- Traces of History, Specters of the Future
My friendship with Patrick Wolfe came all too late and was cut short by his shockingly unexpected and untimely death. I last saw him when our paths crossed briefly in Ramallah, Palestine, a month before he died. Now it seems all too fitting to have unwittingly said farewell to him as he was engaging in one of those acts of solidarity that were always continuous with his intellectual practice. I cannot claim to have known him as others in this forum did, though I had long known and admired and learned from his work. But I did have the exceptional privilege of writing with him what may have been one of the last essays he composed, our joint introduction to a special issue of Settler Colonial Studies, "Settler Colonial Logics and the Neoliberal Regime."1 It is doubtless not necessary for me to dwell here on the peculiar pleasures of writing with Patrick: you can imagine the delightful mix of the almost pedantic semantic precision with which he skewered my infelicities and the witty, if at times heartbreaking commentary on the precarity of his life, on his piratical appropriation of loggers' water or the saga of his house under reconstruction, or on the flurry of family visits after a bereavement: all this in a chain of e-mails emanating from anywhere on the loop of his trajectory between Wales and London and Wurundjeri country, Australia. Given the enormous pressures on him in those years, practical, economic, emotional, I do not know whether to be more astonished by his generosity, his humor, or his brilliance.
But what I want to dwell on here is what I learned from him in the process of our collaboration, in terms of the analysis that his work had suggested and which, in the final pages of Traces of History, he offers to us in the hope that it might be useful to the forging of solidarity and resistance.2 Though he demurred when I intimated as much to him as I initially invited him to participate in a panel at ASA in 2013, the notion that the traces of settler colonial logics can be tracked in neoliberal modes of appropriation and rule is a tribute to the contribution that his work had already made through the scattered essays that eventually came together in Traces of History. His analysis of the mobile and differentially articulated apprehension of race as a profoundly historical and [End Page 285] transforming set of regimes is invaluable (and not just useful) for understanding our present conjuncture. Race, as he puts it, "is a process, not an ontology; its varying modalities so many dialectical symptoms of the ever-shifting hegemonic balance between those with a will to colonise and those with a will to be free, severally racialized in relation to each other." The resultant structures, despite the all too often reductively cited aphorism that settler colonialism "is a structure, not an event," are never inert.3
These structures that Patrick terms "regimes of race" transform under the pressure of the unremitting resistance and survival of dispossessed, displaced, and exploited populations. Their transformation allows for their translation, both across time and across space. In this respect, they compose a shifting and diverse body of "regimes of difference with which colonisers have sought to manage subject populations."4 Regimes of race constitute a "repertoire of strategies" that can be reconfigured and deployed against other populations and in other places than those for whose management or destruction they were invented.5 They do not only share the genealogies that Patrick so attentively documents in Traces of History but also play forward as an available arsenal—to use a term of Denise da Silva's—of racialized and racializing practices and discourses. Racial strategies, laws and techniques, civil and military tactics, circulate among colonial sites, as Patrick so forcefully showed in his work on settler efforts to eliminate through assimilation the indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, and Australia. But they also circulate back to and inform the legal and governmental racial regimes of the imperial metropolis. Patrick's tracking of this circulatory transfer...