Language as Technology: Transcending the Digital Divide:
Freedom From Freedom—Cauleen Smith and Afrofuturist visual Art in Chicago:
Afrofuturism of the 21st…
Language as Technology: Transcending the Digital Divide:
Freedom From Freedom—Cauleen Smith and Afrofuturist visual Art in Chicago:
Afrofuturism of the 21st…
The Center for Race & Gender and the Multicultural Community Center present
Speculative Visions of Race, Technology, Science, & Survival
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/546873702001283
Free and open to the public. Location is wheelchair accessible.
What will survival entail in near and far futures? In light of racialized violence and social control, massive technological innovation, and rapid transformations in science and biomedicine, this conference will engage the imperative to imagine, study, prepare for, and articulate future human life. We are interested in how science and technology shape the material and epistemological boundaries of existence, specifically how and whose existence is valued, policed, corporealized, and corporatized. We will also explore the capacity of embodied subjects to navigate these boundaries in the context of dis/abled, gendered, sex/uality, and queer formations. Recognizing that technology creates kinds of futures (both anticipated and unforeseen), this conference will create a space to analyze how technologies of the past and present contextualize and disclose future realities, and identify opportunities for creating new possibilities.
This year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been struggling for re-authorization because Republicans have been blocking sections that create policy specific to supporting Native, immigrant, and LGBT survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Specifically, these sections help make…
Jose Munoz describes ephemera as linked to “alternate modes of textuality and narrativity like memory and performance; it is all of those things that remain after a performance, a kind of evidence of what has transpired but certainly not the thing itself…[ephemera is] interested in following traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things. It is important to note that ephemera is a mode of proofing and producing arguments often worked by minoritarian culture and criticism makers.” Here I take up Munoz’s challenge of extramaterial ephemera in relation to imaginary and/or impossible subjects. Queers, as a category bein unpossessing of reproductive narratives, have fragmented histories, the shadows of family trees (paraphrasing Stefan Helmrech), the ones who are erased and ghosted. Terry Castle’s “The Apparitional Lesbian” and Lilian Faderman’s “Hidden from History” both take up the question of fragmented and ghostly places in histories granted to lesbians in particular, as subjects without a phallus and therefore lacking even the symbolic access to (re)productive economies that gay men enjoy.
I want to push that analysis even further, to ask us to consider the desiring or desired subjects that we haven’t even thought up yet, or have dismissed for being too ridiculous. This is what Samuel Delaney’s and Octavia Butler’s works gesture towards—Futures plentiful with changeling and interspecial relations. Their Futures are full of specific and unbounded intimacies that do not have names much more than a “something to a something.” I can be a something to your something, and something else can join us. These are relations that are in themselves ephemera, unfixable and glimmering.
So here I turn to Gargoyles, an animated television series produced in the 1990s from a comic of the same name based on the lives of a clan of gargoyles who are magically frozen in stone in 994 AD and reemerge in 1994 Manhattan, where their castle has been moved. The gargoyles quickly run up agains the cultural challenges of any space or time travelers to modernity, with the added difficulties of human and paranormal archenemies on their tail as well as societal (human) resentment of their monstrous forms. They are huge and beastly things, after all, with wings and tails to boot. They also turn to stone at sunrise and carry the stigma of all nocturnal creatures in their intimacy with the darkness.
I am interested in particular in the leader of the clan and largest gargoyle, Goliath, and his relationship with the human policewoman who becomes the gargoyles’ friend and confidante, Elisa Maza. (Yes, the series has its issues with the normalization of police violence.) I refer to Goliath as a stone butch not because the series plays with lesbiansism, but because Goliath, like Halberstam’s stone butch is an abjection of history, frozen and ignored. He is invisibilized in the temporal realm of humanity (daytime) and at night, his is a monstrous, extrapolated masculinity. The series builds up the romantic tension between Elisa and Goliath over two seasons, with the two at last admitting their attraction. Earlier in this arc, Elisa is seen confiding in a human love interest that “there’s someone else…but it would be impossible to get involved with him.”
But why? Why is her desire for Goliath not just “complicated” or “forbidden” but actually “impossible”? It is because, like any stone butch, he does not exist in a presented modernity. Goliath is part of some pre-modern European imaginary and/or a cyborganic future. He is not part of the 1990s in Manhattan. How can Elisa love something 1000s of years old? Or indeed, some Thing that’s not modern or real or human? This is not one of those beast-loves-beauty stories in which both lovers attain the same form (human or beast); instead they both retain their states of being and Elisa merely switches her temporality to become nocturnal herself.
Elisa and Goliath’s love is ostensibly heterosexual; gargoyles appear to present as sexually dimorphous beings and Goliath as male. I argue their desire is also queered, partly because of the gargoyles’ collective kinship model (“all daughters and sons are raised by an entire clan; it is the gargoyle way,” Goliath says) and the way this extends into Elisa’s multiple and varied intimacies with the rest of the clan. But their desire is also queered because Goliath, as an imaginary creature, is substantiated by the desire even while hidden.
At the beginning of the third season, we witness a pack of KKK-like “quarrymen” track Goliath’s discarded stone-skin and with electrically charged hammers attempt to break Goliath’s daytime stone-form. Elisa witnesses the act from outside her window, and begins to fight them. “You wouldn’t fight so hard if he wasn’t the real thing,” the quarrymen’s leader says. If he were merely a statue, without the potential of transforming into her lover, Elisa would let the Goliath-object be broken. Like the stone butch, Goliath’s very existence is confirmed and continuously produced by his lover. This love follows a Deleuzian model of sexuality: desire as a machine producing social reality. The entity being produced here (a live gargoyle) is otherwise imaginary and impossible.
Where this leaves us is a push to shape the queer archive in a way that is even more radically inclusive, not merely to collect the established ephemera but imaginate every Thing as part of a queer kinship network: stone pieces could be gargoyles, trees could by golems, light posts could be cursed princes, etc. Our objects and even our existing forms become that much more vital and uncertain because they are all anti-normative fairy tales waiting to happen. If our desires can indeed produce realities, then why not imagine ones we’d like to exist with and desire their ephemera until they are real for us?
A prominent theme in Afrofuturist art practice is whiteness as alien abduction (recalling the Middle Passage), and the reconfiguration of those very ships into spaceships (like P.Funk’s “Mothership Connection”). In this way the violent invasion and alienation from homespace is made into a challenge: make new home in space. Don’t go West, young man, because that’s the logic of the White aliens—go outward, go up, hit escape velocity, do nothing, be nothing, get nothing, (re)imagine yourselves again and again. Now to interrogate how to know when you’re being abducted. On its face, this question is absurd; the Middle Passage is not uncertain in being violent. But what of the more subtle, perhaps Modern, perhaps Neoliberal reconfigurations of whiteness. Modern whiteness, hand in hand with capitalism, flattens slowly but still without consent—until you get to the point where your lungs are flat and you cannot breathe though the gravity that performed its white magic on you in the first place seemed so gentle and geologic in its time. It takes imagination to recognize an alien abduction for what it is; it takes an openness to the possibility of a slow fantastical evil. So who is able to do this? Who recognizes the aliens out when they descend?
Here I turn to “Aliens Don’t Wear Braces,” a children’s chapter book in the larger Bailey School Kids series. The series was published throughout the 90s by Scholastic Press. All the books are titled in the same format, that is “[ontologically impossible monsters] don’t [normal activity]”. “Ghosts Don’t Eat Potato Chips,” “Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots,” “Zombies Don’t Play Soccer,” etc. The series follows the paranormal adventures of four elementary-aged inhabitants of Bailey City: Melody, Howie, Liza, and Eddie. Melody is the only black protagonist, and follows the familiar 90s multicultural logic of being both the most capable and the least emotive. Every book follows a recognizable pattern: some paranormal activity occurs in relation to the children’s worlds of school, summer camp, sports, or home lives, and upon investigation it becomes clear that a monster could indeed be among them. Interestingly, Howie’s father works for FATS (Federal Aeronautic Technology Station), a mock-up of NASA, and the adults who circulate around FATS usually appear as clueless and bland, if conventionally “smart”. The FATS men do not believe. Bailey School Kids, then, as a series, challenges us to dismantle adultism as a barrier to recognizing our monsters. Adultism, in collusion with the white capitalist patriarchy, erases our capacity for engaging with imaginaries.
“Aliens Don’t Wear Braces,” in particular, presents the narrative of one Ms. Zork, a pale-faced tall creature who teacher-naps and locks up the Bailey School kids’ art instructor and takes over as a substitute. The kids soon become nervous that Ms. Zork is stealing their colors, that as she touches them their world begins to fade. What ever will they do if their entire city become grayscale? The kids investigate more. Ms. Zork has got a spaceship-like machine in her garage, it seems, and jars with colors labelled on them. The story denoumats nicely in the final chapter, as the kids release all of Ms. Zork’s jars, the art teacher comes back, and color is restored to Bailey City through a firework-like display of released color-jars.
An Afrofuturist lens prompts us to read Ms. Zork as a paradigmatic representation of whiteness. Whiteness steals colors because it has none; whiteness then bottles those colors up so they have none of their original splendor; whiteness locks art away and replaces it with a pale imitation. Whiteness masks its appropriation as pedagogy. Nobody will believe the children when they point out Ms. Zork’s alienness, or the way her being gains vigor as Bailey City fades. She wears braces, after all, and the principal (the Powers that be) hired her, so she must be trustworthy. But the kids recognize the aliens when they come. Grown-ups are too Modern to understand.
This affordable “Hole to Another Universe” wall decal is reminiscent of the portals in Octavia Butler’s book “Kindred” and Gnarls Barkley’s music video “Going On.” Afrofuturism is a liberation struggle rooted in transcending the trama of terrestrial alien abduction. The motif of portals promises new possibilities, ideally, but not always, untethering those transported from the past’s hostile normativity
An Afrofuturist Deconstruction of Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet
I am still puzzling over the question of whether Afrofuturist art can be produced by non-black artists. In the vector of postmodernity, the issue of authorship is mute—that is, texts are alienated from their creators, and authors are no longer agents of hermeneutical exchange. Afrofuturism, however, complicates past/present and subject/object binaries, forcing the relevance of the creator’s subjectivity. The Afrofuturist instead hybridizes who is doing the imagining and who is being imagined—like recursive dark matter, like black wholes taking themselves in. What would it mean for a non-black artist to engage with Afrofuturist concepts, then? What does it look like, and what work does it do? Moreover, what does it mean to identify Afrofuturism in a white artist’s work and how does it play out? How can a white subject inscribed by a white artist engage with Afrofutures, and what happens in such encounters?
Here I turn to Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. The book is part of a broader collection on the Murray family and follows its more famous precursor A Wrinkle in Time. Swiftly Tilting Planet focuses on the quest of the youngest Murray child, Charles Wallace, as he is led across the universe by the White unicorn Gaudior. The book is set up initially as a time-limited dilemma: over Thanksgiving dinner, the Murray family learns that El Rabioso, a villanous figure from Latin America, is planning to end the world with a nuclear attack within twenty-four hours. Upon hearing this news, the family is delivered an Irish rune song throuh the soothsaying olden tongue of Branwen O’Keefe, who is Meg Murray’s mother-in-law.
Charles Wallace is set up to take this rune with him (as protection? as dark magic? it is uncertain.) and go forth on a quest to foil El Rabioso’s plot. At this time a dog appears in their lives. Charles Wallace quickly names him Ananda, a Sanskrit word for that without which the universe is not the universe. Ananda is the completion, the whole. It is also the reminder of the cyclical, Western possibilities that are outside of and oppositional to the nuclear culture that Charles Wallace intends to take down. The promise of the nuclear is one of something from nothing, of the violence that the atom can do by being individual. The atom releases protons that then attack nuclei nearby, releasing nuclear energy and setting free more protons to continue a chain reaction of attack and energetic response. This is likewise the promise of nuclear war.
The unicorn Gaudior then appears to Charles Wallace to accompany him through the quest. We quickly learn that unicorns travel more easily through time than space, that they are not limited as humans are by the linearity and forward-facedness of time. Our 24 hour time limit it no longer an issue—the only quest now is for authenticity. Gaudior teaches Charles Wallace various mechanisms of letting go of linearity. Most importantly, Charles Wallace has to consistently “go Within”, that is, to occupy other bodies and completely relase his subjectivity while doing so. (“Just let go,” Gaudior tells him repeatedly.)
What is interesting is the subjects Charles Wallace is made to go Within. They are all either indigenous American bodies or pre-modern European bodies. In other words, they are distanced in some way from the white linear hegemonic humanity that Charles Wallace enjoys. What is insidiously violent about these encounters, however, is that Charles Wallace at once learns how to go Within silently and about the removal. His occupation of these bodies is both nonconsensual and temporary. None of these beings are made aware of his presence—he takes knowledge of space and time from them and is actively discouraged (by Gaudior) from lessening the violence they encounter. Charles Wallace does manage, however, to make some moves to preserve the “innocence” of some of the bodies he occupies (for example, by redirecting one boy’s flight so he will not meet the people who might show him instruments of war). In doing so he sets up his paternalism as a white savior subject and his agency to alter history at his will.
Throughout this process, Charles Wallace unlearns the narrow space-time axioms fundamental to whiteness, and opens to the possibility of exploded narrative and multiple temporalities. However, this unlearning is contingent on his occupation of Other bodies and continuous (re)exiting from his own. Because the white subject is material moreover because the white subject is human, to the white subject time is linear. For the white subject, history is his story (recall Sun Ra: “that was history, now I’m going to tell my story”). For him space is not contested or in fluxion. Unlike Octavia Butler’s Dana in “Kindred”, Charles Wallace does not lose limbs in time travel—even if he is taken to time-sites of contension, those sites are violent only to the escapable bodies he occupies, not to his own free human subjectivity.
The solution to the nuclear crisis is a change in early European marriage patterns and the birth of a peaceful man, rather than the villanous Mad Dog (El Rabioso), whose name we later learn derives from the Welsh name Madoc. The root of global nuclear violence is thus shifted from the modern state to pre-modern mythology. Thus Charles Wallace ultimately does not have to confront the violences of the state, global capitalism, or the colonial histories through which he has traveled (including those time periods which coincide with the simultaneous birth of whiteness and North American industrial capitalism). Instead, genetic determinism takes the convenient upperhand.
Of course, L’Engle’s work is just one example, and there are many more to be explored, but from here we can take caution that white subjects occupying Afrofuturisms or indigenous futurisms run the risk of leaving unquestioned whole panoramas of colonial trauma. The question remains: how would a Unicorn of color have done this all differently?
The Museum of Time is a space where different modes of time (past, present, and future and any and all combinations therein and thereout), are bought forward or backward into the present through the preservation of energy in artifacts and through the persistence of memory in flesh and through blood. The Museum of Time is Every-when and No-when simultaneously, enacting all possible times in all possible permutations. While most museums are limited to the here/now/then/there, in The Museum of Time, there are interactions with varied modes/forms/theories/visions of time through music, art, story, fashion, and exchange of thoughts and ideas. Once you step inside the non-local capsule of The MoT, you become Master Traveler, Manipulator, Alchemist, God-Is, and/or Magician of Time, crafting it and displacing it however you see fit. The singular requirement is that you share your visions with the other Masters in the room.
Original artwork drawing commissioned from Artist James Eugene [Jim114]
Friday, February 22 and Saturday, February 23, 2013
Royce Hall, UCLA
The term inhumanity is most often evoked as a moral condemnation, marking and redeeming the human. In contemporary global politics, inhumanities are acts of violence and brutality expelled from humanity’s realm, demanding and justifying humanity’s intervention. And yet, the human/inhuman divide is itself marked by violence; a history of slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and war have shown how definitions of the human and of humanism, be they conceptual, juridical or aesthetic, have underlined and participated in brutal forms of dehumanization. Today, emergent technologies of necropolitics continue to render entire populations disposable. In scholarship of the past decades, anti-humanist deconstruction, manifest for example in Lyotard’s reclamation of the inhuman, has given way to post-humanist accounts of new forms of creative evolution, refusing to keep various species of organisms, technologies and matters apart, constructing new ontologies of ethical thinking beyond or apart from the human, and provoking the emergence of figures such as the cyborg, the homo sacer, the negated or affective subject, the planetary creature, ephemeral specters and vibrant matter, among others. Theory after the human often turns to biological and technological discourses, taking place conspicuously at the same moment as an institutional divestment of the Humanities. At this time of disciplinary transition, this conference seeks to question the political and aesthetic currencies of various theories of the inhuman. We wish to reflect on inhumanities as conceptual, figurative, temporal, geo-political, or juridical moments in which the human is marked as an absence, suspended or negated, and at the same time, to consider the human’s persistence and resistance to these operations.
We invite graduate students to submit abstracts between 250 and 350 words that engage with these and related issues from a broad range of approaches and theoretical lines of inquiry, through literary analysis, critical theory and philosophy, film and performance studies, anthropology, history, and others. Papers may address, but are by no means limited to, the following questions:
What political, philosophical or aesthetic orders are deemed inhuman?
Is there aesthetics of inhumanity? How is inhumanity represented in art, literature, cinema, music, popular culture?
How is the inhuman commensurate with the animal, the monster, the barbarian, the bureaucratic institution, or the machine?
What is the status of humanism today? How do early non-Western humanist traditions, or the critical, anti-colonial humanisms of the last century, speak to contemporary debates on humanism and post-humanism?
Is there a relation between violence and the constitution of the human? Could rethinking the human-inhuman divide point towards a horizon of nonviolent ethics or a new ontology of the subject?
What would the post-Humanities look like institutionally and intellectually? How will they reflect the changes in the human/inhuman landscape?
Abstracts between 250 and 350 words and a CV are due by Friday, November 30, 2012. Please email submissions to email@example.com.