Anticolonial Acts ~ Hypatia Vourloumis' seminar from Confluence to Confluence
January 2024: confluence at NAC, Nida
Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).
Robin D. G. Kelley, “A Poetics of Anticolonialism.” Introduction to Discourse on Colonialism.
David Graeber & David Wengrow, Chapter 1: “Farewell to Humanity’s Childhood” and Chapter 2: “Wicked Liberty” in The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. (Penguin, 2021).
Samera Eismer, “To say and think a life beyond what settler colonialism has made.” https://www.madamasr.com/en/2023/10/14/opinion/u/to-say-and-think-a-life-beyond-what-settler-colonialism-has-made/
Leila H. Farsakh, ed., Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition. (University of California Press, 2021).
Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, published in 1950, begins with the following words:
“A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization.
A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization.
A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.”
The fact is that the so-called European civilization–"Western" civilization–as it has been shaped by two centuries of bourgeois rule, is incapable of solving the two major problems to which its existence has given rise: the problem of the proletariat and the colonial problem; that Europe is unable to justify itself either before the bar of "reason" or before the bar of "conscience"; and that, increasingly, it takes refuge in a hypocrisy which is all the more odious because it is less and less likely to deceive.
Robin D. G. Kelley’s first words in his introduction to Césaire’s book are:
“Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism might be best described as a declaration of war.”
We begin our seminar with close readings of the above works in a time of open declarations and perpetrations of genocide by “Western” settler colonial civilizations. The relevance and timeliness of the words above reverberate across a space-time continuum sensed as rageful and poetic spooky actions at a distance. These spooky anticolonial acts collapse linear notions of temporality and spatiality, and thus, our understandings of what practices of friendship, struggle, voice, and solidarity entail. This class declares war (has always declared war) on what and who are less and less able to deceive. We see you.
Along with Césaire’s and Kelley’s anti-civilizational sonic boomings, we will be reading the poems Suheir Hammad has been drafting and posting over the past three months on social media: a real time poetics of anticolonialism and antigenocide, yes, and perhaps more than this, a poetics of forever b(l)ooming resistance: practices for undying love, the insistent searching of words and counter rhythms, the unyieldingness of life.
The hypocrisies Césaire admonishes are bound up with the establishment of a specific delineation of the category of the “human,” and therefore, by extension, notions of “human history,” “human civilization,” and “human rights” as Graeber and Wengrow expose in The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. It is safe to say that bourgeois human categories promoted and universalized by Western imperialism and colonialism are imploding under the pressure of the reality we find ourselves in, which is precisely the earth’s witnessing of the reality of the West’s desired and deliberate annihilation of resistant anticolonial life on a particular anticolonial ground. If this relishing of horrific industrialized deathliness for profit is humanity and world, then we can only be anti-human and anti-world.
For us students, new histories are an important part of our indispensable arsenal in the war against stricken, flailing and brutally dying civilizations. Hence, we will discuss Graeber’s and Wengrow’s excavations of hypocritical and treacherous “enlightenment” terms such as “equality” and “liberty” and the ways these supposed “Western” notions and ideas are in fact irrevocably bound up with, and in many ways, formed by, indigenous critique and political thought (from 1492 onwards). There were always and always will be blasts back, and blasts of life before encounter and attack. In fact, there was always and always will be resistance prior to power. Our work entails recognizing resistance as and when it happened and happens and will happen. This work of re-visioning history, and thus the present and future, will be further engaged by listening to political scientist Dr. Roy Casagranda’s lecture: “How Islam saved Western Civilization.” Casagranda’s lecture decolonizes the mind and history, and itself engages deeply with why he insists on this title for his lecture, as he teases, performs and undoes its contradictions so as to collapse the categories that make it up.
How has settler colonialism and the nation-state shaped the ways we say things and think? How is even the category of “civilian” up for question? Samera Esmeir’s essay, written a week after the beginning of the Oct 2023 onslaught on Gaza, will guide us through these vital questions. These questions are not academic ones. Searching for answers to them are imperative if we are to seriously practice other ways of saying, thinking, doing, so as to not s(t)ay the same (see last year’s seminar On not S(t)aying the Same).
On this final day of our seminar, we will have the great privilege of learning from professor Leila H. Farsakh, and read her introduction to her edited volume Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition (University of California Press, 2021). We will also listen to this excellent podcast where professor Farsakh unpacks the important history of Palestinian struggle: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/parallels-and-contrasts-the-gaza-crisis-and-the-1973/id1370561641?i=1000637546669. Professor Farsakh will share a presentation and take questions from students online as part of a school-wide DAI assembly. We thank professor Farsakh for taking the time to join us, and thank our fellow tutor Ghalya Saadawi for organizing this important event for us.
Finally, and most importantly, all of the above attempts at study, conversation and collective learning are inseparable from the messages and calls we are receiving through our technologies and media from truth tellers on Palestinian ground (and the diaspora and solidarity activisms and movements). Anticolonial acts are inherently made up of practices of singular and collective calls and responses. We will begin every session by attending to and responding to what our callers are sharing with us, listening to and amplifying their voices and the content they are sending us, and will continue to do so on a daily, hourly basis.
November 2023: introduction days at PAF, St. Erme