On walks between writing, when I pass the California poppies, I let them press into my mind, remembering a poem from Lata Mani’s Myriad Intimacies: “nectarous orange / pulsing for hours.” The orange petals a complement to the blue sky, the contrast of glaucous, weedy leaves. I track the poppy to see if it tracks the sun as it passes over the equator, close to where I was born. The poppies bring to mind the red poppies in one of Mani and Nicolás Grandi’s videopoems, embedded in the book through QR codes. The videopoem was filmed in Punjab, near where my grandmother was born. Biji leans into my day. I write from the edges of my knowing, where ancestors roam, altars ply incense, and the screen opens windows.

It’s okay to ramble into Myriad Intimacies, Mani tells us. She presents the book as a mandala or yantra, a diagram shaped by Hindu-Buddhist tantric traditions and possessed of multiple entrances. Readers who begin at the beginning will find acknowledgments, followed by a poem, followed by an introductory essay. The poem speaks for itself, balancing in its lines the facets of the collection as a whole: “Analytical Contemplative.” The lengthy gloss of the subsequent essay is also vital. It clears a path stripped of old habits of critique. What would it mean, Mani asks, to “cede” rather than “capture,” to make an “offering” instead of an “intervention,” to embody the “modest explorer” and not the “omnipotent researcher”?

This is a tough shift to make. Those of us who are scholars have been trained to cultivate mastery over our material, to calibrate our value in terms of the sharpness of our arguments, and to approach social problems of colonialism, labor exploitation, misogyny, racism, and war, which elicit our full and embodied selves, as abstract problems for the mind. Tantra enables this shift, Mani suggests, by offering “post hoc compilations of wisdom yielded by practice,” by emphasizing meditation rather than book-learning. There are multiple openings here, making it possible to behold the sentience of the universe; the coequality of all life forms; conceptions of triadic intelligence (body, heart, mind); and the triangulation of self with the other and with the divine. For the incredulous reader, Mani substitutes “laws of creation” with “laws of nature,” enlisting ecocritical, ecopoetic, and environmental humanities-based conceptions of interspecies co-dependence, planetary consciousness, and more-than-human relationality that incorporate (without always acknowledging) what Indigenous epistemologies and vernacular spiritualities have long known.

After this introduction, there follow twenty-two chapters of varying length, including lyrical, philosophical, and citational poems; contemplative, discursive, and ekphrastic prose; visual poems and prose with varied typography; and stills linked via QR codes to “videopoems” and “video-contemplations” produced in collaboration with Grandi and others and evocative of other multimodal genres, such as the nocturne. Mani’s interlocutors are varied and include Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun; philosopher and poststructuralist critic Michel Foucault; Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad; and Dalit activist Rohith Vemula. She also draws on second- and third-wave decolonial Marxist feminists, such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Toni Cade Bambara, Donna Haraway, Cherríe Moraga, Adrienne Rich, and Chela Sandoval, among others. The contexts for Myriad Intimacies are manifold, encompassing the Black Lives Matter movement and its particular galvanization in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder, the Standing Rock protests, #MeToo activism, the 2016 student protest movement in India, and the global sweep of neoliberal capitalism. Begun before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and completed in its wake, Myriad Intimacies finds its urgency in relation to the disproportionate impact of the health crisis on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities in the United States and throughout the Global South.

To pull an argument from a book that scrutinizes customary modes of argumentation seems heedless. But there’s a call here that asks to be heard; it is to wrest our lexicon for difference from the realm of otherness, where it founders in exclusionary rhetoric and sectarian division and leaves the binaries of supremacist thinking fundamentally intact. Mani asks that we generate a new lexicon in its stead, a lexicon that rethinks — refigures, really — difference in terms of specificity. Once more, our language for the natural world (for biodiversity, multispecies interdependence, coevolution, and so on) provides a model for “a kind of specificity expressing complex and multiple interdependencies.” Mani asks, “Might radical politics stand to gain by extending this notion of difference to the human realm?” Intimacy is at the core of specificity for Mani. This is where tantra comes in as “a practice of attunement: a form of deep listening, seeing, feeling, touching, tasting, sensing.” Tantra “aligns with the laws of nature, with the nature of creation as nonhierarchical interdependence, egalitarian polyexistence,” offering “an invitation to intimacy with all that exists.”

Working out this new lexicon for difference requires us to work differently — a simple insight, perhaps, but it is fundamental. Hence Mani’s conviction that Myriad Intimacies “integrally raises questions of form and genre.” Readers tempted to skip over the QR codes to get the reading done risk missing out on the intimate invitation of the videopoems. Mani’s collaborations with Grandi and with other artists (actors, dancers, performance artists, poets, puppeteers) instantiate their intimacy, their interconnectedness as they work together. To join them we cannot read around the transmedia experiment but must stumble from the text into aural and visual fields. We must figure this out, reaching for our phones or typing in URLs, as though trying the rusty latch on a little-used door.

The videopoem is experiment as enactment. If we want it to work, we must allow it to work on us through our multiple senses. In Nocturne I, the line accrues syllables and words, completing itself as a poem through the dilation of images (play of light in the night, plants moving in and out of focus) and sounds (frogs and insects, perhaps) on the edges of something unseen (city lights, maybe, or a row of lit up windows), as the music of human habitation flickers in and out of the Bengaluru (Bangalore) darkness. In Words Fall into Empty Mind, bees swim in and out of the page, overlaid by Mani’s voice, and their buzzing over the red poppies of Preet Nagar (near Amritsar) gives way to green fields, to blue sky, as though in reading we’ve stopped to raise our heads. Nota Bene, produced in collaboration with Tolubommalata Master Puppeteers Shinde Anjaneyulu and Family, begins framed by trees, flickering lights, and flitting birds, as one shadow puppet becomes two, aligned and then at odds, moving to the beat of the mridangam and the rhythm of Mani’s sutra.

Taken together with these videopoems, the bricolage of visual, typographical, poetic, and other collaborative forays into the experimental is meant to be disorienting, in the sense that it reorients us from old habits to new ways of knowing and learning. “Genuine inquiry involves inhabiting a space between cognitive abeyance and cognitive freefall,” Mani writes, and Myriad Intimacies generates this space. Because it requires that we give our time to the work of reading, time itself slows and deepens. This “practice of attunement” stays with us. Trained upon something else, our mind stops and opens to the poppy; we grow receptive to its insistence upon our full, embodied consciousness.

Let’s not be confused by the poppy into thinking the stakes of Myriad Intimacies are small, however, for this is a book about nothing less than how we relate to reach other: individually, but also socially, and especially as part of social movements. The tantric “invitation to intimacy with all that exists” is also an invitation “to restore intimacy to politics.” This is not only the intimacy between us and those to whom we are politically opposed but also the intimacy of our relation to ourselves, in the sense that we, too, are part of this broken world we’re seeking to rebuild. “There is no absolute Other separable from oneself,” Mani writes. To speak to how this plays out specifically in the case of South Asian American and Asian American privilege, we often hold positions of power within social hierarchies we seek to remake as egalitarian. This is also true in different ways for those of us who are ensconced in the neoliberal university as part of privileged academic classes, or who, to take a wider view, inhabit the colonial and neocolonial metropoles of the Global North whose governments engage in, fund, or otherwise foment genocide and genocidal violence around the globe. We are part of the structures we aim to take apart.

Mani asks that we reorient the binary of self versus other, the impulse that is “rage or grief projected outward,” by linking the “dynamic of uncompromising opposition” to difference writ large to “a continual relationship with an evolving imagination of our post-conflict future.” To pair resistance and opposition with speculative imagination and bold co-creation, as Mani proposes, requires different modes of persuasion, drawing not just on the polemic (from the Greek for war) but also on the irenic (from the Greek for peace) in formulating “a new conjunction” that is “more equal to the hopes and dreams of liberation that fuel activism.” I love Mani’s description of social movements as “living laboratories of the futures they envisage.” Whatever this hoped-for future, and whenever it arrives, “We will have to live alongside and amid those whom we have energetically opposed.”

The experiment of Myriad Intimacies aims not just for scholarly innovation but also for the reimagination of the contours of the world we inhabit together. This orientation is built into the book, which dreams toward “a collection” that “would offer a for(u)m capacious enough to think with and through the intersectional and interstitial of experience.” Linking form to forum by way of parentheses, Mani places the book squarely in the tradition of that most dynamic and public of hearings that The Immanent Frame also invokes. Mani’s experiments with form and its cousins — genre and rhetorical mode — are utterly social and fully political, geared toward the most urgent challenges of our time. We face problems that require that we not array ourselves on one side or another but find a way forward together by pairing our organizing and our understanding. To this end, Myriad Intimacies enlists a deeply worldly spirituality that is nowhere complacent, nowhere in retreat, but constantly facing up to the challenge of imagining the future as the “equitable remaking of already existing interdependencies.”

At one point, Mani calls politics a “blessed activity.” I wonder whether we can join Mani in this conception of politics as a consecration of the future. Can we allow the closing pages in excess of the numbered chapters, closing pages that linger beyond the afterword, to stay with us as a motif, an incantation, or even a prayer? “Out of the one many in the one every.” I find myself returning to the shaded, looping typography of these words near the end of Myriad Intimacies. The arrangement of words bends individualistic habits of thinking and allows for collective feeling and embodiment. This does not need to be more complicated than breathing (or maybe even reading), although it also has to be much besides. “Inspiration: literally, in breath,” Mani writes, drawing us into the practice of tantric meditation even as she cuts to an “elemental sign of life” that “became a subject of daily, near continual discussion” at the height of the pandemic, including in reference to the choking deaths of Eric Garner and Floyd and the collective imagination of the Black Lives Matter movement. Its reverberating cry outspread the smog of pollution and loss of breathable air and visible skies — “I Can’t Breathe.” The meditation and the movement are distinct but linked, as Myriad Intimacies shows, eliciting our engagement with the specificity of colonial and racialized violence, the uneven distribution of wealth, and the vastly disparate impacts of global warming, the pandemic, and police brutality on communities of color in the United States and in the Global South, even as it also returns us to what is shared. We breathe together and the planet meets our breath.