In his film Red, the great Polish film auteur, Krzysztof Kieslowski, manages to collapse time in dramatizing the ineffable bond that materializes between an old judge’s past and a woman’s present, where the woman’s actions in the present are seemingly entwined intimately, not with those of the much older judge with whom she is in mere acquaintance today, but with his actions long ago as a young man, in a past that is unknown to her and yet profoundly alters meanings for both in the present. Katherine McKittrick creatively interprets the short story, Harriet’s Daughter, by Marlene Nourbese Philip, as a work whose games of fiction based on a mythologized Underground Railroad serve to collapse that history into the present too, evoking how the very real legacies of this history can be made unambiguously alive in the present for the young female protagonists in the story. Not only does the game resist conventional trajectories of the history of the Underground Railroad, such as the presumption that there exist material markers delineating an actual trail, that direction is a central aspect of any migration to freedom, or the notion that the underground railroad itself ended with the attainment of freedom in Canada, it also ultimately suggests that agency is empowered when one evokes both the ephemerality of what constitutes a path to freedom and the mutability of what constitutes direction, much like the idiosyncratic and incomparable evocations that people make of the concept of “home.”
Simone Browne’s tenacious theorization of surveillance in Dark Matters also suggests a genesis for and generalized patterns apparent in black surveillance practices across different time and historical contexts. In the introduction and first chapter, concepts of surveillance to dark sousveillance, antipodal nodes of a posited spectrum of human surveillance practices, suggest that broader sociological aspects of surveillance can provide insight into the real substance of “dark matter,” an insight that can illuminate how racialization works far more effectively than can those superficial and impotent notions of black surveillance strangely analogous to the quest today in the material world by physicists for that elusive dark matter in the universe that is felt but invisible. Although, unlike black holes, the surveiled could countersurveil, their invisibility was ironically also otherwise marked and preserved visibly, as in the instance of being “lit” by candle during transit at night. Such a socialized normalization of presence that is yet invisible can make the mere act of directly looking back a dangerous act of resistance requiring great courage.
Critiques of surveillance often fail to note its real danger: its arbitrariness. Like any observation, human fallibility and finitude prevents the ability in any act of surveillance to see, to collect and to apprehend the infinity of data that is in reality available at any moment. So, we choose. Infinitesimal datums can be selected to effect any willful intention, to illustrate any desired truth. Among nearly six hundred pages of prose in Ellison’s Invisible Man, the FBI file selected the following two anecdotes from a review: “…Negro ministers double as pimps and numbers runners,” and “..Ellison’s Negro women are loose-moraled from school days onward,” two datums that lead to the FBI agent’s summary conclusion about Ellison’s novel: “…It is just what the killers of Negroes and the perverters of culture [Communists] ordered ….” Well, not quite. Not even close.