Social Death, Wounded Transformations and The Hauntings of Prophetic Tradition :
Tomorrow is Christmas and one story that came to mind in relation to afrofuturism, and especially after I watched Arthur Jafa’s Dreams Are Colder than Death, was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the story’s ghosts of past, present and future.
In the Western imagination, blackness, darkness and Africa (Heart of Darkness) to an extent has represented a kind of social and metaphorical death. For example, Edgar Allen Poe’s tropes of blackness and darkness representing death and evil in works like “The Raven” (the animal also representing the antithesis of the “human” in western construction) and his lesser known novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Even today, we still see the pervasiveness of it, such as Justine Sacco‘s tweet about Africa and aids, reinforcing the implication that Africa as a whole is a wasteland, a place of death only, or even ghettos across America where they are only viewed through lens of crime and death.
But that imagination also be observed within the diaspora as well. Jafa mentioned in the discussion after the film that in one particular West African indigenous group, if certain children were past the point of initiation, they were not able to be reclaimed and thus were left in the woods to die. He asked how did that relate to the diaspora; are we the monsters in the woods, the dark big bad wolf in a sense. Jafa emphasized that this was something we need to address to heal.
Darkness, blackness, Africa and the diaspora are consistently viewed as the shadow that is always trying to become and not allowed to become because it would disrupt the identity of whiteness and Europe as positions of humanness and being. Frank B. WIlderson discusses this often in his afro-pessimism concept. But keeping in line with the tricksterism of figures like Eshu-Elegbara and the big bad wolf (anubis, the dog associated with Eshu), we have taken this social death and transformed it in some ways — the flip side of afro-pessimism, black prophetic tradition, the archetypal wounded healer. In our facing of the darkness, our embodying of it, we found specks of hope and light, recreate through the wound. We formed futurism out of the abyss, the black hole state. Our apocalyptic history foretells everyone else’s.
In A Christmas Carol, the grim reaper represents the ghost of Christmas Future, and while the past is one side in its representation of death, the future is the other side. The future incorporates death and decay to facilitate rebirth. Since the ghost is from the future, he is some type of prophet or time traveler, traveling in and out of physical and spiritual realms, between being and non-being, giving warnings on how to change the present (Note: the ghost is also silent matching itself to the non-communicability of blackness to “civil society”). I read once from a source, that I now can’t remember, that black American music were the voices of the future returning back to tell the message in reference to black music’s spread all around the world. The music is an attempt to have voice for something that is often untranslatable. Blackness and darkness come to represent life outside the traditional codes of what is human and life, an ontological being outside the linear constructions of western time, space, legality and being, but also can be a commitment to ending the world as we know it to open a space for other potential futures in the present. While in A Christmas Carol that resolution or healing seems to come, that has yet to come for us as the black figures.
Jared Sexton’s “The Social life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism.”
Jared Sexton’s “ANTE-ANTI-BLACKNESS: AFTERTHOUGHTS”
Cornel West’s Prophetic Fragments
Interesting discussion on afro-optimism/afro-pessimism
Frank B Wilderson and Saidiya V. Hartman’s “The Position of the Unthought”
Cosmic Hoboes’ “Some Curious Things about Afro-pessimism”