Reasoning, emotioning, dreaming

INTRODUCTION TO THE 2015 CAPE TOWN CURATORIAL RESIDENCY

“NATURE/CULTURES OF CAPE TOWN”

The coloniality of knowledge is not only a matter of content, but also a matter of form. Modern Western or Eurocentric knowledges reproduce themselves through, and rely on, particular formats, registers, settings, institutions and venues. These, in turn, reinscribe the kinds of categories and distinctions that are fundamental to modern Western thinking. Consider the performativity (or discourse) of the typical seminar—in our case at the University of Cape Town. We sit around a table; we make eye contact; we talk. This talk takes place in a particular register: it tends to be formal, it tends to be impersonal, it is “focused on the text”, it is in English. Certain things are excluded from this encounter: the body, the affect, experiences, life. These things are, as it were, parked at the door, in what is styled as a “meeting of minds”. Plus, of course, there are a set of assumptions about the kind of minds these are expected to be: analytical, articulate, dispassionate, schooled in the relevant canon, versed in the five or ten keywords that are currently trending in that corner of knowledge.

This situation, presented here as a kind of parody, takes its meaning and significance from the manner in which it, in turn, reinforces, reproduces and relies on a number of key oppositions that structure the conceptual underpinnings of modern Western thinking (itself a complex amalgam of genealogies, lineages, positions, forms, knowledges and ways of being, presented here through this shorthand designation). These include oppositions between mind and body, reason and emotion, theory and practice, culture and nature, subject and object, beings gendered male and beings gendered female, beings raced white and beings raced black, and so on.

The particular force, energy and violence of modern Western thinking and practice (its coloniality) comes about, in part, through the manner in which it lines up and connects terms on either side of the binary. Modernity itself—gendered male, raced white—is identified with the mind rather than the body (“a triumph of mind over body”), with dispassionate, disembodied rationality, with culture rather than nature (culture is understood to assert itself over and against nature), and with the kind of subject position that regards other beings and ways of life as objects of contemplation. It also assumes a certain kind of universality, which is another way of saying that it positions itself in a privileged relationship with time, space and history. The rest, a seething territory (metaphors matter) of body, affect, emotion, instinct, beings gendered female, and beings raced black, becomes a kind of alter-ego or mirror of the Western self.

Critiques of this kind of dualistic, Manichean thinking are by now utterly familiar, and have become the point of departure for a number of productive critical intellectual projects, including forms of feminist theory, forms of anti-colonial and anti-racist thinking, queer theory, radical political ecologies, and decolonial thinking and practice. Taken together, they comprise that exciting, engaged and dissenting area of scholarship that is sometimes called the critical humanities.

This is an enterprise that takes place in fugitive spaces in civil society, in the interstices of the neoliberal academy, in the borderlands between disciplines, always under threat from university administrators and the kinds of expert cultures that police disciplinary knowledge. However, for all of their iconoclasm, and their desire to problematise and push beyond an established set of binaries, these critical approaches often rely on the same formats and registers as the forms of knowledge that they critique: the familiar business of seminars, workshops, the spoken voice, text, rational and dispassionate argumentation, papers in accredited journals, and the rest of the academic apparatus. When the embodied self and more affective registers do enter the arena, they tend to do so in formally prescribed ways—as performance, or under the heading of “creative work”.

For us as conveners, this set of observations became one of the starting points for the first Cape Town Curatorial Residency, held in December 2015 as a joint project involving the Decoloniality Group of the University of Cape Town and the Critical Heritage Studies clusters of the University of Gothenburg. The conceptualisation of the residency happened against the backdrop of rising student activism and protest in South African universities, initiatives that demand radical academic transformation. In addition, 2015 started with an epic Table Mountain fire that destroyed 5500 hectares of land and ended with the worst draught the country has seen since 1982. These quite different circumstances conveyed a strong sense of urgency, both in terms of the struggle to reformulate knowledge in the context of a transitional society combatting the violent principles at the heart of colonial modernity, and in terms of the Anthropocene as one of colonial modernity’s unintended consequences.

The residency brought together twelve South Africa- and Sweden-based scholars, artists, curators and practitioners, for a week of conversation and sharing, and the production of collaborative work. Breaking with traditional formats, the residency was staged as a walking seminar, and involved hiking sections of the Hoerikwaggo Trail that runs along the chain of mountains linking Cape Point to the city of Cape Town, a distance of about 70 kilometers.

Nights were spent in South African National Parks-administered tented camps on top of the mountain, except for the last two nights when we stayed in a backpackers lodge in the city. Passages of walking were interspersed with impromptu lectures, workshop days, and time spent reflecting, sharing and shaping work. Participants were invited to capture observations and experiences in any format, and responded by writing notes and poems, taking photographs, collecting objects, recording sounds, drawing, cooking, and experimenting with movement.

In setting up the Cape Town Curatorial Residency in this way, we were mindful of three things. The first was the kind of forced intimacy that results from bringing together a small group of people and having them live and work together for an extended period of time, often in quite isolated locations.

A second objective of the residency was to break down the division between theory and practice, and the kinds of hierarchies that structure many academic settings. We focused on methodologies. Each participant in the residency was asked to bring and share a way of working or a set of approaches that they find productive in their particular world of work.

A third, distinctive feature of the Cape Town Curatorial Residency was the focus on the act of walking. The Hoerikwaggo Trail begins in the curated wilderness of the Cape Point Reserve and, over a series of days in which you traverse the chain of mountains that forms the spine of the Cape peninsula, takes you to the top of Table Mountain, and finally into the city of Cape Town. Along the way you encounter, in compressed form, the splendors and miseries of South African social and political history and the nature/cultures of the Cape: the ruins of Redhill Village, casualty of apartheid forced removals, the cynically named dystopia of “Ocean View”, the ecstatically beautiful natural worlds of the top of Table Mountain, and a series of vistas in which the spatial apartheid of the contemporary city is laid bare.

So much scholarship involves disembodied research and reportage: what happens when the body, affect, the senses and the imagination enter the equation? We were looking to validate emotion alongside reason, drawing on the concept of “emotioning”. According to Walter Mignolo: “Emotioning implies responses to body-knowledge that reasoning processes through semiotic systems. Emotioning was banned from Western epistemology under the belief that it obstructs objectivity. [This ban] hid from view the fact that no one is convinced by reasoning and arguments, if one is not also convinced in his or her emotioning”.

We were also interested in exploring fantasy and imagination as sources for creative and intellectual work. There are many points of inspiration and connection for this set of approaches. For us they included the affective research methodologies of Brita Tim Knudsen and colleagues, forms of artistic research methodologies, and discussions of decolonial love, following the work of feminist scholar Chela Sandoval. Referring to Guevara and Fanon, Sandoval speaks of decolonial love as “a ‘rupturing’ in one’s everyday world that permits crossing over to another”.

Nelson Maldonado-Torres writes that the decolonial praxis of love generates epistemologies and politics aimed at a “transmodern” world—a world “in which many worlds fit”, rather than a modern/colonial “death-world”. If the effect of the binaries that structure modern Western thinking is to construct a set of divisions and distinctions, severing mind from body, head from heart, self from other, according to a logic of exploitation and appropriation (a logic of deathliness), then an opposite and opposed principle would focus on intersubjective relations, the interconnectedness of beings and things, and the logic of love.

The three contributions selected for publication in this issue of POSTAMBLE were among the pieces produced in the weeks following the Cape Town Curatorial Residency. The pieces came about in response to a set of prompts. Cape Town-based photographer Barry Christianson was a participant in the residency, and he produced a photographic record of the week. The other participants were asked to produce written fragments in response to the photographs taken by Barry, as a kind of conversation across mediums and perspectives. The texts could be of any length, and in any format.


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