Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: Digital Griots and Does Africa Dream of Androids?

Alternative cover by artist Ronald Davis.

While searching for random stuff through the internet again, I came across Adam Joel Banks 2011 book, Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age. The book looks at the intersections between African American cultures and community building, and new technology and new media, the intersections between tradition and innovation and the constant search for new connections that others have not found. Utilizing the guide of the DJ as the modern “griot and master rhetor,” Banks sees the guide of his book as “standing between tradition and future, holding the power to shape how both are seen/heard/felt/known. exhibiting mastery of techniques, but always knowing that techniques carry stories, arguments, ways of viewing the world, that the techniques arrange the texts, that every text carries even more stories, arguments, epistemologies.”

One of his chapters, “Remix: Afrofuturistic Roadmaps — Rememory Remixed for a Digital Age,” specifically analyzes the old schooland “back in the day” phrases, how they reveals tensions and celebrations within African American cultures between past, present and future and how each interact with one another, and how the remix is one of the tools used in and a product of that interaction. Click here for samples from other chapters.

The next work of scholarship was sent to me from one of my supporters, Florence Okoye’s article “Does Africa Dream of Androids?,” which appears in the journal Disability and the Global South. Her paper explores “the metaphysical anxieties” in the histories and mythologies involving disabilities in Africa societies, the availability of technologies for disabled people, how the cyborg is a figure for social change and how disability should be the baseline approach in looking at humans and technology. This is a great beginning paper for a wider exploration into this topic, especially because it reshapes narratives that we come to see in a certain way, like the concept of the hero. One of the stories she references is that of the Malian emperor, Sundiata, who was crippled, and his mother was disabled as well.

One of the statements made in her work reminded me of Nathaniel Mackey’s writings on the limp in relation to Tarp’s limp in Ellison’s Invisible Man and the god Legba’s limp (his limp seen as a cross between the physical and invisible worlds). She says, in terms of the view of disabled people as divine beings, “In spite of this variation, one can see a commonality in the way cyborgs are held as representing more than the sum of their shortcomings. They are portents, signifiers of an existential battle that is played out between man and gods, within the individual human person between the ‘natural’ animal,(dominated by external forces), and the ‘civilised’ person…” Mackey writes how Legba “suffers not from deformity, but multiformity, a “defective” capacity in a homogenous order given order to uniform rule.” In that sense, disability enables a universe of possibilities and leads to innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention, a “deceptive disability” as Mackey calls it.


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