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Canadian Art - - Contents - By Billy-ray Bel­court

To Be Un­bod­ied by Billy-ray Bel­court

In Ban en Ban­lieue (2015), a book that phe­nomeno­log­i­cally queries that which lies out­side of time, au­thor Bhanu Kapil asks: “What…is born in Eng­land, but is never, not even on a cloudy day, English?” I fol­lowed this line of in­quiry, and now I ask: What is born in a body, but is never fully bod­ied? This sense of un­bod­ied­ness, of hav­ing been made to be un­bod­ied, to be that which dis­turbs the idea of the body and of em­bod­i­ment them­selves, is, I would wa­ger, the sen­sa­tion of Indi­gene­ity. The fun­da­men­tal vi­o­lence of colo­nial­ism, then, is per­haps the in­cul­cated sense, a sen­sa­tion that bub­bles up most acutely by way of the phys­i­o­log­i­cal, that your body is not yours to keep, that it is never solely yours to main­tain sov­er­eign con­trol over. If I wanted to tell a so­cial sci­en­tific story about this kind of un­bod­i­ment, if you will, I would nod to the ways sick­ness and Indi­gene­ity op­er­ate as co-an­i­mat­ing cat­e­gories on the re­serve. This is not, how­ever, the story I want to tell here (and I’ve told it else­where); what I want to do is think in­stead about how we might be­gin to put to re­bel­lious use the un­bod­i­ment of Indi­gene­ity.

Love, says Lau­rent Ber­lant in an in­ter­view with open-source pub­li­ca­tion No­more­potlucks, “al­ways means non-sovereignty,” if we think of love as that which pulls us out­side our­selves, as that which opens us up to a tem­po­ral­ity that feels like it will rup­ture the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ground be­neath our feet. Ber­lant in­sists that love re­quires that we vi­o­late our own at­tach­ments, that we give into in­sta­bil­ity, that we ac­cept that tur­bu­lence is the con­di­tion of re­la­tion­al­ity as such. We might ar­gue, then, that love is a process of be­com­ing un­bod­ied; at its best and wildest, it works up a po­et­ics of the un­bod­ied.

In sum­mer 2015, I dated a guy, my age, who told me he loved me on the sec­ond date. I was put off, stunned; love takes time, I thought. But soon, I fell in love too. If I know any­thing now, it is that love is the clumsy name we give to a body spilling out­side it­self. It is a cat­e­gory we’ve pieced to­gether to make some­thing like sense or rea­son out of the body fail­ing to live up to the prom­ise of self-sovereignty.

Let’s con­sider a pas­sage from Leanne Be­tasamosake Simp­son’s beau­ti­ful and world-mak­ing col­lec­tion of sto­ries and songs, Is­lands of De­colo­nial Love: “i think we fucked, and maybe i should say make love, but maybe not be­cause we didn’t ac­tu­ally make love. it was sad­der than that. we were sad­der than that. but it wasn’t bad and it wasn’t wrong. it wasn’t des­per­ate. i think it was sal­va­tion.” Un­bod­i­ment is the “sad­der than that” of love, but it is also love’s first con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­ity. That Indi­gene­ity births us into a re­la­tion of non-sovereignty is not solely colo­nial­ity’s dirty work. No, it is also what emerges from a com­mit­ment to forms of so­cial­ity that be­gin from the no­tion that the body is an as­sem­blage, a col­lage of ev­ery­one who’s ever moved us, for bet­ter or for worse. What colo­nial­ism pro­duces is com­pet­ing non-sovereign­ties: the bad nonsovereignty that dis­trib­utes lethal forms of pre­car­ity to sur­plus pop­u­la­tions and the good non-sovereignty that makes us sub­mit to a world-to-come, to the feel­ing of sal­va­tion.

To be “sad­der than that” is thus not im­pos­si­ble within a scene of love-mak­ing. In sum­mer 2015, I was “sad­der than that,” but I made love any­way and it felt like sal­va­tion. This is what Indi­gene­ity in­ti­mates: a form of love en­livened by those who are “sad­der than that.” ■

Lau­ren Crazy­bull Re­sponse to “To Be Un­bod­ied” 2017

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