A Little More Conversation: Why We Need More Literary Discourse Like Ray Nayler’s New Interview Series

Image contains the cover art from the Clarkesworld Issue with Andy Dudak's story, along with the cover for Melancholy, and the title of the essay

If the individual was melancholic, then the whole world was melancholic as well, the Baroque understanding of melancholia declared, but the reverse was also true: if the world was melancholic, then every single person had to be melancholic. … Corresponding to the mixing of the four humors, four kinds of melancholia could arise, [Robert] Burton informed his extraordinarily quick-learning contemporaries … There was no one who was not melancholic, since melancholia was no longer linked with a particular humor.

pp. 159-160, Melancholy

When I moved to Colombia, I cut down my library to a scant few volumes: some of my Russians (Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Krzhizhanovsky, Nabokov, plus histories of Soviet revolution and literature), a bit of poetry (Cohen, Hikmet, [Danez] Smith), collections of shorter work (Lessing, Wolff), a classic (Thucydides), two books for writers (Delany’s, Le Guin’s), my Spanish authors (Cortázar, Galeano, García Márquez), a memento (a signed book by Tim Wynne-Jones, the first author I ever met), and… László F. Földényi’s Melancholy (translated by Tim Wilkinson).

Melancholy is a confidently dense meditation on the philosophy, mythopoetics, and psychology around a single concept from ancient to modern Western history: the titular “melancholy”–as illness, mood, sainted or blighted facet of the soul, and source of creativity. The subject itself is quite striking and relevant (for me, at least, as a person who has always struggled with depression, despair, and an abiding ache at the many contradictions of existence), but the book also serves as a powerful act of historiography: a reminder that our words and labels are not absolutes, much as we humans are inclined to set such weight upon them.

The cultural import of being a melancholic person changed over time, as Földényi’s essay abundantly illustrates, and what changed its significance was surrounding societal priorities: the different ways a melancholic person could be viewed in relation to the cosmos, knowledge of the human body, and humanity’s relationship with itself and the Christian god. At the periphery of this text, there are also indications of how shifting views on melancholy granted individuals new ways to integrate their sense of self within society, attaining socioeconomic purchase differently within each temporal moment.

Melancholia is, of course, by no means the only human attribute to undergo such transformation. As any given part of our theory-of-self and cosmology shifts, the value of different behavioural arrangements rises and falls in the public sphere. We’ve had periods, for instance, in which the profuse weeping of women was seen as saintly conduct; or vivid dreaming was viewed as spiritual prophecy; or milder manifestations of schizoaffective disorder yielded valued shamans; or “unsexing” oneself (men adopting more feminine features, women adopting more masculine traits) was valued as a path to Christ. For millennia, in other words, we human beings have re-ordered ourselves relentlessly in keeping with the vocabulary of the day: not because any of the vocabulary is intrinsically sacred, but because it is the means by which any given cultural moment determines individual sociopolitical and economic fit.

We do, however, have a great deal of difficulty talking about the idea that identity labels can have such immediate power, yet still be highly contextual — and trickier still, that these labels are likely to be replaced by other prioritizations of human identity in another era or social context.

We have difficulty discussing this because, as a culture, we have yet to fully accept relativism. Certainly, many conservative movements insist that post-modern cultural relativism has already arrived, bloomed in full, and subsequently ruined everything… but if that were true, many of our most prominent activist movements wouldn’t be so small-c conservative themselves. In point of fact, though, some of our most “progressive” circles are still by and large terrified that, if some aspect of their advocacy is seen as mutable, it will be taken away. In consequence, we stand our ground behind specific labels and slogans, because these have to be seen as objective truth for our activism to thrive. How else, the implicit argument goes, will we gain equal dignity under the law? Under neoliberalism, it’s all about effective branding: We have to sell our truths as immutable, if we’re to be heard and centred in public-policy debate.

In the process, however, we give over — have often given over — to semiotic incoherence in the name of cohesive branding. In queer anglo-Western movements of the 1990s and early 2000s, for instance, there was a counterintuitive push for queerness to be seen as genetic, because the idea of being “queer by choice” was something that others were trying to use to deny us human rights. But what on Earth was so distinctly bad about “queer by choice” in a world that also regards many genetic variations as “aberrant” and requiring of medical redress? Answer: Nothing. Nothing at all. Why should it matter to me — to any of us? — if someone else loves whom they love without having a gene that codes for said attraction?

Nevertheless, conservative critics of self-determination and universal human dignity sneered at queerness as relative and therefore invalid, using the “(perverse) lifestyle” argument to deny us equal rights and protections under the law… and it worked. Not only did they pass (in the U.S., for example) new laws against being openly gay in the military, or against legal protections for queer relationships, but they also controlled the shape of contrapuntal ideologies and advocacy for decades. Our queer-activist movements were thrust into reactive roles by mainstream-culture’s legal actions, and quickly came to accept the conservative starting premise, that we had to prove the immutability of queerness for individual queer persons to gain safety and security under the law. Instead of refusing to play at all by conservative-culture rules for what makes human beings fit to be safe, secure, and granted equal rights and freedoms… our movements taught us to see fighting for mainstream validation and respect as radical enough.

And this reactivism continues to shape a great deal of today’s “progressive” discourse — which should surprise no one, because we’re still mammals; and so, small-c conservative behavioural traits consistent across mammalian group species flourish even among people raised on “the left”. We like our in-groups and what’s familiar, in other words, so even if our banner is all about progress, if “progress” comes to include elements that change the make-up or rhythm of the communities we’ve lived in comfortably all our lives, many will resist such changes as fiercely as we would an overt encroachment of persons from the “other side” of the political spectrum. (Lessing touches on this phenomenon in Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, which tellingly argues that this behaviour was also rampant in the ’80s — so, same old, same old.)

A culture of reactivism-as-progress has also trained us to revel in finding/receiving labels that will give us the best chance of operating well within our socioeconomic context. It’s further taught us that treating any newly anointed identity labels as culturally relative is a cardinal sin: as good as attacking the value of identity labels in any context. The underlying logic is that, if bad-faith actors see a culturally relative label as irrelevant, what sort of good-faith actor could you possibly be, if you were to give “them” more “ammunition”? This is extremely painful, of course, for folks who use the labels of their cultural moment and view them as mutable. Their experiences of mutability within these identities become toxic. Such people can have their identities, have their fluidity, the discourse concedes — but for heck’s sake, shut up about it and say nothing messy, ever, about the role that shifting sociolinguistic terms serve in their lives.

In this way, our supposedly radical act of self-identification becomes yet another way of performing deservedness by conservative-leaning, “prove you’re respectable enough to have rights and opportunities” social standards. It’s all about finding a good fit for ourselves in unjust systems: the equivalent of creating a new trait-based faction in a YA series like Divergent, instead of deconstructing the site of injustice entirely.

I’ll give the example that trips me up the most, because I want to emphasize that none of this analysis comes from a person fully outside our broken system. I’ll be the first to admit that it is difficult to hold both parts of this truth in balance: to recognize a vaster history, that is, in which a given label was neither necessary nor useful, while also honouring how any given identity label might now serve some people well.

The identity label I struggle most with is “demisexual” — a contemporary term that would technically fit me, but for which I personally have no use. This is because I’m a student of literary history, so I know full well that most sex has been presented as selectively pursued, and routinely emerging from pre-existing emotional bonds (“friends to lovers”, as our romance industry has long since called the trope; and historical romance is jam-packed with the stuff). Furthermore, people for centuries in the Western world were very much stigmatized (especially women) for thereafter having sexual feelings for others, and it was taken for granted that many marriages would not involve lovemaking so much as companionship, while in others (again, for women especially) sex was simply a marital chore.

And this mainstream history of selective desire continues today, well outside of self-identified demisexual circles. Indeed, demisexual forums often list stories about individuals being astonished to learn/realize that their grandparents fit the same “not always jonesing for random sex” paradigm they feel they’ve had to fight to have accepted by peers and broader society. (I should note, too, that these stories usually have very sweet endings, wherein the elder often embraces the younger’s identity for themself, to show support: a beautiful illustration of how easily some people can embrace generational shifts in social vocabulary.)

Despite its historical irrelevance, though, the term does helps a lot of people today. But even that sentence structure speaks to the whole problem — because why should a term’s historical irrelevance ever negate the benefit of any given identity label in the here-and-now? Here’s a better reframing, then:

It wasn’t necessary to have a label for this common facet of human behaviour in most historical periods and cultural contexts. Now, though, in some circles, it is.

Why? I suspect two reasons.

First: because in the last century, Western marketing practices inspired by Freudian precepts (as Adam Curtis illustrates in The Century of the Self) shaped a media environment in which sexualization became the standard for human interactions — both with one another, and with the products we’re supposed to want to buy. And yet, this shift wasn’t as big a game-changer, for self- and societal-perception, when we were still living most of our lives face-to-face. Today, however, around three digital-era generations have been so utterly bombarded by sexualization-for-profit rhetoric that individuals within this distorted online paradigm have started to question how they can possibly fit into society writ large, when their inner drives are not at all aligned with this relentless media pressure to see everything in life as related to sex.

Second: because secularization is often treated as an escape from rigid, often sexually repressive religious mores — and we are indeed living in a time when more people are open about being secular! The false binary here, though, is that outside religion one must surely be a completely emancipated sexual being, “up for anything, at any time, with anyone.” If you’re anything less than that… well, are you sure it’s not just because of a lingering religious hang-up? Are you sure you’re not still oppressed? Demisexuality works well as a narrative “out” from feeling the need to perform one’s “freedom” from traditional mores through sex.

When I say that I “struggle” with this label, then, I don’t doubt its immediate value to people using it to survive in our cultural discourse. It is, rather, a very smart way of coping with the current system, and a terrible fallacy to presume that simply because I don’t see a need for it, no need exists. No, what I struggle with instead is my impatience to be past this system — and not just for this label, but also for many other medicalized/cultural terms that have recently gained similar social power and moral heft… at least, within the neoliberal context that first drove us to seek out fresh labels to help us name where we fit in, and thereafter to explain any suboptimal socioeconomic or behavioural outcomes within the system.

I don’t even need to imagine a “future”, though, where latching onto individual labels is no longer the de facto currency of our activism. After all, the world is much bigger than Western identity-forward discourse, and there are many other discourses in which labelism is not the path to human thriving. Heck, even in North American publishing, we’re finally starting to see an anti-authenticity-policing backlash, after #ownvoices was leveraged to compel people to disclose identities and traumas in brutally performative ways that endangered wellness for both the author and anyone else from a similar demographic. (A work in progress, but at least that conversation is finally happening; may it lead to kinder waters down the line.)

However, we’re generally reluctant to engage with these other discourses, especially when they come from other cultural contexts entirely. In part, this is because real-world alternatives to Western-capitalist exceptionalism require us to more fully embrace the aforementioned relativism of our lived identities, which in turn means actively refusing the mainstream-political argument that labels are meaningless (and therefore undeserving of rights and freedoms) if they’re not universal truths. It’s much easier to treat other countries and cultures as simply “behind” the Western world’s latest discoveries about human identity, than to raise them up as examples of other systemically cohesive ways through which to improve human agency.

In far-more-difficult-to-accept words, then: we’re often reluctant to engage with these other discourses because doing so would mean giving up an imperialist mentality that we still very much covet — yes, even many of us who are minoritized in Western society! — and which we demonstrate that we still covet, each time we gladly take up the labels that this unjust system invites us to slap onto ourselves as individuals, so as to better navigate its networks to personal/sub-demographic success, instead of fighting for a system that doesn’t need people to figure out where they fit in before being awarded basic human dignity.

This was one of the clear downfalls of queer activism in the ’90s and ’00s, when it focussed centrally on marriage equality as the Holy Grail of social legitimacy, and the main path to economic stability. (Cart before the horse, alack: Marriage today is generally the provenance of those who have greater access to stable families to begin with, and many of the assets that couples build upon over their lives together are directly provided by said families, which do not pitch in at anywhere near the same level for singles. This means that one generally needs to come from stability to gain further stability from a life thereafter spent in said marriage — and it also explains the fall in marriage rates across the board, as couples from families with depleted reserves struggle for enough stability to consider entering into such a union at all.)

This focus on marriage equality made many queer-activists’ aims decidedly classist: an effort, that is, to reshape queerness to fit a respectability politics that would allow for more queer (white) folks to gain stability within what remains a violent economic system with deep disparities in opportunity and outcome.

It could have been different. We could have taken a page from the famed ’80s movement of queer activists who championed miners’ rights in the UK, and sought out broader coalitions for more comprehensive change. We could have fought for anyone to have the right to be with a loved one in hospital, if they were on the loved one’s approved list. We could have fought for people to name whomever the heck they wanted as the recipient of their insurance; and to protect co-owners of shared property in a variety of housing arrangements; and to recognize co-parenting relationships and rights from a different body of evidence. We could have resisted the war on drugs, carceral injustice, and the overarching stigma against anyone driven to homelessness and more vulnerable, readily exploited forms of labour. But no. By and large, goaded by aggressive status-quo conservative and centrist politics, we bought into an activism that primarily served queer persons who already had the greatest chance of thriving in the current economy: those, that is, who only needed existing institutions to budge a little to include them.

As with so many other facets of “progressive” discourse, then, queer activism in that period routinely fell short of an intersectionalism that more plainly addressed critical issues of socioeconomic consciousness. It ceded the battleground to the terms and parameters outlined by conservative, mainstream politics, and it taught its followers to see themselves as engaged in truly radical action by meeting said politics head-on.

Which brings me to Ray Nayler’s interview series, Better Dreaming, and the question of “surface” and “deep” discourse as it pertains to what, at first glance, feels like it should be one of the most progressive creative enterprises of them all: science-fiction and fantasy — the great imagining of other worlds!

Nayler, an accomplished author of mystery and science-fiction stories, with a concurrent career in poetry and a blooming career in the novel form, proposed this interview series last year, as a way of getting deeper into the issues raised by different SF writers’ stories. And folks on Twitter seemed to love the idea: Yes! Please! Showcase writers! Talk about their work! We’re hungry for it! Every month now, he posts an interview with a different writer, and uses a single story of their choice to start a conversation that twists and turns depending on the author’s answers. I was the first interview subject, Julie Nováková was the second, and now Andy Dudak is the third, with Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Mercurio D. Rivera, Sam J. Miller, and R.S.A. Garcia coming down the pipe.

When Ray asked me to be interviewed for the inaugural segment, though, I was initially reluctant, because I knew that, despite all the people who’d claimed a deep interest in more nuanced discourse, our literary community is still more inclined to treat these kinds of interviews as “promo opportunities”: to “like” such posts, and “retweet” such posts, but not to engage with their contents on any chewier level. And sure enough, not only did my interview not get so much as a nibble in terms of extended conversation, but Nováková’s didn’t either (save for my response), and Dudak’s hasn’t yet.

Will Ekpeki’s, Rivera’s, Miller’s, or Garcia’s?

In our current social-media mode, probably only if something one of us says sparks outrage — and I don’t mean that glibly, or disparagingly. What I mean is: Who’s going to risk deeper conversation in the public sphere? What are the benefits to such a discourse, in a neoliberalist system where we’re all working hard to establish brands that will gain us audiences and sales? Especially when weighed against the potential risk to our careers, if one of our nuanced responses to a complex issue should yield a cardinal sin, like suggesting that some of the ways that we “do” activism are culturally relative, or that other possibilities exist?

One-on-one, some of these conversations can absolutely emerge. (I’ve certainly had wonderful discussions of this type with a couple of the people on the aforementioned list.) And there are other forums (genre podcasts, book reviews, and conference panels in particular) where more expansive discourse is advanced. A few recent joys include Sid Jain’s “Seduced by the Ruler’s Gaze: An Indian Perspective on Seth Dickinson’s Masquerade (Uncanny, March/April 2021), Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders’s “Godzilla vs. Kong vs. America” (Our Opinions Are Correct, Episode 78), and Navarre Bartz’s “Institutions Are the AIs Your Mother Warned You About” (SFWA Blog, March 9, 2021). But where do we see the enfolding of such discourse — the weaving together of distinct commentary into groundswells of actionable sociopolitics? These posts are “liked” and “retweeted”, “liked” and “retweeted”, yes — but built upon? Integrated into vaster arguments and conversations? Rarely. And so, many of our most thoughtful and insightful writers are left to reinvent the wheel in subsequent books, stories, and essays — because we don’t establish our discursive context as readily as we could. We don’t make as many chains of meaningful commentary as we should. We eschew recent historiography, rather, in large part because we know that novelty sells.

And… don’t we want to sell?

It’s a pointed indictment of the state of North-American-moored literary discourse in general, then, that we in SF&F specifically — we speculative writers, we supposed dreamers of better worlds! — are still so conscious of our socioeconomic fragility that we have legitimate cause to focus on discourse only as it furthers our careers, engaging primarily in affirmation-based signalboosting and promotional marketing… even to the exclusion of what we, as writers, could also be doing with our words:

Namely, using them to develop more robust and nuanced sociopolitical discourse.

And then keeping the pressure on that discourse, by inviting our thoughts to be read as part of a long, robust continuum of thinkers come before, along with others actively working in the field today.

Because, yes, some causes are easy to support: Endorsing another person’s “found” labels is one. Uplifting those who have minoritized identities imposed on them is another. Speaking out against people who make a campaign of “refuting” labels is another still (although, one I wish we did better, by more often refusing the implicit premise of the accusation: that only fixed identities matter). And openly naming unjust actions, then funding groups to work against them in the future? Well, that’s just easy and optimally productive.

But talking about, say, the socioeconomic realities that shape our activism in the first place is not easy, even when we’re drawing from our own stories to make those nuanced arguments. And yes, to some extent, we have very good reason to be cautious of such commentary, because quite a few fellow white people (for instance) are experts at leveraging class against racialized-justice issues — as if racialization somehow exists at a remove from socioeconomics! Folks in this silver-tongued category will have you “know”, rather, that “everything is class”, and that if we just fix “class” all other societal pressure points will magically disappear. (Which is not the same, mind you, as those who see addressing class-based issues as part of the path to addressing other oppressions; I’m talking about white folks who love to point, say, to Black Marxist/socialist thinkers, as if their sheer existence is a winning argument “against” the value of racialized-justice discourse.)

Because of such bad-faith actors — along with the bad-faith actors who want us to believe that a label’s cultural relativism makes it irrelevant to social justice — we’re easy prey to the ways in which neoliberalism (that is, the relentlessly innovating engine of privatization, which seeks to commodify every facet of our lives under its “benevolent” economic stewardship) cultivates seemingly progressive politics from within, and in so doing inoculates itself from any pressure to produce deeper systemic changes. Take up your cutting-edge identity, neoliberalism exhorts, and then market the heck out of it! Here — we’ll even set up whole industries of behavioural and medicalized testing to help you categorize the True You, and then allow you to shape your outcomes within creative enterprise around how well you sell said identities to the markets!

I started this essay with a quote from Melancholy, which uncannily depicts a similarly ubiquitous identity movement some 400 years ago. Burton’s text, which a footnote adds was first published in 1621 and saw seven reprints over the next 55 years (followed by a resurgence of interest in the Romantic era,) explored how four wildly different behaviour-sets could be explained by the same condition, “melancholy”, as it acted on physiologies governed by one of the four humours: phlegm, blood, black bile, or yellow bile. The footnote also reveals a host of similar texts reflecting (and further popularizing) a widespread interest in this sweepingly medicalized approach to melancholy. This in turn illustrates that, much like the True Colours and Myers-Briggs movements, along with today’s our ever-expanding criteria for a wide range of behavioural labels we now feel safe fighting for politically, 16th- and 17th-century Westerners were fascinated by how this all-inclusive condition, which they had intuited from their biology, was shaping human outcomes.

Again, the conservative school of justice wants us to believe that proof of relativism is proof of irrelevance — but I think there’s a far more profound lesson to be drawn from the fact that people in previous centuries latched just as fervently onto the labels of their respective social contexts. Namely: Irrespective of the language of the moment, the people’s fealty to their new labels illustrates a profound hunger that binds our generation to ones far in the past — and no doubt to the generations that will succeed us, too.

This is the hunger of our better dreaming: of wanting so fervently to understand ourselves and our systems, and how best to improve both, that we relentlessly craft and recraft language in search of better fits between signifier and signified. And it is a hunger that has survived, I’m sure, ever so many other anxious moments like the one that currently frames much of our “progressivism”, in which many of us are so sure that the pursuit of greater human dignity depends upon having singular labels placed above further political reproach and socioeconomic precarity. The label — or more specifically, society’s refusal of a given label right up until it accepts the same — becomes the most pressing site of our moral outrage and our activism. (To riff off a classic soldier’s mantra: There are many like it, but this one is ours!)

In conversation series like Nayler’s interviews with science-fiction authors, though, there is a promise of something deeper. Nayler’s interdisciplinary commentary speaks to a strong interest in contextualizing our authors’ work, as well as in inviting authors to step up to the challenge of openly, didactically contextualizing their own. And the consequence of such discourse — the promise of it, at least — is that we can build stronger coalitions around the ideas our stories advance.

If we want to. If we’re ready to shoulder the attendant uncertainty.

In Nayler’s most recent interview, for instance, Dudak’s “Songs of Activation” proves a particularly potent site for such cultural analysis. Situated in a universe where a student’s precarious class background makes him acutely aware of the role of affluence in shaping different approaches to education and the university experience, the story advances the idea that one’s economic precarity can be sufficient basis for becoming meaningfully responsive to the injustices of empire. Both Dudak and Nayler have lived in other cultural contexts with profoundly different approaches to environmentalism, social organization, and the institutions/ideologies of colonialism — and it shows in the conversation they develop around this piece.

The story’s conclusion, however, is chillingly neoliberal, because it situates its activism within the existing system, with our protagonist’s radical act being to… write the best darned counterrevolutionary essay he can for his exam, in response to the question of empire set before him by Empire. Like many “progressive” moments of our time, and of decades come before, the field of revolutionary combat has been decided — nay, accounted for — by establishmentarian forces, which in turn are fortified by our reactivist activism: our pouring out of all possible resistance energies into those channels that the system itself creates.

The fact that the story ends at this point also leaves us with only real-world equivalents to fill in the blanks of what happens next: Does he fail, because this institution of empire chooses to refuse his radical essay? Or worse, does he succeed on its basis, and become a state-sanctioned “radical” whose criticism of the state allows him, personally, to gain greater economic stability within it? Our neoliberal world is little different, for it would have us focus on today’s most potent signifiers — the labels, that is, which allow individuals to feel affirmed within a terrible body of socioeconomic and political disparities — and thus fragment our activism, such that we cannot come together for the systemic overhauls needed to build a better world for all.

And alack, the interview series itself, in being “liked” and “retweeted” without yielding greater collaborative discourse, is already being assimilated in similar fashion. Of course it is. The industry, after all, is content with us focussing our activist energies on passively signalboosting other work, further commodifying our own, and generally treating conversation first and foremost as marketing opportunities for our brand. There will never be a push within neoliberalism for us to build the tools needed for its downfall.

On an individual level, too, I think we’re all very much doing what helps us best to cope within a frustrating social context — one with such relentless markers, that is, of disparity and injustice. I think, furthermore, that it’s exceedingly difficult for members of mammalian species to break out of their “comfort zone” and be willing to live with the greater uncertainty that any press for substantial social transformation requires. Conversely, the reactivist progressivism we more often draw upon is already quite affirming, for we are reassured of the rightness of our tribes whenever we perform it well. Doing otherwise is risky — and we of course have to remember the pragmatics of economic precarity when deciding to take on any extra risk.

So, maybe we won’t break out of our current paradigm for a while.

And if not, well, at least we’ll be no better — and no worse — than many a prior generation that also sought the “power words” that would best explain human behaviour and its sociopolitical and economic outcomes.

But when an opportunity comes along to try for something more cohesive? To build a justice-seeking literary discourse that focusses on collaborative possibilities? On an intersectionalism that’s willing to consider how we in the label-forward discourse might be building ourselves into freshly imperialist information silos, if we’re not careful about considering the hows and whys of such cultural absolutism?

I’d love to see us fight a little harder to grow something from such opportunities: to see us thread other stories, essays, ideas, authors, and experiences into the conversation, and refuse the proffered, mainstream battleground of better-dreaming solely via signalboosting whatever reactivisms are currently trending.

I’d love to see fall, in other words, neoliberalism’s built-in shelter from any radicalism that doesn’t keep it at the centre… and instead look upon a thriving sociopolitical discourse wherein relativism — the acceptance that humans are more than our found-and-foisted-upon labels in any given time and place — truly reigns.

You can join the Better Dreaming conversation at Ray Nayler’s website, or on Twitter, but this essay isn’t a stab at hagiography: There are plenty of other forums where thoughtful SF&F writers are trying to advance meaningful conversations with their work… and only finding themselves either “liked” and “retweeted”, or else pilloried for a contentious thread plucked from the whole. All I’m asking is that, whatever discourse we enjoy, learn from, and are challenged by, we add to, by connecting preceding and contemporaneous thinkers, texts, and examples to the original argument. This will allow us, as a collective, to resist operating in intellectual silos and playing into neoliberalism’s unrelenting thirst for novelty. Let our history of the current moment deepen its way out of new forms of ideological imperialism — and let us have the courage, in the process of advancing this greater discursive complexity, to refuse the conservative-thinker’s activism-shaping premise: that where there is uncertainty, fluidity, and dissent among various subject-positions and their latest labels, there is no cause to treat as fully equal all our fellow human beings.

We know better than that, surely. Do we not?

M L Clark talks neoliberalism’s influence on activist/progressivist discourse, and the value of discussion spaces like Ray Nayler’s Better Dreaming author-interview series


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