What is Ban?
Ban is a mixture of dog shit and bitumen (ash) scraped off the soles
of running shoes: Puma, Reebok, Adidas.
Looping the city, Ban is a warp of smoke.
To summarize, she is the parts of something re-mixed as air: integral,
rigid air, circa 1972-1979. She’s a girl. A black girl in an era when,
in solidarity, Caribbean and Asia Brits self-defined as black. A black
(brown) girl encountered in the earliest hour of a race riot, or what
will become one by nightfall.
April 23rd, 1979: by morning, ant-Nazi campaigner, Black Peach,
will be dead.
It is, in this sense, a real day: though Ban is unreal. She’s both dead and
never living: the part, that is, of life that is never given: an existence.
What, for example, is born in England, but never, not even on a
cloudy day, English?
Under what conditions is a birth not recognized a s birth?
And from Ban: “banlieues.”
(The former hunting grounds of King Henry VIII. Earth-mounds.
Oaks split into several parts by a late-century lightning storm.) These
suburbs are, in places, leafy and industrial; the Nestle factory spools
a milky, lilac effluent into the Grand Union canal that runs between
Hayes and Southall. Ban is nine. Ban is seven. Ban is ten. Ban is a girl
walking home from school just as a protest starts to escalate. Pausing
at the corner of the Uxbridge Road, she hears something: the far-off
sound of breaking glass. Is it coming from her home or is it coming
from the streets’s distant clamor? Faced with these two sources of a
sound she instinctively links to violence, the potential of violent acts,
Ban lies down. She folds to the ground. This is syntax.
Psychotic, fecal, neural, wild: the auto-sacrifice begins, endures the
night: never stops: goes on.
As even more time passes, as the image or instinct to form this image
desiccates, I prop a mirror, then another, on the ground for Ban.
A cyclical and artificial light falls upon her in turn: pink, gold, amber
then pink again. Do the mirrors deflect evil? Perhaps they protect her
from a horde of boys with shaved heads or perhaps the illuminate—
in strings of weak light— the part of the scene when these boys, finally,
The left hand covered in a light blue ash. The ash is analgesic, data,
soot, though when it rains, Ban becomes leucine, a bulk, a network
of dirty lines that channel starlight, presence, boots. Someone walks
towards her, for example, then around her, then away.
I want to lie down in the place I am from: on the street I am from.
In the rain. Next to the ivy. As I did, on the border of Pakistan and
India: the two Punjabs. Nobody sees someone do this. I want to feel
it in my body— the root cause.
Notes Towards a Race Riot Scene
In April 1979 I was ten years old.
This is a short talk about vectors. It’s about Brueghel’s Icarus. It’s
about a girl walking home from school at the exact moment her
neighbor laces up his Doc Martens, tight. It’s about a partial and
irrelevant nudity. It’s about the novel as form that processes the
part of a scene that doesn’t function as an image, but as the depleted,
yet still livid mixture of materials that a race riot is made from. Think
of the sky. Think of the clear April day with its cardigans and late
afternoon rain shower. Think of the indigo sky lowering over London
like a lid. Think of Blair Peach, the anti-racism campaigner and recent
emigrant from New Zealand, who will die before this day is out.
Think about a cyborg to get the immigrant.
Think of a colony. Think of the red and white daikon radishes in a
tilted box on the pavement outside Dokal and Sons, on the corner of
the Uxbridge Road and Lansbury Drive. Think of the road, which
here we call asphalt: there, it is bitty. It is a dark silver with milky oil
seams. A patch up job, Labour still in power, but not for long. It’s
1979, St. George’s Day, and the Far Right has decided to have its
annual meeting in a council-run meeting hall in Southall, Middlesex,
a London suburb in which it would be rare—nauseating—to see a
To see anyone, actually. Everyone’s indoors. Everyone can tell what’s
coming. It’s not a riot, at this point, but a simple protest in an outlying
area of London, an immigrant suburb: a banlieue. Everyone knows to
board the glass up, draw the curtains and lie down. Lie down between
the hand-sewn quilts shipped from India in a crate then covered in
an outer cotton case stitched to the padding with a fine pink thread.
The quilts smell of an antiseptic powder, an anti-fungal, Mars. We lie
down beneath the blankets in front of the fire. It’s 1979, so there’s a
small gas fire and a waist-high fridge, where we keep our milk and our
bread and our cheese, right there, in the living room. It’s 1979, and
so I live in Hayes, though in two months, we’ll put our house on the
market and move.
Move away. As would you.
Inversions for Ban
“To ban someone is to say that no-one may harm him.” —Agamben
A “monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the
forest and the city.” (Ban). To be: “banned from the city” and thus:
en banlieues: a part of the perimeter: In this sense, to study the place
where the city dissolves is to study the wolf. Is this why some of my
best friends have come from the peninsula of Long Island?
To ban, to sentence.
To abandon is thus to write prose. “Already dead.” Nude. A
“wulfesheud” upon a form. The form is the body—in the most
generic way I could possibly use that word. The nude body spills
color. Blue nude, green nude. The nudes of pre-history in a pool of
chalk in an Ajanta cave. Agamben’s thought familiar to me, already,
from the exchange of Arjun and Krishan on the battlefield. I should
stop writing now.
What do the wolf and the schizophrenic have in common?
Here, extreme snow. I mean fire. The extreme snow makes me neutral
about this first intact fragment. Of Ban. A novel of the race riot,
“Ban.” Nude studies/charcoal marks: wired to the mouth of a pig.
A boar. Some of the work is set in the outlying, wooded regions of
Greater London, where King Henry VIII had his hunting grounds.
As a girl, I would lie down in my coat and trousers in the snow upon
an embankment of earth: engineered, centuries before, to keep the
I want to write a book that was like lying down.
That took some time to write, that kept forgetting something, that
took a diversion: from which it never returned.
I wanted to write a book on a butcher’s table in New Delhi: the shop-
front open to the street, a bare light bulb swinging above the table and
next to it a hook.
Swinging from that hook in the window, I wanted to write a book.
Inverted, corrupted, exposed to view: a person writes a book in their
free time, calling that time what they want to call it.
I wanted to write a book about England.
I wanted to write a book about lying on the floor of England. I wanted
to return to England. I went to England. I was born in England. I lived
in a house in England until I was thirty years old. My parents were
English. I was English. After 1984, we all shared the same nationality,
but by 2006 or 7, this was no longer true. Between September 2010
and late December 2012, I studied a piece of the earth, no longer
or wider than a girl’s body prone upon it. The asphalt. As dusk fell:
violet/amber—and filled—with the reflected lights coming from the
discs, the tiny mirrors, positioned in the ivy as she “slept.”
On a balcony or street.
The asphalt’s green stars, the shed parts of a ragged elm come Spring.
Ban is a portal, a vortex, a curl: a mixture of clockwise and anti-
clockwise movements in the sky above the street. I study the vapor as
it rises, accumulates then starts to move. How a brisk wind organizes
the soot or casings and bits of bark into whorls.
BHANU KAPIL | BAN EN BANLIEUE
NIGHTBOAT BOOKS, NEW YORK 2015