Landscapes as witnesses to history: Canham's Riotous Deathscapes  

01 Jun 2023
Hugo ka Canham, Assoc. Prof. Christopher Ouma and Ayanda Manqoyi at the HUMA Book Launch, May 2023
01 Jun 2023

A HUMA blog post | Author: Amina Alaoui Soulimani
How can one write with precision, all while doing justice to spaces and bodies which have been subject to dehumanisation? Hugo ka Canham describes his most recently published book Riotous Deathscapes to be one for the living, for the dead, and for the multi-layered in-betweenness that is neither a third space nor is it frozen in its becoming. While ancestral living exists in opposition to a particular absence, which is riotous, spaces further attest to particular absences that characterise the articulations of humanity of Mpondoland. Canham explains about the limitations of writing about marginal life and on erased bodily archives from one particular discipline. Disciplinarity cannot capture complexity, and that of AmaMpondo people from rural Mpondoland in South Africa's Eastern Cape in which the mountains and oceans are witnesses of death, but also of magical fractures which make up the everyday. The book contests the assumed temporality which renders South African history plotted between the anti-apartheid period and the present moment.  
Fluidity of time goes much larger than our own memories, and to moments of history that one may not be able to connect. The book is not only about AmaMpondo from which Mpondo theory emerges as an articulation of queered theoretical freedom, but for global identities that have succumbed to death and temporal genealogies that cannot articulate themselves without mediums. Mpondo theory, Canham explains, is against dispossession, against capitalism and the modernity/coloniality matrix upon which ruins of empire continue to live off. For Associate Professor Christopher Ouma, as a discussant of the book at HUMA, it is the type of book that holds you at every moment. The generosity of its prose exemplifies how history moves through method, reflecting its writer's refusal to adhere to canons and to the orthodoxies that sabotage potentialities of being and ways of seeing. The book presents black ways of witnessing death, subverting its exceptionalism. The possibility for a deathscape to be riotous through circulation comes to mind — a circulation in which not only humans are embedded but also spatial configurations that sustain ancestral human and non-human correspondences, against all potential interruptions.  
The book launch was a full house, attentive to Canham's graceful narration and to Ouma's intellectual engagement. The event was also a space where the audience probed questions on death as both generative and reactive of affective conjunctures, who Mpondo theory is for, as well as how can one move beyond placing blackness along with death— asking what other narrative of life can be told? Canham tells us that the book responds to these particular queries and more.  
The scholarship which the HUMA book launch seminar series engages invokes the uncomfortable and the disobedient. Canham's Riotous Deathscapes transgresses the boundaries of disciplinarity and rearticulates Wynter's question: What does it mean to be human? The idea of Man through European and Western standards is disrupted. If death (re) humanises the uncertainty towards incomplete quests, it also facilitates a much broader connected tissue between materialities of abandonment, human experiences, and blackness. Riotous Deathscapes is generative in thinking with and through indigenous studies, the Black Radical tradition, Black Studies, anthropology, psychology, and with alternative sidelined cosmologies of being that refuse the punctuation of temporality through hegemonic Western logic. This seminar imposes itself as central to thinking along that which is unquestioned, dilapidated and haunted. How to make sense of the haunting that one cannot see? As the seminar series continues to invoke these questions, Riotous Deathscapes provides an avenue: particular haunting affects the ways in which our bodies move through discourse, time and space, which, as a knowledge otherwise, can redirect our construction of African histories.  


Read more: See event page Hugo ka Canham: Riotous Deathscapes for speaker bio and more details.

More about the HUMA Book Launches