Retelling Sorrows and Dreams
We published our last volume in February 2020, about two weeks before the world began to recognize the enormity of the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. As the humans on a traumatized planet began to mourn the loss of their own species, some had hopes that this pandemic might push us to forge new solidarities not only with humans beyond our bounded categories, but also with other-than-humans—with all that breathes. So that we could learn to recognize and respect the other-than-human as (much) more-than-human. There were hopes that the pandemic might challenge us to rise, to tell, to sing, and to hold all that lives in ways that we may have never imagined before.
In some ways that rising, that telling, that singing, and that holding did happen, but not from the pandemic that is COVID-19; it emerged as a revolutionary response to the endemic disease that is anti-Black violence. In May 2020, the brutal killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chavin created tremors across the city, the nation, and the world. Almost eleven months later, when we sat down to pen this editorial in April 2021 during the trial of Chauvin, another white police officer killed twenty-year-old Daunte Wright just eleven miles from where Floyd was murdered. While Wright’s loved ones and his city mourned his killing, the court of justice listened to individual and collective stories summoned in defense of Chauvin as we witnessed, par excellence, the theatrical performance of the state’s military might: from national guard tanks, to enforced curfews, to boarded up windows and doors, barbed wire fences, and cement barricades. Even as Chauvin’s trial unfolded and concluded with a much anticipated conviction, anti-Black racism and police violence continued to play out their ugly scripts on other stages—the murder of thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo by police in Chicago and the murder of sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by police in Columbus.
Reliving Tales For Justice
We begin our introduction to AGITATE!’s third volume, Stories, Bodies, Movements, with this reverberating turbulence, to remind ourselves that no story is inherently liberating, not even the ones that we might tell collectively. Stories can cage and suffocate us, they can wreak violence on the repeatedly violated. Stories can be a tool of the powerful to wield against those they wish to silence or erase. Yet, the articles we offer in this volume prove over and over again that stories can effectively agitate this violent terrain when embraced as a praxis for justice. This agitational praxis of telling cannot be defined in advance; it can only evolve by embracing its own fluidity. Like waves in the water (Tia-Simone Gardner, this volume). Like winds blowing from the east (Setareh Ghoreishi, this volume). Like haunting voices and visions that name imprisonment (Ritika Ganguly and Alia Jeraj, this volume) and defy inherited rhythms (Beaudelaine Pierre, this volume) to forge new solidarities (Celina Su and Mona Bhan, this volume).
This praxis of (re)telling for justice is one that is deeply embodied (Richa Nagar and Anna Selmeczi, this volume). It weeps and laughs in ways that are at once playful, somber, irreverent, and rebellious (Agléška Cohen-Rencountre, this volume).
This praxis agitates against the walls that bind us (Keavy McFadden, this volume; Sara Musaifer, Maria Schwedhelm, and Richa Nagar, this volume) and it takes over the classroom (Esmae Heveron, this volume; Stories, Bodies Movements Class Spring 2017, this volume; Stories, Bodies Movements Class Fall 2017, this volume). It stretches on, beside, and beyond the stage (Marappachi Theatre, this volume; Surafel Abebe, this volume). It assumes the contours of our dreamscapes and self-narratives (Coral Bijoux, this volume). It makes and unmakes characters so that certain stories can be encountered in their nakedness. In order to fight for justice.
Harmony, Dissonance, Resistance
AGITATE!’s ever-unfolding, ever forming praxes of collectivity and storytelling are entangled symphonies. Percussion runs through this volume without fear of dissonance, and each piece offers its own rhythm to the readers imploring us to open our senses to discord and harmonies alike. Music seeps into notes and images, it trickles into the cracks between stages and scripts, even as all of these mutate across and in between unequal times, places, and struggles.
This musicality agitates against the structures, landscapes, and containers we are bound within. It tears down and spills over. It breaks even as it reaches and stretches beyond the borders it cannot name.
The percussive insistence of this volume, although largely serendipitous, is part of AGITATE!’s long-term commitment to attend to the rhythms and beats of stories so that stories can advance our collective commitment(s) to search for justice across sites and borders. Rhythm gives stories shape, movement, and liveliness, even in apparent statis. The motions and disjunctures of the many tempos that pulse through this volume reflect the ways in which we might actively refuse the confinement of already-known framings of embodiment and storytelling.
We invite you, our reader, to immerse yourself in the cadences of the volume and attend to the timber, pace, and punctuation of its sonic landscapes by liberating yourself from the familiar patterns of existing conversations and pedagogies. We ask you to bring into question your preconceptions of what is musical, what is poetic, what is artistic, what is seeable, what is sayable, what is knowable, what is translatable. And what is not.
Percussive: Reverberations from bringing objects together with force, that which punctuates, that which moves us
The pieces that comprise this volume refuse any eagerness to predict the meanings and purposes of stories; they yearn, instead, to breathe beyond the suffocation of stale spaces, languages and frameworks. Each contribution struggles with the established expectations of performance (Marappachi Theatre; Surafel Abebe), and it takes on the difficult task of learning to sing, throb, and stir together without guarantees (Celina Su and Mona Bhan; Section on Breaking the Classroom Walls: Agitating Pedagogies for Justice). These contributions long for vibrations of dreams that move beyond their initial expression and that cannot be encaged in projects or deadlines (Coral Bijoux; Keavy McFadden; Esmae Heveron; Sara Musaifer, Maria Schwedhelm, and Richa Nagar; Setareh Ghoreishi; Tia-Simone Gardner). They search for poetic echoes to grapple ethically with violence (Agléška Cohen-Rencountre; Beaudelaine Pierre; Ritika Ganguly and Alia Jeraj). They rattle the walls of the university and become restless pedagogies that become inseparable from life (Section on Breaking the Classroom Walls: Agitating Pedagogies for Justice).
In so doing, the stories, bodies, and movements whose energies infuse this volume insist on claiming a radical praxis of retelling. These modes of story-ing inhabit our bodies and spirits in order to flow and grow in agitated movements for justice. They delicately insist on an ongoing engagement with entanglements where the joys of hope and struggle drift through the traumas of dispossession and destruction to form piercing rhythms that texture, shift, interrupt, and disrupt the very entanglements that form them. Each contribution embodies a telling that allows bodies to remember, retell, sing, dance, moan, and weep. To chuckle, suffer, dream, move, and create. To agitate against what we thought could not be (un)told. To dream that which was not deemed worthy of dreaming. To refuse knowing in ways that suffocate truths and to insist on the unknowability of that which we assumed we could know. To become vulnerable in search for radical modes of collective living, being, and creating for justice.
— The AGITATE! Editorial Collective