Nobody Talks About The Weather


Over at the excellent Creative Time Reports, I have an essay out about the conflict in South Sudan, the United Nations, and the weather, with photographs by the wonderful Jérôme Tubiana. 


You can read it here. This is how the essay begins:

February 28, 2015. Chicago, U.S.A.

For months the park below my apartment was a white sheet, the trees pencil drawings on a blank canvas. Winter coats Chicago, and the cold contours everything. Whatever may separate me from the millions who live here, for the long months of winter, we are together, struggling against a wind that makes me feel like I am wading through water. Now though, the snow is beginning to melt, awaking angry patches of red earth. Spring has arrived, and no one is helping anyone else get a car out of the snow. Life is no longer a question of how to bear conditions beyond our control. People’s postures have changed. They walk upright; they can plan again. The city opens up, and with it comes the promise that we can move in space and not simply sit at home, stuck in time.

Sitting in front of this prelude to spring, my morning takes me to South Sudan, where I spend much of my life. The Sudan Tribune is running a story on the United Nations (UN), which is setting up a sanctions program to target the leaders of the groups involved in the civil war. The conflict, which began in December 2013, sets the government of Salva Kiir, the sitting president, against his former vice president, Riek Machar, and his rebel force. A leaked report on the conflict—of dubious authenticity—recommends excluding both men from a future transitional government, which the report proposes should be overseen by the AU and UN. Only four years after the international community congratulated itself on South Sudan’s secession from Sudan, it is having second thoughts. My inbox contains a litany of NGO reports demanding transitional courts and accountability for war crimes. Historians may no longer agree with Thomas Carlyle that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men,” but they certainly didn’t tell the journalists and politicians. Reading the news from afar, one would be forgiven for thinking that the fate of South Sudan depended on the actions of just a few men—21st-century Napoleons—and that life was simply a matter of their intentions, unconstrained by the world around them.

Skype sounds. It is a friend in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, saying hello. I have only one question: How is the weather?


A new issue of Asymptote Journal

I am the nonfiction editor of Asymptote, and we have a new issue out. I am particularly proud of the nonfiction section, which includes Grégoire Chamayou on drones, an epistolary exchange between the wonderful Semezdin Mehmedinović and Miljenko Jergović on Susan Sontag and other matters, prose poetry from Syria, the Soviet literary icon Ilya Ilf, and the memories of the Martinican writer Raphaël Confiant.

The conflict in Unity state, South Sudan

The production site at Tor, Unity state, South Sudan--abandoned since an SPLA-IO attack last December, the empty offices are littered with the carbonized remnants of vacation requests and invoices for fuel.

I have a new piece out with Small Arms Survey, based on field research over the last two months, on the conflict in Unity state, South Sudan. You can read it here.

I also have another new piece, also out with Small Arms Survey, on the situation in Abyei, Sudan/South Sudan.

Saving the Bad New Things

I have a new essay out in Onsite 32: Weak Systems. It is about Beaumaris, Wales, the British class system, and Brecht, amongst many other things. Read it here. This is the beginning:

The excavator made short work of the sheds. Its power shovel easily broke through their corrugated iron walls, rusted by a century of sea spray, to reveal piles of old fishing tackle and the remnants of half-built boats. Amid the destruction, debris from the sheds fell onto the smooth stones of the beach. The sky had the same green-grey hue as the pebbles, as if God had run out of colours in Anglesey and painted this Welsh island with the murky remnants of his palette.

Further along the beach, a woman is walking her dogs. They sniff at the water’s edge, eagerly searching for a gift offered up by the sea: a small crab perhaps, or else Mr Jones’ unwanted office lunch, tossed out of his car window as he drove along the winding seaside road and now returned to dry land by the tide. The woman is searching, too. Her head is bowed down, as if in prayer, and her eyes scan the water’s wake. She bends down, picks something up, and cradles it in her hand. It’s a shard of porcelain, with fine black ink work depicting a castle, hidden under a hazy glaze of blue, yellow and red. It could be a page from a children’s colouring book, hardened by the sea. ‘Children,’ Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘learn from bright colours, because the fantastic play of colour is the home of memory without yearning, and it can be free of yearning because it is unalloyed.’

She looks towards the sheds.

'A Grammar of Redaction' at the New Museum's Temporary Center for Translation

A Grammar of Redaction. As part of the New Museum's Temporary Center for Translation (Summer 2014), I submitted some materials from an ongoing book project, How To Do Things Without Words, which looks at the aesthetic logic of redacted documents from the American War on Terror. A few pages of the grammar are on display as part of the exhibition. I also wrote a longer grammar analysing some of strange linguistic categories to be found in these documents, as well as a Phrasebook, that contains excerpts from the texts that I discuss in the grammar. You can download both below.

A GRAMMAR OF REDACTION

A GRAMMAR OF REDACTION: THE PHRASEBOOK

The Lover of the Hand

A review of The Lover of the Hand

We in Baghdad have our differences, I know. The dust had not even settled over al-Balkhi's disagreement with Ahmad ibn Fadlan over whether the known geographical world can reoccur again in perfect form, before Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari saw fit to reignite the debate with the Christians over whether the Trinity can be understood through human perception. 

Despite these differences, my reader, about one thing we can all agree. The perilous doctrine of acquisitionism has no place in our land. 

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