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Agitation as a countervailing force

What acts, movements, gestures does an embod- ied archive of political agitation comprise? What are the forms and modes of embodiment that can be counted? What might it mean to focus on the embodiment of agitation as a form of living pres- ence (and without prioritizing moral judgment as to its provenance or intention), rather than on the strategies used to kill it? 

Mel Y Chen – Agitation

Really interesting discussion this week as Rachel and Mattia took us through the theme of agitation in different contexts and then as a group we explored how we might express it in a visual, diagrammatic form.

Mel Y Chen explores the topic in the essay “Agitation”, drawing links between the term as it relates to pharmacology (literally in the agitation of chemical mixtures and chemical compounds), “psychomotor or neuromuscular movement (“excessive motor activity associated with a feeling of inner tension,” whether or not “influ- enced by external stimuli” [American Psychiatric Association 2013: 827]) and social and educational contexts (educational, political) where agitation may be perceived differently based on the race of the individual expressing it.

Cutting to the core of the topic, Chen states: “agitation has been something to treat or suppress from the point of view of a system of control”. Chen draws this medicalised theme out and connects it to “.. a consolidation of security and medicalizing discourses around the racialization of disability and the disabi-ization of race (two things ever materially entangled)” 

Chen contrasts different forms of systemic prejudice against black and asian American citizens, and the perception of “states of agitation” as they relate to gun violence and police treatment in these communities.

“When does time consolidate and agitation transmute from observed to observer in an encounter?” is such an interesting, finely tuned observation. As a person who hasn’t been the subject of noticeable racism or prejudicial treatment at the hands of the state (to my knowledge), I find this time-stopping bit of prose illuminating. I’ve been pulled over by the cops before, I’ve felt my stomach drop when the blue and red lights flash in the rear-view mirror. However this feeling of dread has a floor to it – what’s the worst that could happen? The link Chen draws here between agitation and dread is vivid – “For which bodies does the demand “Don’t move” most directly lay out the terms of living and dying, rather than the beginning of a negotiation?”

Our class then had a discussion of agitation from different perspectives. Malu had strong feelings (or, was agitated 😉 about the pathologies of mental illness and the intersection with the medical industry. She also had beef with Deleuze and Guttari’s rhizome vibes, arguing that sometimes people “need frames” and solid definitions to give structure to the world, as opposed to everything intra-acting in every dimension. I may be misquoting here, and if so I apologise.

We then committed our reflections on agitation to paper. Art therapy! Just kidding. The task was to map or diagram agitation, somehow for me that meant drawing it as a kind of energy field. I was thinking about weather systems and magnetic forces, and the idea of agitation as some kind of countervailing force – a more abstract interpretation than any of our discussions had circled around but, hey, I wanted to connect with it on an affective level.