Paper Summary

Direct link:

Unintentional Objects: Books, Activisms, and an Autopoetic Politics

Sat, April 29, 2:45 to 4:15pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


At a November 2015 Donald Trump rally, college student Johari Idusuyi became an unexpected national “hero” (Brown, 2015) for a rather mundane literacy act: reading a book (Figure 1). Idusuyia refused to put the book away even after a heated discussion with two white audience members who vigorously gestured that she should be paying attention to Trump. The book Idusuyi was reading, Claudia Rankine’s (2014) poetry collection Citizen, traces the everyday micro-aggressions of racism in America. Many deemed the book a pointedly political choice of reading material for a Trump rally. At the end of Trump’s rally, Idusuyi raised the black and white cover of Rankine’s (2014) Citizen (see figure 1) and waved it amidst a sea of black and white Trump placards. In an effort to explore what Bennett (2010) deems “the active role of nonhuman materials in public life” (p.2), this poster assembles multimodal data including video stills, media interviews, and Rankine’s poetry, and draws on new materialist (Bennett, 2010; Chen, 2013; Grusin, 2015) and posthumanist (Braidotti, 2013; Snaza et al, 2014) theory to explore how the ordinary materiality of a book in this incident elicited “thing-power” (Bennett, 2010) that sparked new modes and materialities for political literacies.

The title for the poster comes from an interview Idusuyi conducted with Rachel Maddow. Maddow asked Idusuyi if she had engineered the event as an intentional moment of protest asking, “In terms of the book that you read and you were seen so visibility reading there, was that an intentional—did you bring it as an intentional object, did you mean to have Rankine’s book there specifically and is that part of what you sort of put together there in a conscious way?” (Maddow, 2015, italics added). Idusuyi vigorously refuted a conscious intentionality behind the act. The moment signals “the emergent—that is the embodied and embedded” (Protevi, 2009) capacities of literacies and of political acts to take form spontaneously and unexpectedly. The moment reveals how non-human objects enact new forms of politics emergent with, rather than designed by, human actors. Kara Brown (2015) declared Idusuyi’s reading an act of “accidental protest” (Brown, 2015). Moments of “accidental protest” are interesting from a posthuman lens in that they disrupt teleological notions of human intentionality and allow for the accidental, the surprising, the momentary within notions of politics.

Finally, I call this, taking up the theoretical work of Rosi Braidotti (2013) and Patricia Clough (2008), to put forth a notion of auto-poetic politics—the self-organizing capacities of bodies to come together and act politically. I conclude by thinking about how the “act” of reading might itself be an immaterial force with its own affective and political potency.