Vernacular Reality

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***We also recognize:***

The imaginative challenge that awaits any Mundane Afrofuturist author who accepts that this is it: Earth is all we have. What will we do with it?

The chastening but hopefully enlivening effect of imagining a world without fantasy bolt-holes: no portals to the Egyptian kingdoms, no deep dives to Drexciya, no flying Africans to whisk us off to the Promised Land.

The possibilities of a new focus on black humanity: our science, technology, culture, politics, religions, individuality, needs, dreams, hopes, and failings.

The surge of bedazzlement and wonder that awaits us as we contemplate our own cosmology of blackness and our possible futures.

The relief of recognizing our authority. We will root our narratives in a critique of normative, white validation. Since “fact” and “science” have been used throughout history to serve white supremacy, we will focus on an emotionally true, vernacular reality.

The understanding that our “twoness” is inherently contemporary, even futuristic. DuBois asks how it feels to be a problem. Ol’ Dirty Bastard says “If I got a problem, a problem’s got a problem ’til it’s gone.”

An awakening sense of the awesome power of the black imagination: to protect, to create, to destroy, to propel ourselves towards what poet Elizabeth Alexander describes as “a metaphysical space beyond the black public everyday toward power and wild imagination.”

The opportunity to make sense of the nonsense that regularly—and sometimes violently—accents black life.

The electric feeling that Mundane Afrofuturism is the ultimate laboratory for worldbuilding outside of imperialist, capitalist, white patriarchy.

The sense that the rituals and inconsistencies of daily life are compelling, dynamic, and utterly strange.

Mundane Afrofuturism opens a number of themes and flavors to intertextuality, double entendre, politics, incongruity, polyphony, and collective first-person—techniques that we have used for years to make meaning.

Text: Martine Syms, The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto, via rhizome.org

Pic: Hebru Brantley, Into Obscurity, via Chicago Reader.

Burn the manifesto

“Partly Mundanity was also the result of asking: what’s worked best in the past? My favourite SF authors such as Philip K Dick, J G Ballard, Samuel Delaney or Walter Miller tended to avoid those particular tropes. For a while naming writers who could be considered Mundane was quite a hobby.

“We felt as if SF had accumulated so many improbable ideas and relied on them so regularly, that it had disconnected from reality. The futures it was portraying were so unlikely as to be irrelevant, if not actually harmful.

“Julian Todd, a British SF writer, pointed out the moral problems as well. If we keep telling ourselves that faster-than-light travel will whisk us to scores of new Earths, then we’d feel better about burning through this one. In really bad SF, like the movie Lost in Space, environmental catastrophe is almost wished upon us, to justify the cost of interstellar voyages. Why, why the continual desire to escape our beautiful planet?

“My particular bugaboo was the cheat of having faster-than-light travel without any relativity effects from different time frames. Mass market SF, the SF that most ordinary people think of when you use the phrase, commercial and media SF want to pick and choose from science, using only those things that will grant us our wishes and dreams.

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“We want FTL interstellar travel with no more inconvenience than a tour of duty on an aircraft carrier. Mom can ring us up from 30,000 light years away to have a real-time conversation about why we haven’t married yet. She’s still alive when we get back home. Everything is recognizable, comfortable. In Star Trek, we get to the stars without having to change.

“Mass market SF doesn’t imagine how different interstellar flight will make us. And I don’t mean the usual posthuman stuff. I mean different culturally. I mean getting back home to find 200 years have passed and that everything we loved and believed in is gone. Yes, some SF has done just that, notably The Forever War. So why isn’t the space pilot coming back from the distant past an SF stereotype? Answer: because that’s not what the SF wants.

“Big SF, the stuff that sells hugely or is found in movies, is not really about the future; we know that. It’s also not about the present, though that’s our excuse when people point out that SF couldn’t predict its way out of a public restroom. SF, especially mainstream commercial SF, copies the past onto the future, to make it comfortably entertaining. The future will be just like the more exciting parts of the past only with better toys. Perhaps that’s because so many people now fear the future, rather than welcome it as a wonderland of possibility.

“So I wrote a jokey Mundane Manifesto. It said let’s play this serious game. Let’s agree: no FTL, no FTL communications, no time travel, no aliens in the flesh, no immortality, no telepathy, no parallel universe, no magic wands. Let’s see if something new comes out of it.

“In a reference to The Bonfire of the Vanities, I called this the “Bonfire of the Stupidities”. That was what we call a joke, but jokes can be serious. I also said that we should burn the Manifesto when it got boring.

“Take the Third Star on the Left and on til Morning!” by Geoff Ryman, Mundane SF.

Image: Hany Armanious, Uncanny Valley, 2009.