Quarantine-Bodies: An Auto-Psychogeography of Law

[Joshua Shaw] Friday, April 10, 2020

After twenty-eight days in isolation, I have concluded my anti-depressants have stopped working. It seems obvious to me now as I pace my apartment, flitting between couch, armchair, bed and, even more briefly, my desk, searching desperately for a place that can conjure a sense of determination, an excitable rush that characterised my experience of Toronto before quarantine. Now I cannot reliably distinguish between my movements and rest, abbreviated and laid atop each other by the smallness of the apartment—a smallness becoming one with my body—leaving me unsure of whether I am sleeping-while-awake or waking-while-asleep.

Through the haze of this dream-state, all I can think about is how effortful everything feels, how lonely I am, how my wine supply has emptied, as I carry the weight of the fleshy apartment-body hybrid that I have become from bed to kitchenette, from kitchenette to couch to bed again. Any prior composition between anti-depressants and body has fallen away to quarantine; quarantine and body have become inseparable as each has ingested the other, decomposing the neurochemical bulwarks I laboured over to resist debilitating sadness and to claim as my own the vitalism of a Spinozan life (Deleuze 1988).

I am a quarantine-body, a strange outcrop of—what Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2015) would refer to as—the lawscape. The lawscape is the perfusion of aesthetic, symbolic and material features of law that transform social reality into an inescapable, atmospheric, legal totality. The lawscape ordinarily enframes and enables everyday legal performances, often dissimulated and unnoticed and yet mediating how bodies (human bodies, non-human bodies, environs-as-bodies) move, rest and encounter each other; the lawscape is also the ongoing product of these bodies encountering each other, as the cumulative effect of their affective forces. Punctuated by the pandemic presented by COVID-19, the lawscape has ruptured, transforming the striations and distributions that comprise the space that stages our bodies’ lawful performances in a manner that is often hyper visible.

For example, under section 7(1) of Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, Premier Ford declared a state of emergency, granting him exceptional executive powers to “protect property and the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the emergency area.” Incidentally, Mayor Tory declared an emergency under section 4 of the same Act, availing him with emergency response powers at the scale of the municipality of Toronto. Along with these declarations, lists of essential businesses have been composed, compelling inessential businesses to suspend their public operations; public parks have been closed, ensnared with yellow ribbon to keep kids from playing basketball; police officers ticket or charge individuals who fail to observe social distancing measures or those who violate quarantine orders under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act; and the Wine Rack—a purveyor of Ontario wines I frequent often in my neighbourhood—has closed completely and lines outside Liquor Control Board of Ontario storefronts stretch street blocks. The extent of this transformed lawscape, and its asymmetric impact on daily lives, is made apparent in the counter-mapping practices of Alexander McClelland and Alex Luscombe (2020, p 1), who are “track[ing] and visualis[ing] […] massive and extraordinary expansions of police power and the unequal patterns of enforcement they are likely to produce.”

Spatially, the overall effect of these emergency measures places my body in an apartment, punctuated by rare walks amongst the treed properties in Cabbagetown and Rosedale, to the Lake Ontario waterfront or to the butcher to grab necessary foodstuffs; a radical break from the varied, everyday traversal that previously defined my urban life. It has constrained, and altered, social encounters. I regularly see my fiancé, who shares the apartment with me, but our encounters cannot help but be touched by the demands of his employment now that his office has been transported into our living room, or our mutually held ennui in isolation. The only other people I know that I have seen in person over the past twenty-eight days are the butcher and the butcher’s son; the butcher and the butcher’s son are kind, but these encounters are similarly touched by law in ways I did not ordinarily sense. When I purchase goods from them, our relations are affected all the way through by laws of contract, property and the Food Premises Regulation enacted under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, in addition to unique measures introduced in the context of the declaration of emergency; as a result, these exchanges do not substitute for the sociality I would experience on campus or with friends in pubs. This is not to suggest I once possessed sociality untouched by the lawscape; rather, the law’s mediations were familiar to me in ways I, in some instances at least, recognized as good, meaningful or otherwise appetitive in my daily life.

All other social encounters are mediated virtually through Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Facetime, Zoom, Discord, etc., which are so removed from senses, like touch, which, I realise now, are integral to anchoring my psyche. Further, through these virtual media, I seem particularly vulnerable to the sight of Adonis-like bodies of Twitter gays, whose apparent popularity, muscularity, square jaws, large penises, round buttocks, and symmetrical faces are piped vividly and unceasingly through my iPhone screen. I understand that their appearance is also an expression of the lawscape, particularly those elements invested in giving rise to and maintaining consumptive relations that typify late capitalism; however, after watching similarly beautiful bodies sway and gyrate on Tik Tok for hours, and feeling ugly with my overgrown mop of hair, I had my fiancé cut my hair, which, as one would expect, now bears a distinctly amateur appearance. Unsurprisingly, I hate the haircut, unable to dislodge myself from the aestheses of lawful, capitalist consumption (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2019) that have seeped deep into my capacities for aesthetic judgement.

Photo by Connor Peter

Felix Guattari (2008, p 19) wrote of three “ecological registers”—the environment, social relations and the human subjectivity—whose affective forces are intimately entwined and comprise the topographies of our earthly lives. Through his ecosophy, Guattari conceptualises human subjectivity as “establish[ed] […] at the crossroads of multiple components, each relatively autonomous in relation to the other, and, if need be, in open conflict” (Guattari 2008, p 25). In other words, human subjectivity is the expression of a “medial infrastructure” (Pottage 2019, p 158) of affective forces whose confluence in place and in duration give effect to capacities that we recognise and institutionalise as subjectivity but that are unable of being fixed in stone for time immemorial. The ecology of human subjectivity, like the environment and social relations, are processual with no beginning and end, and thereby undergo continuous transformation as their constitutive relations affect each other (Guattari 2008).

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2015) was thinking of Guattari’s ecosophy when he characterised the lawscape as an open ecology, acknowledging that law is itself an unending ecology of affective forces that undergoes continuous transformation and spans the totality of existence in space; further, the lawscape is an open ecology in that legal materiality and meanings incorporate the affects of multiple bodies, human and non-human, living and non-living—themselves ecologies—all whilst transforming them into a system of legal effects. Noting this conceptual inheritance, begins to ready me to think through how the lawscape of this moment might find expression in my psyche. In a similar move, Luke Bennett (2018) adapts the psychogeographies of Guy Debord to the beyond-human legal theory of Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos to discern how the psyche is an extension of the lawscape. Bennett (2018, p 10) offers a legal psychogeography to aid in “understand[ing] the material/human co-relationship, particularly as manifested in the emotional (i.e. affective) lives of individuals through their encounters with power and ordering as expressed in the arrangement of the built environment.”

Bennett (2018, p 13) states that legal psychogeographers:

“[W]ould approach a situation without pre-judgment, they would tease out the ways in which to the actor, the situation appears meaningful and how that meaning making is shaped by both the cognitive (conceptual framing codes like law) and the messy, affective influence of matter, sensations and encounters with other bodies. The analysts’ write-up would then show how deliberate or half-formed thoughts about law and a myriad of other place-shaping factors have interacted to determine that actor’s experience of being in that place.”

I think of my reflections as an example of a legal psychogeography. They are facilitated, in part, by the sudden rupture of the lawscape as I previously experienced it, through the transformation of everyday life into a situation of quarantine. This rupture caused my withdrawal from the lawscape—albeit, a withdrawal that is impermanent and imperfect, acknowledging that the lawscape is totalising in its atmospheric effects—allowing me to, in that resulting proliferating space between me and my environs, to sense the law differently (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2015). In this way, I have come to note that the most visible transformations to the lawscape under quarantine have radically affected my place and movements in Toronto, in ways that have undoubtedly produced the aesthetic, symbolic and material expression of my body. In addition, I have come to realise that other forces of a capitalist lawscape, which remained largely intact despite or adapted to the social situation of COVID-19, also contributed to my bodily productions. This legal psychogeography has helped me sense that I have become a quarantine-body: a body that has become ingested by the state of quarantine that regulates and polices the bounds of my bodily expressions; and a body that has ingested and incorporated the strange, novel aesthetic, symbolic and material effects of quarantine. This anthropophagic effect (Minkkinen 2020) mediates the constitutive power of the quarantine lawscape, but it also threatens it to the extent that ingestion leads to my decomposition or trangression. Further, once these declarations are suspended and our communities strive to return to a normal state, this quarantine-body will likely never completely metabolise, instead recomposing as I carry on. Assuming others have also undergone this anthropophagic effect, a different polity might indeed be possible (Minkkinen 2020).

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2012) describes in his chapter on spatial justice and Gilles Deleuze that Robinson in Michel Tournier’s novel, Vendredi, experienced the event of withdrawal on the desert island when his hourglass broke. Similarly, I think I would characterise my earlier conclusion that my anti-depressants stopped working as exemplary of another, minor withdrawal. Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2012, near fn 35) notes that the breaking of the hourglass forced a pause that “operate[d] like a legal lacuna, an abrupt estoppel of the legal flow.”

He (2012, near fn 35) continues:

The legislative gap cracks open Robinson’s subject/object distinction that he has constructed for himself in relation to the island, and dramatically minimises the distance between them. The body of the law [of the Other] is wounded and leaking. A moment of innocence that supercodes any judgement of guilty or not-guilty, pushes Robinson on a new line of flight, radically immanent to his existing assemblage. […] Robinson [thereby] passes from the representation of the Other as juridical structure in the form of law’s compulsive spatial striation, to a different juridical structure: that of the demise of the Other. Law is no more mediated through the Other but emanates directly from within Robinson’s assemblage with the body of the island.”

In other words, this pause or withdrawal allowed Robinson to express a different legality on the desert island, one which accorded differently with the materiality of that island. I reflect now—having noticed the quarantine lawscape, and the quarantine-body it produces—whether I am capable of giving effect to a different legality as well, which allows me to engage more appetitively with the apartment. Then, perhaps my body can, by encountering the apartment differently, live, more productively with the space with which I find myself emplaced. Perhaps re-positioning my body can feed, in conjunction with others, an emancipatory politics for after.

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2020) said COVID-19 “demands an ethics of self-positioning (physically and at the same time ethically) in relation to other bodies, of removing ourselves from the collectivity that we might harm despite our best intentions, of thinking beyond the edge of our skin.” He calls for us to take up the call for a Spinozan ethics, through which we withdraw as “a show of planetary collectivity, where we finally understand that our bodies are all connected […] removing oneself from the mania of ‘progress’, with its global pollution, climate change and anthropocenic irreversibility” (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2020). The legal conditions of quarantine will, undoubtedly, mediate how our bodies withdraw and the possible legalities—of possible horizons of justice—that follow; my auto-psychogeography of the quarantine-body suggests that to me. There is a pressing risk that the quarantine lawscape will immobilise or co-opt the ethics of withdrawal Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2020) calls for. However, as I grapple with the decomposition of my psyche, I hope that such an ethics can be conserved and amplified despite the quarantine lawscape, by reaching beyond the built site of our homes and finding solidarity through virtual modes of connection.

Joshua Shaw | Toronto | April 10, 2020

The writer is a doctoral student at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University.


Bennett, Luke. 2018. Towards a Legal Psychogeography: Pragmatism, Affective-Materialism and the Spatio-Legal. Revue Géographique de L’Est 58(1-2): 1-16.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1988. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Guattari, Félix. 2008. The Three Ecologies. London: Continuum.

McClelland, Alexander and Alex Luscombe. 2020. Policing the Pandemic: Tracking the Policing of Covid-19 across Canada. Online: https://crisisdiarynet.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/31a22-policing_the_pandemic_white_paper_april_9_2020.pdf.

Minkkinen, Panu. 2020. “Eat Me Like a Cannibal”: Anthropophagic Architecture as Cultural Criticism. Online: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/minkkine/2020/03/07/eat-me-like-a-cannibal/

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas. 2012. Law, Space, Bodies: The Emergence of Spatial Justice. In Deleuze and Law, eds, Laurent de Sutter and Kyle McGee. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas. 2015. Spatial Justice: Body, Lawscape, Atmosphere. Abingdon: Routledge.

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas. 2019. Law is a Stage: From Aesthetics to Affective Aestheses. In Research Handbook on Critical Legal Theory, ed. Emilios Christodoulidis, Ruth Dukes and Marco Goldoni, 201-222. London: Elgar.

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas. 2020. Covid: The Ethical Disease. Critical Legal Thinking, online: https://criticallegalthinking.com/2020/03/13/covid-the-ethical-disease/.

Pottage, Alain. 2019. Holocene Jurisprudence. Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 10: 153-175.

Published by pzumbansen

law professor.

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