Bernard E. Harcourt | Resisting Bodies

By Bernard E. Harcourt 

January 30, 2018. 5:25pm CST. I am sitting on a plane headed to Birmingham, Alabama, for a hearing tomorrow in federal court—in the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse in historic downtown Birmingham—on Doyle Hamm’s execution, scheduled for February 22, 2018. I had tried to write the introductory blog for our seminar on “The Body and Trouble,” but kept needing to prepare one last pleading, one last exhibit, one last witness, one last consult. I should now be reading the Attorney General’s most recent pleading, just filed before I left for the airport, their objections to the exhibits I will introduce tomorrow at the hearing on their motion for summary judgment, but all of a sudden the readings from Jack Halberstam, Katherine Franke, and Zethu Matebeni, from Paul Preciado to Zeina Jallad, came crushing down on me like thunder. How could I not have realized sooner the deep and sweeping interconnections between these remarkable theoretical interventions and the raw physicality and resistance taking place in Doyle Hamm’s body.

Paul Preciado’s lived experienced of testosterone addiction and bodily transformations, Jack Halberstam’s utterly compelling analysis of the transformations of the self, Katherine Franke’s theorization of state power—from miscegenation to same-sex marriage—laced, as she demonstrates with the power of white supremacy, Zethu Matebeni’s harrowing account of the wave of murders of black lesbian, gay, and trans* people in South Africa, they all highlight the centrality of these bodies, and the troubling of bodies, to social change, to resistance, to uprising. How the state shapes these bodies, alongside the many other corporate, social media, and economic actors, the pharmaceutical industry, among others, and how these bodies resist and trouble the attempted governance, these are central questions for our exploration of modalities of resistance.

Of all our sessions of Uprising 13/13, in fact, it is these forms of bodily resistance that seem to undergird the others—and we had seen this, for instance, in the seminar on Satyagraha and on civil disobedience. But here, the bodies rise to the fore as somehow transcending the collectivity. Sure, they can be collective as well, perhaps need to be, but the personal experiences of transformation are what seizes our political imagination: The transformations of the body as a political mode of revolt. Intended at time, unalterable or beyond our control at others.

And that is where Doyle Hamm’s body enters—a sick, cancerous body, we have practically no idea what’s going on inside because there’s never even been a PET scan. No sonogram to know the conditions of his veins. Bumps and knots appear under his skin. A huge cancerous mass in his cranium popping his left eye out, irradiated. Something about the spinal fluid possibly affected, but no spinal tap. Lymphoma coursing through his lymph nodes, we can only assume. A cancerous lesion on his left cheek, biopsied three times, determined to be cancerous three times over the past four years—there, for all to look at.

“Bring us the body”—that is, habeas corpus. Yesterday, the federal judge in Birmingham, who seems very conscientious, entered an order habeas corpus ad testificatum to bring the body to court. This body that is getting sicker. This body that is not complying. This body that is, itself, alone apparently resisting the state, as it decays and grows old and dies.

Like thunder, it all hit me. Body and trouble. I so look forward to our rich discussion on Thursday, February 1, 2018. But in the meantime, let me return to those objections. I will need to respond in less than fourteen hours from now, in Courtroom 8.

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