Julia Elyachar: To start with: why read your recent books, The Surrounds and Remaindered Life, together, and why for CSSAAME? On the journal's website, its goals are stated as seeking to “bring region and area studies into conversation with a rethinking of theory and the disciplines.”1 You are both theorists of the current global condition. And both of you are deeply immersed in the places where you live, think, and work, and from where you theorize. Of course, the books came out at almost the same time. But what beyond this moment is shared? Your books are not about “comparison” or about “comparative studies”—even in the critical way that CSSAAME invoked that phrase at the start. Neither of you is an area studies scholar. There is no “comparing” Africa and Asia in your work. Something else is at play.

But maybe we can start here: When did you start talking to each other? What are your overlapping circles intellectually, and in your commitments to place?

AbdouMaliq Simone: I discovered Neferti's work by accident. Her work doesn't fall within the usual rubric of work read by urbanists. I have insisted on being an urbanist, whatever that means, and on working in those worlds. Neferti's work was not readily accessible there. Her work adds something that people don't realize is missing there. People in the urban studies world often reach for something that they can't exactly get at. They point to it; they have a feel, a sense of it, but they can't quite get there. They don't have the poetic imagination or theoretical depth to account for that missing something and to put it into words.

No one else manages to do that. Neferti has a whole strata of operations. She uses words that are simultaneously cognitive, affective, and tactile. Her vocabulary is rich and inventive; it gets at a politics of urban inhabitation about which language is often truncated and partial. I really appreciate how she writes outside of the usual universe of discourse that I normatively operate in.

Neferti X. M. Tadiar: I discovered Maliq by accident as well. We read each other before we first exchanged emails. I was coleading a project on “subaltern urbanism” with my colleagues Anupama Rao and Saidiya Hartman. I'm not an urbanist, but I had a longstanding interest in the urban. You were an urbanist in a way that I had never before encountered.

The first book of yours I read was City Life from Jakarta to Dakar. The scope of it! The acute span of its perspective was so marvelous to me. Who is this guy, I wondered? Why is he living in Jakarta? How does he know all of these other cities in Africa? So we exchanged emails and found we had been reading each other. Now with this last book of his, The Surrounds, I was mapping the contours of his vista, thinking about his poetics. That poetics resonates very much between us.

You [Simone] have a poetic grasp, and I mean that obviously in the best sense of the word poetic. You bring into perception and into being things that are for me very much from the global South. I mean, I'm not in the global South now, but I'm immersed in it, and this perhaps has to do with place in the way you were asking about, Julia.

I am deeply immersed in certain forms of inhabitation in the global South and have been since I was little. There, these forms of inhabitation can feel so very ordinary, as you say in your own book. You provide a new, heightened perception of this ordinariness through your notion of the surrounds. You give us another capacity for understanding what might happen, and what is happening there—what it is—rather than simply noting the existence of this form of life that is abundant everywhere. And which some kinds of urbanist work tend to ignore or describe in rather stale ways.

So when you solicited what became my article, “City Everywhere,” and then the center of my book Remaindered Life, you made me more interested in the conversation that was happening in urban studies. Both of you, Maliq and Julia, with the work you each did engaging with the question of infrastructure (and both your works figure importantly in that essay), allowed me to see where I might enter into that field, even though I don't stay in it.

One more thing on the theme of places. I never studied the Philippines as an object. I was trained in literature. Many of my colleagues went into area studies. I never did. I worked in comparative literature, and I chose to think about and through literature. Because the world that I was interested in was this rich universe, that became the place from which I was thinking. I was always in conversation with cultural matters, but not in conversation with other fields of study organized under area studies. To me that was all rather foreign.

So I'm not an area studies person. And I see the same thing with Maliq's work. It's not area studies—even though it is deeply immersed in ethnography and the ethnographic and the incredibly fine observation of what goes on in your midst. Your eye, and your senses—I think you mentioned the senses as theoreticians, which is also a Marxist idea (as well as Sylvia Wynter's idea)—your senses as theoreticians are in full gear. And I like that.

So while I was rereading your book in preparation for our conversation, I was tracking the resonances of our vocabularies, of our concepts. What I read in Maliq's work is a kind of global South theory; the poetics of theory comes from the forms of inhabitation that we are both very familiar with. Even though they're very different, what emanates from those places are—I hesitate to say—translations of singularities, if you will.

The surrounds are not translatable. Surrounds mark the singularity of what is going on. And yet, because you provide a vocabulary for grasping what is going on, while not pinning it down, not apprehending it—which would be counter to what you aim to do—you give me enough to recognize something from where I am standing, and from where I am looking.

For example, you talk about accompaniment and the surrounds, submergent infrastructure; I talk about bypasses and waysides. And your thick description of the timings of people in the surrounds—practices of timing which I also refer to as producing something out of nothing, as a kind of urban petty adventurism—you observe this phenomenon of timing in your description of the Bloods and how they move, transact, and disappear. Both your analytic description of what goes on in these worlds and the concepts you use might be understood as an instance of global South theory emerging out of the specificities of those worlds. I can use it and translate what you are writing about into the terms that I have chosen, like fate-playing, a hazarding of the present. You are noticing similar ways in which the urban poor, for lack of a better word, anticipate and speculate on multiple possibilities.

So I feel like there's so much that is translated between the worlds we write about. It's a theoretical vein that does not bear the dead language of the disciplines. And that's where I think we meet or perhaps have a conversation.

AMS: Yes, I agree. As for the question of comparative urbanism that Julia raised before, in urban studies there has been a great deal of emphasis in the last decade on a sort of comparative urbanism. Part of that gesture has been useful, because it tries to say that one has to rethink urban theory through different geographies, different histories, and different ways of doing things. But I'm wary of the comparative, of the way in which things have to be held and stabilized in order to register that kind of comparative maneuver.

When Neferti talks about passages, it is not a toolbox of culturally prescribed skills or a technological unconscious, some non-noble technics. For urban situations are always moving with, against, through, and around each other, making it difficult to know exactly what to compare. It is more a matter of passages, tracing the navigational circuits; and it is here that Neferti's ideas about passages are particularly salient. For they demonstrate the different modalities through which things reach each other. Both the passenger and terrain are always in movement, and then movement continually is a milieu for how things touch each other, could touch each other. And this is a broader comparative maneuver.

Tina Campt's notion of adjacency comes to mind here. These are not relations of contiguity, not something that you make into an entity and then hold them up in a proximity generated by your own methodological oppositions that puts them in touch with each other.

Her notions of adjacency and of the haptic concern the way in which things can touch upon each other from a distance. And the kinds of passages that are necessary in order to move both toward and away from each other (but perhaps always in a kind of reposition), with the possibility of mutual witnessing, of hopefully mutual respect.

And it's these kinds of passages that I find really important as concepts, because she talks about how these contiguities, and the ways in which the vitalities of a situation, of a milieu, of a collective operation become both the underpinning of improvised configurations of inhabitation that question and challenge the predominant forms of life, as well as an affordance that is expropriated in order to maximize the valuation of certain human ways of life itself. And the ways in which at the same time, they retain both the necessity and the possibility of their own self-enacted singularity, perhaps without the possibility of translation in anything but their own terms—whatever that could be. Perhaps this is what Neferti is getting at in her notion of living without value.

So we have a situation where the vitalities of a situation, the vitalities of a milieu, the vitalities of a collective operation become the underpinning or a kind of affordance expropriated to maximize the valuation of certain ways of life, of human ways of life itself. And the ways in which at the same time they retain both the necessity and the possibility of their own specificity.

At the same time, we see the contiguity of things so up close, so many kinds of dispositions of closeness and distance, that any specificity finds it nearly impossible to find its own ground and for us to clearly identify the autonomous zones. No, each specificity is right up against the very thing that completely wastes it, and so all the passages don't lead to stable determinations of either capture or freedom. The grounds for comparison are thus always turbulent.

This reminds me about Hortense Spillers's notions of how things are in touch with each other, how they impact upon each other, how they operate within a different kind of physics of space that makes comparison problematic. Not that we don't compare as an essential everyday practice. We have to do it all the time. But still there has to be something else that comes into play.

NXT: Well, that's another thing we share, I think. The formulation of within and beyond capture. I mean, the surrounds isn't some spatially segregated space, and in fact, it is kind of like what I say about the reticulated shores of city everywhere. I think both of us recognize that these spaces beyond and within capture are expanding and abutting each other. They're also spaces that aren't necessarily geographical spaces—they could be temporal moments. And that's also how I think about this moment before subsumption. This moment when a situation has a certain kind of, not exactly autonomy, but remainder, where other forces aren't fully subsumable in the abstract calculus of value and therefore will always exceed the calculus.

Here I think that Maliq and I have a slightly different emphasis. I think I'm looking at things that exceed. You are too, but you are also looking at things that elude. There are minor differences that allow for translations and that emerge out of the places where we are coming from. Black studies and the afterlives of slavery are deeply informative of the worlds Maliq is writing about and conceptualizing. We see in his work, for example, the Black city of Jakarta. Whereas in much of what I am looking at, there is a different kind of history, which prompts an emphasis on servitude. Rather than marronage, I am looking at the servitude within—the hinge servicing both expendability and value. And yet our two perspectives overlap. I can totally see the drug addicts and the wholesale killing of the addicts in the Philippines as forms of Blackness and anti-Blackness.

This is not comparison. Rather, these processes we are looking at are materially related on a global scale. There is a lot of work to do still to figure out what our connections are to each other, which is a very different project from comparison. Why do these things look so familiar? Why, for example, is your description [Elyachar's] of choreography in Cairo so familiar?2 Why do I know just how people pass that cigarette around between vehicles? Why does it seem intuitive to me as well why people do that? It's not a comparison of static places and cultures. All kinds of fortuitous, possible relations can emerge beyond comparison, with its fixed imagination of the world. We are aware that there are dynamic flows in the world that produce these relations.

And this is something that occurred to me this morning about how interested we three are in reimagining technicity, which is what Maliq says that we have to reimagine. There are so many forms of technicity that we can think with. So many loci of memory; so many agents that pass across empire, across the colonized. . . . There is not enough said or known about all this, because the comparative project was such an imperial project, set from above, with a stable set of categories for viewing the world, in the universal terms of philosophical theory from the West. . . . And which continues to be produced in academia as universal concepts with which to measure the lives of those in the global South.

JE: What about the notion of this as a “theory of the global South”? Is that also a fixed location of comparison, subordinate to a still dominant Western universalism?

AMS: Interminable debates about whether to use that phrase or not are not so interesting. Think of “the wretched.” This is a representational problem for the purpose of an analytic conversation. They can do damage. But these expressions are conveniences. Perhaps we can move away from debates about how to call ourselves, and focus on what we want to bring into relation.

NXT: We don't need to spend time talking about this. I used to use “third world.” We try for ways we can refer to without necessarily fixing or defining these relations that we are talking about—relations of and with descendants of the colonized. There are so many terms, like “the wretched.” But it is a representational problem. To me it is a representational problem for the purpose of an analytical conversation. I'll resort to some of these, but they are conveniences. They may do damage, for sure, because they're not allowing us to find other ways to call ourselves, or not even ourselves, but to point to and refer to what it is that we want to bring into relation.

JE: It is great hearing how you read each other's work, and with each other, in this space, in the passages, or in the hinge of where we meet or encounter one another. Is there anything else that you want to expand on about reading your two books together or reading each other as authors?

NXT: I wish I had spent more time thinking and talking about remaindered life. I feel like Maliq is talking about remaindered life on some level. He spends much of the book on analysis and descriptions and poetic renderings of what the surrounds are.

My own book is committed to a certain project that I had. I felt like I needed to also render capitalism today. That was important to me. I couldn't just leap over it; for myself, for personal reasons, I couldn't leap over what I do think is happening with global capitalism, partly because of what I was trying to argue against, which is the easy way we can fall into the seduction of proclaiming a value even when we find forms of resistance. I needed to be able to demonstrate that at any moment, practices of resistance can also succumb to that dialectic of value and waste. Even if politically you think you're upholding something that's going to transform the world. And I saw this very clearly with the rise of Duterte, but I've seen it in other places as well.

You know, I'm also a student of revolutionary movements. The history of revolutionary movements shows moments of succumbing to the same logics that they were fighting against. It is impossible to transform everything all at once when you are part of the world that has to be transformed. I feel I needed to show that when we reify capitalism, we can underestimate its capacity to continue to produce and accumulate value out of what would appear to oppose it, out of disposable survival.

To uphold survival itself as some kind of resistance was thus not quite adequate to me. I mean, survival is what the dispossessed do every single day. Survival is not necessarily transformative. But I understand that to stay with it, which is also what I do, to tarry with survival allows us to glean the complexity and capacities of life-making that compose it. This, I think, Maliq does. That is, he stays with it, with survival, in a way that demonstrates respect and recognition that survival is a very complex, profound phenomenon. It requires so many capacities and faculties. The very fact of survival is incredible. It is not resilience; it's so many other things. And so I'm trying to do both at once, that is, depict the insidious forms of capitalism in this latest phase of its expanded reproduction, which depends on such feats of social survival, and attend to the unsubsumed, unconquered life-making capacities of the dispossessed. But the thinking about capitalism took a considerable amount of time and space for me.

I do see remaindered life everywhere, in the same way that capital is everywhere. I tried to show this through the writing, through the detours and eddies and the uneven voicing within my own writing.

And I say this in response to some of the readings of my work as reproducing the language of domination. I tried to convey a subjective view with tone, but sometimes people don't hear tone. They may not hear that I repeat things with irony, or with a different tone; that I sometimes ventriloquize the inner voice of capital in order to engage with it, to respond, so that I am not just reporting the facts, and hopefully not just reproducing that language. There are other ways that we deploy language other than in the analytical vein, which creates a false “objectivity” in the world by simply apprehending and showing how these objects in the world work.

Even though my book is concerned with saying something about how global capitalism functions today, I feel my account is almost mythical; it is at least subjective. It is written from a place that others and I share when we look at this world that is eating us up. It is not a cool assessment from the World Bank about how profit can newly be made. There is so much lament and anger. It is not cool. There is an easy way of charging that just talking about something at all is reproducing the thing. As if we know everything there is to know about it and we don't really have to talk about it anymore. Whereas in fact, the perspectives on that thing, when they are perspectives, are equally illuminating. Which is why I say that the book is written from the side of remaindered life, from a perspective that is from a place of remaindered life, which I know.

AMS: You know, I was involved in Autonomia in the ’70s in Italy. Only now, decades later, do I have a good idea of what went into the notions of self-valorization that constituted a certain space of autonomous action. For me, the self-valorization of the working class provides the essential surplus to any manifestation of labor. More than the disciplining of bodies and social relations; more than the extraction of general intellect or physical exertion; it is the very means through which the working class affirms the value of its existence that becomes both the affordance and foreclosure of this very enactment of collective being. And this is the situation I think Neferti points to in referring to people who have to buy their life back. According to what kind of credit plans and interminable indebtedness must they participate to demonstrate their eligibility to be human? This lure into what Neferti calls the war to be human is so evident in so many places.

Look, say, at much of Jakarta today, and the way in which poor and working-class residents are enfolded into a particular kind of mode of living. With no money down, you can acquire a forty-square-meter flat in a building that may not last ten years. But you have an asset, in a location, in a way of residing that does not hold out a prospect for anything other than platform work or being a driver on call all of the time.

In Manila, too, you see the evisceration of long-lasting ways of life that were the underpinning of the city itself and which generated somewhat viable livelihoods. This is now completely undermined and gone. And you can't make the same kinds of argument anymore against policies. You can't go to the metro government and say, look, you have to stop this stuff because, you know, you're destroying this many jobs, and undermining GDP by that much . . . because the people you're talking to are not even really the ones who are running the city—especially when you take Neferti's notion of the city everywhere as a fractal replication of standardized configurations of power. Now the real locus of governmentality is something that rests within spreadsheets. And in those transactions, that securitization and financialization have nothing to do really with managing the population. We no longer see the biopolitical thing of managing the population.

So the urban cores of so many cities have simply become abstractions. While these abstractions are materialized in built environments, they are often simply an edifice for abstraction. They are not to be necessarily occupied or lived in, and are not necessarily to be used in a discernibly functional way. Oftentimes they act as ciphers, part objects in the psychoanalytic sense, which actualize a feeling of completion and an overcoming of loss but at the same time affirm that completion is out of the question, and that one will always lose, but perhaps not for long. Here, how something got the way it is is largely erased. There is no culmination, no synthesizing of what went on beforehand.

Contrast this to the situation depicted in films like Alpha: The Right to Kill or BuyBust, two famous Philippine action films where the police have to enter into the dense intricacies of the barrio to shut down drug operations. Only through overwhelming force are they able to proceed because the architecture is too complex; it is too difficult to even read the surface of things, of what belongs to whom, of what functions in any particular way. So who made these built environments? Who composed them? How do you attribute a particular kind of actor to that kind of infrastructure? Here, instead of being erased, the traces of navigational circuits are all over the place. The entire barrio is the materialization of complicities and interdependencies—all of the various ways residents touch upon each other.

Technicities involved here—materializations of unrecognized complementarities—can implode or take off on a life of their own. The barrio as the navigational interplay of buildings and bodies is a kind of collective dance, like a choreography that is part material, part party, but also steered into holding particular ideas about itself, particular ideas that emphasize the need to smooth over all of those intricate circuits in favor of a more univocal articulation. Like many of today's forms of urban populism. So much is being written about this . . . about how all across the urban South people are becoming more religious, supporting quasi-fascist regimes, et cetera.

Neferti's work breaks through all that. It looks at the complex ways in which those kinds of politics are composed. It's a complex composition; these vernaculars are not just the reduction of complicated practices of everyday life within these kinds of banal forms. The banal forms themselves have a kind of multidirectionality, a complexity of deployment that elicits circulations, ways of people somehow communicating and being with each other that we may not understand within our conventional political imaginaries. And there is a constant recomposition of the political field occasioned by the acceleration of the ways in which urban capital is extroverted in strata and layers that are very difficult to keep track of and which become a kind of concrete reality for everyday inhabitation.

NXT: I think this is where you can see the strength of Maliq's thinking, and maybe also the interpretation of him as being more “positive.” It's your attention to the improvisation that goes on constantly, despite the best of plans, despite the flexibility of the plans, their entrenchment and so forth. And without moral judgment, seeing what all this illicit stuff is like. Without moral judgment, which is something we share.

Many of these reports about cities implicitly bring in moral judgments couched in terms like “better practices,” “better practices of urban planning,” and so forth, and what to get rid of. But rather than that, just actually seeing the forms of improvisation and the capacities of people to make life on the fly, if you will, is really . . . well, I won't say heartening in the sense of giving you a particular kind of political directive. There's no obvious political meaning to this, right? I think this can sometimes be the criticism of remaindered life. What is the political meaning of it? What is its use? What are the politics of it? I can anticipate that this is the question that people have, which comes with the question of whether a work is positive or negative.

You know, these are all valuations. Again, valuations depend on a certain notion of politics. What staying with those improvisations allows us to do, however, is to rethink what we might think is political. Because if we start off with the kind of politics that requires you to come from the margins to the center, and all of those things are stable, then we're back into a certain kind of liberal politics of inclusion or recognition.

And yet to stay with improvisation, to give it its time, to think with those improvisations, is a project that allows us to explore other political possibilities. It's not already the answer. It is allowing us to rethink the world that we're in and what the possibilities might be. Maliq always says “maybe.” Maybe we will see possibilities and other patterns.

I think this is another thing that that we share: an attention to what is present. Not to what will become, or what can we get if we work hard, or if we do the right things, or if we mobilize the right tools, or if we see things the right way. But what is present now that we need to pay attention to that might help us.

And here, I'm already talking instrumentally. But I don't think it's even very instrumental. It's just like, what do we see now of this world that we know? And how can we orient ourselves around these things and have that be a salient thing to do, an important thing to do? As things already are. You say that quite a bit. And I feel like there's a project there of revising our political ontology, when you say things like, “this is what they do.” I think there is here (and correct me if I'm wrong) a project of revising a political ontology taken for granted and reproduced in most critical work about disposability or the urban poor. I feel like Maliq is pushing against a political ontology that generally remains unquestioned, not so much revising it as unsettling it. You're unsettling that political ontology that somehow gets smuggled in with every critical work.

There's one thing [I want to discuss] about the differences in our work. I see differences and relation between say, your emphasis on fugitivity and elusion, and mine on genealogical continuity. This has to do with the different situations of the afterlives of chattel slavery in North America, and of colonialism in a place like the Philippines, which was for the longest time only partially colonized. It was and is fully colonized on some level, but like Indonesia, it also continues ways of living that are radically different now yet also enact continuities rather than rupture with a precolonial past. When I read Maliq, I see metaphors or codings of suspension, of coming together in a condition of dissolution. Whereas I'm aware that some of my claims about the persistence of ways of doing things stretch to precolonial times. For example, contemporary migration bears dimensions of the habit of flight of natives against precolonial bonds and against concentration laws (the policy of reducción) under early Spanish colonialism . . . you can see these habits that persist. You can still see traces of habitual forms of making life from other times.

That's why kinship is very important . . . kinship as habitual forms of making life. Take a servant in the global North. If you see them as isolates, or as simply individual exemplars of capitalist structure, then you will not see the tissue of connectivity that is animated by very long-standing forms of know-how. It's something that you write about too, Julia, when you talk about the semiotic commons and how there are semiotic practices that are passed down or reproduced, and so forth. This is important to me. It is a different notion of living as reproduction of technique and know-how. Not necessarily the reproduction of capital or the reproduction of capitalist infrastructure. And you talk about this as well. These infrastructures of capture can also be channels of flight. Even as they're there to organize your movement, your memory, and constrain your possibilities, they don't always fully accomplish those things, because there are other ways of doing things operating within them. And for me a subalternist perspective allows us to glimpse that.

Sorry. That was very long.

JE: No, it's beautiful, that's so helpful. You know, the late Egyptian sociologist Sayyid ‘Uways used something like this phrase: “the history that I carry on my back.” I use it in my work to refer to the very embodied collective history of urban life. I feel so many resonances with what you are speaking of here. In Cairo now we see ferocious undermining of infrastructures of collective survival practices by a financialized military doing counterinsurgency as urban planning.

AMS: But look, too, to areas proximate to the new administrative capital. Areas that had been built up but stayed empty for twenty to twenty-five years. And some of the nearly two million people who have been displaced over the past several years from the urban core, of those who had some resources, some money . . . not those put in the new kinds of carceral social housing projects. People began to occupy these districts. They couldn't occupy them in the same way, with the same kinds of relations and ways of doing things that were prevalent before. But there was a kind of exhibition of a kind of memory forward. It's almost as if they knew what to do, even though what they needed to do wasn't a replication of what they had done before.

Maybe here translation in a comparative gesture is viable. And this might be demonstrated in the ways that large numbers of people are able to occupy a space in a way that both resonates with past practices but takes them into new forms and directions. There are past futures and other ways of doing futures . . . other habits of futurity than those that finance has colonized as a way of establishing relations of probability as the only means of going forward. Those who were concerned with their social reproduction in the struggle for survival had to have some kind of sense of future; and what that future might be is not always obvious.

How to summon the future and how to bring it forward? How to narrate that future as something other than a destination or as a means of socializing or reifying a present? But rather as an accompaniment, a nonjudgmental supplement, which does not necessarily alter the trajectory of a journey or disposition but surrounds it with a surfeit of heterogeneous elements and narratives capable of jump-starting the recursive production of transitive knowledge with new “ceremonies,” fabulations, and story lines that may only be operative at one moment but enable the enactment of millions of futures beyond capture.

Here, maybe translation is something that is viable. You know that somehow there was a way in which this kind of capacity to occupy space in large numbers simultaneously did work in some way.

NXT: I love that idea of memory forward. I also love the idea that there are imaginable past futures, other ways of doing futures, other habits of futurity than the future that finance has colonized. And it seems to me that people who were concerned with their social reproduction—communities, groups, in the struggle for survival—had to have some sense of the future. And what that future might be isn't always so obvious. It isn't so obvious what that future might be, or how to summon it, or how to imagine it or to bring it forward. It isn't always so obvious and can be quite different now than it might have been. And this is the other thing, I think, which both of our books have in common. I'm starting to think that our books are companion books.

JE: That was my instinct when I first suggested we read them together. It is like your books go together, although I didn't know why. Now I am understanding that impulse much better.

NXT: They are companion pieces because of both of our efforts to broaden our perception of the diversity of the ways that people do things within those very spaces of seeming capture. For Maliq, these things are within and beyond capture, and for me they are in excess and in remainder. What we see are phenomena that are in close proximity, or adjacency, if you will, to spaces of power, and it is within those spaces of proximity to power, evading capture, that we might find ways of summoning the future.

Both of us are thinking about interfaces. I think, for example, about the interface between vital platforms and capitalist platforms. For me this is the political project: parsing out how the police feed their families and how the poor feed their families. What are the differences? They all work through kinship, so kinship itself is not the answer. To parse out the ways in which humans use each other as the media of their realizations. That can be very awful, that can be using people as tools. But it can also be very life-giving. And you have to figure out the difference. Between when one is used as a tool that is objectified, alienated, and disposed, and when one serves as the appendage of one's own shared life—a component of a collective life that is not degrading.

That is what is interesting: the interfaces that people create, with memory forward, or other ways of summoning the future, or forms of timing, different kinds of temporality that are interfaced with a logic and an algorithm of capitalist valuation that will extract or turn what people do into some kind of value, even if capitalist exploitation or imperial predation cannot siphon it all.

I think about the characters in your book, Maliq—working the warehouses, working the infrastructures that capital builds, working the channels of circulation that are policed. Here is a form of interface. It is similar to my thinking on fate playing, for example, working those channels to do what you are still doing, which is hazarding the present for some unknown future.

This is not just push and pull and forced migration. This to me does not get at the realities of how people are experiencing their own movements and what is going on for them, or rather what is going on. Not just what they “feel” is going on. Those ways of doing express another logic that is out there.

AMS: Interfaces and interstices, yes, the two overlap yet are distinct. I was in Salvador Bahia a couple of weeks ago, in a conversation with some political-cultural activists about a particular initiative they had been implementing over the past decade in one of the peripheral zones of the city. And they made it clear: “We don't live in the suburbs. We live in the middle of things.” For them, the middle is an interstice.

They know that they have to do political work to fight to be somewhat integrated into the larger metropolitan system. They know they need to make that move. They also know that the terms of the movement will be exclusionary and will undermine long-honed ways of being and doing things. But they feel that they have no choice. They also recognize that their position of already being excluded is a form of inclusion. They know that the metro turns to them for the shit stuff that has to be done. Things that have to be “included” already are.

Here we have the impossible middle. How do we operate in the middle of this? We feel that we have to be there. Constantly doing what we can to organize things in a way that is not always clear and not always legible. Ruthie [Gilmore] makes fun of me for doing this, but I sneakily use her famous invocation: “organize organize organize.” Which of course she says for emphasis, to amplify. I borrow it to say something slightly different. I use the repetition not for emphasis, but to indicate how organizing needs to take place in different ways, simultaneously. This without leaving the multiple out, or judging the importance or the viability of things. The middle is a way to imagine and operationalize ways of enactment that are not easily apprehendible and which leave an effect.

NXT: I also talk about organizing at the end of the book. Organize, organize, organize in the Ruthie sense continues to be really important. Without it, there would be even less life. And less possibility. I also have in mind this other kind of organizing, this informal organizing that is haphazard, wayward, a form of speculative, anticipatory prediction, a way of getting and getting to what you want—these are kinds of life organizing, of maintenance—so many forms of organizing that I would also like us to pay attention to, because they can be some of the most denigrated forms of organizing (compared to proper organizing, say of political movements and governments). And yet these denigrated forms of “happening” or making happen occur right there within political movements themselves, and give people joy and vibrancy. All kinds of self-realization and gratuitous joy are as important to the momentum of the movement as is its stated ideological purpose and plan.

I just wanted to add one more thing, about one part of Maliq's book that I love, which is the idea of forgetting being forgotten. That constitutes the ordinariness of what people are doing. They are not making claims; they are not making all of these “efforts” in response to being forgotten; it is not the place from which they are starting. It brings attention to what we sometimes forget, which is the politics of our work where everything begins to be seen as claims, in terms of the analysis and the critiques we have made and are aware of. And yet that is not the place from which people are making their lives.

We forget that they forget being forgotten. I love that you make us pay attention to this, as a condition for other possibilities.

AMS: For me, it really is grounded in a long-term attempt, at least in urban studies, to pay attention to and valorize the work not so much on Black sociology and inhabitation per se, but the kind of theorizations and strategic maneuvers and procedures that emanate from that inhabitation through different geographies, and thereby to reshape our thinking of what the urban is.

Because, at least within the histories of the Americas, Black engagement with cities and their inhabitation has always been experimental to a degree, potentially capable of changing our understanding of what cities are—eliciting a kind of political response that is not only directed toward the various forms of incarceration of Black bodies or extractions of Black life, but also toward the foreclosure of theoretical notions of what urban life is and could be. That has been a professional and political project of mine for some time. Then I try to take that project seriously in my own writing as a way to think through the issues that I feel are important. Here I could go into great length about the work of so many Black scholars and activists. . . .

NXT: For myself, one could say this is my most global book, but that wouldn't be quite accurate. Even though I have long written about the Philippines, it has always been within a global order and frame. But in this book, I do include sites beyond the Philippines—Israel/Palestine, or the US-Mexico border, or China—not in any ethnographic detail, in the way Maliq does. I cannot really speak closely from or about these sites, but I have learned from them. And in the intervening years, the enormous diaspora of Filipinos has spread to so many parts of the world and are in all of the interstices of all of these global industries. Wherever they are located, they are in the interstices of global systems of reproductive work. Servitude is located in all of these places of reproduction and maintenance. Servants therefore also participate in forms of disposability of others, including of their own people and their own families. I see them also as agents of creation of disposability. For me it's very important not to look away from the perpetration of these kinds of violences.

The book is not about a people or a community. It is not about a subject that we somehow want to give a voice to. There is no single, designable subject to give voice to or to illuminate.

At the same time, the theorizations I draw from theorists and activists in the Philippines are always in conversation with global South theories, by which I mean, Black, feminist, Indigenous, queer/trans theorists. This is not only to surface the connections, but also because there is a way we are involved in each other's historical fates and worlds, and so too are our theorizations. If I think with Black thinkers, it is because they have taught me how to see the world and how to understand and to feel it, and also because there are so many things in the world that I work with that are connected to the worlds they are talking about and emerge from. So it's not just because their theoretical works have some kind of comparative use value for a world that is completely separate.

Filipinos are my media, my familial trackers, of some of these material connections. The Spanish colonizers often commented—similarly to what is expressed in Viveiros de Castro's title, The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul—that native Filipinos had no ontological specificity or substance; that there was no there there, or that they couldn't make out a there there . . . I run with that.

The form of our survival has always entailed becoming entangled with others. . . . It is a modality I am familiar with. It undergirds the importance of the theorization of others: of Native folk in the US, or of the Black diaspora. They have something to say to us. I would like to have more of that conversation—I am speaking with you, we can be speaking with and to each other . . . I also wanted to perform that, in the writing. That we are already in medias res with others in how we perceive things. I don't think that this is just something that I do, but something that happens. And I also happen to do it.

AbdouMaliq Simone is senior professorial fellow at the Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield and author of The Surrounds: Urban Life within and beyond Capture, Improvised Lives: Rhythms of Endurance in an Urban South, and Jakarta: Drawing the City Near.

Neferti X. M. Tadiar is professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Barnard College, Columbia University, and author of Remaindered Life, Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Makings of Globalization, and Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order.



Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, accessed October 4, 2023, https://dukeupress.edu/comparative-studies-of-south-asia-africa-and-the-middle-east.


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