Coco Fusco | An Interview with The Black Audio Film Collective: John Akomfrah, Reece Auguiste, Lina Gopaul & Avril Johnson
John Akomfrah: People used the term representation for a number of reasons. The different uses give you a sense of the complexity of the trajectories involved. At one level people used it to simply talk about questions of figuration. How one places the Black in the scene of writing, the imagination and so on. Others saw it in more juridic terms. How one is enfranchised, if you like, how one buys into the social contract. What is England and what constitutes English social life? Some interests were broadly academic, but we were focusing on how to turn our concerns into a problematic, to use an Althusserian term, in the cultural field. We were interested in representation because it seemed to be partly a way of prying open a negative/positive dichotomy. It seemed to be a way of being able to bypass certain binaries.
Coco Fusco: Are you referring now to the negative and positive image debates?
JA: Yes, and its specifically English variant-which is obsessed with stereotypes, with grounding every discussion around figuration and the existence-presence and absence in cinema in terms of stereotyping. It was a way of going beyond the discussions which would start at the level of stereotype, then move on to images, and then split images into negative and positive, and so on. We wanted to find a way to bypass this, without confronting it head on. I think that the lobbies which were really interested in debates around stereotyping were too strong, to be honest. And we were too small to take them head on. In a sense the negative/positive image lobby represented all that was acceptable about anti-racism, multiculturalism, etc. It’s the only thing that united everybody who claimed they were against racism.
Everybody was talking about a non-pathology of racism. The Labor party activists would talk about it. So would the Liberals. For the anti-apartheid groups it was the limit-text, if you like. We sensed that it had political inadequacies, and cultural constraints, and that the theoretical consequences of it hadn’t been thought through. But we didn’t know exactly how to replace it. We did not want to try to set ourselves up as another interest group to combat the multiculturalists or the anti-racists.
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“It was a time in my life when I was especially interested in frivolities. I used to have very short hair that I bleached blonde, and shaved off my eyebrows and painted them in, and wore clothes from the ’20s or ’30s. I was sort of a character. I would spend hours getting dressed and then I would go to the offices of The New Yorker—I was just beginning to be a “Talk” reporter—and hang out with my friends Ian Frazier and George Trow. And then we’d go and have drinks somewhere. But it was just sort of a display. There are all sorts of pictures. I’m surprised they’re not on the internet—thank God.”
- Jamaica Kincaid in Mother Jones
"Art will not create social change, but it can provoke thought and prepare us for change. Art can tell us what we do not see, sometimes what we do not want to see, what we do not realize about life, about sensitivity and crassness. What is ordinary may be seen as spectacular. What seems ugly may appear quite beautiful and vice versa. What seems trivial may become important depending upon how it is presented by the artist."
"To the last we will have learned nothing. In all of us, deep down, there seems to be something granite and unteachable. No one truly believes, despite the hysteria in the streets, that the world of tranquil certainties we were born into is about to be extinguished. No one can accept that an imperial army has been annihilated by men with bows and arrows and rusty old guns who live in tents and never wash and cannot read and write. And who am I to jeer at such life-giving illusions? Is there any better way to pass these last days than in dreaming of a saviour with a sword who will scatter the enemy hosts and forgive us the errors that have been committed by others in our name and grant us a second chance to build our earthly paradise?"
J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)
"Be happy for no reason, like a child. If you are happy for a reason, you’re in trouble, because that reason can be taken from you."
|The Atlantic:||It sounds like you're saying that literary "talent" doesn't inoculate a writer—especially a male writer—from making gross, false misjudgments about gender. You'd think being a great writer would give you empathy and the ability to understand people who are unlike you—whether we're talking about gender or another category. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
|Junot Diaz:||I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you're fucked up, admit to yourself that you're not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters. It's so funny what people call inspiration. I have so many young writers who're like, "Well I was inspired. This was my story." And I'm like, "OK. Sir, your inspiration for your stories is like every other male's inspiration for their stories: that the female is only in there to provide sexual service." There comes a time when this mythical inspiration is exposed for doing exactly what it's truthfully doing: to underscore and reinforce cultural structures, or I'd say, cultural asymmetry.
"It is okay to be at a place of struggle. Struggle is just another word for growth. Even the most evolved beings find themselves in a place of struggle now and then. In fact, struggle is a sure sign to them that they are expanding; it is their indication of real and important progress. The only one who doesn’t struggle is the one who doesn’t grow. So if you are struggling right now, see it as a terrific sign — celebrate your struggle."
"Decide you want it more than you are afraid of it."
"May you never lose your enthusiasm at any moment for the rest of your life: it’s your greatest strength, intent on the final victory. You cannot let it slip through your fingers just because as time passes we have to face some small and necessary defeats."