COMMUNITY PLAY: an Editor’s Letter by Colette S
Since Martabel first approached the RECAPS editorial team with the prospect of an online social/art practice platform, we have put ourselves to the challenge of creating working definitions of “community” that will help inform our own practices. Though we are currently scattered across the nation and nostalgic about our prior work together as peers and collaborators, we are also inspired in our own new organizing and art practice contexts. The initial RECAPS impulse thus comes from a personal response to friendship and to struggle: we are ready to test how deep and unexpected a net of collaborations we can spark.
A mix of artists, academics, and activists, we bring a range of experiences to one another’s work, and a range of hopes for the ways “community” serves our practices. As contributors, we are friends, friends-of-friends, strangers, colleagues, collaborators, and co-organizers, uniting toward a cause, yet intentionally fractured, geographically spread, connected only virtually.
While unabashedly sentimental in our aspirations of community, we find ourselves at odds with the everyday ways the notion of “community” is deployed. Recognizing that sentimentality and skepticism seem at odds, it is my hope that through RECAPS we can help chart journeys to connect the two — not so as to disregard “community” as a passing fad, bur rather to reinvigorate it with an increased power to mobilize.
A few days prior to first planning RECAPS, I spent an evening with a group of community organizers, and over the course of the evening we recognized an eerie familiarity in one another’s stories as we voiced the same concerns about our work: “subtle” machismos, racisms, and misgenderings compiled only a portion of the exclusionary tendencies we had all been fighting in our own organizing communities. In the context of this immediate group of organizers, Christopher J. Lee’s inaugural RECAPS editorial struck a chord. He writes:
The formation of community is never an innocuous project; the assumed or expressed conditions for membership within established groups intimate elaborate rituals of inclusion and exclusion. Community implies allegiance, allegiance implies imposition, imposition implies systems of regulation and surveillance.
Chris’ piece lays it out beautifully: because “community” gives us that warm, gooey feeling, we are not likely to turn a critical eye on it. In glossing over the varied and most intimate aspirations present in any conglomeration of bodies, the promise of “community” hides internal tensions and contradictions; at worst, it misleads people into action with which they disagree and alongside people they cannot support, through the graceful maneuvers of complacency and group-think. Even to a believer of the notion of community fostered through the framework of class warfare determined by modes of production – a reality we must embrace if we aspire to bring about a world with less institutional violence – the “us vs. them” inherently invoked is set up to map oppressive institutions onto human bodies. Unfortunately it will always do so on some level along the analytics of race, gender, class, sexuality, able-bodiedness, urban-centrism, and so on.
But as an organizer, I cringe when I see people – be they the extreme offenders of demobilizing cynicism or scholars with staunchly linear take-aways from post-structuralist thought – use skepticism to broker their initial interactions with unfamiliar or budding organizations.
I cringe because I have seen the power of face-to-face organizing and human contact overcome the impossible: without sharing tears, laughter, eye-rolls, hugs, pats-on-the-back, dance parties, forceful disagreement, meeting fidgets, sideways glances, head nods, snaps, sing-alongs, storytelling, vulnerability, and verbal dissent, groups of people working toward change have little hope of collectivizing. No matter how convincing the trendiest theory on internet-based organizing, we must not forget that collective action is made possible through people rising to the humanity of one another (as much as we appropriately challenge the ontological stability of the category “human”) and doing so because they can see, hear, feel, smell, and touch one another.
Similarly, I am a queer woman who lives in daily praise of the queer people around her who organize into the oft-cited “queer community” for safety, pride, and pleasure. Queer community, too, if not more so, depends upon humans witnessing one another in the most tactile ways.
In RECAPS, as we explore the utility of a digital platform, we pass our real-world practices through the cyborgian digital and back again to the embodied, embracing the disjointed ways we’re challenged to critique and contribute to our own understandings of community.
In the interview entitled “Friendship as a Way of Life,” Foucault outlines a notion of resistance wherein forging the rapid multiplication of modes of relating allows for the corrosion of dominant modes of sexual intelligibility. He concludes the interview with the following: “We must…make a truly unavoidable challenge of the question: What can be played?” Foucault reminds us that as we chart resistance, the everyday stuff of life is material for the taking. Not only that, but it is fun. It is play.
RECAPS’ highest aim is to be continually engaged with Foucault’s challenge. As RECAPS editor Martabel Wasserman writes in her editorial, RECAPS began through the innocent cataloging of “joyful resistance happening in unexpected places” around us. I see RECAPS as charting the path between sentimentality and skepticism as material for playing, never taken for granted. We play by tapping into the virtual and the geographic spread of contributors and editors; by avoiding one mission statement, and instead compiling a series of editorial and curatorial goals; by privileging the analytic of sexuality; and by emphasizing interdisciplinary critique to assemble a wide variety of media into an accessible platform. In doing so, we approach a notion of community that is hopeful, even through its caution, as we quilt together a digital launching pad for a vision of radical politics that is as accountable as it is audacious.