Struggling To Write Right, Write White, And Right White.

This semester I was tasked with the question, What Challenges Does A Historian Face In Recovering The Voices And Perspectives Of The Subaltern? There were so many challenges I never finished the assignment. Challenges of defining the terms, limiting the focus, widening the sources, finding a starting point (if there was one to be found), and otherwise.

I encountered the same problems there that I have elsewhere: my own desire to write something comprehensive — perhaps this is my Western fetish for controlling a narrative, but here also my desire to avoid a narrow reading — to speak from more than one angle of a subject, and the desire to account for the multiple histories at work while sticking on point and in word limit.

A lot of this is to do with the nature of the study, the challenges embedded within the very problem under investigation. You could start with class analysis and miss gender and race, critical intersections without which “class” is robbed of its currency. You could assess a certain era or epoch or follow the criteria set by one particular writer or school, but fail to see their “embeddedness” in a history that spills beyond particular boundaries. It’s because the subaltern is submerged, hidden and present within, behind and beyond any one moment, theory or articulation.

Where to start, then? And where to conclude, when the stories are always unfinished business? Reading Reiland Rabaka’s Africana Critical Theory: Reconstructing The Black Radical Tradition, From W.E.B. du Bois and C.L.R. James to Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral recently has helped me appreciate the multidisciplinary, multifocal approach I’m after — that this is a good thing — but also the difficulty, the wordiness, the space needed for this kind of work.

4,000 word essays are too short!

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My Dream Essay Due Tomorrow is a Nightmare! Postcolonial history.

I don’t even know where to begin with it all. This is the actual topic I want to pursue in my thesis, which I can begin after I finish these damn units! I get to/have to write a 4,000 word essay on postcolonial history, namely the challenges that arise in “recovering the voices and perspective of the subaltern.”

I have written none of it. My textbooks are exceptional. Curthoys and Docker “Is History Fiction?” and Green and Troup “Houses of History” but little to say about postcolonial history. Where to begin on what I have been meditating on and attempting to practice for a few years now, consciously, and perhaps all my life, in connections to subalterity that do not qualify me to speak as an expert or as a “subaltern” but as someone who has much to say about this without scholarly distance.

I should be thrilled to write what I’ve been wanting to for so long. But I have also been too insistent on a kind of masquerade scholarly distance, accounting for all sources, all possible disagreements, which could in the end be a byproduct of the consumerist Faustian knowledge-making from my rather un-Subaltern upbringing: wanting to say all things and thereby control the conversation.

The introspection (self-criticism) required from the study of topics that demand proximity and praxis of you, as well as ‘real’ dialogue, and the feeling that ‘criticism’ generally is often a code for talk over action, namely talk about things unconcerned with action… and I suppose these are debates that have been debated by postcolonial scholars too (like Walter Mignolo comparing the praxis-oriented scholars of Liberation Philosophy and Postcolonial Studies in Latin America with the meaning-oriented scholarship on postcolonial literature taking place elsewhere.)

Could it be that by typing my tentative understandings, my so-far knowledge, into WordPress, could free me to “blog it out” and make an essay in the process?

That is what we must do then.

Um, so I guess I first think about Frantz Fanon. Let me tell you about him, and the challenge is I can’t reach for my books, wikipedia or whatever. Just tell it how you have it so far.

Okay. Frantz Fanon. I first read Concerning Violence which I think is an extract from Wretched of the Earth or somewhere else. He was born in Martinique, in the Caribbean. He emigrated to France and then worked as a doctor in French Algeria. He was confronted with the reality of colonisation and of his own blackness during these years and contributed to the Algerian resistance and the realm of decolonial thought, beginning in the 1950s.
Another of his classic works is Black Skin, White Masks, on the socio-psychological dynamics of colonial and racial oppression in terms similar to today’s revived focus on ‘internalised colonialism.’ I wonder where that comes from?

Who else? Shit, it’s too late for me. That one was easy but that’s not what I’m being asked.
Okay so what challenges is Fanon facing. Let’s think:

  1. The war in Algeria has him shift through praxis into a new thought: decolonisation which engenders violence. He is trying to make sense of what is taking place, the revolt, the war, the long settler occupation that has spiralled from a false peace into, for Fanon, a truthful violence.
  2. He explores the psychological effects of colonialism’s life in the colony. He describes a world of boundaries marked by fences, soldiers, checkpoints, ethnic zones for those who rule and those who are ruled, the settler and the native. He describes the envy and resentment this system of apartheid and oppression incurs in the colonised native who awaits the moment he has long dreamed of, of taking his master’s house, land, wife… all that his master has acquired through the uneven and violently imposed division of labor and rights in the racial hierarchy of a European colony.
    He does not (as far as I know) write on what happens psychologically and actually after the revolution, but the intolerable situation of colonialism is vanquished and for Fanon this is purifying and through it the native becomes true man.
    Perhaps what he means is that, as he says about the servants’ daydreams of taking, if he could, even the master’s spouse, because what the master has is the wealth and enjoyment that belongs to a man who… no, a man. He has what belongs to a man. The master is certain he is a human because he lives in human conditions, and is untroubled by the inhumane squalor of the servants quarters and the shanty-towns. In this respect the violent claiming of the ruling classes’ property is the establishing of a new fact that now the blacks are living like men and will not be spoken to by fathers any longer. Fanon is not a nonviolent theorist; he does not believe that the coloniser will recognise the humanity of the colonised until the colonised exerts his right to humanity in the only language the coloniser knows, violence and the claiming of territory.
  3. That’s not really how he’d describe it, that last sentence^, and the way I wrote it sounds like the formally oppressed now in the colonial estates have mistaken the symbols of power and status of the colonial structure — epistemologically and administratively(?ugly word!) — for symbols of true humanity. This is one of the criticisms internal to decolonial thought; whether or not the subaltern is continuing to think in colonised ways even while resisting colonialism. Fanon would speak about many of these difficult issues, some of which directly relates to today’s mainstreamed debates on appropriation. He was not the first to explore this either.
    But we should briefly return to say one thing on shitting in the boss’s toilet. It is not, I imagine for Fanon or the Algerian, a simple matter of taking the possessions of your oppressors and kicking them out — although that in itself is a true step for Fanon toward the liberation that means beginning again on one’s own terms, to become one’s own boss as all humans should be — still rather a matter of gaining the meanx of survival as well as stripping the tools of injustice, which in a colonial system is the whole system or at least a sum of its parts. Questions of what come after in this context can’t wait until after happens, as if by magic. Besides the war in Algeria was already brewing before Fanon wrote, I believe: thus is was a “fact” as per Cabral in Guinea-Bissau.
  4. Yes. So yes Fanon also spoke about the aspect of “internalised colonialism” although I’m not sure he used that term, did he? In Black Skin, White Masks he explores the concepts of coloniality which arise within the racism, essentialism, difference and, I guess, alterity of colonial subjects and non-subjects, subjects and objects, humans and savages or whatever vulgar distinctions were made by the rulers who justified their oppression on concepts of “us and them” or “us and those” things, objects, niggers, slaves, noirs, etc.
    The dehumanisation in which the ghettoed live and which is continually sold them by perpetual nonhumanness, sub-status, as well as being sold to them through the lies told by the dehumanising power, always praising its own values and persecuting alter-natives: European cultural elitism saw its alternatives as always essentially other (cf. Said’s Orientalism) and essentially less, primitive, base, debased, taboo, even evil and punishable when displayed. Europeans had knowledge, Africans had myths. Europeans were logical and scientific and religious. Africans were illogical, unsophisticated and pagan. White was good. Black was bad. Just as it is in our common parlance. Okay, so what am I saying that’s new! We all know that part, that function of racism or generally “isms” (the bad ones) where it’s like “we’re good, naturally”-“you’re bad, obviously”.
    In BSWM, Fanon talks about the aesthetic, fashion, culture, vernacular and symbols, as well as academic discourse, appropriated by blacks, such as in the straightening of hair, bleaching of hair and skin, the sycophantic need for approval by the whites still in power after official decolonisation (or emancipation in the United States) and the association of whiteness (skin, hair, voice) with beauty. For Fanon this was an imprint of slave consciousness, another term I am unsure to use but hey this is a blog, and he rejected the great esteem given to Western cultural artefacts, especially if it meant becoming like the oppressor.
  5. This is paradoxic except that in his revolutionary works Fanon sees the appropriation of the colonial agents’ plunder as the reclaiming of lost produce from the land and so reappropriation. This leads to the blossoming human emerging in the colonised not because they now have objects but because they have asserted themselves. The substance of the colonial mythology, that goodness and prosperity shall belong to the settlers who can maintain it by force, is defeated by force. Humanity emerges as it could not in chains, under whips and in misery.
  6. His concern here (I am back to BSWM) seems particularly “pastoral”, almost… I mean it is really about the despising of blackness, the association of black appearance, music, language, culture, history with taboo, evil, mystery, and so many white conceptions based on distance and denial. He gets pretty close I seem to recall to James Baldwin on the kinda Freudian aspects of projects and… Oh shit, that’s right. I forgot about Unveiling Algeria, which I’m also not sure where that’s from, like when written. But that’s very much like Said’s Orientalism. The European in a country like Algeria imagines a beautiful innocent and untouched virgin behind the veil of the women of the East where he has heard stories of Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine, or where in real life he has seen the mistreatment by European standards of native women by native men, which he doesn’t associate with colonial violence by inference of direct association. He is human, noble, Christian-maybe, and worthy, with a roguish exploring attitude — this is the self-imagining of the settler out in the wilderness of tribal peoples and pre-modern landscape — and how could he keep from the fruit taboo for his own society and forbidden by the society he despises. He must unveil. It is like all the seeing and knowing of the coloniser, the explorer, the discoverer, those who uncover the world do so with a false mystique about it, seeing what they imagine instead of the humans in front of them. Fanon is exploring epistemology here, how knowledge is produced in the service of (sexual) conquest. Perhaps this is the counterpart to the black desire to replicate whiteness. The white desire for… how do you describe that mess? Again I call in Baldwin, where y’at?

Phew! Time to go to bed. It’s 3.57. Not sure if that was worth it. Probably I’ve helped myself understand something and a few of those sentences are worth keeping. Goodnight. Wish me luck. Gotta discuss: Homi Bhabha, Guyatri Spivak, Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, Guha, Said, ecc.

Chaos Disappearing Research

Every day I churn through a whole lot’a information about different subjects I’m interested in… or even one’s I’m not so interested in but have borne a small parallel of some other thing I was wanting to say at one time. I’m a collector, a horder of information. I want to endless list and categorise and reorder and coagulate concepts. It’s just what I do. But after a while I stopped the hording side and kept up the churning, so now I hardly can trace back to where I found this point or that insight.

A journal would help. My brother journals in several red books, the collection of filled Moleskines lined up in his desk like an oeuvre, and in them he gets down fragmentary thoughts in one place, film designs in another, to-do lists scattered throughout and even gets his free-thought-association vomit down in the morning so his brain is clear to write. I should be doing my assignments which I’m refusing to even look at.

My web browser is full. 23 tabs full. I guess they are as good as anything else to spew forth some free thoughts about. I hate that I never blog and never remember what to write about when I come to finally add something.

The last page, Google Search: ouvre. Did you mean oeuvre? Yes I did. The next is Wontulp-Bi-Buya News from the Bible College. Finding those newsletters has been eye-opening. The Aboriginal Bible College is still in need of vital funding. There’s also the occasional papers, like this.

Oh and this ABC Compass transcript from when the Rainbow Spirit Elders were interviewed regarding Rainbow Spirit Theology, a book of indigenous Christian theology associated with Wontulp and Nungalinya colleges! This transcript might be the best online resource I’ve found so far to confirm what the book is about, as I haven’t bought it yet. Found out about Norman Habel. I always write that name as Normal Habel.

The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture Papers and Publications. Charles Sturt University. Good public theology papers from Australia.

The Charles Sturt profile page of Dominic O’Sullivan, author of Faith, Politics and Reconciliation: Catholicism and the Politics of Indigeneity (2005).

ATF Press. A publisher with interesting theology titles from Australia.

Came across a political theology site called thelevellers and researched the levellers and Richard Overton. He’s a crazy bastard, kind of Gonzo for the 17th century. Still gotta write on the theology of John Ball et al in the peasants revolt.

French Wikipedia: Théologie politique (translated, thanks Googs). The other-language Wikis have been helpful for theology timelines.

I was halfway through watching this inspiring doco on Jean Vanier and L’Arche (YouTube).

Found out the Australian-Cuban Friendship Society (1) exists, (2) exists in Perth, (3) does solidarity-exposure trips to Cuba! There have been a series of talks on recently concerning Cuba and the new era of open relations with the United States under Obama.

Rotunda Media is a new company in town run by young people, including on of the kids (now a woman) who attended my school. Check them out!

Black Millennials.com . Stumbled across it. It’s kinda like what I’m gonna maybe eventually attempt with this. Essentially a personal site, but exploring a common topic: in that case, Black Millennials… Kinda reminds me of Ifemelu’s blog in Americanah.

Almost all closed now. Now I can finally start clearing my desktop of the hundreds of amassed Word Docs, intros and intros and more intros and just fragments of ideas put together but not together. Gotta categorise and then list some more. Like will be better then says the neurotic inside me.

Oh shit. Last tab. A half written message to someone who took good exception with my last post on FB about something to do with Conservative-Liberal-Liberationist hermeneutics as a journey of theodicy, doubt and blah blah blah. I wasn’t very invested in the idea. He brought up good points. I start writing a reply two days ago. I know it only has to be brief. I want to affirm his points, apologise for any hastiness in my post — I wasn’t meaning to put conservative faith at the bottom of some evolving religion — and briefly say something about what I really meant. What was it I really meant? That’s what I stopped replying for. To find out.

I still haven’t.

I’m still not sure what my thesis should be about.

I’m still not done with my assignments but I should reply as well to another msg about it, this one encouraged but perplexed… Alex, how can I pose this question to a group who doesn’t use words like “vernacular” and “parochialism” and other pompous shit. Theology’s gotta be in the language people understand, which is something I understand but often forget. I could not bother replying. Such things take a lot of energy these days for some reason. No, what the hell. I gotta do it, that the “service” I’m offering with this website after all.

This is a boring post. Forgive me. It’s important that I start writing everything down just so that I am writing something. Hopefully something comes of spurting up in. auti questi ossi di seppia, o dio mio