La muerte del presidente haitiano

(This reflection was published about a week after it was first written.)

I awoke this morning in a half-daze to read that the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, had been murdered in his home the night before by men who spoke both Spanish and perhaps also English.

Never having read the news in Creole, incapable of such a feat, I looked for some time and began to read this afternoon. If there is such a thing as a Haitian ‘news function,’ it is absent on the island. There is nothing of the sort that is written for a petit bourgeoise, reading public: a documentary mill, constituting the values of its readers and looping back to affirm their prejudices. The “news” largely circulates over private channels here, both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, relays owned by Facebook and its allied brands, like WhatsApp and Instagram. (Though, I am not sure how one might even begin to delimit this sprawling genre of investigative, fact-finding and opinionated articles, ready to come apart at any moment, held together by little more than a paper crease.)

Again, that ‘function,’ in the sense we English-speaking Americans conceive of it, is largely carried out by Haitian expatriates, voices of human rights activists that issue from abroad: that, or, perception is outsourced entirely. Indeed, el Listín Diario and el Diario Libre, both far quicker than the Times’ international coverage, spoke briefly, for example, of Dominicans’ experiences on the ground of Port-au-Prince, but there was little if any mention of Haitians alone, other than the withdrawal into their homes and silence, intimated by that telling headline “pendiente de informaciones”. (The Haitian public is acted upon and perceived for: whether they are “actors” at all, French, Spanish, and English-language sources largely fail to say. This afterthought especially comes now with the rise of protests in La Habana this week: Cubans reportedly took to the streets to proclaim, No tenemos miedo. It seems Cubans are able to take fate into their own hands.)

Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo occurs to me today, a reactionary work published in the late 40s. It sought to inscribe novelistically–that is, re-present–the economic and political palimpsest that is North Haitian life. The foreword to that novella is perhaps one of the most widely anthologized in Caribbean literature and originates the term lo real maravilloso (just nearly “magical realism”) that endlessly circulates in American literature classrooms. That the absurd and the marvelous and the horrible, the violence, the traumatic are all intermixed–and that this is the lived reality of the Caribbean–is likely an observation not yet fully appreciated by (our) news sources & ideologues.

The Transposition of Names, Faces, Places and Things

I awoke to find myself in your room today. It was a corner space, as if at the back of a cramped office space. I could not follow you there however. You were moving too fast. We were still friends, it would appear. We were in college housing: I had come to visit you because the light in my room had gone out. We spent some time together that night looking for light bulbs. In fact, we were both there in college housing and in your cramped apartment.

You retired to your room more quickly than I could follow. I stood behind because I could not bear the mixture of yellow and white. The flickering iridescence of the halogen bulbs. The steadily blinding whites of the LEDs. The pock marks of the autopista leading away from the capital. When I finally caught up to you, and we were together in your room, there was talk of dates. The filing cabinets climbing upward. Names. An antibiotic that could only treat for anaerobic bacteria.

You were almost nude on the bed. You lied there in your underwear. The filing cabinets stopped just short of reaching the ceiling. Some of them appeared affixed to the walls, as if by mounting brackets, to prevent them from tipping over, as if their top heaviness could bring them crashing down at any moment.

Your bed was an alcove among them. You were lying in repose. Above, at some distance, the letters began: A-Ab, Ab-Ac, Ac-Dq, Dq-Dr, Dr-Eb. I was arrested by fear. I was nervous and could not bear to ask you if these were the names of your past lovers. I was afraid to look and to find myself among them, to be found among them, to be neatly filed away.

In a state of breathlessness, my anxiety grew so as to consume me. It seemed like your body there fed on and inhaled the vacuity and the silence, the airless air, your resting place, this empty cocoon, barren and unyielding. The room suffocated and began to collapse inward, an exhalation without end.

Amor y control

Cuánto control y cuánto amor
Tiene que haber en una casa
Mucho control y mucho amor
Para enfrentar a la desgracia

Mantén amor y control siempre ante la pena
Combinando la esperanza y el sentimiento
Dando la espalda no se van los problemas
Ni la impaciencia resuelve los sufrimientos

Rubén Blades, “Amor y control” (1992)

Last Sunday marked nearly three weeks together with my partner en la RD. One of those seemingly indistinguishable nights, we were all sitting together at his auntie’s house. Another auntie of his, who goes by the moniker la gorda, was sitting across from us, scrolling through Instagram.

An islander’s voice, albeit this one a foreigner’s, came booming across her cell phone’s speaker. It had the clear twang of a Jamaican woman’s English. Secure in herself, she insisted: “The COVID-19 vaccine is a hoax … nothing but a lie. The plan is to control you!” La gorda made no comment, and we sat in silence, each to his or her own devices, scrolling idly, absorbing little.

The thought crossed my mind, if only for a moment: whence this desire for control, the desire not to be controlled, the desire for self-control? Who is the subject of this sentence? And even should we successfully arrest control (from unseen forces, no doubt, someone or someplace else), to whom do we yield in the final analysis: “ourselves”?

Rubén Blades sings much to the same effect in a popular song of his, though he relates a situation altogether distinct: a son of the family, we learn in passing, suffers from drug abuse, recast by the wiser, older man, presumably his father, as an abuso familiar, an abuse of the family, or perhaps of familiaridad itself.

Aunque tú seas un ladrón, y aunque no tienes razón
Yo tengo la obligación de socorrerte
Y por más drogas que uses y por más que nos abuses
La familia y yo tenemos que atenderte

It struck me that an obvious rubric for understanding the attraction to conspiratorial thought (or a predilection for its ideation) is precisely this lack of control.1 I reflected: over the past year, principally since March 2020, how many times had my friends or I endeavored to understand, if not for razones prácticas then curiosidad pura, the extent of the outbreak, lengths of quarantine, dates of probable exposure, windows of symptom onset, incubation periods, and so on? This is, of course, atop all the ansiedades diarias y normales que nos persiguen en las ciudades: what chemical did that man just spray on the soles of my sneakers? (While grocery shopping.) ¿En la RD: a qué hora es el toque de queda hoy? (While walking down the street.)

Blades, however, offers us a subtle, if not oblique answer to conspiratorial thought: a call to love again, desde el principio familiar, no aislado.

(Hannah Arendt arrives at much the same conclusion, in typical fashion, free of ornamentation, though I am admittedly contorting her position in the Vita activa a little here, perhaps even in an unforgivable, unscholarly way: the public sphere is the realm of shared experience. With its loss, we can no longer speak of a politics whose basis can only ever partake in a “common” world.)

This Bladesian “love” is, of course, complicated, and Arendt would no doubt bristle at the idea of it serving as the basis of a renewed politics. (She says as much in that 1950s book.) The question is: can the son’s self-isolating love of drugs, that issue of substance abuse that is so poisonous to familial love, be overcome through the restoration of family bonds? And to what extent need there be “control” and “love”–the two are notably flipped once the question is posed–in the household?

My sense is, in so many words, that Blades encourages us in this track to reinvest our familiar bonds and to “take control” in a way that is ultimately guided by the drive to care. An impressive aesthetic rejoinder to conspiracy that only fuzzily sketches its outsider, the “they” and “their” control of “you”.

  1. It seemed hardly worthwhile to delve into the scholarship on this point, but a cursory look will prove there are clear underpinnings for all ideation. This article’s discussion seems to capture the point neatly: “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Psychological Research on Conspiracy Beliefs” (Front Psychol. 2019). A therapist friend once pointed out to me that all beliefs are, to some extent, “self-serving”: that of the psychic equilibrium or homeostatic condition we need preserve each day.

A God among Men? Glaucon on Acting with Impunity

Now no one, it seems, would be so incorruptible that he would stay on the path of justice, or bring himself to keep away from other people’s possessions and not touch them, when he could take whatever he wanted from the marketplace with impunity, go into people’s houses and have sex with anyone he wished, kill or release from prison anyone he wished, and do all the other things that would make him like a god among humans.

Glaucon in The Republic (Book II, 359a-b, Reeve translation)

Glaucon is seen here, only a little ways into Book II, laying the groundwork for his and Socrates’ later argument over the nature of justice.

What he describes here is a self-pronounced mockery of justice. It is meant to be a caricature, so over the top that it can only leave a listener incredulous, all this in the service of strengthening the deposition to follow.

Indeed, at one point, Glaucon distances himself, finding it hard to believe that anyone could adopt a bolstered version of Thracymachus’ account: “It isn’t, Socrates, that I believe any of that myself. I am perplexed, indeed, and my ears are deafened listening to Thrasymachus and countless others.” Later also saying: “And if what I say sounds crude, Socrates, remember that it is not I who speak, but those who praise injustice at the expense of justice.”

If it had been easy in undergrad to shut out the world, look at texts for ‘what they were,’ then it is truly a challenge today not to read these lines of The Republic anew (recall: a dialogue with the ambitious project of realizing the ideal “republic”), especially in the waning days of the Trump presidency.

Edit: Insurrectionist Trump supporters have stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Brief retrospective on JNUC 2019

In November 2019, I applied for and was lucky enough to win a competitive sponsorship to attend that year’s Jamf Nation User Conference in Minneapolis. I met some spectacular and like-minded folks, got to “talk shop” with the field’s heavy hitters, and gathered nearly a dozen pages of handwritten notes.

JNUC 2019 Diversity Sponsorship Yearbook excerpt (PDF)

Two August poems

On Skin Tonic

I’m just trying to prepare my skin
For the inevitable procedure
When you’re lying in repose
And they draw back the wrinkles
Taut
Meeting them at least halfway
My visitors
And good company

Sunspot

El Diario Libre me informó
The sun stood at a perfect 90°
The day my boyfriend left me
In the center of the yard
He placed a Coke bottle
Whose flared edges
Peculiar to that plot of Earth
Cast no shadow
Leaving his double behind
In constant overlap

People Watching

ON A WALK

A woman is jogging / a stroller
Dangerous!
Is she looking or am I
out for her self?

RIDING THE TRANSIT

A woman is loudly snoring
A young daughter is disobeying
A young mother is disciplining
A bus is breaking
A long train is whistling
A repetitive beat is playing

The operator is speaking
What is she saying
A man is tugging
a rope
It does not stretch

A woman is mumbling
to herself?
Is she or am I writing?