On Dénètem Touam Bona’s book 'Fugitive, Where Are You Running?’

Karoline Feyertag

What forms of resistance are still possible in this world we live in? How can the disfranchised live a peaceful life in a free community, while in defiance of the control society and the society of spectacle? The French or better Afropean philosopher, activist, curator, and choreographer Dénètem Touam Bona provides lines of flight out of these aporias of modernity in his Polity Press book Fugitive, Where Are You Running? (2022).

Western modernity was maybe expressed in the most accurate way by another French philosopher some three hundred years ago. René Descartes did not only introduce the immutable and rigid dualism of the body and the soul, the res extensa and the res cogitans, but also – as Dénètem Touam Bona points out in his chapter “Liana Dreaming” – “disenchanted the dream, plucked away its powers (asa path of access to the radical alterity of animals, spirits, the dead, etc.)in order to reduce it to an ‘argument’ – a bit of incriminating evidence – in the trial that results from the encounter with the world as it appears to us(only what is calculable is ‘objective’ or ‘real’) and the magic it contains.”(128-29) It is well known that Cartesian rationalism forms the basis for instrumental reason, which in turn accelerated the development of contemporary surveillance capitalism.

Yet, not everyone has been convinced by Cartesian logic – people continue to strive for their dreams. The more they suffer, the stronger their will to escape a miserable life becomes. In this book review, I also want to show the close connection that exists between unbearable states and dizziness, but also between dizziness and the vertiginous strategies of escape, flight, and disappearing.  

Dénètem Touam Bona tells the story of maroon resistance, about great marronage as the full secession with the dominating order, the story of the hunted, the story of flight, of escape from slavery, from the plantation system and, finally, he unfolds an art of the fugue in the face of inhumanity. These stories – as is indicated on the cover of the book – are still far too unknown, because “hunting stories will usually glorify the hunters, since it is the hunters who write the stories”. It is Dénètem Touam Bona’s merit to have spoken out for the hunted without silencing them.

Courage for liberty, liberation from oppression

The book sets out with a detailed explanation of what marronage meant during the time of slavery and the colonization of the Americas. The text is interwoven with philosophical references, travel diary fragments, and even a philosophical dialogue, the dramatic staging of which is reminiscent of Jean-Marie Koltès’ theatre play In the Solitude of Cotton Fields. In the English-speaking world, the Maroons may be known better from anthropological research in former British colonies such as Jamaica. However, even more well-known is the history of slavery and runaway slaves in the United States of America. In recent times, the series Underground Railroad, based on a novel by Pulitzer-prize winner Colson Whitehead, has attracted bigger public attention to this topic of resistance and escape from slavery and oppression by means of mutual solidarity, trickster stratagems and the art of disappearing into the landscape.

This resistance and escape from slavery is called marronage when it comes to the former British, Dutch, and French colonies in the Americas. Fugitive slaves were called Maroons, a word stemming from the original Taino language, a language of the Arawak, [2] an Amerindian people who were wiped out soon after their ‘discovery’ by the Spanish colonists. Cimarrón was first used by the slaveholding colonies “to refer to domestic animals imported from Spain (such as pigs, cattle, or cats) who escaped, and in consequence returned to a wild state.” (8) In an analogy, fugitive slaves were called negros cimarrónes when they escaped into the woods. As Touam Bona puts it: “It seemed quite natural to displace the meaning of animal stock onto human stock …”. (ibid.) A very important difference between Maroons and Creoles is found in their self-awareness: although Maroons received their name from their oppressors, they succeeded in perceiving themselves as “actors of their own history” (24) as they fought against the slaveholding societies and built up their own communities in the forest. [3] In contrast, “Creoles will tend to feel themselves damaged by ‘history,’ to consider themselves victims, to demand reparation. ‘Creole’ history is a wound, a trauma, a rape.” (ibid.) Adding to this difference, Creoles often reproduced the slaveholder society’s power relations as Touam Bona points out when reporting the Haitian Revolution, which gave birth to the first black republic. Although this revolution resulted in Haiti being the first colony to abolish the slavery system, the former white slaveholders were substituted by the Creole “free men of color” (92) who“aspired only to reproduce ‘civilization,’ the western mode of live and of development.” (ibid.) In contrast, the Guianese “Maroons”, who are the Boni, one of the Businenge peoples of Guiana, not only built “a state within a state” but installed mechanisms to prevent the accumulation of power and wealth (23;93), that is to say the return of the master and the perpetuation of domination by a state apparatus. Their leadership can be compared to the Amerindian chieftainship described by Pierre Clastres in Society Against the State: “the chief has no instituted power apart from his prestige.” (23)

Map of the Maroni River from 1896. L.C. van Panhuys-Kaart van de Beneden-Marowijne (1896).  Public domain CC0.

There are commonly two distinct forms of marronage: “small” and “great” marronage. This classic distinction “originates in the discourse of the slavery system: it served to establish the gravity of escape and the level of punishment risked by fugitives” (22). Rather than revisiting this heritage, Touam Bona sketches a new typology: the occasional marronage that describes “individual temporary acts of flight; a form of absenteeism or strike by the enslaved;” further the “clandestine” marronage which encompasses fugitive slaves who “had recourse to the services of educated free people of color who would counterfeit travel authorizations and letters of emancipation. At this moment, the outlawed maroon merges with the contemporary figure of the sans papiers, the undocumented;” and finally, the marronage of “secession” (withdrawal) that designates a “movement of collective retreat that sets the growth of an underground community in motion (…). What opens the possibility of a liberated zone, of a ‘heterotopia,’ is the fold back into the forest.” (ibid.) This last form of marronage gave place to the development of autonomous communities of fugitive slaves, mostly newly arrived Africans and not Creoles who had already been living for at least a generation or two in the plantation system. Touam Bona praises the creative dimension of maroon resistance which gave birth to“new forms of life, as the creator of novel values diametrically opposed to those of the plantation society. In the collective epics of maroon peoples we find an affirmative force that arises independently of any dialectic between master and slave.” (ibid.) Furthermore, Touam Bona highlights the connection of the plantation system to developing capitalism, referring to Yann Moulier Boutang’s analysis De l’esclavage au salariat (1998). He draws a line between the fugitive slave and the effort of the capitalist system to freeze in place “a constantly fugitive labor force”, which means capitalism’s effort “to capture the landless peasant, the nomad bohemian, the runaway apprentice, the deserting soldier, the escaped slave, the incorrigible vagabond, everyone who resisted the imposition of discipline.” (12) Racism is one of the chemical agents “that fixes the labor capacity of certain human beings when it fixes their color –not only on the surface but also at the greatest depth of their sense of self.”(ibid.)

This is where Cartesian dualism comes into play again, manifesting itself as “chromatic dualism” with the intention of making humans controllable and instrumentalising them like domestic animals within the colonial system of power. With Frantz Fanon, the author asserts that “[t]he nègreis not. No more than the white” and that “this chromatic dualism is only a colonial construction and is, moreover, as reductive for the Europeans as it is for the Africans. Europeans did not invent slavery, but Europeans were the ones who ‘racialized’ it for the first time in human history by associating the status of enslaved person with the black color of sub-Saharan peoples (…).”(37) This dualistic or binary construction is an arbitrary decision. It isdeeply political as it is linked to the question of who is in power of definition. There is no dualism to be found in the power relations, all power relations tend to be very complex and – finally – dizzying. As there is no simple truth or not only one single truth, there is no simple dualism, no ‘goodor bad, black or white’ neither. Touam Bona’s book is a lesson about the grey zones of truth and humanity and about the liberation struggles of the oppressed. The author’s focus is on the autonomous communities that arose from the “forest secession” of the marronage, with their art of the fugue and with their first form of Afro-diasporic anarchism – in the words of Touam Bona this anarchism “evades the grip of capital as much as that of the state.” (92) And he adds in a footnote:

“By ‘anarchism’ I do not mean the western tradition (largely individualist and atheist), but the logic of the term, which presupposes the absence of a principle that would command a given reality on the basis of something exterior to it. Here it is important to understand anarchism as the refusal and the warding off of a power that would detach itself from society and would take the form of a separate authority (the master, the sovereign, the government, etc.)in order to direct and dominate social activities.” (189)

Anarchy is not to be understood as disorder, chaos and dizziness in a disorienting sense. Anarchy follows the inner logic of the living. It is the growing and becoming of all beings that are subject to the ephemeral. It may seem to be the wild and untamed, and to be found in the forest and the lianas. Anarchy, subversion, and dizziness are intertwined by a cosmo-poetics of the liana (see chapter 6 in the book). All three affect us as living human beings, affect the way in which we perceive and sense the world, how we interact with the living, the non-living, and even the dead. The art of the fugue is the creation and invention of subterfuges, of ways out, and of stratagems to rid ourselves of oppression. Liberation from oppression requires courage, a high level of sufferance and a strong determination to live fully and not as a zombie. An act of liberation also needs to embrace dizziness in the sense of Touam Bona’s “lianas dreaming.” So what is the liana, what does it stand for, what hopes and what kind of empowerment is it attached to?

Charole Chausset, Les écorcés, installation Salem, 2020. Photo: © Carole Chausset. La sagesse des lianes, 2021, Centre international d'art et du paysage, Vassivière, curator Dénètem Touam Bona.

Subversion and dizziness – to draw a blank or how to resist blackening

Let’s start over with the author’s notion of the fugue:

“With its musical allusions, the notion of ‘fugue’ gives us a better sense of the creative dimension of ‘lines of flight’: ‘the fugue (Latin fuga, ‘flight’) is a form of musical composition whose theme, or subject, seems to run away endlessly by passing successively through all its voices and diverse tonalities.’ ‘To fugue’ is not to be sent running but, on the contrary, to make reality flee, to put it through endless variations so as to evade its grasp in every way. The fugue is creative ardor. Having appeared in the French language during the fourteenth century to designate certain kinds of polyphony, the term ‘fugue’ draws our attention to the voice that is followed and evokes, by analogy, the flight of game before the hunter. But, before the name ‘fugue’ took hold in the Middle Ages, this kind of composition was called chace (‘hunt’), which put the accent on the voice that engaged in pursuit. The transition from one term to the other consequently expresses a change in perspective as well as the fact that the prey and the hunter can exchange roles. Once the target of a manhunt, the runaway black man can also become a predator.” (40)

This change of roles subverts the established order – no longer are the disenfranchised powerless, no longer are the slaves hunted, no longer are the women raped. It is an heterotopian space that is created by the maroon communities, this “other space” that Foucault speaks about, a liberated zone, the ‘outside’ subverting the ‘inside’. The way to reach this space leads ‘into the woods’ – Touam Bona refers to prominent literary examples of this path of freedom and revolt: RayBradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, MarkTwain’s The Adventures of HuckleberryFinn, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Foucault’s Different Spaces (Heterotopia). I would like to add European political withdrawals into the woods, either to flee violence during war times, or to hide in order to attack or to self-defend. One example is the Carinthian Slovene partisans during World War II in the borderlands between Austria and Yugoslavia. The Slovene and mostly communist minority had to hide in the forests to escape deportation to the concentration camps of the Nazis. They formed alliances in the woods and were supported by farmers in the remote forest and mountain areas. [4]

The historian Thomas M. Barker concludes about this “guerrilla war” in southern Austria that it “reflects what is known about the reciprocal relationship between capitalist economic development, social class formation, and their concomitant of a dynamic social psychology in ethnically mixed areas. In the extreme circumstances of totalitarian rule persecution of the underclass leads to outright resistance by persons who might otherwise resign themselves to a fate of gradual assimilation. Admittedly, it is unlikely that armed opposition would have exceeded the level of the ‘Green Cadres’ had there been no political, ideological, and military organization from the Slovene heartland (…). Clearly, the thickly wooded, mountainous nature of the terrain was also an indispensable prerequisite. (…) The fighting undoubtedly fits the classical pattern of guerrilla warfare with its ghastly spiral of stealthy assaults, counteroffensives, reprisals, and atrocities. Nazi counterinsurgency, which presupposed the active collaboration of at least some portion of Carinthia Slovenophone population, proved highly effective even if the partisans could not be eradicated.” (Baker: 206-7)

No matter if we relate resistance, anarchy, and subversion to the history of slavery or to national socialism, we find the same stratagems and tactics as under any totalitarian regime: the divide et impera-formula of the oppressors, that is to say the targeted division of the oppressed into a lower (“underclass”) and an upper class (those who collaborated with the Nazis, those who collaborated with the slaveholders), the “thickly wooded, mountainous nature of the terrain”, the “stealthy assaults”, and finally the impossibility to eradicate the ‘outside’ of a totalitarian ‘inside’ which it continues to subvert.

Drawing this parallel between the maroon and the partisan, however, succumbs to drawing a blank – as a white European writing about Touam Bona’s book and not needing to feel affected, I tend to fail to remember that the story of fugitives is not merely about this or that political, ethnic, linguistic or other minority but about a general denigration of humanness that ultimately affects all of us as living beings on this earth: “From the outset, in the Americas, the privileged instrument of the slaveholding enterprise was theself-referential ‘denigration’ (from the Latin denigrare ‘to blacken’) of the ‘black’ person.” (34) To blacken the history of resistance means in Touam Bona’s words “to draw a blank”, to fail to remember, to treat one’s own history as a black person as non-existent. The subchapter “To draw a blank” impressively tells the (white) reader how it feels to forget that “you had not been included among the victors, in the triumphal procession of Columbus, Cook, or Livingston.” (131) Confronted with racism as a Parisian boy at school, after everyone had watched Tarzan the Apemanon TV the night before, and painfully realizing that your skin is not white, that in the eyes of your white schoolmates, you are not Tarzan but the monkey, means confronting an existential dizziness, facing the abyss of annihilation. Touam Bona fights against this “necrosis that attacks the fibers of our memory,” (132) in his book. He does this by “tearing the liana from Tarzan’s hands”, by opposing every capture with a withdrawal, by becoming unassimilable.

The liana’s “vertiginous trajectory”

In this sense, the liana stands for the movement of subversion itself. One could say, the liana is inside and outside at the same time and makes you lose your sense of orientation, like if you were to get lost in the ‘virgin forest’ in the midst of a labyrinthine vegetation. Since the liana is also part of “a whole body of colonial imagery” (134), it is not an innocent metaphor (as this could be the case for the mushroom, the rhizome, or the lichen). Any attempt to use the liana for “coming back to oneself” and for the withdrawal from oppression must be re-invented each time. There is not one only true way to liberate oneself from a colonizing imagery. Like a poros, a path across a water surface that leaves no trace and from which everyone has to find their own way out of aporia each time, the lianas invite us to“the movements of return and refolding, drifting, twisting, and distorting.”(ibid.) There is a connection between the metaphor of the liana and dizzinessas a movement that affects the body and the soul all at once.

The liana not only helps to merge into the forest and disappear but it also links together and has its own way of existence. The liana “has a formidable gift for intertwining; it is the loquacious plant par excellence. As it has no trunk (no self-supporting structure), its escape toward the heavens is possible only because it leans on others, because it mixes itself with others, while simultaneously mixing them with one another (…). By its vertiginous trajectory[sic!], the liana incarnates the power to ‘traverse’ and be nourished by whatever it crosses through (and vice versa) (…) The liana’s movement is at once philosophical and poetic; it obeys the principle of detour and correspondence in all manner of creative variations, by zig-zagging here and there, above and below, (…) the lyannaj’s line of flight runs through all the forest’s layers with neither priority nor hierarchy (…).” (149)

Neither on a line of flight nor in a state of dizziness can a human being dwell; escape, flight, fugue as well as dizziness are ephemeral movements to which one can voluntarily expose oneself or to which one is subjected. Finding balance is only possible while constantly moving. This aspect corresponds to the movement of the liana as well as to the movement of subversion itself. Anarchy is the absence of a prime mover, as there is neither a governing principle that would direct the movement nor dominate other movements or the movements of others. In this respect, dizziness and the art of the fugue, of which the liana is its visualization (while the musical fugue is its audible counterpart), share the same undirected movement which unbalances, and subverts and shakes heaven and earth.

Marronage is at the basis of this liberation movement. Fugitive slaves escaping into the forest have built communities that are reminiscent of the “stateless societies” that Pierre Clastres analyzed for the Amerindian chieftainship: “[T]he chief has no instituted power apart from his prestige. His domain of competence is limited to the relation with sacred powers and to the mediation of disputes. The Boni [the Maroons in Guiana] have therefore laid bare a series of mechanisms that prevent the accumulation of power and wealth. The maroon community strives to ward off [conjurer]the risk of allowing a separate power to form within its own body, the risk of the master’s return, or the perpetuation of domination.” (23) What else could be meant by a “chief without power” if not anarchy in its basic sense?

An-arkhia designates etymologically “without ruler”. Archon is the masculine present participle of the verb stem αρχ-, meaning “to be first, to rule”, derived from the same root as words such as monarch and hierarchy. Importantly, also the Ancient Greek philosophical notion of arche is part of this semantic family. In this sense, an-arkhia points to a groundlessness and absence of a first principle or element that would constitute the ultimate underlying substance and indemonstrable principle of all things being, whether living or non-living paradoxically called “basic”.To avoid the domination of such a prime mover over all things being, signifies a quite different approach to life on this planet compared to Cartesian dualism. Anarchism in this original sense, is accepting all things being without power, without a governing first principle, without exercising power over all things by any kind of domination and force, it means to listen carefully from within. Any domination from the outside will not be accepted and will be constantly rejected. Maroon communities teach us the important lesson that resistance is not vain and that a life ‘outside the norm’ is possible – if we only manage to connect with each other.

The good message: you are not alone – lyannaj, dizziness, and anarchic liberation movements

DénètemTouam Bona strives to reinvent marronage and to rehabilitate the power of dreams, poetry, and art to defy today’s grasp of state and capital. In the closing book chapter “Lianas Dreaming”, he introduces the “power(s) of the vine”, that is to say, of the liana. In the perspective of “a practice of alliance between ‘minor’ forms of life”, the wisdom of lianas leads to lyannaj, to “an alliance between heterogeneous subaltern groups.” (146-7) The maroon communities have nothing to do with any “ethnic” community (cf.  45). Touam Bona’s goal “is to think the fugue on the basis of the experience of a maroon body, a fugitive body, and to develop a musical and choreographic conception of resistances” (146). With this insistence on a heterogeneous, anarchic community of fugitives, he rejects any form of identity politics in passing. He even claims that although “the historical experience of marronage is its most obvious manifestation, the fugue is nevertheless a universal form of resistance, identifiable in other places and other times, including times still to come …” (39)

Coming to an end of this book review, I would like to point out the following notions that are central to my perspective: the Creole notion of lyannaj, dizziness in its sense of bodily experience of the anarchic groundlessness of all things being, and all forms of creative movement that set free the liberating power of our bodies and souls, which are increasingly controlled, suppressed or even interdicted by bio-politics and algorithms. [5]

Liberation movements might be political or individual – from my feminist perspective, ‘the individual’, understood as something ‘private’, is always political, and there is, in fact, no space that is not also political as long as humans inhabit this earth. Liberation movements might refer to the guerrilla warfare of the N’djuka and Saramaka in the 18th century against the soldiers of the slave system in Surinam, formerly Dutch Guiana. They might refer to refugees crossing borders ‘illegally’, in Calais, Ceuta, and Rio Grande, on the Lampedusa and Mayotte islands, or at the Maroni river which is an EU border in the midst of the Amazonian rain forest, between Surinam and French Guiana. But liberating movements might also refer to dance – from Voodoo trance to the Tarantella to contemporary dance like Krumping [6], as well as to other art forms like wood sculpture (like the Maroon Tembe), painting gestures as with Hawad’s furigraphie, poetry, spoken word and singing in the cotton fields of the plantation society. Furthermore, there are the spontaneous body movements, emerging from anti-martial arts like Aikido or Judo, there is Feldenkrais and Katsugen Undo, a Japanese form of “regenerating movement”. I see an inner connection between the courage to achieve political liberation from oppression and the ability to liberate oneself. The one is not possible without the other.

In this respect, I would also say that the dualism between the individual and the community or society is not a compelling one. It is inherited from Cartesian rationalism and stems from the dichotomy between thinking and feeling. If living beings are oriented ‘from within’, if they are not externally governed and can follow their own ‘flow’, completely without coercion and control ‘from outside’ in an anarchic manner, then it will be very difficult to destabilize them. However, if the inner life of living beings is controlled from the outside, for example in a totalitarian, autocratic, oligarchic, agro-industrial, techno-scientific or algorithmic way, they can no longer unbalance the oppressive system from the inside, but only from an outside. This is why Touam Bona is entirely accurate when he says that only people who live outside the norm of an oppressive system and organize themselves collectively can subvert this system and cause it to sway. To reaffirm this approach: in totalitarian systems, we have to move towards the outside in order to disrupt the system’s inside, to make it sway – to overturn it. Because the inside of a totalitarian system is not in any vital ‘flow’ anymore, because people live captured in fear, under control or even terror, this inside is unlikely to be changed from within. I believe that the inner connection between political and individual liberation is movement. This relation between political and individual liberation is reciprocal and is created by the very fact of moving freely “without ruler or rule” - anarchically. Rosa Luxemburg’s statement“ Those who do not move, do not notice their chains” is especially true for today’s invisible chains.  

Joachim Koester, Tarantism, 2007, Filmstill (detail), Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen. Quoted from: Ruth Anderwald + Leonhard Grond, Dizziness is my Name, 2017 (pp. 32 and 24).

Embodied liberation movements

Many parts of Touam Bona’s book describing the tactics and stratagems of the fugitive slaves in the forest remind me of (anti-)martial arts practices: “Marronage, the return of a domestic animal (the enslaved person) to life in the wild, is a process of ‘de-domestication,’ a sort of creative indocility. The slave’s flight presupposes the reappropriation of his body, his ‘unchaining,’ his‘en wilding.’” (60) This ‘de-domestication’ might be compared to the liberating movement of our body’s extra-pyramidal system. As I have been practicing this latter form of individual “liberation movement” (together with Aikido) in the Parisian Dojo Tenshin, I would like to quote its founder Itsuo Tsuda from his book The Non-Doing, explaining this movement that in Japanese is called Katsugen Undo: [7]

“There generating movement occurs when the voluntary system is temporarily halted. We cannot practise it as long as we do not rid ourselves of the preconceived ideas that fill our heads, as long as we keep the desire to control our movement according to a pre-determined scheme. We let the body’s wisdom act, but not the intelligence or the accumulated knowledge. It is completely different from a structured movement such as hatha yoga. (…) [T]he regenerating movementincludes both understanding and practice. Its field does not belong to that of knowledge but to that of feeling.” (Tsuda: 176, 185)

The feeling of liberation stems from this involuntary movement, from this letting go of the vital forces that drive all living beings. Opening up to this form of movement might also have positive effects on the practice of anti-martial arts like Aikido. Katsugen Undo helps to train our ability to deflect and redirect the attacker’s force, in the best case turning it against them. This type of defense happens in passing, as if you were trying to pick a flower in the meadow and something stood in your way. In this way, ‘the obstacle’ is simply cleared out of the way by focusing not on the resistance, but on the flower that you are about to pick. The movement is triggered by the joy of the flower that comes from within, and not by fear of or anger at the aggressor. In this sense, the ‘non-resistance’ in Aikido is not entirely true as an art of fight (and fugue?) is necessarily part of an anti-martial art, at least in order to be able to convince your adversary of your willingness to ‘resist without power’ (but not without Ki) – avoiding domination with all means. [8] The liberation it embodies (in a literal sense) might also be understood as a liberation from Cartesian dualism: “As to Cartesianism, it is useful for living in society, as a knife is useful for a certain type of work. But as soon as the job is finished, I put the knife down. I do not sleep with a knife in my hand.”(Tsuda: 186)

It is time to let go of Cartesianism, as we recognize that ‘the job’ is done, as we haven early destroyed this planet. Touam Bona also accuses Descartes of having made“doubt into a war machine against sensible experience. But how can I deny that these hands and body are mine, unless I were to behave like certain kinds of madmen? To the objection that it would be madness to doubt everything, Descartes responds with the argument from dreams: ‘As if I were not a man who sleeps at night, and regularly has all the same experiences while asleep as madmen do when awake.’ This is how modernity disenchanted the dream (…) Dream and madness will constantly serve as models in western philosophy’s effort to demonstrate the blindness of belief or ‘superstition,’ and thereby to discredit the ancient cosmologies that peopled the woods, the marshes, the mountains, and the rivers of Europe (…).” (128-9) The dream was reduced to an experience that madmen have when awake. Descartes therefore discredits not only the dream (only rehabilitated by Freud for the western world), but also bodily feeling as opposed to rational thinking and any ‘superstitious’ cosmology of the ‘denigrated’.

Florans Féliks Waro & Io “ron fan kazkabar”,Triko ‘d’po’d’ravine si sézi’tér, performance, 2021. Photo: © Florans Féliks. La sagesse des lianes, 2021, Centre international d'art et du paysage, Vassivière, curator Dénètem Touam Bona.

From dualistic separation to weaving alliances

Discrediting the dream, the madness, and the imagination is not just an effect of Cartesianism, but also Kantianism [9]. By discrediting the dream, western rationalism and dualism also discredit the idea of humanity. Maybe the knife of Cartesianism that should be laid down when we go to sleep transformed into a liana, a new and different kind of weapon: disappearing in order to forge new alliances of resistance, taking the knife or rather the liana so as to use it to form a community, weaving the net of lyannaj:

“As they escape, the runaway warriors persist in their being only by disappearing; and from their disappearance they forge a weapon that can cut in many ways. In their perpetual movement of retreat and attack, they are accompanied and sustained by women and children, elders and spirits who participate in their battles; a whole moving diaspora, from which unexpected forms of life spring up. Despite its fragility, this common existence of men and women, Kongo and Ashanti, living and dead, is the source of community.” (40)

Touam Bona states that the source of community lies not in homogeneity, but in heterogeneity. How did the fugitives form a community ‘without power’? The author’s answer is an example: the detournement of sense of the Creole word lyann/liana. Slaves in the plantation fields used the liana to bind together cane sugar plants.

“Through a strange reversal, lyannaj, the technical gesture essential to exploitation, dispossession, and the vampirization of enslaved bodies, became the most remarkable expression of solidarity, creativity, and of liberating bonds: those of poetry, song, work, and mutual aid societies, Afro-diasporic cults and rhythms. (…) In its beginnings, the subversion of lyannaj starts with an internal variation of a movement that has been imposed on bodies: let this movement, which ties together the cane bundles, also be able to bind the wretched to one another. Thus lyannaj refers to the very first counter-plantation practices.” (148)

Also today, we dearly need lyannaj: solidarity not only with other human beings but with nature and all things being, whether living or not. As humans, we are bound to nature, we are not external to it, we are nature. If nature suffers, humans suffer too. It is this simple. Dizziness comes finally in at the very end (having always traversed this text like a liana and even informed its topic): how can we stay open to this undirected movement, which can be at times dizzying, how can we remain vigilant, and what lines of flight can we identify? I would say that practising anti-martial arts, dancing, as well as any other interactive liberating movements create new bonds with each other from within. Creating and finding a way out of oppression, slavery, control, and patriarchal domination is active resistance. Touam Bona concludes his book by stating that the “liberation movement” is “a liberation of movement that sets a foot a dancing body (…).” (178)

What makes this book so worthwhile is the author’s undaunted determination to look for ways out and to consider every liberation movement, no matter how small. This gives a voice to those whose protest and suffering would otherwise be drowned out by the noise of a society of spectacle. It is precisely such initiatives as the liberation movement of the Maroons, the Creole lyannaj, the Mexican Zapatistas, the feminist #metoo, and the Zadists’ ecology movement [10] that give us hope that we are not alone in this world.



I remember attending a seminar on the topic of Maroons and Rastafarian culture in Jamaica at the Viennese Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, in the 1990s still the Department of Ethnology, by Werner Zips and Karl Wernhart. See also: Werner Zips: Black Rebels. African Caribbean Freedom Fighters in Jamaica, Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1999.


See also Rebekka Heil 2018: Flucht in den Wald, https://www.dh-lehre.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/?p=69723.


See Chapter 6, “Cosmo-Poetics of the Refuge” in which a short history of insurrections, revolts, and revolutionsis sketched out, starting in 1455 at Sao Tomé, the Haitian revolution in 1804 and the first Rastafarian community founded in 1940 in Jamaica (p 89). Cf. also Zips 1999; especially Chapter IV, “A War with Unequal Weapons: Maroons Versus the English Colonial Power”; see also Richard Price: First-Time: The Historical Vision of an Afro-American People.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.


See Helena Kuchar: Jelka, aus dem Leben einer Kärntner Partisanin, ed. by Thomas Busch and Brigitte Windhab (original versiontape-recorded), Železna Kapla/Eisenkappel: Longo-mai Kooperative, 1984. Further on the resistance against the Nazis see Thomas M.Barker: “Partisan Warfare in the Bilingual Region of Carinthia,” in Slovene Studies 11/1-2 (1989): 193-210.


An example for this is the Chinese Sports Committee under Mao Zedong, who banned Qì Gōng and the internal martial arts. They made an exception for Tai Chi Chuan by declaring it to be gymnastics to promote public health. For this purpose, the “24-posture simplified form” known today as the Peking form was developed in 1956. It is based on the movements of the Yang style. Any connection to martial arts and, therefore, also to the Tai Chi principles was removed.


See for example the Cabaret Krump or the Krumpfest at the Châpiteau Raj’ganawak in Paris Saint-Denis in November 2023. Cf. http://rajganawak.com/category/krumpfest/.


See Itsuo Tsuda: The Non-Doing. Paris: Yume Editions, 2013 [original title: Le Non-Faire, Paris: Le Courrier duLivre, 1973].


In her recent book Itsuo Tsuda, maître anarchiste (2022) Manon Soavi makes clear that Taoism originally (before being truncated by governing political powers) was also political in the sense of defying domination of a master over his subject (cf. Soavi 2022: 49); she refers to Zhuangzi’s texts which are very explicit about power relations and the political aspects of the Taoist concept of non-doing, wu wei (cf. Soavi 2022: 95). Touam Bona also refers to Zhuangzi with the story about Zhuangzi dreaming he is a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming it is Zhuangzi.


Cf. on imagination and the denigration of the notion ‘phantasma’ also see Karoline Feyertag: Hirngespinste und andere Ungeheuerlichkeiten. Diplomarbeit: Wien, 2003. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/12236563.pdf


Explanation by the English translator Laura Hengehold in a translator’s note: “Zadistes are activists often associated with French ecological movements who occupy land targeted for various forms of development, usually in the countryside, and claim it as a ‘zone to defend’ (ZAD, zone à defendre).” (195) At Notre Dame des Landes, the Zadists fought against the construction of an airport close to the city of Nantes for almost six years until the project was abandoned by president Macron in 2018.