Biko Mandela Gray

Biko Mandela Gray is Assistant Professor of religion at Syracuse University. His research and teaching are on the relationship between blackness, ethics, and philosophy of religion.  

Title: “The Religion of the Door: Map as Myth(ology)” 

Abstract: You are therefore already mythic. Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return is, among many things, a meditation on the mythical existence of blackness. In this mythical space, where “time does not mark” one’s existence, where the only “progress” one can fathom is one “you may fashion out of its primitive tools,” we encounter the profoundly violent and generative possibilities of black life, of a life carved over there, where impossibility and actuality converge upon one another. I therefore want to read Map as mythology, as the investigation of an origin story whose power is not derived from its factuality or untruthfulness—myths are not about truth or falsity—but instead from its capacity to shape and frame our existence.  

This, in my mind, takes Map into different territory—the territory of the religious. Religion comes from the root word religare, which means “to bind together”; if, as Brand tells us, “the Door of No return is of course no place at all but a metaphor for place” and yet “the door is a place, real, imaginary, and imagined,” then what might this contradiction tell us about religion, about the capacity for us to bind and be bound together? Though I can only gesture at it here, I want to understand Map as myth(ology), as the disclosure of a set of stories that tell us about ourselves and our (in)capacity for relation within and beyond blackness. I want to think of Brand’s desire to find the Door as a religious quest, as a pilgrimage to a place that does not exist—and yet cannot help but exist. In this regard, the Door is transcendent—not in the divinely metaphysical sense, but in the sense that the door conditions our life even as we cannot fully grasp it.