Performance into Policy
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324 Della Pollock Performance into Policy Dwight gained some renown for being out of place. To turn one of his preferred phrases: he mattered out of place.1 He moved into Big Red, one of the Chicago tenements where many of the gang members with whom he worked for many subsequent years as an ethnographic co-­ subject lived. He’d giddily relay slipping the Thai refugee camp cops by hiding out with the lepers after 5—­ the hour at which his daily research permit expired.2 During the mid-­ eighties, he allied with Palestinian settlers on the Gaza Strip when it was still under Israeli military occupation. Dwight had a way of being there; the borders he crossed and the locations out of which he made uncanny homes are the stuff of legend. But what seems to fall off the map that was, as he always reminded us, following de Certeau, “cut across” by stories, were the many performative doings embodied in negative space:3 the legal advocacy he performed for Hmong refugees; the respect he paid in grief and consolation for so many gang-­ related deaths; the coaching and cheering and care he offered kids affiliated with the Albany Park youth theatre project; the weekends spent standing in protest of the death penalty; even his own shamanistic encounters and final, hospital ethnographics. I was often beguiled by the apparent thereness of Dwight’s disappearances and reappearances (the perverse magic of which was enhanced by lack of a car, much less a license to drive one). Now I wonder whether many of us weren’t caught out by this sleight of hand. Trickster ever, Dwight seemed to cover his tracks by the textuality of location—­ even as, as Zora Neale Hurston observed (by Dwight’s own reckoning),4 the subaltern tricked out the white man by placing an enticing artifact at the gate: something solid and mysterious to be removed for textual decoding . And while those at the curtain’s edge watch the scholar steal away with his precious thing, they cannot help but laugh at how easily dis- critical responses  325  tracted he is. He has missed the boat by looking too hard at the sign on the shore. And so, in the cartography-­ cum-­ hagiography of Big Red/Gaza Strip/ refugee camp, we may also have participated in a self-­ deluding reification of place at the expense of the tactical maneuvers, practices of co-­ witness, and kinetic re-­ fashioning of social relation in/as space that defined Dwight’s relationship to place and so completely displaced anything like a foundational thereness on which the ocularcentrism of eyewitness depends. I was there and so it is true. I came, I saw, I conquered. What Dwight embodied in differential time and space was doing beyond the I/eye—­ often thus slipping the gaze of even his most devoted readers. For many of his students, Dwight’s most important words were in margins , on a frontispiece, or held in suspense over the threshold of his office door. Here the stage whisper of truly artful gossip, the surging words of a conversation that just won’t end, the final press of encouragement to do more and better happened. Nothing finished, everything as if in advent: this crossing-­ place was a kind of no-­ where of partiality. From it flowed a political performative imaginary in which everything was intriguing, possible, and incomplete. Everything was in the doing; nothing was ever done. Thrilling in the moment, the utopic drive Dwight exemplified and encouraged pushed physical and material limits, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, sometimes exceeding itself in unimaginable material outcomes . One of the latter occurred the night of June 20, 2011, when the Town Council in my university town issued a temporary moratorium on new construction in a loose group of neighborhoods in which I have been working since the mid-­ 2000s. This may seem a minor accomplishment except that: (1) For many of the people whose families had lived in these neighborhoods under and since Jim Crow, this was the first or second time any had attended a council meeting (the first being when the initial petition was presented); by attending, they lifted the veil on Town Hall and fundamentally changed its contours of witness. (2) In the last three to five years, gentrification has threatened to decimate not just this place but the much broader communities of work, worship, and play that make it a tightly networked space of African-­ American...