Antipode: Abolitionist Geographies

Review of the book by Martha Schoolman.

Abolitionist Geographies by Martha SchoolmanMartha Schoolman’s Abolitionist Geographies ends but does not conclude. I mean this quite literally. There is no subunit of the book bearing the title “Conclusion”, “Coda”, or anything of the sort. It’s all rather abrupt, the ending. The reader never has a moment to bid adieu to the book, to revisit the characters, concepts, and cartographies one has moved with and through over the course of Schoolman’s intellectual peregrinations. The abruptness of the book’s end is not just a formal fluke. Rather, it encodes the eruption of the historical event in whose horizon Schoolman and her subjects write–the U.S. Civil War. It is as if the event of war, even one perhaps already finished, dispossesses us, even today, of the reflexive time required to revisit what we had spent time doing. War takes time, it steals our time, its grim presence and unknowable future collude in refusing to let us look back. In stealing time, war steals space as well. The “strategic machinations of all-out-war” reset the geographic scales through which we think history (p.188). What some might call the War Between the States imposes the macrological optics of the state itself on our perspective of history’s spaces. It thus renders invisible the tracks and trails marked out as abolitionists felt out different articulations between space and freedom. If Schoolman’s book abruptly ends, then, it is because these other routes to freedom did not go really anywhere, because war forcibly halted the construction of alternative tracks and trails to abolitionist futures. As she shows, abolitionists wrote–and then fought– precisely because they did not want a war. 

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Published in: Antipode
By: Christopher Taylor