There Are Stories of Machines
A Review of Andrea Abi-Karam’s EXTRATRANSMISSION
“I USED TO WORK IN A LAB WITH RATS FOR A LONG TIME. A MEMORY LAB.”
So opens Andrea Abi-Karam’s first full-length collection of poetry EXTRATRANSMISSION (Kelsey Street Press, 2019). Themes of surveillance, contested subject memory, and the differences between animals recur and transfigure in EXTRATRANSMISSION to mine and undermine the relationships between capitalism, patriarchy, and nationalism. Abi-Karam, who is a self-described “arab-american genderqueer punk poet-performer cyborg,” goes after white nationalism's foot soldiers: cops, patriots, and parasitic technocrats, while searching the system's glitches for an escape. Abi-Karam, who studied with the poet Juliana Spahr at Mills College, published THE AFTERMATH on Commune Editions in 2016.
In Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times theorist Jasbir Puar, who blurbed EXTRATRANSMISSION, writes, “At this historical juncture, the invocation of the terrorist as a queer, nonnational, perversely racialized other has become part of the normative script of the US war on terror.” Homonationalist biopolitics produces this homophobic and racist othering that marks some queer bodies as being in need of "saving" in the interest of empire, while rendering other queer bodies disposable. Puar's conceptual framing of homonationalism explains a contemporary development where sexually progressive multiculturalism, including the “tolerance” of queer people, is used as a reactionary tool against states and peoples deemed a security threat. For example, Puar writes that the increase in rights for queer citizens in Israel paralleled the increased segregation and subjugation of Palestinian people since the Oslo Accords.
If Puar offers us a theoretical landscape for understanding how queer visibility is instrumentalized by the US war machine, then Abi-Karam’s EXTRATRANSMISSION is a manifesto for ungovernable queers that comes out of that landscape. It is a manifesto for those who would rather be considered criminals in the pursuit of a collective insurgency than be affiliated with the pigs.
In the section titled “KILL COP/KILL BRO” non-linear prose fragments, sometimes in all caps, explore a speculative militancy. The lines come fast and sharp:
kill all the noise bros who move to Brooklyn & tell everyone
desperately that the noise they’re making is the only thing they
believe in. kill all the bro poets. actually you know what, kill all the bros. kill all the power dynamics in the room. kill all the power dynamics in the white room.