For the Race, Place & Critical Theory Reading Group, convened by Dallas Rogers, my role was to act as a reader of the final main chapter and coda of Abdoumaliq Simone’s The Surrounds: Urban Life within and Beyond Capture. Here is my write up of that reading.
So here we are. We are surrounded.
In the Coda to Abdoumaliq Simone’s book The Surrounds comes the definition of the surrounds as ‘a space of exception’, or as ‘a shape-shifting matrix of spaces, times, and practices that exist right now within the turbulent processes of contemporary urbanisation’. Earlier in the text, instead of envisioning urbanism as the unfolding of definitive forces of value capture, asset creation, and resource extraction, he defines the surrounds as ‘a liminal interstice in between multiple, diverging trajectories of urbanisation that are always in the process of being sutured, more or less’, but always in an unsettled relation.
What are the major themes in the final main chapter of the book and how has “doing time” with this text been?
Reading the book on its own terms, two connective tissues assemble the infrastructure of the surrounds in Chapter 3. These are 1) social reproduction; and 2) the refusal of redemption. My treatment deals generatively with the first theme of social reproduction and then critically with the second theme of the refusal of redemption. Drawing from Edward Said’s notion of “travelling theory”, we can perhaps all generatively travel, I think, with the focus on social reproduction and the surrounds as a plural stitching together of the mutual implications of space. Critically, however, what lurks within the interstices of Simone’s own refusal of redemption and his ‘indifference to time itself’? What is left unspoken within this refusal of redemption and the inescapable surroundedness of the surrounds?
On the built environment of the surrounds, we finally come home—however temporarily—to those spaces and places that provide domestic functions: the role of social reproduction therefore comes to the fore within wider surrounds of residing, storing, fabricating, processing, extracting, and speculating as itineraries of movement and circulation. Perhaps the household is itself a form of dehiscence? Meaning a partially separated edge, an improperly healed wound, that is attempting to offer repair against the damage done by time? “What of the household”, as Simone asks, “can be sustained as generative ferment that at least wards off premature closure, and what is simply a carceral experience?”
Feminist voices get to provide an intellectual backstop to this treatment of the mobilisations across reproductive space. For example, there is this:
Entering the public realm of protest requires leaving to some extent the private realm of reproductive or domestic labour. Who will now pick up the kids after school, get dinner on the table, oversee homework, and help family manage grief? Surrogate maternals, many times younger or older women, such that teenage daughters or grandmothers might be utilised to fill the void more than their masculine counterparts.
Yet the void here is in Simone’s bibliography. The citation to James (2018), after all, is absent in his list of references.
Turning to the generative, we also encounter the djinn as ‘a shape-shifting concrescence of different forces and images that concretise a specific dilemma or possibility’. In Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s film Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes)  we encounter the djinn Mevungu, a gothic empowerment of women that ‘becomes a mobile embodiment of multiple pasts that could have been . . . neither intrinsically virtuous nor destructive’. Mevungu is neither living nor nonliving but an intersection of countervailing forces. Thinking of the continual reinvention of capital and Capital, is there a congenital blood stain on one cheek of this djinn? Does the djinn of Mevungu come dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt?
The content of the celebrated novel by Fernanda Melchor, Hurricane Season (2020) is one suturing example of the shape-shifting spirit of the djinn. Are we surrounded by others with a congenital blood stain on their cheeks?
Moving from general malevolence to male-violence, the figure of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, the 2007 film by Joel and Ethan Coen based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name evokes, for me, the bloodletting of the djinn, as a spirit companion to Mevungu. Chigurh provides a ‘surfeit of force necessary to destroy’, able to blood let across the spaces of the US-Mexico borderlands, on the basis of the time of the maybe, or the may-be-not, as relayed in this scene.
Turning to the refusal of redemption, the time of maybe is regarded by Simone as continuous rebellion but rebellion without redemption, upending any definition of purpose. Hence:
Revolutions cannot be successfully waged without thieves, without those thieves, without those willing to overstep the bounds, to commit acts that can be immediately condemned by all sides.
Is this an en passant purloining of its own, of C.L.R. James in Beyond a Boundary—who famously stated that, ‘Revolutions . . . come like a thief in the night’? What, then, also of redemption? Unspoken in The Surrounds is the shadowplay with Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on The Concept of History’. This essay explores history, remembrance, and the present. As a result, redemptive action is itself deemed a revolutionary task that is performed in the present, for Benjamin. In Thesis XV, Benjamin argues that revolutionary action can interrupt the triumphal procession of the victors, the monuments of historical consciousness, that establish the traditions of the past. The goal here is, ‘to make the continuum of history explode’ by disrupting days of popular celebration, or secular holidays given out to redemptive events. We could add, contra Simone, that we are surrounded by the opportunity for redemption. Change the date. 26 January. Is this not our “now time” between the past and the present of Indigenous dispossession in Australia, unceded sovereignty, and the procession of the victors of history? In contrast to the triumphal procession of 26 January, is it possible still to blast open the continuum of history?
To conclude this short foray with one final question for The Surrounds, rather than the time of maybe as an indifference to time itself, is there still space for more now time?