On the first page of her book Black Shoals, which interrogates the potential for Black and Indigenous healing, Tiffany King writes that
each form of violence has its own way of contaminating, haunting, touching, caressing, and whispering to the other. Their force is particular yet like liquid, as they can spill and seep into the spaces that we carve out as bound off and untouched by the other.
Slavery and genocide linger in places we do not expect and cannot yet see or define. Their touch can arrive in an illness, a “not feeling right,” or not wanting to rest your feet on the ground. Their presence can feel like not being able to fully expand your lungs. (2019, x)
I am citing King’s words here as I write the final words in this book, honoring theorists, thinkers, and feelers working in fields that I am not trying to corral. Definitions are tricky things: they own a territory, and that move of ownership—territorializing, corralling—defines a White academy in multiple lived metaphors. In eco soma style, I return to the mechanism I have moved to many times in this book: how do you feel as you read? How do King’s powerful words stimulate your physical curiosity, a new physical habitation, a way of moving with ideas, without usurping a Black body’s space with your own (whatever your racialized identification is)? How do you acknowledge suffering but also feeling well, by self, by others, witnessed in what you read, see, or feel in the street or in a book? What resources does honoring provide, or protocols of not seeing one’s self as alone, or staying in the comfortable/uncomfortable space of one’s own skin? My organizing principle has been to look for connections and for physical/speculative desires to navigate and engage dis/comfort.
Here is a passage from M Archive, by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. It’s a speculative text, in a lineage from M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing (2005) an “ancestrally co-written text,” a text that “works to create textual possibilities for inquiry beyond individual scholarly authority” (ix). Gumbs writes her co-text as a “speculative documentary . . . written in collaboration with the survivors, the far-into-the-future witnesses to the realities we are making possible or impossible with our present apocalypse” (xi). In the third chapter I told of how I encountered Gumbs’s work off the page and how she kept her commitment to co-creation in a beautiful way by using her book as a divination practice. Here is what I found in its pages as I searched for a way to end Eco Soma:
When she said the mud mothers she meant that energy close to the core of the earth where the planet felt more alive, soft, hot, and in production. if you could look close enough (or listen carefully enough, the critical geologists would have corrected), you could see the churning planet making herself brown. if you were to choreograph a dance about it (which, i agree, would be an excellent idea) you would need to have everybody cover themselves in mud and then make motions like pushing, like freeing wrists, but lead with the belly [ . . . ] and they would eventually get closer and closer together until you felt that you were watching one being, growing together curving home and pressing pressing to solid but still always breathing. (23)
I am glad to go with Gumbs’s guidance, to delve into the modes of deep time, sensuous bodies, bodies-other-than-human, in motion, touching, pressing.
In her opening pages, Zakihyyah Iman Jackson writes about “an unruly sense of being/knowing/feeling existence, one that necessarily disrupts the foundations of the current hegemonic mode of ‘the human’” (2). She grounds her investigation by thinking about the anti-Black use of Black bodies as material for metaphor, as fungible, interchangeable: the “discursive-material plasticity of black(ened) flesh” (19), in a lineage that links back and deepens the biopower discussion of chapter 1. In my own eco soma investigations in this book, I tried to locate bodily, in movement, in energetic exchange, on the horizon (the words just keep accumulating) the in-between spaces. Those are the spaces that push against denied humanity, and they do so not by affirming bounded, autonomous, isolated selves but by curiosity at its limits. Come with me to one last brief encounter, which I approach with the divinatory energies of the M Archive, with an attention to what presses, agencyful, “growing toward curving home.”1
In January 2020, just before the pandemic altered performance making throughout the world, I co-created a disability culture performance workshop with a group of anthropologists who were interested to move and think about disability in intersectionality. We visited with the Museum of Archeology Ontario, on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak, and Attawandaron peoples, in London, Ontario, Canada. For our visit, we set up an Alternative Knowledge walk-through, a performance structure I use often for museum, gallery, or archive visits. Here is how one of the participants, Amala Poli, described the experience:
The local Museum of Ontario Archaeology was the site of our first group activity on the third and final day of the workshop. I chose this activity, the Alternative Knowledges tour for discussion here, as the museum experience is often guided by the written plaques next to artifacts, demanding our attentions, structuring knowledge and consumption of the various kinds of stimuli within the museum. Guided by Petra Kuppers’ gentle suggestions, individual participants meandered into different corners of the archaeological museum, choosing artifacts to present them to the other participants. This exercise disrupted the conventional expectations of the museum space, as each of us created a two-part process. We first presented our chosen object or image in its historical context to honor it in its own right, and then added a creative element that speculatively guided the rest of the individuals through a new and imaginative experience of the chosen artifact. . . . it gave us occasion to co-exist in a space of respectful attention and care, listening and absorbing each others’ creative and imaginative energies together. (Poli 2020)
In the museum the history of archeology lay exposed around us in its own sedimentary layers. There was the diorama of Indigenous life, but there were also contemporary perspectives on respectful, protocol-aware engagement with First Nations and with land. History unfolded from unquestioned White supremacy and colonialism to more nuanced approaches, even if not freed from the frame of the White academy.
In my station, I stood in front of a glass screen, not touching (and writing this, I think of the heat of the M Archive passage, sand melting into glass). Behind the glass was a small mammoth plastic creature with impossibly red lips at the end of a long trunk. Next to it lay excavated fossilized mammoth teeth, signs of “I have been here”: creature/rock/body/mineral (Plate 16). I spent time looking, being, being lost, opening. I sensed what would come through in speculative modes of eco soma attention. Then, the group came round to my station. I didn’t know what would happen; I hadn’t planned it out. I just trusted my improvisatory skills, and I also trusted that something would offer itself to me if I asked gently enough, if I pressed into the earth, right there. We went on a dream journey. Inviting them with my voice, I had everybody drop into this particular location, thousands of years ago.
I cannot fully remember what I spoke about in that dream meditation: I am altered when I do these things.2 Since so much of my memory is sensory, image and sensation flashes, I offer it in a complex pronoun, not claiming anything for the group, but also inviting you in. This remains:
At one point, you/I/us are sitting on the ground. There is sparse grass below, sandy soil beneath that. A gentle breeze. Alone, but the community is not far. The sky is wide. Something comes up from behind, massive, but not threatening, awe inspiring, but not violent. There is a musky smell. You/I/us feel the heft of its being in the trembling earth beneath. There is no threat. It lays its long snout on you/me/us: the shoulder, a weight, air flow and humidity on cheek. It kisses you/me/us. Warm breath blow. Then it withdraws, a question mark as much as a benediction.
Eventually, I return to our consensus world, on the floor, in the museum, in front of the glass cabinet, in the circle of our group. And here is that little plastic mammoth now, asking me about anthropomorphism, about who does what to whom, about pedagogies that are open to what is on the limit, about embodied joyful journeys that can’t be remembered. Unruly senses. Land yielding with a gift to a quiet request. People breathing in meditation, yielding even as none of us in our multiracial community can really trust one another in a world of White supremacy, eugenic impulses, and colonial injustice. We brought a lot of our pathways to this meeting, where we came from, our people, our land. Now, we were on this land.
We/you/I breathe, fill lungs together, center well-being in community, in risk. We/you/I (in a museum, or sitting with a book) breathe with the dust and memory that Tiffany King reminds me of: “Slavery and genocide linger in places we do not expect and cannot yet see or define” (2019, x).
Zakihyyah Iman Jackson writes about a visual artist that “for South Africans such as [Ezrom] Legae, those depicted in his work are no longer simply human, as they are transformed by the taking on of the physical and psychical potential of animals” (2020, 32). Here, in the museum with the mammoth, in a soft/hot churning planet, our group is in a practice that channels and does not resolve. The practice asks each of us to press and yield into horizon space, to find our boundaries, and to see what our imaginations make of a touch of deep time, of old land, of bio/mineral/elemental encounter.
I am also holding on to King’s later comment, and I task myself to not get too hopeful or carried away. She tasks her book to
arrest settler colonialism’s tendency to resuscitate older liberal humanist modes of thought to create new poststructural and postmodern forms of violent humanisms that feed off Indigenous genocide and Black social death. (2019, 12)
Let’s not get romantic in the violence of the anthropological museum, even as we explore new kin. Stay at the limit. And yet here we are, yielding to a queer interspecies kiss.
In the last chapter, shadow and light, the blanket’s opening, the tree’s bark, the pigeon’s flight all led to vitalities that were unruly, disturbed categorization while trying to evade becoming malleable material for production. Here, in this coda, I moved from the last chapter’s discussion of my individual pain in touch with different plastics to a different little plastic figure, behind glass, next to stone teeth, soft and pink and hard and calcified and imprisoned, all at once. How does one fill one’s lungs, watch someone else fill their lungs, and be aware of the histories in the act? How can I be aware and alive to the airy material with its trace of clove odor (chapter 1)? To the beating heart and its connection to sound (chapter 2)? To the permeability of the skin to liquid toxins, verbal toxins, and creative healing structures (chapter 3)? To the speculative embodiment of spaceships to zoom out of normality, to plant-human time, to dove wings (chapter 4)?
These are eco soma questions for me, and I am glad to be engaging them with you, in company, in unruly and defiant breaths.