“the continued exile of the fugitive as an action of decoloniality”
Walter Mignolo talks about coloniality as the ‘darker side of modernity’ (2011). The reading of this thought into reality stretches across a number of colonially introduced binaries, where coloniality acts as the ‘other’, the less easily acknowledged underbelly, the discarded trash of modernist totality. ‘Woman and man’, for instance, or ‘black and white’ are examples of such entrenched binary constructs, but in order to understand coloniality, we must understand that the strategies for continued collective buy-in to notions of race and gender for instance, are shapeshifting, and coded into everything. The forms of control have shifted (in many cases) from obvious valuations through difference, but fundamentally this way of differencing and dominating is a static reality of coloniality. This is because damaging capital-driven social constructs are constantly birthing new constructs themselves, so for instance the social construct of gender, articulated through notions of woman and man becomes attached to a steadily elongating discourse informed by the initial buy-in to the construct. The effect that this has had is that while the knowledge and culture potential within a social totality is vast and interesting, and does have the potential to be queered, the production of ideas continues to rely on – whether through expansion, ‘transformation’, or even critique – a static and oppressive origin point. When we refuse these origins altogether, and opt to begin from a place of liberation-geared social constructs that have more to do with collectivity, knowledge and culture production, and the maintenance of equal social relations, we may breed entirely different ways of knowing.
This is not easy of course, and the notion of ‘totality’ is accurate in describing a reality very difficult to escape. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o talks about the metaphor of the ‘cultural bomb’. The cultural bomb is dangerous in its continued eradication of social constructs invented outside of the west – constructs for instance that are not necessarily built around capitalism, around gender as a category for social relations, or around skin colour as a defining marker of a person’s nature. The effect of this eradication is that often voices seeking to reform colonial violence end up having to continually add to discourses that themselves are attached to existing western social constructs, constructs used to enact violence. For example, feminism is born from a lineage which works around and can always be attached back to the existence of gender, even though gender itself, and how it was imagined through early European capitalism, is of course, a social construct. While widening and diversifying the language through which we engage gender, race, or any other social construct is necessary, it is easy to become trapped in a response routine, which answers to the problems presented by western cultural domination, and allows it constructs and knowledges to provide the natural and normal starting point for our enquiry. This is a sticky situation where we do not escape the growing damage of the cultural bomb. Parallel production that abandons western problematics as a starting point for thinking are therefore crucial.
But to have misgivings about the very beginnings of naturalized discourses, and so to choose to operate amongst people who agree to disobey the fundamental constructs of western totality, is to continually re-stage exiles from the ever-radiating effects of this culture bomb. Within western cultural totality, the notions of exile, fugitivity or criminality are all footnotes in discourses attached to the social constructs of ‘otherness’ – the black body, the queer body, the disabled body – where people erased from the status-quo knowledge project are rejected and ejected to the margins. This project questions the potential for exile, fugitivity and criminiality as spaces that while implying relegation, may also become the places we choose to go to for the production of knowledge. Playing with these marginalized identities in the digital sphere is an experimenet attempting to make sense of the act of being, and of choosing to become a fugitive in contemporary (neoliberal) South Africa.
The fugitive thus provides the central theme for this digito-sphere of mind-mapping, which grabs from theory and contemporary events in South African activism, outlining the conditional way that ‘other’ identities must exist within the current capitalist system. Looking at student interventions of occupation and ‘shutdown’, the work examines this conditional existence, where ousted bodies perpetually exist at the edge of, or within states of criminality, either kept quiet, or made loud from injustice and violence. The work looks to the internet, and its plethora of stock photography and predetermined Google searches as the site through which all of these relationships can be unpacked.
In working to realise the project with people who understand the coding of the digital sphere – the invisible structure that determines how the internet, or software is visibilised to the user – I was struck by some metaphorical parallels. When working with code, it seems one must begin with a basic agreement, or an initial buy-in that acknowledges the necessity of speaking the language of computers, who do not need to have a conceptual sense of the meaning of the visible output of their code, but instead require precise instruction for every single element making up a program or website. Their coded ‘obedience’ to a project of creative expression has the same unaffected texture as their obedience to a mundane piece of software because both things rely on the same structural origin. Interestingly, different to the medium-nonspecific notion of a mind map, the digitally coded mind-map (even when about fugitivity) relies on working within the consistency of the computer’s terms of engagement. And this internal conflict – between fugitivity and obedience – raises questions around whether the appropriation of infrastructural realities of a given paradigm, can allow us moments of exile from it?
The mind-mapping examines, with the same uncertainty with which I now write, what it means to be relegated to fugitivity, or to states of incarceration and how this takes place. Moving from one map to the next, the text and image-driven work circles around a consciousness of criminality as the other side of the neoliberal, democratic coin. In looking to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s ‘Undercommons: Fugitive planning and Black Study’ (2012) as a guiding voice, the work operates as a call to fugitivity, and alludes to the possibility of the ‘down-low, low-down’ in drawing the clutter of coloniality into an appropriated exile from the status quo, where we might produce knowledge collectively. Drawing from imagery of apartheid in relation to the ‘new’ South Africa, and its god-like icons such as Nelson Mandela, as well as from the current narrative of decolonial student struggle and its encounters with a ‘justice’ system characterized by violence, the images presented hope to weave together a commentary, however confused, around fugitivity, and continued escape strategies from western cultural totality.
Rather than attempting to draw a lofty philosophical framework for these ideas, the work operates through seeking to unpick the language of capitalism, and explore the continued exile of the fugitive as an action of decoloniality.
Mignolo, W., 2011, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options, Duke University Press: Durham, London
Moten, F., Harney, S., 2012, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Minor Compositions: Wivenhoe / New York / Port Watson
wa Thiong’o, N., 1986, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Currey