Afro-Futurism… What the… Never mind

Throughout our African-American literature class, a common place that I have found my self is in the realm of “what is actually going on.” This is not just a recurring question but an entire “realm” of confusion. Surprisingly I have been becoming progressively more comfortable in my un-comfortability with the texts we have confronted. This process was not easy for me for a number of different reasons, the first being because I had aligned in my own mind, based on my own cultural experiences, what was normal and what was abnormal for all black people ever. Which after typing it out, sounds awfully ignorant. I am pleased to acknowledge that this class has opened me up to texts that I may not have chosen on own prior to this class and expanded my understanding of literary categories and sub-categories.

Last semester I took a class on the literature of N.K. Jemisin. The Fifth Season was the first book that I read by Jemisin and I was delightfully pleased with the amount of growth I accomplished through reading a book in the fantasy genre, something I had never done before, not even Harry Potter. Reading the Broken Earth trilogy allowed me to read and think in ways that I had not previously consulted, like the idea that characters in a fantasy novel could be anything other than white. I wrote a blog post about this realization last year that really ties up my reasoning behind that thought process. Now, after accepting that black people can appear in fantasy books and that black women are even the authors of fantasy books, I am surprised at myself yet again for being so confused in my African-American Lit class.

I think the reason that I have been confused by so many of the texts in this class is because the literary works do not have “hard genres” like I would like them to, but that was my problem with the Jemisin class as well, me trying to outline things that did not need to be categorized. Big Machine for example, should either be a regular fiction novel or a fantasy/folklore novel, but not both. It’s just not allowed… At least in my mind I cannot understand that a novel can belong to two genres or start as one and develop into another. I feel so strongly about this hard line between genres that all throughout the part in Big Machine when it is revealed that we are dealing with something of the fantasy genre, I was convinced that Ricky Rice was on a bad trip from the heroine he had in the beginning of the book…

Although Big Machine is one of the big reasons that I have been in this realm of confusion, another heavily contributing factor is Suzan Lori Parks, who I now have a love-hate relationship for, just like Octavia Butler. I think these women are absolutely genius and talented, and because of that, their writing frustrates me to the point of no return. Imperceptible Mutabilities was well thought out and written, as I mentioned in one of my more recent blog posts. By thinking more into the text, I was able to grasp exactly what message Parks was relaying. The part that frustrates me is how confused I had to be initially in order to get to this point of understanding and appreciation. It’s not that I want the message to be explicitly outlined for me at the beginning of the text,  but don’t intentionally hide it either!

My final example of the intense confusion, and I mean utter confusion, that I experienced in this class was when we first watched “The Last Angel of History.” We were warned before the video began to ignore the graphics because it was made so long ago, but how could I! From the beginning of the film I remember asking myself, “what is actually going on here?” First of all, everyone is facing sideways instead of talking into the camera. Then we are taken through a techno world and introduced to some people who are answering questions in interview sessions. A few moments later we are taken back to the “data thief” who is wandering around doing a bunch of random activities. Woah. That is a lot to unpack and break down, not to mention that in between all of this, the people in the film are discussing the history of afro-futurism, something I would have understood way better without the interludes of random activity and static effect.

The people who were being interviewed looked abstract, to my “normal standard” and were discussing music and art in ways that I would have never attributed to black people. Of course I am familiar with the blues and jazz music, but these afro-futurist stories about their origin and the way that they were interpreted is what threw me off. That being said, the problem lies entirely with me because once again I began to judge the entire film and the people in the film simply based off my hard line categories that they did not fit into. Afro-futurism as it was explained in the film is something that does not have a definitive barrier, and this is something to appreciate. The amount of room for creativity that exists in the genre is what makes it unique.

Dr. McCoy pointed out a note that was in the beginning of the film that read something to the effect of “the line between reality and fiction does not have barriers,” and that stuck with me (well not the exact quote but the idea) because in order to deal with a variety of literary works and authors, there has to be no limitations to the creativity that may exist within them. I have come to the conclusion that in order for me to grow as a writer and a reader, I will need to stop drawing these concrete lines, or ultimately, I will never understand and I’ll always be confused.

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