Published in  
January 13, 2022


When is the imperative to take in the "full picture" an obstacle to transformative differences? We often privilege "big picture" analyses, systemic appraisals, macroeconomic perspectives, and knowledge production values that urge us towards getting all the data and then making a decision. There's something geometrically striking about this urge towards completion or saturation: it risks positioning us - the knowers - as outside the analysis, external to the 'system'. It breeds a forward-facing epistemology of big manifestos and big actors and big dreams of systemic upheavals.

I don't think the world turns exclusively on these industrial notions of change. I think capitalism wants us to "change the world", but it first offers an image that is malleable to its agencies of reinforcement and production. These days, I am learning with my son, who is neuro-atypical, about what I joyfully name the animism of peripheral vision, the idea of seeing from the edges, or "looking away at" (which is different from, and lies somewhere between, "looking at" something or "looking away from" something). Looking-away-at is a refusal to return the gaze of the citizen with one's gaze, a fatal disruption of the interface of sane communication. A crack in interbeing. Glissant's "right to opacity" that disrupts the able-ism of identity and appellation, reframing selfhood as fugitive, diasporic, territorial, and migrant.

There's something about "looking away at" the world that refuses the big picture.

Instead it focuses on the ordinary, a crack, a thing, a pixel, a point in spacetime instead of the vaunted entirety of reality that shows up in our theorisations about the world. This disability of looking away at is an invitation to lose our way, to not be so invested in the thing's image, to come sensuously alive to other sensorial ethnographies.

Maybe the world changes in small moments. Especially when we are not looking.

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