Sarah Parker Remond Centre


Transcript: In conversation with Xine Yao

This conversation was recorded on 19th July 2023. Speakers: Dr Gala Rexer, Lecturer at the Sarah Parker Remond Centre // Dr Xine Yao, University College London

INT:     Hello and welcome back to the SPRC Podcast. I’m Gala Rexer, Lecturer at the Sarah Parker Remond Centre at UCL and I’m delighted to welcome Dr Xine Yao who has joined me today to talk about her book, Disaffected and race, gender, emotions, and politics more broadly. Xine is my colleague here at UCL, where she has recently been promoted to Associate Professor in American Literature to 1900, where she serves as the Co-Director of the Queer Studies Network, qUCL and, if I may so, is one of the best dressed academics I have met so far.

XY:      Thank you.

INT:     Their first book, Disaffected The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America was published in 2021, with Duke University Press, and has won Duke’s Scholars of Color First Book award, as well as an Arthur Miller First Book Prize honourable mention from the British Association of American Studies. She’s a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker and the co-host of their own podcast PhDivas. We wanted to record an episode for the SPRC podcast for a while now, so I’m really excited it’s finally happening, so thank you so much for joining me today, Xine. 

XY:      Oh thank you so much, Gala, for being persistent. For those of you who might have been following the SPRC event schedule, Gala organised this fantastic conversation that I had at the beginning of the year with Lola Olufemi, but actually then I was struck down by Long Covid for most of this past year. So many thanks to Gala for her patience and persistence and following up and also, knock on wood, I’m on the road to recovery now. So very pleased to finally be on the podcast.

INT:     This really leads to my first question. So Disaffected has been out for almost two years now and you have been talking about it a lot. For example, at this event but also on many different panels, podcasts, etc. and while the book focusses on the 19th century and on American literature, I think that your analysis on racial and sexual politics of unfeeling has been taken up across different fields by different people, etc.

            And I think it’s really not surprising, given the sort of interdisciplinary theoretical framework that you open in the book, and I come back to it constantly in my own research but also in talking to students and I will be in teaching, and I really believe that it also sort of offers an analytic for many of the things that we see happening today.

            So, given all of this, I was wondering if you could just start with reflecting a little bit on the book’s journey so far. So how did you travel with Disaffected but also how did the book travel with you?

XY:      I think that’s a fantastic question, thank you. I guess what’s also really underlying for me is a book isn’t just the content, like I think that the book has had a life of its own  and the way that it’s moved has also been a way of thinking and a form of relationality as much as anti-relationality, that has really grown in different ways since its publication, and that’s something I was not really prepared for.

            I’m just trying to find how I actually close the introduction. I say at the very end, ‘...ultimately this book proposes that feeling otherwise is the precondition for thinking and imagining otherwise. This opening is an invitation to you too, my reader, to speculate about the possibilities of feeling otherwise’. And when I wrote those things, I think I was fine-tuning my book drafts during the first lockdown, with so much uncertainty, and the sort of sense of reaching out into an absolute unknown.

            It felt quite lonely and alienating, but I think that sense of individual and structural alienation is something that has managed to speak to a lot of people and I’m really grateful to the many conversations I’ve had since then. And one thing I’d also like to highlight is that so many of these conversations, talks and events, that I’ve been so honoured to be a part of, are usually organised by early career scholars, PhD students, precarious people.

            And there’s something, I think, about the way that it's resonated with these particular demographics that perhaps also speaks to this what I’m trying to do structurally in the book, in terms of trying to capture particular insensibility as a sensibility, as it were, and that has been incredibly rewarding, because also, as much as I’m talking about unfeeling, it’s so much about the negotiation of withholdings and disclosures when I talk about feminist and queer colour critique. Actually, [Cherríe] Moraga says that it’s the calculus of who we said to say, to who and to whom and to whom.

            And likewise it feels like part of the book is also the sort of strategic exposure of vulnerability that has to do with sharing your work at a particular important stage in your academic career, which is incredibly intimidating, and putting it out in the world and then seeing what has to happen. And of course the whole discussion of unfeeling for me is because I hate this type of vulnerability but also recognising that the strategic use of exposure of vulnerability, but then that also means like thinking about invulnerability simultaneously.

            And I think that that has perhaps helped other people to negotiate their own personal journeys, be it methodological, be it theoretical, and particularly hearing from junior people who say that they really have been struggling in their programmes, and that it’s done something for them. And if people are listening to this, I’d like to just really emphasise that that difficulty is not a problem with you as an individual, that it is structural.

            And it’s also something that I’ve tried to remember to always bring up in my pedagogy as well, that the sense of alienation, or feeling like an outsider, imposter syndrome as it is sometimes called, it is really like the individualisation of what is actually a structural problem.

            So I think it's resonated for those reasons and I’m so grateful that Gala, in your fantastic work in a completely different time period, in a different geography, it resonates, and it’s just been so exciting to see how it’s moved beyond 19th century American studies. Because I guess part of the point I’m trying to make and, indeed, people might be listening and thinking like, I don’t work on 19th century American literature, maybe I just know Moby Dick, or Emily Dickinson, and that’s fine, but part of what I’m trying to argue in the book is the way that it has become this pervasive cultural paradigm.

            And because of the power of US cultural imperialism, it has become a framework for thinking about expression, emotion, also like the pursuit of justice, the work that literature and artistic expression is presumed to have in terms of minoritized representation towards a certain politics, and that is something that obviously has disproportionately affected the world and the way that we think about progress, etc.

            And so, again, I’m really honoured to know that it has resonated in those ways but also, perhaps, it’s interesting to know like in what ways has it not resonated? And that’s something that we can’t know from our work.

            But one thing that I did think was funny, if you don’t mind me continuing to ramble, is another accolade that my book got was I was a finalist for the University Book Prize, but what I thought was so fascinating was that they wrote up these little blurbs for each of the finalists, which must have taken a lot of labour.

            So my hats off to them but what really struck me when I was reading everyone’s descriptions is that mine was the only one that had sort of like this slightly negative connotation, where I think they called my book ‘disturbing’, or something like that. But actually that made me really happy to hear that. I think that is a sort of a friction, an abrasion, the sort of uncomfortable staying with the negativity of unfeeling that I wanted to provoke. So I appreciate that, whoever wrote that was brave enough to do that.

INT:     Yeah and I think that really mirrors what your book does, what it says and what it does. So I also read that’s kind of a great thing, like it evokes maybe uncomfortable, maybe ugly, or like sticky feelings in others, apparently. And that leads to one of the biggest takeaways that the book has had for me, which is sort of your intervention into affect theory, or affect studies, and right in the introduction you state that very clearly, it’s a subheading and it says, ‘affect studies has a race problem’.

            And recently, for my own work, I’ve been reading a lot of Saidiya Hartman, and Sylvia Wynter, and I thought so many times about your book, and basically because what I think what they’re basically doing is affect theory. It’s just that affect theory, up until recently or affect scholars, weren’t able to recognise that that’s what they’re doing...

XY:      Yes.

INT:     Precisely because they were writing on a different register of affect on a different, like through a different mode that sort of falls outside of what is legible as dominant expressions of emotions or feelings. So could you talk a little bit about this intervention that you’re making, sort of tell us about the authors you’re in conversation with, and also how did you – and this is a quote from the introduction as well – ‘take up the ethical charge to decolonise affect studies’?

XY:      Yeah, so I guess the thing I also caution is, on the one hand, I think it’s an imperative to do it, but can decolonisation happen? And of course there has been really important critiques of that, particularly from indigenous studies led by indigenous feminists like Eve Tuck. So I would say that it’s a sort of uncomfortable imperative in the extent to which it can or cannot be actualised as something that we also have to stay with, and I think as part of the difficulty and the struggle of it.

            So thank you for bringing up Hartman and Wynter, they’re a couple of the thinkers who I cite and very much engage in my text. So part of what I’m trying to do is bring together what I like to think of as not necessarily oppositional but perhaps appositional genealogies of citation, that what I’m doing is not necessarily a new thing but it’s a way of like recognising, I think, the unrecognised contributions that are made, particularly by feminists and queer or colour thinkers, anticolonial thinkers, and putting them in tension with so many peoples’ works that are more legible, such as Lauren Berlant, or Sianne Ngai, and seeing what that does.

            And I think it’s also a reflection of... you say that the way that Wynter works, for instance, like she is someone who draws very much on, say, fields of European philosophy and yet of course her work is so important in terms of disrupting, in like Enlightenment thinking, particularly around this universality.

            So one thing I’m trying to do in that regard is sort of bring together these sort of unruly intellectual traditions across many different fields such as black studies, indigenous studies, Asian diasporic studies, queer of colour critique, and consider them together not because they could be homogenised, or made synonymous, but precisely because of their unruliness in different traditions of disobedience mean it’s harder to flatten out.

            And I think that’s a difficulty that we have to stay with and something which is really important as part of this effort of like fragmenting a colonial universal, that instead... I think that we can’t think all these different fields separately. The very way in which these disciplines and ways of thinking are siloed as separate is, of course, false to the historical nature of how these discourses emerged and also how they live in the world.

            But also part of like the colonial strategy is to divide and conquer, to pretend that these things are exclusionary. Are there deep tensions between these fields? Definitely, but I think we have to stay with them and also to recognise that part of the hard work is to also recognise that if we hold them as falsely exclusionary, we are also succumbing to, again, a divide and conquer framework.

            So that’s maybe like a long way of saying it, but in terms of other authors, I think that I’m thinking both of many different theorists such as, of course, Lee Edelman’s work in negativity, José Esteban Muñoz’s work on queer colour critique, the work of queer feminists of colour theorists like Gloria Anzaldúa, like Audre Lorde, but then I’m also reading texts in the 19th century as a theorising in and of themselves.

            So one thing I do, for instance, is look at the texts by the first black American women to get medical degrees in the US, and reading them as theorising what is now understood to be biopolitics, but doing so through their practice of navigating medical school at the time in their own lived experiences, or in looking at the way that the work of the first Asian diasporic women writers, Sui Sin Far, is also sort of theorising oriental inscrutability as not simply a negative stereotype that needs to be overturned but as a means of survival for Chinese migrants, and one that’s particularly queered and effeminised.

            So I think it’s so much about thinking about again what theorists do we cite for what things but also turning to the literary archive, and our cultural archive, to recognise that forms of theorisation don’t have to be in a specific form but are just as legitimate. And this is a point that was made, I think it was Barbara Christian’s iconic essay, The Race for Theory, which I think is in late seventies, and how she makes the point that... she at the time was being called upon to create a theory of black feminist writing and she points out that, rather than just producing theory as a particular professional imperative of what it means to be a scholar, to get jobs, to have a career, like what does it mean to actually recognise that, she says, people of colour have theorised in different ways often in the form of narrative, or in the form of aesthetics, the hieroglyph.

            So, yeah, thinking differently about all those things and exercising a type of affective disobedience, that when sometimes if you read theory and it doesn’t resonate with you, or resonates differently, like that in itself is perhaps a type of methodology to make us think what things do resonate, and how do we think through that in a rigorous way? 

INT:     That was really beautifully said and I think reading the book, that kind of feeling of affective disobedience also, yeah, traverses through the book into the reader, or at least that’s how I felt while reading it at parts. And you kind of mentioned it already, so throughout the book, you offer these sort of different modes or cultural categories of unfeeling - they’re unsympathetic blackness, queer female frigidity, black objective passionlessness and oriental inscrutability.

            So I was wondering if we could talk about these terms a little bit, especially I think for people who are listening who haven’t the read the book. And also maybe talk a little bit more about your methodology of engaging with literature and with the characters in the literature.

XY:      So part of it is that not all those sort of phrases probably resonate with people. As you’re listening, you’re like, okay, I’ve never even heard this phrase, like unsympathetic blackness, for instance, but I have heard of oriental inscrutability, I have heard of frigidity. And that’s part of the point I’m trying to make, is that by looking at these particular categories, I’m not trying to be exhaustive but I do think that they’re illustrative of when these forms of affected disobedience, disavowal, dissents, become legible and become demonised and vilified, and when it also falls beneath the threshold of a type of marginal recognition.

            So, for instance, when I talk about oriental inscrutability, I point out it’s probably the most nameable of all racialised modes of unfeeling. What I also say is thinking about a comparative context, because I get that in my very last chapter of the book, chapter five, to make the point that, up until then, I’ve been talking about forms of unfeeling for black subjects, for indigenous subjects, towards different decolonial abolitionist possibilities, and to sort of point out that the way that they provide the structural basis but they also are not as readily recognised, even though, as I sort of try to point out, there are these distinct legacies in like cultural production, in thinking at the time throughout scientific and legal discourse, that these writers and people are trying to think and write against.

            And so with the oriental inscrutability, because it’s so nameable but comes at the end, I think maybe it allows a sort of belated reflection on what makes it so recognisable and thinking about, again, the way that Sui Sin Far... because she’s writing at a period of time, for those who don’t know, of particular anti-Chinese sentiment, this is the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, and in a very similar way like today, there’s a sort of fear of Chinese migrants and cheap labour, and that they’re vectors of disease, etc.

            And the usual scholarly approach to talking about Sui Sin Far is she was the first Chinese woman writer and she helped humanise the Chinese at a time when they were demonised as the ‘Yellow Peril’. And it’s not that I’m disputing that but rather looking more closely at her journalistic writings, her short stories, for the way that she’s showing that oriental inscrutability is not simply a matter of overturning but can also be something that is protective, can be a way of negotiating between different cultural understandings of how affect and emotion operate, and particularly I’m here talking about the Chinese concept of face, as opposed to the idea of face as something that’s a transparently visible object that’s, oh yes it’s just my face.

            I think this is a precursor of the problems of facial recognition and technology, that again it’s sort of seen as so self-evident that I feel like almost every couple of months you see like a paper come out by a scientist who are like, oh facial recognition works like this, and this is how we can presume these things. And you see people in history, art history, cultural history, as being like, you’ve done no work on how an analysis of faces isn’t just simply the face that seems so self-evident. There’s a whole host of cultural assumptions that you have to do about like how these things are read and their legibility.

            And so one point that I’m also making is that the Chinese migrants also then threatened to fracture the seeming universality of the very idea of Western emotion, and also the very idea of faces, with the very idea of Chinese face as a mode of sociality and emotion, for instance.

            But on the flipside, for instance, one of the less recognisable, and I also talk about unsympathetic blackness, my point with that is in conversation with the work of Saidiya Hartman and also the Afro-pessimist thinking on affect studies, like Tyrone S. Palmer’s work, is the way that sympathy becomes the very threshold of recognising any sort of emotion and un-emotion in any level of intensity as valid, as feeling in some capacity. And the underside then of this universality, the ‘un’ which can’t be recognised is because of the central position of anti-blackness; therefore what I call unsympathetic blackness.

            And likewise, when I have my second chapter, I talk about how unsympathetic blackness comes together with a type of indigenous disaffection too, is also a way of trying to think together these different modes of forms of disaffection, the way that they come together for a type of decolonial solidarity.

            And also pointing out that black and indigenous are not mutually exclusive terms, and part of what the project of this particular book I’m looking at, Martin Delany’s Blake; or the Huts of America, is he’s also on this project of trying to reclaim black indigeneity, in a way that’s not unproblematic, and definitely in ways that have been critiqued as masculinist, but still we can see the sort of ambition of thinking it together with forms of disaffection from a world and a global order which is ordered on white supremacy.

INT:     I think one of the questions that you’re frequently getting is sort of about the ideological implications of unfeeling, and I think it’s an important question. So for me and a lot of readers, it’s obvious that you’re writing about certain forms of feeling that refuse sympathetic recognition into a humanity that relies on racial hierarchies, right?

XY:      Hm-mm.

INT:     But it’s also that very argument that right wingers, conservatives, Terfs, incels, etc. use. They’re also saying there’s this structure, this hegemonic structure of feeling, and I disidentify with this structure because I have different feelings and I want to argue for the nation, the family, essentialist gender categories. So they are also cultivating certain emotional attachments. So how do you navigate this appropriation of affect from the right, I guess, and maybe also how can your book perhaps help us to challenge that?

XY:      Yeah, I think that’s a really good question and point because it’s sort of similar to I found American audiences would often ask me, what about disaffected Trump voters? And in British settings I’d get, what about disaffected Brexit voters? And I guess part of it is also that... one thing I find very frustrating is because of the attacks on the right, often on the left people feel pressured into these defensive positions, that just because one is being pushed in a certain direction that you must necessarily be oppositional, but I think that, in and of itself, is part of the trap and that’s one reason why I’m trying to stay with unfeeling.

            My sort of point is like this... going back to the 19th century, earlier, and of course in the present day, is that these sort of allegations of unfeeling, and falling outside the framework of universal humanity, often prompts this sort of liberal overcompensation of, well, no, absolute sameness, no, this is like, and so forth. And so what does it actually mean to stay with... like why are certain modes being vilified, and how are they being vilified, as opposed to quickly trying to recuperate them into an unexamined framework that might be just another means of containment, as opposed to truly emancipatory towards new possibilities.

            It’s sort of like the problem that people are talking about, increasingly in a mainstream way, that minoritized people have always done, that the problem of the framework of inclusion. Likewise I think that the attacks from the right, in terms of the divisiveness, are met with inclusion as the corrective and yet included into what?

            What does it still re-centre? And what sort of like evaluative work has to be done to reconsider what that actually means and what... as it were, like structures of feeling are... we expect to take refuge in. And, using Raymond Williams’ term, one thing I’m thinking about with ‘unfeeling’ is saying unfeeling perhaps is a type of rupture from the structure of feeling towards radical different ways of thinking and feeling otherwise.

            And one way I do that, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this as I presented my book, is that now what I do when I give talks, I have two very different quotations, that my final epigraph is from Audre Lorde’s The Masters Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, and the other is from my introduction where I draw on Raymond William’s Structures of Feeling, and thinking that actually, in a way I hadn’t perceived at the time, these are speaking to each other, that perhaps thinking through Audre Lorde’s, the master’s house is the dominant hegemonic structure of feeling and the way that she talks about how alienation, those being excluded, for so many different reasons, end up being disaffected and alienated but then can find solidarity together towards building other houses, other structures of feeling.

INT:     And that is a beautiful way of linking them together, and I also think what you said about the sort of staying with the unfeeling, staying with the disruptive, I think, really speaks to the queerness of this book. It speaks to sort of emotive being that stays with that that can’t be named, or the taxonomies that are outside of what is legible.

            So it kind of relates to a recurring theme I tend to ask people when I’m recording these podcast episodes, which is we develop these insurgent theories, and sticky concepts, etc., but we’re also doing this from within or in relation to the institutions that we are part of. So, two weeks ago I talked to Professor Akwugo Emejulu about what it means to be a fugitive feminist in the academy.

            And you also addressed this issue in your very powerful coda at the end of the book, where you’re writing, and I quote, ‘we need to reconsider how we approach anti-racist social justice work in our institutions’, and then you continue, ‘ as we critique the liberal politics of recognition and inclusion, can we address the necessity of the anti-social and exclusionary moves by the marginalised?’

            So I want to ask you how can we be disaffected in the academy, and also, maybe, how do you approach that in the classroom, in teaching students, in interacting with them?

XY:      Oh that’s a good question, especially since... well, I think I can share this, but I’m part of a number of different groups across UCL that are trying to do certain types of work, like reckoning with the legacy of eugenics, for instance, and part of the trap is of having to do this work but also realising that it is a trap, and it’s not the only plane of struggle that can happen. And to realise that it’s also not about not accepting also like a divide and conquer methodology, the way that, say, within our institution there is a race equality steering group, there’s LGBTQ group, etc. and that structurally they’re set up like that but they’re not actually exclusionary.

            And I think that the work of the people who are in these groups, professional services, people, academic staff who come across all different disciplines, I think so many of those groups recognise that work and the work they have to do to stand together.

            So it’s one of those things of like I think you have to play certain games and jump through certain loopholes, certain thresholds of the politics of recognition, but also know it’s not the only game in town and to know to question and pushback. But it's also very much about like thinking about how does one acquire resources? What things require a certain level of legibility for certain people, for certain aspects of the institution, and then what you do with it is another question.

            And I think part of it is also that… I don’t like this sort of defeatist attitude of like, oh it’s the academy, not real life because academia is also a plane of real life. We can’t exceptionalise it as either the absolute plane of politics, which is also false, we can think of the stereotype of the rich full professor Marxist who doesn’t do any class order, he’s not part of the union for instance, or like to say it’s like the worst part and completely outside of politics.

            The sort of problem is there’s no place that is pure anywhere, any place institutionally, geographically. We have to struggle wherever we are and do what we can in those spaces, and to know that also with only thinking within those spaces is a trap. So of course we have to push beyond it but also pretending that we have to get away from a place is an illusion of purity.

INT:     Yeah, thank you for saying that. And how do you do that in the classroom? How do you teach these kinds of issues? How do you discuss it with students?

XY:      Ah.

INT:     And also, I guess as a scholar who works on emotions and feelings and affect, like how do you handle that in the classroom?

XY:      I think that so much of pedagogy is about emotion and recognising it, that it’s not just about relaying content, and it’s also obviously not about marketability and hireability and all these other things that the humanities are variously besieged about UK higher education and in many other countries, but actually being able to name the feelings and the negotiations that people are having in terms of what they’re invested in and what interests them in their papers, in terms of certain texts, especially when it’s something that’s different to ourselves.

            I think that a lot of students gravitate towards what I teach because they’re like, oh this is the person who teaches like Black texts, this is a person who teaches Asian diasporic texts, and stuff like that, and these are things they have really wanted, or haven’t had much access to, etc, but to know that that initial impulse is only the start of the work that has to be done, that it’s not just simply about getting access because that in itself is extractive, but actually thinking about meaningful relation to the text.

            And, for instance, one thing that comes up a lot is this sort of reductive sense that students who are passionate about thinking about anti-blackness often end up reducing literary texts by black authors to just being reflections about anti-blackness, which in itself is anti-black. There’s not the same recognition of black creativity, survival, beauty, aesthetics. That there are so many different planes in which black art operates that’s not reducible to suffering. And yet because students are also doing the work of trying to learn things that they have been denied, you sort of get stuck at that initial stage and they think that that’s the work, but actually the work is more than that.

INT:     That makes sense, thank you for sharing that and your experiences in teaching these kinds of issues, and I’m sure and know that students at UCL definitely really appreciate it. One of the key interventions I think that people take away from Disaffected is also - and you kind of argue, like talked about this a few times already - is about collectively feeling otherwise, to imagine the world differently.

            And, as you said, you start developing this notion in conversation with Martin Delany in his novel, Blake, and you kind of start thinking about this through the sentence where first Delany and then his character says, ‘feeling somewhat as this Indian did’, right? So it’s kind of the feeling ‘somewhat as’ that you take as a starting point to think about what you call counter-intimacies about black indigenous, sort of alternative structures of feeling, or structures of unfeeling to be precise, as a site for collective liberation through unfeeling and unfeeling towards whiteness, towards structures of the human, of humanity, I guess.

            So could you talk a little bit more about this coalitional work, of feeling through and with and in relation to others who are disaffected. And I think also because we’re coming to the end of this conversation, maybe thinking back to the opening question of how maybe your book has opened some of these counter-intimacies also in the wild.

XY:      I mean I can only hope for having engendered such things, but I guess the point that I’ve sort of been making about the siloing of disciplines obviously is also very true for different forms of liberatory work. And so, for instance, in the Martin Delany, I really try to discuss the tensions between black diasporic people, who have been enslaved in North America, and the relationship to the indigenous peoples of what some call Turtle Island, and thinking also about the possibility of recovering like an African indigeneity.

            And there’s one particularly illustrative chapter in Martin Delany’s book, when his characters visit the Choctaw Nation, which, of all the different indigenous nations that he could have chosen, is a particularly difficult example because they were enslavers. They participated in southern chattel slavery, as opposed to another group like the Seminoles that more famously fought alongside like black fugitives.

            So what’s interesting is in that particular scene, they immediately sort of launch in this conversation where Blake says, I can see that you’re slave owners, and then the chiefs are about to say also, well, what about these problems on the other side? But then all of a suddenly they’re suddenly disrupted by a character named Donald - perhaps funnily enough for the current Donald Trump - who then tries to disrupt it. And he’s this white guy who so happens to be around and he just calls Blake the N-word, but the Choctaw chiefs don’t allow him to continue, they send him away and they say, this is unacceptable.

            And it sort of shows that the sort of difficult work also that ensues, talking about anticolonial work, talking about antiblackness, talking about enslavement, talking about decolonisation, talking about settler colonialism, has to happen without having to just simply centre whiteness and the inherent divisiveness, but it still means like grappling with these difficult histories and having that conversation.

            So I think that sort of sums it up, and I particularly do a close reading of this one sentence near the end of the novel - and we don’t have the rest of the novel because it was lost - where the characters are gathering in Cuba and there’s the sentence about different black people of different levels, of mixed race-ness, indigenous people of the region, and also this says, ‘even Chinamen are come together and are seen to be affiliating with each other as opposed to, as usual, among the whites.’

            And in that regard, you can sort of see the sort of disaffection coalescing around a different centre, of a different possibility, of a different… yeah, axis of revolution in terms of the political sense but perhaps, also, even revolution on a planetary sense, on a solar system level sense towards a different world and, yeah, I find that inspiring, as flawed as his vision can be in some ways.

            And that’s something I tried to bring with me, that when I go through the university I really like, in this most silly way, making friends with a lot of different people, because I like finding good people in all different parts of UCL that are doing the good work in different ways and then thinking like, hey we’re all struggling together and how can we help each other?

            And I’d have to say that, for instance, my promotion was a result of, say, me being able to reach out to so many kind of people, in many different departments, who are also concerned about this type of work, and them supporting me for this, and I’m really very grateful, and that’s something that I try to pay forward as much as possible. When I give talks often I offer to share my book materials for instance.

INT:     I know you mentioned in the beginning, and I’m so glad that you’re feeling better, sort of slowly recovering from Long Covid. So if you have any plans, where are you taking this next? I think we all are kind of are curious to see what you will do with these concepts next, if you have any ideas but also, given the circumstances, I would totally understand if you’re like, no, I’m here right now and that’s enough.

XY:      So the Long Covid is only one of a number of health problems I have. I’ve also been someone with chronic illness for most of my life, and I’ve really been increasingly trying to grapple with critical disability studies. So one way I see my work continuing is trying to think about it in relation to crip of colour critique and thinking about what unfeeling does. And then, looking forward to trying to think about that, I think in January I’m going to be on this panel for crip of colour critique.

            But I also know there are critical disabilities studies scholar, like Travis Chi Wing Lau, who I know has been taking up my work on unfeeling to think about disability, but he hasn’t published anything yet. So I know, because I’m in conversation, he’s like, oh yes I draw on this but I really hope that I can cite him so that when I’m trying to think about these things, I’m not repeating his work but we can be in more dialogue with each other. So that’s one way I’m thinking of perhaps next steps after I rest some more.

INT:     Yes, please rest. And that also sounds like establishing another sort of counter intimacy through citational practice, through collaboration, through thinking together. Thank you so much, Xine, thank you so much for joining me today, that was a fantastic conversation.

XY:      Well, thank you so much for your questions, Gala, you are a masterful host.

INT:     Thank you.