In November 2018, the poet Brenda Iijima and I had the opportunity to share an apartment together in San Francisco owing to the generous invitation of Steve Dickison at The Poetry Center. Serendipitously gathered together from opposite coasts, we spent our few precious nights together ruminating on the possibilities of language, on new vantage points to embody, and new lenses through which we might view the world and each other.
During recent years, Brenda and I have been collaborating on various writings concerning how the frames of reference and relationships between and of living beings are activated and how these activations create new conditions for increased sensitivities among others(ness). That is, we are interested in how bodies and worlds articulate each other, how a human body allows an animal’s world to affect her, and in turn, how a human’s world affects an animal’s body. Or, more generally, how we learn to be affected. In my own pedagogical practices in the classroom, I am constantly looking for new ways to teach the possibilities around true convergences of sensory and emotional capacities and how we might, as human beings, understand what it is to live as each other.
For example, in my writing workshops, rather than overtly addressing race, gender, or identity, I ask my students to consider the point of view of a badger. The badger occupies a very different point of view from a human. Its physical and literal point of view is different, and in an exercise like this, I am asking my students to consider that the impossible distance between a human and a badger—that daunting and difficult and impossible divide, all of the differences between a human and a badger—is the same impossible distance between any two humans. But that the similarities between two humans, that which makes us alive and living, that closeness which can be intimated, is the same possible closeness between a human and a badger. Through this process, I propose to my students that attempting to occupy the point of view of a badger is just as important as the attempt and willingness to occupy the point of view of a different human being other than oneself, that if we can consider the similarities between humans and badgers in a way that unites us, both as creatures of this planet, both as creatures that want to live and find intimacy differently yet similarly, then we might be able to understand the differences and similarities between humans too. This is important to me because as an educated person, writer, and professor, I often find that when keywords or phrases like “post-modernism” or “identity theory” or “gender politics” or “hegemony” are vocalized, there is that immediate simultaneous breath of everyone in the room that communicates a simultaneous acknowledgement and recognition, but also a dismissal of what we believe to be known. We know what’s coming. We know the theories and contexts, and we are familiar with that implied narrative.
In the quaint and comfortable space of the San Francisco apartment, Brenda and I discussed the importance of poetry and speculative writings in this vein. New encounters in language force us to rethink what we already know, question our assumed narratives and maps, and through the process of having rethinking what we believe to be familiar and known through these indirect processes, we are forced to reconcile our biases, assumptions, and contradictions. That is, when we encounter a new concept, we have to start from scratch a little bit. And that means we have the opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and our way of relating to the world around us.
One morning we decided to drop into the gallery across the street from where we were staying. At the Centre for Emotional Materiality, we both were blown away by one installation in particular. It was a strange video that scrolled through what was titled “A Blobifesto.” Both of us were enthralled with the myriad of definitions and redefinitions of the blob. As I stood there, I felt like the blobbiness of it all was radically penetrating my being.
After the video, Brenda and I looked at each other and both exclaimed: “Who knew we were blobologists all this time!” There was something surreal about encountering a work like that—one that felt so specific and pointed, but also so encompassing and relevant to everything we had been discussing around the urgency of thought and the possibility of language. Here was a new lens through which we could view, well, everything. We stole as many postcards from the show as we felt morally okay with and handed them out to almost everyone we encountered that weekend.
Feeling changed and invigorated with the work, I promptly began to internet-stalk the artist Laura Hyunjhee Kim, and with a bit of trepidation, emailed her through the contact info I found on her website. “I hope this isn’t strange—but I just wanted to reach out,” I began my email. “It is such important work that you are doing!” I explained. I tried to balance my enthusiasm with some air of professionality. A few days later, she responded. The rest, as they say, is blobstory.
– Janice Lee, February 2019
The above foreword is excerpted from the forthcoming book, Entering the Blobosphere: A Musing on Blobs by Laura Hyunjhee Kim, forthcoming June 17 from The Accomplices / Civil Coping Mechanisms. You can pre-order it here.
Credits: Cover art and banana slug illustration by Laura Hyunjhee Kim. Cover design by Janice Lee.