Fighting Amnesia as a Guerilla Activity

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                                    A Publication of OKCIR: The Omar Khayyam Center for Integrative Research in Utopia, Mysticism, and Science (Utopystics)
                                    ISSN: 1540-5699. © Copyright by Ahead Publishing House (imprint: Okcir Press). All Rights Reserved.
Journal of the Sociology of Self-

                                           Fighting Amnesia as a Guerilla Activity
                                               Poetics for a New Mode of Being Human

                                                                         Karen M. Gagne
                                                                Binghamton University

                                    Abstract: Radically anti-colonial workers must work towards the dismantling of the disciplin-
                                    ary boundaries of academia. This means rejecting the artificial separations between the humani-
                                    ties and the sciences, between the activist and the scholar, and between the purely Western
                                    mind/body/spirit split. By keeping these boundaries intact, we fail to see that it is only through
                                    poetry (art) that humans can have access to whole modes of cognition that were penned up as a
                                    result of the colonial/enslavement process and the rise of Western Man. Autopoesis is crucial for
                                    bringing about a new mode of being human (an “After Man” mode of being human). It was
                                    through this that another new mode of being human—the Bourgeois Man—was ignited. Only an
                                    indigenist “autopoesis” of such magnitude enable us to leave it. While poetics is typically con-
                                    fined to “the humanities” in Western academia, we must work towards the dismantling of these
                                    disciplinary boundaries or efforts at serious social change remain a futile endeavor.

      In the ethno-poetics and performance of the                                             I do mean guerilla—in the battlefield
      shaman, my people, the Indians, did not split                                      sense.1 Guerilla warfare is a familiar topic
      the artistic from the functional, the sacred from                                  of study in historical sociology. Movements
      the secular, art from everyday lift. The religious,                                are studied in South and Central America,
      social and aesthetic purposes of art were all                                      South East Asia, Africa, and Afro-Asia
      intertwined. Before the Conquest, poets                                            (known as the Middle East)—all places
      gathered to play music, dance, sing and read                                       where political, economic and military re-
      poetry in open-air places around the                                               pression occurs. The terms guerilla and war,
      Xochicuahuitl, el Árbol Florido, Tree-in-Flower.
      (The Coaxihuitl or morning glory is called the                                          1 See Greg Thomas, “On Black Bodies &
      snake plant and its seeds, known as ololiuhqui,                                    Battlefields: Toni Cade Bambara, Elaine Brown,
      are hallucinogenic.) The ability of story (prose                                   Safiya Bukhari-Alston and Assata Shakur”
      and poetry) to transform the storyteller and the                                   forthcoming in Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka’s
                                                                                         Women Write War. In this article he demands that
      listener into something or someone else is                                         Black bodies are “real battlefields—where ‘re-
      shamanistic. The writer, as shape-changer, is a                                    gime changes’ of gender and sexuality are con-
      nahual, a shaman.                                                                  stantly promoted.” He names these four
                                                                                         “women,” Bambara, Brown, Bukhari, and
                                      —Gloria Anzaldúa (1987/1999, 88)                   Shakur, as hardcore insurgents who write
                                                                                         “against this war, from this war zone,” p. 4.

                   Karen Gagne is currently working on her dissertation on “Poetics as a Guerilla Activity.” She has authored “Falling in
                   Love with Indians: The Metaphysics of Becoming America,” published in CR: The New Centennial Review (Fall 2003); and is
                   co-author of “On Coloniality and Condemnation: A Roundtable Discussion of Elaine Brown’s Condemnation of Little B,”
                   published in ProudFlesh: the New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics, and Consciousness (vol. 2, 2003).

250           KAREN M. GAGNE

however, are rarely used in reference to go-       cess, she quotes Ray Gywn Smith, who
ings on inside the political borders of the        said, “Who is to say that robbing a people
“United States.” Greg Thomas argues,               of its language is less violent than war?”
“[d]espite its living history of genocide, sla-    (75). Anzaldúa’s dentist had proclaimed,
very and endemic state repression, which is        “I’ve never seen anything as strong or as
to say, its continued definition as a settler-      stubborn” (75). I don’t think he knew what
colony and slave state, the ‘United States of      he was up against. This war in defense of
America’ is rarely construed as a ‘war zone’       the human tongue is only getting warmed
by Western Academics.” However, the                up.
wars in North America, are central to the               I would like to pay tribute to Anzaldúa
ability of the U.S. to conduct wars else-          at this conference dedicated to her by en-
where. Thomas adds, “even these police ac-         gaging the subject of “ethno-poetics” and
tions are no less avoided by ‘intellectuals’       her insistence on the potential for the poem
who prefer to focus on other, internecine          to retaliate in warrior fashion against the
conflicts, out-of-context, when that context        violent robbing of peoples’ tongues (and,
is contemporary imperialism spearheaded            hence, their culture), and in doing so, to in-
by a neo-slaver and neo-colonialism that is        vent what Sylvia Wynter calls a new mode of
synonymous with the ‘U.S.A.,’ nonethe-             being human (1984; 1991; 2000). That this
less” (forthcoming: 3-4).                          restitution and thereby re-invention is not
     “Amerikkka,” as named by Assata               only possible but necessary through poetry
Shakur, needs to be acknowledged as the            is one of Anzaldúa’s foundational pre-
war zone that it truly is—today. Simulta-          mises. Why this message would be of sig-
neously, sociologists must shake off their         nificance to sociologists interested in hu-
middle-class academic perspective con-             man rights is the question subject I wish to
cerning where, how, and upon whose bod-            address. When we acknowledge the level
ies the battles are fought (17). War goes far      of violence that is used to rob the people of
beyond one-dimensional discussions of              their language, it will be necessary to ac-
military tactics or the election of popular        knowledge the level of violence possible in
political candidates. As Thomas writes, “re-       the restitution, by any means necessary, by
sistance, rebellion and revolution are to be       the same people of said language. This cer-
had in matters of sex or eroticism, creative       tainty should not be taken lightly by aca-
arts, spirit, styles of dress, speech or lan-      demics caught in silly debates between
guage as well as guerilla struggle in arms,        “material reality” and “discursive/literary
especially when had among the masses”              fluff” (See Thomas, 2001: 94-95). As posed
(2004, my emphasis).                               by Elaine Brown (2004), is when the shit
     One of my favorite essays by An-              comes down—and it will come down—
zaldúa, well-cited at this conference, is          there will be no room for folks sitting on the
“How to Tame a Wild Tongue” (1999). In             fence. It is my argument that if we are to in-
between a recount of a trip to her dentist         vent a new mode of being human, we must
where he remarks, “We are going to have to         use guerilla measures to retrieve alterna-
control your tongue,” whereby Anzaldúa             tive modes of human cognition that have
describes the visit with vivid detail, com-        been suppressed by the rise of the West,
plete with the stench of draining puss and         since the 16th century and invent new ones.
“wads of cotton, pushing back the drills,          Only then could “human rights” be seri-
[and] the long thin needles” and her dentist       ously addressed on a world scale; or, as
fighting against her tongue that is persis-         Aimé Césaire put it, would we be able to
tently in the way, and a story about her be-       live a “true humanism—a humanism made
ing punished for speaking Spanish at re-           to the measure of the world” (1972: 56).

                                          FIGHTING AMNESIA AS A GUERILLA ACTIVITY              251

     In the interest of this “true humanism”       into question, must be understood as the
whereby “human rights” would mean                  product of a mutation that occurred from
something real, we must first work towards          the 16th century. As she illustrates, this
the dismantling of the disciplinary bound-         “other,” this “ethno,” was created when
aries of academia, or efforts at serious social    Western culture “made ‘objects’ of things
change will remain a futile endeavor. This         and people” and when it “distanced itself
means rejecting the artificial separations          from them, thereby losing ‘touch’ with
between the humanities and the sciences,           them.” This dichotomy, Anzaldúa argues
between the activist and the scholar, and          “is the root of all violence” (59).
eliminating the purely Western-European                 Anzaldúa’s anti-bourgeois, anti-West-
split of mind, body, and spirit. By keeping        ern/academic/disciplinary work, her re-
all these boundaries intact we, of the West,       jection of the academic disciplinary bound-
fail to see that it is only through art (fiction,   aries, and her analysis of the dichotomy of
music, religious ritual, and myths of origin       Western Self/Other as the source of vio-
included)—that humans can have access to           lence link her to a tradition of notable indi-
whole modes of cognition that were                 genist cultural workers in the Africa, the
penned up as a result of the colonial/en-          Americas and the Caribbean. In my disser-
slavement process and the rise of Western          tation, I have chosen three auto-poetic cul-
Man (Wynter, 1976: 83; 1990: 466), modes           tural workers to discuss in-depth: Leslie
that are fundamental for inventing a new           Marmon Silko, Toni Cade Bambara, and
way of being human.                                Julie Dash. Like Anzaldúa, these artists re-
     This message is very clear in the work        ject the “canonical” and “aesthetic” con-
of Anzaldúa. As Sonia Saldívar-Hull argues         fines that would keep “historical depth”
in the introduction to the Second Edition of       and “cultural possibility” (Brathwaite,
Borderlands/La frontera: The New Mestiza           1984: 134) as separate endeavors. Each one
(1999), the many borders that this text chal-      works in a variety of “genres” or “media”
lenged included, importantly, those stub-          to portray the 500 years of sado-masochis-
bornly upheld by academia:                         tic colonial empire and the unflinching re-
                                                   sistance to that domination. In their practi-
    This transfrontera, transdisciplinary          cal and functional—“utilitarian,” as Micere
    text also crossed rigid boundaries             Githae-Mugo (1982) would say—approach
    in academia as it traveled between             to writing resistance, rebellion and revolu-
    Literature (English and Spanish),              tion—towards the end of all things Europe-
    History, American Studies, An-                 an in America, “the word” is something en-
    thropology and Political Science               dowed with the power to affect the spirit
    departments, and further illumi-               and influence spiritual transformation
    nated multiple theories of femi-               rather for the mere conveyance of material
    nism in women’s studies and                    “information.” This touches upon an area
    Chicana studies. It…changed the                that “social scientists” remain unable to
    way we talk about difference in                grasp. Finally, I am calling the works of
    sexuality, race/ethnicity, gender,             these artists “demonic” based on Wynter’s
    and class in the U.S. Read within its          use of the term to refer Cervantes’s Don
    historical context, Borderlands re-            Quixote and Ellison’s Invisible Man (Wynter,
    sists containment as a transcendent            1990a: 468-469).
    excursion into “otherness.” (12-13)                 Silko, like Anzaldúa, writes of the
                                                   movement of Indians, the long history of
    This “otherness” that defines the “eth-         migration and long walks, and the return of
no” of “ethno-poetics,” that Anzaldúa calls        the Giant Serpent. This time, they both

252            KAREN M. GAGNE

write, the people are moving from south to             Down Together and Talk a Little Culture”
north (Anzaldúa 33; Silko, 1996:148). In my            (1968), to the many other critical essays that
dissertation that Almanac of the Dead (1991)           would bring us to the present, Wynter has
be read as the almanac that it is, as an epic          been “break[ing] through to a new way of
of the past, present and future of resistance          thinking” (2000b, 153), working toward a
and revolutionary movement to the 500                  “new mode of being human.”
years of enslavement and colonization of                    In an article entitled “Ethno or Socio
Africans and Amerindians in and of the                 Poetics,” Wynter responds to George
Americas.                                              Quasha’s talk, “The Age of the Open Se-
     When I initially proposed the project, I          cret,” and his definition of “ethnopoetics.”
received the response, on more than one oc-            Quasha states that the term refers to a “’lo-
casion, that such a project was not “doing             cal’ incidence of ‘poesis’” which is “rooted
sociology” and that it was more appropri-              in ‘self-poetics,’ ‘our kind’ of poetics.”
ately a project of an English department. I            Wynter challenges him with a question:
continue to be amazed by this reply given              “But who are ‘we’?” She then argues that
the historical relevance of this work, but             “ethnopoetics” can only be valid if it is “ex-
have come to understand that even in self-             plored in a context of sociopoetics where the
professed “interdisciplinary” departments,             socio firmly places the ethnos in its concrete
there is such a thing as an “outside” and a            historical particularity” (1976, 78). In other
“not us” imposition of the rules of “histori-          words, if ethnopoetics is to be an “other”—
cal” knowledge production and reproduc-                counter-hegemonic poetics—to the hege-
tion.                                                  monic Western Cultural poetics, then it is
                                                       first necessary to understand how these
“ETHNO OR SOCIO POETICS”                               terms “We” and “They” and “Self” and
                                                       “Other” came to serve an operative function
                                                       and define a relationship between, from the
It is poetry, the poem that continues, with
                                                       16th century, whereby “ethno” would be
increasing difficulty, the general human power
                                                       defined as “Other” of the Western “We.”
to create signs. For the poem constitutes each
                                                             What occurred, that allowed for the
time that it happens—since a poem is an
                                                       rise of the West, was a mutation, an absolute
“event” rather than an object—a field force
                                                       rupture, whereby the “X factor” was the
which reinterprets and reinvents anew the
                                                       discovery of the New World. Vast areas of
meaning of the sign; that is, the poem creates
                                                       land hence became “the frontier” that
anew the sign. Each poem reinvents the nature
                                                       transformed a group of people and their
of the sign as not arbitrary; but depends on the
                                                       states into what we today call the West.
“openness” of the sign to be able to reinvent it.
                                                       This mutation bound together the We and
The market reality produced by the production
                                                       Other in a concrete relationship, a hierarchi-
process reifies the sign into a finite category. It
                                                       cal global relation. While many theorists
is through its imperative to dereify to market-
                                                       would involve themselves in the now fa-
created signs that poetry finds itself poetically/
                                                       mous Western transition to “from feudal-
politically, on the opposite side of the barricades,
                                                       ism to capitalism” debates, Wynter argues
the rebel side of the battle lines.
                                                       what gets ignored is that the essential deter-
                    —Sylvia Wynter (1976: 88)          mining factor of this new relationship was
                                                       the “discovery and existence of the vast
    I begin with Sylvia Wynter. From the               new lands of the “New World” and that
late 1950s and 1960s as a playwright, ac-              these lands “served as the catalyst for that
tress, and novelist, and from the 1960s with           total ‘commercialization of land and labor’
an essay called “We Must Learn to Set                  that is the central dynamic of capitalism”

                                         FIGHTING AMNESIA AS A GUERILLA ACTIVITY               253

(82). It is important to note, however, that       in the exploration of this alternative mode
while this would become an economic rela-          of cognition,
tionship, Wynter insists that it was FIRST
and PRIMARILY a cultural one.                          There can be no concept of a liberal
     The world that would emerge for all,              mission to save “primitive poetics”
which would include the rise of Europe,                for “primitive peoples” the salvag-
The West, and the bourgeoisie, would be in             ing of ourselves, the reclamation of
relationship to this process, culturally, eco-         vast areas of our being is dialecti-
nomically, socially, and politically. The de-          cally related to the destruction of
bate between Bartolomé de Las Casas and                those conditions which block the
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda represented a                  free development of the human po-
profound shift from the Church’s concep-               tentialities of the majority peoples
tion of spiritual perfection/ imperfection to          of the third world. (83)
a secular conception of rational perfection/
imperfection. This shift would be instituted            The retrieval of this penned up mode of
in Western Europe by the early seventeenth         cognition, Wynter argues, is crucial for the
century.                                           invention of a new way of being human.
     In considering the work to be done in         Wynter, as Aaron K. Kamugisha notes,
the new millennium, Wynter poses that our          needs to be located in the tradition of “rad-
struggle will be one between two groups:           ical Caribbean humanism,” among the
(1) those who wish to secure the well-being        likes of Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon
of our present ethnoclass (i.e., Western           (Kamugisha 142; Wynter 2000b: 153-4).
bourgeois) conception of the human, Man,                For Césaire, Fanon and Wynter, the re-
that presents itself as if it were the human       trieval of this mode of cognition and abso-
itself; and (2) those interested in the well-      lute rupture from colonialism is not a re-
being, and therefore the full cognitive and        turn to a utopian past. Wynter, like Fanon,
behavioral autonomy of the human species           proposes the creation of a new society. This
itself/ourselves (Wynter, 2003: 260). Dis-         society must be created by those who con-
cussions of race, class, gender, sexual orien-     tinue to be cast aside by Europe, as “the
tation, ethnicity, struggles over the environ-     West has never been further from being
ment, global warming, severe climate               able to live a true humanism—a humanism
change, and the sharply unequal distribu-          made to the measure of the world” (Cé-
tion of the earth’s resources, are all differ-     saire, quoted in Kamugisha, 142). However,
ing facets of the central ethnoclass Man vs.       as David Scott argues, the placement of
Human struggle (260-1).                            Wynter with Fanon and Césaire, on the one
     Why this should be of significance to          hand, and with the “embattled humanism”
the anti-colonial critical thinkers—people         of Foucault’s archaeological critique on the
at this conference, for example—is, Wynter         other hand, is but a partial location in each
argues, because “Western Man” can no               instance. Scott writes, “no single set of coor-
longer be considered a racial signifier. We         dinates can exhaustively situate an aesthet-
must see it as a cultural term. This alterna-      ic-intellectual career as full and plural as
tive mode of cognition, while still a living       that of Wynter…perhaps one of the more
force for the majority of the world’s popu-        striking features of her work is its founda-
lation areas, remains available to Western         tional character, its restless quest for the
Man (which is all of us here in the academy)       most interconnected and totalizing ground
only through poetry, as the generic term for       on which to secure the humanist ideal for
art (83). Therefore, and this is Wynter’s cru-     which she aspires” (Scott 121).
cial point—shouted out in capital letters—              In conversation with Wynter, Thomas

254            KAREN M. GAGNE

says that she remarks that when she writes          AMNESIA AND CONSCIOUSNESS
“she would like to sound in theory like
Aretha Franklin’s ‘Queen of Soul,’ baptiz-          If what the artist does is create in her own i-
ing African Gods in song.” Thomas adds,             mage and give name to that i-mage, then what
“We get another Black revolutionary                 the African artist from the Caribbean and the
mouth for sure, sounding truly divine in            New World must do is to create in, while giving
her ‘secular’ transcendence …                       name to, her own i-mage—and in so doing
                                                    eventually heal the word wounded by the
      …Some [in the Black Radical Tradi-            dislocation and imbalance of the word/ i-mage
      tion]2 may be stronger on certain             equation. This can only be done by consciously
      points than others, points we could           restructuring, reshaping and, if necessary,
      commence to list: (1) Continental             destroying the language. When that equation is
      cultural-historical consciousness;            balanced and unity of word and i-mage is once
      (2) Pan-African and Diasporic                 again present, then and only then will we have
      scope of vision; (3) concrete politi-         made the language our own.
      cal application to compulsory cate-
      gorization        or      corporeal                 —Marlene Nourbese Philip (1989: 21)
      dichotomization; and (4) ideologi-
      cal anti-heterosexualism…None, it                  Paule Marshall (1983b) argues that
      seems, get at the root like Sylvia            through fiction (the word), and by present-
      Wynter. We cannot get at the root             ing Black people as if they had a right to be
      without her conceptual root-work.             in the world, the writer (artist/storyteller)
      The Sex Word and its related cate-            prepares the mind to carry on the struggle.
      gories of existence—white Western             Fiction raises political consciousness by in-
      bourgeois existence—may crumble               sisting on a strong sense of self in a world
      in her wake. (2006: 95, emphasis in           that seeks to erase this self. The job of the
      the text)                                     writer, according to Toni Cade Bambara, is
                                                    to service the community and to share a vi-
    Like Wynter, we are indebted to An-             sion of what that society is to be—to make
zaldúa for her own thorough root-work.              revolutionary struggle irresistible. Fictional
With the determination of her own dentist,          characters allow one to pursue various the-
Anzaldúa has done much to get at the                oretical frameworks, and serves to lift up
source of the stench, causing the release           the community without hustling anybody.
and removal of colonialism’s puss from her          This is where the contradictory pull of both
people.                                             the fictional impulse and the documentary
                                                    impulse are worked out (Bambara, 1982).
                                                         Bambara insists that we see the conse-
                                                    quence of amnesia and the importance of
                                                    reconnection when she introduces Julie
                                                    Dash’s film Daughters of the Dust (1991) by
      2 Specifically, Thomas was referring to Toni   relating it to a passage from Paule Mar-
Cade Bambara, Merle Hodge, Ifi Amadiume,             shall’s Praisesong for the Widow (1983a). Am-
Nkiru Nzegwu, Oyeronke Oyewumi, Cheryl
Clarke, and Elaine Brown, all who write about       nesia and reconnection are central themes
sex, empire, and the Black Radical Tradition mil-   in both works. In Daughters of the Dust: the
itantly. See Greg Thomas, “The ‘S’ Word: Sex,       Making of an African American Woman’s Film
Empire and Black Radical Tradition (After
Sylvia),” in Anthony Bogues (ed.) After Man, To-    (1992), she highlights Marshall’s account of
wards the Human: Critical Essays on Sylvia Wynter   the journey of a woman who has “bar-
(Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers,          gained away her cultural heritage in ex-

                                         FIGHTING AMNESIA AS A GUERILLA ACTIVITY               255

change for the ‘respectable’ life.” Through a      nesia by Bambara is also linked to Bam-
powerful reconnaissance with the past,             bara’s own stance against amnesia and dis-
however, she “learns to read again the             connectedness, when at the end of The Salt
codes and signs of her heritage.” Bambara          Eaters (1980) she spoke through the voice of
writes, “Now centered Avatara envisions a          Velma:
new life’s work—warning the assimilated
away from eccentricity. She’ll haunt office             Thought the vaccine offered by all
buildings and confront amnesiacs” (xii).               the theorists and activists and clear
     Julie Dash, following in Marshall’s               thinkers and doers of the warrior
footsteps, from the early stages of the mak-           clan would take. But amnesia had
ing of her film Daughters puts forth “her               set in anyhow. Heart/brain/gut
stance regarding the great American afflic-             muscles atrophied anyhow. And
tions, amnesia and disconnectedness”                   these folks didn’t even have a par-
(Dash 1992, xi-xiii; Bambara 1996, 109).               ty, a consistent domestic and for-
Both Marshall and Dash link the histories              eign policy much less a way to gov-
of all Africans in the Diaspora to that mo-            ern. Something crucial had been
ment when the Ibos, seeing what was                    missing from the political/eco-
ahead of them when they got off the slave              nomic/social/cultural/aesthetic/
ships (and the many while still on the                 military/psychosocial/psychosex-
ships) on what would be the Carolina Sea               ual mix. And what could it be? And
Islands, headed back toward Africa. The                what should she do? She’d been
name “Ibo Landing” in the film speaks of                asking it aloud one morning comb-
stories still told on these islands AND in the         ing her hair, naked and tattooed
Caribbean. Bambara notes that the place in             with serrated teeth and hair alive,
the film is called “the secret isle” because            birds and insects peeping out at
the land is both bloody and blessed:                   her from the muddy-heavy hanks
                                                       of the ancient mothers’ hair. (Bam-
    A port of entry for the European                   bara, 258-259)
    slaving ships, the Carolina Sea Is-
    lands (Port Royal County) were                      What is the “something” that is miss-
    where captured Africans were                   ing from the “mix”? How has it caused am-
    “seasoned” for servitude. Even af-             nesia to set in, and what does it have to do
    ter the trade was outlawed, traf-              with “the muddy-heavy hanks of the an-
    fickers used the dense and marshy               cient mothers’ hair”? Bambara, Wynter,
    area to hide forbidden cargo. But              Marshall, Dash, and Erna Brodber (1988;
    the difficult terrain was also a ha-            1997) all realize the price to pay for ignor-
    ven for both self-emancipated Afri-            ing the mud mothers and for running from
    cans and indigenous peoples, just              answers that stare us in the face. In one
    as the Florida Everglades and the              analysis of this passage by Bambara, Gloria
    Louisiana bayous were for the                  T. Hull argues that we run from wisdom
    Seminoles and Africans, and for                that is intuitive and unconscious. We ignore
    the Filipinos conscripted by the               the “thought, imagination, magic, self-con-
    French to fight proxy wars (French              templation, change, ambivalence, past
    and Indian wars). (Bambara, 1996:              memories…passage to ‘the other side’—all
    94-95)                                         symbolized by the mud mothers and the
                                                   mirror” (130), and this is increasingly so in
    The linking of these two artists, Mar-         the present-day when “many seasoned po-
shall and Dash, in their stance against am-        litical workers are beginning to devote

256            KAREN M. GAGNE

themselves more exclusively to their art or          Considered unverifiable, it is not accept-
to seemingly privatistic personal develop-           able for the average leftist/materialist/so-
ment” (131, 134).                                    cial scientist, no matter how radical one
     The subjects of bargaining away one’s           might think oneself to be, to admit such a
cultural heritage in exchange for the “re-           thing aloud—even if one were a spiritual
spectable” life and the importance of learn-         person in private. Silko, however, through
ing again to read the codes and signs of             her fictitious characters, implicates “leftist”
one’s cultural heritage can be found                 movements of Western-Marxist-trained
throughout the literature. Fundamental to            Cuban revolutionaries for ignoring this
these “guerilla” works3, like that of Bam-           very indigenous source of power, that they
bara’s The Salt Eaters, is subject of the con-       deemed       primitive/illiterate/irrational/
nectedness of the past, present, and fu-             crazy and an obstacle to “the revolution.” To
ture—through this ancestral presence.                undo the amnesia, the five-hundred-year
Bambara put forth what is possible, not in a         link, therefore, the spiritual realm must be
utopian sense, and only futuristic in the            seriously dealt with in serious discussions
sense of knowing this possibility because it         of ANTI-colonial consciousness, past or
already happened—that a new society that             present.
can be imagined and brought to reality is                 The denial of the reality of spiritual
one that is part of a continuity, part of a          power and neglecting the presence of the
memory (Bambara, 1982).                              dead is the very big part of the amnesia.
     Part of the reaction to my proposed dis-        Again, while entertained at the level of an-
sertation topic, I understand, has to do with        thropology—far removed from the social
the fact that Almanac of the Dead is technical-      scientist’s own verifiable “ordered/law-
ly classified as “a novel.” It is not a novel.        like, factual expository” of truth— it re-
Writing about spirits, I understand, poses a         mains an avenue primarily explored
problem for the Western “social scientist.”          through the “chaotic/anarchic, impression-
                                                     istic/poetic” (read: unverifiable/meaning-
                                                     less/ neither true nor false, but neverthe-
      3The list is much longer than I can provide,   less entertaining) humanities, most notably
but here are a few that I include: Kwei, Ayi Ar-
mah, The Healers (Nairobi, Kenya: East African       through works of fiction. Kamau Brath-
Publishing House, 1978), and KMT: In The House       waite put it this way:
of Life (Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh, 2002);
Toni Cade Bambara, Those Bones are Not My Child
(New York: Pantheon, 1999); Erna Brodber, Myal           …we witness again and again a
(London: New Beacon Books, 1988), and Louisi-            chain reaction moving the ex-Afri-
ana (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press);          can’s core of religion into ever-wid-
Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust: (New York:
Plume Books, 1999); Audre Lorde, Zami: A New             ening areas. It is this potential for
Spelling of My Name (Trumansberg, NY: Crossing           explosion and ramification that has
Press, 1983); Paule Marshall, Praisesong for the         made blackness such a radical if
Widow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983;
and Reena and Other Stories (New York: The Fem-          subterranean feature of plantation
inist Press, 1983); Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon       political culture; for the African
(New York: Knopf, 1977), and Tar Baby (New               “phenomenon,”           continuously
York: Knopf, 1981); Leslie Marmon Silko, Cere-
mony (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), Almanac            present, like a bomb, in the New
of the Dead (New York: Penguin Books, 1991),             World since the abduction of the
and Gardens in the Dunes (New York: Simon &              first slaves—a phenomenon sub-
Schuster, 1999); Sylvia Wynter, The Hills of He-
bron (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1962); and             sisting in bases deep within the
Denise Harris’s to recent works, Web of Secrets          Zion/Ethiopian churches of the
(Leeds, England: Peepal Tree Press, 1996), and In        United States and in the hounforts4
Remembrance of Her (Leeds, England: Peepal Tree
Press, 2004).                                            of the Caribbean and South Ameri-

                                           FIGHTING AMNESIA AS A GUERILLA ACTIVITY             257

    ca—triggers itself into visibility at           accords to every other human activity”
    each moment of crisis in the hemi-              (126). This confident knowledge of spirits
    sphere: 1790 in Haiti, 1860 in Ja-              and healing through them is a direct chal-
    maica, 1930 in the West Indies, and             lenge to the “rational,” “Western,” “scien-
    1960 in the New World generally.                tific” way of thinking. It is Bambara’s
    (1984, 109)                                     premise that all knowledge systems are re-
                                                    ally one system; The Salt Eaters, Hull ar-
     That this source of power could be di-         gues, “demands our intelligent participa-
rectly linked to William Gordon, Paul Bo-           tion in disciplines and discourse other than
gle, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques            our narrowly-conceived own” (130).
Dessalines, Henri Christophe, Sam Sharpe,                The subject of terror is another impor-
Nat Turner, or Walter Rodney, to name but           tant theme of these fictional works. The col-
a few notable leaders, remains ignored by           lective amnesia is very much connected to
“leftist” and “anti-colonial” economic/his-         the subject of how the community and the
torical/ political/social scientists.               individual deal with the terror. The terror
     Further, the subject of divine posses-         written about by Bambara, Marshall, Dash
sion is considered by the Euro-centric im-          and Silko, is not only those visible scenes of
perialist mindset to be “savage” or “de-            terror, such as the routine display of the
mented.” Still, that Ibos could have walked         ravaged bodies of Africans and Amerindi-
back to Africa is considered impossible             ans that are routinely displayed with such
(they must have drowned) while story of             an ease and casualness that they “often im-
Jesus walking on water is left alone. The           mure us to pain by virtue of their familiari-
idea of stopping the amnesia by divine pos-         ty” as Saidiya Hartman notes, that serve to
session and by the regaining of conscious           reinforce the spectacular (as in spectacle)
as a result of spiritual transcendence illus-       character of suffering. The terror is also pre-
trates the very subversiveness of these             sented in the subtler places: “slaves danc-
Black female writers. As Cooper writes, the         ing, in the quarters, the outrageous darky
revalorization of “discredited knowledge”           antics of the minstrel stage, the constitution
is the subject of these female-centered revo-       of humanity in slave law, and the fashion-
lutionary works.5                                   ing of the self-possessed individual” or
     Another central plot is the healing that       “the terror of the mundane,” whereby the
must take place, which Hull suggests alien-         “ubiquitous fun and frolic that supposedly
ates her readers. Speaking still of Bambara,        demonstrated slave contentment and the
Hull writes, “TCB cuts no slack, gives no           African’s suitedness for slavery were mir-
air.” The issue of a spiritual continuation of      rored in the panic about idleness, intemper-
life on earth doesn’t come up; Bambara as-          ate consumption, and fanciful expressions
sumes its authenticity and “describes it            of freedom, all of which justified the coer-
with the same faithful nonchalance that she         cive labor measures and the constriction of
                                                    liberties” (Hartman 3-7; see also Thomas,
                                                    2006: 80; Wynter, 1979: 151-152; and Fanon,
    4  For example, urban blues, the dozens,        1965: 29-30).
shouter churches, the Harlem Renaissance,
Garveyite creative work, Rastafari, the Nation of         Because of the “invisibility” of this
Islam and Carnival “the heard and signal of the     kind of violence, James Baldwin argued
African experience in the Caribbean/New             that there are facts that will never surface as
World,” in. Brathwaite, 111 & 122.
     5 Carolyn Cooper (1991): 65-66; and see        evidence because of the terror suffered
Sylvia Wynter’s The Hills of Hebron (1962), Erna    from being torn away from Africa, com-
Brodber’s Myal (1988) and Louisiana (1997), Toni    pounded by the terror of slavery. The depth
Morrison’s Tar Baby (1981), and Paule Marshall’s
Praisesong for the Widow (1984).                    of the terror “belongs to a category of

258           KAREN M. GAGNE

things the sufferer and the perpetrator6 of         and solely through the work of decidedly
the suffering would rather, for the sake of         “non-intellectual,” non-formally educated
physical and psychic comfort, forget.”              sector of the people, as Silko posits, is thor-
However, Baldwin continues, keeping this            oughly unimaginable to folks in the acade-
memory suppressed is helpful to no one be-          my. And this theme, the undoing of Ameri-
cause “what the memory repudiates con-              ca itself, is why Silko’s work continues to be
trols the human being” (Depelchin 153; see          labeled “fiction,” and therefore, to be more
also Baldwin xii; Bambara 1999; and Tho-            “appropriate” in an English department.
mas 2003b: 236).
     In the interest of remembering and wit-        USES OF THE TONGUE
nessing the terror, one must venture outside
the field of “social science.” Such “science”
                                                    I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of
insists upon the absence of feeling and emo-
                                                    existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish,
tion, which only serves to keep such “facts”
                                                    white. I will have my serpent’s tongue—my
hidden or unworthy of serious attention.
                                                    woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s
This cannot be so, as shown in Toni Cade
                                                    voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.
Bambara’s novel These Bones Are Not My
Child (1999), on the nightmare of the 1979-                               —Gloria Anzaldúa (81)
1981 kidnapping/sexual assault/brutal
murders of more than forty Black children                Carole Boyce Davies illustrates how Ja-
in the city of Atlanta.                             maica Kincaid’s “The Tongue,” in Lucy, is at
     However, indigenist “fictional” works           once a studied critique of white, middle-
include this crucial but missing—si-                class, suburban manners, a recognition of
lenced—component of the story and there-            how articulations for the dispossessed can
by operate as guerilla activities, because they     take place, a critique of heterosexuality, and
refuse to be silent and absent of self-em-          a critique of the privileging of language by
powering feeling and emotion. Therefore,            male African and Caribbean writers. It is at
these creative endeavors operate side by            all of these sites of Kincaid’s critique that
side with other such guerilla activities that       the erasure and silencing of the “native
are, often, deemed “legitimate” subjects of         woman” remain current.7 The tongue is an
historical/sociological studies. While the          “organ like others, of speech, of pleasure, of
scientists continues to look for visible and        stimulation” (1996: 342). Boyce-Davies ar-
concrete “facts,” writers most often search         gues that the dismantling of the colonial
for the silences in between the facts, and          anxiety over language is best reflected by
this is where so much more to the story can         both Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the
be found (Depelchin 154). Like the actual           Mind (1986) and Kamau Brathwaite’s Histo-
gun and sword, the lyrical gun—the word             ry of the Voice (1984) as well as in the dis-
(mouth, pen, and camera)—is no less dead-           courses around Caliban of Shakespeare, by
ly and is not separate in the indigenist anti-      Césaire, Lamming, Brathwaite, Retamar
empire world.                                       and others. All of these writers make im-
     A final, crucial, theme in these works is       portant contributions to the exploration of
the return of the land, all of it, to the people.   submerged languages in the Caribbean by
This idea remains unthinkable to even the
most “radical,” “leftist” academic. That this           7 See also Abena Busia’s “Silencing Sycorax.
could happen sometime in the near future            On African Colonial Discourse and the Un-
                                                    voiced Female” (1990) and Sylvia Wynter’s “Be-
                                                    yond Miranda’s Meanings. Un/Silencing the
    6 Wynter (1971: 98); Lewis R. Gordon (1995:     ‘Demonic Ground’ of Caliban’s ‘Woman’”
9 & 11), and Ronald Takaki, (1979).                 (1990b).

                                           FIGHTING AMNESIA AS A GUERILLA ACTIVITY                 259

asserting that a “nation language is that               For the irony is that canefields are
which ignores the pentameter of the Euro-               so wedded to Caribbean slavery
pean language, that underground language                and oppression of Africans that the
which was constantly ‘transforming itself               child’s9 rejection of them is an im-
into new forms’” (344). However, it is the              portant departure from that partic-
Caribbean female writers that are actually              ular experience and history. Yet her
doing this transformation, regularly, in the            acceptance of America’s technolog-
text itself. Boyce-Davies notes, “the theory            ical might is another form of sla-
comes, not from the externalized explora-               very.     Importantly,       Marshall
tion of what is taking place with the lan-              captures that falling away that of-
guage, but from the very deconstruction of              ten occurs between generations.
the meanings of ‘tongues’ and taste and                 For whereas the grandmother’s ex-
language and ultimately of self” (344).                 perience is of slavery and British
     In another essay highlighting the work             colonialism, the insidious and also
of Paule Marshall, Audre Lorde, Jamaica                 “colonial” relationship to America
Kincaid and Michelle Cliff, Boyce Davies                is also implicit in the child’s accep-
argues that the reconstruction of the Afro-             tance of American dominance. Da-
Caribbean cultural experience is central, in            Duh’s resignation evinces her un-
particular, to the female writers migrating             derstanding of this new master/
to the United States. The search for identity           slave dialectic. (1990: 61-2)
is a common theme among these four writ-
ers. These writers are often criticized,                 While language was and is certainly a
among the Caribbean canon, for not writ-            crucial weapon of the colonizers, it was and
ing the “anti-colonial text” of did their           is also a powerful means for undoing the
mostly male counterparts who migrated to            efforts of the colonizers. The colonized peo-
Britain in the 1950s. Boyce Davies rejects          ples use(d) language to allow for the un-
this claim and argues that the texts of these       conscious to come out and for building
writers are “critically engaged in an anti-         strength from within—within the commu-
hegemonic discourse with the United                 nity that they came to identify as their own.
States in much the same way that earlier            Paule Marshall notes in an essay entitled,
writers waged an anti-colonial dialogue             “From the Poets in the Kitchen” (1983b),
with Great Britain” (1990: 60).                     common speech and the plain workaday
     Marshall’s fiction calls attention to the       words are what make the best writers. The
tensions between ancestry and youth, tra-           ability to tap, to exploit the beauty, poetry
dition and modernity, African civilizations’        and wisdom of this language requires inti-
tradition of respect for humanity and the           mate exposure and a well-trained ear in as
disregard for life by the West. However,            unglamorous a setting as the kitchen (3-4).
Boyce Davies argues that while critics (such        Through creative use of “language” people
as Eugenia Collier8) have considered Mar-           are able to resist the humiliations of the
shall’s descriptions of island life idyllic, the    workday. Speaking of the poets in the kitch-
reality is much more complex:                       en, Marshall states that language was the
                                                    only readily available vehicle for them, and
                                                    they made of it an art form that “in keeping
     8 Boyce Davies cites Collier’s article, “The   with the African tradition in which art and
Closing of the Circle: Movement from Division
to Wholeness in Paule Marshall’s Fiction” in             9 In reference to the child in her short story
Black Women Writers (1950-1980). A Critical Eval-   “To Da-Duh in Memoriam” in Reena and other
uation. (New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday,          Stories (New York: The Feminist Press, 1983): 95-
1984): 295-315.                                     106.

260            KAREN M. GAGNE

life are one,” was an integral part of their           Merle. She’s the most passionate
lives; to counter the triple invisibility of be-       and political of my heroines. A
ing black, female and foreign, the poets of            Third World revolutionary spirit.
the kitchen “fought back, using the only               And I love her. (1983, 109)
weapon at their command: the spoken
word…‘In this man world you got to take            INDIGENIST AUTOPOESIS
yuh mouth and make a gun!’” they would
say (7).
                                                   We have a tradition of migration, a tradition of
     Such is the sharpness of the word, as a
                                                   long walks. Today we are witnessing la
weapon, that writer and filmmaker Toni
                                                   migración de los pueblos mexicanos, the return
Cade Bambara preferred to work with fic-
                                                   odyssey to the historical/mythological Aztlán.
tional characters so as not to impale real
                                                   This time, the traffic is from south to north.
people (or to hustle them) with her pen—as
is most often done in “social science stud-                                     —Anzaldúa (33)
ies” (1982). Still, the level of intimacy with
one’s characters is no less than if they were           It was through “autopoesis” that an-
real people, and much more than possible           other new mode of being human—that of
between an anthropologist and her subject          the bourgeois man—was ignited from the
(object, that is) of study. Paule Marshall         16th century onward to the present. And, it
writes of one of her fictional characters,          will be through an “autopoesis” of equal or
Merle, who is the central figure in The Cho-        greater magnitude that we will be able to
sen Place, Timeless People (1969):                 leave this mode of being human. Poetry,
                                                   Wynter writes, is the means by which hu-
      “Part saint, part revolutionary, part        mans name the world. By calling them-
      obeah woman”…Merle remains                   selves into being, humans invent their “hu-
      the most alive of my characters. In-         manness.” She argues, to name the world is
      deed, it seems to me she has es-             to conceptualize the world; and to concep-
      caped the pages of the novel                 tualize the world is an expression of an ac-
      altogether and is abroad in the              tive relation: “A poem is itself and of man’s
      world. I envision her striding rest-         creative relation to his world; in humaniz-
      lessly up and down the hemi-                 ing this world through the conceptual/
      sphere from Argentina to Canada,             naming process (neither comes before the
      and back and forth across the At-            other like the chicken and the egg) he in-
      lantic between here and Africa,              vents and reinvents himself as human”
      speaking her mind in the same                (1976: 87).
      forthright way as in the book…she                 Indigenist “autopoesis” has been and
      calls the poor and oppressed to re-          will be central to work of dismantling the
      sist, to organize, to rise up against        bourgeois/Western mode of “Human”—a
      the condition of their lives…On a            framework in which everyone remains con-
      personal level, she is still trying to       fined. If the idea of the savage was a Euro-
      come to terms with her life and his-         pean invention, and it was made possible
      tory as a black woman, still seeking         only as the negative concept of and the si-
      to reconcile all the conflicting ele-         multaneous invention of the European Self
      ments to form a viable self. And             to be known as Man, this could only occur
      she continues to search, as in the           by suppressing whole areas of his Being.
      novel, for the kind of work, for a           This mode of cognition, Wynter argues,
      role in life, that will put to use her       which we remain aware of only through
      tremendous energies and talent.              poetry. The exploration of an alternative

                                            FIGHTING AMNESIA AS A GUERILLA ACTIVITY             261

mode of cognition, still ideologically sup-          search” and write about such events and
pressed in everyone, becomes the salvag-             social relationships of the “past.”
ing of indigenous selves, and the reclama-                Ultimately, this poesis is an exercise in
tion of vast areas of our being (1976, 83).          that “After” that Wynter writes about. It is
     The power of this poetry lies in its            to imagine the deconstruction of “our
noise,10 in the disruption it causes to our          present memory of Man” as Wynter puts it
present episteme. This poetry, then, is not          and the end of all things European in the
“for art’s sake,” but offers a “counter effect”      Americas, as Silko puts it. The proposed
to the project of colonialism (Grayson, 5); it       project for the 21st century is to move out-
is “disenchanting.” In it, we are able to see        side this field, and should be, Wynter ar-
how pre-colonial and pre-enslavement                 gues, as with any poetic text, to deconstruct
ways of knowing are as important as post-            “the order of consciousness and mode of
colonial and post-enslavement systems of             the aesthetic to which this conception of be-
knowledge, if not more so. The significance           ing human leads and through which we
of the circle in pre-colonial America and in         normally think, feel and behave…to rede-
pre-colonial Africa is illustrated in such a         fine the human on the basis of a new ico-
way that cannot be duplicated by any “so-            nography” (Wynter, 2000a: 26).
ciological” or “anthropological” study.                   It is my premise—as is that of the many
     Fighting against amnesia, restoring             writers with whom I mention in this article,
memory and reconnection to the past are              particularly Marshall, Bambara, Brodber,
key to true freedom in the present and fu-           and Dash—that through academia, people
ture. The difficult but necessary process of          become SO far removed from the commu-
restoring memory and reconnection is pro-            nity that they lose the power to affect that
posed as crucial to collective resistance of         community.11 In order to regain that power,
colonized peoples. This perspective should           as witnessed in the writing, a process of
be undertaken more seriously by all “theo-           “unlearning”—an exorcism, if you will—
rists and activists and clear thinkers and           and a regaining of consciousness must take
doers of the warrior clan,” to quote Bam-            place.
bara in The Salt Eaters (1980), in order to               Engaging this “revelatory” work as
counter the continuation of slavery and co-          witness and prophesy, as almanacs, and An-
lonialism in the present. That it is not fol-        zaldúa, Wynter, Silko, Bambara, and Dash
lowed more closely, however, speaks to the           as cultural workers who have been en-
depth of this cultural amnesia that marks            gaged in such anti-hegemonic discourse for
the path of academics and of upward mo-              decades, actively writing “new facts into
bility (Cooper, 1991: 81)—or rather, our cul-        being,” is of considerable urgency. To do so
tural systemic consciousness, as Sylvia Wynt-        would confront the artificial separation be-
er calls it —that continues to be enforced           tween the activist and the scholar, the pure-
and reproduced globally, particularly in ac-         ly Western-European mind/body/spirit
ademia, by the very disciplines that “re-            split, and the fake debate between the artist
                                                     and the politician/historian/scientist. One
      10 See Carolyn Cooper, Noises in the Blood:    cannot be committed to truth and revolu-
Orality, Gender, and the “Vulgar” Body of Jamaican   tionary struggle unless one is willing to fol-
Popular Culture (Durham: Duke University             low one’s own words. So, with regard to
Press, 1995); Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Cul-   my dissertation project in sociology, to cite
ture at Large (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2004); Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s response to the
critics of Leslie Marmon Silko’s “very angry”
voice of Alamanc of the Dead, in Anti-Indianism in       11 Greg Thomas (2003a) and Haile Gerima
Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya’s Earth        in Frank Ukadike, Nwachukwu “Interview with
(Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 86.     Haile Gerima,” (2002): 253-279.

262           KAREN M. GAGNE

Nancy Welch, et al, editors of The Disserta-               Presence in Caribbean Literature,” pp.
tion and The Discipline (2002), in order to                103-144 in Africa in Latin America: Essays
                                                           on History, Culture, and Socialization
change the field, one must refuse to re-                    edited by Manuel Moreno Fraginals.
nounce the course that one’s dissertation                  New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers,
would necessarily take. It is at the level of              Inc.
the dissertation that “the disciplines” are         Brodber, Erna. 1988. Myal. London: New Bea-
                                                           con Books.
produced and reproduced. It is where “we
                                                    Brodber, Erna. 1997. Louisiana. Jackson: Univer-
find our most profound, persistent beliefs                  sity of Mississippi Press.
about what it means to write and teach”             Brown, Elaine. 2004. “What Would Martin Say,”
(viii). So, if I want to change how writing                Race Issues in America Series, C-Span, Jan-
gets carried out, and to resist replicating the            uary 20.
status quo, then I must “see the dissertation       Busia, Abena. 1990. “Silencing Sycorax. On
                                                           African Colonial Discourse and the
as a site where the discipline is not just re-             Unvoiced Female,” pp. 81-104 in Cultural
produced but could be reinvented” (viii)—                  Critique (Winter).
or even dismantled.                                 Césaire, Aimé. 1972. Discourse on Colonialism.
                                                           New York: Monthly Review Press.
                                                    Collier, Eugenia. 1984. “The Closing of the Cir-
                                                           cle: Movement from Division to Whole-
                                                           ness in Paule Marshall’s Fiction,” pp.
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264           KAREN M. GAGNE

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