Toward Freedom

What kind of knowledge is freedom-building, freedom-creating, freedom-pursuing, freedom-sustaining?
Wiathi began with a word my mother gave me, a word that taught me how to imagine and desire a livable and shareable world. Wiathi is a grounded word, though it lives in that “leap of invention” Fanon writes about. It’s a word that my mother learned when her father was arrested by the British in 1952, her family home bulldozed by colonial forces, and her family forced into a colonial village. I think it’s the word my mother learned to chant when she sold sweet potatoes to train passengers to raise school fees. It’s the word that allowed her to survive when colonial officers laid out dead bodies in front of her school and taunted her to check whether her father was among them. It’s the word she held on to when her grandmother handed her packages of food… Read More...

Staff at Wits University Threatened

We now work in a condition of occupation.--Wits University Staff
Dear academic colleagues We are writing to ask for you to take a moment to respond to a grave threat that has been issued against academic staff at Wits University in Johannesburg: a threat which sets a worrying trend for times to come for all of us who teach at universities. The backdrop is the militarisation of our university in the last few days in response to student protest. Private security forces which by appearance earn the label paramilitary have been brought onto our campus under undisclosed contracts and terms of engagement, in order to quell the sorts of protests that led successfully last year to a national agreement not to increase student fees for 2016. The South African student movement continues to fight for a fully publicly funded higher education system, but this year their planned protests have been… Read More...

Stories of Our Lives: Suicide

I do not know if any Kenyan families save suicide notes from their queer children.
Stories of Our Lives does not contain a section titled Suicide. The book’s seven sections are Memories Childhood and First Times Identity Society and the Future Coming Out Love, Sex and Everything in Between Religion and Spirituality Yet, suicide haunts this book. I’m trying to find a way to name the ghosts that appeared and threw me off track. I had completed the first and longest section, Memories, and moved on to Childhood and First Times. Before I moved on, I thought I wanted to write about patriarchy as terrain: many figures in the Memories section could only imagine themselves within heteropatriarchal frames. This writing would not indict those figures. Instead, it would ask how terrains shape the possible. What kind of queer imaginations are possible in Kenya’s deeply ethnopatriarchal space? Queer writing has speculated that queers invent and re-invent… Read More...

Liberation:Transmission

South African students: We see you. We hear you. We stand with you.
Historians teach us that freedom dreams travel and infect. They spread desires and transmit energies. The history of black emancipation, the long emancipation as Rinaldo Walcott has it, is full of freedom dreams moving from one site to another, jumping from body to body, imagination to imagination, geohistory to geohistory. It is also full of oppressive power trying to halt this transmission. We must consider why the Haitian Revolution is still not placed alongside the French Revolution and the U.S. Revolution—what must be impeded, held back, refused, made unimaginable, and why. We learn from history that owners of the enslaved in the U.S. did not want news of the Haitian Revolution to reach the enslaved. News that would feed dreams. News that would create new energy. News that would fuel alternative ways of imagining being and being together. Revolution Clusters:… Read More...

Stories of Our Lives: Memories

Repeatedly, these narratives try to navigate between what a queer life might be and what a Kenyan life is.
If history represents—in both senses of the term— a dominant story, an official story, not simply how events happened but how events should be arranged so they can be remembered, memory is often taken as the counter to history. Memory is often unofficial, often unrecognized, often minoritized. Its archives are fragmented and fragmentary—borne on the body, carved into landscapes, floating on winds, buried in ocean beds. Sometimes it hides in plain sight, because history, like all dominant forces, appropriates and distorts. Sometimes it seeks fossil-making events, hoping that if it anchors itself in what will survive, it might be discovered, deciphered, used. Often, it lives as breaks and pauses, interruptions and amnesia. And here I mean the amnesia caused by repeated violence. Not a gentle forgetting, but a damaged imagination. If history is not simply what is remembered, but how… Read More...

Stories of Our Lives: Introduction

How might a cum stain on a bathroom wall theorize?
Kenya’s Nest Collective has released a new book! I’ll be engaging with the book over the next few posts. In this first one, I stage the problem of queer writing or, more precisely, the problem of how queer writing is defined, recorded, captured, and valued. There will be detours. * A recent thread on Twitter returned me to a blog post a few years ago. The thread asked for names of queer Kenyan bloggers. I noted that my name was absent—both from the Twitter thread and the blog posts a few years ago. (This is probably hurt arrogance speaking—so be it) I wondered, a few years ago, about what that erasure meant. Perhaps, I thought, it was about the politics of location. After all, I started blogging while in the U.S. and few, if any, of my posts on sexuality… Read More...

Mara

You will learn that chickens have their pride.
You are crying again, aware, maybe, that you’ve been born into a fractured world. He will walk toward you, lift you up, hold you, as he holds no one else. He holds you when you’re crying and when you’re still, when you wake up and as you fall asleep. As he holds no one else. Every week, he secures his travel pass around his neck, holds you before he leaves, nods to your sister, brother, and mother, and heads to town. He needs a pass to go to Nairobi. He wears the pass around his neck. Kipande, it is called. A little tin container that breaks his world into time with you and time away from you. He goes for you. Every week he dons his kipande pass and travels to town to buy bread. Bread is only sold in… Read More...

While I Was Away

Image | Wambui Mwangi Image | Wambui Mwangi Three semi-related pieces have emerged: A meditation on love, written when I felt more optimistic about the…
Three semi-related pieces have emerged: A meditation on love, written when I felt more optimistic about the world. It was commissioned as a keyword piece. Which is to say, I had been asked to write about a keyword in critical ethnic studies, and I wanted, perversely, to remove myself from the expected words, the ones that already have critical and political weight, and to think, instead, of a word I wanted to get more attention. As I read it now, I realize that it is very telegraphic--my besetting sin--but, I think, readable, which is what I wanted. Relatedly, some thinking on the romance novel and Octavia Butler's novel Survivor. Perhaps a year ago, I tried to return to romance novels written in the 1970s and early 1980s, and I couldn't. They were full of rape. It was a vernacular. I… Read More...

Garissa

the morning after a massacre / a country wakes nauseous
the morning after a massacre a country wakes nauseous no food stays down no chai comforts on the roads they drag crosses blood is given blood invoked blood sanctified blood is our national language on TV the men talk blood and markets tears stay out of the newsrooms there will be more killing there will always be more killing a state will punish survivors with pogroms an army will terrorize the terrrorized, traumatize the traumatized the merchants of war have already moved on to the next transaction the death-profiteers spent the night reviewing cost-benefit reports a country stares at its amputation stumps the morning after a massacre Read More...

Poiesis & Gnosis: #rhodesmustfall and #cadaanstudies

one hopes the juxtaposition of #rhodesmustfall, #cadaanstudies, and #blacklivesmatter creates space for dialogue
Poiesis is the Greek root of the term poetry. In its most general sense, it means to “make.” The internet tells me it means “an action that transforms and continues the world.” Gnosis, the internet tells me, is the “common Greek noun for knowledge.” In my final semesters of teaching, I shifted my focus from thinking about how students learned to how they created knowledge. It was an odd experiment that went against much of my training and much of what circulates as pedagogical knowledge and strategy (where “learning styles” are a major thing and “grading” evaluates what students have “learned”). At some point, I think I had students performing mimes to illustrate what they had learned. And my final exams shifted to oral presentations-where I asked students to describe the most important thing they had learned during the semester.… Read More...

Mbiti & Glissant

We-formations are wake formations: we-formations might be about the mati work of wake work.
A starting point. Here is John Mbiti: What then is the individual and where is his place in the community? In traditional life, the individual does not and cannot exist alone except corporately. He owes his existence to other people, including those of past generations and his contemporaries. . . . The community must therefore make, create or produce the individual. . . . Whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say: ‘I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.’ (African Religions & Philosophy). Here’s Édouard Glissant: Summarizing what we know concerning the varieties of identity, we arrive at the following: Root identity -is founded in the distant past in a vision, a myth of the creation of the world; -is sanctified by the hidden violence of a filiation… Read More...

Visiting Africa: A Short Guide for Researchers

You are not coming to teach the natives.
1. Prepare. Prepare as you would for an important job interview. If a formal institution has invited you, read about the institution. If a department has invited you, read about the department. If specific scholars have invited you, read their work. Know it well. Have something to say about it. 2. You’re coming to co-create knowledge. Co-create. 3. Map the intellectual terrain. African intellectual work happens across multiple spaces, not simply in North American or European peer-reviewed journals and monographs. Look for exciting intellectual work on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube. Figure out how to engage that work. If you’re a very traditional scholar, get digital. And quickly. 4. You have been invited to share your research AND to speak to particular audiences. Do not forget your audience. Make your audience a priority. If no one tries to engage you, you… Read More...

#mybodymyhome (iv)

What happens when Kenyan women say that we want to stop being hurt again and again and again?
What happens when Kenyan women say that we want to stop being hurt again and again and again? Ideally, we would be taken seriously: victim naming-and-shaming would not happen; sexual violence apologia would not surface; perpetrators would be held accountable; and men would finally stop hurting us. One would hope. But our upbringing is fraught with stories about the consequences that un-silent women faced. On Monday, 22nd September, Professor Wambui Mwangi announced on Twitter that Kenyan writer Tony Mochama had entered her home and allegedly sexually assaulted another writer and a good friend of Prof. Mwangi’s. The backlash was immediate. Kenyans on Twitter and Facebook wanted to know who the victim was, where she was touched, why she was staying silent about it, and why the accusation had been brought to social media instead of being taken to the police.… Read More...

Reading Sofia Samatar: Vallon

Angels uproot us. Their rage is terrifying. Their demands impossible. Their words unbearable. And then they leave.
The word for “book” in all the known languages of the earth is vallon, “chamber of words,” the Olondrian name for that tool of enchantment and art. --Jevick of Tyom Write me a vallon. Put my voice inside it. Let me live. --Jissavet Already I’m arrested. Jevick of Tyom needs to learn how to write Jissavet’s story before he can write his own—he needs to unlearn what he believes about knowledge, what he embraces about writing, so that he can learn to submit to writing’s demands. Jissavet, the angel, haunts Jevick, demanding that he write her vallon. When he finally agrees, he does so as the subject who knows, as the one who will shape a world to contain her: Come, I said, and I will show you magic from the north, your own words conjured into a vallon. A… Read More...

Reading Sofia Samatar: Indwelling

Our two worlds scrape together like the two halves of a broken bone.--Sofia Samatar
Our two worlds scrape together like the two halves of a broken bone --A Stranger in Olondria Perhaps the word is possession—to be “taken by” a place or person. Perhaps it’s empathy— to “feel” another’s position. Perhaps it’s simply imagination—the leap that places us into another body. Habitation is one word: an attempt to register the forms of indwelling central to A Stranger in Olondria. Indwelling: dwelling with Three figures lie at the heart of this indwelling—three figures who “indwell” with/in Jevick of Tyom: Jom, his elder brother; Bain, the city that populates his dreams; and Jissavet, the angel who brings him closer to Jom. Jevick and Jom’s mother, Kiavet, explains that Jom, who “wander[s] in the courtyard underneath the orange trees, exchanging pleasantries with the birds,” is “a child of the wild pig”: the souls of the children of… Read More...

Reading Sofia Samatar: Introduction

Over the next month, I’ll be blogging on Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria
I failed geography through primary and high school. It was always the map section. I could not identify places on maps—rivers, lakes, towns, natural resources. They asked for abstractions that I could not master. Places could not—would not—stay in place. They traveled and roamed: nomad geographies. This inability translates into other fields. I am not very good at “traditional” literary criticism. I am unable to “map” novels and poems, to make decisive statements about this or that. I tend to fall into works, to become lost in detail, enraptured by minutia. And then I get distracted and fail to “make connections.” Perhaps this is a preemptive apology? Over the next month, I’ll be blogging on Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria. Following this week, I’ll be posting once a week for three weeks. I’m not yet sure what I’ll write.… Read More...