FOTW| On terror and beauty Part 2: ‘SOCIAL LIFE AS SCIENCE FICTION’
Written by Ndjha Ka | Feature visual by Wu Tsang, Girl Talk, 2015
‘Anybody who thinks that they can understand how terrible the terror has been, without understanding how beautiful the beauty has been against the grain of the terror, is wrong.’ -Fred Moten (2014), The Black Outdoors
This fruit of the week features a talk between two scholars as an extention of last week’s Part 1 on The Black Outdoors. Fred Moten, ‘in his work he has consistently argued that any theory of politics, ethics, or aesthetics must begin by reckoning with the creative expressions of the oppressed’ (McCarthy, 2018). Saidiya Hartman, has written about feeling the continual legacy of slavery and ‘[making] productive sense of the gaps and silences in the archive of trans-Atlantic slavery that absent the voices of enslaved women’.
In this talk they lead us through various questions, musings, and lingering breakthroughs. How do we get out from under the regime of everyday violences? Being outdoors is premised on an inness, does the outdoors always exist or is it also because there is an in that has been made? And what happens when we finally get out? Can we get out?
A black womxn in the audience narrates a story about people who are taken from their homes and are transported on a ship across the Atlantic, she does not tell it according to the factual happenings of the event but as a narrative that speaks to the reality of being these people; trapped in the inside. They carve stars and half-moons onto one another’s heads using razors, people who do not know one another, who do not speak the same language but understand their current reality collectively, they inscribe freedom onto their bodies and in this way express the freedom of their being(s) as an outside that is located in the cosmological. They create continuity between themselves in their bodies and the flow of inhabiting a body within an existence that is in continuation with stars, half moons, and ‘outer’ space.
‘social life is science fiction’
Poem: Come On, Get It
Book: The Feel Trio (2014)
This is a freedom that is deeper than the inside and outside opposition. When the people inside of the ship arrive to where the ship is going, they will be outside in the field – but, as people enslaved.
This story resonates with me because it links a way of imagining alternative futures and realities and then asserting that we do indeed know those places by using our own bodies to get there. As Eloghosa Osunde, a nigerian writer and visual artist, narrates in her haunting visual story ‘And Now we Have Entered Broken Earth’ about cycles of intergenerational trauma,
‘I told you, there are ways to transcend the body. There are doors out of the mind. There are personal holinesses, safe madnesses, complete sacrednesses.
And they are here.’
Eloghosa Osunde, And Now We Have Entered (2017)
It is the stuff of science fiction and afrofuturism. In her article, ‘rewriting the future: using science fiction to reinvison social justice,’ Walidah Imarisha, a writer and poet, points out:
‘Visionary fiction offers social justice movements a process to explore creating those new worlds (although not a solution—that’s where sustained mass community organizing comes in). I came up with the term “visionary fiction” to encompass the fantastical cross-genre creations that help us bring about those new worlds. This term reminds us to be utterly unrealistic in our organizing, because it is only through imagining the so-called impossible that we can begin to concretely build it. When we free our imaginations, we question everything. We recognize none of this is fixed, everything is stardust, and we have the strength to cast it however we will. To paraphrase Arundhati Roy, other worlds are not only possible, but are on their way—and we can already hear them breathing. That is why decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive decolonization process of all.
Octavia Butler. Wanuri Kahui. Janelle Monae. Black Panther. Sun Ra.
Daring to name forms of injustice and modes of oppression, is also daring to imagine realities without them. We live sci-fi lives, both here and not here. That other place is more than just a somewhere else, it is a source for hope, a solid way of remembering that what is is not all that could be, and a way of claiming myself outside of what is imposed. It is essentially humanising. What else can being alive mean, and how else can we be alive. How are people who cultivating these alternatives in their own lives?
‘visionary fiction centers those who have been marginalized in larger society, especially those who live at the intersections of identities and oppressions. This fundamentally feminist framework is perhaps best epitomized in [Octavia] Butler’s work. The majority of her main characters are women or trans folks of color, and when those characters move to the center of society, we see visionary communities emerge.’
Although our existence is shaped by this violence (of coloniality, of patriarchy, the violent normalisation of heterosexuality (heteronormativity), the rule of capital), we also exist outside of this; we are not only oppressed beings, our resilience and agency cannot be silenced, that is a further source of dispossession. Once again, we are ‘reckoning with the artistic expressions of the marginalised’ (McCarthy), we are looking at doing what Saidiya Hartman does when she, ‘[makes] productive sense of the gaps and silences in the archive of trans-Atlantic slavery that absent the voices of enslaved women’.
While the idea of our beings exists in this current form, this form is not the only way that we exist and we are not the only ones who are here functioning under a regimented regulated existence, how are the animals, the plants, the water, the rivers, and oceans and trees holding up and surviving? How are we (collectively) doing? There is a deep connection between the social and the ecological, living under the ‘coloniality of being’ (Maldonado-Torres, 2007).
There’s nothing new
under the sun
but there are new suns
octavia butler, Parable of the Trickster (unfinished manuscruipt)
- Clarke, Y. 2008. Security sector reform in Africa: a lost opportunity to deconstruct militarised masculinities?. 10: 49-66. Feminist Africa. Available: http://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/ssr_africassrdeconstructmilitarisedmasc_clarke_2008_0.pdf
- Cockburn, C. 2007. Gender, violence and war: What feminism says to war studies. From where we stand: War, Women’s Activism and Feminist Analysis. London and New York: Zed Books
- Duke Franklin Humanities Institute. 2014. Fred Moten & Saidiya Hartman at Duke University [Videofile]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_tUZ6dybrc&t=310s
- Enloe, C. 2016. Cynthia Enloe: Webinar on Militarism and Gender [Video File]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iU2Q0vwxwl8
- Lewis, D. 2013. “The Multiple Lens of Human Security through the Lens of African Feminist Intellectual Activism. In Women, Peace and Security. Eds T Karbo. 6(1): 16-28. African Peace and Conflict Journal. Available: http://www.apcj.upeace.org/issues/APCJ_Vol_6.1_June%202013_Final.pdf
- The Museum of Modern Art. 2015. Fred Moten: ‘Blackness and Non-Performance| AFTERLIVES| MoMa|LIVE [VideoFile]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2leiFByIIg&t=3547s
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saidiya_Hartman (read more on bio. Accessed on 20 Feb 2018)=
- Moten, F. 2014. ‘Come On, Get It’ in The Feel Trio. Letter Machine Editions
- Maldonado-Torres, N. 2007. On the Coloniality of Being. 21: 2-3. Cultural Studies. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09502380601162548