Written with Lauren Laframboise
Published in Historical Discourses, Vol. 30.1
On March 17, 2016, we received a letter from Library and Archives Canada inquiring about the status of Historical Discourses. After confirming that our journal was still in print, the acquisitions technician asked us to mail in copies of older issues in order to meet legal deposit requirements. So we began the mundane task of locating lost copies of the journal. Our classmates pushed us forward: they reminded us how lucky we were to have our journal included in the national archives. Rummaging in backrooms of the University, we managed to collect over 70 copies of past issues, inadvertently forming a visual archive of undergraduate historical thinking at McGill over the past 30 years. These forgotten issues were bound with images of young men gazing into the distance, landscapes of the colonial present at McGill and the occasional red, black and white illustration that drove our imaginations to Marxist historiography. The front covers adhered to the demands of historical common sense. Historical Discourses existed to interrogate the ideals, struggles, and time of humanity. We desired an interruption–a volume that would pave the way for rupturing and rethinking the boundaries of historical inquiry in our department.
After informing the acquisitions technician about the whereabouts of Historical Discourses, we found ourselves staring starkly at the last line of her response: “Thank you for helping build and preserve Canada’s Heritage.” Heritage, which comes from the old French word iritage, means “something that is passed down from previous generations; a tradition.” More recently, it has come to refer to those traditions and relics of the past that are worth preserving for future generations – including our student journal. Occupying a place in the national archives of Canada, Historical Discourses has long been a small thread in the archival fabric of the Canadian settler-colonial state. Thinking through history and our journal as technologies and instruments of imperialism – ones imbued with epistemic violence – we struggled to reconcile the questions about violence and injustice raised in this volume with its disciplinary style and predetermined archival home. How would we participate in the projects of de/colonization? Weary of how the language of decolonization had been mobilized around the university in order to transform the post-secondary classroom, we reflect on Tuck and Yang’s “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” In the unsettling article, they aptly point out that “[d]ecolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools.” 1 While Historical Discourses can not actively serve the project decolonization, we desire to highlight the racial anxieties that underlie our history department. How would our department contend with black and indigenous governmentality? How would the intellectual work of our department change? How would our classrooms transform?
The post-secondary classroom is dangerous. We hear the n word recited from passages from the past without regard for its lasting violence. Watch as white students scoff at calls for reparations while supporting humanitarian aid. It is the same brunt voices that actively defend our heteropatriarchal state and ignore the voices of resilience that interrupt the cycles of violences. When this discursive violence immobilizes the most resilient voices, we activate our own fearless speech – struggling to stand in solidarity. We find ourselves reflecting on the work of solidarity and its deeply contested terrain. Tuck and Yang emphasize the intellectual labour necessary for solidarity to work in favour of decolonization, explaining that “solidarity is an uneasy, reserved, and unsettled matter than neither reconciles present grievances nor forecloses future conflict.” 2 On the ground, solidarity operates quite differently. Quick to add #solidarity to our Facebook posts without a second thought, the possibilities that Tuck and Yang find in solidarity appear far-sighted. Here, the logic of solidarity instructs us to stay in our lane, guides us to know our kind and teaches us to remain divided along colonial lines. It lends itself to a passive form of support –a series of half-hearted attempts to break the variegated cycles of violence that mark our contemporary moment. Most insidiously, it tends to the anxieties of the white settler by offering a pass. The logic instructs them: “Perform the spectacle of solidarity and you are free.” Under this rationale, how will the capital stolen through the institutions of settlement, slavery, and bonded labour be returned?
And what about the Cucumber Magnolia or the Eastern Elk or the Atlantic Grey Whale? As we turned the maple leaf, beaver and loon into national symbols, we forgot about the forms of life rendered extinct by our settlement. We wait impatiently until our performance of solidarity becomes robust enough to incorporate life at both planetary and microbial levels. Dipesh Chakrabarty reminds us that “the geologic now of the Anthropocene has become entangled with the now of human history.”3 Reflecting on how the age of man is coming to an end, we wait for our lives, struggles, and histories to be subsumed into the story of Earth. Plagued by the violence of our contemporary moment, we mobilize our own fearless voices to produce new ethics of living and dying in the Anthropocene. We desire cycles of debt that will bind us in everlasting love and ecstasy. Cycles that will run out control until the earth is no longer wretched, until we all become one – animate and inanimate. We end by reflecting on the futility of this volume. Saidiya Hartman tells us to think about how grand visions and dreams quickly become the “ruins of another age.” 4 We wait impatiently until the day when this volume–with its dreams, possibilities and dangers–finds its way into the dustbin of History. We use this issue to interrupt and disrupt its own violent destiny by calling for its own destruction. We wait impatiently for the beginning of another age.
Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35.2 (2009): 212.
Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, (Farar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008).
Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, "Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor," Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1.