95. Eve Tuck and C. Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting”

by breavman99


In my last blog entry, I wondered whether some of the strange justifications Eva Mackey describes settler descendants making about their occupation of Indigenous land—the claim, for instance, that there were no Indigenous people living on the land when settlers  first arrived—might come from “a deeply buried recognition that the claims Settlers make about Crown sovereignty and the rightness of their presence on Indigenous lands are, frankly, specious.” I wondered if there might be any evidence to support that suspicion. That’s the reason I decided to read Eve Tuck’s and C. Ree’s strange, short text (it’s not an essay), “A Glossary of Haunting.” I was hoping it might suggest something about the effect such hidden recognitions might have on settlers. I was disappointed, though; that’s not what Tuck and Ree are thinking about in this text. I might have to return to Gabriele Schwab’s book Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma to find evidence of those kinds of hidden recognitions, since Schwab talks about the transgenerational effects of the trauma perpetrators experience, if I’m serious about following up my hunch. Or perhaps I might find some discussion of that idea somewhere else. I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder if it’s a possibility. 

In any case, Tuck and Ree begin by stating that their text presents an alphabetized glossary about justice, but more specifically, “about righting (and sometimes wronging) wrongs; about hauntings, mercy, monsters, generational debt, horror films, and what they might mean for understanding settler colonialism, ceremony, revenge, and decolonization” (640). The authors describe this glossary as “a fractal,” because “it includes the particular and the general, violating the terms of settler colonial knowledge which require the separation of the particular from the general, the hosted from the host, personal from the public, the foot(note) from the head(line), the place from the larger narrative of nation, the people from specific places” (640). “This glossary is a story, not an exhaustive encyclopedia,” “a story that seethes in its subtlety,” they write (640). Strangely, they state, “In telling you all of this in this way, I am resigning myself and you to the idea that parts of my telling are confounding. I care about you understanding, but I care more about concealing parts of myself from you. I don’t trust you very much. You are not always aware of how you can be dangerous to me, and this makes me dangerous to you” (640). It seems, then, that they are writing in the voice of one of the monsters they describe in their text. The adoption of the voice of that monster–of the colonized subject–occurs at other points in this text as well.

Such monsters are similar to the creatures one sees in American or Japanese horror films, although they explain that there are important differences between horror films produced in those two countries. “Mainstream narrative films in the United States, especially in horror, are preoccupied with the hero, who is perfectly innocent, but who is assaulted by monstering or haunting just the same,” they write (640). Audiences “are meant to feel outrage in the face of haunting, we are beckoned to root for the innocent hero, who could be us, because haunting is undeserved, even random,” and “[t]he hero spends the length of the film righting wrongs, slaying the monster, burying the undead, performing the missing rite, all as a way of containment” (641). Japanese horror films are very different; they invoke, instead, “a strategy more akin to wronging, or revenge” (641). “The difference between notions of justice popularized in the US horror films and notions of justice in these examples of horror films from Japan,” they explain,

is that in the former, the hauntings are positioned as undeserved, and the innocent hero must destroy the monster to put the world in balance again. . . . In the latter, because the depth of injustice that begat the monster or ghost is acknowledged, the hero does not think herself to be innocent, or try to achieve reconciliation or healing, only mercy, often in the form of passing on the debt. (641)

Japanese horror films, then, recognize past injustices, while American horror films pretend that those injustices don’t exist.

The particular form of injustice Tuck and Ree are interested in is colonialism. “Colonization is as horrific as humanity gets,” they write, noting that it inevitably involves genocide (642). Because settler colonialism is a structure (following the work of Patrick Wolfe) “and not just the nefarious way nations are born,” it is “an ongoing horror made invisible by its persistence” (642). Settler colonialism, in particular,

is the management of those who have been made killable, once and future ghosts—those that had been destroyed, but also those that are generated in every generation. . . . Settler horror, then, comes about as part of this management, of the anxiety, the looming but never arriving guilt, the impossibility of forgiveness, the inescapability of retribution. (642)

I wonder if the same thing couldn’t be said of other forms of colonialism as well: they all seem to be about what Tuck and Ree call “making-killable,” a way of “making subhuman, of transforming beings into masses that can be produced and destroyed, another form of empire’s mass production” (648). In any case, if settler horror is part of the management of the anxiety produced by the genocidal actions of settlers, haunting, on the other hand, “is the relentless remembering and reminding that will not be appeased by settler society’s assurances of innocence and reconciliation. Haunting is acute and general; individuals are haunted, but so are societies” (642). “The United States is permanently haunted by the slavery, genocide, and violence entwinted in its first, present and future days,” they write (642). “Haunting doesn’t hope to change people’s perceptions, nor does it hope for reconciliation. Haunting lies precisely in its refusal to stop. . . . this refusal to stop is its own form of resolving. For ghosts, the haunting is the resolving, it is not what needs to be resolved” (642). “Haunting is the cost of subjugation,” they continue. “It is the price paid for violence, for genocide” (643).

Tuck and Ree retell the Homeric story of Cyclops, making her into an anti-hero who only wants to be left alone: “Her enormous eye sees through deceptive Odysseus who feigns codes of hospitality to receive the sheep as gifts. She will keep her land and sheep out of reach, a thing of myth. She does things that are monstrous to violate the colonizer and to wage vengeance for future ghosts, none of which is legible to Homer” (644). Cyclops, in this version, “walks the vastness of [Odysseus’s] kingdom, slowly becoming a ghost. . . . Her revenge feeds her, making her opaque, anti-gravity, a black hole. . . . She will strand Odysseus in constant unease, bereft of his cherished and clever reason” (644). “Revenge requires symmetry with the crime,” they argue:

To the (purported) (would-be) hero, revenge is monstrous, heard but not seen, insatiable, blind with desire, the Cyclops robbed of her eye. To the self-designated hero, revenge hails a specter of something best forgotten, a ghost from a criminal past.

To the monster, revenge is oxygen. (644)

In this reading, then, Cyclops stands in for the colonized, for the Indigenous or enslaved peoples whose genocide formed the basis for the existence of the American nation-state, while Odysseus is a paradigmatic figure for the greedy and heedless colonizer, taking what is not his.

What, then, of decolonization, the subject of Tuck’s and K. Wayne Yang’s essay “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor”? “Decolonization must mean attending to ghosts, and arresting widespread denial of the violence done to them,” Tuck and Ree write (647).  But decolonization isn’t really about social justice (a claim Tuck and Yang make in their essay):

Decolonization is a (dearly) departure from social justice. . . . Listing terrors is not a form of social justice, as if outing (a) provides relief for a presumed victim or (b) repairs a wholeness or (c) ushers in an improved social awareness that leads to (a) and (b). That is not what I am doing here, saying it all so that things will get better. Social justice is a term that gets thrown around like some destination, a resolution, a fixing. “No justice, no peace,” and all of that. But justice and peace don’t exactly cohabitate. The promise of social justice sometimes rings false, smells consumptive, like another manifest destiny. Like you can get there, but only if you climb over me. (647)

There’s little hope here, or elsewhere in the essay, about the possibilities of decolonization. The effects of colonization, instead, are ongoing and irreparable.

Next, Tuck and Ree describe “damage narratives,” adopting the perspective of the colonized to do so. “Damage narratives are the only stories that get told about me, unless I’m the one that’s telling them,” they write. “People have made their careers on telling stories of damage about me, about communities like mine. Damage is the only way that monsters and future ghosts are conjured” (647). Instead of damage, this voice prefers to speak of desire, “a refusal to trade in damage; desire is an antidote, a medicine to damage narratives” (647). Desire is 

a recognition of suffering, the costs of settler colonialism and capitalism and how we still thrive in the face of loss anyway; the parts of us that won’t be destroyed. When I write or speak about desire, I am trying to get out from underneath the ways that my communities and I are always depicted. I insist on telling stories of desire, of complexity, of variegation, of promising myself one thing at night, and doing another in the morning. (647-48)

Desire “is productive, it makes itself, and in making itself, it makes reality” (648). Narratives of desire, then, are better than narratives about the damage done by colonization.

The only way that decolonization can occur, it seems, is through an act of mercy towards the colonizer by the colonized, although the version of mercy that Tuck and Ree provide is complicated:

Mercy is a temporary pause in haunting, requiring a giver and a receiver. The house goes quiet again, but only for a time. Mercy is a gift only ghosts can grant the living, and a gift ghosts cannot be forced, extorted, seduced, or tricked into giving. Even then, the fantasy of relief is deciduous. The gift is an illusion of relief and closure. Haunting can be deferred, delayed, and disseminated, but with some crimes of humanity—the violence of colonization—there is no putting to rest. Decolonization is not an exorcism of ghosts, nor is it charity, parity, balance, or forgiveness. Mercy is not freeing the settler from his crimes, nor is it therapy for the ghosts. Mercy is the power to give (and take). Mercy is a tactic. Mercy is ongoing, temporary, and in constant need of regeneration. Social justice may want to put things to rest, may believe in the repair in reparations, may consider itself an architect or a destination, may believe in utopic building materials which are bound to leak, may even believe in peace. Mercy is not any of that. Mercy is just a reprieve; mercy does not resolve or absolve. Mercy is a sort of power granted over another. Mercy can be merciless. (648-49)

I have to admit that while I recognize the rhetorical move in the last sentences of that quotation, the authors’ desire to express a paradox, I honestly don’t understand how mercy is merciless. Are all forms of power merciless? Is that the suggestion? 

“People who deny the persistence of settler colonialism are like the heroes in American horror films, astonished that the monster would have trouble with them,” Tuck and Ree continue (649). But those monsters have been wronged, they seek justice, and there is no way to permanently defeat them: “monsters can only be deferred, disseminated; the door to their threshold can only be shut on them for so long” (649). This argument returns to their earlier discussions of decolonization and mercy. “Unruly, full of desire, unsettling, around the edges of haunting whispers revenge,” they continue. “The rage of the dead, a broken promise, a violent ruin, the seeds of haunting, an engine for curses. It can and cannot be tolerated. Not like justice. Everyone nods their head to justice. Who can disagree with justice?” (651). Revenge, however, “is necessarily unspeakable to justice. We have better ways to deal with revenge now. But revenge and justice overlap, feed and deplete the other” (651-52). “Revenge is one head of the many-headed creature of justice,” they claim (652). They suggest that we are always told that revenge is wrong, that it is “wronging wrongs, a form of double-wronging” (654). (Two wrongs don’t make a right—that kind of thing.) “At the same time, righting wrongs is so rare,” they continue. “Justice is so fleeting. And there are crimes that are too wrong to right” (654). But “wronging wrongs” is the work of monsters:

Wronging wrongs, so reviled in waking life, seems to be the work of nightmares and hauntings and all the stuff that comes after opportunities to right wrongs and write wrongs have been exhausted. Unreadable and irrational, wronging wrongs is the work of now and future ghosts and monsters, the supply of which is ever-growing. You’ll have to find someone to pull on your ears to bring you out of the nightmares, to call you home and help you remember who you are, and to hope that the ghosts will be willing to let you go. (654)

If I’m understanding this conclusion correctly, only an act of mercy on the part of the wronged monster(s) can end the “nightmares” that settlers experience.

I’ve left a lot out of this summary—all of the descriptions of Ree’s installation artwork, and the strange appendix, “The Haunting of the Form O.” Like many attempts by social scientists to appropriate creative forms in the expression of scholarly arguments, the result here is odd and not entirely effective, I think, but it’s an interesting and potentially useful text. It’s certainly pessimistic about the possibilities of settler decolonization, which is more or less the way I would read “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor” as well. Tuck and her collaborators don’t hold out many possibilities for settler decolonization, I think. Perhaps that’s correct; perhaps decolonization (as a way to end the haunting this text describes) would have to be an act of mercy on the part of the colonized (and decolonizing) subject. I don’t know. I would like to know more about the haunting this text talks about, though. What form does that haunting take? That question remains unanswered. Perhaps I do need to reread Gabriele Schwab’s book, or do some more research into haunting and colonization, if I’m going to be able to substantiate my hunch, to turn it into something more than just a hunch.

Works Cited

Schwab, Gabriele. Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma, Columbia University Press, 2010.

Tuck, Eve, and C. Ree. “A Glossary of Haunting.” Handbook of Autoethnography, edited by Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis, Routledge, 2013, pp. 639-58.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.