“The guerrilla studies! The guerrilla studies!” — exclaims Huey P Newton to an amorphous assembly of believers. The camera is zoomed a little too close to his face, abstracting him, abstracting expression. Huey is grieving, as one does when one is black and alive and a revolutionary. Grief is a revolutionary fervour, except when it isn’t.
I’m watching a documentary, piecing things together, studying I guess, that’s how you learn about the map, you listen to stories told by decipherers, you decipher, you study, you play.
A believer himself — you have to see it to believe it — Huey is stark, animated, severe, his body willing other bodies, to believe-see-become, to know for themselves the flailing common sense of deprival, to gather each other together, to gather in order to grieve-rename-articulate. To gather in order to trust.
Huey is grieving and/or I am grieving the dreams I did not or could not or would not author, but clung to nonetheless. Perhaps they are never dreams, instead, illusions. We are asleep for and/or to our dreams, awaking to persistent allusions of longevity and/or protection, illusions of a safety somehow unmade, uninsured insurance, ensured endurance.
Sleep! Where dreams come to live and die and be born, in the juice-dark renewal of rest. This is what happens in the dark, between dust and books and soil, left vulnerable to misinterpretation — is this, too, a tactic? — to the labour play of prayerful solutions, aghast, empty, disbelieving believers, containers of the lost colony, found over and again in jest, unjust, extrapolated and fed to children, to pigs rolled around and worn, as masks are and are not.
“The guerrilla studies!” — it’s been a riff slow roasting in the oven of my mind. I have painted it black and called it something holy, wrapped it up and swallowed it, hole. I have looked in the mirror and seen no answers, then I looked in other mirrors and saw some thing, discovered someone else that already discovered this; that other someone long ago and soon, who left some thing for the undead guerrillas.
In the annals of our freedom finding, we find our way, our treason trail. Feverishly, mouthful by unwholesome mouthful, we gather recipes, a cataclysm and another, again, we are reminded of the violence of this process, again, this blood-filled wreckage, its choppiness. We acquaint ourselves with the ingredients of our undoing, yes, we must be undone by our finding, our study — study will undo you — the this/them/that will graduate and be gone from our makeshift nests.
Won’t it? Will it? I? We? Us? All? Our pieces? What? Will be? Will be? — “The guerrilla studies!” — the warfare, the welfare, of the people — yours — people, which is to say community, except that it isn’t that simple, you can’t go around saying things like that, you won’t be believed, you won’t be able to believe it, and there must be something drifting beyond the sanctity of black and alive and revolutionary, something else in motion, tangible, in front of you. An imagined community, un-starved of touch, contactless, held because of it, within it, despite it — in order to spite it, this notion of a nation. We feel for each other in the night light.
To be sure, we must untether from this ghostly wifi, the unseverable connection of illusory cords, turns out your mother is a liar, if she ever was a mother, with all that interference. Abolition is — well, you will have to study it to be sure, — entailing admonition, admittance — in the future we will call abolition history, we will call it presence.
The guerrilla knows that the history of abolition is all around them, adding salt to taste, dividing portions, plating up, washing cutlery with an alkaline preparation. We grieving abolitionist guerrillas, having fessed up to our guilt, our deviant flagellant shame, having consented to each others flesh and mortified it, having been wrong wrong and wrong-er, without the rest of our maps — at a certain point your study will become you — we will eradicate this oppressive vocabulary of pretence, this warlike ledger, water-logged, waterlooed, blue as in hue, as in 14 and 92, hear we, re-membering our recipes, studying how to feed ourselves…
Imani Robinson is an artist and interdisciplinary writer whose practice combines performance, oration, poetry and critical theory, exploring themes of black geographies, the afterlives of transatlantic slavery, abolition and radical resistance. They are one half of Languid Hands, an artistic and curatorial collaboration with Rabz Lansiquot.
This piece was commissioned as part of the Imagined Futures Series.