She is Ella—a survivor of chattel slavery, a veteran of the Underground Railroad, and a key character in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. She is “a practical woman” (301). A center of gravity, Ella keeps both the book and its characters grounded whenever outside forces threaten to unmoor them. She trusts lightly, if at all. She understands power and its violent machinations. She refuses reduction and rejects simple binaries. She teaches us that the conditions of life escape reductive binaries of fair and unfair, problems and solutions, past and present. When confronted with epistemological and juridical frameworks grounded in such binaries, Ella refuses their terms. Instead, she shows us how to engage the world through an active and avowed uneasiness, a discomfort with “past errors taking possession of the present” (302).

Following Ella, this essay is...

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