Published in  
February 7, 2024

The Children of the Minotaur: Democracy & Belonging at the End of the World

The citizen is under siege. Changes are shifting outside the words.

[This essay is written for the Othering and Belonging Institute's Democracy and Belonging Forum, in Dr. Akomolafe's capacity as Global Senior Fellow]

Opening Thoughts

Facing the fierce winds of climate chaos, of growing geopolitical instabilities around the world, of declining trust in democratic institutions, and of pandemic futures replete with bacterial agents and viral thresholds, it is becoming increasingly urgent to revisit conversations about belonging and democracy from less familiar vantage points, and to interrogate the citizen-subject beyond the confines of the humanist liberal world order that usually frames it.

In this short essay, I try to do just that: to see democracy (and politics in general) as a posthumanist process, already more-than-rational, already composed of more-than-human actors, already framed within agonistic tensions and intensities too unwieldy for anthropocentric sense-making, and already tied with colonial enterprises that face counterhegemonic pressures today. Posthumanism is a field of ideas that rejects anthropocentric universals. The confluences of diverse concepts, tensions, and conversations that characterize this field tries to think about the world in ways that do not privilege human actions over and above other worldly processes. Instead of being a fait accompli, a final product, transcendent and above material processes, the human is a relational and ongoing co-production within ‘assemblages’ (Deleuze). The human is provisional, tentative, always already exposed to the infiltrations of the non-human and the behaviour-modifying instigations of architecture, texture, colour, heat, and other material constraints. Posthumanism rejects the anthropocentrism that is rife in our accounts of ethics, language, and politics – and notices the inadequacies of humanist accounts. It seeks to engender new ways of thinking about might open up new considerations and performances in troubling moments.

I make the case that the citizen has never been human. In doing so, I make the citizen less recognizable, less available, but no less forceful in the ways it enlists, shapes, and deploys subjects. I do this not for the fun of it, I can assure you. A hopefully generative distinction between the citizen and the citizen-subject permeates the text of this essay: while the latter refers to the human individual, the former is all the conditions (ecological, sociomaterial, architectural, structural, conceptual, climatic, and so on) that make the citizen-subject possible. By transversalizing the citizen as a more-than-human ecology within ecologies, by transposing citizenship into a more-than-human territory rather than seeing it as an attribute of discrete human individuals, new lines of inquiry emerge: it becomes possible to see political projects and governance systems (such as liberal democracy) as involving more than human motivations, human understandings, and human actors – a worthwhile gesture given the compulsions of our times.

By thinking of the citizen as a more-than-human territory, instead of an isolatable individual, I suggest that the citizen-subject is under siege – hence, the ‘shrinking citizen’. The ‘shrinking citizen’ describes the ways in which the human-producing, earth-flattening, liberal conditions implicated in the emergence and dominance of the citizen-subject, and which constitutes an ecology of subjectivity and subjecthood, experience decay due to the intensification of posthumanist processes. Here, in the cracks of the shrinking citizen, lies a stunning invitation to make sanctuary in post-democratic times.

No more “I love you’s”; the language is leaving me in silence. Changes are shifting outside the words.

            Annie Lennox

Theseus and the Minotaur

It is often said that Cleisthenes (c. 570 – c. 508), of the Alcmaeonid family, founded democracy. Herodotus himself, the acclaimed “Father of History”, refers to the Athenian statesman as “the man who introduced the tribes and the democracy.” At a pivotal moment in Athenian history, Cleisthenes guided the aristocratic metropolis through bone-deep democratic reforms that transformed the citizen-body into new assemblies that prefigured modern, democratically elected, representative bodies.  

But origins are neither neat nor convenient. In a world that spills beyond categorical calculability, there are too many risks involved when we seek to draw neat lines that mark stable beginnings and endings. Cleisthenes’s reforms, though significant, are a partial recuperation of small shifts, anxieties, yearnings, behaviours, epics, and gestures that preceded his glorious emergence in the Aegean sun. As Nancy Evans suggests, “Cleisthenes was not the first democratic reformer; he was building upon foundations laid by generations of Greeks before him” [1]. One such notable Greek contributor to the democratic aspirations of the Aegean-proximate metropolis, shrouded in the mists of legend and history, painted by admirers with often flattering brushstrokes to magnify the tales of his civilizing rampage and mythical status, is Theseus. Great Founder and King of Athens. Contemporary of Hercules. Mythical Upholder of Democracy. Killer of Monsters. Killer of Minotaur.  

The story of Theseus begins with an anxious Aegeus, King of Athens, who – without heir to his throne – consults the Delphic Oracle for an answer to his predicament. The answer that arrives is ambiguous and unclear, and Aegeus, returning home via Troezen, confides in his friend, the King Pittheus, an enterprising mind, who discerns a plot and urges Aegeus to sleep with his daughter, Aethra. That night, after the deed is done, Princess Aethra of Troezen wanders the beach alone and encounters Poseidon, the great god of the oceans, who also takes the beautiful Aethra to himself and sleeps with her. And so, the duplicitous origin of Theseus is forged: son of the divine and the commonplace, the mythical and the historical, the fleshly and the ethereal.  

Aegeus soon learns of the pregnancy and leaves Troezen with instructions to Aethra: that when the child comes of age, he is to return to Athens bearing the sword, shield, and sandals of the King of Athens – proof of his royal heritage. In time, Theseus, young and adventurous, reclaims his destiny, and makes his way to Athens. As is usually the case with the journeys and choices of iconic heroes, Theseus avoids the easy routes and elects to take the tortuous, anfractuous path to Athens, the way through highway robbers, brigands, and murderers. Skilful and quick with his weapons, the headstrong hero-in-the making quickly annihilates these nuisances, and arrives to his father’s embrace, the new heir to the throne of Athens.

While in Athens, Theseus learns of a social contract between his new home and King Minos of Crete, a terrible arrangement requiring the city to offer up seven boys and seven girls every nine years to a monster that lives in the Cretan domain. The sacrifice was instituted as penance for the murder of the Cretan prince, Androgeus, on Athenian soil. Our young hero would have none of that. He begs his father to appoint him one of the fourteen youths to travel to the island. He vows to kill the monster, the fabled Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, discarded offspring of an illicit affair between King Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, and a white bull. The Minotaur, the object of Theseus’s rage, is so terrifying to look at, so offensive to the senses, that Minos has the inventor Daedalus, father to Icarus, contrive an impenetrably deep labyrinthian maze, where the creature is incarcerated.

It is Theseus’s encounter with the Minotaur that becomes the overwhelmingly defining act of his life. With the aid of a love-smitten Cretan princess and sister to the Minotaur, upon reaching the island, Theseus enters the labyrinth with a ball of string, with which he traces his way through, and manages to kill the Minotaur, re-emerging an intergenerational hero whose name and labours would become the motif by which most other heroic exploits gain relief. After the tragic death of Aegeus, Theseus becomes the last mythical king of Athens, the standard of heroism, and most importantly, the alchemist of Athenian citizenry. Cleisthenes himself deploys the Theseusian myth as the prime motivation for his reforms, embellishing his gestures with stories of the young hero’s labours and memorializing him in public buildings.  

It is a very difficult thing to think of Theseus apart from the emergence of the Athenian demos. John N. Davie writes: “Of all Greek heroes, Theseus . . . has the greatest claim to enshrine all the best qualities of the Athenian citizen, not least in his championship of the demos, celebrated by poets and painters alike of the classical period” [2]. The myth of Theseus is the archetype of the emergence of democracy. Without the exploits of Theseus, the rampaging brutality of his heroic crossing, the swiftness of his sword, the demos couldn’t emerge.  

However, these days, heroes and humans in general can no longer be conceived in the pristine ways we have been used to. The halo is broken. In times when human exploits are being bracketed by the more than-human, in times when the backgrounded elements of the stories we tell are now forcing their way to the forefront, it would seem consistent with these posthumanist, human-decentering reframes to account for the force majeure behind the rise of citizenry by stressing the contributions of Theseus’s victims. That is, the monolith of citizenry is indebted not just to the strength of Theseus’s swing but to the death and blood of the monsters left in the wake of his colonizing passage. If ‘things’ must be accounted for not only by the presences they are constituted of but by the absences, the citizen is not just the isolated human recipient of specific rights and privileges, but the vast ecology of repressions and deaths and flattening logics, the roiling alchemy of myths and archetypes, the fading away of the monstrous to make room for the gentrified image of independent rationality, the disappearing and pathologization of the passions.

The Minotaur’s death and the suppression of the monstrous must be considered part of the assemblage that has forged the phenomenon of democratic citizenry. The myth of the Cretan monster and the blood seeking hero are an archetype for the kinds of historical clearings, civilizing gestures, exploitive tactics, genocidal interventions, colonizing epistemologies, extractivist moralities, and invisibilizing strategies that are imbricated with the appearing of the citizen-subject. A Minosian-Theseusian deal propagates through the fabric of these troubling encounters: a bull-man’s head for the prosperity of the city-state; a Native American tribe’s death for the founding of a Canadian school; eleven million Africans as prosthetic sacrifices for the founding of the industrial world; the explosion of mountains and desacralization of landscapes for the predictability and convenience of parking lots.  

Today, democratic citizenry thrives as the manufacturing of certain kinds of subjectivities, which are in turn contingent upon the suppression of the monstrous. The citizen-subject (unlike the fugitive, carried away by the passions) is the rational outworking of public codes of conduct, the morality of principled settlement. The citizen-subject is a proper self, in control of his emotions, possessing language, the recipient of neurotypical training, a creature of the surface, possessing an interiority of thoughts that mark his essential divinity, and yet renders him available for the surveillance and scrutiny of the public. The citizen-subject is the consumptive core of neoliberal capitalism, the obedient cog in the wheel, the prize for Theseus’s princely labours. The citizen-subject is the individual. The sanity and perpetuity of this individual depends on the ongoing labours of Theseus: if the citizen-subject is to survive, the world and its wilds will need to keep being flattened, keep being arranged into bits of legibility, and brought again and again into the grammar of the public order. In other words, the citizen as a posthumanist politics and ecological project already involving colonial processes beyond human sociality produces the citizen subject, the magisterial human-above-matter. And we must give thanks to Theseus for this state of affairs.

The thesis of this essay is thus strange and contentious, because it is my firm but creaturely belief that the Greek hero Theseus – in his genocidal wiping away of the monstrous to make room for the demos – missed a spot. Or several. A lesser-known story – so unknown in fact that I am likely just making it all up – suggests that the Minotaur wasn’t alone in the labyrinth of Daedalus. Somewhere in the deep blackness of that commodious prison, cut away from the stories of vanquish and valour, were the children of the Minotaur. Little bull-boys and bull-girls. Hidden in the shadows. Missed by Theseus’s eager sword. Crawling out after the text of the story had faded with the materials upon which they were printed. Mourning their father’s carcass with hideous, soul-curdling, braying sounds that rippled through the walls of the labyrinth but didn’t quite make it past the outer boundaries of Daedalus’s genius.  

Those that know say that the children of the Minotaur were the offspring of the incest-ridden, nightly visits of Ariadne, half-sister to the Minotaur and daughter of Minos – the same princess who would teach Theseus how to reach the Minotaur and how to kill him. They say that Ariadne had inherited the curse of Poseidon, the spell that drove her mother mad and caused her to fall in love with a bull. They say Ariadne slept with her brother and gave birth to many other beasts, hundreds of them. Others in the know suggest we can’t be sure if Ariadne is the mother to the Minotaur’s offspring.  

What feels a little more certain is that the little halflings later found the ball of string Theseus had left behind and traced their way out of the labyrinth. Upon reaching the open, they stole into the night and flowed into the city like an unearthly swarm of demons. Like irrational passions syncopating the flatness of the new world. They hid in the shadows, creolizing the walls of the modern, subsisting on whatever scraps of flesh they could find, biding their time until the moment felt right for them to mount an insurgency against the gleaming ivory paradigm of the citizen their father’s sacrificial blood had wrought.

Some say that moment is now.  

Changes outside the words: An opening  

When Annie Lennox’s wide-eyed muse reminisces about “gracious days of lunacy” in the fabulous 1995 video accompaniment to her song, ‘No More “I Love You’s”’, contemplating the proliferation of monsters around her and the difficulty of keeping up appearances, you get a sense of a maddening effect stealing her away. She is in fact being spirited away by changes outside the grammar she’s used to. The world is changing, and the manner of speaking she’s used to would have to change too. The fine language that collapsed the world to the self-referential travails of two lovers and their vows to each other will no longer do. There is no more drama. No more “I love you’s”, Annie sings. Just a simmering silence where there was once the triumphalist insistence that the “show must go on!” Just little critters littering the stage that was once exclusively ours to fondle.

In the aftermath of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) in 1945, the world – all bent out of shape by its devastating multi-year inquiry into matters of othering that left huge swaths of once liveable territories in Asia and Europe reduced to gnarled piles of metal and fury, dust and despair – came together to reconceptualize belonging within new frameworks of agreements. Colonel Tibbetts had flown the Enola Gay back to friendlier territory after depositing “Fat Man” on the unsuspecting Japanese city, got a medal for his valour, and then became a celebrity. The Japanese had little choice: in an ironically brief 23-minute celebration led by General Douglas MacArthur, the imperial members of the Axis alliance surrendered on the USS Missouri, effectively ending the Second World War.  

In the years that followed, the military powers packed away their toys and deployed it to the rapid production of consumer goods. The US operationalized its Marshall Plan to help allied European nations rebuild their war-torn countries. A global network of alliances began to coalesce around a new order of belonging that had learned costly lessons from the failed experiments at framing sociality via supremacist projects and apartheid protocols. New institutions were born. The universal declaration of human rights.  The United Nations. The World Health Organization. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The curling mushroom of fire and death that had pierced the Japanese sky at 8:15am on August 6 had blasted the world into new perceptions of size and scale. Our dreams, haunted by images of peeling flesh and exploding suns, needed new spaces to escape into. The nuclear universal ‘Human’ became the new ontological ground of belonging – a distant echo of the product of Theseus’s labours. Led by the US, post-Cold War proto-utopian visions of a liberal universalist consensus thrived – a vision where the common good, a final aim, and a single notion of progress were fully accessible to all discerning and ‘reasonable’ individuals [3].

Enshrined in the breasts of the human individual was a nobility that needed to be protected, a sacred power for freedom that was the bedrock of peace, an unrivalled capacity for learning, dignity, and endless growth. To be human was enough. This was the mantra of the post-war world. There had to be rights associated with the identity of being human, inalienable gifts that every creed and nation ought to respect. Anything to stop us from doing what we did to each other just a few years back. The liberal world order was premised on a mutual desire to forget the horrors and monsters of the past, to frame power and track desire along the choreographies of the human self, to begin with belonging as if it were a pre-relational given, a thing to return to, a universal constant and beacon of peace steadily humming its undying tune through the maddening blasts and noise of war.  

For a while, it seemed plausible to imagine we could speak solely in terms of development, growth, science, and education. The discarded chunks of nuclear flesh from the gods of our pre-Human experiments still adorned our doorposts, our hallways, and the inscriptions on the monuments we raised to guarantee a future for ourselves. We would focus on correcting our brethren on the other side of the aisle, the factions within the new territories of the universal Human; we would train ourselves to win arguments; we would dedicate our resources to educating the next generation, to creating welfare states while the algorithms of “free market” economics also found expression. All the while, while we marched on bridges on our way to heaven, and argued about who gets to sit at whatever table of power was prestigious for the moment, something started to happen to the old marks we had scratched into the earth to mark our new paradigm of belonging.

Outside our words and declarative statements, outside our “I love you’s” and monuments to peace and dollars, the borders of belonging began to blister and bleed. A distributed heat rash with yellow pustular formations sprouted from the body of things. Deep in permafrost, the noise of our belonging brought back to life long-dormant viruses; our cities and the clearings they demanded encroached on the bodies of other-than-human ecologies, exposing us to critters our surveillance systems and cleaning lotions couldn’t detect and dismiss. You see, the mushrooming traumas of nuclear pasts never really disappeared; they were merely gestating in amniotic sacs of ravenous desire, biding their time, growing legs and eyes, crafting counterhegemonic questions to the formulas of human gentrification.  

In short, the world kicked back, reminding us that to be human was not enough, and that the thesis of belonging – hitherto framed in the rationalities of the anthropocentric – now needed to meet the decaying effects of a world that exceeds the human. To be human was to be indebted to forces and flows and intensities that we were not and have never been in control of. Belonging was not a matter of human sociality, not exclusively. There were unwieldy posthumanist processes already implied. As such, one could not simply stabilize belonging as an ideal, as an unmoving aspirational destination or convenient background. The paradigm of the human is too narrow to accommodate all the queer things belonging is doing, all the ways that our own skins are travelling, all the ways anasystemic forces and anagrammatic intensities disrupt the calculability of identity.  

To belong is to depart. It is to be spirited away in little morsels of desire that humanist lenses cannot detect. To belong is to live with the monstrous. It is to meet a world that spills in excess of itself, in excess of aspirational ideals.  

In our days of heat domes, microbial politics, chemical warfare, hormonal fixations and dopaminergic addictions, social algorithms, deepening cripistemologies, and the ever-present mythopoeic prospects of alien life bracketing modern subjectivity, it would seem imprudent to continue to consider the subject of belonging through the historical convenience of the liberal human subject. Through the humbling insights of posthumanist inquiries, ecofeminist questions, and indigenous research, belonging must now be brought down to earth, composted among other immanent things, and allowed to live and die and live again with its contradictory earthlings. It is in the heat of the heap that we revisit belonging’s most persistent modern political project, now stripped of its elite white linen clothes and mired along with earthworms, molecular critters, and ecological processes of all kinds: democracy.

Democracy in peril

I was reminded – of all things – of Lennox’s poetic prophecy about mad changes afoot and being swept away when, recently, I watched news footage of soldiers in arms marching down a street in Niger Republic. The soldiers were celebrating with their fellow Nigeriens. The context of their bizarre encounter was the successful ouster of the country’s democratically elected President, Mohamed Bazoum, in a bloodless coup.  

Bazoum’s removal on 26 July 2023, by members of his own presidential guard sent shockwaves around the world, triggering global condemnation, a confrontation with France, carefully worded but firm statements about the fundamentalism of democracy by the White House, and provocative military preparations by the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) group led by the newly elected Nigerian President, Bola Tinubu, himself facing crippling questions of legitimacy. The industrial world ached and churned, fuming with rage about the audacity of the Nigerien coup. But whatever was going on outside Niger paled in comparison to the mixed upheavals of joy and anguish that swept through parts of Niger’s capital, Niamey, comingling with the earnest resolve of pro-Bazoum protesters to free their President from the palace, crowding the streets with pro-coup parties and wide-eyed youth screaming declarations of independence into their phones.  

Months before Nigeriens danced on their streets, thousands of grandmothers, children, protesters, and workers of all kinds from Mali, Guinea, Sudan, and Burkina Faso had also filled their stadiums and streets with music and jubilation. From Bamako to Khartoum, the reasons were the same: Africans seemed to be collectively saying “no more ‘I love you’s” to the presumptive universality of democracy. In what some hypothesized as an effect of a coup contagion, a rapidly spreading itch for authoritarian intervention would spread through the continent, transforming nine African democracies (especially in the Sahel region) into military juntas within the space of 3 years. To the pro-coup dancers, the men and women in boots had come to restore order in the destructive wake of democracy. The long-promised dividends of democracy had failed to materialize [4].

Questions haunt these proceedings: why is democracy having such a hard time in Africa? Why isn’t it working the way it should as it seems to do in the industrialized nations of the Global North – even though there are significant reasons to believe that democracy is declining in those regions as well? [5]

Several theories have been adduced amid the fever of military takeovers that now holds the continent in an anxious vice. “Coups are becoming more rampant”, says Rotimi Olawale, an Abuja-based political affairs analyst, “because African leaders have failed to deliver quality democratic leadership.”

He continues:

"While ECOWAS and the African Union have a standing reaction on the coup in the continent, what the bodies need to do beyond response to coups is also to sort of subject the democratic credentials of its member states to a peer review mechanism. If democracy is not working for the people, they will seek alternative means of governance that will deliver for them. And many are not delivering" [6].

To analysts like Olawale, democracy is failing on the continent because there’s been a dearth of delivery. It comes down to leadership. People touching other people. However, the gains of electoral victories have not translated into real-life transformations for most people on the continent, a situation that has left many desirous of violent political upheavals like coups.  

Pondering these backsliding tendencies, The Economist recently published its own take on African coups, framing its analysis within a panoramic awareness of declining global attitudes towards democracy (“Africa is not the only part of the world where democratic disillusion is spreading. A whopping 62% of Americans and 56% of French told a Pew poll last year that they were not satisfied with democracy in their countries. Among young Americans, nearly a fifth think a dictatorship would be preferable. The big difference is that rich, mature democracies have solid institutions that make a coup virtually impossible. In much of Africa the army and its cronies are all too ready to seize control.”) For the thinkers at The Economist, “one reason coups have grown more common is that many Africans have lost faith in democracy” [7].

In The Economist, we learn that “Afrobarometer, a pollster, found that the share who prefer democracy to any other form of government has fallen from 75% in 2012 to 66%. That may sound like a solid majority, but it includes many waverers. An alarming 53% said a coup would be legitimate if civilian leaders abuse their power, which they often do. In South Africa, which has one of the world’s most liberal constitutions, 72% say that if a non-elected leader could cut crime and boost housing and jobs, they would be willing to forgo elections.”

From the vantage points of these logical gestures, it’s not hard to see why trust in democracy is dropping: African states are mostly “phoney” systems, authoritarian dynamics masquerading as healthy democracies. Elections are usually manipulated; opposition parties, suppressed; and families of those proximate to power enriched to the nth degree. At the risk of generalizing lessons and insights across the diverse states and communities on the continent, it seems safe to suggest that Africans have learned to live under a tyranny of low expectations: “lower standards are tolerated because of fears of political instability. Foreign election observers frequently overlook irregularities and rubber-stamp contests in Africa that would not be tolerated elsewhere because of the perennial expectation of violence and political unrest. This allows incumbents to subtly manipulate the vote and is deeply subversive to efforts to hold elected officials fully accountable” [8]. What perpetuates itself as African democracy is largely a bully system that has all the trappings of democratic sophistication: voting, oppositional parties, fair electoral adjudicators, laws, and an independent judiciary. However, when the gavel hits the wooden block, only a loud noise disrupts the brewing mutinous silence that knows something is amiss.

Not surprisingly, The Economist joins a chorus of critique that blames graft, economic stagnation, a poverty of resilient democratic institutions, civil wars, poor leadership, and a loss of security on the continent as instigating factors for democracy’s decline in Africa.

What about democracy itself?

But not since Nigerian Afrobeat musician, visionary, and activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, serenaded his mesmerized audiences in Pidgin English with songs that dissed “democracy” as a “demonstration of crazy” (reflecting some sort of extended slavery within Euro-American thought patterns) has it felt more urgent to investigate if liberal democracy is all it promises to be. Could it be the case that it is not the poison in the pot that should worry us, but the suggestion that the poison is the pot? Is democracy really,  per Churchill, “the worst form of government…except all those other forms that have been tried”? Are there no respectable alternatives to democracy, or should we resign ourselves to thinking of the governance practice as the summit of all politics, the best we can expect of ourselves, the only viable way to concretize belonging?  

Most of the time, when it comes to making judgments about failed or failing democratic states, it seems everything intelligible is mobilized and dragged to the foreground for scrutiny – everything except liberal representative democracy itself. Only this preferred form of governance is allowed the privilege of being obvious, almost incontestable. Everything else varies.  

As such, when we speak about democracy across the globe today and, specifically, about ‘the crisis of democracy,’ we presume this crisis merely defines a want of more of the thing, a critical lack of it. We often speak about democracy in terms of saying there isn't more of it, that it really hasn't reached its peak, that what we see on the African continent is a twisted version of the grand thing, or that though the US and France may practice highly evolved iterations of the ideal, they too have a long way to travel. A promissory note appears to be attached to the thesis of democracy: a reminder that it is an ideal, near transcendent, self-evident, and true.  

These kinds of earth-departing moves are however difficult to sustain. To affix the shine of idealism to liberal democracy is often to lose sight of its troubling materiality, its racialized comorbidity with capital and the Christianized idea of progress, with the engineering of worlds upon the bent backs of prosthetic agents. The question or crisis of democracy isn’t adequately held within a preoccupation with how well cultures around the world understand it and if anyone of us measures up to it – as if the dimensions and contours of democracy are already fully known; one must also ask what it is doing now. One must come to touch not the promise but the premise, the dense sociomaterial relations and uneven terrains that give it life.  

I would wager that the coups on the African continent, what we see in Africa, are an outworking of western liberal representative democracy, a direct in-forming of the thing, intimately entangled with the soaring quests for democratic belonging that have graced the lips of everyone from Tocqueville to Obama, instead of a terrible lack of it. The deep underbelly of the organism. A para-ontology of its operations.  

Because most of our questions about democracy begin from the presumed givenness of a transcendent humanist ideal, the assumption that it is the best political arrangement, we miss out on the ways democracy actually plays out in terms of the realms it sustains, what it elides, what it sets into motion, how coups in Africa are part of the processes of democracy, how the killing of a Sikh leader is tied to democratic continuity, how the assassination of journalists and the espionage activities of the CIA are not in fact a deviation from democracy but its ‘creativity’. The question isn't: why doesn't Africa have democracy, but how does it have a lot of it?

Yes. Bazoum’s removal from and incarceration within the presidential palace in Niamey; the tyranny of low expectations for African elections; the sweeping coup plots that have now nearly destabilized the continent; Ali Bongo’s (Gabon’s recently ousted president) importation of synthetic snow to the presidential palace so his family could have a snowy Christmas; and Nigeria’s Bola Tinubu’s refusal to resign despite credible allegations that link him with the forgery of college certificates - these are all instances of democracy at work. These are the democratic dividends we in the Global South have long sought. They were not to be found in good roads, new hospitals, refurbished schools, and smart policy.  The dividends were here all along, tucked into the creases of the realization that belonging has shadows.

The whiteness (and neurotypicality) of liberal democracy

As was indicated earlier, the demos was summoned and alchemized in the blood of the monstrous. Democracy could only people itself and resource itself by sterilizing the wilds, reducing it to a reasonable, convenient predictability amenable to the neurotypical comforts of the liberal self. The ‘government of the people, for the people, and by the people’ has always already been a manufacturing and calculation of  what it meant to be ‘people’.  

In Athens, not everyone was people: women weren’t ‘people’, slaves weren’t people. Younger boys were people-in-the-making but had to reach a certain age to be given certain rights as ‘people’. As citizen subjects. Meanwhile, these non-subjects held the world together so that everywhere the citizen-subject’s foot landed upon, there’d be ground beneath it to cushion the fall [9].

Erica Benner writes evocatively about the not-so-hidden costs of maintaining the citizen-subject or  upholding the regime of the citizen:

The first democracies, ancient and modern, were built on slave labour. Like the rest of the ancient world, Athenians bought, sold, and used humans as unpaid workers. In Athens, slaves had some legal rights, but not rights to freedom and equality. The city’s economy and its many wars depended on slave labour; so did ordinary free people in their daily lives. House-slaves kept family secrets and did most of the cleaning, cooking, building, bookkeeping, nursing, tutoring, and countless other tasks. The Scythian police, who were ‘public slaves’ owned and controlled by the demos, patrolled the city in pointed headdresses toting lip-shaped bows. The bodies of slaves strained to build the temples of Acropolis. Rome’s much larger body of free citizens relied on vast numbers of slaves from across the known world to serve their daily wishes [10].

In this very real, material, sense, democracy has always required the provisional supply of prosthetic bodies to nourish and fuel the manufacture of the citizen-subject and the maintenance of the citizen. Without this underbelly, this subterranean supply of bodies, it cannot forge its ethos of belonging/othering.  

This choreography of discardability is written into the cells of more proximate experiments at democratic belonging. When Peniel E. Joseph writes that “America’s ‘democratic experiment’ is inextricably tied to the history of slavery” [11], he means to draw our attention to the slave ship, the cotton plantation, the lynching rope that curls around a tree branch, to Jim Crow laws, and to the crawling bottom layer soil of aerating agents, fertilizing activisms, and invisibilized ‘worm’ bodies lurking in the shadows of the public order. I think he means to suggest that citizenship is expensive; it takes worlds,  human, more-than-human, other-than-human, not-quite-human, and inhuman to create citizenship. Each individual citizen is the majestic product/outcome and yet ongoing exertion of the hidden public.  The blood of the vanquished.

To think of democracy, belonging, and the demos through a posthumanist reframe of politics, compelled by the dense and stunning materiality of our days, is to touch the ways they are entangled with loss, with the inappropriate, with the forgotten, with the partial, with the non-legible. If the citizen-subject is perched atop a superstructure of privileges, a heaven of some kind, a perceptual order that tracks along typical lines and tendencies of subject formation, beneath this vast edifice are the relations and the burdens of slave, the fugitive, the vagabond, and the bare. The idealized modern citizen-subject with all his accoutrements – rights, privileges, phones, doughnuts, access, clarity - is entangled with lithium mining in the DRC, the blackening of teeth and dental mottling in Khouribga due to the extraction of phosphate dust, the decimation of Sumatran tigers in Indonesia, or the proliferation of forced labour camps to produce consumer products.

The citizen is a vast ‘colonial’ enterprise that needs maintenance, a sensorium of entrainments that requires the uneven participation of idealized subjects and their prosthetic others. The citizen is a metastable, porous, fragile, and heterogenous assemblage of bodies that has gained resilience through the flattening conditions of the Anthropos/Demos. Again, the citizen is not human. The citizen is a desirous heterogeneous assembly of bodies in emergence, a field, a moral intensity, an arrangement of ethical flows, a reductive focus on ‘behaviour’ in the stead of entrainment, a co-production of the legible citizen subject. The citizen is a project of whiteness. The whiteness of democracy is founded on the neurotypicality of the citizen-subject, an immanent process of manufacturing the citizen-subject through relations. The citizen is this process – and the citizen depends on certain conditions to function: mainly the keeping away of monsters.

Democracy is a posthumanist process. The presumption that the liberal post-Cold War era was largely defined by the springing into being of new nation-states, equal within a Westphalian order of global siblinghood, hides from view the ways the “citizen” – what I am speaking about as a more-than-human territory of tensions and intensities – orders our lives in uneven, hegemonic ways. There are no ‘united’ nations per se; there are privileged domains within the regime of the citizen and less privileged domains,  otherwise designated prosthetic/prop states.

I am forced to consider the prospects of the ‘Nigeria-Morocco oil pipeline, a 25-billion-dollar project that was immediately imperilled by the removal of the Nigerien president this past July. Analysts had previously discussed the emergence of the 5,600-kilometre pipeline as an alternative to the western world’s troubled dependence on Russian oil pipelines in the wake of its war with Ukraine and, by proxy, NATO. They surveyed the ways the multi-lateral project could fuel “11 countries along the African coast on its way to Morocco and then be connected to the energy system of Spain or Italy… after Russian gas supplies to the EU were cut off last year” [12]. With the ‘fall’ of the Nigerien state to a military junta, the pipeline project – which was supposed to snake through the country – no longer seems as confident and as certain as it once was.  

Could the endangered future of the African pipeline have been one of the reasons why the global condemnation of the Nigerien coup outstripped the western world’s response to recent coups in the region? In what ways are western concerns for the state of democracy on the continent of Africa animated covers for its anxieties about the continuity and success of its extractivist interests? When does compassion become a colonizing stranglehold to keep the dynamics of supremacy in play?  

Fela Kuti’s rhythmic and syncopated dissing of democracy as the colonizing spread of whiteness as a framework of belonging finds currency here: it is not simply the case that democracy is in decline,  especially and precipitously in Africa, because the leaders there are no good, because of poor institutions, because of diminished faith, or because of any other issue an exclusively humanist analysis might provide. We must come to consider the complementary pressures and tensions within the landscape of the citizen, which is – to remind us – an uneven territoriality that enlists bodies in different ways. For some, this enlistment might mean living in precarious circumstances, while for others the enlistment with the ‘citizen’ as a globalizing liberalist force means being coddled within the privileges of neurotypical selfhood. The ‘citizen’ is the ménage à trois between liberalist democracy, the spread of capital, and the world-disciplining cultural force of whiteness. By whiteness, I do not mean ‘white people’; I mean how ‘white people’ come to be made (as emblems of proper citizenry) and how their others are simultaneously manufactured (as ‘emerging’ types, but whisperingly prosthetic agents for the proliferation of nobility).  

For the citizen-subject to thrive, to belong, it needs others. There is a complementary exclusion of ontologies built into the dynamics of becoming a citizen-subject. To wit, the citizen-subject needs monsters – but mostly to keep them at an ontological distance, to point to them as justification for its moral rise. It needs to keep the realm of minotaurs at bay. The citizen is in this sense a racialized co production of the monstrous to serve the needs of the surface.  

The subject-and-prosthetics relations that led to the forced migration of millions of Africans across the  Atlantic Ocean did not disappear with the annulment of slave-trafficking in the Americas and Europe any more than the slave ship disappeared off the face of history. I prefer to think that the slave ship, traces of its masts and rounded hull and decks and sails, breathe seductively in the material thickness of ongoing relations. Re-enacted in hegemonic relations, lurking in social practices, embedded in generational traumas.

To buttress this, Gabrielle Hecht shows how, for instance, the post-independence establishment of corporations representing liberal democracies in the West exacerbated economies of violence that have co-produced the toxicity of an African Anthropocene, a term she uses “as a point of departure for thinking about the Anthropocene and its multiple forms of violence” [13]. She tells the story of the prospecting for uranium and eventual founding of an extractivist process in Mounana, Gabon, and how France’s intentions to “keep treating Francophone Africa as a continuous resource space: its pré carré, a zone of privileged access” coincided with and “represented French technopolitical aspirations”, which cannot be read apart from its legacy as a bastion for democratic governance.

The Compagnie Minière d’Uranium de Franceville (COMUF) launched its operations in 1957, just before Gabon gained independence from France. The COMUF began as a joint venture between  the French Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique (CEA) and Mokta, a colonial mining corporation.  As the first shipment of uranium left Mounana for France in 1961, the (white, French, male)  company managers congratulated themselves on a job well done. Ore reserves seemed ample, and a new training program promised to prepare large numbers of Gabonese men for long-term,  salaried mine work. Gabonese uranium was poised to supply French atomic bombs and nuclear power plants for decades to come.
That promise alone represented a victory for the French atomic energy commission. Created at the conclusion of World War II, the CEA’s top priority in its early years was finding uranium.  Newly valued by the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mineral was initially deemed rare.  France had some deposits in its metropole, but would clearly need more to power its reactors, not to mention the bombs some of its engineers longed to build. The CEA launched a massive search throughout France’s African territories.
Uranium prospection in the twilight of empire presented scalar dilemmas, both spatial and temporal…Back then, only Gabonese ore reserves were sufficiently proven to justify a full-blown mining operation. But Niger and the Central African Republic showed considerable promise, and the report announced the CEA’s plans to pursue those options… Dreams of French energy independence relied on African uranium becoming French. They relied, in other words, on the imperial scale disappearing into national scales—on both continents.

Hecht’s account deepens into a consideration of toxic infrastructures and the proliferation of radioactivity across Francophone Africa. These posthuman heaps of toxicity, contamination, and violence cannot be wished away as secondary to the urgent tasks of crafting belonging. Toxic heaps are political actors. Radioactive mines, oil-polluted streams, undulating landscapes, mountainous regions,  deserts, famine, heat, and pipelines are all political actors no less agential than humans. Sometimes even more so. In a more-than-human world, where nature is not apart from culture, things spill across steady lines: from chemical waste into political thought and policies. Positioned at the nuclear boondocks of the  ‘citizen’ project, in the backwaters of whiteness, which aims to flatten the world and clear the wilds for the neurotypical production of proper liberal selves, African collectives – like many other spaces in the  Global South – would find they are haunted by a geopolitics that prohibits the kinds of subject manufacturing technologies their labours have made easeful in the globalizing North. It is not so easy to  craft liberal-legalist subjects within the violent constraints of extraction.

Perhaps more critically, Hecht’s story subtly challenges the claims that democracy isn’t working in Africa:  on the contrary, it is working quite well. The African continent just happens to be part of the edifice of the ‘citizen’ which – through immanent relations and posthumanist compulsions – is framed into a minoritarian role. Gabon’s coup, Niger’s uprising, Sudan’s plots, and Mali’s upheavals – far from representing the failure to join a universal consensus of neoliberalism – mark the outworking of the political ideology. They tell the story of liberal democracy collapsing beneath the weight of its own aspirations to tame the world beneath the asphalt of the citizen project.  

The shrinking citizen: white syncopation

If you’ve been following, liberal democracy owes its relative success to the participation of the minoritarian and the archetypal silence of the minotaurian. When Theseus slayed the Minotaur, he fulfilled the immanent moral requirements to craft a citizenry on the painfully acquired flatness of the new demos. Upon those freshly polished cobblestones of the spanking new public order, the new citizen could then rise – no longer decentered by monsters and the more-than-human. The labours of Theseus,  the great humanist, stream through contemporary efforts to keep ‘the world’ legible, to keep manufacturing autonomous, separate, rational, and free citizen-subjects.  

However, winds of non-legibility are fiercely blowing across gentrified surfaces. There are troubling winds blowing through these times. Sick winds. This isn’t the flu per se. This is a different sort of pandemic.

Something is happening. Something incalculable, beyond reference, and beyond the colonial logic of independence that lives in the Enlightenment presuppositions of liberalism.  

The citizen is under siege.  

An ocean of minotaurs is washing across the tarmacs of presumptuously dead pasts. They are swinging into the public from inflection arcs, sprouting through cracks, tearing their way through shiny new products of the city. The children of the minotaur, carriers of crossroads, binary-breakers, are taking up residence in the spaces between our skins and the flesh of the external world, between human bodies and posthumanist lives, between heaven and earth, between subject and object, between design and entropy,  between belonging and othering. Everywhere they inhabit, they make a little stranger. They creolize.  They make porous. They are tattooing Theseus’s liminal body with strange spells and incantations,  enlisting the children of the Greek hero into fugitive rituals we cannot understand.

Minotaurs are figures of desire. The historical Minotaur was the offspring of a maddening passion between human and nonhuman beings, a crossing out of essential territories. In this sense, the minotaur foments trouble simply by showing up. Where the staid rationality of liberalism is at work, it infiltrates the neat and tidy and upsets the order of things, rejecting the cold difference between desire and the rational. Indeed, rationality becomes just one more possible configuration of desire in its flowing, open ended, becoming. Rationality becomes a rationality, not ‘the’ thing itself, monumental and apart [14].

Corrosive, minotaurian [15], desire is flowing like molten lava – and that is threatening to the epoch of the citizen. In fact, I suggest that the citizen is shrinking: the conditions that make it possible to manufacture  discrete citizen-subjects are hollowing out, and we are with-nessing the decay of the liberal humanist  worldview under intensifying posthumanist, technological, and globalized conditions [16].

The term, shrinking citizen, offered here in the spirit of inquiry is not the triumphalist declaration of empirical success – not a neat and untroubled observation or some doctrinaire truth, but a provisional and speculative reading of the tides and intensities of living in posthumanist world that often creates the right conditions for hegemonic and colonial patterns to thrive while simultaneously exposing these structures to wear and tear.  

The shrinking citizen is the proliferation of cracks in the body of citizenship. Cracks are appearing everywhere, acting as destabilizing forces and events that disrupt the dominant ontology of whiteness liberalism-democracy, which wants to maintain coherence of the autonomous human subject and suppress difference into hierarchical binary structures. The syncopating interferences of cracks name the moments of rupture where the stability and presumed universality of whiteness is troubled by discordant rhythms of emergent relationality, solidarity, ambiguity and errancy, which then open up possibilities for  ontological fugitivity.  

I connect these prolific cracks to the flows of white syncopation, which traces the generative, radical potential in the cracks and fissures produced through the failures of whiteness to indefinitely sustain its myth of the coherent, individualized Man through infallible reason and progress. The syncopating tensions gesture toward sensorial, ethical, political and ontological modes of mutiny, apostasy, and refusal which proliferate in the intervals of hegemonic rupture.

The question remains: how is the citizen as a dynamic subject-manufacturing process shrinking or being rendered vulnerable to disruptive forces? How is it becoming more and more difficult to keep us autonomous and separate, a process vital to the ontological parsing work of liberal democracy? What posthumanist processes are at work, curdling the milk of the public, churning the edges, creolizing borders, and disrupting the resourcing of modern subjectivities?

This shrinking or syncopation [17], or how the individual citizen-subject is being haunted, is psychical, eco corporeal/technological/political, sexual, and mythopoeic.  

At psychical dimensions, we are with-nessing the ways the vaunted privacy, gilded interiority, and experience of the citizen-subject is collapsing – making it monumentally difficult to sustain the myth of autonomy. Not only are psychologists turning to descriptions of ‘external minds’ and ‘embodied cognition’ as ways to make sense of human entanglements with larger, territorial flows, generational traumas, and intense affects, a posthumanist thesis urges us to consider that emotions, cognition, and rationality are not essential features of being human. Rather, they are worldly practices that often enlist  ‘humans’ in their wandering flows.  

The idea that other people’s feelings can enter directly into our bodies, that feelings can be transmitted, that trauma is not centrally human and can become territorial, that desire is not the lack of rationality or the presence of weakness but the vocation of a history-shaping force that links up matters as seemingly trivial as what colour of dress we choose to wear for an occasion to other matters as apparently spellbinding as the choreography of an asteroid, is as old as Teresa Brennan, Felix Guattari, Gilles  Deleuze, and, before them, implied in many indigenous traditions of knowing [18]. Particular accounts of human functioning that are dear to Native American communities suggest that modern humans are increasingly exposed to the feelings of other-than-human beings around them: the grief of a mother whale who has lost her calf; the waltzing of leaves to the earth during fall seasons; the territorializing inducements of using (and being used by) furniture around us.  

Along with the syncopations of the psychical are the troubling ways our changing bodies distress the coherence and autonomy of the human form and the thesis of human independence. These eco corporeal/technological syncopations name the ecological crises and climate instabilities that cause mass displacement, scarcity, and social disruption, destroying faith in ideals of progress. They also mark the transformations brought about by the proliferation of implants, the life extension technologies, the introduction of AI tools that blur the boundary between ‘man’ and ‘machine’, and the mass disabling effects of, say, pandemics (already connected to industrial activities, breached ecosystems, climate chaos,  and other immanent worldbuilding practices) that remind us health cannot be conceived as an individual property of a stable self.  

With the blast and roar of syncopating forces, bodies become fluid and seeking. It is perhaps noteworthy to examine the ways in which sexual orientation, orientations, and modes of relation are proliferating beyond the white nuclear family and its engendered roles of identity production. Of course, it must also be said that rapidly expanding identity categories and their attendant pronouns risk "including"  divergent identities into existing frameworks, while maintaining the logic of categorical distinctions and selfhood as something to be ‘recognized’ or made ‘visible’ and legible. Something about the political left’s engagement with diversity feels like a policing of the cracks, an attempt to contain the outbreak [19] and restore it back to the gravity and conformity of liberalism. Nevertheless, these sexual syncopations signal the movement of forces that potentially endanger liberal democracy.  

And finally, given that the narratives we share are sociomaterial practices that tenderize our encounters with the world, making it more navigable while informing our anticipatory gestures, mythopoeic syncopations – speculatively connected with other changes afoot, other mixes in topography, other fluctuations in the field of the citizen – refer to the importance and emergence of new moral-ethical frameworks that distress individualism. Newer conceptual projects such as new materialism and postactivism, coinciding with a revival of interest in indigenous epistemologies and traditions, urge the propagation of stories that resituate human socialities within larger ecologies of doings.  

Together, these connected immanent tensions or syncopating forces challenge the impermeability of liberalism, making vulnerable its work of creating isolated and discrete selves. Climate chaos introduces creases to the smoothness of citizenry; immigration, social instabilities, and war scratch at our ontological gates; grief becomes atmospheric, leaving the moribund myth of self-contained subjects behind; our bodies do strange things, become diasporic, and leave their usual gendered containment behind. The shrinking citizen is potentially unavailable, a surprising alliance between the children of  Theseus and the children of the Minotaur.

Non-legible post-democratic futures: staying with the tensions, making sanctuary

Ultimately, a posthumanist reading of democracy resituates it within a vast stream of co-becomings, instead of thinking of it as a uniquely human product. Democracy is not just what happens in legislative chambers and the courts of law, it is immanently connected with the phantom biological modulations of the dinoflagellate pfiesteria piscicida; it relates to the winds that whip up dust from the Bodélé Depression and carry them in dancing processions of diatoms across the Atlantic Ocean; it relates to the geodesic powers that tether cartography to the curvature of the planet. Seeing democracy as what the planet is doing – and what it might now be undoing – forces open new considerations about belonging, othering,  power, and agency in a vitalist, animist world.  

Instead of the language of decline (as in, the reported decline of democracy), which seems to be laden with humanist anxieties associated with technobureaucratic solutions and close-ended logics of repeatability, it is possible to offer a reframe that notices democracy is maturing, yielding to the elements, becoming accountable beyond its own rationalities, and becoming conjugated by syncopating forces. ‘Decline’ gives way to ‘declension’, ushering us to the strange hospitality of post-democratic futures.

By ‘post-democratic’, I do not mean ‘after democracy’, since what is meant by the democratic is only partially disclosed, not fully known, and still yet to come. The ‘post’ in ‘post-democratic’ exists side by side as an inherent tension in the liberalist project. One response to that has been the rush to come up with new systems, to name a new civilizational epoch, to gather academics into a conference room and induce them to craft alternatives to democracy, if only for the fun of it. I would suggest that one theoretically compelling task – given our posthumanist presumptions about the processual nature of reality – is not to articulate the next political epoch. If French visionaries Deleuze and Guattari are to be listened to, such a task – to know what comes next – is impossible. The future is non-legible, emergent,  and co-produced by a vast array of heterogenous actors – not by resolute, discrete human agents.  

One thing to do then might be to stay in the sensorial vortices of post-democratic tensions, where experience is afoot with other gestures. This post-democratic tension is not an already decided space, but embodied inquiry woven with the sensorial apostasy within cracks, at the peripheral edges of neurotypical perception where reality mutinies, or at the place of autistic perception where the world is still coming together.

The work of tending to cracks, of weaving inquiry at the prolific tips of syncopating flows, of inhabiting  the generative incapacitation of losing our way from the nuclear cornucopia of the neurotypical, of  becoming disabled by implication, of seeking out new alliances and hybridities, and opening new  grammars of embodiment beyond the carcerality of liberalism and whiteness, is what I might call  “making sanctuary.”

Making sanctuary, an inflection of the medieval practice of “claiming sanctuary” – in which fugitives from the law were granted temporary asylum within the church – is not about humans being safe. The recipients of ‘making sanctuary’ are not minorities or persons in precarious circumstances. The recipients are the tensions, the disabling effects, the blasts of syncopation that we often urge out of our spheres in a bid to return to ‘normal’.  

Making sanctuary is dwelling in post-democratic cracks, post-citizen ecotones, post-humanist tensions – while becoming accountable to new relationalities, new lines of flight, fractal choreographies, and new intensities that refuse to reify the dominant perceptual order, and as such signal potent transformations from regular/familiar subjectivities.

As an artistic vocation – far from being a single methodology – making sanctuary invites us to be hospitable to intensities that constitute a decentering of citizenship and a loss of white stability. The hidden codicil of such a decolonizing gesture is that by coming to those zones of encounter, to those syncopating cracks, we too might be spirited away. We might feel different, sense different, and be enlisted in new entrainments of co-becoming.  

In short, making sanctuary brings us by and by to the children of the Minotaur at our gates, echoes of lingering pasts. What happens when we, children of Theseus, meet the other, the offspring of the  Minotaur?  

Why, that’s another tale for another telling.


[1] Nancy Evans, Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2010, p. 12.

[2] John N. Davie, Theseus the King in Fifth Century Athens (1982).

[3] Political philosopher John Gray believes the presumptions of liberalist universality that have defined the post Cold War era are now hollowing out, falling apart under the weight of its own ambitions, and reverting to a  pluralism that characterized most of history. Interestingly, Gray thinks the US (and most of the western-led  world) is heading for a “hyper-liberalism” which would allow individuals to decide what they want to be – a  move that reduces ontology to identity or equates experience with subjectivity. This hyper-liberalism is the  outworking of the logic and creativity of individualism. Gray writes about how this liberalism has aimed at  abolishing politics, subsuming matters of value and controversial issues within a sphere of rights and the  judiciary. I agree with Gray’s analysis of liberalism/liberal democracies and their overreach – especially in terms  of the attempts at abolishing politics, which for me is more than a human arrangement or a matter of  discernible arguments, systems, values, and conversations. Politics is already a matter of posthumanist  processes, desire in its history-shaping flows, and the ways we are all becoming-edible within non-legible flows  of co-becoming-together-apart. There is no final aim or final common good or fixed idea of progress to be  preserved.

[4] Around the time of writing this essay, on 30 August 2023, a Gabonese coup d’état successfully replaced Ali Bongo  Ondimba as leader of the Central African country.  

[5] democracy-is-working/




[9] This idea of ‘cushioning the fall of the neurotypical footstep’ – like the story by the Brothers Grimm about the nightly interventions of the elves in the life of an old shoemaker – speaks about the hidden labours of the racialized in holding together a perceptual order for the citizen-subject to thrive in. I am reminded of the stories of Black slaves in Rio de Janeiro whose bodies were integrated into the initial public toilet system of the city. They had a nickname of “tigers” because of the toxic stripes of curdled flesh on their bodies induced by their immersion in faeces/raw sewage, which they had to transport from location to location. Professor Erin  Manning reads these matters together by urging us to come to terms with ‘autistic perception’, a framework that characterizes “a delay or refusal to parse sensory input. Focusing on autistic perception reveals that the seemingly self-evident, solid, and differentiated world of a neurotypical perception is an illusion made possible by an almost-instantaneous perception of discrete objects”. Somewhere within the ‘almost’ of instantiations are the hidden labours the neurotypical cannot parse – a situation which compels Manning to seek to resituate change as the subtle flows of the ‘minor gesture’, instead of the grand schemes that the perceptual order of the neurotypical reifies. What emerges here then is a reading that connects liberal democracy with the operations of whiteness, which is the deafening tone of the major key, the sociomaterial domain of perceptual/sensorial tendencies that aims to maintain the neurotypical scaffolding of the liberal self – an already racialized ‘thing’.





[14] 'Rationality' isn't a feature of humans but of immanent relations in their shifting dynamics.

[15] I think of the minoritarian as implicated in the production of the familiar. It is often the case that dynamics in the minoritarian lend themselves to a politics of inclusion and recognition – a wanting to march in tandem with the pre-organized and neurotypical. In this sense, the minoritarian is not inherently emancipatory by virtue of their exclusions. However, the minotaurian is the realm of the monstrous, the paraterranean, the imbecilic, and the demoniac. The minotaurian is not an essence, already there, already pre-known, but the roaming dynamics that propagate the minor gesture.  

[16] The idea of the Shrinking Citizen repositions the human subject vis-a-vis a volatile affective animist world of more than human productions. By thinking of the citizen as a topography instead of an idealized human body, I  tease out a network of desire that does not privilege humans as faits accompli but potentially disrupts the smoothness of continuity.

[17] A term I borrow from music to express the emphasis of the minor key as opposed to the major. The minor gesture is not to be read as equivalent to a politics that recognizes minorities or the minoritarian, since minorities and their inclusion could actually play along the lines of dominant values.

[18] Such as the bir’yun art tradition of the Yolngu people in North Australia, in which objects are depicted with shimmering, cross-hatching lines that refuse to distinguish them in a final way from their environments.

[19] “Containing the outbreak” is dragging the tensions and irreconcilable intensities of syncopations to the legitimacy and legibility of dominant modes of relations. For sexual syncopations that distress the binaries of embodied relations, that might mean creating subcultures of visibility and conformity (pronoun publishing)  which are tightly calibrated around perceived/real instances of harm and victimization and presumptions of purity, and which desire to depart from hegemonic patterns. Ironically, the proliferation of pronouns and inclusion imperatives can re-inscribe the supremacy of the humanist subject, demanding that identities be  rendered legible in those terms.

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