In the documentary “The Last Angel of History,” the statement is made that “black existence and science fiction are one in the same… we’re not believed… people don’t believe us.” I wrote this down immediately because it felt like an idea that held a lot of possibilities within it. I was reminded first of the uncertainty of our language during Bloodchild when we spoke about T’Gatoi. Was T’Gatoi a person, a being, a creature? Was T’Gatoi the alien or were the humans alien? The other presence in my mind while watching “The Last Angel of History” were the first photographs of a black hole, released recently. I’m currently enrolled in an Astronomy class, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the language and color we assign to the less-understood phenomena of the galaxy: black holes, brown dwarfs, dark matter, dark energy. I can’t help but see a pattern of language which associates darkness or blackness with uncertainty or unknowability. “The Last Angel of History” features a series of artists who seem to find inspiration and power in that nebulous, uncertain identity. “We live estrangement,” one artist said. Another, “We’ve been there [to space]… We’re returning.”
That idea—“We’ve been there… We’re returning”—reminded me immediately of Suzan-Lori Park’s Possession when she writes, “Through each line of text I’m rewriting the Time Line—creating history where it is and always was but has not yet been divined.” (I have quoted this line many times in my blog posts, but I can’t help returning to it; I love it so much.) Parks is returning to history, “rewriting” the past to tell stories that were already there. Meanwhile “Angel of History” explains that the musicians being featured “don’t reflect the past… They imagine the future.” I don’t think these mission statements put Parks and “Angel of History” at odds, however; instead they both seem to be suggesting a different way of considering time. Rather than the linear progressive model we discussed in class—every day and in every way…–Parks and the artists of “Angel of History” seem to upholding a recursive model, a constant returning to the places we have already been. This recursive model allows for incredibly new acts of creation, but it can also feel inscrutable—both “The Last Angel of History” and Parks’ “Imperceptible Mutabilities” were really difficult for me to understand, or to assign one fixed meaning to. They felt alien, or maybe I felt alienated.
Although I won’t pretend to fully understand who the Data Thief is or why his story is used to link black music movements, I do think his story is also saying something about the shapes we assign to time. The Data Thief is shown moving through time in a nonlinear way, stealing fragments of culture from history. I guess you could see the Data Thief as the embodiment of a recursive model, imagining the future by returning to or ‘stealing from’ the past. At the same time, the Data Thief’s fate is a sad one. The thief becomes an angel, and so he cannot be a part of either world. He is named a thief and an angel—not an alien—but his fate seems to be to “live estrangement,” like so many of the documentary’s musicians discussed. The very act of returning or looking back seems to be what estranges the data thief, but I’m wondering if this is a both/and, another example of reciprocal system. Is it this nonlinear, “science fiction” conception of time that makes black artists and their work seem inscrutable or alien? Or have years of estrangement led black artists to consider time and history in such a “science fiction” way?
(Apologies for any inaccurate quotes and that I couldn’t attribute these quotes to their specific speakers within the documentary.)