anohni – marrow (2016)

In the, in the countryside, under the stream
Suck the, suck the marrow out of her bones
Inject, inject, inject me with chemotherapies
Suck the, suck the money out of her face

We are, we are all Americans now

Africa, Iceland, Europe and Brazil
China, Thailand, India and Great Britain
Australia, Borneo and Nigeria

We are, we are all Americans now

Suck the, suck the oil out of her face
Burn her, burn her hair, boil her skin

We are, we are all Americans now

for whom the bell curve tolls

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

– John “I’m done” Donne. Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624

huma seminar at uct this thursday

humaHUMA Seminar Series

“’Then you are a man, my son’: Kipling and the Zuma Rape Trial” presented by Lucy Graham (UWC)

When: Thursday, 30 July 2015

Time: 13h00 – 14h30

Venue: HUMA Seminar Room, 4th Floor, The Neville Alexander Building (formerly known as the Humanities Building), University Avenue, Upper Campus, UCT

One of the strangest incidents during the Jacob Zuma rape trial was surely the moment when Judge Willem van der Merwe, handing down his verdict that exonerated Zuma, addressed Zuma with the following words: “Had Rudyard Kipling known of this case at the time he wrote his poem, ‘If’, he might have added the following: ‘And, if you can control your body and your sexual urges, then you are a man, my son’”.

It is now nine years since the Zuma rape trial, and yet this allusion to Kipling’s famous poem has been passed over by other commentators on the trial. Of what exactly is Kipling a spectre as he appeared in the judge’s verdict, and how do we read the judge’s strange politics of (dis)affinity that arises out of his rescripting of Kipling: his insistence on the developmental and racialised difference of boyhood and manhood, while at the same time his possible consolidation of a more absolute difference based on gender? How was discourse and performativity during and around the Zuma rape trial related to the history of “Zuluness”, and to the reception of narratives of intraracial sexual violence by the ANC? What significance does an analysis of the Zuma rape trial that takes into account colonial history have for contemporary South Africa, and specifically for the UCT: Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town? In this paper I am interested in the ways in which spectres of colonial patriarchy continue to haunt the South African present.

a nightmare

Just dreamed I was working at a mattress abattoir/factory in some long ago time and place. The mattresses were somehow living organisms. I had to use a guillotine and also sometimes a huge cleaver, if the guillotine didn’t slice all the way through, and chop them cleanly and very systematically, blood pooling on the rushes underfoot. Every blow I dealt nauseated me to tears. There was a foreman forcing me to speed up all the time. There was nothing else to the dream but this enforced, repetitive violence, and all I could do to try to make it better was to do the awful hacking with more precision.

But what does it mean?

Myself, I think it has to do with being inescapably forced to inhabit the violent, corporate machine of colonialism… I’m working on knowledge production about Africa by missionaries and scientists, through looking at archival objects, which are objects but also subjects, violently wrenched from their contexts. The mattress here symbolises something… maybe related to peace of mind, restfulness, not being awake or aware… I don’t know. Whatever it is, it is being violently ruptured. I think this could be about being forced to make one’s bed to lie in, as a researcher and writer inserted into the chain of murderous history, unable to escape perpetuating it even as I try to undo it, still half asleep.

chimamanda ngozi adichie – the danger of a single story

[W]hen I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.

My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer, because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story.

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Now, things changed when I discovered African books. There weren’t many of them available, and they weren’t quite as easy to find as the foreign books.

But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.

Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are…

… If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images,I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.

izithunguthu

The Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, where I work, is hosting an interesting conference next month:

IZITHUNGUTHU: 

Southern African Pasts Before the Colonial Era, their Archives and their Ongoing Present/Presence

16, 17, 18, July, 2015
Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative
University of Cape Town

“You can write and remember but for our part we are simply izithunguthu” (Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in James Stuart Archive, vol.6. p.289)

Thunguthu (Isi), n. One flustered or put out, made to forget by being scolded or cross-questioned, though well-informed. Colenso’s Dictionary (4th ed., 1905, p. 627)

Transcript of Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in James Stuart Archive, vol.6. p.289

Transcript of Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in the James Stuart Archive

In late 2014 the sixth volume of the James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples (edited by the late C.de B.Webb and J.B. Wright) was published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, bringing the number of pages of edited, translated and annotated archival text to a total of 1697 (excluding indexes), organised alphabetically from Antel to Zwayi, under the names of 185 primary interviewees.

The conference celebrates this remarkable editorial achievement and its contribution to the enquiry into the southern African past in the many eras before the advent of European colonialism. It also foregrounds and seeks to take forward new developments and thinking about these eras. It does this through a double focus on the different forms of archive relevant to the various eras and on the innovations – conceptual, theoretical, methodological, technological, practical or creative – involved both in mobilizing such archives, and indeed other materials considered to be not-archive, and in pursuing enquiries into those eras.

The conference will be organised around four central themes:

  • the making and remaking of the James Stuart Archive;
  • the nature and forms of archive, and indeed other forms of historical material, pertinent to these eras;
  • the meanings of pasts designated “pre-colonial” in the present, and in past presents;
  • innovations- conceptual, theoretical, methodological, technological, practical and creative – in enquiry into these eras.

The Making and Remaking of the James Stuart Archive
The James Stuart Archive is a rare southern African treasure for a number of reasons, of which two are particularly significant. The first is that while the collection is undoubtedly the work of the collector, and has been fundamentally shaped by him in ways that are the subject of ongoing critical scholarly investigation, the recorded texts also offer insight into the thinking of the various people whose accounts Stuart recorded. The bulk of the material was documented between 1897 and 1922, when Stuart interviewed some 200 people whom he considered to be well informed on contemporary and historical matters relevant to the region. He took detailed notes in the course of the conversations, often seemingly recording people in their own words. His working methods, the contributions of his interlocutors and all the other factors that shaped the archival texts, are the subject of ongoing scholarly attention. The combination of the extensiveness of the corpus and the nature of the material covered by interviewer and interviewees, often dealing with topics little discussed elsewhere in written documentation of the time, makes it one of South Africa’s most valuable historical resources pertinent to the late independent era in south-east Africa, as well as the colonial period that followed.

Archive and its “Others”
The past decade has seen the paying of close attention to the making and shaping of archive in many forms, while archive/s have also been the subject of sustained theoretical and methodological discussion. Long understood to be a time without an archive, the eras of the past before European colonialism and enquiries into them both draw from and contribute to, in distinctive ways, the larger critical discussion about archive, itself otherwise decisively shaped by European intellectual history.  The conference theme on the nature and forms of archive focuses attention on these distinctive ways, seeking to understand what they mean for the wider understanding of archive and what they mean for enquiries into the long southern African past.

We welcome papers not only on similarly iconic text-based archives (like the much celebrated Bleek and Lloyd Archive of material collected from /xam and !kung speakers between 1870 and 1884) but also on lesser known text-based sources, including ones which might heretofore have never been explicitly treated as archives. The conference hopes to interrogate taken-for-granted distinctions between primary and secondary sources.  When, for example, is a published account be considered an archive, and of what precisely is it an archive? We are interested in discursive materials that may not take a written form, including poetic forms, songs and invocations, and in interrogating critically the notion of “oral tradition”, seeking not only its disaggregation, but also careful reassessment of the conceptual apparatus associated with it.

We are especially interested in the nature of materials that are relevant to the remote past which have been or are yet thought of explicitly as “not archival”. Items of material and visual culture are widely used as sources for various aspects of enquiry into the past, but often in a manner that assumes that they have a timeless cultural relevance. We invite papers that build on recent work which historicises such items, paying close attention to particularities of provenance, circumstances and effects of collection, classification and curation. Current work is beginning to recognize incorporated, as opposed to inscribed, archival forms, notably embodied forms of materials that refer to the past. We invite contributions that grapple with the complex challenges involved in exploring, for example, contemporary instances of spirit possession and rituals concerning ancestors, for what they might add to an understanding of the distant past.

The Entangled “Pre-colonial”
How do we think of what has been termed the pre-colonial beyond the strictures of prepositional time? The academic orthodoxy teaches us to approach it as the distant past, as an evacuated experience, as a domain of specialists. And yet, our everyday scenes are stamped by its uncanny fecundity, its untheorised proximity, its entangled lives in the contemporary.  In a variety of different ways – imaginatively, expansively, subjectively, critically, affectively – contemporary artists, writers, family and clan historians, politicians and intellectuals engage the body of inherited materials that academics and lawyers use as “sources”, often with very different purposes, from the celebratory through the denunciatory to the parodic.  All of these engagements with the eras of the past before European colonialism, and with the ways in which the colonial and apartheid eras dealt with the earlier periods, undertaken by historians and many others, contribute to contemporary understandings and meanings of the distant past and fall within the purview of the conference.

In the nineteenth century, many colonial intellectuals took the history of the region before colonialism seriously enough to record and collect materials pertinent to it and to write its histories. In the post-conquest context of the twentieth century, the many eras of the long past, and indeed the history of indigenous people in the colonial and apartheid eras, were systematically ghetto-ised as the subject of the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, linguistics and prehistory, and as requiring a specialist conceptual apparatus pertinent to the study of ‘tribal’ or ‘pre-modern’ societies. Unpacking the legacies of this conceptual apparatus requires comparative perspectives from across and beyond the continent attentive to the cross-genealogies of the tribal and the modern. These concepts have lingering effects that are yet discernible. In trying to think about the past beyond the warranty of these concepts, we also invite reflections on the ways of being in the world in which that past may not necessarily be an object of capture.

Conceptual Innovations
Our conference, therefore, is inevitably an engagement with the new. As it seeks to break out of the academic ghetto-isation, its exploratory restlessness challenges the established boundaries of disciplines, regions and identities. What happens when we consider enquiries into the past before European colonialism in the light of the contemporary insights on religion and affect, fashion and beauty, embodied knowledges, decoloniality, performance theory, border epistemologies, theory from the south, and so on?

The conference rationale is founded in a long view of history, seeking to subvert persistent habits of treating the past before colonialism as another country, and the advent of colonialism as the history of the region’s starting point with only a passing nod to, or introductory paragraph on, what went before. What happens when histories of ideas, modes of thought, institutions and practices, and the changes which they have undergone, are traced across the early state, late independent, early colonial, apartheid, and even post-apartheid, eras? In the conference even the latter, provisional, periodization would itself be open to debate and question.

For more information, please email APC-admin@uct.ac.za.