news op - ed

haunting futures: the break

Ghosts of protest and hidden trauma become that “damned spot” from a previous murder, unable to be washed off.

…here, I am again unsure about the role of recognition as perhaps a way of crediting communities – perhaps a better question is, who is the debtor and creditor, and are reparations possible in this paradigm? But perhaps this line of questions come from anxieties that don’t want to commit to the “wild place” just yet, due to fears of the unknown. One should perhaps make peace with the fact that “what we want from ‘the break’ will be different from what we think we want before the break and both are necessarily different from the desire that issues from being in the break”.[1] If I were to continue thinking with Moten and Harney’s The Undercommons, it would start with the break.

            How to break? Change to the institution is often depicted as smashing the glass, fracturing the system into pieces to allow for something new to take its place. Believers of the glass will tape it up, put caution tape over it before its shards hurt others; others may use the opportunity to speak about what the shards mean, and still others may move to replace the glass with something else – a wooden door, metal bars, a stronger barrier between inside and outside. There are still others who approach the break without much planning, because what we want after the break will be different from what we wanted before and during it. Perhaps we weren’t the ones who broke the glass, but now we are faced with this break. Maybe we will want to install the exact same glass door, because a transparent barrier is better than an opaque one, which is better than no barrier at all between the heating system and the cold outside. Maybe we still want the insulation that the institution provides. Maybe, when heat starts seeping out through the broken glass and cold filters in, we decide that the door is to be removed altogether. As the door stays broken, every time we open that door – or get locked out of it – we think what if we put our foot through the broken glass, if it will shatter more, because it’s the break we were waiting for.

             Moten and Harney approached the break, in the metaphor of the glass door, by stealing from the inside again and again until there was no inside and outside. I would like to approach it differently: what if the door stayed in place, but it no longer serves its original purpose? What if, to open the door, we haunted the inside by going through the glass? In Phase 1, a door can no longer keep out protesters, the ghosts of stolen land and resources, and the bloodshed that erected the building. Climate Justice Toronto recently occupied the House of Commons by joining a free tour and sitting down with banners; security dragged them out.[2] Protesters banned from Parliament Hill are now faced with a closed door. Haunting the House of Commons would mean to go back again and again, to become a ghost that can never fully be exorcised. Phase 1 mobilizes a virus that haunts institutional spaces, via the spirits and apparitions of protesters reproduced as digital projections, apparitions, and taking up space online by floating over official websites and social media accounts. These ghosts can come back every time security drags them out, and are able to keep a protesting presence longer and more sustainably than physical bodies that are hurt, arrested, and fed, rested. Presence in peoples’ vision will build so that security can no longer drag out these ghosts when they appear briefly in the bathroom mirror and in front of the shopping rack. Ghosts of protest and hidden trauma become that “damned spot” from a previous murder, unable to be washed off.[3] It reminds people in power and consumers of dead bodies that haunt every action under capitalism and encourages action against the institution – because as Lady Macbeth asks, “will these hands ne’er be clean?”[4] Haunting reminds the world that the hands of capitalism were never clean, and with connecting the actual dead body to a commodity, the bloodstains refuse to be washed off.

            The mechanics of this phase is particular: ghosts of Phase 1 are not one size fits all, universal ghost. Different commodities created different kinds of bloodstains, and in order for a haunting to be effective, a bloodstain must represent the dead body associated as closely as possible, if not in literal connection then in spirit. For example, one can trace the peoples displaced off certain areas, or the factory and workers that make a garment.

Other times, perhaps these connections are untraceable through time – colonial archives are, after all, projects of erasure. In these situations, ghosts will represent those who have been erased, in a representational reality that speaks back at the gap in the archive. This method is often seen in literature and the counter narrative – for example, Condé in I, Tituba…Black Witch of Salem accounts for the Salem witch trials that recorded a Black witch with no other documentation.[5] Condé employs a feminist historiography by having “conversations” with Tituba, who “helped write her own book”.[6] The novel is part of “Tituba’s impassioned efforts to revoke her own disappearance in history”, to take “revenge” via I, Tituba. These methods are not typical of History, and not recognized by current academic institutions as epistemology, but are no less invalid than finding a direct link between a ghost and the present; ghosts will find their own way of having their stories told. This is what I call representational reality that allows ghosts to make their presence in front of present objects again, the ever-present but previously hidden bloodstain. Ghosts like Tituba, practitioners of non-Western epistemologies all find their voice and presence in Phase 1. Alternatively, specific enslaved peoples may not be able to be traced, but ghosts can still haunt the plantation wedding industry. Ghosts find their different homes in the capitalist world and are given opportunities to float through the glass door and wreak havoc.

            Thus far, haunting may seem like terrorism in weaponizing fear to influence a society’s actions. I argue that this terror is not only necessary for ending capitalism, but also a vital part of leaving capitalism and accepting a post-capitalist world. We let ourselves be haunted to let the bloodshed of capitalism truly effect us, because hope for a better world is not enough without terror chasing us from behind. Terror is often a label for the anti-state – we hold that anti-state and anti-institution is not a bad thing in dreaming post-capitalism. In Phase 1, we invite hauntings into our worldviews, our communities, and our societies – it is optional to not let oneself be haunted, but not optional to unsee the ghosts. Those who stay unhaunted are the ones clinging onto capitalism and the old world. The rest of must find ways to “see ghosts & fall in love”.[7] Loving is “hastening the end”, and “loving someone is creating a world where you can be together”.[8] We must “locate ghosts, acknowledge them, and work to nourish them”; we must “remember that their health and interests are your health and interests” to be in solidarity with the bloodshed and against capitalism.[9] The ghosts, invited into our empathies and affective investments, are “not doing nothing” if they remain ghosts, incorporeal, but are finally “home” from decades of floating away from their places of death.[10] Haraway advocates for making kin in the Anthropocene, in order to “stay with the trouble”, to fight for endangered species of the world as our own kin.[11] This is important in mobilizing affect to drive us towards the break between capitalism and a different world, refusing desensitized consumption and compassion fatigue. Blood stains must stay blood stains: if we are desensitized and imagine them as juice or mere paint, how will we answer to the ghosts and leave capitalism behind? It is in giving these ghosts a home, our home – and ceasing to wash our hands of that damned spot – that we finally approach the break. Moten and Harney call this hapticality, the capacity to “feel at home with the homeless”, an “insurgent feel” that will disrupt our current system into a post-capitalist world.[12] The undercommons, the wild place, the home of the homeless are all the “first freight we jumped”.[13]

            Here, affect is in opposition to rationality. I harness terror and love because they are emotions that can fuel us to jump the freight; we have avoided the jump because we don’t feel enough. We may not like the world after the break, but that should not be reason for not jumping the freight of capitalism into something that can’t be named – and this is an example of rational reasoning that holds us back.[14] If we choose to feel with the marooners of the undercommons, we “elect to pay an unbearable cost that is inseparable from an incalculable benefit”.[15] Jumping requires courage and blind faith, an irrationality that our current system of empiricism can’t touch. If we continue to believe in the ideology of cost and benefit, and our goal is post-capitalism, we will never succeed. We may lose everything in the break – some of us must lose everything – in order to welcome post-capitalism. However, the opposition of affect and rationality is not a rigid binary, but a relationship of despite: we cannot let go of rationality while under capitalism; many of us are trained, conditioned all our lives to win the numbers game. Despite this, we can invest in relationships with ghosts, kin, the marooned, to let ourselves be haunted, to allow hapticality into our lives and let go of our homes. Rationality is too compromised in the capitalist system to trust; we must instead embrace irrationality and feeling over cost/benefit analyses. At the same time, we can challenge rationality to be nothing but measurements and quantifications, instead of the immovable truth that it tells us it is. The work of Karen Barad is helpful here in motivating a critique of the sciences that is motivated by affect and empathy for ghosts.

            Returning to “reality” – I have engaged with the corporeal reality that is now haunted, and a representational reality that is the correct haunting of a place when we are unable to find the actual ghost that was murdered here. I, Tituba speaks against the archive in this sense, because her story was erased from the archives she is untraceable in corporal realities – she comes to us through Condé who lends her a pen, for representational reality. I now introduce Phase 2 with another kind of reality, known as VR, or virtual reality. Virtual reality refers to the gaming technology that allows the user to experience reality via a set of goggles, simulating corporeal-feeling situation, often one with a dangerous adventure, while the user is safely indoors.

This is the reality we offer to those who refuse to be haunted, who cannot let go of the capitalist world. They can experience their own world the way one buys a gaming device, or can go to facilities where they can live this virtual reality for the rest of their lives. One must be able to let go of this world in order to log out – it is possible, then, to visit family and friends in the old world for hours at a time and return to the haunted world. For those who may have difficulty adjusting to ghosts in the corporeal world, VR can be prescribed or recommended for their health and happiness.

            In Phase 2, we are clearing space for the break: it is not fully a break from capitalism until we clear away the remnants of capitalism, which includes those who are capable and willing to start it again. We can repurpose the buildings and resources left behind, but those who want to expel these ghosts are the biggest threat to the break. With them in the corporeal world, spreading ideology of capitalism, we cannot fully break. We may want them back after the break – we cannot know what we want during and after the break until we are finally there – but the break is our only chance in committing to a “wild place”, to finally acknowledge the bloodshed of capitalism and undercommon what is left over.[16] When we finally get there, it may be

but because we can’t describe what post-capitalism looks like, this break, if you are reading this in the old world, cannot appear to you, the same way the new world cannot appear until you are in the break. We can only envision some composite of what we have already seen: Chris Marker’s La Jeteé illustrates this when we see the new world from a past perspective – it will always be some composite of past worldviews and understandings. Our objects of desire are nostalgic if not some composite of the past – does the protagonist of La Jeteé choose the peacetime past over a peacetime future because it is a better world, or one more available, intimate to him? We cannot invalidate and control our desires, but if we desire a post-capitalist world, we must not allow the mechanism of desire to influence our avenue to the break. Carson in Eros the Bittersweet theorizes, “the people do not move. Desire moves. Eros is a verb”.[17] If we give into desire, we follow the way it moves from future worlds to past nostalgias, and we will never reach a post-capitalist world – what I suggest is freezing the movement of desire to focus on only post-capitalism. If we desire a break, a post-capitalist world, a                           , we must hold onto this desire without envisioning what fills in the blank in order to get to the blank. After all, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than an end to capitalism.”[18] We have seen, felt, experienced the end of the world in crises, states of exception, the crumbling of beliefs in human rights and justice, but none of us have lived with a complete lack of capitalism enough to envision it. Post-capitalist fantasies are depictions of ourselves if we construct them within the capitalist world. Thus, the             is a space of possibility; we must clear space for it before we fill it in.

            Phase 1 and 2 of have addressed the problematics of competing ideologies and lack of space to create a freedom of movement. But if Phase 2 is to continue into and beyond the break, it requires infrastructure, which could be a form of institutional organization. This remains a problematic that has yet to be addressed: how to structure a viable system of infrastructure to improve quality of life without allowing it to be a system of hierarchy and oppression? How will the new world employ mechanisms in place to inhibit inequities? To this I propose a ghostly judicial system,

[1] Moten, Fred & Harney, Stefano. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: New Compositions. 2013, 5.

[2] Patel, Raisa. “’We deserve to be represented’: Young climate activists banned from Parliament Hill after protest.” CBC News. Oct 28, 2019.

[3] Shakespeare, William, Burton Raffel, and Harold Bloom. 2005. Macbeth. New Haven: Yale University Press. l.25

[4] Shakespeare, William. Macbeth, l.30

[5] Condé, Maryse, Richard Philcox, Angela Y. Davis, and Ann Armstrong Scarboro. 2009. I, Tituba, black witch of Salem. Charlottesville: University Of Virginia Press.

[6] Condé, I, Tituba, 200.

[7] Ahmed, Ameen. How To See Ghosts & Fall in Love With Them. Also: How to Disappear. Brochure.

[8] Ahmed, Ameen. How To See Ghosts.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Haraway, Donna. Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

[12] Moten and Harney, The Undercommons, 97.

[13] Moten and Harney, The Undercommons, 20

[14] Ibid, 149.

[15] Ibid, 95.

[16] Moten and Harney, The Undercommons, 5.

[17] Carson, Anne. Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1986. Print, 17.

[18] Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London: Verso, 2005. Print.

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