[with or without me]

While writing text for Black Haunts in the Anthropocene, I have been struck by my recurring sense of what it means to experience things that happen with or without me. One the one hand it is just not that interesting. That is simply what it means to live in the world. It happens with or without me. I rarely think about it, because underlying this is a nascent intimation of my own mortality. “With or without me” is a statement about will; my choices are irrelevant in the flow of time. It is also a statement about materiality. The world is never contingent on my presence, and that statement can never be reversed. If you think back to the poem, “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal,” this is the fundamental irony inherent in setting its aural breathiness against the obdurate materiality– corporeality, mortality– visualized by the poem ⇢ Rocks, stones, trees, me. This poem about the dead breathes, and the dead thus become “the dead,” virtually alive.

You can hear the breathing in this poem, in the sibilance…

A SLUMBER did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees. [1799]

Is Everyone Hanging out without me book coverAgainst such contemplation, we breath. Social media feeds, however, force us to self-consciously live in the space between virtuality and embodiment. I open a window and enter the stream. The stream, algorithmically tuned to me, is there waiting for me. In its attenuation to me it is generated by an idea of what “I” am. This is different from my me-ness, which is now irrelevant since it no longer needs me. It only needed me to come into being once, maybe twice, and it will continue to represent me even when I am gone, feeding itself with a future of me that has already been made, that I am making right now.

We might be reminded here of Toni Morrison's notion of rememory, the conceptual modus operandi for her novel Beloved. Rememory helps us to understand the myriad traumas of our experience in digital spaces. Indeed, rememory is a way of considering how we have always been digital, and that the modes of representation and experience that we today refer to as such cannot be separated from previous human experience. It is thus reasonable to see the digital as a constitutive component of the past. ⇢

(Before you move on, if it is in your head and you can’t get it out, this. Now you can move on ⇢

“What were you talking about?”

“You won’t understand, baby.”

“Yes, I will.

“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.”

“Can other people see it?” asked Denver.

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Someday you be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear. And you think it’s you thinking it up. A thought picture. But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to somebody else. Where I was before I came here, that place is real. It’s never going away. Even if the whole farm–every tree and grass blade of it dies.The picture is still there and what’s more, if you go there–you who never was there–if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you. So, Denver, you can’t never go there. Never. Because even though it’s all over– over and done with–it’s going to always be there waiting for you. That’s how come I had to get all my children out. No matter what.”

Denver picked at her fingernails. “If it’s still there, waiting, that must mean that nothing ever dies.”

Sethe looked right in Denver’s face. “Nothing ever does,” she said.