10.12.08

It is raining in Nairobi and the taps are dry.

One could write a cultural history of how the conjunction “and” functions in Kenya. It joins what is to what should not be, the unimaginable to the realized, the impossible to the quotidian.

It is not that we have lost the surprise of frustrated expectation marked by “but,” the “it should have been,” only that we are intent on what follows. And moves on, lubricates the social in a way that but resists. But stops, forces one to look to the side, believe in alternatives, return to the beginning or halt midway. The hyena must decide and cannot go to both weddings.

And joins the ordinary of husbands beating wives to the shock over “gender violence,” the justice of mob violence to the anger over extra-judicial killings, casual promiscuity to laments over venereal disease.

There is something dogged to this and, to the way it speaks to persistence, to continuity, even to hope. And continues.

And. Endelea.

Kenyans believe in an Afro-modernity in which life continues and, should fortune smile, will improve. It is not the inevitable march of progress that some versions of Euro-modernity advocate. It is modified by a belief in fate, accident, coincidence, chance. One could argue that this is a version of modernity filtered through and grounded in trickster tales. But this little bit of ethno-epistemology is insufficient, or at least uninteresting.

My favorite Tutuola quote (can’t find it, don’t have my book) theorizes Afro-modernity as impossible inevitability. One cannot go on and so one continues. To grasp the intricacies of this spatio-temporal ontology is to get, in some slight way, the function of “and” in Kenya. (To my very prejudiced eye, Potash is the writer who best captures this.)

It is an insistent “and” that shows up every day, joining without advancing, squeezing narrative from the accumulation of language: and potatoes and eggs and places and shoes and feet and funerals and now and then and men and women and queers and pleas and please and peas and piss.

It is this “and” that masks what is obscene, that enables us to banalize events that should traumatize. I have been discussing the very ugly term banalize with friends, trying to understand the verb form of banal as a national injunction. A friend tells me I am speaking, perhaps, of bare life, the conditions where the ordinary barely qualifies as life or living. I still have to think about this.

To impute all this—a national ontology and epistemology—or at least claim that these depend on “and” seems presumptuous, even a little silly. To think that being and becoming that knowledge and the conditions of its possibility inhere in this most simple of conjunctions might be excessive.

In part I’m trying to understand the multiple contradictory discourses that seem, somehow, to suture us, to provide some kind of meaning and direction purely because they can be juxtaposed and they continue. I’m trying to understand our implicit faith that “and” (endelea) is sufficient to produce and reproduce the conditions of our existence, regardless of the quality of that existence.