It Looked Like What You Needed And Then It Needled You
Sousveillance Pageant has one older brother who is in lock-up and one ex-lover
who is there. Within any single given year, the Pageant also has anywhere
in the whereabouts of four to eight companions who rotate in and out of an
assortment of state-enforced and gated walls. These persons sit perched in
windowless stalls whose mission statements sometimes emit elaborate calls
for “public protection” or “personal rehabilitation” or “community safety”
or “violence abatement” or “lifetime sobriety” or “suicide watch.” Whatever
their lofty advertised missions, the looming watchtowers do not differentiate;
they glisten with strong-armed derision over every facility.
Unlike the others in her immediate community, the Pageant’s brother and
the Pageant’s ex-lover do not rotate, although their daily prominence in her
existence does at times shift. This is a drift in the intimacy of affiliations that
is sometimes of her own doing and sometimes of theirs, but more often is
the result of being caught in the painful crosshairs of institutionally created
barriers, be they of rising fares on highway tolls, or transfers to a new and
distant polis, or ancillary red tape, or a basic menu of facility prohibitions so
extensive in its drafting, so voluminous and ever-mutating, that it can’t be
provided in paper form.
To normalize or streamline your efforts of maintaining relations with your
loved ones, Sousveillance has learned that you often just have to intuit the
forbidden. Almost everything that you can conceive of doing that strikes
as kind or personalized or tied in any fashion to self-determination should
probably be excised without consultation. But this anticipatory reasoning
also runs certain alternate risks to one’s fitness and well-being. If you get too
good at receding your genuine desires, it can create its own kind of problem.
can accumulate into a macroevasion of feeling
The other day Sousveillance tried to describe with concision what the
relegation of her brother’s position to “permanently imprisoned,” when she
was barely seventeen, had meant to her own understanding of the patterns of
time and the lines by which a calendar might either ossify or be thrown into
“You become acutely aware,” she shares with a friend, “of the slots of the day,
of its increments, especially in relation to the artificial and arbitrary limits
which determine when this person—blood of your blood, now sundered—
has access to a phone, when they might try to reach you, if they are trying to
reach you. You can’t ever call back, so all you can do is attempt to be ready,
to be available. And this makes you aware of things in an odd way that you
wouldn’t be otherwise. At 10:30 am, for instance: Is it windy? Are your hands
free? Could you pull over on a dime if necessary?
“At 2:25 pm, while attending an undergraduate lecture at your present
university, you look about somewhat harried: are you seated near a door, is
the speaker pausing, could you dash away to engage elsewhere without being
noticed or verified as doing so, or at least without causing an unforgivable or
grade-altering level of disruption?”
In the understanding of one place, is always the attempt to be in contact
A double occupancy carved of single quarters.
A distortion, yes, but not a falsity.
“You carry someone in your head,” Sousveillance testifies, “who causes your
eyes to dart nervously, causes your appendages to pause at the onset of
known counts or mealtimes, even though you’re not being counted, you’re
not having a meal then, you’re not headed to or prevented from attending
yard. This schematic that you’ve absurdly adapted to isn’t imaginary, this
person isn’t figurative—they’re as real as real can be, at least they’re trying
to be. But they can’t be with you. Really, I mean it, they can’t. The state won’t
allow it. Ever.”
This is a severance of not just meddlesome, but schizophrenic proportions
the microderisions, the microsubdivisions of permitted linens and
the intimate microreality of the organs themselves, the microvascular
It happens like that sometimes.
The small runs large; the free runs up charges; the hidden guns for
In their ongoing collaborative performance project, initiated in 2013, the
Bay Area based Feminist Economics Department (the FED) scrutinizes the
US obsession with “security as profession” in its many contemporary and
historical guises, asking probing questions concerning just who or what is
“protected” by such roles, and, more seditiously, what a complete roll-over
into an alternate theory or vision of “protection” could look like.
The FED calls its project the Poets’ Security Force (PSF) and, in its words,
PSF is a mutual aid society that invites security guards to self-define what it
is that they would like to safeguard outside of other people’s property. PSF
propaganda encourages those so employed to: “Write poetry while at their
other job. Use the ‘report’ as a creative project. Protect on behalf of all people,
even when only assigned to protect the interests of a few. Act vulnerably.
Represent their own complexity.”
In the daylong workshops which accompany the Poets Security Force training
experiments, participant workers are asked to describe:
What are you hired to protect in your work ostensibly?
What are you really protecting?
The participant workers project their answers with a delicate expansiveness.
One of several self-designated poets on site is surprised to find herself
“As an adjunct professor at a private university, I protect students from
the reality of my own precarity and of theirs. I protect the illusion that
institutional education is still or ever was in its majority a liberatory
experience and a sustainable one. I falsely present myself as a ‘sustained’
being. There are strong reasons for doubt and disbelief—and I cover up
that doubt hourly; I flout a confidence which I wrench forth from the air
alone, and contrary to all counterindications.
“Along with my morning coffee this Thursday, I encountered an article in
the San Jose Mercury News reporting that almost 4% of the total student
body in California is homeless (some 270,000 students)3. Although my
experience validates this reality, my mouth does not. I swallow what I
ought to spit, protecting the college advertising kit that pronounces ‘We
make success,’ a lamppost flag dressed in the vestments of garish school
colors and the cherished fonts of royalty seals.”
Another woman slowly reveals the nature of her own daily duties to those
gathered around the wobbly formica table:
“I work in events security—concert halls, stadiums, auditoriums, and large
outdoor venues. I generally work ‘entry.’ Our task is to collect the cell
phones of ticketholders as they enter into big name celebrity shows. We
are told that we do so to prevent bootleg filming or unauthorized audio
recording, in a law-abiding attempt to curb the black market availability
of such items. It’s chaotic and it’s stressful because, as you can imagine,
no one wants to give up their phones. In fact, they are sometimes next to
hysterical at the mere prospect.
“As for us,” the woman notes, restraining herself from cussing, “as security
staff, we are required to sign a waiver, as stipulation for receiving the
job at all, which says that we grant full permission to the management
company to use our own images to any end they should desire. At any
time. Our signature qualifies as permanent consent—howsoever and
wheresoever those images might appear. Failure to sign this form is cause
for immediate termination of one’s position. Our pay is $7.25/hr.
“I guess you could say that our duty is to protect the power of one class
of people to maintain its secrets at the expense of our own complete and
This final overture causes many of the room’s heads to bob and nod involuntarily.
A few heads lob knowing, affirmative glances toward the speaker.
Someone else creaks loudly in their chair, breaking their own respectful
listening carriage to vocalize how certain very adamant anti-privacy advocates
have repeatedly been caught going to tremendous, even obscene, lengths to
maintain control over the visibility of their own most token activities or
A predictably asymmetrical policy of implementation