For Black History Month, I present to you my published essay, “The Spiritual Technologist: An Afrofuturistic Techno-Ethos:”
Using the title of the character Rinehart from Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” I explore briefly the concept of the spiritual technologist as a way to develop my own philosophical ethos for the movement of Afrofuturism.
Two of my favorites quotations from Invisible Man: “Beware of those who speak of the spiral of history; they are preparing a boomerang. Keep a steel helmet handy” and “The old is ever new.”
Today is Ralph Ellison’s Birthday and he would have been his 100th birthday. So, here is a taste (a short summary) of my essay, “’The Electric Impulse:’ The Legba Circuit in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man,” which I submitted to be in Afrofuturism 2.0, an anthology edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles Jones.
Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s quotation, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration,” I argued that Legba (also associated with Eshu, Exu, etc.) is the guiding force of Ellison’s novel, incarnating himself through several of the characters in the book and under-girding the main themes of the book.
When it comes to dissecting the novel, many will focus on the intersections of technology and race or even the musical aspects of it, since Ellison was a trained musician before becoming a writer, but rarely do they explore the spiritual, mythological and cosmic framework of the novel in relation to those other elements. Ellison had said himself that he uses myth and ritual as part of the process of his own writing in the Paris Review and he makes several references to those mythic ideas within his work. Thus, the novel intersects the two strands of spirituality and technology, much like the major guiding Legba-like character for the narrator, Rinehart, the spiritual technologist. Ellison uses the surface of technology to explore deeper questions of race, history, humanity, spirituality and understanding of the universe.
Ekari (Ashleigh Ekari) is developing a series called TRANSMISSION: Afrofuturism as an Archive as part of her senior capstone project for the class Re-Imagining the Archive. She describes it as “exploring the ways in which speculative fiction, namely Afrofuturism, functions as a ‘future archive,'” or in other words, “a collection of speculative future possibilities, a collection of desires (and fears) projected into the future.”
The project is a series of interviews with various creatives and educators, asking each of them to use their own experiences to “create and flesh out Sage, a fictional character living in a parallel universe in the year 2015.”
Thinking about the purpose of the project, I immediately thought of Peter Wheastaw in Ellison’s Invisible Man and his collection of blueprints, a reservoir of possible social structures.
Below are the first two interviews conducted with Ronika McClain and Malikah S.
*The winner of the Sankofa Journal is bigfatjamaicanwedding. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org your address and I will send it to you by the end of next week. Thanks to you and everyone who enters or spread the word about it!
*For a limited time, you can read a draft of the independent paper I have been working on about electricity and percussiveness in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Just go to the products/special items page here. Enjoy!
Watching veteran actor Clint Eastwood’s “act” with an invisible President Obama in a chair may have been the highlight of the Republican National Convention, but as several commentators have mentioned, it ironically represented the Republican platform and treatment of Obama in this election. Through their words and actions, this is what I have heard from the Republicans: “I don’t matter.”
To be rendered invisible is to be treated as if one doesn’t exist and the issues that matter in that life doesn’t exist. Jamil Smith writes in his article, “The President, rendered invisible in a chair,” part of the right-wing’s agenda had been to call out in any way possible the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency; basically to erase his presence as the president of the United States. But it has also been about erasing the realities of “others” in general. Instead of caring about the people who live down here on earth, I feel as if right-wingers’ heads are always in the sky or at least their noses are so turned-up that they fail to see the rest of us.
Most of the issues that republicans either ignore or want to legislate in their favor will greatly affect the material lives of people of color, women, LGTBQ communities, poor people, elderly, immigrants, the sick, the disabled, students and the unemployed. I am included in this. I am a poor, right now unemployed, post-grad, black woman. All of this will affect me, but all I saw at the republican convention were people who were not speaking to someone like me. I was rendered invisible as well.
With the recent death of Rodney King, I wanted to reflect on the gaze or surveillance in our society and how it has manifested itself during this year so far. The gaze has implied that the bodies of others, like Black bodies, should always be under scrupulous examination because we are threats to dominant groups. Theological philosopher James W. Perkinson said that one of the main modi operandi of Western culture has been technologies of the eye. In their superficial use, much destruction has occurred in the world. I would also add that our own eyes as a kind of technology themselves have been just as harmful. The world we see is not actually what we see – images are flipped, there are perceptual errors and the brain creates illusions to fill in gaps. Yet entire cultures for centuries were and still are built off of what we see only, and it has had dangerous and paralyzing effects on people of color.
In Black Skin, White Masks, Franz Fanon describes himself like the wave that becomes a particle under observation: “The white gaze, the only valid one, is already dissecting me. I am fixed. Once their mircrotomes [used in microscopy] are sharpened, the Whites objectively cut sections of my reality. I have been betrayed” (95). As Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man also exposes the simultaneous hyper-visibility and hyper-invisibility that people of color face. For their eyes do not see the full spectrum of all, but only what they wants to see of others and it is stifling.
This year, the gaze still has shown itself in a variety of ways. We have seen Black men and women watched, stalked and killed for just being, as in the killings of Trayvon Martin, Kenneth Chamberlain, Ramarley Graham, Rekia Boyd, and Darius Simmons. We have families who are threatened because they look different in a community as with the Kalonji family who were held at gunpoint in their home by neighbors in Georgia. The debates and protests over “stop-and-frisk,” which happens to males of color more often, is reaching a peak in New York, London and other cities as well. Although statistics show Black and Latino people do not use drugs more than other groups, they are actually stopped and frisked way more than their actual percentage in the population. While we suffer at the hands of this practice, we have people who have the nerve, like NY mayor Bloomberg, to obnoxiously tell us that it is for our own good.
Not only is it governmental and penal policing, but also institutional and media policing. We do not have access to or it is viewed as insignificant for us to have control of the information and images given to us and that depict us. The most recent example is the Erykah Badu and Flaming Lips controversy over the video for “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Whether this is a real feud or publicity stunt, Badu’s claim that her rights in collaborating on the creation of the video were taken away in favor of her and her sister, Nayrok’s sexual objectification highlights the manipulation of images of people of color in general. The killings, police beatings, stop-and-frisk, and media dehumanization are continuous parts of a system that denigrates, criminalizes and hyper-sexualizes us on sight. Our blackness implies our inhumanity to the greater society that refuses to question why when they look us, they do not really see us. Maybe its time for another Invisible Man.
In his introduction to the 1989 re-issue of Invisible Man Ralph Ellison provocatively notes, “a piece of science fiction is the last thing I expected to write” (xv). Both this claim and the way Ellison phrases it are striking. Literary scholars usually talk about Invisible Man as a prime example of the Great American Novel, but throughout his career Ellison carefully distanced himself from that phrase. Indeed, when he accepted the National Book Award for this work in 1953 he rather cheerfully described it as a failed example of the Great American Novel. But Ellison does not just flip the script and call Invisible Mana work of science fiction, either — at most he implies that there is something fantastic about it. Thus it seems that Ellison could not make sense of his own novel because he did not have a name for a literature predicated upon both realist and speculative modes of storytelling.
Recently, however, artists and scholars have indeed coined a name for this kind of storytelling: Afrofuturism. Over the past three decades both science fiction and Afrodiasporic scholars have become increasingly interested in what Sheree R. Thomas calls “speculative fiction from the African diaspora.” Leading science fiction journals such as Extrapolation and Science Fiction Studies regularly include essays about black authors in their pages, and as early as the summer of 1984, Black American Literature Forum devoted an entire special issue to the subject of race in science fiction. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, there was little discussion of this fiction as a literary mode with its own distinct themes, techniques, and relations to other kinds of black cultural production…
Another article is about Afrofuturist culture in Chicago, and artist D. Denenge Akpem discusses Chicago’s history in the liberation struggle as well as figures like Octavia Butler, John Coltrane, Amiri Baraka, Curtis Mayfield, Sun Ra and George Clinton.
…Afro-Futurism is an exploration and methodology of liberation, simultaneously both a location and a journey. The creative ability to manifest action and transformation has been essential to the survival of Blacks in the Diaspora. “Black Secret Technology (The Whitey on the Moon Dub)” Julian Jonker writes, “Black Americans have literally lived in an alien(-n)ation for hundreds of years. The viscerality of their abduction is equaled only by the ephemerality of the bonds which the disciplinary state has since imposed on them.” Similarly, Boykin notes that in this context, “freedom is futurist.”
Chicago’s history is rooted in liberation struggles; the concrete jungle gives rise to a fiesty, rag-tag, Mad-Maxian, blue-collar style that respects hard work and survival of the fittest. We are alchemists in this city of steel, akin to the Yoruba god Ogun, fusing metal to metal. We claim a real space traveler astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space and graduate of Chicago’s Morgan Park High School. In the tradition of grand-forefather Sun Ra who graced our lake shores with his mystical genius, Chicago “shows out” with the sanctification of conduit avery r. young’s sweet nectar sweat as he navigates between states of being in his signature Sunday Mornin’ Juke Joint performance style. Chicago Afro-Futurism is revolutionary discopoet Khari B. levitating at the HotHouse long before will.i.am teleported from Grant Park to CNN headquarters on November 4, 2008. It is Krista Franklin’s multi-layered visual planes with giant children spinning LPs on oceans; spliced figures from antique photos become extra-terrestrial as she coaxes new stories from their faded mysteries…