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Conference presentation: Listening beyond Crisis: attention, duration and endurance in how are you today?

I will be presenting a paper at the 2019 Law, Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia (LHAA) conference Law in End Times as part of a panel titled “how are you today: What can we hear beyond crisis, sound, and the carceral on Manus?with co-panelists James Parker (University of Melbourne) and Emma Russell (La Trobe University), with André Dao (Behind the Wire / University of Melbourne) as panel chair.

Presentation abstract: From the ‘stop the boats’ rhetoric of Operation Sovereign Borders to #KidsoffNauru and #BringThemHere to the 2018 Migration Amendment Bill (or ‘Medivac’ bill)—legal, discursive and spatiotemporal logics of crisis are used to both defend Australia’s offshore detention regimes in the name of state securitisation and appeal to humanist calls for empathy and compassion.  This logic of crisis presents a double harm: it obscures the ‘slow violence’ (Nixon, 2011) of the settler-colonial carceral state, and renders disposable those whose lives continue unnoticed within this uneven economy of attention.  Urgency and emergency construct some refugees/asylum seekers as objects of care and sympathy (such as children or those who qualify for ‘urgent medical treatment’ under the Medivac legislation); while others are endure in a state of unending suspension—reminders of the always-potential ‘threat’ to Australia’s (socio-political and imagined) borders.

This paper aims to listen beyond crisis, in response to the artwork and archive how are you today? (2018) made by the Manus Island Recording Project Collective and which consists of fourteen hours of audio recordings from Manus Island made over four months.  Focusing on attention, duration, and endurance, I argue how are you today? demands a more sustained and located politics of listening— one oriented not towards empathy or compassion, but which, as Bickford (1996) insists, accounts for the multiple ways we are positioned in and by structures of power.  In this way, it becomes possible to register the particular ‘zone of temporality’ (Berlant, 2007, 759) inhabited by the men on Manus—the ordinary and mundane moments, their ‘getting by and living on’.  Listening beyond crisis offers a way to hear how the enduring-ness of life on Manus—the solitude and suffering, but also the sociality and solidarity—testify to the very limits of what settler-colonial carceral logic and law can hear.

Panel description

Since 2013, nearly two thousand men have been indefinitely detained on Manus Island by the Australian Government after arriving in this country seeking asylum. When the Manus Regional Processing Centre was formally closed on 31 October 2017, after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, the men still detained there were forcefully evicted to new, smaller detention centers in Lorengau, the major town on Manus.

how are you today is a collaboration between some of these men on Manus – Farhad Bandesh, Behrouz Boochani, Samad Abdul, Shamindan Kanapathi, Kazem Kazemi and Abdul Aziz Muhamat – and Michael Green, André Dao and Jon Tjhia in Melbourne. The work was commissioned for Eavesdropping, an exhibition held at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, between July and October 2018. Every day for the fourteen weeks of the exhibition, one of the men on Manus made a sound recording and sent it ‘onshore’ for swift upload to the gallery. By the project’s end, there were eighty-four recordings in total, each ten minutes long. The result is an archive of fourteen hours—too large to synthesise, yet only a tiny fraction of the men’s ongoing interment. This panel explores that archive from a range of different perspectives. Each panelist interrogates what how are you today might say as an artwork and as an archive of evidence, in relation to the evolving forms and logics of off-shore detention, settler-colonial carcerality, and resistance to them.