Multi-genre, multi-form, multi-limbed
Multi-temporal, multi-gestural, multi-media
Evocation, invocation, assertion
Implication, explanation, argumentation
Ideas, concepts, themes
structured as overlapping considerations
in multiple, recursive, (re)tracings
of difference, specificity, embedded mutualities

Myriad Intimacies experiments with form and genre to enact a mode of thinking about interrelations. Its core argument is that our lives, the concepts by which we understand ourselves, and the social and natural worlds are mutually constituted and complexly interwoven, giving lie to claims of absolute otherness and separability. It interleaves prose, poetry, essay, video, and typographical experiments, gradually unfolding a kaleidoscopic exploration of desire, the body, nature, love, the politics of difference, #MeToo, and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other themes. Its multi-modal form is intended to enable readers/viewers to experience its argument regarding interdependence, relationality, and intimacy. The videos are collaborations with Argentine filmmaker Nicolás Grandi and can be accessed via QR codes embedded in the text.

The book’s twenty-four short chapters explore interdependence and interrelations as preconditions of existence. They contemplate how embracing the a priori status of both transforms our thinking/feeling/sensing in relation to a range of ideas and sites of conversation, contention, and experience. Each chapter refracts some aspect of interdependence and the provocations and possibilities it presents for the purpose of thinking with and through the ways we have practiced “worlding” or the making of meaning. The multi-genre, transmedia form is generative because it permits a range of treatments from the evocative to the argumentative, the declarative to the speculative. A general principle can thus be explored in a variety of ways across chapters, media, and domains to bring texture, complexity, and a deeper consideration. Although composed as a single whole and with a definite arc, the prismatic structure of the work offers multiple points of entry.

A preview of Myriad Intimacies, Duke University Press, 2022.

Myriad Intimacies grew out of an ongoing interest in how form and genre experiments can counter the instrumental thinking that characterizes our neoliberal present. While there has been a proliferation of democratized digital platforms, historical and political registers tend to dominate interpretations of, and interventions in, our complex geopolitical, planetary present. This orientation directs our attention first to the telos-driven lines of inquiry deemed urgent in these registers and then to debates around their veracity and implications. The litmus test of criticality tends to shape the questions asked. Intuitions that snag the body or trip the mind can lie unaddressed.

How might one build into one’s work the at once searching, assertive, and tentative nature of perception? What might convey interpretation as processual, a practice that is at once pointedly precise and always unfinished, shaped by directionality and intention but not containable by either? And what of cognition as a sensory process, thinking as always-also a kind of sensing, feeling? It is here that the multi-genre form offers possibilities. The interplay of light, sound, angle, and framing in the composition, layering, and editing of the moving image evokes the senses in a way that is different from a poem on a page, a piece of prose, or an academic argument. But when text and video are placed alongside each other and composed as a single work, it becomes possible for that work to enact the mode of thinking-sensing that the reader/viewer is being invited to consider.

By way of illustration, consider this brief clip from De Sidere 7, one of the videos in the book. If the first stanza of the spoken word poem had been laid out on the page it could have looked as below:

liquid steel
full-bellied ripeness
quirky lightening
baritone sadness

As voice-over in a videocontemplation it gathers an entirely different force and affect.

De Sidere 7, Nicolás Grandi and Lata Mana, 2014.

The shape and form of any project is often traceable to a root question or experience. Myriad Intimacies extends a method, a pedagogy, that I first spontaneously experienced in the context of a brain injury. The injury temporarily dissolved the boundary between me and the rest of the phenomenal world in a way that would have been previously unthinkable to me as a cognizing subject. This yielded an experience of intimacy and interconnection with all that surrounded me — people, objects, trees, clouds, flora, fauna, and so on — more profound than anything for which Marxism, feminism, and post-structuralism had prepared me. With recovery this effortless mode of being in the world had to be consciously reprised as a cognitive practice and method. Witnessing was the principal contemplative technique that enabled me to access the experience I had in the depths of the injury.

Witnessing is the continual practice of mindful, non-resistant noticing. Non-resistant does not imply the absence of an evaluative process. It merely marks a commitment to not letting one’s preferences and conditioned knowledge short-circuit the process of learning from and about what is before or within one. It promises to notice as well what this learning suggests about one’s own perceptual frames. As a discipline, witnessing inculcates its own temporality: relaxed, attentive, focused, expansive. It is mindful of mind, body, and heart; alert to thought, emotion, and sensation. It attends equally to the micro and the macro, which are understood as inextricably linked even when the relationship is only partially or poorly understood. Knowledge is conceived as situated and necessarily partial. Any synthesis or conclusion is deemed provisional.

This practice of witnessing, as Rosa Linda Fregoso argues, is distinct from testifying in the Judeo-Christian religious sense and as evidenced in juridical, political, and psychoanalytic contexts. That said, across these domains witnessing is understood as trans-individual and as involving the seen as well as the unseen. Witnessing as I draw on it here is nestled in tantra, a term found in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. In tantra, the universe is sentient, all life forms within it are equal and so is all life activity. Tantra deems embodiment sacred and the senses as a form of intelligence. All things exist in relation to each other and to the divine, whose will manifests in the elegant diversity and non-arbitrary coherence of Nature. These core ideas are also found in indigenous philosophies and mystic traditions.

The tantra of witnessing shapes Myriad Intimacies in several ways. It is discernible in the book’s exploration of the specificity and inextricability of the quotidian and the extraordinary, the micro and macro, narrativity and abstraction, the sacred and the secular. Unconditioned witnessing softens and dissolves the binaries and borders that constrain contemporary discourses: the proposition that there is a hierarchy between beings, entities, activities, and forms of knowing. The practice reveals these ideas as miasmas. It allows for the possibility of new interpretive conjunctions, new imaginations of non-hierarchical polyexistence, truth, and beauty. The juxtaposition of multiple forms hopefully makes for a text open enough for a reader/viewer to trace through lines and conjectures other than those delineated by its author.

The logic of witnessing also shapes the form of Myriad Intimacies. Interweaving different modes of writing with visual material continually repositions the reader/viewer and facilitates attention to the “how” of perception. It builds in intimate remove, a dual movement that is at the heart of contemplative witnessing, an always evolving process in which awareness is the dance of intimacy and clear seeing. The videos likewise draw on the potential of the medium to conjure sentience in a way that situates the spectator as witness. Across chapters, at times even within a single chapter, the reader/viewer encounters a variety of focal lengths and treatments, thresholds of experience, and registers of analysis. Accessing videos via scanning QR codes also involves a dual motion. One leaves the book in order to delve deeper into its covers. Tantra invites us to experience the sensuousness of the world, but to do so with dispassion. A seemingly paradoxical formulation, sensuous dispassion encapsulates the dance of proximity and distance, entanglement and distinction, that forms the heart of witnessing. It is not an absence of feeling so much as witnessing the depth of feeling and of directing attention to the infrastructure of perception.

I have focused here on the crafting of Myriad Intimacies and the impulses that inspired its experiments with form and genre. The overarching argument that unfolds across its range of sites is that relationality is the grammar of existence. Yet the tendency to disarticulate interrelations of nature-culture, mind-body, self-other, sacred-secular, thinking-feeling, life-death continues apace, with increasingly grave consequences and diminishing returns. A primary misrecognition persists, generating a series of secondary and tertiary miasmas. The construction of difference as otherness even haunts social justice discourses that oppose themselves to the very idea in principle. Perhaps this is unsurprising given the divides that characterize our unequal societies. Difference as otherness obscures the interrelations between differences, the way they co-produce, require, and bolster each other. The abiding fact of relationality continually cedes ground to ideology, whether in the name of history, science, politics, or religion. My proposal in Myriad Intimacies is that difference is the play of specificity in interdependent diversity. It constitutes an attempt to think of difference in a way that honors the rich specificities and intricate interdependencies that characterize our social and natural worlds. For even amid the epidemic of division and sense of loneliness observable today, no one and no thing is ever truly isolable. For we live — we always have lived — in dynamic and dense interrelatedness with all that is, human and non-human.