Ki? Kithe? Saanu ki?
What, where, and why does it matter to us?
This particular line of inquiry, as interconnected calls for clarification, substance, and location, rejects the abstract promises and pillars of liberal modernity1 by centering body (ki?), positionality (kithe?), and mattering (saanu ki?).
Kyon ki liberalism’s abstractions — where “the definite social relation between men themselves” assumes “the fantastic form of a relation between things,”2 where “the world moves through words as if the bodies the words reflect did not exist”3 — subjugate the feeling and sensing body to the will of racial capitalism.4
Kyon ki “the Enlightenment notion of the universal subject rests on the erasure of another’s corporeal integrity […] it may well have been the most foundational concept in the making of the modern world.”5
Kyon ki “the sadness lives in the recognition that a life can not matter.”6
An anatomical diagram that urges us to ask Ki? Kithe? Saanu ki?
The liver, or jigara. Saanu ki?
“The modern world follows the belly.”7 “Why do I care about the liver? I could have told her it is because the word live hides within it.”8
“Why do I care about the liver? It is because the word live hides within it.”
Ki? Kithe? Saanu ki? is a line of inquiry that frames liver writing, writing that breaks down the material and social toxins of liberal modernity infiltrating the blood of the body (politic), writing that forefronts substance, clarification, positionality, and mattering.
In Punjabi, jigara simultaneously signifies the liver, the heart, the mind, and the soul. “The liver is the largest single internal organ next to the soul, which looms large though it is hidden.”9 It conjures up a sense of guts and spirit, a sensation that makes us aware of the materiality of our bodies and their mediation. Jigara evokes the body as a material-semiotic juncture.
Ki? Kithe? Saanu ki? articulates our subjective positions in a material body at a particular time in a particular place, connected to other bodies situated in the same temporal-spatial location.
By signaling matter as an entanglement of language and materiality, Ki? Kithe? Saanu ki? outlines a form of jigara writing, asking us to recognize how and why bodies matter by rejecting relationality grounded in abstraction and advancing connections via the particularities of our bodies.
As the organs in the abdomen, Ki? Kithe? Saanu ki? reminds us that where liberalism abstracts, liver writing matters.
2. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, 165.
3. Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, 129.
4 a. In Capital, Vol. 1, the subjugation of the feeling and sensing body is keyed to the fetishism of the commodity, in which all of the product’s “sensuous characteristics are extinguished.” The product, imbued with the life of the activity of the laborer — life that emerges in the interaction between different forms of matter — loses its sensuality in its “abstraction from its use-value.” The abstracting characteristic of value suffocates sensuousness: “Not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values; in this it is the direct opposite of the coarsely sensuous objectivity of commodities as physical objects.” The physical object, as sensuous matter, as a non-abstracted use-value, forefronts the living, breathing, moving, mattering body: “However varied the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, it is a physiological fact that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or its form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, and sense organs.” The very materiality of the body, its capacity to feel and sense its entanglement with the world, makes itself known in the movement of creating a product, in the encounter between human and nonhuman matter. When the product is abstracted from its own body or use, when it “reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things,” the body of the laborer is also forgotten, existing as a shadow that lingers when the appearance of the relation between things obstructs our view of the relation between men. When products are transmuted into commodities, they become “sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible or social”; their sensuality, their social entanglement, is distorted by their abstraction, appearing as life divorced from other life, as matter that stands on its own.
4 b. If racial capitalism both abstracts from and claims mastery over the body, then Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, a rhizomatic assemblage of ruminations, photojournalistic evidence, diagnostic lists, prescription drug warning labels, anatomical diagrams, and television screens, both reveals and refutes this abstraction by attending to the mediation of the body in the neoliberal phase of racial capitalism.
5. Jennifer Morgan, Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic, 18.
6. Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, 23.
7. Saidiya Hartman, “The Belly of the World: A Note on Black Women’s Labors,” 166.
8. Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, 54.
Publab Fellow 2022
Kirat is a PhD student in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley and an editor for the critical humanities & social sciences journal Qui Parle. Her intellectual interests orbit around race, war, and capitalism, US women of color literature, and the philosophies of modern liberalism, Marxism, and Sikhism. They are also a huge nerd for sci-fi, fantasy, comics, video games, experimental rock, and all things weird and wonderful.