Week 26 — cross the unknowable distance

But not the physical one.

I’m on day 9 of social distancing. I suspect some of you are more and some maybe less and some maybe still out providing essential services.

Unlike last week, I can’t not include coronavirus content because it’s been quite all-consuming. I will dispense with any advice giving or exhortations because that’s 90% of the internet right now. Just some links and a couple of the things I’m doing to keep me sane. It’s frontloaded, so if you’d rather not with any more of this, you can skip down to the other stuff.

Covid-19 🦠

First, action.

Find your local group with Corvid-19 Mutual Aid. Give help, get help. If you have digital skills you may be interested in volunteering some time as well. Non-uk readers, sorry about the parochialism.

Everyone is different, but some things that have been making me feel better are spending money saved from staying home in good ways, and making sourdough bread for my friends (delivered at distance). I have two more deliveries today. I’m also cycling way more, never been so happy to have a bike.

A couple other newsletters, if that’s your bag

Robin Sloan, always. He’s also blogging more. His writing is beautiful, and it’s always full of good things to read or watch or listen to.

Night Heron is not strictly about CV but the last one was. It kind of sums up the simultaneous ‘best and worse of humanity’ feels.

An Abundance of Potions is a new one I just subscribed to. Whatever it was before, now it’s a daily email with one thing to do. So far they’ve been good things.

Doing our jobs from home

I’ve skimmed over about 10 million lists of remote working tips. If you are one of the privileged to be able to do your job from home, I’m sure you have too, so I’ll spare you. I’ve seen a little less about how to do research remotely, and even less about how to do research remotely with respect and care. If you’ve got anything on these topics, please send them over. Hit reply, it gets to me. (also psa from me)

Doing Fieldwork in a Pandemic. Academic focused. I’m sure there are useful things in there if you feel like wading through it. I will be wading through it over the coming weeks so you could also just wait for that.

Care-based approaches to remote work by Una Lee. Good tips, some will be familiar to many of you but the emphasis is on care. The main one I want to highlight is

7. Think deeply about disability and accessibility.

It’s a beautiful section, and ends with thinking ‘beyond access’. (Also, the closing section yes yes yes).

Learning about ableism

Cover the Coronavirus without Being an Ableist Asshole by Caroline Reilly. So many people have called out the ways that this pandemic has highlighted how ableist society is, both structurally (all of a sudden universities are offering distance learning) but also in our mindsets and attitudes.

Coronavirus and the disability community is a small collection of

online conversations about the coronavirus by disabled, chronically ill, immunosuppressed, homebound, and neurodivergent people

The response to the pandemic

All this was on purpose by Eleanor Penny is a rousingly angry piece that I can’t comment on due to my political impartiality, which is tenuous at best anyway. The last line though.

The best vengeance is a new and better world.

Coronavirus and the Politics of Care by Amy Kapczynski. The date on this, and how little it’s been done, is appalling.

Most of the public conversation to date about pandemic response has been about coercive measures – the travel bans and quarantines that policymakers fixate on. (With a nod to Cedric Robinson, racism and the carceral state precede pandemics, and infect them from the beginning.). But the most urgent need is for a new politics of care in this pandemic, one that embodies the same vision that animates Medicare for All, our revived and increasingly feminized labor movement, and other claims for new universal care programs.

this virus by Anne Boyer shared by Night Heron. While being generally horrified

…we also must prepare for an amplification of evil’s evil.

I’m also amazed by how communities and people have come together. And I hope that this time is a massive push in the right direction for a society that’s less shit.

We can shout at the top of our lungs and demonstrate in our every action that the lives of the vulnerable matter, that the deaths of the sick and the elderly and the poor and imprisoned from this virus are unacceptable. The prisoners must be freed. The elderly must be cared for. Everyone must have safe housing. The sick must be supported without fear of losing jobs or being bankrupt by medical costs. The cleaners, health care workers, and other carers on the front line must have everything they need to stay safe.  This virus makes what has always been the case even more emphatically so.

I Am In Government Quarantine Now. This Is What It's Like for a different kind of response than we in the UK have experienced. An anonymous account from Beijing.


Dispatches from the pandemic is a list of academic papers about Coronavirus. Some of them look extremely interesting! Once again, I’ll be wading through it in the next few weeks so you’ll probably see some of them here.

To close on something lovely, a comic by Laura Gao The Wuhan I Know.

Hope 💚

These aren’t about cv, but I find them very relevant and hopeful.

We Were Made For These Times
by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I can’t find the date when this was written so I have no idea what ‘these times’ she is referring to. Still, very relevant to ‘these times’ that are now.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

I kind of have to believe better worlds are possible, or what’s the point?

Emoji summary: 💞 ⚖️ ⛵️

the rant
by M. John Harrison

This was published in October last year. It could have been written yesterday. It’s fantastic.

Try to understand the science. Try to tell the truth. Try to find a medium in which to tell the truth. Try to extend the envelope in which you will be permitted to tell the truth. Prophecy is over. Persuasion is over. Action is the last thing left. Rebellion is the last thing left. Stay steady in the face of it all. Do what you can. Write that. Record that. Try to pass helpful messages between practical, determined people.

Emoji summary: ✍ 🎙 💌

Service Design in Gov talk
by Cassie Robinson

I was at this talk and then read the write up. Being there in person was a magical experience, but reading is the next best thing.

And to imagine this.

What does it mean and how does it feel to place our lives in each others hands.

Emoji summary: 💭 🤲 🌱

Society Centered Design
by lots of people

A set of principles for society-centered design

All around us we see signs that patriarchal capitalism and exploitative business models place profit over privacy, and efficiency over agency. They pit individuals against the collective. At their core, they are hierarchical and exclusionary. We demand better. Better design approaches and tools, better measures of success, better data protection standards.

Emoji summary: 👥 🌐 🤝

Animals 🐈 ⠀

It has been almost impossible to concentrate on academic work, the readings for this week took me ages. But having a remote seminar with my animals cohort was so lovely and wonderful.

The Animal That Therefore I Am
by Jacques Derrida

This took me about a million years to read. Though I think Derrida is difficult even before concentration is shot to shit.

It’s an account of Derrida meeting his cat in the bathroom when he’s naked, and his subsequent embarrassment. This was originally a lecture and was published posthumously. I just love the idea of this respected philosopher standing in front of a crowded room, inviting everyone to think of him naked.

We covered lots more themes in the lecture and seminar, but a couple stood out to me in my first reading

the animal as singular creature, not a homogenous category (a common theme throughout this module)

I must make it clear from the start, the cat I am talking about is a real cat, truly, believe me, a little cat. It isn’t the figure of a cat. It doesn’t silently enter the room as an allegory for all the cats on the earth, the felines that traverse myths and religions, literature and fables.

the cat looks back, is an absolute other.

This threw me a first because I come from a feminist perspective where ‘the other’ means something different. However, Derrida is speaking to Levinas and his concept of ‘face’ or Heidegger’s ‘Dasein’, which for both is something unique to humans.

The animal looks at us, and we are naked before it. Thinking perhaps begins there.

shared vulnerability

Mortality resides there, as the most radical means of thinking the finitude that we share with animals, the mortality that belongs to the very finitude of life, to the experience of compassion, to the possibility of sharing the possibility of this nonpower, the possibility of this impossibility, the anguish of this vulnerability and the vulnerability of this anguish.

and the violence we inflict. Apparently, Derrida is one of the few in his tradition to call this violence ‘genocidal’ and the tutor emphasied how unusual and powerful that is.

No one can deny seriously, or for very long, that men do all they can in order to dissimulate this cruelty or to hide it from themselves, in order to organize on a global scale the forgetting or misunderstanding of this violence that some would compare to the worst cases of genocide (there are also animal genocides: the number of species endangered because of man takes one’s breath away).

Emoji summary: 🛀 🐱 😳

‘And say the philosopher responded? When animals look back.’ in When Species Meet
by Donna Haraway

A critique of Derrida’s article

shame is not an adequate response to our inheritance of multispecies histories, even at their most brutal. … What if work and play, and not just pity, open up when the possibility of mutual response, without names, is taken seriously as an everyday practice available to philosophy and to science?

tbh, I appreciate both arguments and I think one builds on the other.

Haraway goes on to talk of someone who did recognise ‘that she was looked at’, Barbara Smuts. If you haven’t come across Smuts’ work, I particularly love this story about having a wee in front of baboons (C is for Corporeal chapter).

We don’t know what rich inner lives animals have, but Haraway gives us an invitation to cross that unknowable difference.

Emoji summary: 🐒 💦 🐶

Surviving a Crocodile Attack
by Val Plumwood

This is an amazing story about Plumwood, an anthropologist, being attacked by a crocodile. In that anthropological fashion, it’s richly descriptive and it’s short and not paywalled so… clickity click. It is an excellent read.

Thus the story of the crocodile encounter now has, for me, a significance quite the opposite of that conveyed in the master/monster narrative. It is a humbling and cautionary tale about our relationship with the earth, about the need to acknowledge our own animality and ecological vulnerability.

Emoji summary: 🐊 🕵️‍♀️ 🏞

OP-ED: Listen up, Problematic White Vegans, Stop Comparing Black Oppression To Meat Eating
by Afro-Punk

Two weeks ago, I made a comment ‘if we’ll look back on this time and the way we treat living things with the same horror that we look back on the trans-Atlantic slave trade.’ Afterward, someone shared this article with me.

I did write about this in a previous newsletter, but also I realise that most of you weren’t here then, and might not have read the links anyway. I shouldn’t have made that comment without context and I apologise.

This article explains why it’s problematic

What these people fail to recognize is that black people are still fighting to be recognized as fully our own species. As equally human. What does it mean when these white vegans argue against our demand to be viewed and represented as fully human, rather than as props in their version of nonhuman liberation?

And goes on to argue against using the human/animal comparison as an argument for veganism

I am a vegan who is against the use and abuse of animals, especially in terms of the contemporary animal agriculture industry. However, never have I needed to explain the unethical use of animals by comparing it to the treatment of my ancestors, to the genocide of Jews, or to the suffering of any other human persons. I believe that, as human beings who are capable of abstract thought, reason, logic, and subsisting without unnecessarily taking life, veganism is the morally correct choice.

I think this is where I part with the article. For one thing, the argument about ‘abstract thought, reason, logic’ plays exactly into arguments about human exceptionalism. And there are theorist who have seriously taken on these questions, rather than just avoiding what Marjorie Spiegel calls the ‘dreaded comparison’.

I find work like Afro-dog: Blackness and the animal question by Benedicte Boisseron helpful here. Boisseron also criticises animal studies using race as a platform in a tokenistic way, but goes deeper into an intersectional analysis of animal studies and racism. Also, the other readings from that week.

The dreaded comparison is the disavowed comparison, a resemblance whose legitimacy we affirm even as we deny it.

Emoji summary: 🤦‍♀️ 🐾 🙅‍♀️


The Will to Knowledge (HoS1) by Michel Foucault for dissertation research. Haha I am not writing a summary of this. Sorry, what could I possibly say?

If you got this far, I have to say that I’m impressed. Love and solidarity from my messy, sun-soaked kitchen table that I’ve appropriated into a desk. We eat on the floor now.


Emoji summary is 100% nicked off my favourite art critics The White Pube. They said they don’t mind.