Dear Franz Yang-Momnik,
when writing, I sometimes experience intense moments of joy, sadness, fear, or fulfillment. Creating something means taking a journey through swamps, crossing a crocodile-infested river, improvising a honeymoon, attending a carnival… Sometimes you’re so inspired you can’t write anymore. Your hand is shaking like crazy. Ideas, colours, phrases, smells and flashes of inspiration gobble up in your head.
At the end of the ceremony, the body feels like it has been put through the mangle. I hope you don’t hold it against me that I didn’t get in touch. I was caught in a spiral. To use a term I coined myself: These days I wake up with the sun in my mouth.
Our discussion from last month is still breathing down my neck. I’m sure you’ll agree that talking about Africa in Europe requires a lot of care and precision. It is the work of a geographer and a historian, coupled with a pinch of pedagogy. In the Western imagination, the continent is repeatedly associated with civil wars, malnutrition, malaria, underdevelopment, patriarchy or religious intolerance.
Africa appears as a homogeneous structure, an exotic, intangible, chaotic and oversized fantastic space. To this day, these stereotypes underpin the clichés and constitute power and dominance relations. It should also not be forgotten that until 1960 – the year of the independence of many African countries – this continent was populated by philosophers, travelers, missionaries, administrators, geographers, historians and others. described with a Western perspective.
This mass of information of all kinds has contributed a great deal to the western image of Africa. The philosopher Valentin-Yves Mudimbe uses the term colonial library for this. After decolonization, African intellectuals are now entering this library to decode the signs and revise their meaning. The filmographies of Ousmane Sembene, Sarah Maldoror and Djibril Diop Mambéty are all about this process of rehabilitating African memories. In the literature, what postcolonial scholars call “writing back” can be observed, with writers from the former colonies rewriting texts about Africa.
But that does not mean that Africans and Africa live this duality – or even feed on it. The world has changed fundamentally in the last 50 years. Like all metropolises, modern African cities are becoming cultural melting pots. In Dakar, Lagos, Johannesburg or Kinshasa, young people have the same cultural references as their peers in other parts of the world. The urban heritage meets or appropriates ancient, post-colonial and Western cultural practices. A transnational, cosmopolitan and pluralistic urbanity is clearly emerging, competing with the (post)colonial order and the traditional values and knowledge of the ancestors.
This urbanity cannot escape the new way of understanding Africa, which, also influenced by its diaspora, increasingly embraces Afrofuturism in contrast to Afropessimism. This new globality is a site of constant re-establishment of religion, ethnicity, gender, and also a melting pot of art and pop culture.
Looking forward to seeing you again, Fiston MM
P.S. Regarding the famous book, I have not deviated from my position one millimeter: in my view, there is no African novel that alone could represent the literature of the whole continent. The mosaic of languages, history, cultures, religious beliefs, climatic and geographical conditions gives birth to a unique and extremely diverse literary corpus. There are works in the old colonial languages such as Portuguese or English, texts from African languages and oral traditions.
It’s like asking you to name a single book or writer for all of Europe. Who would you choose? And from which language, from which country, from which era? Heinrich von Kleist, Ingeborg Bachmann, Marguerite Duras, Dante, János Pilinszky? I can see you jumping up angrily, lighting up a fag, ruffling your hair and asking the waiter to bring you another Campari.
P.S. 2: I’m about to finish a long poem inspired by a mate’s exhibition. I’ll write you the lines I put down on paper this morning:
Metal birds carry with them years of migration, loneliness and smuggling
Declared Manda, shirtless and scowling, hands raised to the sky, like a beggar in Herrengasse
to then continue in a hoarse voice:
the metal birds with teeth of brass
the metal birds with their clumsy movements
announce the birth of twin sisters
and with it the immediate end of the deluge
the one-eyed rainbow will suffice
to dominate the cacophony of clouds and sky serpents
oh you my uncles, oh you my patrilineal aunts
the metal birds are not cathedrals
the metal birds are not windmills
the metal birds are not the kind of birds you know
the metal birds, I’ve seen them and even taken them with me, in all imaginable types of plumage, size, shape.
some babbled along in unknown tongues
others giggled to scare me
oh, my mother’s children
don’t say I’ve caught a psychosis
and the metal birds are but the web of my own imagination