva calls them “no-bodies.” Jack Halberstam calls them “zombies.” Neve Be has called them “invisible theorists.” I’ve called them “sick women.” Moten and Harney have traced a territory where they reside called “the undercommons,” and named a co-present condition for some in that territory as, simply, “blackness.”

 

I think about the suffix “–ness” instead of “–hood.” It can also be traced to Proto-Germanic, and means an “action, quality, or state.” Nowhere is the condition of “being.”

 

I think of the many for whom, politically, it is true that “nowhere is the condition of being.”

 

My main question here is: for those who are not, for those who have emerged in relationship to rather than via self-determination, for those who are particular and sometimes nowhere rather than universal, for those in the undercommons, for us “invisible theorists” and for us “no-bodies,” how does the affirmation of de-person-ness offer a new form of political agency?

 

 

It’s important to revisit one’s past thinking and to lay it bare. As a principle of my feminism, I think it’s important to quote myself—it puts my inspection and honouring of the past into relief. As bell hooks says, I’m “working with the work.” I want you to know that I’m dealing with history, and that I’m troubled by how it has constructed my experience. I want you to know that I’m still listening, reading, and learning. In some primal, preverbal way, I feel I’ve got to deal with that first before I can look ahead; as a white-passing a.k.a. white-privileged person, I believe it is my first obligation not to be a-historical.

 

To reckon with being haunted is important political work. It can account for why the world right now has come to be as it is. And it can re-imagine a world that is not already foretold.

 

On January 19 2016, Mask Magazine published my article Sick Woman Theory, the beginning of a project that is still radically incomplete, as am I. In it, I proposed a “theory” that provocatively constructed a new universal subject position: the Sick Woman.

 

Let me be clear: I did not mean that our illnesses are not real, that our suffering is not ours, that we are all literally women, or that women are essentially more vulnerable or more sick. No, I was trying to get my head around what political conditions have constructed the soil where I stand—and where stand many who are “no-bodies,” who live in a world, self, and body that don’t seem “real” when measured against the hegemonic norm.

 

Because of the nature of my chronic illnesses (endometriosis, fibromyalgia, and an as-yet-to-be-diagnosed autoimmune disorder) and my mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, complex PTSD, panic disorder, and DP/DR), I noticed that where I was standing:

 

  1. feminized me as a “weak” and “crazy” woman, despite the fact that I identify as genderqueer;
  2. presumed I am white and middle-class, fixing to me the attendant signifiers of middle-class whiteness (think of the Victorian white woman in bed with an unnamable malaise and a maid bringing up her breakfast), despite my background being poor and mixed-race Korean and white;
  3. moralized me, as though I had either willfully decided to put myself on the patch of sick-soil, or ended up there because I’d somehow lost my “strength” to “be well”; and
  4. erased my differences and specificities as a political, cultural, and social citizen.

 

From those observations, I began with some terms that have found their way into my soil, and which claim to identify me: sickness, woman-ness, weakness, whiteness. I wanted to reclaim a version of “my” “self,” rewritten into a version of the world that accounted for why I felt detached from it in the first place (as if she were in a dream). I felt around for my body (detached from her entire being) and, upon finding that it was both in pieces and missing pieces, and that it had already been laid claim to by institutions without my permission, I flailed like a bird trapped in a room. On every wall there were windows, but I kept only flying up. Right into the ceiling.

 

The aporia of Sick Woman Theory is that it requires a cruelly optimistic humanism: to construct and nurture a version of a human against a version of the human—and it still relies upon the master’s tools of enforcing discrete selfhood and self-possession. This universalizing move is what Ahmed would call a “melancholic universalism”: “the requirement to identify with the universal that repudiates you.”

 

Remember, bad thinking. Messiness. Being haunted.

 

 

I cannot think of a form of embodiment that is not somehow disordered. The enforcing of self-possession has happened probably because of the self’s radical disorder. How this can feel unbearable has resulted in the political implication that we are all ungovernable. “Governance then becomes the management of self-management,” as Moten and Harney write.

 

I forgive myself for my impulse to call for the ousting of the Healthy White & Propertied Male from the throne of the universal subject position that he’s sat in for so long. The direction to go, we are conditioned to believe, is up. Like birds trapped in a room.

 

But it’s the throne itself that we must tear down: the throne on which the universal sits. That there is a throne at all is the problem—regardless of who sits in it. We don’t need to go up. Let’s look to the windows, the way out.

 

We who are blasted apart, de-person-ed, detached from “being,” if we are looking toward that throne of universality to consolidate and stabilize us as subjects, to make us whole as people, to bestow upon us, finally, a political agency that we can call our own, in that we can own it like a possession, then we are looking in the wrong direction. The place to begin is by turning our backs on that throne, and toward an agency that doesn’t depend on enlightenment humanism, on the universal, on the self-determined subject of a rational mind, on the hegemonic figure who has power over himself and others. Such an agency can only function by constructing against its human, the monster, the monstrosity of the Other. If our kind of agency depends on anything, it will depend on recognizing and honouring that we are all of us disordered, messy, incorrigible, that we are in relationship to others and interdependent on each other, as much as we are each of us different—and that is fine.

 

 

The APA has a “topic” page on their website for “Emotional Health” that defines it like this:

 

Emotional health can lead to success in work, relationships and health. In the past, researchers believed that success made people happy. Newer research reveals that it’s the other way around. Happy people are more likely to work toward goals, find the resources they need and attract others with their energy and optimism—key building blocks of success.

 

 

There are many nights, when I start up in bed, the fight-or-flight nut of my brain exploding its juices through my body, and I feel as if the only thing that really exists is being extinguished: “me.” I also feel this sucked-out vacuum of self-extinction in line at the pharmacy, to be told that one of my medications costs $800 USD a month without insurance.

 

In capitalism, the primary purpose of one’s life—both ideologically and materially—is to accumulate value. This is done through one’s labour, but of course primarily relies upon the exploitation of the labour of others and various resources of all kinds. As Silvia Federici has argued, such exploitation requires an accumulation of differences, beyond Marx’s “primitive accumulation” of natural and labour resources, to justify itself: self/other, white/black, male/female, society/nature, us/them, life/death.

 

“The order that collects differences, the order that collects what Marx called labor still objectifying itself, is the order of governance,” write Moten and Harney. Governance was invented for that which is ungovernable—I’d like to suggest that it was invented for de-persons in their promiscuous lack of self-control (a feeling of detachment from, or unfamiliarity with, the world).

 

Within such a system, the person who is unable to labour because of their difference from the normatively ableist well, is considered not only useless because they cannot work to accumulate value, but they also stand in direct opposition to two important tenets of capitalist ideology. The first is the premise that capitalist technology can take command of the body. As Carolyn Lazard has written:

 

Capitalism objectifies the body. It views the body as an exploitable resource and attempts to render it indestructible and unstoppable with the aid of technology… And yet as advanced capitalism has deemed the physical body an obsolete, outdated tool, the body still remains. It continues to fail under capitalist conditions and gets pathologized as illness. The body is another inconvenience that must be enhanced and optimized.

 

The second tenet the de-person antagonizes is the promise that neoliberalism can reduce everything, including the decision to survive, down to personal choice, a matter of willpower, and a problem the market can solve.

 

In neoliberalism, “wellness” is a prevarication: it usually stands in for “life,” but life in terms of wealth, race, power, and, primarily, ability. Wellness in this context is paradoxically both an innate moral virtue and an individual’s own responsibility to maintainand is soaked in ableism.

 

Mia Mingus puts it perfectly:

 

Ableism cuts across all of our movements because ableism dictates how bodies should function against a mythical norm—an able-bodied standard of white supremacy, heterosexism, sexism, economic exploitation, moral/religious beliefs, age, and ability.

 

Boyer writes: “Wellness, like gender, was so constructed, on a good day I could fabricate its appearance in eighteen minutes.”

 

 

I can’t write about the prefix “de–” without also writing about the prefix “dis–.” “De–” and “dis–” are twinned, convex and concave, like depersonalization and derealization. “Dis–” comes directly from Old French and Latin and means “apart, in a different direction, between,” as well as “lack of, not… do the opposite of… apart, away.” Almost the same as “de–”—but for its Proto-Indo-European root, “dwis,” meaning “twice.” So, a two-ness, a split-off.

 

Depersonalization disorder falls under the DSM-V category of “Dissociative Disorders,” and the name for the bit of time when I am “detached” from “myself” is called dissociation.

 

Again, I quote the DSM-V so as to reveal the conceptual framework upon which such diagnoses rely:

 

Dissociative symptoms are experienced as unbidden intrusions into awareness and behavior, with accompanying losses of continuity in subjective experience… and/or inability to access information or to control mental functions that normally are readily amenable to access or control… The dissociative disorders are frequently found in the aftermath of trauma, and many of the symptoms, including embarrassment and confusion about the symptoms or a desire to hide them, are influenced by the proximity to trauma.

 

Two weeks is the longest continuous period of time during which I’ve been dissociated. It occurred at the psychotic peak of a manic episode. When the dissociative episode began, it was mid December, nearing the 2012 holiday season. When it subsided, and “I” emerged, it was a few days into the new year, January, 2013.

 

I remember little of what happened during those two weeks. It was a loss “of continuity in subjective experience,” yes, and, yes, also an “inability to access information normally amenable to access and control.” The DSM is right there.

 

I was house-sitting for friends who were out of the country for Christmas. I was in the second year of my MFA; it was the winter break, classes were to resume at the end of January. At the time I was seeing a person, who’d been something of a best friend for a year prior, in a relationship that was viscid, confusing, held together the way strands of hair in a drain are, by soapy debris and the centripetal force of a vortex. I know that he was present for much of the episode—he must have been, because when “I” returned, he was no longer there. His abandonment was so abrupt, violent, and total—I never saw him again—that the only reason for it must be that he witnessed something terrifying during those two weeks.

 

 

Perhaps challenging the premise that “I” am not intact during these episodes, I wrote a lot while dissociated that winter. In fact, I wrote nearly an entire manuscript of poems. Reading them now, I feel flanked by embarrassment and confusion—the proximity to trauma. But I’d like to quote one here (“I shall quote only myself!”), in an effort to reveal what a mind can do during “a loss of subjective experience.”

 

ON LYING STILL FOR THE HOURS OF AN AFTERNOON

Eventually, one witnesses

an event that was once

considered an alchemical miracle:

the light from the sun changes

from white to gold. Imagine that

each day, when we aren’t home,

the sofa and its cushions

are bathed in this, this, this, this, this—this, magic.

When a person puts her face

in this divine arc, she’s only

irritated. She squints. That’s because

we are the most fragile

of all creatures. Even a sofa

can stare directly into the sun,

even the sofa can outlast us. Imagine:

an immense ball of fire,

in an infinite icy vacuum

has a storm rage on its face for 14,000 years,

has towers of flame taller than whatever,

spitting godhead nuclear hydrogen light into nothingness—

into the abyss that keeps expanding—

and it hears nothing back.

It says nothing back.

 

I’ve included this poem as a monument to astonishment, my own astonishment. I’m astonished that I wrote it. I don’t remember writing it, and so I’m astonished that the oriented, possessed-of-herself (according to the institutions of the APA and DSM) Johanna Hedva was absent when it was created. So maybe the word for its inclusion in this essay is not “monument,” but cenotaph: “a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere.” A someone, elsewhere—so that’s where I went.

 

 

A mental collapse, for me, is a totalizing inability to function in this world: I cannot speak, understand language, get out of bed, read, write, bathe or feed myself, sleep or wake without medication—and this usually lasts several months. It is that I cannot “be” in any legible way. Instead of being, I barely exist. I swim in jagged visions and washes of feeling. I pass into a territory, or an atmosphere, where language cannot go, and where none—no one person, and also no thoughts, no definitions, no explanations, no language—can follow me.

 

There has been only one dissociative episode in which a complete thought—a full, coherent sentence—came to me that I still remember. It occurred toward the end of my worst mental collapse, one that lasted four months and from which it took me nearly eighteen months to recover. The dissociation happened at night, in a car. I was being driven through Elysian Park in Los Angeles. As usual, I felt as if “I” was being obliterated, and I felt my existence start to shred. But that night, the obliteration deepened: it was not only “me” who was being extinguished, but also meaning itself. The world slid. I felt as if I was floating in space, detached from the spaceship, a speck in an infinite dark.

 

The thought that came to me was this: There is only Nothingness. And it is beautiful. I wept for the next twelve hours. It is how I came to understand myself as a mystic.   

 

 

In the fall of 2015, I was a research fellow in a project called at land’s edge, under the mentorship of Fred Moten. I’d sent him an early draft of Sick Woman Theory, but I only wanted to talk about mysticism. After the dissociative episode that brought the thought of Nothingness with it, my panic during such episodes had diminished, and I’d found myself embracing the feeling of self-extinction. The best way I could describe it was through the language of mysticism, but as an atheist, and freshly graduated from a critical theory program, this felt untenable.  

 

In my meetings with Fred, we spoke of mysticism as an experience of union with the world. Fred, in his usual precise but gentle evisceration of what we take as truth, talked about the “fatal flaw embedded in the notion of such a union,” which is that “union already implies separability.” That is, because mysticism produces both a new concept of the self (that there isn’t a self) and a new concept of the world (that it is an entity one’s “self” can be in union with), mysticism is at odds with the concept of itself. In other words, how can you be “in union with” anything, if your “self” does not exist?

 

I like that. That the baffling, painful, annihilating, transformative, intense-as-fuck process of contradiction that is dissociation, results in a state of contradiction that is in itself a refusal of what is.

 

 

I’ve come to believe that what mysticism ultimately proposes is that the extent that one has a self is how much of it you can give away.

 

As Fred pointed out to me, the etymological root for the words “privilege” and “private” is the same. It’s from the Latin “privus,” which means simply, “individual.” That an individual can have privilege is also the extent to which such an individual can be private. It’s why white people don’t know what white supremacy is, or that they benefit from it—whiteness itself is a kind of totalizing assumption toward privacy.

 

As Fred said, “Privilege is a radical incapacity for sociality.”

 

 

The affirmation of de-person-ness that I’m proposing is not so much a refusal of discrete-ness, of personhood as such, but rather: an affirmation of indiscrete-ness, of a tremendous indiscretion. De-governable, de-master-able, de-possessed, de-owned, de-owing, de-private, de-privileged, de-individual.

 

The political manifestation of this—I think—is a radical sociality, a bunch of chairs for us all to sit in.

 

Which will certainly be a big fucking mess.

 

Let’s go.

 

Earlier versions and excerpts of this text have been read live on The Oracle Hour on KCHUNG Radio with Amanda Yates Garcia, on February 7, 2016; at Sick Fest, at Chapter 510, in Oakland, on March 26, 2016; at Sick/Tender/Haunted, hosted by South of Sunset in Los Angeles, on March 31, 2016, and at land’s edge: Dialogues, at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, on April 3, 2016. I’d like to thank the hosts, fellow speakers, and audiences at each event for their support in bearing witness to the development of this ongoing project. I’d also like to thank Michelle Dizon and the at land’s edge fellows, Fred Moten, Constantina Zavitsanos, Neve Be aka Lyric Seal, Carolyn Lazard, Anne Boyer, Emma Borges-Scott, and Johannes Beck for the conversations we’ve had together that have informed this work.

ABOUT

Johanna Hedva is a fourth-generation Los Angelena on her mother’s side and, on her father’s side, the granddaughter of a woman who escaped from North Korea. She is the writer/director of The Greek Cycle, a series of feminist-ed and queered Ancient Greek plays that were performed in Los Angeles from 2012-2015; and the author of The Crow and the Queen, a novel published in limited-edition handmade hardcovers in 2013. She is currently at work on This Earth, Our Hospital (Sick Woman Theory and Other Writings), a political manifesto that converges with autohagiography, and her second novel, The Twin.

 

Image by Pamila Payne
Nails by Merkel

 

 

 

Works Cited and Consulted

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Be, Neve, aka Lyric Seal. “Incidentally, I Don’t Just Write About Bodies, I Have a Body Too.” Performance. Sick Fest. Oakland. March 26, 2016.

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Hedva, Johanna. “My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want It to Matter Politically.” Lecture, Human Resources, Los Angeles, October 7, 2015.

Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.” Mask Magazine. January 19, 2016.

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Zavitsanos, Constantina, Denise Ferreira Da Silva, Rizvana Bradley, and Che Gossett. “Speculative Planning Session with Denise Ferreira Da Silva, Rizvana Bradley, and Che Gossett.” Lecture, THIS COULD BE US, The New Museum, New York City, May 7, 2015.

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“In Defence of De-Persons” is from our FUTURES issue (spring 2016)

 

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