Given the plural histories and social locations from which we commit to the work of decolonization, how might we build conditions that are sufficiently attuned to the multiple ways in which our individual identities are always-already shaped in colonial power? And, perhaps most importantly, how might we foreground the ways in which these multiple identities position us as complicit in that colonial power?

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The Southern Journal of Philosophy Volume 57, Spindel Supplement 2019

Pain and Play: Building Coalitions Toward Decolonizing Philosophy

Kris Sealey

Abstract: In what follows I offer three theoretical frameworks out of which we might think through coalition building for the sake of decolonization. My claim is that, through these three frameworks, we can be attentive to the ways we, ourselves are shaped by coloniality as we collectively work to resist it. The first framework is Maria Lugones’s account of playful world-travel. The second concerns the practice of unsuturing, developed George Yancy. And the third is Édouard Glissant’s notion of opacity (as that conception pertains to his account of errantry). In bringing these together, I foreground opacity as the cornerstone of an encounter between self and Other, as that encounter figures both in Lugones’s account of world traveling, and in Glissant’s account of errantry. I use George Yancy’s conception of unsuturing to show that it is more productive to think of world-travel’s play as coupled with unsu- turing’s pain, rather than to think of these comportments as either mutually exclu- sive or diametrically opposed. Lugones, Glissant, and Yancy show that, out of this pain-play comportment, our collective commitments to decolonization might result in more effective coalitions against the workings of colonial power, so as to gesture toward the possibility of alternative (decolonial) worlds.

I would like to engage the theme under which we have gathered—the ques- tion, really—with some thoughts on the possibility of building coalitions toward decolonizing practices (both in the discipline of philosophy, and more broadly). Given the plural histories and social locations from which we commit to the work of decolonization, how might we build conditions that are sufficiently attuned to the multiple ways in which our individual identities are always-already shaped in colonial power? And, perhaps most importantly, how might we foreground the ways in which these multiple identities position us as complicit in that colonial power? These questions acknowledge that we take our historically-constituted identities into our coalitional work toward decolonization, and ultimately ask us to think about the modes of relationality that might support that coalitional work. To be sure, these questions are not new, and I expect that they are certainly now new to any of us here. Theorists like Maria Lugones, Mariana Ortega, Linda Alcoff (who we’re fortunate enough to have with us1) have all grap- pled with the political urgencies of building effective coalitions out of which radical decolonial work might happen. These are all scholars whose work takes seriously the first premise (so to speak) that we take our historical- ly-constituted identities with us into the coalitions we build. So for them, as it is for me, the question of coalition-building for the sake of decolonization must also take on the question of not only how we understand the produc- tion of our identities, but also how we produce relationships (the relational- ity, if you well) among these historically-constituted identities.

So, in what follows, I explore a possible dialogue among three theoretical frameworks out of which we might think through this relationality. The first (and this is in no particular order) is María Lugones’s account of playful world-travel. The second concerns the practice of unsuturing, developed George Yancy in his recent work on white self-criticality. And the third      is Édouard Glissant’s notion of opacity in his conception of errantry (as   that conception plays out in his account of the composite community). In bringing these together, I hope to foreground opacity as the cornerstone     of an encounter between  self  and  Other,  as  that  encounter  figures both in Lugones’s political account of playful world-traveling and in Glissant’s poetic account of errantry. I then use this poetic-politic of opacity to bring Lugones’s account of play into dialogue with George Yancy’s conception of unsuturing. In so doing, I show that it is more productive to think of world-travel’s play as coupled with unsuturing’s pain, rather than to think  of these comportments as mutually exclusive. That is to say, it is through the playful attitude’s invitation to being decentered that one might encoun- ter the pain of unsuturing, or of staying in the orbit of the exposure that decentering brings. Out of this pain-play comportment might be derived a mode of relationality that supports the idea of coalition that is sufficiently attuned to the workings of colonial power, so as to gesture toward the pos- sibility of alternative (decolonial) worlds.

This will unfold in four sections: (1) Opacity, Errantry and World- traveling, (2) Lugones on the Attitude of Play, (3) Yancy on the Practice of Unsuturing, and (4) Coalitional Limen Work—Pain as/in Play? In my last section, I am particularly mindful of Mariana Ortega’s critical assessment of the playful attitude, whereby she proposes that the world-traveling involved in building resistive coalitions ought to be critical instead of playful. My hope is that, in thinking about world-travel in terms of the “play-as-pain” relation to the Other’s opacity, we are better positioned to address Ortega’s important critique.



According to Édouard Glissant’s rhizomatic theory of community, relation- ality happens in the opaqueness of the Other. This opacity foregrounds the Other’s radical difference and guards against her (epistemological and onto- logical) reduction to dominant structures of unity. What this means is that, configured around opacity, being in a relationship in this composite com- munity amounts to “giving on and with the other” as she remains not- entirely-known (or not entirely knowable). Glissant theorizes this mode of relation in his conception of errantry—a movement of knowing, being, and existing that responds to the Other’s opacity (to the absence of her full dis- closure). In this sense, errant thinking is in the business of producing knowl- edge that does not totalize for the sake of understanding, but rather acknowledges the heterogeneity of the community as both irreducible, and as what determines that community as a dynamic and fluid condition for  the possibility of plural conceptions of the human. The subject who moves in the world errantly “challenges and discards the universal—this general- izing edict that [summarizes] the world as something obvious and transpar- ent. . . . ”2 Opposed to this errant thinking, onto-thinking happens when the end game of thought is totality, the reduction of uncertainty for the sake of understanding. Through this mode of thinking, everything is fixed within the theoretical boundaries that make possible those processes of scientific definition, or, perhaps, the very being of science itself. Hence, because it is no longer an onto-thinking, the movement of errantry is able to think through and within the complex and moving relationalities that emerge among the lived differences of the composite community, differences that signify in an opacity that protects from onto-thought, and that manifests existentially in a refusal to be reducible to a calculus of sameness, unity, and purity.3

In Maria Lugones’s development of world-traveling, we find a similar sig- nifying frame for difference. I say more about the constitution of Lugones’s plural subject in the following section. But for now, suffice it to say that,  like Glissant’s errant thinker, the plural subject’s travel between multiple worlds also includes a negotiation of that which is opaque, encountered, and related to as an irreducible difference. For Lugones, more so than is explic- itly the case for Glissant, this opacity of the Other—and of her world—is    a difference that is ultimately grounded in historical materiality. That is to say, the opacity that underscores social heterogeneity in Lugones’s account points to differences in social locations or in how subjects are differentially positioned within grids of power. However, as I will show, the opacity of these historical identities will not foreclose the possibility of communicative relationships and, by extension, the possibility of creative transformation. Rather, much like what Glissant offers, opacity in Lugones will enact com- munication across multiple social worlds as a complex  communication. This account is very much motivated by Lugones’s need to offer a politics of resistance that would capture the lived experience of subjects existing in between multiple cultural and discursive spaces. In other words, the stakes involved are explicitly political, and so opacity is grounded in materiality. This allows Lugones to show how oppressed subjects find inventive (new) ways around their oppression under structures of  domination  and  how  they do so from/within those very structures. In bringing this account into conversation with Glissant, I hope to make more explicit similar political implications in his work.

About her conception of ontological plurality, Lugones writes, “I think that there are many worlds, not autonomous, but intertwined semantically and materially, with a logic that is sufficiently self-coherent and sufficiently in contradiction with others to constitute an alternative construction of the social.”4 She names this alternative construction “heterogeneous,” and in so doing, asks her readers to understand sociality as a historically-differentiated space, consisting of multiple discursive practices and meaning productions. On this formulation, the social is constituted in (or as) difference. This con- stitution is similar to the composite nature of Glissant’s errant community, except that, unlike Glissant, Lugones is explicit in her claim that these dif- ferences acquire meaning in history. Glissant holds that to think errantly is to encounter the opaque as such, to resist all totalizing truth, lest those totalizing principles reduce the diversity of which the composite community consists.5 Though some readers of Glissant (like Nick Nesbitt) cite this ontol- ogy of immanence as what sacrifices the very normativity upon which any sort of Glissantian decolonial politics might emerge, I argue that the reso- nances between Glissant’s account and Lugones’s, which I trace here, may offer a different story.

Because Lugones’s ontological plurality points to the existence of multiple

worlds, it also points to the liminal spaces between those worlds, spaces that are occupied by the kind of subject about whom Lugones theorizes—the plural subject. These are subjects who are unable to belong completely into any one community of sense, either as a consequence of marginalization   by dominant structures, or because their identities are, in fact, plurally con- stituted through many communal associations. Encountering the social as heterogeneous is simply part of the concrete existence of this plural subject, since it is out of her liminality that the plurality of worlds shows up, with each world being that in which she differentially, or partially, belongs. To return, again, to the political stakes of Lugones’s development. It is out of the idea of the social as heterogeneous—consisting of multiple worlds, mul- tiple meaning-productions, multiple options and avenues for living—that the plural subject is able to determine ways of resisting dominant structures. In other words, the story that Lugones is able to tell is one of entanglements between domination and liberation, between political oppression and polit- ical resistance.

Out of this frame of heterogeneous sociality, differences that are socially and politically relevant show up as plural negotiations of history. In this sense, the Other’s difference is a historical difference, a difference that is a consequence of her concrete experience of navigating structures of domination and of creating modes of resisting those structures. Hence, our differences are not exterior to the totality of the world (of its history), but rather precisely as we have been shaped by that history, by our public and intimate navigations of that history. What this means is that reckoning with human difference already includes a deep engagement with historical loca- tions, and with how the multiplicity of those locations constitutes the social as heterogeneous. But, as Lugones notes, these historical locations are nei- ther monadic nor exist in absolute isolation from each other. Framing social heterogeneity in this atomistic way simply reinstantiates the fragmentation and calculus of purity of which Lugones is most critical. Furthermore, it replaces one socially homogenous space with multiple socially homogenous spaces, a move that does not yet capture the way in which her account of social heterogeneity seeks to move us beyond homogenous/pure accounts  of the social, and to conceptualize difference to be constitutive of the social.

In Glissant’s composite community, opacity similarly serves as resistance to epistemic imperialism. The Other is encountered not to be reduced to some common cultural denominator for the purpose of transparency, but rather as someone with whom I can be in community, despite being unable to fully understand her concrete historical experience. More importantly, in that relationship with an opaque Other, it is possible for my own relation    to history (to my history) to undergo transformation. In Glissant’s words, in “giving on and with” the Other, I might become Other onto myself, dis- cover a different meaning in my material/social location. In the world-trav- elling of the plural subject, Lugones also recognizes the potentialities of becoming Other. She describes such potential in terms of “epistemic shifts to other worlds of sense,” shifts that happen when the plural subject moves in and out of various communities (of which social multiplicity consists) in travel that is precisely not motivated by what she names “imperialist” endeavors.6 In other words, like Glissant’s errant thinker, Lugones’s world-traveler does not seek to understand for the sake of conquering (or to conquer for the sake of understanding). Rather, very much in the spirit of Marilyn Frye’s account of the loving eye, Lugones conceives world-travel- ling as travel led by “the eye of one who knows that to know the seen, one must consult something other than one’s own will and interests and fears  and imagination.”7 Hence, in both the errant thinker (participating in the relationality of the composite community) and the world-traveler (moving through a heterogeneous sociality), there is a decentering of the epistemic comfort and ontological wholeness of the subject.8 The errant thinker is in relationship with the Other despite this absence of full disclosure, and the world-traveler moves in and out of permeable worlds despite their preser- vation in opacity. Indeed, without that opacity, world-traveling returns to  the travel of “tourists and colonial explorers, missionaries, settlers and conquerors.”9

Opacity, here, conditions the kind of relational transformations that pro- duce options for an “otherwise” within the concrete space of the commu- nity. It gives us a conception of the social as change and a conception of social heterogeneity that offers, to living subjectivities, possibilities of resis- tance alongside the oppression of mainstream structures. A close reading of Glissant’s descriptions of the rhizoming composite community will deter- mine these possibilities of resistance in terms of a poetics and not a politics. But the point I want to make here is that even as a poetics of resistance, his understanding of opacity and dynamic relationality is very much within the same register as Lugones’s understanding of opacity and social heterogene- ity. In both accounts, we find a notion of community both as historically constituted and as a moving negotiation with that historical ground.10 A framework that allows us to do this—theorize the meaning of opacity in history, or as constituted through social location—is important for the ques- tion of building coalitions for the sake of decolonization. As the next section details how Lugones grounds world-travel in the attitude of play, I hope to foreground these implications for coalition-building, or for what it might  mean to form resistant communities across multiple forms of oppression. As an epistemic world-traveling that maintains opacity—so, not the travel of the tourist or the travel of the conqueror—playful world-travel is a practice out of which this coalitional multiplicity might emerge, where differences are borne witness to instead of reduced to their lowest common denomina- tor.  It  is  for  this  reason  that,  in  playful  world-travel,  Lugones  finds conditions for collective political work toward a world in which plural con- ceptions of the human are possible—where there is resistance against multi- ple forms of structural violence without reproducing the very politics of reductive purity we aim to resist.



As a plural subject, my proficiency with world-traveling—with the plural self-comportments I am called to develop as I move from one community of meaning to another—is often a consequence of my inability to fully belong to any one world. More than this, proficiency with world-traveling often grows out of being marginalized in multiple worlds. Hence, the world-trav- eler does not simply move from one space to another. Rather, she travels    in order to generate, in very novel ways, conditions for the possibility of a free life, belonging and being fully human in one community of meaning    in ways that are foreclosed in another. Hence, acts of world-traveling are very much acts of sabotage against oppressive structures, and by “sabotage” Lugones means that, as a liminal/in-between subject, I concretize resistance right alongside my oppression. I upset the architecture of a power grid out of which my only option should have been an experience of oppression. Instead, through conceiving the social in terms of an ontological plurality, and through conceiving the possibility of a world-traveling subject, acts of sabotage emerge not to destroy that power grid, but rather to “trick” it, to live alongside—and despite—its calculus.

As framed by Lugones, this world-traveler shifts from one set of knowl- edge productions into another, where the change in semantic and/or valu- ative organizations is sufficiently fundamental as to signify moving into a different community of meaning. As I discussed in the previous section, the playful world-traveler anticipates that she will encounter a certain degree of opacity in these transitions, insofar as she moves into worlds whose epis- temic grids are not fully transparent, not fully (completely or coherently) understood. What, then, would it mean to travel to a world that is never  fully disclosed to me, a world that I encounter as opaque? In what sense am I in that world, if it is the case that it remains opaque? It is about questions like these that Lugones makes the following distinction: “[Playful world- travel] is not the Western, middle-class idea of the chosen and leisured journey [nor is it] the epistemic imperialism and aggressive arrogance [of] colonial conquest.”11 In other words, in traveling between worlds, I do not expect that what is encountered can be (or should be) reducible to a likeness to me, or to something that I might fully understand. Instead, playful world- travel allows for relationships with others not in their accessibility for us, but rather despite the deep differences that might exist between our experiences of marginalization and of structural violence.

Lugones sees “play” as central to this mode of relationality. In attending to why that’s the case, I ask that we anticipate the following section (section 3), which brings this idea of play into conversation with the unsuturing practice that George Yancy offers for effective white allyship against anti- Black racism. Included in the concept of playful world-travel is an openness to vulnerability and decentering, very similar to what Yancy locates in practices of unsuturing. At the same time, I also note the very important difference between the prominence (in Lugones) of play in world-travel, and what we might imagine to be the quite unplayful (indeed, even painful) process of becoming unsutured to that which is radically Other. Hence, a question that I would like us to attend to is this: Exactly how painful or playful must our efforts toward coalition-building be for it to effectively enable a collective sabotaging of coloniality? This is the question around which the analysis I offer in section four operates.

But for the moment, this: In what sense, according to Lugones, does playful world-travel condition this possibility of sabotaging coloniality? The description of world-travel as “playful” accounts for a navigation of onto- logical plurality that is able to divest itself from ossification, from reified modes of being in the world, and from static conceptions of the human. Lugones describes a playful attitude as one that allows for this not because it is devoid of serious stakes, but, rather, because it is one that “[stands in] an openness to uncertainty.”12 Here, she very purposely hearkens to the attitude of children at play (who are not too hung up on rules, on how  things should be, or on being limited to normative concepts/practices),13 while explicitly opposing playfulness to what she calls “infantile judgment.” Through infantile judgments about the world, I take up a position “in fear   of hostility, and [as] hostile in my fear.”14 Such infantile judgment would  be in flight from critique, from transformation in relationships with others, and from having to possibly change its view of the world. The playfulness of world-travel, on the other hand, “involves openness to surprise, openness to being a fool, openness to self-construction or reconstruction and to . . . reconstruction of the “worlds” we inhabit playfully. [Playfulness, in other words, is an attitude that is] an openness to risk the ground that constructs us as oppressors or as oppressed, or as . . . colluding with oppression.”15

Perhaps we can think of Glissant’s errant thinker as one who also partic- ipates in this playful attitude. In that movement of errantry, through which “giving on and with” an opaque Other conditions the possibility of becom- ing Other onto oneself, it is likely that the errant thinker is also she who “stands in an openness to uncertainty.” Indeed, on Glissant’s account, the creative emergence that constitutes rhizomatic processes is grounded in errant movements that enact teleological ruptures. That is to say, it would  be difficult to imagine the errant thinker as a mode of subjectivity in the world without replacing in that imaginary the closure of the normative with an antiteleological open-endedness. On my reading, this replacement accounts for much of what Lugones offers in the playful attitude.16 Furthermore, in bringing a Glissantian errantry into the playful attitude’s political orbit, it is then also possible for us to see how the ground across which errant relationality spreads is itself deeply rooted in and through his- tory. To that end, the composite community’s openness to transformation,  to concrete relational inventions that are not precoded in mainstream struc- tures, can be framed as a playfulness that is not detached from the depth of social location and power, but rather as being informed by an attunement with that depth (being a reckoning with history). In the unpredictability of errant relationality, much like the open-endedness of the playful traveler’s movement in and out of communicative openings and impasses, the possi- bility emerges to move beyond mechanisms of power and domination. But, in using Lugones as our conceptual focus, we also see that this move beyond these mechanisms can, should, and does happen in the concrete (historical) time of these mechanisms.

And so, to playfully (errantly) travel to another’s world—and to meet her in that alternative community of sense—means that you are already primed to let go of your operationally normative conceptions of what it means to   be human. It means that you are already primed to transgress your position on the power grid and to entertain the possibility that you can become something other than the role prescribed for you by those systems of power. This is not to say that the playful world-traveler knows no stakes in deter- mining different—and more liberatory—political ecologies. On my reading, world-traveling is playful, but it is (or, perhaps can be) very serious business. It is positioned (in other words) to avoid an infantile attitude toward rela- tionality. I say more about this in the following section. But, for now, I note that what the playful attitude is able to avoid, insofar as it is playful, is the activity of suturing. It is open to being vulnerable and to the process of becoming Other in complex communicative relationships that involve as much difficulty as they involve play. Playfulness abandons the need for absolute or clear footing in the world, and so, out of that attitude, I am able to see and stand against the oppressor in myself (and tarry in, and be vulner- able in the space of that discovery) as I join you in our collective efforts toward decolonization.17



I offer the fleshiness of Yancy’s “wound” metaphor as a powerful compan- ion to theorize “in the flesh” (as Cheri Moraga urges us), to conceptualize “resistance to intermeshed oppressions . . . not as merely symbolic but as inserted in [the] complex, tense, relational networks” of our actual world.18 George Yancy’s (2015) edited volume gathers essays from scholars of the critical philosophy of race, all of whom identify as white. And their contri- butions to the volume ground the possibility of a coalition around antiracist work on the following premises: (1) whiteness is the name of a specific power apparatus, which does not exist (because it cannot exist) without the disempowerment of Black people; (2) to be white-identified in much of the globe in the twenty-first century is to be a vehicle for and perpetuator of  this power apparatus, unless one actively and consistently resists; and (3) it is possible (and, one might add, necessary) to account for how one is person- ally implicated in this power apparatus.

In all, Yancy’s volume does two things. It offers the name “white self- criticality” to describe what happens when white persons problematize the ways in which their individual bodies position them to be complicit in/be vehicles for the power apparatus of whiteness. And secondly, it develops the notion of “unsuturing” as the practice that animates that self-critique. In other words, unsuturing names the practice through which a white-identified antiracist might denaturalize (and therefore complicate) her position within structures of anti-Black violence, so that she might be a more effective ally in her antiracist work. It is important to note that unsuturing does not give the white antiracist any promise of no longer being positioned as a vehicle for anti-Black racial violence. Instead, unsuturing denotes an ongoing mode of problematizing one’s position—as a white-identified person—within the power relations from which one is meant to enjoy racial privilege.

To understand this metaphor of unsuturing, we should start with the opposite image of suturing. According to Yancy, suturing “[involves] an effort . . . to be “invulnerable” . . . and “closed off.”19 To suture is to encase in a projective shell, and it requires the actual work of closing up, covering over, creating impenetrability. Brought to the work of white self-criticality, the image of the sutured individual is one of a person protected from what might expose her to the vulnerability of having her conceptual grid called into question, or of having her relationship to the world being called into  question.20 All to say, the act of suturing would facilitate/sustain the posi- tion of bad faith I would need to remain shielded from information, life experiences, perhaps even evidence that might disrupt my sense of how the world works (or how it should work). (My use of bad faith, here, comes from Lewis Gordon’s account of anti-Black racism as a form of bad faith.21)

White self-criticality, Yancy tells us, begins when this work of suturing ends. If to suture is to keep closed, to keep that which is Other walled out, then to unsuture is to open up, and to expose myself to what (or who) is radically Other, so that, through this exposure, I am vulnerable in ways that my “suturing work” helped me avoid. In rendering myself unsutured, it becomes possible for me to be touched by epistemologies, sensibilities, and attitudes that counter my sense of the world, so that I might become critical of things that (to borrow María Lugones’s words) appeared as simply “the furniture of the universe.”22 Letting go of the activity of suturing, so that we might live in unsuturing, then, makes it particularly difficult to naturalize our ways of being in the world simply because they are our known ways of being in the world. In other words, in generating opportunities for exposure and for the unpredictability of being in relation, the white person is able to call into question the normativity of systematic skews in racial power (to trouble those learned assumptions that white overprivilege is perfectly nor- mal, and so not really “overprivilege” at all).

In framing the comportment of white self-criticality in this way—in terms of suturing and unsuturing, I think that Yancy is quite intentional in con- juring in us thoughts of wounds—wounds that are open and fragile, suscep- tible to infection, and in need of constant care. Much like the legacies of colonial violence (racial violence, gender violence, settler colonial violence), wounds are corporeal matters, body matters, locating us as blood-and-flesh subjects in a world where pain and anguish is just part of what it means to be. And so, in conceptualizing the white self-criticality of antiracist allyship as an unsuturing, coalition-building (in this case, around antiracist work) becomes unavoidably about our bodies’ historical locations, about their materiality. And as such, these coalitions would emerge out of a reckoning with our embodiment as historically located, with our skins as a racial integ- ument that we can disavow only in bad faith. Bridget M. Newell, one of the contributors to Yancy’s volume, likens the experience of unsuturing to the experiencing of being disrupted by the Socratic gadfly, always around to either call you out on the groundlessness of your claims, or to trouble your answer with all the vital questions hiding behind them. Or, to use Robin James’s analogy of experiencing musical dissonance—to tarry in unsuturing complicates the “privilege [of] aesthetic orientation” in the white listener, precisely so that she no longer finds a home in herself, and in the world.23 In these reflections, the starting point—ground zero, if you will—seems  to be “being at home,” finding orientation in the world, enjoying familiarity with and in the epistemic/conceptual grid in which one moves easily, with- out disruption. Moving from a sutured to an unsutured way of being pre- supposes that the luxury of being sutured is actually one that is available. On the other hand, the starting point of María Lugones’s conception of playful world-travel—the marginalized subject, living in between words, living in the limen that is in between communities of sense, and so never finding belong- ing in those communities of sense—is one that precisely forecloses this lux- ury. Is the vigilant self-criticality of unsuturing available only to those who find a home in dominant structures? Is the marginal subject, living in the limen, above the noncritical slumber of the sutured life? Is the comfort of that slumber a luxury to which she is not privy, given her in-betweenness? These sorts of questions seem to presuppose a neat division between the subject at home in the mainstream and the subject who is marginalized by it. They seem to presuppose a sociality of clearly separated grids that entirely bifurcate, on the one hand, subjects for whom an openness to vulnerability is painful, and on the other, subjects for whom an openness    to vulnerability is playful. On my reading, it is precisely this neat division that Lugones cautions us against, and against which the complexity of her account of a coalitional limen guards.



This caution is apparent in Lugones’s conception of “coalitional limen work,”24 which she uses to theorize the work of building coalitions against multiple forms of oppression. Coalitional limen work, according to Lugones, calls us to collectively “stand against all oppression, not just the oppressor outside of us but also the oppressor in ourselves.25 She also notes that this coalitional work in the limen is something to be achieved, “a direction to  be struggled for,” not presupposed as a given “conceptual move” simply because we come with our individual experiences of being marginalized.26 This is because, in addition to bringing the experience of being marginal- ized with us into a coalitional limen, we also bring what Lugones names our “dominator identities”—our power-coded bodies that, without vigilance, reproduce/augment oppressive conditions for the others who are with us in that coalitional limen. These in-between worlds are not empty of the effects of historical materiality. And so, in these spaces, too, we occupy a power grid in ways that position us to potentially enact or be vehicles for various forms of oppression against the full humanity of someone else. This is because I can be marginalized by one set of dominant structures right alongside my being relatively empowered by another. I bring this inter- meshed “mainstream-marginalized” identity construction with me into the work of a coalitional limen and into a collective project of decolonization.

On this account, perhaps effective coalitional limen work calls for us to think about the pain and play of becoming-Other conjointly. In so doing,   we prepare ourselves to engage with Mariana Ortega’s criticism that the playfulness of world-travel is not a sufficiently critical mode of travel. On Ortega’s reading, because the world-traveler’s movement in and out of worlds is playful, she is unable to engage in the double move of seeing history in order to then risk its hold on her world.27 Said otherwise, accord- ing to Ortega’s criticism, world-travel that takes place in play runs the risk of losing sight of the kind of vigilance needed to not only understand the workings of oppression, but to also see how deeply implicated our subjec- tivities are in those networks of power. So, in place of playful world-travel, she calls for a practice of critical world-travel, which “requires that the world-traveler be engaged in an ongoing process of evaluation and interpre- tation of not only what is learned through traveling but also of the very practices of traveling across worlds.”28 In this reframing, Ortega attempts   to arm the playful attitude’s readiness to imagine the world differently with an ongoing attentiveness to how our embodiments are situated as that reimagining of power unfolds. In other words, on her account, critical world- travel (and not playful world-travel) would be “the type of travel in which one is aware of the baggage that one is bringing along.”29

To be sure, there are worlds in which I am always already aware of my baggage, insofar as those worlds afford me no home, and so I am perpet- ually living out of a suitcase (if you will). Then, there are other worlds in which my baggage is invisible to me, normalized through my complicity in power structures that work to my advantage, given my particular embodi- ment. All of this to say—Ortega’s evaluation is right. World-travel fails to facilitate the kind of coalitional limen work Lugones develops if it is not, before all else, critical. Vigilance and self-criticality are key. I would like to propose that critical world-traveling into a coalitional limen can be as play- ful as it is painful, precisely because (as Lugones cautions) it is always “to be achieved,” an aspiration toward which we enact difficult and complex communications and relationship-building. It can be playful to the degree that we have already let go of the “our way or the highway” judgments about what resistance and decolonial praxis should look like. It can be painful to the degree that we have to tarry in the very fresh wound of see- ing that these, our stubborn normativities, have made it impossible for our fellow travelers to be full human beings in the world with us. Playfulness prepares me to let go of investments that undermine our collective work toward decolonization. Unsuturing reminds me of how much is at stake in those painful moments of disinvestment. Hence, we might envision the pos- sibility of seeing the critical nature of world-traveling not in opposition to  its playfulness, but rather as a consequence of it.



As a theory, we might be able to keep separate these two modes of being vulnerable, one pertaining to the oppressed and marginalized, the other pertaining to the oppressor who is at home in the mainstream. But we are called to the work of decolonization, and of coalition-building not in some theoretical world, but in this one—where we are many things, all at once, moving in and out of multiple worlds of sense that benefit us here and marginalize us there, all at the same time. My proposal to read both pain and play in the criticality of world-travel (and in the coalitional limen work that it supports) is an effort to ground practices of decoloniality in this kind of complexity.

As I bring things to a close, I remind us that the playfulness of world- travel (a playfulness that we can now understand as simultaneously critical/ vigilant) happens across the encounter with opacity (with the Other as opaque). Through the dialogue that I have offered, between María Lugones and Édouard Glissant, the role of opacity in decolonial modes of commu- nity formation becomes clear. According to Glissant, the errant engagement that an encounter with opacity calls for means that, as one generates com- munity (or coalitions), one must anticipate a necessary open-endedness, or unpredictability, in the direction one’s coalition-building takes. In other words, errantry will let go of reductive and preemptive universals, and instead enter into relationships that, given the Other’s opacity, are creative, and whose creativity conditions the promise of a world otherwise. But (and this is what, to my mind, makes the Lugones-Glissant dialogue instructive), according to Lugones, this creative movement pursues a world radically anew as it confronts the stakes of history. The playful encounter with opac- ity transcends history, opens up our world-constitutions to change and cre- ative transformation. But it does so in a way that is immersed in the power networks of that history. That is to say, it does so in a way that is informed by the depth and shaping force of history and power.30 Because of this, we are to understand playful world-travel not as diametrically opposed to a traveling void of political urgency, but, rather, as a traveling that is attuned to the implications of historical forces, precisely so that those forces can be reckoned with in the playful attitude. Out of this playfulness, history is both rendered significant and stripped of its determinative force.

My hope is to have shown that, in gathering together the theoretical tools of these three thinkers—Lugones, Glissant, and Yancy—we open a way to think about building coalitions toward decolonizing philosophy. These tools position is to understand this building-toward as (1) open-ended (so that it moves toward something truly otherwise); (2) plurally-constituted (so that it takes into account our complex relationships both with each other and with our histories); and (3) grounded in relationships with others in their opacity (so as to guard against the reductionism of yet another colonial adventure). Such decolonial practices are sufficiently radical only when they are collec- tive, and the pain-play of traveling with an opaque Other seems to provide, at the very least, one possible founding prescription for that collectivity.

Frye, Marilyn. 1983. The Politics of Reality. New York: Crossing Press.

Glissant, Édouard. 1997. Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

. 1999. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, 3rd ed. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Gordon, Lewis. 1999. Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books. James, Robin. 2015. “Contort Yourself: Music, Whiteness, and the Politics of

Disorientation.” In Yancy 2015, 211–28.

Lugones, María. 2003. Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions.

Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lugones, Maria. 2006. “On Complex Communication.” Hypatia 21 (3): 75–85.

Ortega, Mariana. 2016. In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self.

Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Sealey, Kris. 2018. “The Composite Community: Thinking through Fanon’s Critique of a Narrow Nationalism.” Critical Philosophy of Race 6 (1): 26–57.

Yancy, George, ed. 2015. White Self-Criticality beyond Anti-racism: How Does It Feel to Be a White Problem? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

1  In the paper she presented at this conference, Linda Alcoff urged us to think about the difference between an imperial feminism and a decolonial feminism and emphasized the  sense in which the latter founds itself on cross-cultural complex communication. To my mind, what I propose here (using Lugones, Glissant, and Yancy) is very much in this vein of cross-cultural complex communication.

2 Glissant 1997, 20–21.

3 In a previous work that brings Glissant’s poetics of relation to bear on Fanon’s account of the possibility of the postcolonial nation, I show that, despite this refusal, errantry and opacity nonetheless allows for the coherence needed for community. See Sealey 2018.

4 Lugones 2003, 20.

5 “Diversity, which is neither chaos nor sterility, means the human spirit’s striving for cross-cultural relationship, without universalist transcendence” (Glissant 1999, 98).

6 Lugones 2003, 18.

7 Frye 1983, 75.

8  Throughout this conference on decolonizing philosophy, the theme of decentering ran

through with significance. In his account of the value of comparative philosophy, Grant Silva reminded those in the audience that we encounter cultural alterity (or epistemes different  from our own) not to get in the minds of “other” ways of knowing. Rather, the value of en- countering cultural and epistemic alterity is in its potential to disrupt or decenter our own ways of knowing, our own problem spaces, and our own ways of knowing-how. His paper centered this act of decentering at the center of what it might mean  to  decolonize  philosophy.

9 Lugones 2003, 18.

10 In other words, both conceptions of community allow us to imagine a reckoning with history (with the historical identities for which we must be responsible) without making history an essentializing force in our politics.

11 Lugones 2003, 18–19.

12 Lugones 2003, 26.

13 I want to thank the person in the audience for pointing out that, despite this openness to other/new rules, children at play are often quite serious about the worlds they enact. In other words, there are stakes involved for children at play. This is Lugones’s point at well— that the playfulness of world-travel is right alongside the high political stakes of the world-travel.

14 Lugones 2003, 48.

15 Lugones 2003, 96.

16 In a larger, forthcoming book project, I offer a treatment of creolization in terms of Lugones’s account of playful travel.

17  Lugones 2003, 77.

18  Lugones 2003, 25.

19 Yancy 2015, xv.

20 In his paper, Grant Silva describes the goal of decolonizing philosophy as one that

positions the white/Eurocentric, male, heteronormative perspective to justify or give an ac- count of itself.

21 See Gordon 1999.

22 Lugones 2003, 221.

23 James 2015, 221.

24 See Lugones 2006.

25 Lugones 2006, 77–78.

26 Lugones 2006, 77.

28  Ortega  2016, 131.

29  Ortega  2016, 137.

30 Mariana Ortega accounts for a similar movement, when she qualifies the fluidity included Gloria Anzaldúa’s new mestiza. “[This fluidity] is not meant to be a call for the view that the new mestiza may choose any identity she wishes . . . as if the new mestiza could choose identities like articles of clothing” (Ortega 2016, 45).