Africans in space? Ridiculous!
October 4, 2013 1:21 AM   Subscribe

A dialogue between the Anthropocene and Afrofuturism looks at alternate aspirations for modernity: "[u]nlike what it suggests, Afrofuturism has nothing to do with Africa, and everything to do with cyberculture in the West." (via)

Social justice science fiction is a thing, and the radical science fiction anthology Octavia's Brood is due to be released in 2014.
posted by spamandkimchi (12 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a bit more background on Octavia's Brood. All FPP links found via a call for papers for climate fiction panel by Nate Millington.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:25 AM on October 4, 2013

dinty_moore called my attention to N.K. Jemisin's compelling essay, "How Long ’til Black Future Month?" Worth reading alongside "Super-natural futures."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:39 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming Deltron is their king?
posted by Ham Snadwich at 5:29 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

And Janelle Monae is their Q.U.E.E.N.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:09 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit leery of the phrase "social justice science fiction" (which isn't used in the second link.) Politics have been baked into the genre since Wells, leading Le Guin to snark that science fiction is the art of aggressively injecting massive doses of something into a society in order to say that it causes the cultural equivalent of cancer. I also think that putting, for example, Karen Lord's discussion of sci-fi ethnicity from an afro-caribbean perspective on a different science-fiction shelf is likely missing the point.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:48 AM on October 4, 2013

Mmm, that's bullshit, Afrofuturism, while,yes centered on western technology, is just as African in roots, as African Americans.

The hope and dreams of liberation from slavery (Mothership Connection)... I mean, you've got Sun-Ra with all his message and don't tell me that ain't straight roots. Don't tell me P-Funk isn't down to the bone funk with the rhythm that started in Africa.

You've got Graffiti, which acts as a sort of sigilism and a modern day vulgar hieroglyphics (look - you've got the Hiero crew, of which Del the Funkee Homosapien is a part (as Ham Snadwich comments re: Deltron). And yeah, Dr. Octagon. But the idea of escape...

Juan Atkins, Detroit Techno producer mentions this in the documentary Modulations, how music was a means for escape... One could say "escape from the industrial capitalist mode of production and life in modern urban American centers" but this is just one more mode of oppression and cultural domination of White Europeans.

The escape wasn't to just return/retreat to Africa a la Garvey and the Black Star Liner. This ship was a whole other direction, not to the past, but to the future. It was to go BEYOND race, integrating the sounds of Africa and Europe, White and Black. It wasn't African ONLY, but it was African. Just as it wasn't European ONLY, but it was European. But those who originate it, feel it from the African/Colonized Peoples center in their heart. Maybe not all, of course. But there's plenty of evidence it goes to the bone, with a history in the living flesh of those survivors of history's passage into slavery and quasi-freedom, and longing for one more set of freedom.

Those who say Afro-Futurism is only "Western Cyberculture" looks at the present Capitalist System as a sort of fin de siecle, where there is no more escape or need to escape, except, perhaps, to the past. So yes, in some sense, it IS bound to the West, there is no point in denying that there isn't any connection, but let's not pretend that the technological aspirations for escape and enlightenment (If you take a more "Sun Ra" approach) aren't connected to that long bitter history.

By saying that you are denying the very essence and roots of the Afro-Futurist culture (whatever loosely defined agglomeration that may be). Today is the Afro-Future of the past. The Afro-Futurism of today as that which is the future. Does it use Western Cyberculture? Yes, but now you are imagining a pure monolithic culture in which there never was a massive trade network amongst peoples, intra- and inter- Africa...

Are you saying that they should not aspire a future unless it is 100% within the control of whatever Africa as it is right now declares to be its future? That anything with roots from Africa is suspect? Just because they happen to live in the belly of the beast?

You could make that argument, if you're retaining a sort of essentialism, especially as it relates to where Africa as a continent is to go, but it's more, as I said above, less Africa-as-now, and more Africa-as-then-to-now-in-America African-American.

Alright and now I'm late for work. Thanks a lot!
posted by symbioid at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

This book about Afrofuturism in science fiction seems to have just come out.

I really like this essay, Further considerations on Afrofuturism. It has a sort of SF story metaphor as its organizing principle - future archaeologists.

Weirdly, it seems like the term (though not the thing at all) was consolidated by a white writer in this short essay Black To the Future.

A couple other Afrofuturist things I can think of: Sun Ra; Parliament Funkadelic; Brother From Another Planet. Also, Nisi Shawl has some short stories in her book Filter House that I think are actively engaging with the utopian and awesome Afrofuturism of "Further Considerations". Also those early rap guys listening to Kraftwerk and experimental electronic stuff and incorporating it in a specifically experimental/avant-garde way. Also a lot of free jazz people.

A book that is by a white dude but that is [as far as I know based on his political commitments and personal history] Afrofuturist in intent is the marvelous Fire On The Mountain by Terry Bisson, which goes back into the past to imagine a successful insurrection at Harper's Ferry led by Harriet Tubman and John Brown giving rise to a guerilla struggle against the slavocracy and which streams forward into a radical small-c communist Southern utopia and its space program run in partnership with Kenya. It is my favorite science fiction novel of all time.

My reading of Afrofuturism (which is to me the smartest, most beautiful and most utopian strain in radical science fiction) is that it's an argument about the past. On the face of it, it's an argument about the future - what kind of future do we imagine and want to bring into being? But it's really an argument about how to see the past - what has been rendered invisible? How can we go back into the past and re-narrate it so that we can imagine an Afrofuturist future? What in the past could/will/may give rise to the future that we want to see? To future resistance?

That's why, to me, it is of a piece with black history (and by extension with radical history generally) - it's about recovering these strains that were lost or hidden, recovering history so that we can say "there have ALWAYS been black scientists and futurists and visionaries and when we go to the stars they will STILL be there".
posted by Frowner at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Though I suppose I should RTFA before making comments, eh? I hope I at least touched on some of the issues, however tangential.
posted by symbioid at 6:53 AM on October 4, 2013

(Or rather, totally pwned and exceeded by symbioid)
posted by Frowner at 6:54 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another element is the sci-fi aspect of some niche African-American religious movements, like the Nation of Islam, Nation of Gods and Earths and the Black Israelites. I don't know for sure whether there's a direct influence, but both of those movements were pretty popular around the same time and in the same places where Sun-Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic were developing their acts, so I assume there was some cross-pollination given the similarity of the imagery.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming Deltron is their king?

Only if you bow down before Sun Ra as emperor.
posted by jonp72 at 9:12 AM on October 5, 2013

And Janelle Monae is their Q.U.E.E.N.

I think the mirror-face beings in Janelle Monae's Tightrope video were an homage to Sun Ra's Space Is The Place, although Sun Ra probably got the idea from Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon.
posted by jonp72 at 9:21 AM on October 5, 2013

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