Saturday, June 12, 2010

Unfaltering commerce with the stars

I am still digesting the rich fare served up by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Fred Moten at last week's Black Skin, White Marx? event at Goldsmiths in New Cross, with ingredients including Gramsci, Adorno, Kant, Marx, CLR James, Huey Newton, Orlando Patterson and Frank B. Wilderson. One thing that stuck in my mind was a quote from Du Bois which Spivak mentioned, and which I have subsequently tracked down in full:

'the immediate problem of the Negro was the question of securing existence, of labor and income, of food and home, of spiritual independence and democratic control of the industrial process. It would not do to concenter all effort on economic well-being and forget freedom and manhood and equality. Rather Negroes must live and eat and strive, and still hold unfaltering commerce with the stars' (Dusk of dawn: an essay toward an autobiography of a race concept by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, 1940).

I have no reason to think that Du Bois was really thinking about space travel here, but the linking of a project of emancipation to a sense of the cosmic prefigures the Afro-futurist myths of Sun Ra and George Clinton that I have discussed here previously in the context of the Disconaut Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

A contemporary example of this is the work of Flying Lotus, bringing a post-hip hop sensibility to the cosmology elaborated by his aunt Alice Coltrane among others. From his latest album Cosmogramma, here's Galaxy In Janaki:

The title clearly references Alice Coltrane's track Galaxy in Turiya, from the 1973 album Reflections on Creation and Space (Turiya is a Hindu term for the experience of pure consciousness; Janaki is a name for the Hindu Goddess Sita).

Of the latter's work Kodwo Eshun wrote: 'Jazz becomes an amplified zodiac, an energy generator that lines you up in a stellar trichotomy of human, sound and starsign. Alice Coltrane and [Pharoah] Sanders are playing in the rhythm of the universe according to star constellations transposed into rhythms and intervals... Astro jazz becomes a sunship upon which the composer-starsailor travels' (More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, 1998) .

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