Queer Africa: Pre-Writing, Writing, Re-Writing


I have been reluctant to write something on “queer Africa,” even though that phrase recurs on this blog and in my scholarly work. The “essay” that tries to “map the field,” so to speak, was planted a while ago, germinated, and then stagnated, “waiting for the rains”: an occasion, a provocation, an intention, a direction. My reluctance repeats (tediously, predictably) my ambivalence toward being identified as an Africanist—I continue to believe in what Amanda Anderson terms “the powers of distance,” in the roles of “alienation” and “deracination” to enable certain academic endeavors. If my “location” demands that I play native informant, it cannot compel me to believe in the “truth” of that position. Even if that “truth” is contingent or strategic. Another way to say this is that when I am asked to write on “queer Africa” or think about it, (the invitations rarely come, so this is hypothetical), I am asked to do “something” “impossible.” The nature of such invitations will be the subject for another moment of writing.

This “impossibility” has something to do with the “fiction” of “Africa,” its simultaneous existence as “real” and “invented,” as “fact” and “fantasy.” One need only look at NGO documents to see this blend of “fact” and “fantasy” instantiated through contradictory desires—as one measure, one might consider the rise of the African NGO middle class, something absolutely new and unprecedented (class, Althusser reminds us, exists to “reproduce” itself). It also has to do with my reluctant decision to act as an unstable, worrying metonym: to “filter” Africa through a particular body and life that is often remarked upon as “not” (African men are “not” vegetarian, I hear too often for it to register).

A simpler way to summarize all of the above: it matters who writes this and why.

The form of “this” also matters.

With the exception of edits to aid reading, I want to “stage” a series of “raw” posts on writing queer Africa. I like arbitrary numbers, so let us say between 8-10. These posts are less “maps” to somewhere specific and more paths waiting to be tried, sediments of long-standing thinking and newly formed particulates. That I mix my metaphors might be called carelessness and part of “the process.” I am interested in how “left out bits” might mean, in holding on to those things a polished essay would discard, the “detritus”—the used, the unusable, the unrecyclable, the fetishized, the unfundable, the unreadable, the obvious, the unthinkable, the unempirical, the untheoretical, the unhistorical, the too-speculative, the banal, the boring, the frivolous, the stupid, the cryptic, the obvious.

Along the way, I hope to consider the problem of “the there”—what archives can actually do—and the equal problem of “what-I-want-to-be-there.” (Archives are always structured by desire.) I want to think a little about “method” (and its discontents). About the ongoing tension between “theory” and “empiricism,” exacerbated by the funding for “knowledge on Africa.” I want to think about the “useless” and the “useful,” about the “uselessness of knowledge” and the “usefulness of ignorance.” I want to toy around with transnational paradigms for framing knowledge and global “rhetorics” of gayness. To think, in some way, about “interdisciplinarity” and anti-intellectualism. About affect and actions. Fissures and formations. About “geographies of queerness”—the view “from” South Africa that shapes our knowledge-worlds and “our” resistance to it. About the “medicalization” of knowledge and the creation of new class mobilities. About the politics of location and the location of politics, the potential for both and their absence and negation. About the presence of bodies, their persistence, and fossil histories—a sense of “engraved” Africans. I want to take seriously big and small events, whispers and ghostly touches, to think about genealogies and generations. And even to have some fun.

I hope to have some after-thoughts—on the now-forgotten Malawi scandal, on the ongoing Uganda scandal, on my own earlier thinking on Kenya. But I also want to try some new thinking, looking, perhaps, at some court cases, tracking online commentary, trying to register a “sense” of an elusive now that still feels “stuck.” I’d like to pursue a few idiosyncratic paths—into cruising spots and places of fantasy, into foreclosed spaces designated as sacred, taboo, or both. And perhaps into a few paths too-frequently-taken, marked by broken twigs and bruised leaves.

My goal is not to pursue “clarity,” though I will be grateful if the glass is less cloudy at the end. Instead, I want to inhabit the messiness of thinking and unthinking, to circle and pounce, to become entangled and snarled. I might even become “autobiographical,” explaining how a “turn” to theory, at a certain moment, seemed necessary in the absence of histories I found “useful” or “reparative,” to use Eve Sedgwick’s reading of the term, and how the emergence of new work means a different orientation to theory has emerged, though it remains inchoate. Which is to say that the “new” histories on African “queerness,” ones being discovered, written, and lived, have changed questions of “approach” and “method,” demanded different things to be said and imagined and thought. That this “newness” is as much a function of putting old archives to new uses and also more extensive reading should also be said.

I want to think about the “pull of now.”

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