“Abolition on Stolen Land”: (Re)Mapping and Rememory

Abolition on Stolen Land

Webinar hosted by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy on October 9, 2020. Learn more here.

Still vibrating from the power of Friday’s webinar “Abolition on Stolen Land,” featuring keynote speaker Ruth Wilson Gilmore with guests Nick Estes, Sarah Haley, Gaye Theresa Johnson, and Charles Sepulveda, and thinking about this event alongside our readings for class this week on the theme of rememory, I am wondering about the rich possibilities between Mishuana Goeman’s concept of (re)mapping in relation to the ways Toni Morrison, Avery Gordan and Kimberly Juanita Brown engage the project of rememory. How might pairing the possibilities of (re)mapping and rememory together offer us pathways towards the project of Abolition on Stolen Land? What new critical tools, methodologies and (anti)disciplinary approaches does this work require, how do these authors model these approaches, and how might they be (and are being) braided together?

As Goeman writes: “I use the parentheses in (re)mapping deliberately to avoid the pitfalls of recovery or a seeming return of the past to the present. (Re)mapping is about acknowledging the power of Native epistemologies in defining our moves toward spatial decolonization” (Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations, 4).

As Morrison said in a TV interview in 1988, about Beloved: “The Ghost in Beloved is not only because the people believed in ghosts. It’s not only because Sethe needs the ghost, it’s also structurally a way to say, memory can come in and sit down next to you at the table. And even though you don’t want to remember, and you’re trying very hard not to remember, it’s always there. It’s always with you. And sometimes a situation arises where you cannot put it off any longer.” (Mavis Nicholson speaks to American Author Toni Morrison. 24/02/1988)

Both (re)mapping and rememory enact a method of refusal toward the disciplinary imperatives of searching for transparent truths (as in the illusion of transparent space) and transparent experience, in the demand for verisimilitude (as required, contradictorily so, of the slave narrative, as Avery Gordon aptly demonstrates). Similar to Goeman’s analytic of (re)mapping, as Gordon writes: “Beloved also problematizes the retrieval of lost or missing subjects by transforming those who do not speak into what is unspeakable, so that in that marvelous power of negative dialectics it can be conjured, imagined, worked out” (Ghostly Matters, 150). In Beloved, this is the work of the ghost, who “gesticulates, signals, and sometimes mimics the unspeakable as it shines for both the remembered and the forgotten. This other sociology stretches at the limits of our imagination and at the limit of what is representable in the time of the now, to us, as the social world we inhabit” (Ibid, 150).

In The Repeating Body: Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary, Kimberly Juanita Brown also points towards rememory, as a method in “seeking to address the impossible duality between black women’s representations and slavery’s memory” (Introduction, 3). In tracing the visual residues and “afterimages” of slavery, rememory becomes a method of reframing. As she writes on Sethe: “The residue of this slave experience is a part of Sethe’s “re-memory,” a reframing of the particular and the general that she utilizes in order to hold firm to her subjectivity and to get other people to see it as she does” (Introduction, 5).

Goeman, Brown, Morrison and Gordon (and Gilmore, Haley, Estes and Sepulveda!) all offer us “multiple vantage points” to see things and spaces as others do – pointing toward a necessary shift in the academic endeavor itself, from one of searching for the illusion of mastery in facts and figures, to a different kind of encounter altogether – a kind of inquiry where “memory can come in and sit down next to you at the table.” Sitting next to such memories moves us towards methodologies where the past is “not yet past” (Sharpe), making clear the temporal and spatial instability of the U.S. colonial present, offering powerful and necessary new methods toward the how of Abolition on Stolen Land. A part of the how, I think, is knowing and allowing that this encounter changes us too – as Brown beautifully quotes Anne Cheng, “we do not master by seeing; we are ourselves altered when we look” (Introduction, 17).