- Queer Relationality and the Dying Mother:Waiting and Caring in Sébastien Lifshitz's Wild Side and Jacques Nolot's L'arrière-pays
FOR TEN DAYS I WATCHED my mother die. And when she died, I was stunned. I had been waiting for her to die, and her death, foretold by a series of unmistakable signs, somehow came as a complete shock, a bizarre, unthinkable … thing that hit me completely unprepared. So what had I been doing for ten days? I don't know exactly, but not what I thought I was doing.
In this article, I sketch the broad contours of what I believe are the ways in which caring and waiting may overlap and open up in the act of waiting the possibilities for ethical modes of connectedness that define care. The films through which I chose to address this issue belong to a corpus I call transnational queer cinema: unapologetic art films that favor poetic rather than narrative forms, bodies over subjectivity, and touch on a series of recurring themes such as precariousness, vulnerability, connectedness, and unknowability. These works also embrace radical slowness, an often-unsettling formal choice that, in what follows, I tie to the dual question of waiting and caring for the sick in the context of displacement and migration.
Many forms of medical care involve waiting—waiting for people's condition to improve or worsen, maybe for them to die, waiting in any case for the care to end. At a basic level, care, like waiting, involves duration (of the caring relationship, which unfolds not just in space but also in time) and a degree of uncertainty (regarding the outcome or progression of the condition involved—what Hervé Guibert, dying of AIDS, once referred to as "this margin of uncertainty, which is common to all ailing people in the world."1 Things become more complex after that. Can waiting, defined by temporality and the absence of the awaited object, share ethically and perhaps politically useful characteristics with caring, usually premised on presence and spatial contiguity?
The first indication that it might comes from etymology. The same Germanic root gave us the English "wait," "watch," "wake" and their derivatives, while Latin origins connect the French attendre (to wait), the Spanish atender (to attend, to heed, but also to care, to nurse) and the English "attend," "attention," "attentive," and the like. This original link between waiting and caring [End Page 13] leads me to the observation that grounds my argument, which is that if relating to others, and ultimately to otherness, defines care, so, etymology suggests, must it play a part in waiting. We may thus infer at this point that waiting represents not a stasis but a relational dynamic, and that, as such, it may require ethical considerations. How so exactly? Well, that depends on the kind of otherness involved in the act of waiting, that is, on what we are relating to when we wait.
According to Jacques Derrida, no gift presented or recognized as such can in truth constitute one because it automatically creates an obligation. Extending this principle to the matter at hand, I'll posit that, should a caregiver benefit from his or her actions, either ontologically or ethically, by actively seeking to become a better being, then, no matter how selflessly one intends to care for others, one's very intention instrumentalizes them, turns care into self-care and thus into something other than care. But what of waiting? I want to suggest that in the act of waiting—for something yet to come—the present moment becomes defined by, indeed saturated with, the future, that is, with something that we do not and cannot know and that may never even come to pass. Because it becomes something else as soon as it occurs, the future, as future, remains forever strange and foreign. Attending to the demands that it makes on us forces us to contend with something that we can envision or hypothesize yet that remains unknowable. To the extent, then, that the future constitutes the present's only true other, waiting thus places a kind of strangerliness at the core of the self's only...