Harmless Insanity

Lisa Park tells her sister she wasn’t crazy. Even for committing suicide. That the madness that drove her to suicide is a madness born of violence, madness as a condition of life under siege as a second-generation Asian American woman, madness that is evidence not of her personal failure but the failure of the world around her to keep her safe. A world that shaped her immigrant parents into both “accomplices and victims,” investing in the civilizing terror that is Americanization, model minoritization, driving themselves and their daughter(s) to shattering heartbreak. All in the name of the American Dream.

Those of us living (and dying) under conditions of structural violence; those whose vulnerabilities are exploited to the point of premature death, as Ruth Gilmore defines racism; those whose queer bodies, queer hearts, queer lives, struggle under the brutal(izing) reign of what Dean Spade calls normal life; those who Lord(e) knows were never meant to survive — we know that we are trying to be sane in an insane world. We know that madness boils around us, seeping into our pores, our veins, the crevices of our minds, to the point where we go mad, we are gripped by madness. By despair and rage and heartbreak and fear and loss and exhaustion and exhaustion and exhaustion. Madness is the psychic and affective life of living under siege.

And suicide is not the failure of strength, of the will to survive. It is a heartbreakingly compromised act of resistance, “a refusal to carry on under such brutal conditions.” Park knows: her sister’s suicide marks these conditions as unlivable and not herself as maladjusted. Her suicide is the very proof of the unlivability of her world, the very proof of the existence of unbearable violence. Look at me, look at how I am dying, LOOK AT WHAT THE WORLD IS DOING TO ME.

Living Under Siege - Mimi Khúc

In England, contemporaries often called the Indian textiles “rags” or “trash” and scorned their bright colors, and in Europe more generally, bright colors were taken as a sign of degeneracy and inferiority. The German writer Goethe famously stated that “Men in a state of nature, uncivilized nations and children, have a great fondness for colors in their utmost brightness,” whereas “people of refinement” avoid vivid colors (or what he called “pathological colors”). In short, a love of bright color marked one as uncivilized, as not possessing taste, as being “foreign” or other. Color represented the “mythical savage state out of which civilization, the nobility of the human spirit, slowly, heroically, has lifted itself — but back into which it could always slide” (Batchelor, 23).

This danger of descent, of falling into degeneracy, disorientation, and excess, resulted in a valorization of the “generalized white” mentioned above. According to Batchelor, prejudice against color “masks a fear: a fear of contamination and corruption by something that is unknown or appears unknowable,” and the highly minimal, white spaces of contemporary architecture mark an attempt to rationalize and strictly limit an interior, to stop its merging with the world outside. The “hollow, whited chamber, scraped clean, cleared of any evidence of the grotesque embarrassments of an actual life. No smells, no noises, no colour; no changing from one state to another and the uncertainty that comes with it.”

Color, Chromophobia, and Colonialism: Some Historical Thoughts