Archive for the 'Re-Vision' Category

09
Jan
09

In Memory of Dr. Roi Kwabena

Today is the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Roi Kwabena, someone whose presence in my own work and evolution was fundamental, a mentor and guide, a great example of a publicly engaged anthropologist — completely public, in the sense of not being tied to any academic position, and inspiring some to call themselves and see themselves as “cultural anthropologists” even without the formal “disciplining” meted out by a university program. I will not write another eulogy. I will instead quote his own words from one of his great spoken word pieces, Whether or Not: “We still thinkin’ ’bout yuh.” And by we, I mean we, since today we collaborated to set up a special ring of commemoration, between myself, Blackgirl on Mars, and Guanaguanare (and on Guacara Dreamtime), all of our lives having been touched directly by you Roi, each of us remembering you in our own way on our respective blogs. As some already know, this blog is dedicated to your memory.

The video below is an animation I made many months ago of one of Roi’s longer hybrid productions as featured on his Y42K album, part spoken word poem, part story, part melody. I was reserving featuring this video on this blog until I was ready for the next installment of (Video) Notes from the Indian Diaspora, which I began and then interrupted several months ago (see here, here, and here). Not to delay further, and to have something to commemorate Roi’s work, I present it now.

This is Sour Chutney, a story whose content is sadly like many that were told of the pains suffered personally and communally as part of the social ruptures of Indian indentureship in Trinidad. It is a story of the ardent defense of tradition and male domination in face of new realities, and the violence that is visited upon one “unlucky” young bride. Most chilling for me was the appearance of the “sin eater,” and the whole piece raised the many hairs on my back.

On this day last year, Dr. Roi Kwabena passed away from lung cancer, just one day after it was diagnosed. He had been hospitalized for suspected pneumonia. His loss weighed deeply on me, but today we celebrate his work, we don’t mourn his passing. Thank you so much Roi, for all you have done, and all you have inspired to be done in the future. You live on!

These are some surviving links to his work, still online:

Also see, Dr. Roi Kwabena: Indigenous & African Heritages, when I first had the pleasure to introduce our friendship to readers online.

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30
Oct
08

The End of Progress

I have been working and thinking about this particular project, featured below, for a while now. It is my newest “open source music video” featuring a Trinidadian calypso by King Austin (Austin Lewis), from 1980. I owe King Austin an enormous debt. I first heard this song in the pub of the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad, one afternoon in mid-August of 1990. It sucked the wind out of me from the very first time, and the song has stayed in my head ever since then. It shaped my approach to the study of international relations, specifically critiques of the Eurocentricity of international developmentalism, as propagated then by Dr. Herb Addo at UWI. It was further fed by the works of George Aseneiro and then Ashis Nandy. Layered with these extra readings and schools of thought, it eventually formed part of the basis for me to enter anthropology (although it was almost literally a toss up between anthropology and sociology that would make my final choice).

The song is a critique of the ideology and practice of progress, from the vantage points of environmental unsustainability, exploitation, inequality, and the resultant social strife. At least part of the vision is inspired by Christian teaching. Yet, his vision is one that has come to be strongly supported by recent scientific research. Indeed, in the days leading up to my concluding work on this video, a striking item was published by the BBC: “Earth on Course for ‘Eco-Crunch’.” It seems that we will need two planets to sustain our current level of consumption, environmental degradation, and growth in population.

Austin Lewis is a modest, unassuming man, who has made the most and very best of the learning made available to him. He says in an interview, “I love every human being very much. It doesn’t matter where you are from. I love all the people and I want to tell them, God bless and have a happy new year.” King Austin asks, as you will hear, some of the primary questions of philosophical importance in what has become an urgent project of utopistics. You can read the complete transcription of the lyrics, as usual, at Guanaguanare’s site, where she also links the message of the song to Steel Pulse’s “Earth Crisis” (you can see the video there, or in my vodpod).

Enough from me, or at least enough text:

10
Oct
08

Cultural Self-Criticism: Escaping from Fear Fascism

I just finished writing in my previous post about distinguishing between Amerikkka and America, and about that American “underground” that is essentially a counterculture whose virtues include strong self-criticism, rehumanization of ways of perceiving Others, greater empowerment of disadvantaged communities, personal decolonization, to name only a few. Moments afterwards, I found the following comment posted at The Washington Monthly, an example of cultural self-criticism of Amerikkkan cultural and ideological confinement. By criticizing the confines and challenging the narrowing paramters of authorized thought practice, the writer implies a poetic vision of an alternative America.

While the rest of the world looks on in horror and with dread, Americans are too feverish with the taint of Republican hate to be able to understand the poison being fed directly into their hearts and minds.

It is nothing less, nor much different than the march of descent into full blown Nazi-ism. We already are a nation acting on a steady diet of fear and suspicion. We favor hate speech and divisiveness over civil discourse and the classic virtues. We are a brutal, violent people who fanaticize and adulate war in professional sports, computer games and throughout all modes of entertainment – TV and movies in particular.

We are a primitive tribal nation in how we wear symbolic uniforms: sports team colors, gang colors, religious colors, school colors.

We idolize the fiction of the independent self-reliant pioneer all the while stepping on those around us to get ahead.

We are a nation of gluttons, taking and ruining much more than our fair share of energy, food, goods and services for only those of us who grab enough of the pie to stake a claim.

We are a heartless and brutal nation, allowing millions to go hungry, without shelter, without healthcare, without clean water, clean air and uncontaminated soil here and hundreds of millions more around the world.

We subsidize predatory private, for-profit industries that benefit only a very few at the expense of almost all of us.

We trample the few of us who act ethically in unethical situations by whistle-blowing, and we turn our backs on them and leave them to die. (Whistle blowers die very early deaths after ruined lives by all statistics and anecdotes).

We torture.

We are racists and bigots.

We are incurious and ignorant.

We stigmatize those who are vulnerable and who “aren’t like us.”

This nation has no claim to any moral high ground.

It has sunk so low that the horizon is high above us all.

And we failed to protect our constitution, our government and our way of life.

We did this all by ourselves.

A salute to the commenter who reminded us that McCain personally dropped bombs on innocent Vietnamese civilians, and has the support of his political culture’s doublethink in portraying Obama as a terrorist, or as a terrorist’s best friend.

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29
Sep
08

The Shadows in the Dark are Blue Devils: Turning the World Upside Down

This is Ataklan again, with more video of Trinidad of a quality and nature that I could only hope to make myself. We have heard from Ataklan before on this blog, with “The Sun Starts to Rise,” which came around the time of the summer solstice, by lucky chance. Now as we enter into a darker fall, today we have “A Shadow in the Dark.” As is often the case with Trinidadian songs and videos that I like to feature here, my comrade Guanaguanare has posted this on her blog a while back, and transcribed it: see her post here.

More in a moment, but first here is the video:

I like the video for its messages of humility, tactical restraint, its suspicion and critique of dominant power, and the daily grind of those placed and held in the gutters of society:


Man, I’d rather be a shadow in the dark,
Than a big fool in spotlight.
I’d rather be a dog without a bark,
Than a loud dog without a bite.

It’s 3 Canal time again, with a video of Blue Devils dancing, classic figures from the pre-dawn J’ouvert of the Trinidadian carnival. There are many reasons why 3 Canal is the featured musical inspiration of this blog, not least of which is their rescuing of the potent political symbolism of carnival-as-resistance, their consistent critiques of capitalism and hegemony, their philosophical dwelling in the working class street, and of course their hybrid musical inventions.

Today Washington crooks cook up a transfer of public wealth into the mismanaging hands of the super wealthy, because otherwise the failure of “capitalism that works” (we have been fed a diet of propaganda of how capitalism is the best possible system, the only system that works, no viable alternatives) might have caused some “shock” to people in growing tent cities, in jobless lines, people losing their homes? Those realities of dispossession and loss will continue regardless of Wall Street’s improved health, and indeed, because of it.

This is a “world turned upside down” in another sense than the one intended by 3 canal — this is Americans’ much hated “socialism” (public funds wielded by an interventionist state) coming to the rescue of capitalism. And they will pay for it very dearly. In the meantime, John McCain entertains fantasies of no new spending on social programs, but lots of new spending on national security — an aspiring “war president” of perverse proportions, who thinks you can run an army without an economy, presumably because he is confident that China and the Gulf States will continue lending the U.S. money for its imperial adventurism? McCain looks more like an old guard figure of the declining USSR, a war-a-holic headed for the same exit, coincidentally also stuck up his melanoma in Afghan sand.

  • Public financed private wealth
  • State bailouts for the “free market”
  • A national war economy funded by foreign lenders
  • Securing economic health (for the dwellers of the tent cities?)
  • An aspiring VP Palin, who thinks the bailout is about health care…

Enjoy it, it’s your state sanctioned madness.

3 CANAL

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22
Jul
08

Michael Taussig: The End of the Masterful Explanation

Some leftover notes from Taussig, for the scrapbook, extracted from:

Taussig, Michael. (1993). Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routledge.

•••••••

The end of “inquiry” and the mastery of the First World:

“To call these reflections on Western reflections an ‘inquiry’ suggests that the anthropological project can continue unabated with the same old desire for intellectual mastery of the object of study and the same old desire for the enigma of the ‘powerful explanation.’ But world history has decreed otherwise. mastery is mocked as First World and Other worlds now mirror, interlock, and rupture each other’s alterity to such a degree that all that is left is the excess — the self-consciousness as to the need for an Identity” (pp. 236-237)

“Mastery is no longer possible. The West as mirrored in the eyes and handiwork of its Others undermines the stability which mastery needs. What remains is unsettled and unsettling interpretation in constant movement with itself — what I have elsewhere called a Nervous System — because the interpreting self is itself grafted into the object of study” (p. 237)

“explanation” is a “defensive appropriation of the unfamiliar” (p. 237)

•••••••

The Second Contact Era:

“To become aware of the West in the eyes and handiwork of its Others, to wonder at the fascination with their fascination, is to abandon border logistics, and enter into the second contact era of the borderland where ‘us’ and ‘them’ lose their polarity and swim in and out of focus” (p. 246)

•••••••

Fragmented Knowledge and Representation:

“In this world the glimpse, like the sound-bite and the after-image, is where the action is, Dada-like impulsions of Otherness hurled at disconcerted beings splayed open to the future” (p. 249)


10
Jun
08

“Why can’t we move on? Why do we have to live in the past?”

An excellent pair of questions, “Paul from Australia quoted by the BBC,” and one can be sure that these are the exact same questions asked by many of those who have been tried and convicted of murder and are currently serving life sentences.

Self-absolution.

It’s how the victors deal with their crimes.

19
May
08

More on RECLAIM THE ANTHROPOLOGIX

I was very happy to receive a reply from Illcommonz, in response to questions I sent regarding the meaning of “Anthropologix,” what the words were next to the MTV logo on the screen (I was not sure if I had read them clearly), and to ask questions about the makers of the film. The response I received added some important clarification, but was also very encouraging where “open anthropology” is concerned.

Illcommonz explained that the meaning of the term “anthropologix” is “NOT Anthropology,” as in not the academic discipline (genre was the word used). The MTV logo was inserted by the video creators, not because it was shown on MTV, as I thought (I fell for it), but as a sign of contemporaneity.

Illcommonz explained that he lectures at a university, and is an artist-activist-anthropologist who teaches anarchist anthropology. He explained that the title of his course, “bunka jinrui gaku kaiho kouza”, means lectures in open anthropology.

•••••••

I wanted to add one short note, to the extent that there are any similarities or overlaps. This is not the first time that I have been inspired by the beautiful renegade work of independent, anarchist, artist-researchers. One of those that I have known for several years — and I am not sure who I have known since they preserve their individual anonymity and shift their locus of production and communication from Brazil to Jamaica to the Pacific — is a collective called The Fire This Time. I was struck by this group on two accounts at first: “the fire next time” is a line from the 3-Canal song “Talk Yuh Talk” featured on this blog; second, the revolutionary reinterpretation of the figure of the Black Indian in TFTT is echoed in the Black Indian in Trinidad’s Carnival, and 3-Canal also adopted the Black Indian theme in the late 1990s. With respect to TFTT, readers can visit my neighbouring blog.

•••••••

Slowly but surely, with the aid of Roi Kwabena, Illcommonz, and The Fire This Time, I am inching my way towards painting some image of what an open anthropology can be. In the meantime, let me end with a segment of a poem by Federico García Lorca, which explains at least one of the directions in the relationship between anthropology and public in open anthropology:

The poem, the song, the picture is only water drawn from the well of the people, and it should be given back them in a cup of beauty so that they may drink — and in drinking — understand themselves.




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ONE DAY FUH WATCHMAN

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