Alexis Pauline Gumbs describes herself as a queer Black troublemaker, Black feminist love evangelist, educator, poet, and time-traveler. Less than two years ago, she published her book of experimental poetry Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity —the first of a planned triptych— to wide acclaim, announcing her arrival as an ingenious alchemist of Black feminist imagination. Now, Gumbs is set to release the series’ second installment, M Archive: After the End of the World, in March 2018. According to Duke University Press, “M Archive is told from the perspective of a future researcher who uncovers evidence of the conditions of late capitalism, antiblackness, and environmental crisis while examining possibilities of being that exceed the human.” It is dedicated “to the purveyors of our bright black future” and written “after and with” M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing, a text that grounds and nourishes Gumbs’ writing. In “A Note,” the author’s introduction to the text, Gumbs tells us that the letter M is for multitude, motherhood, magic, miracle, memory, muscle, music, must be, maybe, and more. “Let this text be as alive as you are,” she writes. “Might be enough” (xii).
M Archive, a text that refuses capitalization and easy assignation of genre, is a theoretic-poetic experiment in “speculative documentary,” a new form Gumbs describes that is written “in collaboration with survivors, the far-into-the-future witnesses to the realities we are making possible or impossible with our present apocalypse” (xi). In writing (after) the end of the world, Gumbs is unbounded by Western conventions of space-time and subjecthood. She writes this prophetic, multi-dimensional map replete with future cataclysms and perilous exit ramps by attending to the everyday apocalypses of modern life from the “she” of the Black woman. Told by a singular speaker or chorus of unnamed narrators, most of the project unfolds in four chapters, or archives, named for an earthly element and a moment in future-history, i.e. “Archive of Dirt: What We Did.” These archives are bookended by additional sections, including “Lab Notebooks” from the pre-apocalyptic world and “Possible Futures Yet to Be Woven.”
The text takes place inside and outside of time. The setting is the end of the world, its “after,” and the after-after we have yet to imagine. In M Archive, apocalypse is narrated through individual events and the more general, atmospheric disclosure of information about the world’s past, present, and future that constitutes Black life. The setting is the world undone, and so the setting is, too, the Black body. Every page is a kind of Black feminist, textual teleportation machine that runs on will and imagination: the will to end this world and the imagination necessary to make another. M Archive, Gumbs writes, offers “a possibility of being beyond the human and an invitation into the blackness of what we cannot know from here” (xi).
What initiates the end of the world is no secret in M Archive. “they believed they had to hate black woman in order to be themselves” says a speaker in the beginning of the text (6). “a suicidal form of genocide. so that was it. they could only make the planet unbreathable” (7). As the story unfolds, the reader is challenged to contemplate how indebted they are to the labors of Black women across time and space: so much more than they care, or can bear, to acknowledge. The hatred of Black women sustains capitalist conceptions of the self and the ongoing destruction of the planet, in the present and future that Gumbs charts out. “the cracks where the earthquakes expressed themselves were exactly the same contours of the fissures in our minds and the breaks. all the breaks. in our hearts” (9).
In “Archive of Dirt: What We Did,” a speaker reflects: “the landfill actually became an ontology. the ontology” (46). Waste is a way of being in the grim and familiar landscape Gumbs imagines, one where humans are addicted to “hydrogenated soybean oil and mutant chicken” and the destruction of the planet is inextricable from the desecration of the human body (48). “every piece of the planet was filled with trash. our minds notwithstanding. our bodies included” (46).
The psychic-spiritual conditions that structure the world that ends in biological and ecological disaster, our world, are the same that require anti-Blackness be “the weather.” “remember when the people started dressing their children like cops?” a speaker asks (150). “it was the last of the see my child as human strategies. it didn’t work.” Parents clothing their children in bulletproof blues and heavyweight denims to avoid being murdered by police may seem dystopian, but just how far-off is it? Breathless moments like these illuminate the urgency of our present moment, one that begins to feel more and more unimaginable the longer we are away from it, caught in the whirlwind of Gumbs’ chronopoetics.
In what is best described as a sorcerer’s scolding, a speaker in “Baskets (Possible Futures Yet to Be Woven)” declares that no amount of hatred towards Black women will ever lessen the world’s indebtedness to them. A new world cannot survive if its parasitic relationship to Black women remains the same. “if you think you would have survived without the love of fat black women you are wrong. if you say it, you are lying (146)”.
Debt owed to the fat Black woman cannot be paid without inverting the coordinates of this world. Fat Black women “who processed your paperwork or fed you or cleansed something on which you would have slipped” demand the end of this world (146). “you have failed them at the same time you have failed the planet. which is every moment. say it” (146). Loving Black women with our entire beings is the self-destructive work M Archive calls every reader to take up. “even if you are a fat black woman, you’ve lied and said you weren’t or compared yourself to someone else. it’s failure. it’s a lie from the devil. it will not work. it is killing us all” (146).
What might work? What does weaving a Black feminist future entail? How to create an ecologically sustainable and equitable world for Black women—while Black women remain anathema to human life itself—is a question every reader is charged with answering for themselves, guided by Gumbs’ masterful command of metaphor, bodily grammars, and capacious world-crafting. M Archive: After the End of the World takes us far away from this world and returns us to it changed, having born witness to the ravenous destruction a sick, sick civilization has planned. “Might be enough.”
Jonathan Jacob Moore