In Defence of De-Persons by Johanna Hedva

I created this zine based on research into DIY spaces and their connection with the aesthetics of zines. Pulling inspiration from zines as a method to disseminate theory, I used the essay In Defence of De-Persons by Johanna Hedva (located online here: http://gutsmagazine.ca/in/). I inserted hand-drawn illustrations and other graphics to pay homage to zines while exploring non-normative typesetting.

I created this zine based on research into DIY spaces and their connection with the aesthetics of zines. Pulling inspiration from zines as a method to disseminate theory, I used the essay In Defence of De-Persons by Johanna Hedva (located online here: http://gutsmagazine.ca/in/). I inserted hand-drawn illustrations and other graphics to pay homage to zines while exploring non-normative typesetting.


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In Defence of


Posted by GUTS on May 10,




“We must now


undertake a

rewriting of

knowledge as

we know it.”

—Sylvia Wynter

I want to make a defence of “de-persons.”

According to the American

Psychiatric Association, I am one.

That is, I have been diagnosed with

depersonalization / derealization

disorder (DP / DR for short), which

means that I have


persistent, or

recurrent depersonalization

(i.e., experiences

of unreality

or detachment

from one’s

mind, self, or


What that means is that, at various

times, my body, self, environment,

and the world itself do not feel real.

There are many ways to talk about

“personhood,” and many of them are

discourses about what isn’t personhood,

or more sinisterly, who does

not qualify to be part of that category.

DP / DR falls into this kind of

discourse on personhood: the kind

that defines who is not. The suffix

“–hood” as it is attached to

the word “person” is important


“–hood” means “a state of

condition or being.”

So, when we’re talking about personhood,

by definition, the state of

the condition or the being of a person

can be said to be different than the

person. In other words, personhood

is apart from the person, personhood

is not the person.

There is another way of looking at

“–hood”: the Proto-Germanic etymology

of “–hood” can literally be

translated to mean “bright

appearance. I am moved

by this at the same time

that I’m antagonistic

to what it arrogates—

the implication that

to “be” anything one

must not only appear,

but also be bright.

Before I go further, I’d like

to claim the soil that I stand

on, so I can dig as deep as I can

down into it. I am not a representative

for a specific kind of experience;

I am presentative of it. That

is, I’m doing it right now, in front of

you, and in front of myself. I am a

proponent of aporia:






thinking that contradicts itself, that

circles back, that reveals the knotting

and fraying and re-weaving of

an argument so that it contains all

of its mistakes, so that you can see

them, and so that I won’t forget how

I got here. My address is from an

affirmation of messiness, a testimony

of and to disorder, an honouring

of incomplete-ness. Anne Boyer

writes: “It’s not just our errors we

become brave about, but our projects’—and

our own—incompleteness.”

So here I am, in transit.

If I’m going to wander around personhood,

I’ve got to reckon with universality,

because universality is the

foundation for how we construct

“persons.” It’s the bedrock beneath

the patches of soil upon which all

of us stand. Sara Ahmed explains it:

The universal is a structure not

an event. It is how those who

are assembled are assembled.

It is how an assembly becomes

a universe… The universal is the

promise of inclusion… Universalism

is how some of us can

enter the room. It is how that

entry is narrated as magical; as


I am guilty of hoping for such magic.

I’ve played the game of universalism,

as we all have: it’s the main

game in town. So this is me trying

to get out of town. The concept of

the “person” that has been defined,

deployed, policed, and immured by

universality is one that promises

self-determined completeness, wholeness,

and power. In other words,

that which can be both mastered

and the master.

A defence of a de-person could be

said to be an embodiment of incompleteness,

a demonstration of bad

thinking, a performance of un-comprehension,

a refusal of mastery at


Again, I’m trying to get out of town—

I’m headed for the wilds.

I start with the American Psychiatric

Association (APA) because it

is the institution that, so far, has

had the most influence in my life in

terms of how I’ve been constructed

as a person by the medical-industrial

complex, and also as a citizen

who is a

• political,

• cultural,

• racial,

• gendered,

• economic,

and social being. I’ve been

diagnosed with four conditions recognized

by the APA, which means

my personhood has been




and immured

by the Diagnostic and Statistical

Manual of Mental Disorders.

Receiving a diagnosis from the DSM

is a life sentence: its ICD codes (which

stand for International Classification

of Diseases), once scratched

into your file, will remain with you

until death, and even afterward.

If you become famous, they can

find you posthumously—

think of the speculative

diagnoses that

have wormed their

way into the soil of

Vincent van Gogh,

Jane Bowles, Virginia

Woolf, oh, how I

could go on.

Here is a summary of the

DSM-V’s description of the

main symptoms of “depersonalization”

and “derealization” in

DP / DR:

The individual

may feel

d e t a c

h e d

from his or her

entire being

He or she may also feel subjectively

detached from aspects of

the self, including

thoughts (…“I know I have feelings

but I don’t feel them”),


whole body or

body parts

(e.g., “I am no

one,” “I have no


(e.g., “My thoughts don’t

feel like my own…”),

Episodes of derealization

are characterized

by a feeling of unreality

or detachment from, or

unfamiliarity with, the

world, be it individuals,

inanimate objects, or all


The individual may feel

as if he or she were in a

fog, dream, or bubble,

or as if there were a veil

or a glass wall between

the individual and world


Depersonalization and derealization

are not the same thing, but

more like two sides of the same

experience: one describes a state

of interiority (depersonalization),

in terms of how one

feels about oneself;

and the other describes

an exterior

state (derealiztion),

or how one

feels about one’s


DP / DR could

be said to describe

the skin


the outside

and the in

side, and in both places, there is

the feeling that neither is “real.”

feel validated within, or define, your

own experience.

The DSM-V has a little moment where

it locates itself within the United

States and its imperial horizon,

with the following passage about

“Culture-Related Diagnostic Issues”:

Volitionally induced experiences of

depersonalization/derealization c-

an be a part of meditative practices

that are prevalent in many religions

and cultures and should not be diagnosed

as a disorder. However, there

are individuals who initially induce

these states intentionally but over

time lose control over them and may

develop a fear and aversion for related


Then, the following is offered as a

“risk and prognostic factor”:

There is a clear association between

the disorder and childhood

interpersonal traumas in a substantial

portion of individuals…

In particular, emotional abuse

and emotional neglect have been

most strongly and consistently

associated with the disorder.

But the DSM has little to say beyond

this passage on symptoms that c-

an be correlated to a cause; that

is, why someone might experience

such feelings. And the extent that

they allow trauma to reach is only

interpersonal, never generational,

institutional, or societal.

DP / DR is characterized as a disorder,

not a disease, and it’s important

to note the clinical difference

between the two. It comes down to

what’s called “etiology,” which is the

cause for something. If the etiology

is known, it’s a disease. If no one

has a clue, it’s a disorder. So, embroidered

into their own system of

classification is the APA’s acknowledgement

of both the failure and

recursivity of its system. They’ve

built in a kind of disclaimer for how

they will recognize and validate your

experience, and it is based entirely

upon their own rules of what is

recognize-able. It has nothing to do

with how you might recognize, or

The clincher for all disorders and diseases,

in terms of psychiatry—that

is, when you go from being “well” to

“ill”—is when symptoms “impair the

individual’s ability to function normally.”

When the normative stops

performing is when psychiatry intervenes.

But nowhere in the DSM is

a definition of “normal”—and you’d

really think there would be, since so

much in its 991 pages seems to rely

upon it, and what it is not.

As we saw in the clause about

“volitionally induced experiences,”

the main problem arises

when control is lost.

However, the agency of the

individual person is the primary

measure for what kind

of control is at stake: the

DSM and APA are only concerned

with self-control—

not the loss of control, freedom,

or agency as it c-

an be affected, granted,

rescinded, and mitigated

by the state.

Self-possession and selfmastery

are the most legible

and preferred forms

of selfhood within a society

built upon the ideology of possession.

What the DSM and APA

configure, and warn against, as a

“loss of self control” can be read as

a refusal of the mastery and wholeness

that Fred Moten and Stefano

Harney have called “the object/ive

of enlightenment self-control.” That

one cannot possess one’s own self,

it follows, precipitates the necessity

of a society that can do it for you. In

turn, this instantiates the construct

of a self in ownership of itself as

what is the most—the only—acceptable

kind of person.

I think of the residents of Flint who

had absolutely no control over whfor

their life to be sustained: water

fit to drink. I think of Joyce Curnell,

a 50-year-old Black woman who d-

ied in the Charleston County Jail

because she was not given water

to drink, despite repeatedly asking

for it. The article about the lawsuit

filed on behalf of her family reads:

“She spent the last 27 hours of her

life behind bars. During that time

she became too sick to eat or

call for help, according to court

documents filed this week. She

vomited all night and couldn’t

make it to a bathroom, so jailers

gave her a trash bag.” Instead

of possession of her life, the

police gave her a trash bag.

When we confront the implications

of these examples, we

can see the state as a mechanism

that creates depersonalization.

It is a device that simultaneously

produces and

perpetuates de-personhood w-

hile negating the possibility of

self-control. How about that for

a cause?

I also think of the many books I’ve

read on healing trauma, all of them

written by white doctors, that inevitably

tell me that I have to regain

a sense of “self-mastery” if I want

to live a “productive” life. In the recent

bestseller The Body Keeps the

Score, Dr. van der Kolk asks, and

then attempts to answer, the question:

“How can people gain control

over the residues of past trauma

and return to being masters of their

own ship?”

Did no one stop and think about using

the word “master” in the same

sentence as “ship”?

The prefix “de–” as we use it in English today is inherited mainly

from French and Latin, where it has meant “down, down from,

from, off; concerning,” and also “‘down, off, away, from among,

down from,’ but also ‘down to the bottom, totally’ hence ‘completely’.”

It also functions as “a pure privative,” a privative being

a grammatical device that reverses a verb’s action, as in: “not,

do the opposite of, undo.”

So, a de-person, is a not-person.

(I am no one. I have no self.)

And it is also a down-from person: a person “down from” the

status of personhood.

In December 2015, I had a

dissociative panic attack for

the first time in three years

without my medication on

hand. It was in the Copenhagen

aquarium called Den

Blå Planet, which has been

designed to make one feel

as though underwater—stupid

of me to forget my meds,

especially because for twenty

years I’ve had the recurring

nightmare of being underwater

in an ocean of black

water. One enters Den

Blå Planet as though being

submerged into a sea cave.

Inside, there is only dim, blue

light. Silhouetted shadows

of fish, sharks, and whales

are projected onto the ceiling.

One can peer up at them

circling overhead. The lapping,

sloshing sounds of water

stream from hidden speakers,

but they are mostly

drowned out by the voices

of children running around,

darting like little fishes.

In the bathroom, where I w-

aited for the attack to pass,

the only thoughts in my

brain were “thing, thing, thing”

(a fog, dream, or bubble).

There was blue—blue

paint on the wall of the stall?—which

equaled “thing.”

Each time the door slammed,

it was with such ferocity

that “my” body felt

r i p p e d —

into two things, then three,

then many. The sound of

the hand dryer, even more




—thing, thing, thing.

Language breaks down (I

cannot speak, or understand

what is being spoken

to me, during these states)

but not because it never existed,

or because it is nothing,

or because it seems inadequate

in a postmodern

ay, but because it uncreates.

As Simone Weil puts

it, decreation is “to make

something created pass into

the uncreated.” Something

that had been created—

something that had created

me—has passed into its

twinned shadow state. No

longer is the first-person intact,

the “I” dissolves, and

all the boundaries around

everything that have hitherto

contained them, are

drained of their solidity.

Down-from-ness. Not-ness.

How many people, as I write this,

have been declared—politically, legally,

medically, culturally, economically,

racially, socially, and genderbinarily—to

be “de-persons”?

What about those of us who have

emerged vis-à-vis others, in relationship

to each other, and because of

our own Other-ness? (My thoughts

don’t feel like my own!)

(as if there were a veil or a glass wall

between the individual and world)

How many are struggling against

such declarations? And how might

we ever know the answer to this


How many are resisting? What does

that resistance look like, what does

it do?

I’d like to ask the APA: What about

depersonalization when the state

has made you that way, has removed

your agency from yourself, has

taken over the control of how you

are identified and thus legitimized?

What about derealization when the

state has detached your environment

from you, dispossessed you of

your land, or turned your surroundings

into something unbearable, s-

omething that cannot possibly be


When a person feels that they are

not real, or that the world around

them is not real, and that they have

no control over either realm: how

do they fit into the universal version

of “person”?

In other words, who will they be

allowed to be—or not to be? Hamlet’s

famous question reveals his

privilege, power, and, specifically,

his authority: that he gets to

decide whether to be or not. At

its etymological root, authority is

about authorship: Hamlet can be

the author of himself.

How many are not allowed this?

Whose stories have already been

written for them?

“The self-determined thing cannot

be so if it emerges in a relationship,”

Denise Ferreira da Silva writes, emphasis

mine. So, what about those

of us who have not had the privilege

that Hamlet had, to write our own

story according to our own terms?

(There is a clear association between

the disorder and traumas.)

Da Silva calls them “no-bodies.” Jack

Halberstam calls them “zombies.”

Neve Be has called them “invisible

theorists.” I’ve called them “sick

women.” Moten and Harney have

traced a territory where they reside

called “the undercommons,” and

named a co-present condition for

some in that territory as, simply,


I think about the suffix “–ness” instead

of “–hood.” It can also be traced

to Proto-Germanic, and means

an “action, quality, or state.” Nowhere

is the condition of “being.”

I think of the many for whom,

politically, it is true that

“nowhere is the condition

of being.”

My main question

here is: for

those who are

not, for those

who have


in relationship to rather than via

self-determination, for those who

are particular and sometimes nowhere

rather than universal, for those

in the undercommons, for us

“invisible theorists” and for us “nobodies,”

how does the affirmation

of de-person-ness offer a new form

of political agency?

It’s important to revisit one’s past

thinking and to lay it bare. As a principle

of my feminism, I think it’s

important to quote myself—it puts

my inspection and honouring of the

past into relief. As bell hooks says,

I’m “working with the work.” I want

you to know that I’m dealing with

history, and that I’m troubled by

how it has constructed my experience.

I want you to know that I’m

still listening, reading, and learning.

In some primal, preverbal way, I feel

I’ve got to deal with that first before

I can look ahead; as a white-passing

a.k.a. white-privileged person,

I believe it is my first obligation not

to be a-historical.

To reckon with being haunted is im

portant political work. It can account

for why the world right now

has come to be as it is. And it can

re-imagine a world that is not already


On January 19 2016, Mask Magazine

published my article Sick Woman

Theory, the beginning of a project

that is still radically incomplete, as

am I. In it, I proposed a “theory” that

provocatively constructed a new

universal subject position: the Sick


Let me be clear: I did not mean that

our illnesses are not real, that our

suffering is not ours, that we are all

literally women, or that women are

essentially more vulnerable or more

sick. No, I was trying to get my head

around what political conditions have

constructed the soil where I stand—and

where stand many who

are “no-bodies,” who live in a world,

self, and body that don’t seem “real”

when measured against the hegemonic


Because of the nature of my chronic

illnesses (endometriosis, fibromyalgia,

and an as-yet-to-be-diagnosed

autoimmune disorder) and my mental

illnesses (bipolar disorder, complex

PTSD, panic disorder, and

DP / DR), I noticed that where I was


feminized me as a “weak” and “crazy”

woman, despite the fact that

I identify as genderqueer;

presumed I am white and middleclass,

fixing to me the attendant

signifiers of middle-class whiteness

(think of the Victorian white

woman in bed with an unnamable

malaise and a maid bringing up

her breakfast), despite my background

being poor and mixedrace

Korean and white;

moralized me, as though I had either

willfully decided to put myself

on the patch of sick-soil, or

ended up there because I’d somehow

lost my “strength” to “be well”;


erased my differences and specificities

as a political, cultural,

and social citizen.

From those observations, I began

with some terms that have found

their way into my soil, and which

claim to identify me: sickness, woman-ness,

weakness, whiteness.

I wanted to reclaim a version of “my”

“self,” rewritten into a version of the

world that accounted for why I felt

detached from it in the first place (as

if she were in a dream). I felt around

for my body (detached from her entire

being) and, upon finding that

it was both in pieces and missing

pieces, and that it had already been

laid claim to by institutions without

my permission, I flailed like a bird

trapped in a room. On every wall

there were windows, but I kept only

flying up. Right into the ceiling.

The aporia of Sick Woman Theory is

that it requires a cruelly optimistic

humanism: to construct and nurture

a version of a human against

a version of the human—and it still

relies upon the master’s tools of

enforcing discrete selfhood and

self-possession. This universalizing

move is what Ahmed would call

a “melancholic universalism”: “the

requirement to identify with the universal

that repudiates you.”

Remember, bad thinking.


Being haunted.

I cannot think of a form of embodiment

that is not somehow disordered.

The enforcing of self-possession

has happened probably because

of the self’s radical disorder.

How this can feel unbearable has

resulted in the political implication

that we are all ungovernable. “Governance

then becomes the management

of self-management,” as Moten

and Harney write.

I forgive myself for my impulse to

call for the ousting of the Healthy

White & Propertied Male from the

throne of the universal subject position

that he’s sat in for so long. The

direction to go, we are conditioned

to believe, is up. Like birds trapped

in a room.

But it’s the throne itself that we m-

ust tear down: the throne on which

the universal sits. That there is a

throne at all is the problem—regardless

of who sits in it. We don’t need

to go up. Let’s look to the windows,

the way out.

We who are blasted apart, de-person-ed, detached from “being,” if we are looking toward

that throne of universality to consolidate and stabilize us as subjects, to make us

whole as people, to bestow upon us, finally, a political agency that we can call our own,

in that we can own it like a possession, then we are looking in the wrong direction. The

place to begin is by turning our backs on that throne, and toward an agency that doesn’t

depend on enlightenment humanism, on the universal, on the self-determined subject

of a rational mind, on the hegemonic figure who has power over himself and others.

Such an agency can only function by constructing against its human, the monster, the

monstrosity of the Other. If our kind of agency depends on anything, it will depend on

recognizing and honouring that we are all of us disordered, messy, incorrigible, that we

are in relationship to others and interdependent on each other, as much as we are each

of us different—and that is fine.

The APA has a “topic” page on their

website for “Emotional Health” that

defines it like this:

Emotional health can lead

to success in work, relationships

and health. In the

past, researchers believed

that success made people

happy. Newer research reveals

that it’s the other way

around. Happy people are

more likely to work toward

goals, find the resources

they need and attract others

with their energy and optimism—key

building blocks of


There are many nights, when I start

up in bed, the fight-or-flight nut

of my brain exploding its juices through

my body, and I feel as if the

only thing that really exists is being

extinguished: “me.” I also feel this

sucked-out vacuum of self-extinction

in line at the pharmacy, to be

told that one of my medications costs

$800 USD a month without insurance.

In capitalism, the primary purpose

of one’s life—both ideologically and

materially—is to accumulate value.

This is done through one’s labour,

but of course primarily relies upon

the exploitation of the labour of

others and various resources of all

kinds. As Silvia Federici has argued,

such exploitation requires an accumulation

of differences, beyond

Marx’s “primitive accumulation” of

natural and labour resources, to justify

itself: self/other, white/black,

male/female, society/nature, us/

them, life/death.

“The order that collects differences,

the order that collects what Marx

called labor still objectifying itself,

is the order of governance,” write

Moten and Harney. Governance was

invented for that which is ungovernable—I’d

like to suggest that it

was invented for de-persons in their

promiscuous lack of self-control (a

feeling of detachment from, or unfamiliarity

with, the world).

Within such a system, the person

who is unable to labour because of

their difference from the normatively

ableist well, is considered not only

useless because they cannot work

to accumulate value, but they also

stand in direct opposition to two

important tenets of capitalist

ideology. The first is the

premise that capitalist

technology can take

command of the

body. As Carolyn Lazard has written:

Capitalism objectifies the body. It

views the body as an exploitable

resource and attempts to render

it indestructible and unstoppable

with the aid of technology…

And yet as advanced capitalism

has deemed the physical body an

obs-olete, outdated tool, the body

still remains. It continues to fail

under capitalist conditions and

gets pathologized as illness.

The body is another inconvenience

that must be enhanced

and optimized.

The second tenet the de-person

antagonizes is the promise that

neoliberalism can reduce everything,

including the decision

to survive, down to personal

choice, a matter of willpower,

and a problem

the market can solve.

In neoliberalism,

“wellness” is a


it usually stands

in for

“life,” but

life in t-



I can’t write about the prefix “de–”

without also writing about the prefix

“dis–.” “De–” and “dis–” are twinned,

convex and concave, like depersonalization

and derealization. “Dis–”

comes directly from Old French and

Latin and means “apart, in a different

direction, between,” as well as

“lack of, not… do the opposite of…

apart, away.” Almost the same as

“de–”—but for its Proto-Indo-European

root, “dwis,” meaning “twice.”

So, a two-ness, a split-off.

wealth, race, power, and, primarily,

ability. Wellness in this context is

paradoxically both an innate moral

virtue and an individual’s own

responsibility to maintain—and is

soaked in ableism.

Depersonalization disorder falls under

the DSM-V category of “Dissociative

Disorders,” and the name for

the bit of time when I am “detached”

from “myself” is called dissociation.

Again, I quote the DSM-V so as to

reveal the conceptual framework

upon which such diagnoses rely:

Mia Mingus puts it perfectly:

Ableism cuts across all

of our movements because

ableism dictates

how bodies should function

against a





of white supremacy, heterosexism,

sexism, economic exploitation,

moral/religious beliefs, age, and


Boyer writes: “Wellness,

like gender, was so constructed,

on a good d-

ay I could fabricate its

appearance in



Dissociative symptoms are

experienced as unbidden intrusions

into awareness and

behavior, with accompanying

losses of




in subjective experience…

and/or inability to access

information or to control mental

functions that normally

are readily amenable to

access or control…

The dissociative disorders

are frequently found in the

aftermath of trauma, and

many of the symptoms,

including embarrassment

and confusion about the

symptoms or a desire to hide

them, are influenced by the

proximity to trauma.

Two weeks is the longest continuous

period of time during which I’ve

been dissociated.

It occurred at the psychotic peak

of a manic episode. When the dissociative

episode began, it was mid

December, nearing the 2012 holiday

season. When it subsided, and “I”

emerged, it was a few days into the

new year, January, 2013.

I remember little of what happened

during those two weeks. It was a

loss “of continuity in subjective experience,”

yes, and, yes, also an “inability

to access information normally

amenable to access and control.”

The DSM is right there.

Perhaps challenging the premise

that “I” am not intact during these

episodes, I wrote a lot while dissociated

that winter. In fact, I wrote

nearly an entire manuscript of poems.

Reading them now, I feel flanked

by embarrassment and confusion—the

proximity to trauma. But

I’d like to quote one here (“I shall

quote only myself!”), in an effort to

reveal what a mind can do during

“a loss of subjective experience.”



I was house-sitting for friends who

were out of the country for Christmas.

I was in the second year of

my MFA; it was the winter break,

classes were to resume at the end

of January. At the time I was seeing

a person, who’d been something of a

best friend for a year prior, in a relationship

that was viscid, confusing,

held together the way strands of

hair in a drain are, by soapy debris

and the centripetal force of a vortex.

I know that he was present for much

of the episode—he must have been,

because when “I” returned, he was

no longer there. His abandonment

was so abrupt, violent, and total—I

never saw him again—that the only

reason for it must be that he witnessed

something terrifying during

those two weeks.

Eventually, one witnesses

an event that was once

considered an alchemical miracle:

the light from the sun changes

from white to gold. Imagine that

each day, when we aren’t home,

the sofa and its cushions

are bathed in this, this, this, this, this—

this, magic.

When a person puts her face

in this divine arc, she’s only

irritated. She squints. That’s because

we are the most fragile

of all creatures. Even a sofa

can stare directly into the sun,

even the sofa can outlast us. Imagine:

an immense ball of fire,

in an infinite icy vacuum

has a storm rage on its face for 14,000


has towers of flame taller than whatever,

spitting godhead nuclear hydrogen

light into nothingness—

into the abyss that keeps expanding—

and it hears nothing back.

It says nothing back.

I’ve included this poem as a monument

to astonishment, my own astonishment.

I’m astonished that I

wrote it. I don’t remember writing it,

and so I’m astonished that the oriented,

possessed-of-herself (according

to the institutions of the APA and

DSM) Johanna Hedva was absent

when it was created. So maybe the

word for its inclusion in this essay

is not “monument,” but cenotaph:

“a tomblike monument to someone

buried elsewhere.” A someone, elsewhere—so

that’s where I went.

A mental collapse, for me, is a totalizing

inability to function in this

world: I cannot speak, understand

language, get out of bed, read, write,

bathe or feed myself, sleep or

wake without medication—and this

usually lasts several months. It is

that I cannot “be” in any legible way.

Instead of being, I barely exist. I swim

in jagged visions and washes of

feeling. I pass into a territory, or an

atmosphere, where language cannot

go, and where none—no one person,

and also no thoughts, no definitions,

no explanations, no language—can

follow me.

There has been only one dissociative

episode in which a complete

thought—a full, coherent sentence—

came to me that I still remember.

It occurred toward the end of my

worst mental collapse, one that

lasted four months and from which

it took me nearly eighteen months

to recover. The dissociation happened

at night, in a car. I was being

driven through Elysian Park in

Los Angeles. As usual, I felt as if “I”

was being obliterated, and I felt my

existence start to shred. But that

night, the obliteration deepened:

it was not only “me” who was being

extinguished, but also meaning

itself. The world slid. I felt as if

I was floating in space, detached

from the spaceship, a speck in an

infinite dark.

The thought that came to me was

this: There is only Nothingness. And

it is beautiful. I wept for the next

twelve hours. It is how I came to

understand myself as a mystic.

In the fall of 2015, I was a research

fellow in a project called at land’s

edge, under the mentorship of Fred

Moten. I’d sent him an early draft of

Sick Woman Theory, but I only wanted

to talk about mysticism. After the

dissociative episode that brought

the thought of Nothingness with it,

my panic during such episodes had

diminished, and I’d found myself embracing

the feeling of self-extinction.

The best way I could describe it was

through the language of mysticism,

but as an atheist, and freshly graduated

from a critical theory program,

this felt untenable.

In my meetings with Fred, we spoke

of mysticism as an experience of

union with the world. Fred, in his

usual precise but gentle evisceration

of what we take as truth, talked

about the “fatal flaw embedded in

the notion of such a union,” which

is that “union already implies separability.”

That is, because mysticism

produces both a new concept of the

self (that there isn’t a self) and a

new concept of the world (that it

is an entity one’s “self” can be in

union with), mysticism is at odds

with the concept of itself. In other

words, how can you be “in union

with” anything, if your “self” does

not exist?

I like that. That the baffling, painful,

annihilating, transformative, intense-as-fuck

process of contradiction

that is dissociation, results in

a state of contradiction that is in

itself a refusal of what is.

I’ve come to believe that what mysticism ultimately

proposes is that the extent that one has

a self is how much of it you can give away.

As Fred pointed out to me, the etymological

root for the words “privilege” and “private” is

the same. It’s from the Latin “privus,” which

means simply, “individual.” That an individual

can have privilege is also the extent to which

such an individual can be private. It’s why white

people don’t know what white supremacy is, or

that they benefit from it—whiteness itself is a

kind of totalizing assumption toward privacy.

As Fred said, “Privilege is a radical incapacity

for sociality.”

The affirmation of de-person-ness

that I’m proposing is not so much

a refusal of discrete-ness, of personhood

as such, but rather: an affirmation

of indiscrete-ness, of a

tremendous indiscretion.









The political manifestation of this—I

think—is a radical sociality, a bunch

of chairs for us all to sit in.

Which will certainly be a big fucking


Let’s go.

Earlier versions and excerpts of this

text have been read live on The Oracle

Hour on KCHUNG Radio with Amanda

Yates Garcia, on February 7, 2016; at

Sick Fest, at Chapter 510, in Oakland,

on March 26, 2016; at Sick/Tender/

Haunted, hosted by South of Sunset

in Los Angeles, on March 31, 2016,

and at land’s edge: Dialogues, at

Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery,

on April 3, 2016. I’d like to thank the

hosts, fellow speakers, and audiences

at each event for their support in

bearing witness to the development

of this ongoing project. I’d also like to

thank Michelle Dizon and the at land’s

edge fellows, Fred Moten, Constantina

Zavitsanos, Neve Be aka Lyric Seal,

Carolyn Lazard, Anne Boyer, Emma

Borges-Scott, and Johannes Beck for

the conversations we’ve had together

that have informed this work.

From GUTS Magazine



Johanna Hedva (yo-haw-nuh headvuh)

is a Korean-American writer,

artist, musician, and astrologer,

who was raised in Los Angeles by

a family of witches, and now lives in

LA and Berlin. Their work, no matter

the genre, is different kinds of

writing, which is to say, it is different

kinds of screaming.

They are the author of the novel, On

Hell (2018, Sator Press), which was

named one of Dennis Cooper's favorites

of 2018. From 2012 to 2015,

their series of queered Ancient Greek

plays, The Greek Cycle, was performed

in Los Angeles, in venues like

a Honda Odyssey—for their adaptation

of Homer's Odyssey—being

driven down the freeway. Their work

has been shown at The Institute of

Contemporary Arts in London, Performance

Space New York, the LA

Architecture and Design Museum,

and the Museum of Contemporary

Art on the Moon. Hedva has published

books in handmade limited

editions, and their writing has appeared

in Triple Canopy, The White

Review, Black Warrior Review, and

anthologized in GenderFail and Asian

American Literary Review. Their essay

Sick Woman Theory, published

in 2016 in Mask, was selected as a

best essay by Longreads and has

been translated into six languages.

Their album The Sun and the Moon

was released in March 2019. Two of

its tracks were played on the moon.

They are currently touring Black

Moon Lilith in Pisces in the 4th House,

a drone metal guitar and voice performance

influenced by Korean shamanist



Thank you to my friend Noir for generously taking the

time to talk to me about their experiences in the DIY

community here in RVA, and also for showing me their

zine collection.

Thank you to SOFT WEB studio collective (@soft.web

on Instagram) because if it weren't for their amazing

zines and other work I wouldn't have found Johanna

Hedva's work.

Thank you to Space Litter Records (@spacelitterrecords

on Instagram) for putting on shows and giving me inspiration

and visual language for this project.

Thanks to VCU Special Collections and Nicole Killian

for showing me their respective zine collections and

helping me with research and discussions as well.

Author: Johanna Hedva

Originally Published in GUTS Magazine

Designer: Erin Janicki

Professor: Anthony Nguyen

Class: Core Studio 3, Fall 2019

Typefaces Used:

Gira Sans (Book)

Gira Sans (Book Italic)

Gira Sans (Bold)

Gira Sans (Bold Italic)

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