Reading Journal Entry One-
Looking for Livingstone, Marlene Nourbese Philip 1991
Map to the Door of No Return, Dionne Brand 2001
If you were looking for Livingstone
could you use a map to the door return
drawn in words by a woman speaking in neuter for
those of us "flung out and dispersed" in the "Black Diaspora"?
What does space mean in these two texts?
Why does discovering charting marking Africa provoke the project
for these two women writing in Canada from Trinidad and Tobago?
Looking for Livingstone is a self described "odssey of silence" that
refigures the colonial project as one of language, religion and strategically deployed time.
Gender seems to be everything here and the relationship between colonizer and the postcolonial colonized subject is (as in "She Tries her Tongue") an explicitly sexual one. Philip creates an alternate logic in which silence (already gendered and racialized) can disrupt time, chartability, this is an anti-epistemological project, that mocks and defies logics of time and power and space (sometimeswritingthewordsalltogetherlikethis). This is a rival mythology that foregrounds the use of language to silence and colonize. Don't forget that alongside this heterosexual struggle between the word and silence there is the explicitly lesbian relationship between "whore words" that weave together the colors of silence. The relationship to space here seems to be one of leaving, what is the diasporic significance of this so called journey to "the interior". What does it have to do with Fanon's project to insist on a black interiority? What does this project teach me about desire? What does it tell me about the ability to know? To speak?
A Map to the Door of No Return calls itself "notes to belonging", though Brand does not seem to make this move in the text, I am interested in what the ontology of longing is. What is it to "be longing"? This is a question that Brand asks more explicityl in her most recent novel "What we All Long For". To BE longing. This seems to resonate with Brand's claims that the black body (i am slightly disturbed by the neutral gendering that she seems to take on in order to create an inclusive and representative narrative about the "Black Diaspora" not always black, but always capitalized) is domesticated and inhabited. This book also creates absolute rupture and unaswerability, it defies the historical, cartogaphical and periodical documents that it refererrences because it insists on unknowability, as desire as an alternative to epistemology. After all Brand never actually goes to the central site of her book, instead the haunting of this place causes an unfulfillable (queer) desire that replaces witness as we usually know it, highlighting seperation, speculation and acts of imagination. She includes a piece specifically about desire, relating desire to the act of reading and trying desperately to parse consumerism and desire. I think the needed move is to make desire queer, that thing that she says she cannot make sense of, that desire that the nation/family/movement as we know it has no room for, cannot incorporate. That non-reproductive and impossible desire that provokes reimagination, that represences the encounter. This book is a set of encounters that stand in for a desire. (Somehow I am remembering a dream in which I am writing this line.)
Dreams function in both texts in different way, but in each case they seem to be entryways for a temporality of trauma. Band discusses dreams as a state of captivity, the dominant cognitive schema for those in the diaspora. Dreams are persistant recurrent modes through which the mind joins the body in a state of captivity, of destinationless/agency less movement, of falling apart. Brand on the other hand, seems to avoid dreams, we often see her staying awake on airplanes, trying to remember when she is passing the door of no return, reading Coetzee and Morrison, waking at 4:45 am to write back to Cesaire. Brand seems to resist the captivity of dreams in exchange for the desire in the act of reading. What does this say about the word? What would Philip say about this use of books. In the Philip the recurring dream (and the vision and so on) is the place where the already allegorcial gets even more metaphorical, where the narrator is actually inseminated with Livingstone's word, where the marketplace of ideas is a real place where people try to use a Caribbean demotic to sell words (where is the space of the Caribbean here? Is there a Caribbean interior? Is the actual Caribbean too edgy for this exercise?)
What is the possibility of revolution in these texts. Brand recounts (for the first time really since Chronicles of the Hostile Sun, or In Another Place Not Here) the failed revolution in Grenada and the traumatic experience that that moment was (again). She describes herself has forever dropping a glass of water in the moment that her friends and comrades are murdered (is the the glass of water in Thirsty?) water more water more water. Philip discusses the still apartheid South Africa with Livingstone, 1987 the year of a certain violence in a place called Livingstone in South Africa. She (or her narrator, excuse me) talks about contemporary white south africans in their relational similarity to slaveholders. This is the temporality of trauma my love. Both of these books completely recontextualize progress by taking on the trope of the journey/ of discovery and perverting it (them). They reveal that this desire to discover is queer and violent and impossible and fictional, but these are not novels.
Intercut with poems, Philip's text seems to be what it is, a fake journal or an real allegorical journal of foreclosed journey. It is somewhat speculative in its use of time and space. It is making fun of research. It is in someways the performative version of Ranji's book on "dark continents", a demonstration of the psychotics (yes the psychotics) of colonialism and the persuit of enlightenment humanism. Brand's book titles section after section "map" but it does not equip us to go anywhere, is not chronological is not not not an "autobiography" as the publisher suggests as a marketing category next to the price. It is what it says it is: "notes". I saw many of these notes in notebooks, on napkins, in blue pen on the back of email printouts in the Canadian national archives. I see these notes as a conversation that Brand's life is having with her poetry and her fiction. I honestly can't think of a reason for someone who does not already love Brand to read this book at all. That said, this book looks like the only book that I could write right now. The book that would come out of these random musings about the out of order reading I am doing in order to tease expertise. Can you even wait for tomorrow? I'll be reading Paradise (because Brand mentions it, and Erica wrote about it) and Paul Farmer (because I have to write this article about public health). See you.