Thomas and celebrated international speaker, post-humanist thinker, and author Bayo Akomolafe delve into the pitfalls of modernity and modern psychology, and the need for new ways of navigating hidden and invisible thresholds. Bayo discusses his work tracing stories, folklore, and archetypes and how they invite us to do something akin to activism – a sensorial politics that he refers to as “post-activism.” They discuss the need for fresh modes of responding to crises that can invite us to develop new intelligences.
Bayo Akomolafe – Redefining Crisis: Creating Change Through Shapeshifting
Bayo Akomolafe (Ph.D.), rooted with the Yoruba people in a more-than-human world, is the father to Alethea and Kyah, the grateful life-partner to Ije, son and brother. A widely celebrated international speaker, posthumanist thinker, poet, teacher, public intellectual, essayist, and author of two books, These Wilds Beyond our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home (North Atlantic Books) and We Will Tell our Own Story: The Lions of Africa Speak, Bayo Akomolafe is the Founder of The Emergence Network and host of the online postactivist course, ‘We Will Dance with Mountains’.
He currently lectures at Pacifica Graduate Institute, California and University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. He sits on the Board of many organizations including Science and Non-Duality (US) and Local Futures (Australia). In July 2022, Dr. Akomolafe was appointed the inaugural Global Senior Fellow of University of California’s (Berkeley) Othering and Belonging Institute. He has also been appointed Senior Fellow for The New Institute in Hamburg, Germany.
Learn more about Bayo and explore his work at bayoakomolafe.net
Notes & Resources
Key points from this episode include:
- The concept of “cracks” – disturbances in reality that give us the opportunity to alter our way of thinking
- Human life is an ecosystem that includes our environment. We must humbly acknowledge that we’re entangled with nature itself
- The limits of psychology alter us to fit their modalities rather than accommodate the complexity of human nature and behavior.
- We cannot defeat a specter that we are a part of – the universe is inviting us to lose our way, and that’s the only way to create change
- Our experience of trauma demonstrates that time doesn’t travel straightforwardly – it’s malleable and variable.
Thomas Hübl: Welcome to the Point of Relation. I’m Thomas Hübl and I’m very delighted and happy to sit here with you, Bayo. Welcoming you here into this space and into our relation and and I’m curious and then deeply interested in some things. So, warm welcome.
Bayo Akomolafe: Thank you for having me, brother.
Thomas: So good. We just had recently a conversation for one of our courses, and then I felt that we need to deepen our conversation. There’s so much here, and I want to unpack some of the things much deeper than we could do there. The first is, I want to hear what’s the most to what’s your learning edge right now? What are you working on? What grasps your attention the most at the moment? So where do you feel is your becoming right now active?
Bayo: Mm. I just had an interview with someone around the concept of soft life. And it’s this, dare I call it a post-pandemic phenomenon of people responding to work culture. Capitalist arrangements in new ways that might be threatening to the captains of industry, to the status quo. So you might understand soft life in consonance with other concepts. Other matters of foot like the Great Resignation. You know, such things like the lazy movement, I think in China or the lying down movement. I think there’s a lazy movement too.
But these things, it seems, are expressions of a different alien form of life. I’m trying to dance with this. I have a concept, a name for this. I call it the paraterranean, that is the subterranean that sidles the public. It’s on the side of the terrain, if you will. It sidles the public. And I’m thinking this notion of parallax and the paraterranean and the subterranean through the historical limitations of therapy. And the way therapy is often polices, a colleague of mine said, “Psychology is the policeman of capitalism” and I’m dwelling with that a little bit. This this idea of policing the individual and how we are in such times that the world is kicking back against the notion of the individual as a separate ontology, as a neat pre-relational concept.
So I’m trying to read what you might think of Simondon’s transindividuation with the paraterranean and live with my autistic son. Who calls me into question and everything I do all the time, who has soft moments that breaks apart my quests for mastery. When he has a moment, big feelings. I’m not going to use the word meltdown when he has big feelings like he had twice today – it disrupts time and space. And I find myself sometimes wondering if I’m a hypocrite. If I should be speaking in public at all. And I don’t know what to do. And all I can do is hold him. And sometimes I don’t even know how to hold him. So, yes, this is the hard work.
Thomas: It’s so touching, Bayo. It’s so touching to hear, there’s so much vulnerability and honesty in what you shared to us now. It touch me very deeply to hear about your son, because I think parenting is such a deep and important learning process for all of us. And it’s really touches me also as a parent when I hear you being with your son.
Bayo: Thank you.
Thomas: Hmmm. It’s very deep, so I want to honor that. If it’s okay for you, then I would love to ask you something about this. In the journey with your son, what do you feel emerged for you? Like two or three things that you feel emerged as your own learning, where you felt that as a father, your own universe could get bigger through what you just shared because it’s so deep.
Bayo: I think the first fruit of a response feels like saying that we never really father or mother our children. It’s generations that do that. It’s an assemblage that does that so that the very concept of a good parent is called into question by the fact that we’re not singularly ourselves. We’re constantly diasporic and ecstatic. My mother is fathering my child through me. My father is fathering my child through me. And their fathers and mothers and villages are here at this moment.
I still find the need to want to control the outcomes, to wrestle with possibilities, to say, maybe if I controlled for this condition or this variable or that variable, this might evolve or this might emerge. But the thing with him is, and I think this is the very heart, the spirit of the prophetic. The prophetic is not to me predicting what is yet to come. The prophetic is a reconfiguration of space time and bodies in new ways that might be confusing and might be very debilitating. And yet it’s how novelty appears. But when my son has these moments when I want to tag a reason to why he’s crying. Like, why are you crying? And he refuses to give an answer because there is no answer. There is no reason behind his crying.
We were playing a while ago, and we’re playing with joy and rolling into each other and jumping and hitting pillows and all of that. I made certain. I’m constantly aware of how much he’s vulnerable to hitting his head somewhere or that, and yet he just bursts into tears. It’s like modeling the blurring, the divides between extreme joy and grief from happiness. He just started crying and he couldn’t control himself. And I just held him and said, I don’t know why you’re crying, but we’ll just be here together.
So, it’s like his tears summon the indeterminacy of my own edges. It’s like I can no longer be a good father, which was always my goal. Beyond public speaking, beyond public scholarship, beyond writing books, and speaking to people across the planet. If there’s one thing I wanted more than any other thing is to be a good father to my children. And he calls that into question as if reminding me to let go or to go to hold it lightly,and yet hold him as he holds me. And maybe that exceeds being good.
Thomas: Beautiful. Yeah. Very beautiful. It’s very touching to listen to you and so now that, as you told me just before, that you were in Hamburg, how long are you in there? You are staying in the fellowship, I guess, in Hamburg. Do you want to share? Were you there as a family?
Bayo: Yes, my whole family. It’s a big house. It’s a beautiful place. The New Institute it’s called, founded by my friend Erck Rickmers was a politician and together with Markus Gabriel, who is another friend of mine, a philosopher – invited me and my family to come to do stuff. Just spend some time away from our usual residence in India and just be here together. So we’re here for a couple of months. I’m writing my book, traveling from here. This is our base for now, for a couple of months. It’s a good time. It’s a beautiful endeavor and a beautiful tentative attempt to convene people interested in speaking about the world’s issues.
There’s still something, of course, barely enlightening about it, the idea that I can get wise men together in a room and make divine solutions, but it’s aware of its own limitations and doing things around that. So there are beautiful people here from around the world, professors from Yale and other places, and it’s good to work with them out here, about 30 people.
Thomas: And the transition is easy for you and your family to come to Germany?
Bayo: It wasn’t. Well, in many respects it was because we were so warmly and beautifully received here. It’s a beautiful place we have over here. And there’s a lot of spirit and friendship, hospitality and generosity. But again, this is what I’m reminded by, you know that if it is a familiar idea, let me call it the Elon Musk idea that one can transplant, for instance, to human species from Earth to Mars. You know, we can just go to Mars. And it presumes that the human is this like I said, pre-relational, separate and separable entity. You can just move you from point A to point B, but to notice that we are ecosystems, you know, means that we cannot just move things from A to B. Instead we are not just moving from here to there. We’re calling here and there into question. We are modifying what here and there means, because if we were to this present, modern civilization should move to Mars, for instance, we would make Mars – Earth.
If you understand, we would have to modify it to make it Earth, we would bring our microbes. We will bring our supplements. We will bring our concepts. We will bring our technologies, we will bring our astronaut suits. We will make it Earth. So it’s the same way, moving to Hamburg, to a lesser degree, of course, meant we had to come with our ecosystem, especially Kyah, my son, we had to bring the systems that would support he’s got because he’s a sensitive eater and he doesn’t eat everything around him. So we had some of the difficulties around that were considerable, but we’re glad we’re here.
Thomas: Yes, I’m grateful. Thank you for sharing this, because I was wondering, how is the transition in this if you live globally, how you move as a family? And so first of all, I want to tell you that for me, it’s always like I say in the other conversations we had. It’s very beautiful to enter the flow of your words. I feel that it is a blessing in the liquidity or the fluidity of your speaking. It’s kind of enchanting. It’s beautiful. So that’s a very rare quality I think you have. It’s beautiful. Are you writing a book, I guess your next book, speak a little bit what’s up for you?
Bayo: Well, it’s two books I’m writing. The one I’m focusing on and giving a lot more time to is called A Pedagogy of the Cracks. I’m writing this with a dear younger brother, but a beautifully wise soul. His name is Jiordi Rosales. He works with me in curating courses and doing beautiful things around the world. I’m so blessed that I have his wisdom alongside the things that would be coming out through the book. But a book is an attempt to retell the story of our times. For conversational purposes, I’ll say to a dangerous degree. We have depended almost entirely on the narrative of the Anthropocene as a galvanizing planetary cautionary tale that says this is what’s going wrong with climate, trauma, racialization and the thing is to fix it. And I don’t think that story as emblematic and as needful, useful to many degrees it is. I don’t think it does a good job at dismantling and composting the human or noticing the inheritances of this thing we call the human. The burdens, the prestige, the elided histories of the thing we call the human. I think it screams too much at limitations.
A Shakespearean phrase came to mind, but I’m not going to say it. It screams too much at the edges and it doesn’t know what to do there. It’s stuck. It’s like the empiricism and epistemology, ways of knowing of modernity suddenly stop at the wound and don’t know how to proceed. It stops at the crack. I feel and the story we’re telling with the book we’re writing is the story of the Afro scene, right? There’s some conceptual journey to be taken from the Anthropocene to the African Anthropocene to the Afrocene.
The Afrocene is not the African Anthropocene. It’s a way of seeing through blackness, not identitarian blackness, but seen through blackness, the histories of capture, the histories of oppression, the histories of loss, yearning and grieving seen through that vulnerable position. The world and its storing complex and its becoming and its materiality in beautiful ways. So it’s kind of like a tracing of stories, folklore, archetypes that invites us to do something else that may not look like activism, contemporary activism, but I think is desperately needed in these times. Some kind of sensorial politics is needed.
Thomas: It’s very interesting when you say it doesn’t look like activism. You speak sometimes about post activism.
Thomas: Can you tell me and us a little bit more about it?
Bayo: So I haven’t gotten a diagnosis yet. But my wife, my closest companions, the people I work with, and even other psychologists and philosophers and clinical clinicians tell me that they think that I’m on the autistic spectrum, that I’m mildly autistic. And that may say a bit about my son. Well, one way that I kind of sense this might be true is the way that I interact with the public. I have a fear of chewing gum. I have a morbid, horrible distaste for the thing. It’s evil to me. I hate it. It’s horrifying to me. I cannot stand the look of it. And yet, when I’m moving in public and I say this especially now because I’m now in Hamburg and Hamburg has a lot of gum on these pavements. It’s not only Hamburg, it’s Europe. It’s everywhere. It’s there everywhere. And they’re like beasts to me. They are like beasts. A pathologization of beasts, I apologize to beasts.
Gum is horrifying to me. The toxic colors and everything, the stickiness of it, and I’ve always been haunted by it. Bullies bullied me in school, you know, would stick gum on my shoe and I’ll leave the shoe where it was and hop to my home. I wrote a newsletter around this sometime ago. I say this because if you were to walk with me in Hamburg, brother, you would probably feel very embarrassed with the way I walk. So I do this. I do this. I do this penguin or spider or crab like thing, and the only people that know how to walk with me are my daughter and son and my wife, they understand and they can hold me. But I really don’t know how to. I have to look down to avoid it. I don’t sightsee. I don’t look up into the sky. I don’t admire stuff. I just want to get from point A to point B where there’s gum.
So my walk feels like post activism. And post activism is a way of navigating different thresholds in the public that may not be available for the citizen to notice. The public is not just this flat place where things happen. A background to human sociality. The public is an imperative. The public is an intensity of field. It lists bodies. It tells us when to stop, when to go. You know, there are lines on the ground. Those are codes. It moves us. It shapes us, right? We don’t just move in public. We are the public exploring itself. And yet, you know, what this does is that it hides a different kind of public. So there are different publics. There’s a haunting of the public, which feels like a mainstream right. For me, I know the haunted or the haunting public, it’s gum. And this is why I walk as if there are ghosts around me, right? Post activism is that. The world is not flat. Modernity presumes that the world is flat, that all we need to do to take power away from those that oppress us with it is to challenge the powers that be, is to speak truth to power, is to rise up and resist with a black fist, sometimes the powers that oppress us.
But you see, the world is so promiscuous that sometimes doing that reconfirms and reinforces the things we’re trying to evade and escape. I say that the way we respond to the crisis is part of the crisis, right? So it means we’re in a different terrain altogether and we have to cultivate ways of navigating hidden and invisible thresholds. This is what I mean by the paraterranean sidling intelligence is walking like a crab. It’s like, what are the modes of responding with crisis that is not a repudiation or a resolution or a cancellation of that crisis, but is an invitation to develop new intelligences. To become Hina, to shapeshift, or as like Mexicans invented with huitlacoche.
I love this example of taking this fungal entity, this disease that infects corn and making it a meal. That’s not a resolution. It’s still there. It’s still a disease. And yet they shape shifted. So post activism is the intelligence of the Afro scene. It’s an invitation to navigate the world differently. It’s what Félix Guattari, the psychologist is saying, “Bring something incomprehensible into the world!” That is post activism.
Thomas: Hmmm, amazing, amazing, amazing. Can you speak a little bit more to what you said that “The response to the crisis is part of the crisis.” Can you speak a little bit more for us? Because it’s very powerful I feel it’s very important.
Bayo: So just a few days ago, the Nigerian people reelected a horrible assemblage of people as their leaders. I’m not one for villainizing, but it’s really difficult. Now people are suffering. Where I come from, they don’t have health care. They don’t have any of those things that we might aspire to. Living and gestating in the city and that’s because we have two nation states in, I think. And I think the kind of politics we need today transcends the nation state. But it needs to be said that we have bully systems instead of a nation state. These bully systems are put in place to render everyone else that is not part of the political elite are prosthetic to their imperatives for aggrandizement for wealth generation.
And they do it all the time. They’ve accumulated billions and billions of dollars. They can buy the Supreme Court, they can buy the umpires for elections. They can buy their opponents. It’s horrifying what they’re able to do and what they subject other people to, as a result of their their poisonous wealth. Yet they keep coming back. It’s a complex system, but it needs to be asked, “Why do we keep reinforcing and reelecting the very oppressive powers that we know that they are?” We know that. What keeps us electing them. But why do they keep coming back to power? Deleuze and Guattari had the same question about why fascism, why we bring fascism back into place over and over again.
There’s this beautiful movie about Hitler returning, and I forgot the name of it. I think it’s I’m Back or something like that. (*Look Who’s Back) It’s comedy, it’s satire. But it ends with Hitler telling the protagonist that “The German people elected me. You cannot get rid of me.” And it becomes this kind of archetypal thing, within a scene, at least, I’m not going to spoil the whole thing because it’s a powerful movie.
Why do people keep doing that? Why do we keep doing that? And I feel it’s using the terms that Deleuze and Guattari might be fascinated by its desire, they thought of desire, not as lack. You know, through the psychoanalytic perspective. But this more than human relations that keeps us in some kind of tautological economy. So we keep using the same terms, we keep doing the same things. The architecture around us instigates the same motivations, the same desires. And so we keep up, we’re stuck. It’s a stuckness, right? So it’s within this space that trauma makes sense. Trauma begins to make sense within the stuckness. We keep coming back again and again.
Some concepts of trauma that I’m working with would disturb even time itself. At least trauma tells us at some level that time doesn’t travel straightforwardly. Time is slushy. Time can travel in a highway as if it’s going straight and then stop and then be in the pit and then keep circling itself and not going anywhere in puddles for generations. This is how our bodies tell us that the past is yet to come. That the past is not done with. So the thing you thought you’ve gotten rid of, no, they’re still there.
So that is why post activism feels like also a schizo analytic or a therapeutic practice. It’s an invitation for us to notice that we are held by forces beyond us. It doesn’t come down to choice or consent like it’s my choice. That’s a modern myth, that we are in charge of ourselves. I think microbes and trees and textures and archetypes and colors and buildings are participating in what it means to be us. And so post activism says we need to meet the prosthetics. We need to touch the conditions of our becoming if we are to shapeshift or else we will keep on being there.
Thomas: That’s fascinating. I love it so much. You speak so much from my heart and what you just said, that it’s so great also to part with this space time, how trauma shapes space time. This is very powerful.
Thomas: Yeah. And also, I love this much more expanded, like how you expand the kind of myth of individualism and open it up to a much wider frame that so healthy and it feels like something you can breathe.Because so many, so many processes are projected onto that individualism.
Bayo: Indeed, brother.
Thomas: That’s very, very powerful. And you summarized it so beautifully. So many questions come to me. Think of the collective trauma and how unconscious these forces are in our societies. And I think exactly through what you said, how can you raise it up to awareness that many things of choices, the choices have been made somewhere, but we are not making them today. I love that. So thank you for that. That’s really great. Let’s go back to something you said earlier. I’m paraphrasing just now, but you said somehow that psychology is kind of the police of capitalism. I don’t know if I say this exactly as you said it, but I would love for you to speak a bit to that.
Bayo: I’m not about to trace the history of psychology from its psychological discipline narrative, from its German roots and its continental fascination with the hard sciences and how it moved from a speculative focus on consciousness, to behaviorism, to a cognitive focus. And then I think we’re in the days of the neuro reductionistic ideas where everything is reducible to neurons and brains, and especially with a return to a concentration of the body, which a lot needs to be said about that.
The New York Times just did a piece on the hyper psychologization. It’s a word of everything. You know, trauma is the most popular term of the decade. It’s like there’s this intense focus on developmental psychology, on this, on the individual, the individual who needs to incessantly process and process and do shadow work and look within and clear this one out and clear this other thing out. It seems like and almost impossible for me with my dabbling in Marxism to fail to notice the connections between psychology and politics. They’re not apart.
Psychology is a kind of politics. But beyond saying this. It needs to be said that psychology doesn’t so much study. I mean, Psychology 101 is that it’s the science of human behavior. But it doesn’t so much study and objective human behavior as if it were already there waiting for it to just cast its lens and study it. It creates its subject of study through its methodologies, through its assumptions about what it means to be an individual. It creates this. And so there is and examples are not coming to mind. But I think eventually I could come up with some good examples to demonstrate historically how psychology is complicit or quite implied in how societies have shaped themselves. So in a very real sense, psychology polices the edges to a large extent.
Psychoanalysis, for instance, and many modalities in therapy. You know the myth of Procrustes? The Greek story I think is told by Homer or Hesiod. I think it’s Homer. The story of Procrustes is this highway robber, a bandit who would meet you on the highway and invite you to his home and give you a bed, basically the epitome of hospitality. Give you a bed. The thing is, the bed is a trap. And so once you lay in the bed, Procrustes would measure you. This measurement is critical to how psychology interacts with what we rudely call the individual. What I think should be considered a network instead of an individual or rhizomatic field instead of the atom.
So Procrustes measure you out and if you exceed the bed– you’re tall, you’re taller than me. Last time we met in California and I’m looking up to you, I’m pretty sure. So you were tall. If you slept in Procrustes’ bed, your feet would probably exceed the bed. He would cut you down to size. He would literally cut your limbs so that you fit, and me short as I am – he would stretch me out until I fit. So it sounds violent and horrifying and monstrous, right? And all the terms you can throw at it that signify evil. But that’s not the point.
The point is there is something about the disciplinary type of psychology and therapy that measures the individual, even when it’s doing its best to try to help people adapt. There is something ableist, conformist and capitalist about the models that people are being fit into for the individual that means that those practices forget the politics of the world around the geologies, the microbial activism, the ancestral parts that have been taken that we are not neat and tidy. The effort to make things neat and tidy and say you have a clean bill of health, go and sin no more seems to be a policing, a guarding of the cracks. And I don’t think I could come up with a better definition of whiteness or white modernity than what my sister Erin Manning would say, that whiteness polices the cracks. In a sense, psychology polices the cracks. It places in the asylum anything that breaks out of its notion of sanity or well-being. And there is a sense in which the cities an asylum.
Thomas: Wow. Very strong. Yeah, I think so. I think that’s why I am also passionate about expanding the term trauma because for me, a lot of that movement also sits in the fragmentation that happens where we, especially in modernity, got hypnotized with the individual. But actually so much more information. Also, when you look at a deeper mystical view on their own life so that the liquification of the ancestral and the collective and I think the expansion of how we look at life lies in these deeper places and enlarging the map.
And so I resonate with this, that the individual is being guarded actually by it. And there’s such a hyper focus and also that I call this sometimes “interdependent medicine”, that medicine being focused on an individual doesn’t make so much sense. I mean, it makes relatively sense for part of it, but there’s so much that’s left out. And I think that’s why it’s very hard for us to even get to a deeper understanding of some of the chronic things that we are constantly dealing with, like diseases that can’t be really figured at that level into a much larger map. And so that’s why when you speak, it feels very, very good to me. So thank you.
Bayo: Thank you, brother.
Thomas: So that was one thing that I was interested in. When you speak of politics, I would love to maybe apply your understanding to how we might look at politics from a different lens.
Thomas: The current situation here in Israel. And if that’s too complex, you can tell me.
Bayo: No, no, I’m in touch.
Thomas: Okay, good. Because I think here is exactly like we see massive cracks in this society here. Like we see a massive breaks between the secular and the religious community. We see so much immigration that happens from Africa, from all kinds of places, Europe, Iraq. There is this confluence of ancestries that I think there was, I mean, there was still some attention to this, but not enough on the level that I think it needs to be to look at that kind of confluence in a way so we can create a different community together that has a different quality. So there are lots of fragmentations.
And I would love, given also the crisis, the political crisis, now the mass demonstrations, like all the trauma that happens in the West Bank and terrible events. I mean, it’s not starting now, but I think now it’s just way more obvious. If we apply a different way of looking at the systemic thing like this, that is the system that we’re seeing. Maybe you can speak a little bit to how you see this and maybe how a different lens of the politics can be applied or what would be needed to let that emerge or however you want to approach it.
Bayo: It’s actually the subject of the book that we’re writing at the moment. It’s cracks – what we mean by cracks and why cracks are at the heart of a new kind of politics. So strategically, no, that’s not a word that’s very ungainly. Popularly. Politics is conceived as the matter between individuals. It’s very Newtonian. It’s that the public is the sphere of individuals, already defined individuals interacting with each other. And this is where politics emerges from their conversations, from their ideologies, from the things they see they will do and all of that and the worlds that spill from human sociality.
I think that’s a very impoverished notion of politics, right? Because if we depend on that conceptualization of politics, then in response to the surprising intelligence and agency of planet Earth, we don’t know what to do. It means it’s left to geniuses to save the day. It means all we can do is depend on some ableist notion of genius or intelligence to crack open the chalice of power and solutionism and then we can by and by find ourselves home. It’s a very, very enlightenment notion of politics that doesn’t really do much other than recenter humans as if we are uninvolved, untouched by the world around us, as if we are pure categories unto ourselves.
But when we start to humbly acknowledge that we have never been pure, brother we are imbricated and tangled. We are bodies tumbled into bodies, tumbled into bodies, tumbled into bodies. You might think, “Oh, I’m doing this podcast because I feel motivated to do this podcast.” It might be that something – maybe cordyceps, some fungal entity. Not a fungal entity, I’m reading Hollywood into this, but some microbes, a proliferation of my microbes in your gut are actually supplementing and instigating this desire to be on the podcast show. Just to say that the lines between us inside and them outside are blurred and we have never been human. So politics has to change as well. And I think of politics as this, there’s a very complex story there.
And there’s no speaking to the point here, brother. That’s the thing to notice. There’s no nailing it down and saying, Here it is. This is the reason why I deploy poetry and storytelling a lot, because the only way to speak about it is not to speak about it. It’s to dance around it. Right? It’s a crack that cannot be spoken about. It cannot be represented. You can only dance around it and decorate it to the extent that it remains it.
But when I speak about politics, I think of all of the esthetical, artistic and spiritual and all the moves we can make to stay with the trouble, to make sanctuary. By making sanctuary, I don’t mean keeping ourselves safe. I mean to say that the world, the universe or what I would call the indetermiverse, brother. And that’s, I know, very, very clunky. But it’s my way of noticing that the universe isn’t singular and I don’t quite like the multiverse or universe. I like the indeterminacy of things. I like that the world is open ended.
So I call it the indetermiverse, right? There’s a sense in which it produces new things, and it does this by giving the monster. The monster is not a devilish figure down the road. The monster is the crossroads. The monster is a dense and intelligent turn in the pattern of things. It’s when things don’t go according to plan, it’s when things refuse to be instrumental to our purposes. It’s when things take a left turn, when we expect them to take a right. That’s the monster, right? The monster, I feel, is a troubling place of deep failure for modernity.
We’re doing our very best to try to flatten monsters, to try to colonize them, to name them, finally to name them the enemy and get rid of them. A monster is climate chaos like we’re doing our darndest to defeat climate change, to defeat it, right? Not considering that we are imbricated with this thing. Now we are calling climate change, right? Whether you want to agree with the sciences or not, that there is something speculatively powerful about the specter of a monster down the street and we’re doing our best to defeat it.
When I think monsters are the engines, the machines of the universe, to invite us to lose our way. And the only way to do something different with the world is to lose our way. So how do we convene a politics that allows us to sit with novelty?So I’m reconceiving politics as the communal effort, and it may not even come down to community as homogeneity, but the effort to sit with trouble, to sit with monster, to decorate the crossroads. And there’s a lot to be said about this, but I’m not sure I can do it all in a podcast.
Thomas: So I guess we have to have another conversation to go into this. That’s so amazing. I love that you speak to the capacity. Like, how can we stay in the crossroads? That human capacity, when things don’t go right and we can stay in it? I think that’s a fundamental human capacity. That’s an amazing thing to give oneself to that moment. You spoke to something I think is super important. How would it be, maybe a last thing, just maybe a few thoughts about politics – how can we walk into that direction? Or maybe there’s no direction to walk there. But like from where we are now, to be able to come closer to the capacity.
Bayo: Yes, it’s a fair question. The kind of things that I talk about are largely impersonal. I’m not a scholar of the personal or the individual. I’m a scholar of the impersonal. I’m much more alive to terrains and territories and principalities and powers and horizons and fields and intensities and thresholds than I am alive to questions about what does it mean for me, which is not what you’re asking. But I constantly get the question: so what do I do next? Sometimes the crack is not available for that, right? Imagine Dammtor Train Station is just down the street over here in Hamburg.
Bayo: You probably know it.
Thomas: Yeah, I know it. Yeah.
Bayo: Just down the street. I’m looking at it right now. Imagine walking there, and just before I cross over to the other side, there is a black hole emerges right there in the middle of the street. I don’t know about the math or the physics of that, but just play with me. And that changes everything, doesn’t it? A black hole in Germany, in Hamburg would mean we have to stop everything else that we’re doing. And consider this like, okay, there is a cosmic being that has visited us. How we gravitate towards it is not always available for contemplation prior to the event. We can only think about it in retrospect, right. There’s no saying what you do or I do. There’s no planning for that moment.
It’s the same with cracks. You cannot prefigure an approach to a god. You can’t plan for that. Our mythical and archetypal stories are replete with accounts of people who felt they knew how to approach a god or a goddess and ended up turned into a beast, a deer or something like, How dare you approach me that way? So this is like a God descended, or a God emerging from the ground or a fungal god of some kind. A wild God. A crack is a way the universe reminds us that we are not ourselves and we are all becoming two things that exceed us.
This walks the question of what does it mean for me? Because me is no longer available. But it’s still a deeply practical, a fair question like how do we come to a place and this is what I’m trying to work out with others, like, there is a kind of practical politics. I’m not able to say much to this because of the time – it is a kind of practical politics that might bring us to the edges, just to the edges, enough to be able to sit still with it. It comes from a place of vulnerability. Cracks have a psychological immediacy that I have not spoken to here.
Cracks are not just black holes in Hamburg. Cracks are the idea that we are haunted ourselves. I think it’s enshrined in the Afro-Caribbean spiritualities that we are open and porous beans that Thomas is not Thomas. Thomas might be a vessel for Charles or Chaka Khan or something. And that you’re not yourself. Those are ways that I think about cracks, like disturbances in the field that invite us to take a new direction. How we present that moment, those misdirections, those failures might be the heart of a new kind of politics that we need today. I’ll just stop there for now.
Thomas: Yeah, that’s fascinating. Everytime you speak, I have ten other questions, responses come up. It’s so creative, it’s so fantastic. And with many things, I am very much in resonance with what you’re saying. So it’s great in your eloquence. It’s beautiful.
Bayo: It’s always great speaking with you, brother.
Thomas: Yeah, it’s great speaking to you, Bayo.
Bayo: Of course. Thank you.
Thomas: Thank you so much.