Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries: Songs of Necropolitics


If Ossuaries originates in Brand’s political reflection on Black historical memory, it also expands the analysis of colonialism to encompass an epoch of global necropolitics generated by a ubiquitous, lethal rationalization of life. To analyze her representation of necropolitical affect, I expand on Laplanche’s concept of the enigmatic signifier and interpret Ossuaries as an account of a governance seducing its subjects into practices of a violence that they do not master. I interpret the recurrence of hysteria in the poem as the affective trope signifying the distress of the body politic in the grip of necropolitics. Through stammering and syntactic disruptions, this surplus of affect contaminates historical writing. Thus, Ossuaries reads as a hystoria or the hysterical graphy of the traumatic seduction of violence. However, in its ekphrastic section on Lawrence’s War Series and references to jazz, the poem offers sensorial reorientation through a recoding of the history of violence.

This article “Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries: Songs of Necropolitics” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 52-68.

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