Standard ethnohistorical accounts of colonial encounters downplay violence and genocide in the interest of holistic ethnographic accounts. In particular, “upstreaming” is a technique that attempts to sublimate violence into interpretations of ethnological understanding. An argument is made for “ethnohistorical surrealism” as a methodology for preserving the ruptures of colonial contact. The principle of incommensurability is an important driver for the transformation of contact zone exchange systems into structures of violence. Drawing on Bataille's reading of the potlatch, exchange systems based on unreturnable gifts produce abjection in the recipient, which results in cycles of violence and ultimately subjection.