Published in  
April 14, 2020

On healing

Healing is not an “off” switch, a restoration to the previous, an expulsion of the ‘monster-exterior’, or a deletion of bodily marks.

Not even vaccines work this way. Whichever method vaccine development and administration adopts, it always involves the introduction of the pathogen in some form (reduced virulence, dead, attenuated, for instance) into the body of the subject. Immunity happens at the crossroads, not on the highway and not in the safe distance. Even then, it does not happen once and for all. It is not an internal and independent state of achievement, it is a provisional posture that is dependent on an ecology of surprising movements (for instance, the mutation of viruses and development of resistance to antibodies).

This calls into question the nature of healing as a sealing of porous membranes. Or as closure. If the reiterativity of healing and/or immunity is anything to go by, then healing is the proliferation of monstrosity, an ongoing negotiation of boundaries, a ritual that meets the never-resolved crisis of form.

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Seen from a non-anthropocentric perspective then, healing has the attributes we imposed on the experience of illness (though this doesn’t mean they are the same thing). The modern world with all its gestures and micro-gestures, addicted to rationalised closure and the rationalised subject, performs “sickness” as openness and healing as closure. As returning to an original shape. Of course, some form of closure is required for bodies to function; one cannot be radically open to the exclusion of resolutions. The modern body however dreams of making the cut fixed and permanent: its biases leave us bereft of our kinship with the microbial, the fungal, the monstrous, with grieving and with dying.

What’s at stake? This performance of the “human-interior” and “monster-exterior” leaves out our accountability to the manifold others that make us human. It loses sight of the ways we are already being changed, refashioned and reconfigured – perhaps at molecular levels that escape our anorexic tunnels of vision. It pathologizes the “invaders” and ignores the gifts that often stream in from the world we’ve ruled out. Perhaps most pressingly, it binarizes this trafficking of boundaries, blind to the idea that beyond sickness versus health is a third option: the imperative of shapeshifting.

Whether we find a coronavirus vaccine or not, whichever way we go, there will be monsters. What if we leaned into our ongoing monstrosity, touching our tentacles, our many eyes and long bodies? What might shift?