When considering the meaning behind “fugitive movement,” think about how Fred Moten ties this term to the story of Olaudah Equiano. An abolitionist and writer, Equiano was sold into slavery as a child. In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Equiano documents his horrific experiences with slavery. Moten uses Equiano’s memoir to further his concept of “fugitive movement.”
Moten deploys “fugitive movement” to describe Equiano’s plight within the international slave trade. Equiano, like the fugitive, is always on the go. Moten writes that Equiano’s “movement is (un)held between law and motion.” The parenthetical indicates that there’s a paradox or contradiction in play. The laws that legalize slavery both hold Equiano in place and they set him in motion. They hold him in place because he becomes the possession of a slave owner. They set him in motion because a slave owner can sell him to another slave owner at any moment.
When Equiano is not on the marketplace, when he’s not traveling to a new owner, the possibility of movement remains. In his discussion of Equiano and fugitive movement, Moten notes the “constancy and fidelity” of escape. Again, even when Equiano is still—when he’s not being sold and there’s no plans to move him—there is still the possibility that he might take flight on his own and thus become a “fugitive.”
The constant potential for “fugitive movement” is evinced in chapter 6 of Equiano’s book when his master is led to believe that he’s going to run away. Equiano, alas, has no plans to escape.