Where Do We Go From Here: For They Shall Be Heard – 我们从何处去?因为他们将被听见。

When will we start taking seriously Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s proposal, in Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor (2012), that decolonization is far too often subsumed into the directives of other projects? How do we move beyond the symbol to the thing itself? Catherine E. Walsh writes of the danger of the term’s ‘increasing rhetorical use’ and ‘adjectival lightness’, its commodification ‘as the property of a group of individuals […] as a new canon of sorts, both of which erase and shroud decoloniality’s terrain of political project, praxis and struggle’.1

As museums, magazines and symposia embark on decolonial shows, journal editions and roundtables, it’s important to scrutinize the danger of the notion’s commodification through institutionalization or dilution. As Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth (1961): ‘Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a programme of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding.’2

I didn’t – and still do not – intend to write a piece about decolonization. But it is striking to me that the points raised by Fanon are hardly heeded by cultural structures today seeking to ‘decolonize’ this or that. Too often, we are caught in a web of futile symbols. Instead, I propose, some of the very few spaces that embody the practices and imperatives of decolonization today are spaces of refuge: the US-Mexican or German-Austrian borders, the Greek islands or the coastlines of the Mediterranean, and places of asylum across the globe. It is here that Fanon’s claims of decolonization as a ‘programme of complete disorder’ is in place as something that ‘sets out to change the order of the world’. It is in spaces of refuge that the irreversible entanglements between the colonizer and the colonized manifest themselves as products of what Walter D. Mignolo and Anibal Quijano call ‘the colonial matrix of power’ and ‘coloniality of power’, respectively. The colonizer brought so-called refugees into existence and perpetuates their existence. Consciously or unconsciously, these so-called refugees have come back as spectres to face, affront, reclaim, restitute and reform all that was robbed from them: dignity, spirit, resources and being.

While the manifold ways in which this reality is enacted and enforced are familiar, what is underrecognized is how sound, in particular, assaults space, time and subjectivity. Existence in a colonial enterprise is framed around what we are told, what we listen to and the way Western hegemonic knowledge is universalized. If society has simplified its means of visual perception to the extent that refugees are confined to the extremes of invisibility or hypervisibility, then it seems reasonable to question whether sound has the potential to disrupt the dominance of the visual. Decolonization and decoloniality, as lived and practised within that space of refuge, involve the awareness of violence – of the historical and contemporary colonial enterprises that birthed refugees – and of the multifaceted resistance effected not only by their sheer presence in these spaces, but also by the sounds they make. 

You can strip them naked, shut your doors, denigrate them, take away their valuables. You can even deprive them of grace and dignity. But you cannot take away that silence, almost unbearable in weight and magnitude, which exists in the space between your left and right ears or when you lay your head to sleep. This is the silence that follows the blast of a bomb, the aftermath of every nightmare. As South African musician Zim Ngqawana once said: ‘Death can be studied through the silent moment after every exhalation when you breathe.’ Maybe these so-called refugees had hoped that, upon their arrival in Europe, we would immediately sequester that piercing silence. But no, the confiscation of their dignities and valuables seems more pressing. Yet, what of that silence they brought with them? Where will it migrate to? James Baldwin wrote in ‘BALLAD (for Yoran)’:

The hardest thing of all
Is hearing the silence fall – 
Or, no, to see it,
Touch it,
Watch silence take a form.3

Subjectivities and spaces are consumed by the abnormally tight grip of the haunting silence of trauma and of the determination to reclaim, restitute and reform. This silence rides, strides, takes form in decoloniality as a lived and uttered experience. It is the silence that has to leave the body of the so-called refugee and cast itself into the body and space of the colonizer like an evil spirit who, in a fit of sudden madness, dashes around, sometimes spitting out racist, chauvinist and otherwise uncouth slurs.

While we all have a tendency to reduce our understanding of people to their visual gesticulations or scarifications, we often pay too little attention to their bodily sounds. You can take materials and dignity away from people, but you can’t take away the noises they make when they breathe, walk, yawn or sneeze, defecate, urinate or fart. The utterance and performativity of non-vocal, bodily sounds have agency and mark space. The screams of your mother pushing you out into the world; the lullabies your grandmother sang at your bedside; the striking sound of the whip or spank that aimed to correct you in your youth; the voices of loved and unloved ones; the wailing upon their loss: these are just some of the body’s archive of sounds. This latent sonic material is transmitted and transposed into unconscious whistling, humming and snapping – even in our darkest moments – and is the source of improvisation in music and other disciplines. People express themselves and communicate through music. In these sounds, they carry their histories and philosophies. And in singing or making music, they cultivate and propagate knowledge. So it was in the middle passage; so it is today. 

Every diaspora will need its music as its memory, its documentation centre, its hard drive. Perhaps the most effective form of decoloniality, as a continuous process of hacking into the system of the colonizer, has been the music people have brought with them into various diasporic settings. Consider how infiltration happens through tonalities, beats, notes, pitches, forms, tempos, (dis)harmonies, rifts, measures, melodies and motifs, and how the soundtrack of the West today is based on the sounds of the former colonized, which ‘plays on & on place after place into futures past’, as the poet Amiri Baraka wrote in ‘Funk’s Memory’ (1996). In our present age of refuge, these sonic trajectories mutate, modify and recraft not only the spaces in which they find themselves, but also the subjectivities of the people in those spaces. The resulting affronts, reclamations, restitutions and reformations adhere to the mandate to ‘change the order of the world’ and to the ‘programme of complete disorder’ that, as Fanon contends, are necessitated by any claim of decolonization and decoloniality.

That meeting between colonizer and colonized is characterized by the sonic rather than by the visual. In the anti-physics of this encounter, sound travels faster than light. By means of voice, speech, sound and music – media through which histories are conveyed – that which is heard, as well as how and where it is perceived, serve not only to establish counternarratives but to effectuate resistances. Sound has the capacity to embody, to create and accommodate psychic and physical spaces, to establish synchronicity between people, places, spaces and histories. Orality and sound are not only a means of sharing knowledge and archiving memories in or on a moving and vulnerable body: they provide the possibility of embedding that knowledge and those memories within specific times and spaces. Sonority is the ‘groove of temporality’, to borrow Alexander Weheliye’s phrase, that makes the epistemological basis of visual and written history vibrate. Sonority is a bodily means of narration and being in the world, yet it functions outside of a visual and written logic. The mutation of sound reshapes our perspectives – and the intersections of time, space and place that we are able to imagine – on a cognitive and sensory level. Jean-Luc Nancy contrasts the visual, which is tendentially mimetic, to the sonorous, which is ‘tendentially methexic’: concerning ‘participation, sharing or contagion’.4 With this assertion, Nancy ventures into the phenomenology of sound by describing the sonorous as something that outweighs form by enlarging it, giving it amplitude and density, as well as vibration or undulation. A reflection on, or against, coloniality must also situate itself within the realm of the sonorous. If sound impacts form through enlargement, amplification, density and vibration, then the sonorous leaves traces as its waves meander through spaces in their becoming and in places as they metamorphose. The sonic is a broker in the dynamic interplay between time, place, space and embodiment in a (de)colonial reality. This determines how the bodies of the colonizer and colonized navigate political, social, economic and psychic spaces.

Decolonization and decoloniality are not rhetorical, trendy or temporary issues, and they must not be reduced to Walsh’s ‘adjectival lightness’. They cannot be locked up within the covers of a magazine or book or the limited premises of a museum show. They cannot be pigeonholed within the crevices of power and institutionalization. Above all, they cannot be held hostage by the cunningness of whiteness. Decolonization is a way of being, existing and surviving that is underlined, framed and led by resistances, reclamations, restitutions, repatriations and reformations that are informed by a history of violence, dispossession and oppression. These topics are not comfortable. They are an affront and indignation towards colonization and coloniality and all the by-products of the colonial matrix of power. We need to be more rigorous. Not every noun that is preceded by an adjective called decolonial is therefore qualified as such. More often than not, decoloniality as it is used is a scam. We need to find new languages, new sounds, to qualify what we do. We need to find new forms and trajectories to think, see, hear and experience decolonization beyond the futility of symbols.

1  Catherine E. Walsh, ‘On Decolonial Dangers, Decolonial Cracks, and Decolonial Pedagogies’, in On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis, 2018, Duke University Press, Durham, p. 82
2  Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1968, Grove Press, New York, p. 35
3  James Baldwin, ‘Ballad: For Yoran’, in Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, 2014, Beacon Press, Boston, p. 92
4  Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening, 2009, Fordham University Press, New York, p. 24

Published in frieze, issue 199, November-December 2018, with the title ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’

Main image; Theo Eshetu, Atlas Fractured, 2017, still from video projected on a banner as part of documenta 14, Kassel, 2017. Formerly housed at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin in 2014, the banner uses five mask images that stereotype the five regions represented in the museum’s collection, which Eshetu doubles, blurs and animates in his video. Courtesy: the artist and Tiwani Contemporary, London

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung is founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, Germany, and editor-in-chief of SAVVY, a journal of critical texts on contemporary African art. He was curator-at-large for documenta 14, Kassel, Germany, and Athens, Greece.

Issue 199

First published in Issue 199

November - December 2018

Features /

Sound Art
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
Decolonizing Culture
James Baldwin
Frantz Fanon

我们什么时候才能开始认真对待夏娃·塔克和K·韦恩·杨在《非殖民化不是隐喻》(2012)一书中的提议,即非殖民化常常被纳入其他项目的指导方针?我们如何超越符号到事物本身?凯瑟琳·E·沃尔什(Catherine E.Walsh)写道,术语“日益增长的修辞用法”和“形容词轻盈”的危险,其商品化是“一群人的财产”[…]作为一种新的典范,它们都抹去和遮蔽了非殖民主义政治项目、惯例的地域。当博物馆、杂志和专题讨论会开始进行非殖民性的展览、期刊版和圆桌会议时,通过制度化或稀释来审视观念商品化的危险是很重要的。正如弗兰茨·法农在《地球悲痛》(1961)中写道:“非殖民化旨在改变世界秩序,显然是一个完全无序的计划。但是,它不能产生于神奇的实践,也不能产生于自然的震撼,也不能产生于友好的理解。但是让我吃惊的是,法农提出的观点在今天寻求“非殖民化”这个或那个的文化结构中几乎无人理睬。我们经常陷入无用的符号网中。相反,我提议,体现当今非殖民化做法和必要性的极少数空间中的一些是避难场所:美国-墨西哥或德国-奥地利边界、希腊岛屿或地中海海岸线,以及全球各地的避难场所。正是在这里,范农声称非殖民化是“完全无序计划”,这是“开始改变世界秩序”的。正是在庇护空间中,殖民者和被殖民者之间不可逆转的纠缠表现为沃尔特·D·米诺洛和阿尼巴尔·吉亚诺分别称之为“殖民权力矩阵”和“权力殖民性”的产物。殖民者带来了所谓的难民,并延续了他们的存在。不管是有意识还是无意识,这些所谓的难民已经以幽灵的身份回来面对、冒犯、开垦、恢复和改革他们被剥夺的一切:尊严、精神、资源和存在。虽然这种现实被制定和执行的多种方式是熟悉的,但是人们没有充分认识到声音是如何冲击空间、时间和主观性的。殖民企业的存在是以我们被告知的、我们听到的、以及西方霸权主义知识普遍化的方式为框架的。如果社会已经简化了它的视觉感知方式,使得难民被限制在不可见或能见性的极端,那么似乎有理由质疑声音是否有可能破坏视觉的主导地位。在这个避难空间内生活和实践的非殖民化和非殖民化涉及对暴力的认识——对孕育难民的历史和当代殖民企业——以及对不仅仅由于难民在这些空间中的纯粹存在而造成的多方面抵抗的认识,还有他们发出的声音。你可以剥掉他们的衣服,关上门,诋毁他们,拿走他们的贵重物品。你甚至可以剥夺他们的优雅和尊严。但是,你无法消除那种沉寂,这种沉寂的重量和大小几乎让人无法忍受,它存在于你左右耳之间的空间里,或者当你躺下睡觉的时候。这是一个炸弹爆炸后的沉默,每一个噩梦的后果。正如南非音乐家Zim Ngqawana曾经说过的:“死亡可以通过每次呼气后的静默时刻来研究。”也许这些所谓的难民曾经希望,当他们抵达欧洲时,我们将立即封锁这种刺耳的沉默。但不,没收他们的尊严和贵重物品似乎更为紧迫。然而,他们带来的沉默是什么呢?它将迁移到哪里?詹姆士·鲍德温在《尤兰》一书中写道:最难的是听到寂静的降临——
Watch.ce采取一种形式。3主体性和空间被鬼怪不正常的紧握所消耗。沉默的创伤和决心收回,恢复和改革。这种寂静,在一个生活和发声的体验中,在脱色中形成。就是这种沉默,必须离开所谓的难民的身体,像恶魔一样投身于殖民者的身体和空间中,恶魔突然发疯,四处乱窜,有时吐出种族主义、沙文主义和其他粗俗的诽谤。虽然我们都倾向于减少我们对人们的理解到他们的视觉手势或划痕,我们经常太少注意他们的身体声音。你可以剥夺人们的物质和尊严,但你不能消除他们呼吸、行走、打哈欠或打喷嚏、排便、小便或放屁时发出的噪音。非声音、身体声音的发音和表现具有中介和标记空间。你母亲的尖叫声把你推向世界;你祖母在你床边唱的摇篮曲;在你年轻的时候用来纠正你的鞭打或打你屁股的刺耳的声音;爱人和不爱人的声音;失去他们的哀号:这些只是身体的一些弧线。蜂群的声音这种潜在的音响材料被传递并转换成无意识的哨声、嗡嗡声和啪啪声——即使在我们最黑暗的时刻——并且是音乐和其他学科即兴创作的源泉。人们通过音乐表达自己和交流。在这些声音中,它们承载着它们的历史和哲学。在歌唱或创作音乐中,他们培养和传播知识。所以它是在中间通道,今天也是。每一个散居国外的人都将需要它的音乐作为它的存储器,它的文件中心,它的硬盘。也许最有效的非殖民主义形式,作为一个不断侵入殖民者系统的过程,就是人们把音乐带到各种各样的散居环境中。想想如何通过音调、节拍、音符、音高、形式、节奏、(迪斯)和声、裂痕、音阶、旋律和主题来渗透,以及今天的西方原声乐是如何基于前殖民者的声音的,后者“一遍又一遍地演奏”到过去的未来。正如诗人Amiri Baraka在《芬克的记忆》中所写的(1996)。在当今的避难时代,这些音轨不仅改变、修改和重新设计它们所处的空间,而且改变那些空间中人们的主观性。由此产生的侮辱、开垦、恢复和改革遵守了“改变世界秩序”和“完全无序计划”的任务,正如范农所主张的,这是任何非殖民化和非殖民化要求所必需的。殖民者和殖民者之间的相遇以声波而非视觉为特征。在这次遭遇的反物理学中,声音传播得比光快。通过声音、演讲、声音和音乐——通过它传达历史的媒介——所听到的,以及如何和在何处被感知,不仅用来建立反叙事,而且用来实现抵抗。声音具有体现、创造和容纳精神和物质空间的能力,在人、地方、空间和历史之间建立同步性。口述和声音不仅是一种分享知识的手段,而且是一种将记忆存档在活动着的、脆弱的身体上或身体上的方法:它们提供了在特定的时间和空间中嵌入这些知识和记忆的可能性。借用亚历山大·威赫利耶的话说,声音是“时间之沟”,它使视觉和书写历史的认识论基础振动。响度是一种身体叙事和存在于世界的方式,但它在视觉和书写逻辑之外发挥作用。声音的变异在认知和感觉层面重塑了我们的视角——以及我们能够想象的时间、空间和地点的交集。Jean Luc Nancy将视觉倾向于模仿的声音,这是“音调性的”:关于“参与、分享或传染”。4根据这一断言,南茜通过描述声响作为一种东西而冒险进入声音现象学。S的形式,扩大它,给它的振幅和密度,以及振动或波动。对殖民主义的反思或反对,也必须将自己置身于铿锵有力的领域之内。如果声音的影响是通过放大、放大、密度和振动形成的,那么铿锵的叶子就会随着它的波在它们变和变的地方蜿蜒流过。声波是在时间、地点、空间和体现在一个(de)殖民现实中的动态相互作用的经纪人。这决定了殖民者和殖民者的身体如何导航政治、社会、经济和心理空间。非殖民化和非殖民化不是修辞性的、时髦的或暂时性的问题,它们决不能沦为沃尔什的“形容词轻”。它们不能被锁定在杂志或书籍的封面或博物馆展览的有限场所。他们不能被置于权力和制度化的缝隙中。最重要的是,他们不能被白人的狡猾所挟持。非殖民化是一种存在、存在和生存的方式,被暴力、剥夺和压迫的历史所揭示的反抗、报复、恢复、遣返和改造所强调、陷害和领导。这些话题并不舒服。他们对殖民统治和殖民主义以及殖民地权力的所有副产品都是一种侮辱和愤怒。我们需要更严格。不是每个名词前面都有一个叫做非殖民者的形容词。


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