Friday, July 11, 2014

"The future Must Be Made in the Present" --- Notes on Biko by Jess Auerbach

Reflections on Kelly Gillespie’s Presentation ‘The Trouble with Non-racialism’ given at the Steve Biko Center in Ginsberg, South Africa, as part of the Johannesburg Workshop on Theory and Criticism.
JWTC participant walking in the fading light of dusk to Steve Biko's grave in Ginsberg (c) Ainehi Edoro

On Voice

It begins with voice, rolling out over a still image and a still room, conscious of certain irony but nonetheless aware of the importance today of listening.

To Biko’s voice. So often we speak his words, read them, articulate them – but in our voices. And here is his.

It is in Ginsberg that this history began, and in Ginsberg that this sound enters the air, is absorbed into ears and through carpets and down into the ground of this place through pens and keyboards and multiple spatial recorders.

People are different, he tells us, and that’s fine, but to fail to see that difference and act with it in mind is a failure of humanity.

On the Future

We must prepare for a future in which things will be not as they are, Biko says. The question enters the air: which future are we preparing for now? It percolates with urgency, and we are all drawn in, because today the reality is that little has substantively changed.

And in the commodification and brandification of Biko’s face and voice and concepts, we find an echo of a failing of a future – the failing of the future that was dreamed and yet is yet to come.

“The sign of Biko then and now is the sign of the unfinished business of racism,” Gillespie says with calm intensity. To ignore this sign is to miss a vital marker of where and what we as a nation and a place of global movements are feeling. The future must be made in the present and the present is a national project of various exclusions.

On the Present National Project

And so the question, in this place at this time, becomes about the present to my ears. How do we enact a conscious humanity cognizant of the past but seeking to surpass it in the everyday minutiae of living? Herein lies the urgency.

Can race be surpassed in our daily lives lived now? What might that mean in coming tomorrows? Where in the grist of profound present inequality and fear are the moments where the non and the anti and the a-  of racialism are transcended through the simple experiences of living, listening and speaking together? Listening and to hearing and to voicing in South Africa as we go forward, attended and in constant dialogue with that which is outside of us, beyond us, and witnessing.

Surrealism takes us beyond the ‘sordid antimonies’of our task. It is presented as a tool of transcendence, and we closed the meditation on Biko with that as an offering from Suzanne Césaire: “Colonial idiocy will be purified in the welder’s blue flame. We shall recover our value as metal, as the cutting edge of steel, our unprecedented communions.”

About the Author: 

Jess Auerbach is originally from Durban, but did her undergrad at the University of Cape Town where she began working with refugees from around the continent. Her current work at Stanford University considers the ways in which circulation within the former Portuguese empire continues to inform Angola's post-war development.

Twitter: @jess.auerbach

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