Published in  
August 6, 2017

Living in a crease

As a severely introverted hyper-idealistic undergrad-nerd in the university, I had a curious practice of sticking to my schedule – even if it meant losing a limb.

Early in the morning, in my journal – which was written to an imaginary Palestinian Islamic cleric named Flavius Josephus (he was Islamic because I wanted a conversation with the folks on the ‘other side’), I would fix my lunchtime for a certain time of day – say, from 2:30pm to 3pm. If by 2:59pm I was on a line leading to the food counter in the cafeteria, and if I wasn’t already seated – fork in hand – by 3pm, I would literally turn around and walk away hungry. I did it many times: ate a spoon, noticed my time was up, and left a steaming heap of white rice on an empty table. As such, I wasn’t very friendly – and avoided conversation as much as possible.

You see, at heart, I was committed to a very stoic ideal of justice. A very Kantian notion of what was appropriate. In my estimation, everything had to add up. Each side of the equation needed to be balanced. Life was a ledger – and every entry, every gesture, every slight stirring of thought or deed, had to fit neatly into a cosmic tapestry of justice. I still find revenant traces of this ‘old me’ even today – when I lay the bed, and frown when a tiny little crease sneaks onto the otherwise flat surface of things.

But I have changed much. And I now know that one of the more prominent things I often caught my mother saying – that “there is no justice in this world” – has great spiritual value and unrecognized theoretical worth. It’s true. There really is no justice in this world – if justice comes pre-configured as a mathematical equation; as a figure of equanimity; as cosmic balance; or, as a whitewashed unsighted woman holding scales, whose commitments to things-in-themselves blinds her from noticing things.

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The world is not a ledger or a record of rewards. The world isn’t ‘fair’. A rescued furry creature, only just released into the wilds, could be snatched up by avian claws (often to great comedic timing, as I have noticed watching a video depicting the scene); lives often get lost due to no fault of their own; small people often lose out to the big people; and, yes, nice guys often finish last. The way we’ve dealt with the stunning obliviousness of life is to tell ourselves that one day everything will make sense – and that every pending case in the ontological courts of law would meet a swift and necessary response from the very source of things. Perhaps it is time to stop looking past things, past the uneasy trouble of things and the stern beauty of temporality. Perhaps it is time we reimagined justice not as balance between things, but as the betweenness of things. As the incommensurability that blurs the edges and makes it impossible to make an absolute judgment about anything.

The question is: what does justice look like if the debit side is entangled with the credit side of things? If the ‘equal to’ sign were replaced with a hyphen? Not that we could come up with a universal notion of justice in an age of entanglement – but that’s the point after all. The world is too deep, too sensuous, too specific, too promiscuous, too porous, too unsettled, too indifferent and too adventurous to be about stable equations or even stevens. Perhaps this is why Barad writes of ‘justice-to-come’ – maybe to remind us of the startling self-governing incompleteness of things. And also to remind us that most things we summarize neatly into one category or the other have their own pedigree and genealogy, a complex history of occlusions and entanglements that disturb their ‘thingness’. In short, nothing adds up, everything adds on – in an ongoing reiteration of the previous that simultaneously redeems and indemnifies the villain and indicts the hero. Justice will always have to wait – in a world that hasn’t yet figured itself out.

Or in terms that are pressingly close, justice is the crease I cannot account for in my studious books – but might want to learn to smile at if I am to meet its monstrosity head-on…and myself along the way.