African Cultural Production and the Challenges of Digital Technology
a response to Stacy Hardy
I want to begin with Patrice’s use of intervention as “a participation in creating reality.” This reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with two Angolan cultural producers and friends, Ondjaki and Victor Gama, one a writer, the other a musician/builder of instruments and sonic worlds and, someone who intervenes in history in Patrice’s sense. Ondjaki recounted growing up around Luandans telling stories and his sense that fiction is a way of getting closer to the affective truth of a situation, whether collective or personal. Literature is a way of remembering and recounting things, he said…an affective approximation of what happened, a new version, but a version that is more intimate and true, because it is closer to the feeling of that reality. Victor said that he uses music to open a window on reality. It gives him more reality. For these three artists then, cultural production is anything but escapist. They give us different reality, other realities; secretions and accretions to reality to help us see and think it differently.
Chimurenga’s one-off Chronic in its acute iteration (Stacy’s apt tag) was, I think, an historical intervention of this reality creating variety. Stacy said a bit about this in her piece “Chronic or acute: diagnosing The Chimurenga Chronic (or, Why a newspaper?)” but I hope she’ll say more. She spoke to it as a performance. To its acute limitations. She diagnosed its fatal illness: “Here today, gone tomorrow, it appeared as a spectacle that came dangerously close to perpetuating the very thing it sought to critique. It presented Africa as a land of never-ending present and instant, where today and now matter more than tomorrow, let alone the distant future.” Condemned only to witness, to survive but never to thrive.
I’d like to think a bit more about the acute version of the Chronic more in terms of its possibilities and less in terms of its limitations, which Stacy so thoughtfully and succinctly posed. The Chimurenga website described it as “an intervention into the newspaper as a vehicle of knowledge production and dissemination, it seeks to provide an alternative to mainstream representations of history, on the one hand filling the gap in the historical coverage of this event, whilst at the same time reopening it. The objective is not to revisit the past to bring about closure, but rather to provoke and challenge our perceptions.” It revisits the past because “The Chronic imagines the newspaper as a producer of time – a time-machine.”
Having not read the paper, I cannot speak to the content and will limit my comments to the structure and rationale provided by the editors on the website. The Chronic turns to the past in its date of publication – Black Wednesday, 20 October 1977 when the apartheid regime banned several Black consciousness organizations and newspapers (and we could say, anticipated the 22 Oct 2011 the date of the passage of the Protection of State Information Bill, informally known as the Secrecy Bill). And it turned to the past in by then stepping forward to the issue date of 19-24 October 2008. What the website referred to as the week of the ‘so-called’ xenophobic violence in South Africa, when Somalis and Somali owned establishments, but not only, were violently attacked throughout the country.
This is, I’d wager, not commemoration – building monuments, placing plaques, cementing memories but rather an opportunity for desacralization – time to deconstruct monument making, event cementing, time to pull the skeletons (and skulls – Premesh) out in order to turn things on their head. My question is: to what extent did this happen? And how? Was it a question of content? Of written materials? Of visual? Of sonic? (I’m thinking here of the mixtape) What of the reading room? What did this spatial re-rendering and re-arranging of the paper’s content, drawn from a variety of places, create? What did face-to-face interactions there generate?
If the acute iteration of the Chimurenga Chronic was meant to perform a temporal sleight of hand, can the chronic Chronic do the same or is it’s temporal being the more traditional one of creating an archive forward through time to then be read as the archive of the present (“creating a point of transition from the past to the future” as Stacy described it)? What is gained and what is lost? And whose archive is it? Who is the audience?
Chimurenga is, again in it’s own words, a “challenge to the newspaper’s history as a tool of nationalism.” It is a Pan African paper. Can we simply say that Pan African is as Pan African does or does this term have baggage, or back issues, that need to be unpacked? Is this Marcus Garvey’s Pan Africanism? Kwame Nkrumah’s? The OAU’s? The Pan Africanist Congress’?
Why a newspaper at this particular point in time? If, as Benedict Anderson argued, the newspaper (and novel) was the quintessential text through which the nation was imagined, through simultaneity and horizontality, can the chronic Chronic now offer Pan-Africanity, an ironic and affirmative Africa is a Country? How do digital technologies play in this or are they irrelevant? Do we have here something to talk back to the theorizing about new technologies as always liberating/empowering/democratizing? If, as Anderson saw it, the newspaper linked spatially disparate locations within a national territory, the urban and rural, is the chronic Chronic predominantly urban? Is that a problem? Does the digital reinscribe the urban at the cost of the rural at the same time that it offers us a new, Pan African urban?
To return to the journal’s title – the Chimurenga Chronic – how does the paper work to de-stabilize and re-work concepts like chimurenga – struggle – so bound up to state and ZANU-PF party narratives of history? And to dichotomized oppression/struggle narratives? Is there a particular intervention, a new take on reality, and on history that the chronic Chimurenga Chronic can give us? What other times need to be re-thought and re-made? Where and when will the chronic Chronic take us?
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