Nelson, Alondra

Assigned: Nelson, Alondra. “AfroFuturism: Past-Future Visions” (2633-38). Also read the editors’ introduction (2631-32).

“AfroFuturism: Past-Future Visions” (2002)

1. On 2633 (“Visions of the future abound…”), what criticism does Alondra Nelson make of technoculture’s seeming disdain for discussions about class, racial and gender-based inequities across the “digital divide”? How does she envision a path to productively “theorizing about the future” in spite of the attitudinal and material problems that beset such attempts?

New Icons, New Heroes, New Futures

2. On 2633-34 (“In response to prevailing views…”), in what sense does African diasporic history (i.e., the history of African people in locations beyond the African continent) provide a grounding for “futurist” narratives? Why is such grounding necessary—what would happen to the quality of those narratives without it? At the same time, in what way is AfroFuturism a creative or imaginative endeavor?

Envisioning the Future

3. On 2634-35 (“Cultural production can produce…”), how, according to Nelson, is Fatimah Tuggar, a contemporary digital artist from Nigeria, doing what an AfroFuturist ought to do in terms of her work’s capacity to reflect on Africa in modern times? How does her “cyborg realism” (2634) genuinely represent, among other things, Nigerian communities in a way that honors their traditional qualities and yet generates a sense of a “virtual Africa” (2635) that refuses any reductive,  “traditionalist” vision of African people?

4. On 2635 (“Tuggar also deals with domestic…”), how does Nelson, still using the example of Fatimah Tuggar’s image-work and thought, explicate the concept of “soft power” as a key to understanding how technology is “both a tool of domination and a tool of possibility”? Based on Nelson’s descriptions and analysis, why would it not be advisable simply to reject or dismiss “soft power” as a fact of life in many developing countries?

Alien Nation

5. On 2635-36 (“The central focus of AfroFuturist thought…”), how does Nelson describe the “central focus of AfroFuturist thought” (2635)? Why is it a strength that the artistic production coming from AfroFuturist artists is not unified in its way of theorizing the “relationships between race and technology” (2635) that it deals with? What praise for cultural critic Mark Dery (who coined the term “AfroFuturist”) does Nelson offer for his work on African-American history and art? What limitations does she nonetheless ascribe to his work with regard to the extent and significance of “Afrodiasporic technoculture” (2636)?

Free at Last—Of History?

6. On 2636-37 (“Much of that innovation has occurred…”), how does Nelson describe the theoretical work of the British Ghanaian writer and filmmaker Kodwo Eshun with regard to his views about the importance of scientific technique in African-American music such as hip-hop? What relationship to the historical past, according to Nelson, does Kodwo find most suitable for African-American musical composition and technology, and why is that the case?

Beyond Reality

7. On 2637-38 (“Though Eshun can be taken to task…”), why, in Nelson’s view, is Kodwo Eshun right to criticize the concept of “black authenticity” (2637) and to reject the overwhelming burdens that the past can and often does place upon an oppressed people? Why, according to Nelson, is “future vision” necessary as a complement to “realism” (2637)? What happens when a people simply embrace their painful past, and have no thought for the future—what happens when, as Samuel R. Delaney says, a group of people have no “image of tomorrow” (2638)?

8. General question: How is the AfroFuturist work that Alondra Nelson promotes in her 2002 study “AfroFuturism: Past-Future Visions” in part a reflection on African and diasporic people’s complex connection to a past that can neither be simply rejected nor simply accepted? Is there a point of contact here, or perhaps rather a productive struggle with, the insights of W. E. B. Du Bois, who wrote of the “doubleness” and alienation that structured the experience of Africans who had been forcibly brought to the United States early in the country’s history? (See Leitch 841-53.) Is AfroFuturism an attempt to get beyond that sometimes anguished or melancholy feeling of “doubleness” by forging a different relationship to the past, present and future? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake