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Interview response: Black Space and Anderson's Print capitalism.



The previous interview with Dj Watson is representative of the effects Nommo, "the power of the word" can have on individuals and whole communities. The World Stage has begun a movement, has helped others envision a world community that encourages honesty and acceptance. The need for spaces bounded in Blackness, (an admittedly arbitrary term) or a Pan-Africanist sensibility is clear by the response which spaces like World Stage and Writerz Block recieve.

From my field notes I gathered quotes overheard from artists at the World Stage.

"the most valuable workshop I have ever been too"
"the bombest place to go and practise your skillz, you cant get no place like this outside LA"
"like church"

and from a letter Dj emailed me from one of her students:

Thank you for having me read my poems at the last Writerzblock . . .  like you said, "It had to come out".  Just saying it, again, lifted a huge burden off of my shoulders, a burden I never knew existed . . . This might sound "cheesy", but it feels good being a part of something.  I like having the feeling that I am (or think that I'm) included" (Otim, 11/98)

This idea of feeling alienated is not uncommon to tradtional and non-traditional academics who consider themselves to be Black. Writerz Block and World Stage create a common ground for people from our diverse Diaspora to re-establish ancient bonds, build upon historically created ties, and grapple with these new, postmodern notions of "where do we go from here?".

In talking with Dj I was struck at how passionate she was when discussing this notion of safe space and inclusion.

"I seemed to have to educate my audience culturally . . . That is one good thing I can say about going through an MFA program. You will get criticized, at least you should. The problem with me and other Writerz of color is that the "other" people would say "it's beautiful and rhythmic...but what does it mean?" and I did not have time to teach them and furthermore, I felt like they should educate themselves." (Watson)

For artists of color, the tendency to have to explain notions of Afrocentricity are common.  In the academy, a space with endless mouthings toward "diversity", African cosmology and Psychology are still resisted.  Reductive notions linguistically coded under the guise of "essentialism" allow scholars not educated in any or limited African discourse methods or philosophy to disregard analysis that would change the center to ourselves.  Further, it seems that Afrocentricity has been simply equated as being simply another excusatory deconstructionist method of lamenting about "the white man".  These type of minimalizationist actions denying the importance an Afrocentric discourse can hold for the global community need to be checked. The frustration of artists (includes writers) of color is the reassurance that they will, indeed, have to culturally reorient the segments of their audience who are partaking of the dominant culture, regardless of race. Creating spaces that have a distinct African centered philosophy is critical to eliminate the isolation felt by black academics and artists.  Simply concentrating on "black subjects" is not enough.  Presenting an entirely different method for running a classroom or creating a space specifically structured as an African space is crucial in this imagining of self in an Pan-African sense.

The World Stage in its specific structure has created a space that is decidedly Afrocentric.  I cannot refer us enough to the model of the Togu Na, a space built and maintained by the power of Nommo.  Benedict Anderson in his critical work, Imagined Communities discusses the ways in which community and nationhood are formed and reinforced.  "Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exsist." (6)  One of the tools of nationalism is print capitalism. Inside nation building is a systematic instilling of the states ideology through mass media, {print capitalism} educational systems, and administrative regulations. Lines of communication from the aristocracy to the peasantry were opened with this phenomenon. Writers, politicians and religious representatives were able to reach the "common" person, or the masses. In response to this were books printed in different vernaculars for those not educated in the language of the elite. the resulting creation of a common language to communicate with the masses inspired what we in cultural studies like to call "shifts" in ideological eras.

For the African American condition in the United states, one of which disconnectedness, the responsibility of the community to reclaim and rename parts of us that have been stolen is crucial.   Anderson comments in a footnote how the importation of slaves "ensured not merely [their] political -cultural fragmentation, but also very rapidly removed the possibility of imagining black communities in Venezuela and West Africa moving in parallel trajectory."(189)  In other words, distancing ourselves from our language, cosmologies, culture removes the possibility of Black people imagining themselves as a coherent entity.  This is directly in opposition to and Africanist sensibility.  Ntu, or "the energy which pervades all things", is the concept that informs us that we are connected to each other and what we do in one part of the community, affects us on the global scale.
In order for us to imagine ourselves as "moving in parallel trajectory", we must insist on spaces that allow the common language of Blackness to be treated as importantly as other, standard languages.

Print capitalism is definitive in that observing how the creation a common language or "using" a common language to accomplish the goals of colonizers has effected our languages systems even today. More importantly (and more positively), we can learn from this model how critical a common language is used to form nationhood.


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Pictures on this page are scanned from Tito Spini and Sandro Spini's
photjournalistic book, TOGU NA.
Rizzoli International Publications, Inc NY, 1977.