Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bruce and Stevie: The Best Part of 'We are the World'

Brucie? Wonderspring? I'm looking for a catchy McLennon-esque portmanteau nickname for what I can only describe as the 'Event' of Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder's duet in the 1985 charity song 'We Are The World'. But what single word could describe such a series of amazing sonic moments?

I don't really know much about Springsteen beyond wash blue jeans, beard scruff, Jon Stewart, and American flags. (Sorry!)I didn't even really know what he sounded like. When I heard this for the first time when I was little the only thing I remembered was MJ and the first two lines of the chorus 'We are the World, We are the Children' which when singing would dissolve into a mumbled incomprehensible mess. Stevie Wonder was of course a name known to me from early childhood. But initially I took no notice of the duet. But when I revisited the song a few years ago and heard the Stevie-Bruce part I couldn't help but think 'How inspired!'. 

It's not just that they sound great.

10 years ago when I went to Ghana for the first time, I was staying with my cousins. They had a program on their computer that played the national anthems of almost every country in the world. We listened to God Save the Queen in relative silence, a few appreciative quips here and there, said in the same defensive way you might defend a brother you think is an idiot when someone else calls him an idiot because you're the only one allowed to cal him an idiot. When they played the Ghanaian national anthem (God Bless Our Homeland Ghana) however, my cousin looked like she had just had a really huge and delicious lunch. 'It's sweet' she said. She didn't mean sweet as in cute or twee. She meant sweet as in 'just right' as in harmonious, as in satisfying. 

Sweet is the word that kept coming to mind as I was listening to Bruce and Stevie. It's the call and response, it's the juxtaposition of the keening saccharine voice of Stevie with the gravel of Springsteen that works so well. No other part of the video or recording lives me greater sonic or visual pleasure than that part. Not even Ray Charles just before or Randy Jackson getting his life just after. Maybe James Ingram. Maybe.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Stuff I Did, Innit

Happy New Year. I know I'm super late. I finished the first term of my grad school. It's gone by so unbelievably quickly, and my sleep pattern is horribly messed up because I'd been working for a month non stop on two 5000-word essays. I submitted them on Monday which means my Christmas vacation actually starts now... except I've got to get a dissertation proposal in for the first day back *screams into the void*

But I did manage to have a good time these past 16 weeks. Sorry I haven't blogged here in so long or come and read your blogs. When it's essay time I sort of can't see or do anything else. I literally didn't leave the house for the past month except to go to the British Library a few times. But before I actually managed to have a bit of a social life:

I saw Louis Theroux's Scientology movie, which also happened to be the first time I had ever been to the cinema on my own

I went to a talk on Black Fandom called All Hail The Queens which paid tribute to Queen Latifah and other amazing black ladies such as Grace Jones, Martha Jones

A photo posted by Aida (@thin_black_duke) on

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I went to see Boyz n the Hood, also at the BFI, and the director John Singleton was there and the talk was amazing. I was far to afraid to try and meet him afterwards though.

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On Bonfire Night, the trains were on strike so I couldn't get down to Lewes for the parade. Wet to the BFI again! with Carla this time to attend this symposium about black cinema. It ended up inspiring a zine I made which I'm going to post as a pdf.
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I went to the infinite mix exhibition at 180 the strand. Probably the best exhibition I have ever been too. It was very cold, but amazingly curated. I stayed in the room where John Giorno read Thanx 4 Nothing, for absolutely ages.

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I read out my short story at a Quick Fictions event on Tuesday. I was nervous as hell but really proud my story got picked, by my own professor no less.

I went to the BFI (again!) to hear Sir Lenny Henry talk about his life and actually got to meet the man. He's brilliant and really inspiring. I told him I wanted to be a journalist, and my friend Carla told him she wanted to be a writer, and he encouraged us, saying that those industries need more people that look like us. Thank you, Sir Lenny!

But most of all, I'm so happy about the people I've met this year, and the strides I've made to try and be more of myself in the presence of other people.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dear [REDACTED] #5

Glenn O'Brien

The last in a series of draft emails I wrote a while ago. Read the rest here: 1, 2, 3, 4


I feel like my brain/mind/whatever is running out of space. The big crunch. I forget. I become overstimulated far too easily. I can't consume the things I NEED to consume because I feel like my brain will explode. 

I always feel like I'm having to get myself ready. I keep giving myself more and more of a "run-up". I store things away. I'll consume them all when I'm ready. Which means: when I feel a little less burdened, when it feels a little less immediate, when my mind is clear, whatever that means. 

Sometimes I feel like it's laziness and cowardice, sometimes I feel like it's actually self care, because the list of things to read/watch/listen to/do/learn is never ending.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Future is NOW pt 2: In Defense of Utopia

Part 2 of my notes on Kathi Weeks' 'The Future is Now'. See Part 1 below

Weeks suggests Ernst Bloch is an example of a Marxist who embraces utopian desire and demand (unlike Marx and Engels).  His book The Principle of Hope argues that imagining that another world is possible isn't frivolous but reasonable. He sees utopian thought as reason allied with imagination, and says it can be seen as a 'particular brand of realism'. That's if we take reality to be that which not only consists of what has come to be, but also its 'potential to become other'.

Utopian Reason

Bloch sees his project as the union of "cold" and "warm" streams.

Cold = dedication to empirical analysis and analytic reason
Warm = hope, desire, and imagination

'politically effective knowledge requires not contemplative reason, but anticipating reason, which takes [things] as they go, and therefore also as they could go better.

Bloch believes in the 'intellectual productivity of the imagination'. Utopian hope needs reason and imagination but also it's also characterised by the warmth of enthusiasm, and the cold of sobriety.

The Not-Yet-Become concerns whether or not utopianism as a type of speculative practice or mode of political aspiration is necessarily unrealistic...'

The Not-Yet-Become suggests reality as a process that goes forwards as well as backwards. 'Everything real has not only a history, but also a horizon.' 

It goes against the idea that reality is static. So, Bloch challenges the idea of the "real" that informs anti-utopianism. (see the future is now part 1)

Bloch contests ideas that utopianism is something nebulous and super-extraordinary that isn't compatible with pragmatism.

Not-Yet-Conscious: Allows us to anticipate the not-yet-become as a possibility. The model is the Freudian unconscious. But instead of being backward-looking, it is 'oriented towards the future'.

The unconscious is also seen to be the source of creativity, Bloch considers the daydream. The daydream, like utopianism, is seen as a trivial and idle indulgence. Bloch suggests the daydream might be cultivated. Unlike a night dream, daydreams do not generally alter reality, they are more subject to the dreamer's guidance, they are more like 'directed constructions'. Also the 'I' of that person is kept in tact, but it is a "utopistically intensified ego" that can imagine a better life without or with less of the censorship that might occur in real life.

Daydreams are a 'world-improving exercise'
Bloch's goal is to shift our view of utopia from something illusory to something with a claim to the real

The Project of Hope 
Bloch suggests fostering wishful images like daydreaming and channelling them into 'polished utopian consciousness'.

Hope = something that can be practised

'The great challenge facing hope as a cognitive practice is our difficulty thinking beyond the bounds of past and present'

There's a distinction between a concrete utopia and an abstract utopia.

Abstract: imagined w/ fantastical contents and without enough regard to the present conditions that could make them possible.

Concrete: 'real-possible', a vision within historical trends which concerns itself  with delivering the 'forms and contents which are already developed in the womb of the present society'

In a way this means we will never be able to implement a better world that is completely removed from the processes and constructions available to us in present society.

The cognitive task of utopian hope: 2 elements of the concrete utopia: commitment to the real-possible, and to the new

Bloch sees emotional part of utopian hope as necessary link between utopia as a 'knowledge project' and utopia as a 'political project'.

'For hope to be a political force, it must be more than a matter of thinking: it must be also a matter of desire and will.'

Junot Diaz wrote about organising, about support, and radical hope as a weapon.

Fear on the other hand, is a consuming force, which is dis-empowering, and can lead people to give up their own power and rights in the desire for protection. (Hobbesian)

Some of the ideas here are interesting but I can't help thinking they lack urgency. Maybe I'm thinking about the constant putting out of fires that lawmakers and activists have to do which leaves little time and space for utopian dreaming as praxis. But perhaps a move towards this could see an overhaul, a turning over of the systems that produce inequalities, instead of us continually having to douse these fires and hold on to ground that threatens to be taken back by the very system that seemed to produce it.

img sources: mindmeister/eyewoo;giphy

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Future is NOW

Since That Day, on the 9th of November, amongst the horror, and shock, the mourning, and sadness, I've seen really encouraging, and inspiring calls for solidarity and action all over the internet.  As part of a utopia course on my Master's degree, last week I read chapter 5 of Kathi Weeks' The Problem With Work: 'The Future is Now'. It was extremely timely and as I read it I just couldn't help but think of all the people mobilising, creating, donating, protesting, around the world.

I thought I'd condense and put the notes I made on Weeks here. I didn't agree with absolutely everything, and some concepts I was hearing about for the first time in any kind of detail. But yeah, food for thought.


Nowadays things like basic income and shorter hours are dismissed as utopian. People are told to focus on more "feasible" goals and the "utopian-ness" of ideas such as the aforementioned, are seen as a fatal flaw in them.

BUT what if this "utopian-ness" is seen as an asset instead of a liability?

The Utopian Demand: 'political demand that takes the form not of narrowly pragmatic reform but of a more substantial transformation of the present configuration of social relations' pg.176

'the political practice of demanding is of crucial importance'

Utopian Critics
Liberalism was seen as the home of utopianism's loudest voices. But Weeks suggests that in the 20th century, there's a disowning by liberalism of utopian impulses once Liberalism becomes the dominant ideology. Then it is dedicated to the conservation of existing regimes.

Karl Popper in 1945, published The Open Society and Its Enemies which anticipated the cold war threat to liberalism. He argues that demands for radical change are seen as threats to reason and "civilisation". Utopian ideals were seen to be spread by appealing to the emotions so were viewed as having a propensity for irrationality and to divide, and lead to violence. (inspired by Hobbes' Leviathan). It was seen as better to be
'searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its ultimate greatest good'

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama's The End of History? saw the end of the cold war threat to liberalism, because it suggested liberalism had triumphed.

There was the sense that the defeat of fascism and communism, and the end of the cold war, meant the 'universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.'

The idea of an exhaustion of systematic alternatives to Western liberalism (because of a political reality that "history had ended" with the triumph of Western liberalism) means a 'resignation to a disenchanted world'. 
Pierre Bourdieu suggests at present there seems to be a fatalism that suggests that the world can't be any different from the way it is.

! Link to the idea that what is deemed realistic is socially constructed

'the parameters of what is accepted as reality and representations of it that are deemed realistic narrow to coincide with whatever is judged to be consistent with the exigencies of global capital accumulation.'

Feminist projects have often been associated with utopianism and there's been a gendering of politics. 
Political realism is seen as hard-line, male
Utopianism seen as soft-hearted, feminine

Wages for Housework movement of the early 1970s
In the 1980s when (Weeks suggests) feminist thought and literature seemed to be waning, it was thought to be because of economic and political restructuring that resulted in many working class people having to abandon political imagination and activism. Robin Kelley said

'We are constantly putting out fires, responding to emergencies, finding temporary refuge. All of which make it difficult to see anything other than the present.'

Suddenly, there's no longer any space to dream, instead, struggling to hold onto the ground they've already won.

Left Melancholy: Wendy Brown in Resisting Left Melancholy suggests identity politics is filled by ressentiment, becoming 'deeply invested in its own impotence even while it seeks to assuage the pain of its powerlessness through its vengeful moralizing.' It's characterised by nostalgia and attachment to their 'marginalised left critique' rather than the possibility of social change.

I couldn't help but think what happens to our identities if/when we ever become free. Are so many of our identities inextricably linked to past and present oppression?  What does blackness free from the pressure to adhere to western beauty standards, free from internalised racism, free from having to absorb toxic images of itself, free from constant racial struggle, look like? It's mind-blowing to imagine.

Next time: Part 2 of my notes: in defense of utopia - Ernst Bloch's ontology of the not-yet

image sources: 1.giphy 2.Women's History Network