The Unchained Mind

A POEM

 

The world is heading to university,

we’re all hungry to enrol,

consuming an ideology of excellence

that serves to judge, rank and control.

 

The research process is performative,

the self is anxiously on display,

it’s difficult to not be conscious

of how we frame what we say.

 

How does one position oneself?

dare I dance with Deleuze?

am I really a symbolic interactionist?

should it be critical realism I use?

 

There is a fear of theory,

a looming cloud of grey . . .

of dead white men with dead white thoughts

that mystify what we say.

 

So we hesitate to speak

without due reference made

to the big daddies in the sky

who dictate how the game is played.

 

The game of academia,

the world of “thus” and “hence”,

of repetition and rebuttal,

of sitting on a fence.

 

A fence that oversees “the other”,

the “post-colonial” crowd,

we greet them warmly, “How goes Fanon?”

we always say his name out loud.

 

It shows that we’re familiar

with the rhetoric of now,

de-colonialism’s all the rage . . .

although we’re not quite sure how

 

to dismantle the academy

beyond symbols and signs,

for that means turning a whole new page?

contributing whole new lines.

 

And these new lines don’t need to be etched

with pens imported from yonder,

they require no intellectual location

beyond the place where you ponder.

 

But that’s a funny thought, right?

you can’t do abstract until you’re a master of art,

and a master must turn to the still life of the North,

he’s not developed enough to depart

 

to less formed lands

with less set perceptions

of how long paint takes to dry,

everyone knows it takes a hundred years . . .

they needn’t really try.

 

There’s a safer conception of knowledge

when it’s Eurocentric in leaning,

we feel reassured by the jargon of old,

regardless of its meaning.

 

The certified intellectual hairspray,

once you start, you can’t stop . . .

till you feel you have more volume

with the big words that you drop.

 

For you’re on this knowledge path,

there are places you must go!

though the journey can be tiring

when you’re cattle class with Foucault.

 

So you invite some other tokens,

you hear Steve Biko’s in request,

and you reference him a-plenty,

you’ve done your post-colonial best.

 

You know you’re not shaking the earth,

how can you, you’re playing the game?

and when you’ve got these rigid rules

the outcome stays

the same.

 

We know that the knowledge we produce is power,

and we know that it’s capital too,

but sometimes knowledge might just feel

like there’s something more it can do.

 

Could knowledge be more than a tick box?

more, perhaps, than a return?

would it be too romantic to conceptualise it

as that for which humans yearn?

 

And I’m not talking yearning for truth,

’cause truth’s multiple, honey, I know,

but the yearning for flickering sparks

that enable a new world to grow.

 

With all the information we gain,

at such an incalculable cost,

one scarcely has time to wonder

if there’s knowledge we have lost?

 

For while there’s politics in research,

there must be some poetry too,

in analysing humanity

can we keep some of it too?

 

This doesn’t mean just dismantling,

Rhodes hasn’t fallen in our minds,

this means

building blocks,

different shapes and different kinds.

 

The sort of infrastructure

that is brave in its own speech,

that does not limit itself to the few

within a paid-for reach.

 

For although we might deconstruct power,

and although we might deconstruct truth,

we also might find there is more to pursue

if we extend our ivory roof.

 

No one really knows

what a “decolonised” curriculum contains,

but where there is gushing rhetoric

there need to be cleaner rains.

 

Rains that do not wash away

but raindrops that disclose

a newer light, come from the South,

that questions all it knows.


 

Fawzia is currently writing up her PhD in Education at the University of Sussex, where her research looks at how “born-free” South African youth living in a rural township develop aspirations towards the future. She is the youngest of 10 children, raised on a macadamia nut farm in Mpumalanga. Fawzia previously studied Social Anthropology at UCT and SOAS and has been living between South Africa and England for several years, unreconciled with questions of what it means to write, from such a distance, about a place and a people.