Carapace

Increasingly, I am drawn to the seduction of being “provincial.” Provincial functions improperly here, as a catachresis. But it approaches, as an asymptote might, the kind of indifference I find useful, and necessary, as one type of model for being.

I have crawled into many sticky webs with benign intentions, drawn by a certain curiosity, the kind that wants to know how neighbors cook their githeri. Webs let go reluctantly and there is pleasure in crawling through the stick(iness). But one grows tired of being sticky and longs for a simpler way to navigate: one hopes to avoid the pheromone-strewn trail of predecessors. (I watched many hours of TV on bugs.)

Pheromone-strewn trails lead to guaranteed sources of food and new homes, but I often wonder about antinomian ants. Scale is important. Some graduate students will understand.

I return every so often to the image of my grandmother, the woman who, in the parlance of contemporary western kinship, might be termed my mother’s stepmother, not as a replacement for her biological mother, but as a co-mother in a polygamous household. That I need so much language to describe her suggests something about the power of English to sunder “traditional” modes of understanding kinship.

In my undoubtedly romantic memories of her, she always seemed a little distant, not mean, just removed. Over the years, as I have learned about the “impact” of colonialism and the “new” imperialism, I have returned to this image to question many of the rhetorics of influence. How do we deal with the “indifferent” individual? Indifferent is, of course, yet another catachresis.

The question has become more urgent and appealing as I try to disentangle the relationship between “home” and “diaspora,” in what might be termed the “colonial diaspora,” the black students and scholars who traveled to colonial centers from the late nineteenth to the eve of independence, especially during the interwar period. Of course, juxtaposing “colonial diaspora” and “interwar period” troubles periodization in all sorts of ways. How to read the period from the Morant Bay uprising to the Mau Mau insurgency alongside World War I and II?

Aside from the problem of periodization, yet another sticky web, I want to consider indifference as a useful, necessary, and often occupied position. At the moment, there’s not much I can do with it—which might be its defining feature. But it might be a useful bridge between postcolonial and queer modes of thinking and living.