Aleatory Entanglements

On Minoritized Knowledges, Speculative Aesthetics, and Other Humanities

This project grapples with the long-lived histories and structures of racialization that facilitate the disciplining of minoritized subjects and knowledges both within and beyond the academy. As recent works by Roderick Ferguson, Jodi Melamed, Grace Kyungwon Hong, and Sara Ahmed, among others, have shown, the purported victories of the social movements of the late twentieth century, in creating space for Ethnic studies and related interdisciplines, also paved the way for the regulation and compartmentalization of minority difference through promises of institutionalization. The continuing decline of educational democracy, ever-growing social, material, and environmental injustices, and the relentless policing of minoritized bodies underscore the need to rethink the possibilities attached to the humanities and aesthetic education. Given the pervasiveness of structural injustices and their deep roots in histories of conquest and coloniality that underwrite the project of liberal humanism (cf. Lisa Lowe 2015), how do we unsettle the value hierarchies that determine what constitutes legitimate and illegitimate knowledges, proper and improper subjects? How can we remake the humanities in ways that not only account for, but also proliferate minoritized ways of thinking, knowing, and being? In short, how do we illuminate “other” humanities in the service of more equitable worlds?

This manuscript posits entanglement as a concept that captures both the predicaments and possibilities of envisioning such other humanities; it signals at once a mode of entrapment and deep involvement that speaks to how minoritized subjects and knowledges are bound together through uneven everyday conditions of precarity as well as the academy’s systems of avowal and disavowal. In this project, I turn to Asian American and multiethnic science and speculative aesthetics precisely because these cultural productions enable different “practices of looking” that defy “tidy resolution” (cf. Aimee Bahng 2009). These works illustrate the aleatory qualities of entanglement, the often unexpected, indeterminate, creative, and improvisatory acts minoritized subjects employ to survive, and make life out of, even circumstances of extreme constraint.

I show how authors, visual artists, filmmakers, and activists, including Karen Tei Yamashita, Yong Ho Ji, Patricia Powell, Nicci Yin, Charles Yu, Joon-ho Bong, Ruth Ozeki, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Sam Vernon, Sesshu Foster, and others, make perceptible entanglements among histories of African slavery and indentured coolie labor, mapping practices and techno-orientalist fantasies, the colonization of Latin America and Japanese internment in the United States, global climate change, rampant militarization, and human and nonhuman kinship. Tracing these complex entanglements as they challenge established social categories, geographies, and periodizations, I argue, calls for a revision to an understanding of the humanities in its dominant, received form, as discrete knowledge formations aimed at producing knowledge about “Man.”

Attending to speculative aesthetics and aleatory entanglements instead pushes us toward modes of thinking, knowing, and being attuned to mutual imbrications and the sticky, affective relationships among multiple, times, spaces, and bodies. Each chapter proposes a different mode of seeing, sensing, unlearning, and/or becoming by taking up a speculative trope—from parallel universes and time travel to robots, multispecies embodiments, and posthuman ecologies—to make perceptible other potential arrangements of knowledge, animated not by efforts to establish minoritized subjects as knowable entities, but rather by endeavors to think with, through, and alongside them. Short interludes between each chapter serve as spaces for critical reflection and pause, to unravel the richness, complexities, and contradictions that exceed the textual limits of the the main chapters; they represent other points of departure that underscore the indeterminate, disorganized, even irrational nature of thinking through entanglements. In this way, my project strives to perform aleatory, a concept associated with improvisation in musical composition, as part of its method and structure.

Finally, by taking the speculative acts that Asian American and multiethnic cultural productions enact seriously, that is, the imaginative labor necessary to see and feel at once the thickness of time and lived realities, the weight of historical violences and fears of incommensurate differences, and the pleasures of unexpected solidarities and chance encounters, I claim, it becomes possible to articulate something like other humanities or, rather, probe how we might participate in othering the humanities.


Photo by ractapopulous on Pixabay.