Life as fanfiction: Building a self and a world beyond what has shaped us

Carleton College – Feb 13th, 2024 – access copy

Did you know that Fifty Shades of Grey started its life as an erotic fan fiction of the Twilight novels? E.L. James changed the names for the publication of her series, but Anastasia is Bella, Christian is Edward, etc. Fan fiction is when readers (“fans”) write stories set in fictional worlds created by other writers.Now, I don’t need you to be excited about vampires or kink, separately or together. But if you didn’t know Fifty Shades’ origin story, isn’t it interesting to learn that it is part of a longer conversation? When I learned this, I suddenly perceived these books as an interaction rather than a proclamation, a work of collective enthusiasm rather than an individual project. You may think of fan fiction as a small niche hobby, if you’ve heard of it at all. But there is a dizzying array of work available on sites like Archive of Our Own,, and, where people write and share work out of love for a world that they did not originate but that they contribute to creating. While fanfic often has erotic content, much is kid-friendly. Fic has proliferated over more recent years. I’m thinking here of the Harry Styles wattpad-to-film franchise After, the wild proliferation of works set in the Harry Potter universe (notably the success of the dark Dramione fic Manacled), the Omegaverse (which significantly originated with the show “Supernatural”), Ali Hazelwood’s contemporary romance novels (which originated as Reylo fic), as well as meta-fic, such as Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl and the Simon books, in which Rowell wrote the fic referenced in the Fangirl. Fanfic is one place where we enact the possibility of revising what’s given to us, and creating something unexpected out of it. In art or life, we can be part of an unfinished, collaborative process of creating something that doesn’t yet exist out of what we receive. We can do that with wonderful things, but also we can do it with the lousy, complicated, terrible things that make up so much of our world. People joyously and prolifically generate new work even in the face of despair, and we can too.

            Fan fiction often takes the straight world received in conventional writing and queers it – so, in the Harry Potter universe Remus and Sirius were (obviously) a couple, so were Ron and Harry, and (less obviously, unless you like the enemies-to-lovers trope) so were Harry and Malfoy. Kirk and Spock prototypically queer the Star Trek universe, and so on (there are currently 516,327 works in the LGBTQ Themes section of AO3). If your fic reading practices are queer oriented, as mine are, it can be tempting to say that fanfic is ontologically good because it explores what would happen if the queer choice was made, instead of the straight choice; almost always, the alternative universe in which everyone makes the queer choice is just a better universe. But of course there is also a lot of straight fanfic that is still doing something transformative.

Writing fanfic almost always also involves reading it, and participating in a community that jointly shapes the interpretive context of shared texts. Fanfic is a beautiful exemplar of a more general approach to making art and offering it to others as a practice of craft abundance. It refuses the idea that we should monetize everything creative that we make (though there are more examples now that Fifty Shades in which fic authors file off the serial numbers and find significant commercial success). Fic writing makes a claim on shared worlds that some original authors are not comfortable with (Stephanie Meyers reportedly decided not to write a book from Edward’s point of view on hearing that E.L. James was doing one from Christian’s). Fic eschews the model of the brilliant Author, spinning worlds out of whole cloth, isolated and mighty. Instead, writers of fanfic are self-avowedly both consumers and creators of work — fanfic exemplifies one way that works of art offer us worlds unpredicted by their own authors.

Consider how often we’re told that there is a predictable, ultimate meaning authored by the universe, and that our job is just to discern it.  Self-help writer and artist Marlee Grace puts it like this: “Yes, it took until chapter 10, but I am here now to tell you the universe has a divine and specific plan for you. And it’s so magnificent. But we only get to have it if we pay very close attention. Here are suggestions for how to do so” (Grace 134). A lot of self-help books have this kind of approach, as do many mystical and divinatory techniques. But if the universe has a plan for you, if everything happens for a reason, then the project is just to discern this plan. I object to this approach, and prefer the idea that we’re part of making plans for our lives. This approach assumes that we can change the script that has been written for us. We can have love for founding stories but still critique and transform them. It may be that it is possible to use technologies such as throwing the I Ching, having our Tarot cards read, or our horoscopes done, in the critical and collaborative mode that I believe fanfic exemplifies. Part of that involves a commitment to a shared world, which in certain ways constrains or anchors the claims that we’re making about and for it. Loving critique and creation in fic relies upon some shared reference points – the difference between telling someone a story based on a dream you had and telling them a story about when Kirk and Spock started dating is that it is possible to triangulate whether the Enterprise was anywhere near the planet on which you’re setting their first kiss.

Critique as love helps us understand why we still feel betrayed when an author tries to be an Author, to close down the meaning of their text, or when they turn out to be a bigot, like JK Rowling. The author is important to texts we love, and they can still hurt us even if they’re dead. The aliveness of the reader means that we can critique and enliven problems even in beloved worlds. This death and aliveness is an aesthetic situation; it invites us to practice our own capacity for response in a shared context. The meanings we make in relation to the work we engage are collectively and relationally crafted.

Jo Walton’s novel Or What You Will (Tor, July 2021) offers a beautiful model for thinking about this kind of collective meaning-making. The main characters are a dying writer, Sylvia, and the main narrator she uses in her writing. He is alive, an invisible friend, a part of Sylvia, or perhaps a piece of life that slips into her fiction. Sylvia and her narrator have collaborated throughout her life, and he wants to find a way for her to not die through writing herself into her final novel. This book inquires into the ways story can save our lives.

In Or What You Will, Sylvia’s mother was unloving, emotionally abusive, terrifying. Sylvia escaped her mother’s orbit by marrying, chewing off a paw to escape a trap, into a different kind of abusive relationship. Of that relationship, the narrator says, “The violence is the easy thing to talk about, in many ways. It’s much harder to say that he circumscribed her soul” (349). Sylvia is saved, or saves herself, freeing herself from abusive others who have controlled her life’s course. Here the book explores a question that follows from the death of the author: If others have had the power to write our story, what power do we have to revise it? When our very soul has been circumscribed, where do we find the aliveness to revise our lives?

Walton writes:

There is a pernicious lie in Western culture that Sylvia has tried to combat in her books for years, and it is this: a child who is not loved is damaged beyond repair. Relatedly, anyone who has been abused can never recover. These lies are additional abuse heaped on those who have already suffered. … People who have been abused will not be the people they would have been if it had never happened. But they can be splendid people going on from where they are (374).

The pernicious lie is propped up by a theory of selfhood positing the people who author us as having final say in who we are. But, this novel asserts, parents are not our gods and abuse does not write the whole story of our lives.

This exploration of people who have been abused, whose souls have been circumscribed by their parents or their partners, going on from where they are to be splendid people instantiates what Barthes thought of as resisting final signification, any secret, ultimate meaning emanating from the authors of our interpersonal experiences. It is taking our life as a text with some original authorship, but which we can rewrite. If we are sometimes characters in other people’s stories, subject to their writing, we are also our own readers, our own characters, our own authors, and because of our liveliness we can go on, making ourselves anew, no matter what history we inherit.

Walton’s iterative exploration of the aliveness of the reader offers an immanent critique of dominant models of surviving abuse and interpersonal boundary violation. Sylvia’s mother was unloving, emotionally abusive, terrifying: What does that imply about who Sylvia can become? Walton contests the idea that abuse writes in stone what kind of life abused people can lead; she contests the idea that parents are our Authors and that they have the final word on our lives.

Contrast this with the commonsense idea that parents are responsible for their children’s behavior, especially in limit cases such as mass school shootings. In these narratives, abuse is taken to explain sociopathic, violent, pathological people — or at least their behaviour. It is very common for newspaper articles, talk show hosts, and people on the street to ask what the parents did or failed to do to make their kids into monsters.

            Take a few examples: In the novel (later a movie) We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver asks whether Eva, a mother telling the story in letters to her absent partner Franklin, is responsible for their murderous son Kevin. The novel is dense, ugly, and very readable, circling malevolently around what Shriver adeptly characterizes as “every parent’s latent fear that it was possible to do absolutely everything right and still turn on the news to a nightmare from which there is no waking.” Eva is an unreliable narrator, but every indication is that she was unloving, emotionally and physically abusive, a terrifying mother to a sociopathic killer; she thinks he was born that way, but Shriver gives her reader even odds that Eva made him into what he became.

In contrast to Shiver’s incisive, pitiless writing, Sue Klebold’s memoir A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy offers an earnest engagement with actually, in the real world, trying to do absolutely everything right and turning on the news to find your child is one of the Columbine killers. The memoir takes up the question of whether Klebold and her family are responsible for Dylan Klebold’s actions, directly answering the many people who wondered how they could have missed the signs that he was preparing to commit mass murder and kill himself. Sue Klebold characterizes herself and her family as having done everything right, certainly not as unloving, abusive, or terrifying — but still as responsible for not recognizing that Dylan Klebold was in a mental health crisis. She writes, “We don’t lose our bearings because we’re bad people. Persistent thoughts of death and suicide are symptoms of pathology, not of flawed character” (xii).

Klebold is right to argue that turning toward parents in trying to explain school shootings implies a conception of character: Our character is shaped by the people who raised us. In that conception, withdrawn or abusive parents are partially responsible for kids becoming the sorts of people who kill others.

Shriver’s novel too enacts such a conception, along with a persistent theme that school shootings are a matter of imitation and one-upping other school shooters. Klebold turns toward medicalization, a disease model of murder and suicide, and affirms the view that how we report about school shootings contributes to the likelihood of copy-cat killings. Such a model is tactically effective, I believe, and epidemiological attention to clusters of suicides shows us that it does matter how imaginable self-harm is. A third example is currently playing out, with a legal case to hold Ethan Crumbley’s parents criminally responsible for the murders he committed in 2021 in Michigan. Jennifer and James Crumbley bought their son a gun for his fifteenth birthday, and reportedly ignored many signs that he was planning violence. This focus is on the material conditions that underlay mass shootings – since the vast majority of school shootings use guns acquired in the home – but also Ethan Crumbley’s defense relies in part on that narrative that he was insufficiently nurtured. His lawyer characterised him as a “feral child,” whose brain was “still maturing” (AP Aug 1, 2023); the lawyers defending his parents are trying to force Ethan to testify in their defense (Reuters Jan 23, 2024).

I honor Sue Klebold for reflecting deeply on her son’s actions and turning her life after his actions towards preventing suicide and supporting youth mental health. But I think we should be unsatisfied with both the parents-as-authors story (producing flawed or good character in their offspring, Shriver’s approach) and the pathology unnoticed-in-time story (Kelbold’s). Both encode a conception of the self as settled, subject to a final signification. Reading our past — whether parents, genetics, or circumstance — as though it explains who we are and what life we can lead is part of the pattern of attempting to discern a secret. Such an approach animates quite a lot of self-help literature, in which we’re invited to find an explanation for our life in something outside ourselves that now constitutes our selves — so, God, trauma, abuse, good or bad schooling, good or bad genes, and so on. This self-help through external reference approach is weirdly woven together with a dominant strain of neoliberal responsiblization manifest in endless self-improvement. This second approach flattens out our history and social context, and we are all supposed to be equally capable of maximum optimization though heroic acts of individual will. Considering the material, political, and felt character of what actions are possible is vital here, as the Crumbley case shows us: How we shape the social and practical choices available to us cannot be left to the dyadic family structure, since so often, as in their case, it is in the parental home people get guns. I’m interested instead in how we nourish our capacities of self and world making starting from the understanding that relational and historical circumstances are the terrain upon which we change ourselves or the world – but also recognizing that they are not an end point for the work we do. Our selves are in constant process of revision, inviting beta reads, and exploration.

I see Jo Walton offering just such an existential-aesthetic model of selfhood and transformation. By existential I mean that she gives an account of self-making as an ongoing project without recourse to predestination and in the face of death. This project is one for which we can take radical responsibility, though only in the context of recognizing the actual world in which we live and the histories we inherit. Paraphrasing Marx: We make history, but not in circumstances of our own choosing. As someone prone to despair about the circumstances in which we find ourselves implicated, many of which we are helpless to affect, the approach to history Walton offers has helped me think about death and art.

Or What You Will’s narrator reflects on death, his own and others. He says, “terrible things are happening, and some of them in our names. Do what you can. Every little bit helps. Speak up for the voiceless, protect the powerless, open up choices for the choiceless. …We’re all going to die. Finding ways to save other people is one form of immortality” (316). And saving others, in Walton’s work, includes making and preserving art.

When we feel despair about the state of the world, when we feel implicated in the terrible things being done in our names, it is reasonable that the future feels impossible to picture. Walton’s approach here rejects the idea that the world we receive dictates the world we can make together. She enjoins us to make something and pass it forward even if we’re not sure there are hands waiting to receive it. The novel offers the idea that the best way to manifest aliveness is to practice our own art towards futures we cannot picture. Saving other people also means witnessing and responding to beauty, passing forward, hand-to-hand, something that outlasts us.

The book asks what it means to work with our whole being on creating goodness that we will not personally experience but that we offer to the future. Recognizing art, it encourages us to “admit that we are moved, that we care, that this is important” (46). Seeing beauty, Or What You Will suggests that we might respond “the only way anyone can, by gasping at the wonder of it and then making art of one’s own. You can’t answer it or equal it or rival it, but it makes you see you have to give it the best you can because nothing else is good enough” (172). The only thing we ever really have to offer is what we ourselves can make, in our specific context and with our own self.

Equally, while we make work ourselves, we also only do it in relation to a collective framework – we witness and are moved by others doing this, and we then offer ourselves to them. Rather than a model of individual geniuses working alone, the approach here is a bumptious collection of enthusiastic makers of our own work and appreciators of one another’s work, in time and across history.

To me, this encouragement to give the present and future the “best you can” evokes Audre Lorde’s conception of the erotic. The erotic is a felt sense of knowledge, life-force, and fullness that Lorde argues might animate our life.[1] She characterizes the erotic as sensual (in some of the usual ways we think of eros, sexual and sensual) but also as arising when we write a poem, build a bookcase, dance, share joy with others. It cannot, she says, be felt secondhand. Having experienced the erotic in this sense, recognizing its power, we cannot settle for less. Lorde says:

It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies (54).

The recursive process through which we pursue “this internal requirement toward excellence,” as Lorde puts it, allows us to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society — and thus to encourage excellence in ourselves and others. That sentence “To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence” reads like a transcription error, but it is actually a spiral, and one I believe Lorde constructed that way on purpose. Every time we center the power of the erotic in our own self-making, we are also contributing to a collective context in which others might also pursue excellence in this way. Lorde here articulates an approach toward building our own capacities that requires changing collective conditions; this is not a voluntarist, individualist approach. Manifesting the erotic requires making a world in which we all can live good lives. And we contribute to that making through the work we do.

A different way to approach this is to say: Perceiving the horror of all that is being done, and in our names, how do we continue transcribing hope for a future with trust that there will be hands to pass that work on to? How can we refuse the circumscription of the soul collectively forced on us by capitalism? How can we re-author ourselves even when we have been subject to abuse and violence? How do we respond to beauty and, gasping at the wonder of it, turn to then making art of our own?

I have found myself turning to actual art making for inspiration here, including my own work as a potter. On this, I really like this book Art & Fear. David Bayles and Ted Orland argue:

The hardest part of art making is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over — and that means, among other things, finding a host of practices that are just plain useful. A piece of art is the surface expression of a life lived within productive patterns. Over time, the life of a productive artist becomes filled with useful conventions and practical methods, so that a string of finished pieces continues to appear to the surface (62).

I love this idea. Living our lives in a shape that produces work as its byproduct, as a surface product of patterns that nourish making, might seem a long way off from Barthes, let alone from fan fiction set in an alternate universe were Voldemort won. But creating and offering as an ongoing practice of collaboration with fellow readers and writers, creators of worlds, is very much in a fic ethos. Among other things, as I’ll discuss below, this attention to process rather than product might open space for refusing the commodification of our selves that neoliberalism’s endless drive for self-improvement places on us. I find possibility in the space of holding fidelity to a habit-forming demand for freedom, a commitment to the erotic, and — gasping at the wonder of it — making art in response to this world.

What would it mean to live our life in such a way that the work gets done, over and over? In such an approach to making art, we are also making a life, choosing what to do with our time such that we keep fidelity to making of ourselves something beyond what our original authors may have intended. The crucial question here is how we decide what kind of self and world we aim to make, despite and against the history and world that shapes our possibilities. Taking fanfic as our method does not offer a guarantee of resisting capitalism. It is possible to argue that the fundamental framework of fic is oriented against private ownership, since so much of it is written in spite of copyright and not for profit. But, as the increasing trend to take fic and publish it for profit shows, this orientation is not necessary to it. It is vital that while the mode of doing fic can orient us toward anti-capitalist approaches, the only way to manifest practices of felt abundance and fundamental generosity is in collectivity. We can transform, but we never do it alone.

But we can build collective possibilities for everyone and everything to be able to transform in this way. Life as fanfiction! We can make something unpredicted by the scripts offered us; we can make alternate trajectories. But, as with fanfiction, in our life we need others to participate in the kind of shared making, and meaning-making, that living in this world necessarily involves.

This is to say: When we make the aspiration that we could all become splendid people, going on from where we are to make new histories that resist the circumscription of our souls, that must be a collective aspiration.  

Evils such as colonialism, the extinction crisis, unjust treatment of migrants, ecological devastation, and so on, are sites of implication in profound harm that invite repair, moral and practical. This is complicated, because we want to help repair something even as we’re involved in continuing to damage it. Elizabeth Spelman’s book Repair: The impulse to restore in a fragile world offers resources for this kind of situation. Repair is an action manifesting a response to damage and the despair it can engender. Repair enacts a commitment to not giving up.

Spelman turns to movements for restorative justice to think about how repair can grapple with political inheritances of complex harms, arguing that we can think about repair as itself a form of destruction. As she puts it: ‘Repair is the creative destruction of brokenness’ (134). Thinking about repair as a way of becoming more engaged or connected with a state of brokenness may open space for creative, collaborative approaches to complicity. And we can engage brokenness even if there is no state of wholeness to which we can, or want to, return.

Here I think of Gustav Landauer’s frequently quoted argument:

The state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behaviour between them; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society of men [sic] (Landauer, quoted in Marshall, 411).

Destruction is a relation, and so we can ask what form of destruction we want to practice. One that continues to devastate the world and everyone in it? Or one that destroys social relations of capitalism, colonialism, and border militarism? There is no destruction without creation; the current organisation of capitalism is constantly creating a world that, to our sorrow, is also destroying the world. Every politics that involves taking a stance is, on this view, both creative and destructive. Affirming certain visions requires discarding others. And while it may sound easy to contract different relationships, to behave differently towards one another, taking seriously our implication in structural injustice requires us to address what relationships individuals are able to contract with one another under current social relations. Affirming relations that cannot yet fully exist – for example, relations outside of colonialism – aims to abolish current relations. Relations that have been anti-relational from their beginning, such as colonialism and extractivist capitalism, based as they are on normalising evil, are relations that need to be destroyed before any other ethical engagement can begin.

I am, still, hesitant about my own interest in this move to thinking about repair as the creative destruction of brokenness. Eli Clare’s rich grappling with the logics of cure, ranging from thinking about disability to the restoration of tall grass prairie in places that have been farmed with monocrops, illuminates this question even as it complicates any understanding of brokenness.

Clare asks, ‘how do we witness, name, and resist the injustices that reshape and damage all kinds of body-minds – plant and animal, organic and inorganic, nonhuman and human – while not equating disability with injustice?’ (56). He moves from this question into a consideration of ecological restoration, considering the longing many of us have for a kind of return to a time before climate change:

[E]nvironmentalists, partly motivated by the longing, have started to learn the art and science of ecological restoration. They broadcast tallgrass prairie seeds, raise and release wolves, bison, whooping cranes. They tear up drainage tiles and reroute water back into what used to be wetlands. They pick up trash, blow up dams, plant trees, hoping beyond hope that they can restore ecosystems to some semblance of their former selves before the white, colonialist, capitalist, industrial damage was done.

When it works, restoration can be a powerful force, contributing to the earth’s well-being, as well as providing an antidote to loss. But the damage may be irreversible; some ecosystems, irreplaceable. Restoration may take centuries or may be a Band-Aid stuck on a gaping wound. We may not be able to fix what has been broken (58-59).

He adds a crucial point that I have not seen fully explored in the academic literature: Repair thought of as cure may be a problem because it can only picture success as involving fixing what is broken. Clare connects this with his own experience of sexual, physical, and mental violence, at the hands of his father and his father’s friends. He says, ‘I won’t write the details or try to capture the terror and pain in words. But believe me: what they did broke my body-mind. It shaped every part of my life. This is not hyperbole, not a claim to perpetual victimhood nor a ploy for sympathy, but rather an enraging truth’ (159). This matters, because ‘The ideology of cure would have us believe that whole and broken are opposites and that the latter has no value’ (159, emphasis in original). If there is any use in the idea of repair as a creative destruction of brokenness, it will require careful attention to Clare’s points here: We may not be able to fix what is broken; brokenness has value.  This is true of people, and it is true of our suffering planet. So, how might we, to reprise Landauer, contract different relationships? And are different relationships all we need to build a world in which everyone can flourish? Which side are we on?

Asking which side we are on raises the prospect of binary, purist thinking about politics, as though it was easy to delimit sides and as though being implicated would make it impossible for us to be on the side of justice. If we’re implicated no matter what we do, and if we cannot excuse ourselves from that relation, can we take that situation as the ground for action? It is precisely the political features of ethical decision making in complex and relational contexts that makes this ethically interesting terrain. We’re involved in circumstances in which we are going to have to begin repair even as we are continuing to break the world. In this context, how do we practice our capacities to make different collective decisions?

It is easy to type ask that question; it is much harder to build the actual practices involved in moving from where most of us are – individual agents who are at best recycling and bicycling – to where we need to be: hundreds of millions of organised and energised people working collectively to take power and fundamentally transform the world. But since we cannot solve the wicked problems that confront us through expressions of our individual will, and since we are confronting a planetary disaster unevenly of our own making that will destroy us completely very soon if we don’t do something, collective liberation really is our only good option.

In practice, organizing mass movements means getting involved with other people to do things that put us in league with a future that does not end in ruin and desolation. Taking each site of implication in evil we find as a site for doing otherwise gives us a starting point. Taking up the work of repair as we continue to be implicated in ongoing destruction requires us to go further, to skill-up in collectivity. Many people today have never experienced working in collective contexts that are not organised through their wage work or church. Many people have not developed the skills of having an articulated politics, in both the sense of an explicit, expressed politics, and in the sense of a politics that is put together, assembled. Participating in mass movements changes us, and gives us skills that individualism and neoliberalism have stolen from us. I believe these skills are both on the level of feeling and in terms of practice. Being part of movements over the long haul builds a comfort with feeling curious and uncertain about what might happen next, an openness to being surprised by things changing.  And we learn all the many ways there are to work with others in non-heirarchical ongoing relations.

Identifying whose side we are on is a key beginning for this work. Alook et al argue for a kind of left populism grounded in the complexity and contradictions of actually existing social worlds. They write,

It is possible to acknowledge different histories and goals, while at the same time drawing parallels in order to present a shared narrative of ‘us’ – Indigenous peoples, workers, migrants and displaced people, women, LGBTQ2S+, disabled, and young people – and ‘them’ – a small group of mostly settler capitalists (Alook et al, 156).

Social movement historian Chris Dixon underlines that building such narratives is not easy. He writes:

I think the crucial step here is developing a distinction between those who gain privileges (by race, gender, sexuality, and class status) through the current systemic arrangement versus those who gain immense profit and power. In order to build successfully transformative movements, we must prioritize the struggles of those most disadvantaged by ruling systems and bring more and more of the first category of people onto our side by giving them investment to address their privileges – all while consistently targeting the second category of people and the structures that sustain their power and profit-making (Dixon 2014, 224-225).

These interventions help us conceive of the fruitful work of identifying complicity within the field of shared implication and responsibility. Naming a ‘them’ – those who are on the side of the death economy, who believe they can ride out global heating and leave the rest of us to burn, starve, and die of thirst – is part of naming the social relations we who believe in a shared world want to destroy. They are complicit in those relations, and committed to deepening the wrongs baked in to capitalism and colonialism. But we also identify a ‘we’ – uneven, some more responsible than others, some benefiting from social relations of oppression and benefit while others suffer. We can meet our implication in those relations by becoming complicit with one another to oppose them, to repair relations, to build a new world in the shell of the old. This ‘we’ is on the side of something creative, something we do not know the end of yet, of a world that can be shared. As Arundhati Roy famously wrote: ‘Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing’ (Roy). Let’s become complicit with that world, even though (and precisely because) we are implicated in this one.

[1] See also Caleb Ward’s work on Lorde’s thinking on the erotic (Ward 2023).