Was on a plane, the other day,  and took a picture of clouds outside my window…

(All photographs by Sarah Jane Cervenak )

I normally don’t take pictures as I have a slight fear of flying and get motion sickness. When travelling by plane I often just clench the arm rests and keep my focus somewhere, trying to anchor myself into the legs of the metal serving cart or in  the corners of my mouth’s molars.  Sometimes too I think of the scene from Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior where the main character’s mother puts her spirit phantasmatically under the plane as her sister travels across an ocean [1]to see her…

But I thought wow, when will I get to see clouds like this, being on a plane with them, even as the plane’s own environmental and capitalist extractivism takes from and does something to them…I thought about my friend who enjoys them, and wanted to share what I saw even if it was already an incomplete version…

any way…like the clouds, my experience of these contradictions are an array of airy ellipses…

Taking a picture of clouds in this way, I realize was an exercise in the aesthetics and ethics of incompletion…. their aesthetic documentation is often through glass, the window of a plane, the lens of a camera…when the picture snaps, that trembling ether sticks in the frame. It’s both a marvel to witness them, to be so close but also a reminder of your participation in their incompletion…both at the level of the plane’s own pollutional cloud-taking expenditures and in the cloud’s outra-kinetic escape of the window/camera’s photographic apparatus…

So all of this brings me back again to a photo[2] that I love… taken from the vantage of a nervous fumbling with the camera, the anxious grip and reach toward and out from the metal-teeth-clenching-fortress of just wanting to land, to sleep in some imagined gravitational chamber…the incompletion of flight embodied in the very act of trying to stay with and share the sublime experience of these clouds themselves…an incompletion met powerfully by the cloud’s frameless resistance…the assertion of their own insovereign uncapturability.[3] 



[1]Maxine Hong Kingston.  The Woman Warrior:  Memoirs of A Girlhood Among Ghosts.  New York: Vintage, 1989.

[2] I like “photo” because it makes the pictures themselves elusive.

[3] The notion of the “insoveriegn” here is inspired by the thinking of Fred Moten, J. Kameron Carter, and Billy-Ray Belcourt.  It’s been on mind especially today after talking with my friend Ren Ellis Neyra.


Sarah Jane Cervenak @sarahjanecerven  is author of Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom [Duke University Press, September 2014). She’s a relatively new student of poetry and creative writing and, this year, hopes to learn how to crochet.

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