Hope and the politics of natality in The Corner
David Simon and Ed Burns are probably best known for their work on The Wire, the dark and epic television series about the policing of drug economies in West Baltimore that has garnered signiﬁcant critical attention (see, for example, Ethridge 2008; Hanson 2008; Kinder 2008). I have chosen instead to focus on The Corner, which is the televisual adaptation of the true stories chronicled by Simon and Burns in the book of the same name. The latter has been referred to as the ‘the book that spawned The Wire’ (O’Hagan 2009) but, this notwithstanding, there are three reasons for my choice of analytical vehicle. The series represents ‘true stories’ and, in doing so, ﬁrst tells the reader something extremely interesting about contemporary perceptions of subjectivity: each of the multiply ﬂawed characters performs a profoundly fragmented identity throughout the six episodes and the normalisation of tensions between aspects of personal identity invites the audience to embrace ﬂuidity and undecideability, indeed to see this as a source of renewal. Second, the inclusion of interviews with the ‘real’ central characters at the end of the ﬁnal episode is a reminder that narrative closure in ﬁction is a ﬁction. There are many endings and beginnings, births and deaths represented in The Corner, and much hard labour in between; through exploring some of the narrative themes – of life, work, home – I argue that (re)birth is not by deﬁnition non-violent, but also that violence is not by deﬁnition destructive. Finally, to justify the inclusion of this show, I turn to the classic essay by Cynthia Enloe, in which she challenges the ‘raison d’être for studying international politics’ that she identiﬁes as explanation, speciﬁcally the identiﬁcation of causality and eﬀect (1996: 188). In order to construct a persuasive explanation for this phenomenon or that event, she argues, ‘one has to be economical, discriminating … For an explanation to be useful, a great deal of human dignity has to be left on the cutting room ﬂoor’ (ibid.). I was inspired to refer to Enloe in my justiﬁcation not just because she uses the metaphor of the ‘cutting room’ (formally known as the editing suite), which seems to ﬁt well with the analyses I present here, but also because in this essay Enloe
reminds scholars of the need to pay close analytical attention to those snippets of human dignity that more usually end up on the ‘cutting room ﬂoor’ and to my mind this is the speciﬁc narrative function of The Corner. The series depicts, without hesitation and without apology (and rightly so), life on and in the ‘margins, silences and bootum rungs’ of which Enloe speaks (ibid.). In the ﬁrst section of this chapter, I provide an overview of the production of The
Corner alongside a discussion of the politics and ethics of analysing what is eﬀectively a detailed representation of lived human experiences. I go on to explore in more detail the issue of birth and the concept of hope as a framework for the discussion of family and relationality. The lives depicted in the series are profoundly interconnected, by blood and spatial proximity; in the context of the struggle to ﬁnd creative ways of living on the corners of West Baltimore, one of the frequently cited positive motivators is a notion of family and the perceived responsibilities of parenthood. For this reason, the majority of the analytical focus of this chapter is on the birth and early childhood of DeAnte McCullough and the ways in which DeAnte represents not only hope and opportunity but also pressure to conform to a preconceived idea(l) of parental subjectivity. These pressures do not ease for those depicted in the show, and in the ﬁnal section of the chapter I discuss the impossibility of closure and the possibility that such ﬁctionalised representations of human life perhaps allows the audience to resist closure in more overtly ﬁctional representations, arguing that valuing ﬂuidity and mutability, especially around ideas about the human subject and, more personally, the self, oﬀers the potential for radical reconﬁgurations of contemporary structures of inequality, injustice and oppression.