The Politics & Poetics of Imagination in the Black Mediterranean with SA Smythe

The Politics & Poetics of Imagination in the Black Mediterranean with SA Smythe

Felix Rosen on Politics & Poetics on September 13, 2018

Concerned with the way in which a white epistemology breeds a racial, capitalist consciousness, SA Smythe — writer, translator, performer, and scholar — began their presentation with a performance of their poems “Some Call it a Comeback” and “Languish”, a small selection of their greater body of poetic works that speaks to the Black diaspora, Black Mediterranean epistemology, cultural memory, and trans embodiment. Although, according to Smythe, the Mediterranean is one of the few environments in which Blackness is applied to an oceanscape, Smythe pointed to the fact that a white epistemology is still the pervading ideology in the region, which motivates the white nationalism of what they term fortress Europe. Even though African migrants in the Mediterranean are not enemies, Smythe explained, they are said to invade national borders.

Additionally, Smythe noted that the question of epistemology is also one of morality. Morality becomes especially important when African migrants are denied asylum in countries like Italy, which is a common practice that violates International Law. Fortress Europe’s obsession with the quantification of Black lives and objects contributes immensely to the racial capitalism that affirms, cyclically, the white epistemology from which it was born. Thus, all questions of morality, epistemology, and memory are restricted to the narrow scope of the colonizer’s mind.

Therefore, Smythe says, acknowledging the way in which Black bodies and lives are both countable and uncountable (the uncountable being revealed by the practice of stripping Blacks of their citizenship), calls, not for a renewal of citizenship rights, but rather for the emancipation of Black bodies, lives, and thought. To remember is to keep a memory, and memory is the tool that connects all humans to the past. If, however, colonial logic does not leave space for a Black memory, then emancipation is impossible. Thus, Smythe calls for a black epistemology of the Mediterranean, one that they have begun contributing to with their poetic work on their personal family experience in the Mediterranean and their interaction with Black refugees who managed to flee to fortress Europe. In addition, Smythe shared video clips of a film from “The Lampedusa Project”, an exhibition of texts, films, postcards, ephemera, and multimedia performance-based materials that were collected to trace the migrant experience through the Mediterranean. Smythe’s work and “The Lampedusa Project” are both examples of artistic production that seek to name the exclusionary epistemology of fortress Europe as white nationalism and white supremacy, and seek out a new epistemology, one that allows for Black memory and the space for Black radical studies and thought.

Event Description: Most migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East who attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea encounter the transimperial regime of Fortress Europe (under the guise of “Frontex Europa” and other border operations). In Édouard Glissant’s book Poetics of Relation, he considers a relational force in which “all the threatened and delicious things” might join one another expansively, “without conjoining, that is, without merging.” What kind of transformative space might that conjure in relation to the so-called “crisis of migration” in the Mediterranean? What kinds of imaginative poetics would such a space require? SA Smythe seeks to engage those questions with a poetic invocation that speaks to Black diaspora, cultural memory, and trans embodiment followed by a discussion of the contours of “the Black Mediterranean.” In Sister, Outsider, Audre Lorde wrote that “the future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference.” This presentation describes the potential for radical futurity and solidarity via Black Italian women’s writing and coalitional Black cultural production in the Mediterranean, historicizing the presence and politics of Blackness in Italy as aligned with the figures of the refugee, the migrant, the postcolonial subject, and the citizen. In part, Smythe will discuss “The Lampedusa Project,” an exhibition of texts, films, postcards, ephemera, and multimedia performance-based materials that were collected to trace the migrant experience through the Mediterranean. The project was organized by l’Archivio delle Memorie Migranti (the Archive of Migrants’ Memories) as a repository of material traces of those who often portrayed as voiceless or nameless with first-hand testimony, thus creating both an archive and transmedia witnessing and mattering of Black and migrant lives. Rather than existing solely as a metaphor, a fixed geography or a paradigmatic site of loss often referred to as a “wet cemetery,” Smythe reads the Black Mediterranean as a complex site of Black knowledge production, Black resistance and possibilities for new coalitional consciousness.

More information on the past event here.