Guest Post, Adrianne Kalfopoulou: σῶμα; of Bodies and Borders, reflections on fragility

“Every border implies the violence of its maintenance” Ayesha A. Siddiqi

From Wiktionary:

Noun[edit]

σῶμα  (sôma) n (genitive σώματος); third declension

  1. body (both that of people and animals)
    1. (Epic and often in other early works) dead body
  2. One’s life in the physical world
  3. That which is material (as opposed to spiritual)
  4. person
  5. An entire thing
  6. (mathematics) three-dimensional object

1. body (both that of people and animals)

The word sôma [or σώμα] in Greek refers as much to the singular, to soma mou [my body] as it does to a group, as in the body of a state or community; σώμα, often used to refer to the Greek police force, i.e. το σώμα του στρατού, or “The Force” as we’d say in English. The Force, a momentum of the singular body as it conflates itself with a larger body in times of war and love and pandemics. Crisis moments teach us we are independent in so far as we acknowledge our interdependence, the self a map made mutable by what contests and reshapes it. When I wrote “The Wig & The Scream, a forensics” (s[r] issue #24)) I was interested in the fallibilities of how we construct borders, how the law and emotions are mapped out — who do we let into our hearts and why, at what borders do we accept or reject individuals?

The COVID-19 virus has no regard for class, race, gender, or nationality; it is particularly Darwinian, as the strong and young are its best carriers who can unbeknownst to them lethally infect the elderly and weak. As with any plague, the virus has overwhelmed borders. “My heart is a country that is dying,” says a doctor on television from Bergamo, the Lombard town at the heart of the pandemic in Italy where military trucks are carrying off the coffins of its victims. “The new virus certainly seems to be effective at infecting humans, despite its animal origins,” notes Ed Yong in The Atlantic. Meanwhile animals are not carriers. Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” or Οιδίπους τύραννος (Oedipus of Tirannous) begins with an epidemic in Thebes, the body of the city vulnerable and equal to what infects it, including that of its king. “The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts, over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians” (Yong).

2. One’s life in the physical world

When the Greek government’s first measures closed cafeterias, restaurants, and hairdressers, it was a weekend. My neighborhood transformed from its evident café life with people out shopping in local shops to a community that spread itself into the groves of the Ymittos hill behind my apartment. People strolled the green embankments with their kids and pets and partners, or like me were alone enjoying the air and wild chamomile. It was a weekend of spring showing her gorgeousness in the sprays of wildflowers and newly sprouting greens. The virus, we were being told, all around us in the air, a contagion of breath that settles in the lungs and makes it hard to breathe; if we get too close to each other we will inhale these droplets if one is infected and coughs or sneezes; the pollen was plentiful so people were sometimes coughing and sneezing as the hill gathered us, and the sun, coating us in its embrace, promised that the virus, partial as it is to the cold, like any vampire, would die in that sunlight.

3. That which is material (as opposed to spiritual)

In an online March 19 piece in Verso Judith Butler asks how the pandemic is making us think of “our obligations toward one another” emphasizing that the politics of health care in the US “all testify to the rapidity with which radical inequality” allows for “capitalist exploitation … to reproduce and strengthen their powers.” Wealthy businessmen were tipped off to sell their stock before the pandemic started to affect the market that subsequently started to crash. Trump wanted to “buy (with cash) exclusive US rights to a vaccine from a German company… funded by the German government” (my emphasis). A German politician, Karl Lauterbach, responded with, “The exclusive sale of a possible vaccine to the USA must be prevented by all means. Capitalism has its limits” (my emphasis). I wrote “The Wig & The Scream” in a series of vignettes in imitation of the 44 episodes of the crime series The Killing, a sequencing aimed to suggest the limitations of our assumptions; in “#13 There is a poverty to desire that insists on its object & only that” I was not thinking of Trump, or Midas, or the self-interest of big business, but the context of this pandemic and Trump’s poverty of vision (if we can use that noun for someone so blind), makes Butler’s question urgent: “Is it even thinkable within his world to insist upon a world health concern that should transcend market rationality at this time?” A statement by a doctor in Bergamo might be one answer, “At this point you realize you are not enough.” Another is that unlike Oedipus, Trump does not recognize his role in the plague.

4. person

We have gathered in our homes under the Greek hashtag #μένουμεσπίτι or #menoumespiti [#westayathome], we’ve adjusted our individual routines, kids home schooled online, teaching through computer screens. The materiality of space has taken on a new significance. In moments of danger we are viscerally aware of our threatened selves too often viewed as singular, our borders close, our doors shut, on what we view as “home”; it’s been interesting to see how countries are telling their citizens to “return home,” as I write airports such as Heathrow are overrun with people whose canceled flights have left them in limbo. But without a coordinated [συντονισμένη] effort, a shared base, we lose battles and borders are useless. A base might be the assumption that the good of the group begins with the good of the individual, i.e. “#9 The instinct to protect our selves begins with the body’s bone & flesh vulnerabilities as much as its heart” or “# 36 Our assumptions can cost lives, as in The Killing, as in the rejection of those seeking refuge” (“The Wig & The Scream”). Reuters reports that Fiat Chrysler, the Italian automobile giant, is now making badly needed masks and respirators. Panagiotis Sotiris in a March 14 article answers the Italian theorist Giorgio Agamben’s critique of the Italian government’s lockdown measures, suggesting that state power used for the larger good can go “From power as a right of life and death that the sovereign holds … to power as an attempt to guarantee the health (and productivity) of populations.”

Biopolitics, a term coined by Michel Foucault, considers ways power has capitalized on (and made capital of) our persons. Sotiris writes, “Agamben has used it in a constructive way, in this attempt to theorise the modern forms of a ‘state of exception’, namely spaces where extreme forms of coercion are put in practice, with the concentration camp the main example,” but here Sotiris detours to suggest an analogy to the HIV pandemic. This is “not [just] the disease of ‘high risk groups’” and our practice of social-distancing, and the state’s mandate to stay at home might be a possibility for viewing our biopolitical moment as one “of collective effort, coordination and solidarity within a common struggle, elements that in such health emergencies can be equally important to medical interventions,” i.e. your person becomes a geography of others.

5. An entire thing

Two nights ago in Athens, neighborhoods of apartments stood on their balconies and clapped, keeping lights on through the night in a gesture of gratitude and solidarity with doctors and health care workers putting in around-the-clock hours to help save lives as they put their own at risk. Italy’s towns and neighborhoods are singing from their balconies. Some venues are projecting films on walls so Italians can watch them from their balconies. In China, a totalitarian state, the body is one with the State’s, and as my daughter reminds me, there were robots placed outside homes to insure that no one left them during the lockdown. In this case the State managed to flatten the pandemic’s curve. In Italy this has not happened yet where the death toll continues to rise, as in Spain, the UK, the US, and elsewhere. “We are all Greece,” said the PM on television Sunday night, as the Greek state went into further lockdown. Can we hope that “during such a crisis, in contrast to individualized ‘survivalist’ panics … state power (and coercion) [is] being used to channel resources from the private sector to socially necessary directions”? (Sotiris), i.e. “#22 The law requires obedience for the promise that it is there in good faith, to protect our flesh & bone vulnerabilities” i.e. “So many refugees assume the free world will welcome them, & so many have found death” (s[r] #24).

i.e. “Films for Action” (Facebook)

“A letter from the virus to humans”

“Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
….
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa, China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.”

#LISTEN

6. (mathematics) three-dimensional object

A system, whether a camp, institution, city, country, is constructed to function. Our biological and social eco-systems are meant to provide us with the privilege to get on with our lives. “In sickness and in health” goes the adage of the marriage vow partners take in a promise to look after each another; our marriage with the planet is in trouble. My friend’s marriage in “The Wig & The Scream” failed in a large part because of a partner’s refusal to admit to what endangered it. Our planet is telling us something with this novel Corona, or Crown of viruses, hitting us in the lungs: we will gradually stop breathing for lack oxygen if the mucus hardens and blocks our passageways. My daughter, now at home with me, joins in for an almost daily yoga practice with Victoria who has moved her onsite lessons online. She reminds us to concentrate on our breathing, and at the end of the practice tells us, “Let your breathing connect with the larger pulse of what is outside of yourself.”

References & further readings:

Ed Yong, “Why the Coronavirus Has Been So Successful” The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/03/biography-new-coronavirus/608338/

Felipe Demetri, “Biopolitics and Coronavirus, or don’t forget Foucault” Naked Punch http://www.nakedpunch.com/articles/306

Judith Butler, “Capitalism Has Its Limits” Verso https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4603-capitalism-has-its-limits

Panayiotis Sotiris, “Against Agamben: Is a Democratic Biopolitics Possible?” Critical Legal Thinking https://criticallegalthinking.com/2020/03/14/against-agamben-is-a-democratic-biopolitics-possible/

Yuval Noah Harari: the world after corona virus, The Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75?fbclid

Authors Talk: A. Molotkov

Authors Talk: A. Molotkov, Twitter, Facebook

Today we are pleased to feature author A. Molotkov as our Authors Talk series contributor. Anatoly is interviewed by Willa Schneberg.

Anatoly talks about a piece from his memoir, (Mis)communication, that tells of his early life in Albany, New York after having moved there from communist Russia. He tells of the language barriers and his experiences working the night shift at the deli as he begins his writing career. All the while he studies the conversations he has, both in Russian and in English, pulling them apart to find where they intersect, and where he fits between them.

In the interview, Anatoly discusses the differences of writing a memoir as opposed to writing fiction and the significance of his decision to write in English rather than Russian. He also talks about the difficulties of deciphering humor and romance in a non-native language.


You can read Anatoly’s work, “(Mis)communication” in Issue 24 of Superstition Review.


Intern Update: Tonissa Saul

Today’s Intern Update features Tonissa Saul, the Interview Editor of Issues 19 and 20 of Superstition Review.

With a BA in English Language and Literature/Letters as well as an MA in Liberal Studies, Tonissa now works as Managing Editor at Bodega Magazine.

She has also worked as / is working as the Event Coordinator at Knowledge Enterprise where she coordinates, develops strategies, plans, and designs a variety of unique/theme based integrated programs and events.

We are so proud of you Tonissa!

If you’d like to learn more, you can visit Tonissa’s LinkedIn here.

Contributor Update, Deandra Lee

Join us in congratulating past SR artwork contributor Deandra Lee on the publication of her collection, WONDER, featured in The Adroit Journal.

WONDER is a series of portraits created only using an iPhone that Deandra hopes, “connects people with their emotions, creativity, and imagination.”

To learn more about Deandra and her work you can visit her website. You can also view her Five Portraits, featured in Issue 24 of Superstition Review.

Congratulations Deandra!

Contributor Update, Thomas Legendre

Join is in congratulating Thomas Legendre on his new book Keeping Time, available now from Acre Books.

Keeping Time tells the adventure of Aaron, an archaeologist who discovers a way back in time to his past life and meets his younger wife, a brilliant musician. Over the next two decades, follow Aaron as travels back and forth in time and struggles to keep his two lives from spiraling out of control.

Order your copy here.

Check out the trailer below:

Authors Talk: Adam Houle

Authors Talk: Adam Houle

Today we are pleased to feature author Adam Houle as our Authors Talk series contributor. Adam talks with Mason Yarborough, discussing his poem, “A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend” which was featured in Issue 24 of Superstition Review.

Adam goes through his poem in detail, remarking on inspiration behind lines, the narrative the order builds, and how to know when a poem is finished. Adam also talks about how his writing has changed over the years, relating his work now to back when he first contributed to the magazine.


You can read Adam’s previous work “Three poems” featured in Issue 9 of Superstition Review.

You can also check out Adam’s book, Stray, at Lithic Press.


Intern Update: Nichol Brown

Today’s Intern Update features Nichol Brown, the Student Editor-in-Chief of Issue 20 of Superstition Review. She was also the Blog Editor of Issue 19.

With an MA in English Literature, Nichol began working as a Teaching Assistant for Fullbright Association in Germany this past September.

She has also previously worked as a Graduate Writing Consultant at ASU, helping students in all stages of their writing process.

We are so proud of you Nichol!

If you’d like to learn more, you can visit Nichol’s LinkedIn here.

Contributor Update, Jen Knox

Jen Knox

Join us in congratulating Jen Knox on her book, Resolutions. It is available from AUXmedia here.

Resolutions is a collection of short stories that follows a quirky Midwestern family as they struggle to navigate a warped and worn version of the American Dream.

To learn more about Jen and her work you can visit her website. You can also her previous work featured in Superstion Review:

Disengaged featured in Issue 4

West on N Road featured in Issue 14

Congratulations Jen!

Join us for Coffee Talk!

Superstition Review Founding Editor Patricia Murphy and Editor-in-Chief Rachel Hagerman are preparing for the ASU Social Embeddedness Network Conference being held online Tuesday March 24. We had planned to collect video at AWP but we could not attend the conference due to COVID-19.

We are presenting on the following topic. 

In our 45 minute presentation we will describe ways that we have created publishing opportunities for over 1200 international authors and artists, and how we support their careers through our blog and social media. We will discuss the way we invite international contributors into the “SR family” by supporting them on social media, sharing contributor successes, further collaborating with contributors in extra blog posts, and even just our friendly and professional demeanor through emails. We will include video interviews with several community members from around the globe.

We are asking anyone with experience with SR (as an intern, a contributor, a reader, or supporter) to drop in to our Zoom Room from 11-12 PST on Friday March 20. We will have a series of questions for you, and will also welcome any questions you have for our editors.

Authors Talk: Gage Saylor

Authors Talk: Gage Saylor

Today we are pleased to feature author Gage Saylor as our Authors Talk series contributor. Gage is interviewed by Sean Coolican a fellow college at Oklahoma State University. Both Gage and Sean are part of the school’s PhD. Creative Writing Fiction program.

Gage shares his insight on the creation of his short story, “The Dirt Beneath the Concrete”, revealing where the inspiration came from as well as techniques he uses. He talks about “Description not just for the sake of description,” and how to add narrative and emotional weight to the setting. Finally, he teases information about upcoming work of his.


You can read Gage’s work, “The Dirt Beneath the Concrete” in Issue 24 of Superstition Review.

Follow Gage on Twitter.