Can we begin at the beginning? Or maybe we must enter midstream, in medias res? In any case, let us continue with our story —
“When something big like that night happens,” says the narrator of Animal’s People (2007), “time divides into before and after, the before time breaks up into dreams, the dreams dissolve into darkness. That’s how it is here.”1 The tragedy to which Animal, the narrator of Indra Sinha’s novel, refers is the 1984 gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India. It is the cause of his spina bifida and leaves him walking on all fours. Throughout the novel, Animal grapples not just with the physical and bodily effects of the disaster, but also with its temporal ramifications. The event is so decisive that it fractures time itself in two: there is time before the toxic gas leak and there is time after the leak. The people of Khaufpur gradually start to lose their sense of history; at first the “before time” turns blurry and intangible, and then becomes completely inaccessible, “dissolv[ing] into darkness.” Elsewhere in the text, we learn that Animal and his loved ones have been forced into a kind of stasis, stuck in time as a result of the ongoing bodily and environmental harms from the poisons of “that night,” and a slow-moving juridical process that gradually extinguishes all hopes of reparation. Part of Animal’s challenge, then, is to learn to inhabit time differently. He has to reorient his sense of himself as “animal” (a childhood slur about his disability) and dare to imagine an alternate, more ethical present and future.
If time is a medium that carries our stories, then how do we change our place in it? What would it mean to reorient ourselves in time?
“Whore!” “Whore! Whore! Whore!” These are the first words you hear in Anamika Haksar’s genre-defying film, Ghode ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon (Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis, 2018; henceforth Ghode). The words are spoken by unseen women, in high-pitched voices that get more frantic and accusatory with each iteration. This aural track of abusive speech is overlaid on visuals of a choked drain in the back alleys of Delhi’s Old City. The camera follows the slow drip-drip of water from a leaky community tap as it flows into an uncovered drain and mingles with sewage and slime, the accumulated urban refuse of lives lived on the margins of a big city. As the opening sequence continues, the camera rises up from drain-level to present a sweeping aerial view of the sleeping bodies of male wage laborers, fast asleep on wooden handcarts and cement pavements. These are the places and implements of their informal everyday labor. In the next seconds, Haksar takes us from the distance of the aerial view and drops us inside the surreal dreamworlds of the exhausted sleepers. Through an irreverent mix of extreme documentary realism and fantastic animation, we experience the contradictory dreams of these tired humans as they move between visions of proletarian revolution and divine beneficence. One man is visited by the Goddess Lakshmi who showers him with wealth, while another sees a united front of workers heartily singing “The Internationale.” Two different utopian visions for the future collide here, rather uneasily. Our own disorientation, as viewers, is heightened when we remember the voices of the women who shout shrilly, “Whore!” For beneath the struggle for work and rest, behind the conflict between capital and labor, are unspoken stories of gendered violence and misogyny. The city resonates with a quiet buzz, a volley of words that spell “woman,” but sound like fear.
When we—that is, Pavitra and Debashree—sat down to articulate our understanding of a decolonial and feminist media studies, we knew that we were entering a conversation that had long been underway. Anticolonial movements of the twentieth century ousted powerful and globe-spanning modern empires. Postcolonial and decolonial theories helped us understand the epistemic violence that made the material extraction of colonialism possible. They cautioned us that colonialism looked different in different parts of the world, used different weapons, and had different avatars in the present.
Moreover, the year was 2020 and we were writing from the United States of America. We were witnessing a popular movement of racial reckoning even as it unfolded in the middle of a devastating global pandemic.2 No doubt we were buoyed by the energy of mass protest, but were also alert to the many gendered forms of racialized and right-wing tyrannies that were gaining momentum under the cover of pandemic lockdowns across the globe. We wanted to take seriously the recurring calls to “Decolonize!” resonating across our multiple locations. This is what we said in our initial call for papers: “2020 has been a year of many reckonings. With this CFP we invite reflections on media that build on one of the most urgent calls currently resonating across the globe: the call to decolonize. Echoing loudly on our streets, our screens, and our classrooms, this is a call to dismantle structures of racial capitalism, carcerality, Brahminical patriarchy, ecological extraction, and the global division of gendered labor, all of which are interconnected systems that consolidate racial-capitalist power around the world.” Clearly, the enemies were powerful and the struggle would be long.
As we send this issue to press, we do not offer any programmatic solutions or universal prescriptions. We prefer the provisional and the specific. Not a formula that will help achieve decolonization, once and for all, but anthems that can sustain us all in an ongoing collective struggle. As many of the authors in this issue observe, the work of decolonization does not end at a definite historical milestone, and calls to decolonize become defanged when they are appropriated by the very institutions we seek to challenge. The struggle against the colonization of our minds and bodies and lands is ongoing. That is, colonialism has not ended—not just because there remain many parts of the world ruled by “external” powers, but also because many of the epistemological, temporal, and indeed mediatic infrastructures that carry our bodies, desires, and nightmares, continue to be racist, casteist, sexist, Islamophobic, anti-poor, or otherwise extractive. The task of the feminist media scholar, then, is to enter the struggle midstream and try to make sense of the different currents that make up the turbulence.
The two media artifacts we began with are appropriately slippery and challenging texts that do some of the anthemic work this issue seeks. Provisional and provocative, tragic but not elegiac, the novel and the film both embrace the power of storytelling and the practice of the imagination as the raw material from which to build just futures. Like Sinha’s novel, Haksar’s film homes in on the constant ontological, material, and epistemological struggles of those whose lives are marked by violence and oppression. The classic colonial encounter between white colonizer and racialized native is updated for the present as both novel and film grapple with the depredations wrought by local hierarchies (of gender, caste, religion, and nation, for example) and neoliberal economic imperatives, as they intersect with, and extend, colonial structures. Sinha’s protagonist-narrator Animal resists making himself legible and palatable to his Western readers, the greedy Eyes to whom he addresses his foul-mouthed, tape-recorded narrative, and to Elli Barber, the naive and altruistic American doctor, with whom he strikes up an unequal friendship.3 His solution is not unlike that of Patru in Ghode (played by Ravindra Sahu), who decides to appropriate the commercially lucrative urban form of the heritage “walking tour.” By exposing middle- and upper-class Indian tourists to the liminal lives and grotesque realities of urban spaces that are carefully veiled from mainstream view, Patru forces fellow Delhiites and experience-hungry foreign tourists to reckon equally with the poverty and pleasures of his daily life. Animal’s People and Ghode are both set many decades after the end of British colonial rule in India, but through this temporal distance they demonstrate the ongoing nature of capitalist, sexist, and state-sponsored extraction. In the face of these crushing structures, the subaltern protagonists find ever more imaginative ways to keep on keeping on.
What might a decolonial “keeping on” look like, particularly for feminist scholars of media?
For us, “decolonial” is a term to describe an active process, not the marker of a particular historical epoch that has passed but an active, evolving set of strategies. This process must be at once materially and conceptually transformative.4 We conceive of the decolonial as a strategic “orientation device,” to borrow a phrase from Sara Ahmed, one that shifts our ways of looking at, and living in, the world. Orientation, Ahmed explains, is a fundamentally relational concept: “Orientations shape not only how we inhabit space, but how we apprehend the world of shared inhabitance, as well as ‘who’ and ‘what’ we direct our energy and attention toward.”5 We are always oriented toward and around something other than ourselves; the challenge is to look anew at both that other and at the relations of power that define our orientation. How do we position ourselves within an existing field of thought, a discipline, vis-à-vis our “objects” of study, even as we think carefully about our relations with each other as feminists engaged in the historical study of media? Decolonial as disciplinary reorientation urges greater reflexivity, an accounting of privilege, a defamiliarizing and dismantling of our usual intellectual and disciplinary “habits.”6
For film and media studies, some of these habits would include assumptions that theory is written from the unnamed West while case studies emerge from the rest of the world. Or that we can teach courses on Film Language, History of Documentary, or Media Theory without acknowledging the rich and varied scholarship on these topics that pertain to the postcolonial world or that are being produced in the Global South. Both these habits might partially stem from the same problem: an assumption that every medium has certain fixed aesthetic, industrial, and technological features that make the medium unique and make the principles of its study universal. A decolonial reorientation to a medium like cinema, for example, would insist on historical and geographical specificity, and it would shift the focus from the oft-repeated question “What is cinema?” to “What does cinema do?”7 Cinema is a relational form, located at the intersection of multiple vectors such as commerce, labor, affect, technological change, representational politics, screening conditions, and much more. If we think of cinema itself as a process, something that continually shifts in form and address, we will no longer be able to present histories of the medium as if there were only one narrative trajectory to pursue. In fact, we will have to acknowledge that instead of the history of cinema, the world has always accommodated many histories of cinema.
Crucially, we do not mean to suggest that these multiple media histories are incommensurable or self-contained. To stay with the example of cinema: We know that as motion picture technologies started to proliferate across the globe in the late nineteenth century, cinema was invented and reinvented at various sites in conjunction with locally existing cultural forms, commercial exigencies, visual traditions, and the transnational circulation of mechanically reproduced images. Rather than argue for a culturally peculiar and untranslatable discrete object called “Indian cinema,” for instance, we call for a recognition of contextual specificity and colonial-capitalist economies of film trade. We reiterate what Aimé Césaire, Edward Said, and others have said before us: that the opulently violent encounter between colonizer and colonized created a historical bond that radically shaped and transformed all sides of the encounter. Hollywood cinema, born in a neo-imperialist settler colony, was as marked by coloniality as was Mexican cinema, or Filipino cinema, or Pakistani cinema. In fact, we might adapt an English saying from the days of the Orient Express to ask, “What do they know of cinema, who only Hollywood cinema know?”8
These are not new concerns. These are issues that Indigenous and native scholars, critical race theorists, women-of-color and transnational feminists, and a host of others “theor[izing] from the margins” have been raising for decades.9 What the decolonial as a category does for us now is reinvigorate and reframe those debates for this historical moment. If we take seriously the challenges posed by feminist theorists of the decolonial (and its affiliated terms), then we must ask more “demanding” questions of our epistemological frameworks, our methodologies, our canons, the very limits of what we study when we study society, technology, and representation.10 Thus, the decolonial reorients us as theorists and practitioners of media, allowing us to approach longstanding scholarly debates as well as more recent struggles for social justice, in and outside the academy, from a different vantage point.
Decolonial feminist media studies, as we imagine it, can accommodate artistic engagements with archives of slavery and indenture; media industry studies that acknowledges the gendered and racialized division of labor across local and global industrial networks; work on ecology and elemental media that critiques the colonial-modern separation of nature and culture; representational histories that offer a counter-canon of feminist praxis and antiracist solidarity; and decolonial approaches to archives and digitization.
In all of this, a reorientation to the past, disciplinary and otherwise, is critical. Whether it inspires imaginative storytelling, embodied memory-making, feminist historiography, or some other mode of approaching the past, the decolonial as orientation device enjoins us to stay alert to the inequities of the past as well the imbalances of power within decolonial alliances. At the recent online conference on Dismantling Global Hindutva, which was viciously trolled by right-wing Hindu nationalists in the diaspora, Meena Kandaswamy, a feminist anti-caste activist and writer, quipped that “postcolonial theory has been stretched as jelly,” and indeed, as scholars from South Asia we want to underline this caution.11 Here, we find a salutary lesson in appropriations of the slogan “Decolonize this!” in the Indian context—appropriations that emphasize selective notions of indigeneity as the locus of nationalist essence. The recent episode of Walter Mignolo’s (inadvertent) endorsement of a book that furthers majoritarian and casteist theories of a pre-colonial “Hindu India” has led to a productive conversation about the dangers of stretching the meaning of decolonization “as jelly,” and we are reminded that nativism and cultural triumphalism are themselves implicated in the “coloniality of power.”12
The theft of decolonial discourse toward a muscular and masculinist nationalism is even more troubling from a feminist perspective. If decolonization during the long twentieth century was largely driven by multiple forms of anticolonial nationalism, then we must acknowledge that the promise of the nation-state has failed its most vulnerable populations. Misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia continue to animate the most vitiated parliamentary debates and excite the inflamed passions of right-wing extremists. As transnational feminist scholars have long argued, we must go beyond the nation-state to imagine freedom, belonging, and self-determination in alternate assemblages of community. We must imagine into being different scales of togetherness that are decisively inclusive and anti-militaristic, where borders are not policed and where mutual respect and accountability are the norm.
For philosopher María Lugones, who passed away in July 2020, decolonial feminism is a methodological and praxical task. It is “to enact a critique of racialized, colonial, capitalist, heterosexualist gender oppression as a lived transformation of the social world.”13 Inspired by Lugones’s and other feminist thinkers’ insistence on multiplicity, infrapolitical forms of agency, and a coalitional politics, we ask which bodies and experiences have served as structuring absences in our histories of media, and further, how do we start to remediate this absence? We might begin with a renewed commitment to ethically comparative, interdisciplinary work that emphasizes relationality and rejects modernity/coloniality’s epistemic investment in totality, universality, linearity, and abstraction.
In this issue we are interested in continuing the conversation on what decoloniality can be, bolstered by recognition of the power and the susceptibilities of this framework in the past. We conceive of the decolonial here not as a coherent or definitive theory, so much as an invitation to reckon with the ongoing epistemic and material harms wrought through the nexus of coloniality, racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and the academy. Our metaphor of “entering midstream” into ongoing conversations and movements suggests that we need not define our intellectual mission solely in opposition to things. Why not define this project in alliance with, and oriented toward, new imaginations? Or, more accurately, toward the recuperation and centering of existing, albeit marginalized, imaginations?
The Essays: “The Gift is in the Making”14
As editors, we were heartened by the enthusiastic response to our call for papers. The sheer diversity of topics, regions, methods, and media in the initial abstracts confirmed our intuition that our mandate was not to be prescriptive agenda-setters but to be more like hosts welcoming guests who had urgent stories to tell, both new and renewed.15 To the reader we offer this volume as a modest gift, whose riches lie in the coming together of different voices.
Each of the essays offers different visions of what a commitment to the decolonial can look like in film, art, social media, and scholarship. The authors think with multiple geographies (from Turkey to Canada to Ghana), time periods, and media forms, using wide-ranging methods (archival research, formal analysis, digital ethnography) and conceptual frames (from the environmental humanities, postcolonial theory, and performance studies to television history, feminist film historiography, and critical communication studies). Together, the essays illustrate the dispersed possibilities that decolonial feminisms offer us in terms of media sites, approaches, and stakes.
Asli Özgen’s essay “Ruins, Ruination, and Counter-Memory in Kurdish Women’s Art” sets the scene by firmly emplacing us in a landscape of ruination. Following Ann Laura Stoler, for whom ruination is a “vibrantly violent verb” that can describe ongoing processes of imperial destruction, Özgen frames artistic production by Kurdish women artists in Turkey as attempts to recognize and respond to colonialist violence. Faced with a history of cultural, political, and linguistic suppression, Kurdish feminist artists have produced performance art, video works, and magazines that fulfil a vital “archival function.” Memory, Özgen asserts, is a “deeply political place” and remembering is thus a deeply political act. The contemporary art works that Özgen discusses—by Fatoş Irwen and Zehra Doğan—are deeply committed to embodied and gendered practices of “counter-memory.” Özgen points out that Kurdish women’s artistic practice has long been interested in the matter, materiality, and secretions of the female body, and enactments of intimate but violent forms of bodily protest such as scarring. For Özgen, these are tactics of embodied resistance against the “purposeful erasure of [Kurdish] history, identity, and cultural heritage.” The choice of bodily and personal, rather than monumental or spectacular, forms of memory-making underline the oppositional nature of “counter-memory” that is not supported by corporate funds or state institutions but refracts the invisible and uncounted traumas of experiences such as physical imprisonment and cultural silencing. Notably, Özgen’s analysis emphasizes what feminist artists do with “ruins” to counter ongoing “ruination.” Space, language, and most crucially, the artist’s body figure as sites that serve as both inscriptions of colonialist violence and of anticolonial resistance.
Matthew Tedford’s essay, “Is a Non-Capitalist World Imaginable? Embodied Practices and Slipstream Potentials in Amanda Strong’s Biidaaban,” analyzes the stop-motion short film, Biidaaban, made by Michif artist Amanda Strong, to insert Indigenous epistemes into our existing lexicons of futurity. The essay is centrally concerned with questions of time and the imagination of futures, in a context wherein capitalism has colonized our imaginations with a vision of the future as inevitable and dispossession as common sense. Against this “capitalist realism,” Tedford unpacks the significance of Indigenous futurism to imagine and recover practices of refusal, resistance, love, and multispecies solidarity that can help us build new worlds.16 Where Hollywood and European cult classics of science fiction routinely imagine dystopic futures that seek to reconcile viewers with an impending apocalypse, Tedford suggests that the genre of “Native slipstream” reframes the temporality of man-made, planetary-scale catastrophe. Thinking with Indigenous storytellers we intuit that the apocalypse has been a daily reality for dispossessed communities for generations. The catastrophe does not beckon from afar, on a distant horizon in the future, but rather, is the ground from which struggle is made. Tedford reads Biidaaban as a mode of “Native slipstream,” a term coined by Grace L. Dillon to describe a philosophical stance in Indigenous storytelling that “views time as pasts, presents, and futures that flow together like a navigable stream.”17 This multitemporal, or rather multidimensional, understanding of reality is coded into the title of the film itself, which can be interpreted as “a colliding of the past and the future.”18 Time and its depredations are nonlinear and accumulative, turbulent but still possible to navigate.
Not only does Biidaaban refuse the fatalistic view that capitalism and colonialism are insurmountable structures, but it also refuses to bracket the modern from the supposedly non-modern. The two central characters in the film, a gender-nonconforming young person named Biidaaban and an older part-human being, Sabe, illustrate the possibilities of intergenerational allyship through such time-muddling embodied practices as sap-collecting and cellphone texting. As Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui has emphatically stated, the decolonial is not anti-modern; to locate modernity in the “West” “denies the contemporaneity of [minoritized] populations and excludes them from the struggles of modernity.”19 By making emojis and hand-drawn maple syrup equal parts of the everyday life of a First Nations protagonist, Amanda Strong rejects the “residual status that, in fact, converts [Indigenous peoples] into minorities, ensnaring them in indigenist stereotypes of the noble savage and as guardians of nature.”20 Biidaaban learns how to enact ethical responsibility as their orientation to the world, to all things and beings in the world, and through this orientation new worlds are materially constructed.
Viviane Saglier’s essay returns us to the premise that decolonial praxis can and must be forged out of landscapes of ruin. “Decolonization, Disenchantment, and Arab Feminist Genealogies of Worldmaking” begins with the established narrative of failure that frames Third Worldist struggles for liberation. Saglier focuses on feminist anticolonial revolutionary filmmakers who belong to the “disenchanted” generation of the 1970s, having witnessed the 1967 Arab-Israeli war alongside the depressing reality of neoimperialist and neoliberal structural adjustment programs that altered the future of the “Third World” and re-entrenched several new nation-states into old economic and cultural hierarchies. For Arab feminists, the disillusionment cut deeper, as they experienced the continued complicities between patriarchy and the postcolonial state. Just as imperial ruination serves as the grounds from which Kurdish women artists launch their anticolonial protest in Özgen’s essay, in Saglier’s essay we see revolutionary Arab filmmakers such as Heiny Srour mobilize disenchantment as a motor for renewed and reimagined efforts of internationalist feminist solidarity. There is a defiant anti-nihilism also in the films that Tedford and Saglier examine, and in the authors’ own conceptual framing of these films. Refusing the fatalism that comes from seeing large-scale structural oppressions, be it patriarchy or capitalism or ecological extinction, as unassailable, they choose to highlight the vital role of imagination in crafting better futures. Thus, in this cluster of essays, “ruins,” “apocalypse,” and “disenchantment” become terms that mark the work of decolonial feminisms as necessarily an ethics/praxis made ground-up from a place of loss. Not “despair.” Other words, such as “world-making” and “world-building,” resonate through this volume as programs that can be wrought through and with media.
Heiny Srour, who personifies intersectional praxis in her insistence on being simultaneously feminist, communist, anticolonial, thinker, and filmmaker, has continually reinvented her militant filmmaking techniques from the 1970s through the 2000s with the aim of “inscribing woman as a subject in revolutionary history.” As Saglier tells this story, a number of allied filmmakers, feminist revolutionary praxes, and liberation struggles across Asia and Africa come into view. Via Srour, the essay also problematizes the stable ways in which we write and teach histories of revolutionary cinema, questioning the inability of certain Third Cinema favorites to center woman-as-revolutionary comrade (whether as film protagonist or as filmmaker). At the same time, Saglier carefully draws us away from a decolonial feminist project that is solely fixated on representation, and moves us toward radical coalitional politics that would accommodate multiple subject positions across the spectrum of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and nationality. To quote from the essay, “By essentially articulating national liberation, class struggle, and gender equality, this Arab decolonial feminism invites us to examine not solely how woman can be included in the project of decolonization as the rhetoric of rights suggests, but how thinking of decolonization through women brings about total liberation for all.”
Jennifer Blaylock’s “The Mother, the Mistress, and the Cover Girls: Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and the Coloniality of Gender” is a project of recovering women in media archives. Shirley Graham Du Bois’s and Genoveva Marais’s work in the upper echelons of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in the mid-1960s is notable. Graham Du Bois’s vision as Director of Ghana Television emphasized indigeneity—the Africanness and Ghanaianess of national television—as well as a transnational black solidarity. This, Blaylock observes, was a crucial decolonial intervention in its time. Even as television programming and the discourses surrounding the industry consolidated class hierarchies and gendered tropes—Graham Du Bois and Marais were figured as “mother” and “mistress,” respectively—Blaylock highlights the strategic savvy of these women who labored under (post)colonial structures of gender and governance.
In “Indigenizing Decolonial Media Theory: The Extractive and Redistributive Currencies of Media Activism,” Roopika Risam critiques the widespread use of “decolonization” as a metaphor for all manner of “diversity work.” More pointedly, she argues that the imperative to decolonize has been reduced to a buzzword that assuages white guilt and obfuscates institutional complicities with the structural violence of racism. What is lost in this new, and often self-congratulatory, discourse is any mention of the Indigenous peoples who still bear the brunt of settler colonialism. Risam discusses several instances of corporations that use the verb “decolonize” as “extractive currency” to brand themselves as hip, forward-thinking entities. Thus, like Blaylock, she argues that any decolonial feminist project worth its name must consider the complicity of various actors—be they women, white liberals, or corporations—in upholding colonial power structures. Against such discursive violence, Risam posits the “redistributive currency” mobilized by #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). The hashtag, which has been widely used since 2012, builds on the decades of activism by various Indigenous women’s groups to bring mainstream and transnational visibility to the problem. It also connects and builds coalitions among a wide swathe of grassroots activists, eschewing a proprietary politics that would credit a single actor or group with the “founding” of the hashtag or the movement.
Together, the essays in this special issue locate coloniality as embedded within multiple media forms and, by extension, offer transmedial strategies for intellectual and artistic decolonial resistance. From women’s magazines to contemporary performance art, animation films to corporate ad campaigns, we see multiple media histories come together in this issue.
In a special section titled “Short Takes,” a complementary set of essays by Kiki Loveday and Usha Iyer offer reparative paths forward for film and media studies. Loveday’s “The Pioneer Paradigm” unravels a metaphor that has become entrenched in media historiography. Feminist scholars have made significant contributions in this area, reminding us, for example, that archives are not straightforward accounts of individual value or historical presence, and that technology can be fetishized only because it is first gendered. Still, this body of work engages in its own epistemic violence through its continued investment in a metaphor that invokes the white supremacist and imperial paradigm of the western, to which Ella Shohat and Robert Stam drew our attention almost three decades ago.21 Loveday dwells on the work that an organizing category such as “pioneer” does in feminist and queer scholarship—what it takes for granted, what imaginaries it opens up, and what it forecloses. The point is not simply to find a new name to replace the term, but to dismantle the masculinist settler colonial imaginary altogether by multiplying the ways in which we understand the individual and collective labor of those who are putative firsts in their fields (or, more precisely, those who are “firsts” in “their” “fields”).
Having started with the idea of ruination, we turn now to repair as decolonial praxis. A veritable manifesto for our times, Usha Iyer’s “A Pedagogy of Reparations: Notes toward Repairing the Film and Media Studies Curriculum” invokes the racial reckoning that has lately punctured the status quo in both the US and the UK, and asks what our response will be. Which artists’ and filmmakers’ work do we study or seek out at festivals?22 Whose work do we read and cite? Which fields and what kind of scholarship do we consider outside the purview of film and media studies? What happens if, instead, we recognize those marginal(ized) theories, methodologies, and critical terms as constitutive limits and work to reorganize the epistemic boundaries of our discipline? How might that change the terms of our conversations? What debates would fade out of view, and which ones would come to the fore? What media texts would become newly visible and audible? As the questions proliferate, so too must the answers. Iyer shows that there is no singular way to repair and de-imperialize our curricula. But this is not a liberal multicultural call for plurality. Instead, Iyer presses for a radical reimagination of our work as feminist teachers and scholars.
Taken together, the pages that follow foreground the ongoingness of colonial processes and epistemes in analyses that privilege the embodied, the heterogeneous, the multitemporal, the relational, the ecological, the affective, the processual, and the collaborative. Just as individual humans and the relations between humans and nonhumans are continually changing, so are the worlds that we are collectively making. Our anthems sing of the future not as an endpoint, the decolonial not as a goalpost, but rather as an ongoing struggle, a revolution that is not past or impending, failed or irretrievable, but continual.
In the text chat speak of Sabe, the ancient being in Biidaaban: “tea is getting cold. C’mon get up! we have important work to do.”23
Indra Sinha, Animal’s People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007), 14.
June 2020 saw massive protests across US cities and even abroad (under the slogan of Black Lives Matter), as thousands came together to denounce the murder of George Floyd (May 25) and the continued killing of Black people by police in the US. The protests were unprecedented in scale and sparked a serious national conversation on racism, police reform, and the history of anti-Black hate in America. For context, see Alex Altman, “Why the killing of George Floyd sparked an American uprising,” Time, June 15, 2020, https://time.com/magazine/us/5847952/june-15th-2020-vol-195-no-22-u-s/
Sinha, Animal’s People, 175.
Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–40. See Gopal’s important response to Tuck and Yang’s essay: Priyamvada Gopal, “On Decolonisation and the University,” Textual Practice 35, no. 6 (2021): 873–99, 883–86.
Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 3.
Sara Ahmed, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 25.
See, for example, Sudhir Mahadevan’s A Very Old Machine: The Many Origins of the Cinema in India (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015), in which he points out that “cinema is less substance than agent,” suggesting that we “move away from medium-specificity to the ‘affordances’ of a medium” and consider instead what a medium “enables and makes possible” (9).
“What do they know of Europe, who only Europe know?”
The gesture here is to the Theory from the Margins consortium, an interdisciplinary group of scholars that “reads works from [and interventions based on] marginalised communities in the global North and South,” and hosts open conversations with the authors: https://www.facebook.com/theoryfromthemargins/.
Building on Jamaica Kincaid’s trenchant formulation in A Small Place, Priyamvada Gopal posits that decolonization is fundamentally about cultivating a “more demanding relationship with history and with the world.” Gopal, “On Decolonisation and the University,” 897.
Meena Kandaswamy, “From Sanatana Dharma to the Sangh Parivar: Evolution of Political Hindutva,” Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, September 2021.
Kalpana Wilson, Twitter post, August 27, 2021, https://twitter.com/kalpanawilson/status/1431235928304017414. “The ‘coloniality of power’ is an expression coined by Anibal Quijano to name the structures of power, control, and hegemony that have emerged during the modernist era, the era of colonialism, which stretches from the conquest of the Americas to the present.” Steve Martinot, “The Coloniality of Power: Notes Toward De-Colonization,” n.d., https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/˜marto/coloniality.htm. Priyamvada Gopal takes us through the writings of Aimé Césaire, who saw with great clarity that “in general the old tyrants get on very well with the new ones, and that there has been established between them, to the detriment of the people, a circuit of mutual services and complicity.” Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001), 43. And thus, when “Hindu ethnonationalism in present-day India, ‘Hindutva’, routinely presents itself as a ‘decolonial’ force, returning India to an idyllic Hindu state before colonial disruption,” it tries to obscure its own use of “colonial force upon racialized others from Muslims and Dalits to adivasis (first peoples) and Kashmiris.” Gopal, “On Decolonisation and the University,” 891.
María Lugones, “Methodological Notes toward a Decolonial Feminism,” in Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy, ed. Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Eduardo Mendieta (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012): 68–86, 76.
From the title of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s anthology of short stories, The Gift is in the Making: Anishinaabeg Stories (2013), cited in Matthew Tedford’s essay in this volume.
We might cite here an ethical practice named by India’s most beloved film star, Shahrukh Khan, who is also the target of much Islamophobic ire from right-wing groups: mehman nawaazi. See Paromita Vohra, “‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’: Shah Rukh Khan as the Symbol of Indianness,” Outlook, November 1, 2021; also published in Parotechnics, https://parotechnics.blogspot.com/2021/10/ways-of-being-shahrukh-essay-in-outlook.html, October 22, 2021.
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Ropley, UK: Zero Books, 2009).
Grace L. Dillon, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012), 3–4.
Tedford explains that Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer on whose work Biidaaban is loosely based, credits this interpretation to Alex McKay, an elder from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in northwestern Ontario. Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017): 17.
Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, “Ch’ixinakax utxiwa: A Reflection on the Practices and Discourses of Decolonization,” trans. Brenda Baletti, The South Atlantic Quarterly 111, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 95–109, 99.
Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism (London, England: Routledge, 1994).
Girish Shambu, “Indigenous Cinema and the Limits of Auteurism,” Current, May 19, 2021, https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/7388-indigenous-cinema-and-the-limits-of-auteurism.
Sabe is a key character in Amanda Strong’s film Biidaaban (2018), which Matthew Tedford discusses in this issue.