Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Enigma of Our Swaziland Arrival by Ainehi Edoro

 A mobile conference is a peculiar kind of intellectual labor. It presents the image of the intellectual not as a solitary and sedentary thinker but as an errant being, plagued by the inconveniences of thinking on the move.

In past years, the scene of our intellectual labor has always been the room at Wits University. This year, we are on the road, 60 of us in a tour bus, checking in and out of hotels, sharing the communion of food and libations, and arriving at venues where we perform a series of acts that constitutes the academic subject—thinking and speaking and questioning. 
Are we tourists? 
Kelly Gillespie warned us to reject the na├»ve sentiment of the tourist. Yes we were assembled in a place called the Valley of Heaven, with mountain peaks adorning its horizon. The night before, we marveled at the cute African huts where we warmed our cold and tired limbs before a bonfire, in the midst of warthogs and starry skies. But the serenity, Gillespie warns, is at best dubious and at worst seduces us from the work at hand---giving account of a history of violence that is both elusive and painfully present. 
Are we explorers? 
This year’s workshop is a pursuit of “creative theoretical thought” by way of a movement through space. We are asking questions about race, history, and the future as we move from city to city. It is a project where the exploration of ideas coincides with the exploration of space. 

In a colonial expedition headed by an explorer figure, the objective of mobility is the removal of obstacles or impediment—as in the freeing of the feet from fetters evident in the Latin roots of the word—expedire. The explorer is one for whom knowledge is tied to an overcoming of space. 
The movement of the modern explorer is also destinational. Space is reducible to extension and movement is progressive. The explorer works within a dialectics of departure and arrival enabling him to observe, record, and map---to abstract space.  This is because the aim of the explorer is to constitute space as something that can then be transformed into a home or a market. 
If travel means, for the explorers, the clearing away of obstacles, and invariably the appropriation of space as something either known or owned, I want to imagine our journey ever since the bus left Johannesburg as something different, perhaps, as a “traveller’s tale…set in a surrealist painting.” 
Our project consciously attempts to interrupt the touristic gaze that assumes effortless consumption as its right and the explorer’s feet that removes the impediments on which the creative and ethical imperative of our work depends. Instead, through a careful process of curation, our project constellates a series of spaces, peoples, movements, encounters, to allow a different mode of engagement that questions knowledge acquisition, production, and assumption. 

Unlike the explorer, we are open to the possibility that certain encounters will prevent out capacity to move on. This is what the Swaziland experience has meant for many of us. Wopko Jensma’s work, coupled with the testimonies of those six individuals has stayed with us. Something happened in that space. Some of us are still not able to name it and, for that reason, we will never be able to move on from it. In a sense, we have never left Swaziland. 
If we have still not left Swaziland, have we yet arrived anywhere else? Might it be that the beauty of our project derives from the impossibility of departure and arrival? Another way to put this is to ask whether we will ever be able to return to the Johannesburg that we left a few days ago? Will this repetition of failed departures and arrivals bring us to a different Johannesburg? 
There is a dimension of our journey where mobility is neither progressive nor digressive. With Siba Grovogui's talk we found ourselves transported through time and space to the Straits of Malacca. After Swaziland, we have still not been able to move on. We have been held captive by a gut-wrenching scene of testimony. This oscillation between incalculable speed (the Straits of Malacca) and immobility (Swaziland) defines the alien form of mobility essential to our project. 
We are moving in thought and thinking in movement. But it also seems as though we are doomed to a form of mobility consisting of repetitions of impasses and errancy. 
Could this alien technique of intellectual labor called "the mobile workshop" be itself a manifestation of the non-racial?


Images by Naadira Patel. 

Notes on The Non-Racial by Emma Diatz

What is the role and fate of racial identities in unshackling us from a racist future? This is a question to which Achille Mbembe, Adam Habib, and Ahmed Kathrada kept returning in their conversation and that is  taken up again and again in all the different sessions.
One vision of such a future travels under the name of non-racialism. Given that a particular version of non-racialism has come to dominate our critical and political imaginary as though it were the only one conceivable, it is worth acknowledging the possibility that there may in fact be varieties of non-racialism that they are not necessarily equal in their moral and political consequences. 
The possibility and potential of varieties of non-racialism – and why not? – was brought into focus for me through the contrast between the non-racialism that David Theo Goldberg deconstructed in his session on Stuart Hall and the non-racialism that Achille Mbembe constructed in his lecture on "raceless futures." 
The rendition of non-racialism that Goldberg gives us is the one with which most of us are familiar. It is the non-racialism that is frequently, though not exclusively, deployed by white folks to discourage conversations implicating whites in the historical responsibility of racism as its architects, beneficiaries, and, I would argue, its first moral casualties. 
It is the non-racialism that, by removing the conceptual language of race, makes it theoretically impossible for blacks to articulate experiences of racism or for anyone, including whites, to object to or resist racism. 
To describe the non-racialism that Achille offers is a much more difficult exercise. Because non-racialism has so often served racist interests it is hard to imagine its other possibilities. The vision of human relations that seems to me to animate this alternative non-racialism is a vision in which our relations are not determined through a racialized reading of one another’s bodies followed by a racialized and racializing projection of expected concerns, tastes, feelings, moral commitments, desires and so on, onto the other. 
But are there ways in which this vision of the non-racial is divorced from the ongoing social reality of race?

Author Bio: 
Emma Diatz a doctoral student at UCT, writing on the Black Consciousness Movement with a biographical focus on Vuyelwa Mashalaba, who worked closely with Biko but about whom little is written. I have the good fortune to be doing this under the guidance of Xolela Mangcu. Her intellectual interests are animated by a concern for justice and fairness and I am particularly inspired at the moment by thinkers like Richard Pithouse, David Scott, Patrick Chabal, and Rick Turner, among others. 


Image by Naadira Patel.