Souvenir Water

Vegas makes you believe life has a soundtrack. Celine Dion soars to the choreographed fountains at the Bellagio; Tony Bennett as the same fountains recalibrate to match the affect you did not know you had; instrumental music that sounds vaguely classically folksy, approximating that thing always on the tip of your tongue.

One sways to fountain choreography.
Souvenir Water.
I leave Vegas with memories of dancing water, a sign on a tiny shop that juxtaposes souvenir and water, confirming my sense that metaphors find us.
Souvenir water strikes me as an apt metaphor for Vegas and for academic conferences—a blend of the new and stale, refreshing and enervating, spring-sourced and recycled. One listens to arguments taking shape—the emergent in Williams’s terms—old streams re-filling, new ones being born.

Water that tastes as it should, and approximates itself.
For a price one can have Vatican-blessed water.

Souvenir Water.
Souvenir water means a lot when one is in a desert. We are dry, looking for replenishment, eager to be wet, unable to care about the water-borne. What returns to other climes will yield. On street corners, water sells for $1.

But souvenir water in $1 bottles cannot travel on planes, must be transported otherhow, as sweat traces on travel clothing.
Souvenir water.
Made water.
Make water.

A banal observation: academic conferences are much like wandering in the desert. One seeks respite. An oasis. A rock to hit.
Modernists have discovered Africa.

I heard varieties of “Africa was modernist.” “How modernist was Africa?” “How do Africans receive modernism?” “How did Africans use modernism?”

I kept waiting for the punch line.

Assuming yet another incarnation, I become an unreconstructed Africanist, suspicious of modernist tourism, wary of claims that feel too much like “Africans have agency.”

This is the problem: While Jameson, Eliot, insert European or U.S. theorist, are allowed to think and re-think the world, to shift paradigms, provide lenses, forge languages, create practices, Africans are allowed to learn, to adapt, to adopt, even to challenge.

At the fresh springs of a rejuvenated modernism, Africa feels like souvenir water.

Though I am glad to hear Simon Gikandi’s name being said correctly.
Bad water.
Necessary water.
We were in a desert.
What would an African Studies look like beyond the canon of Mudimbe, Thiong’o, Mbembe?

What would an African Studies look like were it based on Feminist Africa and Pambazuka? What would it sound like? What languages would it provide? Would it demand?
I am still hitting rocks.
Looking for sweet-tasting springs.

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