Author Archives: obi tau

Theorizing Improvisation, Week 1

Professor started class by asking everyone to approach the board to write three words that they freely associate with the word “improvisation.” One by one, each of us wrote in turn, and we ended up with this:

improvisation day oneIn the context of the syllabus, a discussion then followed about themes, outliers, and omissions from the board.

What’s missing from this picture? What do you associate with the word, “improvisation”?

Samuel Delaney on Seeing

“Most people go blind in blackness. I have a fire in my eyes. I have that whole collapsing sun in my head, my visual tectum shorted wide open, jumping, leaping, sparking. It’s as though the light lashed the rods and cones of my retina to constant stimulation, balled up a rainbow and stuffed each socket full. That’s what I’m seeing now. Then you, outlined here, highlighted there, a solarized ghost across hell from me.” – Nova (1968)

Alondra Nelson on Afrofuturism, 2010

“Afrofuturists are a group of people of the African Diaspora whose philosophy is postmodern; yet, their viewpoint is of Afrofuturism which is described as: “a way of looking at the world; it’s a sort of canopy for looking at Black diasporic artistic production. It’s even an epistemology that is really about thinking about the future, thinking about the subject position of Black people and how that’s both alienating and about alienation and because the alien becomes to figure quite centrally in Afrofuturism—the outsider figure. It’s also about aspirations in majornity and having a place in majornity and it’s about speculation and utopia. Part of why it’s Afrofuturism in particular is that part of resilience in Black culture and Black life is about imagining the impossible, imagining a better place, a different world.”

Sun Ra’s Instructions to the People of Earth

“You must realise that you have a right to beauty.You must prepare to live life to the fullest extent.Of course it takes imagination,but you dont have to be an educated person to have that. Imagination can teach you the true meaning of pleasure. Listening can be one of the greatest pleasures.You must learn to listen,because by listening you will learn to see with your minds eye. You see, music paints pictures that only the mind can see. Open your ears so that you can see with the eye of the mind.”

Robin D.G. Kelley on Surrealism

“I discovered surrealism not so much in the writings and doings of Andre Breton or Louis Aragon or other leaders of the surrealist movement that emerged in Paris after World War I, but under my nose, so to speak, buried in the rich, black soil of the Afrodiasporic culture.

In it I found a most miraculous weapon with no birth date, no expiration date, no trademark. I traced the Marvelous from the ancient practices of the Maroon societies and shamanism back to the future, to the metropoles of Europe to the blues people of North America, to the colonized and semicolonized world that produced the likes of Aime and Suzanne Cesaire and Wifredo Lam.

The surrealists not only taught me that any serious motion toward freedom must begin in the mind, but they have also given us some of the most imaginative, expansive, and playful dreams of a new world I have ever known.

Contrary to popular belief, surrealism is not an aesthetic doctrine but an international revolutionary movement concerned with the emancipation of thought.” – Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

Trickster: Who are you?

Answerer: I’m Didier.

Trickster: Haha, that’s funny. Who are you?

Answerer: I’m a black man, a musician, a child of the sun.

Trickster: C’mon, child, quit pulling my leg. Who are you really?

Answerer: I…I don’t know.

Trickster: Please stop now. Quit playin those damn games and come out with it. Deception is your truest act. Go to the end of your theater, that deep and unlit tunnel. Go to its end, its bowels, and unearth the filth you dance in. Unearth yourself, and show me who you really are.

Answerer: What then?

Trickster: Then nothing.

Answerer: …why would I want nothing?

Trickster: Who’s asking?