"Afrofuturist Artist Spotlight, Taj Tenfold." Womanist Expressions.
Accessed February 13, 2018. https://www.womanistexpressions.com
In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said engages the universalizing pretensions of Western epistemology. Citing C. L. R. James, he engages the interplay between assimilationist and nativist sentiments in movements for liberation and decolonization (246) – the question of whether historical figures such as Toussaint L’Ouverture internalized Enlightenment ideals too readily (his “fatal flaw”) or appropriated them to suit his own needs and subvert European dominion by situating himself within its scheme. Such issues parallel current historiographical debates – how scholars may (mis)apply Eurocentric frameworks or forge their own by recovering indigenous worldviews. Said cites Chinua Achebe – “The work of the Western writer is automatically informed by universality. It is only others who must strain to achieve it” (277).
At the risk of engaging teleologies, I am interested in revisiting the notion of hybridity as (dare I say) an inevitable state of being with which postcolonial activists and intellectuals must contend. Of course, “all culture is hybrid” (317); but, we must consider the power dynamics that differentiate mixture versus “possession, appropriation, and power” (335). Take, for instance the character of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. To assert or reappropriate his significance, his agency and identity in a vacuum, does not allow us to trace the intellectual lineage that produced him.
Too often, Caliban has been replicated and reimagined in exclusive sites of literature and memory as either a victim of “backwards” indigeneity or the European oppressor. Said lauds Roberto Fernández Retamat for treating him, instead, as a “symbol of hybridity, with his strange and unpredictable mixture of attributes. This is truer to the Creole, or mestizo composite of the new America” (213). As such, resistance features both a restoration of what was, as well as a conscious acceptance of what is – resultant of a painful past, but a blueprint for a reclaimed future.*
Said discusses imperialism as an act of geographical violence. He cites Alfred W. Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism, describing the appropriation, transformation, and exploitation of land in tandem with the construction of a settler identity and the establishment of an imperial system (225). This relationship lends itself well to a discussion of expansionism versus encroachment – a historiographic orientation that either favors the spread of Western domination from margins to center or highlights the interiority of indigenous perspectives on and experiences of colonization. Indeed, popular narratives of colonization center on the movement and settlement of foreign (human) bodies, without elaborating on its ecological and ideological forms. In other words, the transplantation of flora and fauna, and ideas and norms (respectively) may establish themselves as separate, but overlapping spheres of inquiry, well-suited for environmental and cultural historians. After all, the postcolonial historiographical project should not just be the responsibility of social and political historians. Such genres are artifice, anyway. A responsible scholar engages the intersections of these domains.
Said argues “slavery and empire are shown to have fostered the rise and consolidation of capitalism well beyond the old plantation monopolies, as well as to have been a powerful ideological system” (94) – a point similar to LaFaber’s introductory remarks. In “Consumption of Dependency Theory,” Fernando Henrique Cardoso describes how claims of “underdevelopment” or “backwardness” are articulated in terms of a Western, capitalist vision of modernity (11). I previously mused about subaltern experiences’ connection to changes in ruling economic power – from enslavement to sharecropping and the prison-industrial complex. How might neocolonial forms of exploitation be linked to imperialist processes? One might compare historical instances of colonization to modern-day gentrification, or interrogate “First World” autonomy in the global economy.
* This point is reminiscent of Saidiya Hartman’s argument in “Venus in Two Acts” – “a history of the present strives to illuminate the intimacy of our experience with the lives of the dead, to write our now as it is interrupted by this past, and to imagine a free state, not as the time before captivity or slavery, but rather as the anticipated future of this writing” (4).
To that end, how has the Afrofuturist movement emerged from the intersection of literature and identity, story-telling and ideology that Said describes? How might it cement our vision of a free state by straddling what was, is, and could be?