Friday, May 20, 2011

Zong! M. NourbeSe Philip

All this week, I've been doing everything else I can in order not to write. Coming across this extract from M NourbeSe Philip's Zong!, I can't help but feel I'm not entirely wasting my time if I'm reading new things and instead of just producing a lot of decontextualised and slightly sterile shit.

Here's an explanation of how Philip worked with the text of the Zong judgement:

The text of the legal decision of the Zong case, Gregson v. Gilbert, runs to some five hundred words. Relying entirely on the words of the reported text, but through a variety of techniques such as whiting and/or blacking out words, fragmentation and reversals, I use this word store to create the manuscript, Zong! Fragmenting and mutilating the text mirror the fragmentation and mutilation that slavery perpetrated on Africans and African customs and life. In deliberately changing the story of the legal text, I engage in a similar duplicity that the actors in the Zong case engaged in to convince themselves that it was perfectly allowable to murder Africans in order to collect insurance monies. Further, in dropping below the objective legal text as given, to search out the emotions: “negroes want sustenance...negroes want water,” I subvert the rationality–the murderous rationality, if you will–on which the law is based.

In its potent ability to decree what is is not, as in a person being no longer human but thing, the law approaches the realm of magic and religion. The conversion of human into chattel can be considered an act the equal of transubstantiation which converts the eucharistic bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
I'm sure it's a technique that's been used before, but the results - as they must be in each case - are startling and incredibly moving. The repetitions, the stuttering pronouncements spaced out across the page, are painful even if you don't know what erasures have had to be committed in order to produce this text. Only the knowledge that violence has been done upon a text - even if it is only a text - gives some sense of redress.

This text and others appears in Fascicle, where I can see I will have to spend a lot of time.

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