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The Great Africanstein Novel | by Namwali Serpell | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
"The title of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s magisterial first novel, Kintu—first published in Kenya in 2014, then in the US this year by the Oakland-based press Transit Books—is a Luganda word. Luganda is a Bantu language spoken in Uganda; Bantu is a proto-language that just means people; there are languages derived from it all across the African continent. In Zambia, where I’m from, we spell this word chinthu. In both countries, it is pronounced chin-two and it means “thing.” In ancient Buganda mythology, however, Kintu is also the name of the first man, the equivalent to the Judeo-Christian Adam. The implications of this titular oxymoron—a word that means both “thing” and “man”—begin to unfold in the opening pages of Makumbi’s book.

There’s a knock at the door. A woman opens it to four local officials, who rouse her man, Kamu, from sleep and lead him outside for questioning. He assumes they’re there on behalf of a creditor but when they reach a marketplace, they bind his hands. Kamu protests: “Why are you tying me like a thief?” A mob swirls into being like a weather formation, the word thief flying “from here to there, first as a question then as a fact.” Kicks and blows begin to rain down on him, from both the elderly and the young. Arrivals to the scene ask, “‘Is it a thief?’ because Kamu had ceased to be human.” He tries to hold on to his humanity: “Kamu decided he was dreaming. He was Kamu Kintu, human. It was them, bantu. Humans. He would wake up any minute.” He does not.

The account of Kamu’s abrupt, arbitrary death on Monday, January 5, 2004, and the subsequent fate of his corpse in the bureaucratic torpor of Kampala’s morgue, recurs in short fragments at the start of each of the novel’s five sections, which tell the stories of other members of the scattered Kintu clan. First, we jump back three centuries to its first generation, headed by Kintu Kidda, a ppookino, or governor, of the Buddu province in the eighteenth-century Buganda Kingdom. In a moment of irritation, Kintu slaps his adopted son, a Rwandan, and the boy falls down dead. His men bury the body improperly: “the grave was narrow and shallow. They used a stick to measure Kalema’s length, but while the stick fit into the grave, Kalema did not. They crammed him in.” In their haste, the men do not even realize that they have buried the boy beside a burial shrub for dogs. The tragic repercussions of this desecration—“the curse was specific: mental illness, sudden death, and suicide”—ripple across the centuries through the lives of Kintu’s descendants.

Like Charles Dickens or Gabriel García Márquez, Makumbi ranges widely across time and social strata; her knowledge of Ugandan culture seems as precise as a historian’s. We meet Suubi Kintu, a young woman who grows up in a compound, perpetually on the brink of starvation, but is eventually integrated into a middle-class family. Kanani Kintu and his wife, Faisi, members of an evangelical group, the Awakened, bear a twin son and daughter with an uncomfortably close relationship. Isaac Newton Kintu, the product of rape and named for the last lesson his mother learned in school before she dropped out, gets trapped into marriage; when his wife dies, seemingly of AIDS, he anguishes over whether to learn his own HIV status. Miisi Kintu, a writer raised by colonial priests (the “white fathers”) and educated abroad, returns to a postcolonial Kampala still feeling the aftershocks of dictatorship and the bush war of the early Eighties, which killed some of his children. With its progression through generations and its cyclical returns to genetic inheritance—hay fever, twins, madness—Kintu’s structure feels epic.

Kintu continually diverts us from this straightforward path of a curse and its aftermath, however, as well as from our preconceptions about Africa. The polygamous eighteenth-century governor wants nothing more than to be with the woman he loves; the Awakened couple experience their enviably passionate sex life as a torment; the spiritual leader of a ritual cleansing is so “anglicized” that the assembled family members doubt his efficacy. Social class is defined neither by strict stratification nor by upward mobility, but by extreme volatility—economic fates rise and fall almost at random. Servant girls become educated women, sons of professors come to live in slums.

Makumbi’s depiction of local culture also bears little resemblance to standard notions of African “authenticity.” Her Uganda is an unabashed amalgam of Europe and Africa, in everything from cooking to spiritual possession to mental health to sexual mores. As Makumbi said in an interview:
We are both Europeanized and Ugandan. We speak both traditional languages and English. Someone goes to church, but then will go to the traditional healer. Someone is a scientist but will have an intense spiritual life. We have this saying in Uganda: “God help me, but I’m going to run as well.” We think two ways at once.

In the novel, Miisi conjures an image of African postcolonialism that captures this sensibility. He pictures the black torso of the continent but stripped of its limbs, which have been replaced with European ones. “We cannot go back to the operating table and ask for the African limbs,” he writes. “Africa must learn to walk on European legs and work with European arms. As time goes by, children will be born with evolved bodies.” Makumbi’s portmanteau for this Gothic image enacts the very grafting it describes: Africanstein.

Kintu cannot but be in some sense the story of a people, the Ganda, and a nation, Uganda. But its politics are personal. Idi Amin and the bush wars emerge in conversation, in acts of mourning. The ins and outs of the ancient Buganda Kingdom’s secessions and coups seem incidental to the personal tragedy of Kintu Kidda, his wives, and their children. Makumbi has said that she intentionally skipped the nation’s colonial history: “The almost complete lack of colonization was deliberate…. To me colonization was my grandfather’s quarrel.” So, without the usual lenses of class, culture, and colonialism—without “Queen and Country,” so to speak—how are we to read this “African” novel?"



"Oddly enough, despite all this generalizing and pigeonholing, African writers are rarely thought to speak to the universal—in the philosophical sense rather than the platitudinous one. But if, as Makumbi noted at an event in Brooklyn last June, the origin of the human species is probably East Africa, then why can’t Kampala be the center of a profoundly universal inquiry? As its two-faced title—man/thing—suggests, Kintu does in fact have a grand philosophical question in mind. The novel forces us to reckon over and again with what it means to be kintu, to be man, or human. This question plays out across certain boundaries: between men and women, between twins, between life and death, between “mankind” and “animalkind,” between good and evil, between human and supernatural worlds, between foreigners and family, and, of course, between humans and objects."



"Miisi completely loses his grip on reality and starts wearing a Western-style waistcoat and coat over his kanzu. In his dishevelment, he comes to resemble his ancestor with that strange thing/person name, Kintu. Miisi becomes a man “floating in two worlds.” Which two worlds? Boyhood and manhood, past and present, muntu and muzungu, Europe and Africa? “I know who I am,” Miisi tells his daughter, “We are not even Hamites. We are Bantu.” But she thinks, “He is now a different person.” In the end, he is riven by his divisions, “in the middle world between sanity and insanity.”

To survive being human, Kintu suggests, is to hold all these divisions together, gently, to “just be.” This argument about personhood is radical because it rejects a long philosophical tradition of considering “humanity” as a matter of self-containment and integrity, of what the human excludes. It is also radical because Makumbi centers this argument in Uganda. But what better place, with its arbitrarily sketched borders, its pliable myths and cultures, its originary status—cradle of the first human/thing—to stage an interrogation of personhood? As Makumbi has remarked in passing about living as an immigrant in the UK: “Out here you are Ugandan. At home you are just human.”"
jennifernansubugamakumbi  namwaliserpell  books  literature  kintu  kampala  ugnda  africaisnotacountry  2017  toread  universal  universalism  humans  humanism  objects  betweenness  seams  gender  supernatural  middleground  gray  grey  humanity  personhood  integrity  self-containment  borders  identity  myth  culture  sexuality  history  colonialism  postcolonialism  human  colonization  europe  decolonization  frankenstein  africanstein  africa  africans  twins  multispecies  morethanhuman  life  living  philosophy  divisions  interstitial  liminality  liminalspaces  liminalstates  between 
11 hours ago by robertogreco
To Complain Is to Truly Be Alive
This is amazing.

“Being a person is terrible. And complaining about it is the purest, most soothing form of protest there is. Complaining feels so good. It’s like casting off the oppressive wool coat you’ve been buried under since October on that first truly beautiful warm April day. Pointlessly yelling into the void about some minor injustice you’ve suffered is the perfect relief for the giant wave of anxiety crashing against your insides, a balm for the wounds that riding public transportation with people who don’t use headphones while they listen to music can inflict upon your weary soul.

It doesn’t even have to be verbal. The shared grimace and eye roll between me and the other woman who was inconvenienced by the oversize suitcase the man in Seat 3B tried to sneak past the flight attendant can feel better than a long hug. Complaining is a hot bath for your feelings.”
complaining  culture  protest  psychology  how_we_live 
12 hours ago by alexpriest
Why We Don’t Vote With Our Wallets
“There are hundreds of explanations for our inconsistency, according to Julie Irwin, a professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, who studies ethical consumerism. “It’s just really hard to think about this stuff,” she said. “It’s uncomfortable; people need to get on with their day. It’s not that they don’t care. People who care more are often more inconsistent with their values. It just upsets them more.””
boycott  corporate_culture  culture  corporate_social_responsibility  business  uber  protest 
12 hours ago by alexpriest
Felipe Vera - Urbanismo Efimero - YouTube
"Charla en Scola da Cidade sobre ciudades temporales y el Kumbh Mela."

[1:41:33] "Déjame ver si entendí la pregunta. Me está preguntando cuáles con ls implicancias del urbanismo efímero para el tema patrimonial, en resumen? … Una cosa muy interesante, yo creo, es que nosotros tendemos en pensar en temas de conservación como temas de conservación de lo material. Estos caso del urbanismo efímero, cuando uno lo analiza, se da cuenta que el valor está en la práctica, en la praxis, en la conservación de maneras particulares de o bien reconstruir una ciudad o bien construir un ídolo y llevarlo y botarlo en un lugar para que se disvuelva o bien reformular todos los pasajes y cambiar la funcionalidad de algunos espacios urbanos. Entonces, lo que es interesante, yo creo que es interesante esto, sí ahora para las ciudades permanentes es decir en algún minuto vamos a tener que entender que la preservación arquitectónica no tiene que ver con parar el tiempo y con dejar que las cosas no se muevan, sino que va a tener que ver con como durar el cambio, modular el cambio a través de la memoria. Y en una formulación de ese tipo, pensar en la preservación como una práctica y no como la preservación de la forma y yo creo que nos pueda ayudar a desarollar nuevas estrategias."

[Translation (mine, quickly)]: "Let me see if I understand the question. In summary, you are asking me what are the implications of ephemeral urbanism with regard to cultural heritage? … Something very interesting, I think, is that when we think about conservation we tend to think about it in terms of the material. When you analyze these cases of ephemeral urbanism, you realize that the value is in the practice — the praxis — in the conservation of particular ways of things like rebuilding a city or constructing an idol and taking it and throwing it in a place that will make it dissolve, or reformulating all the passages and changing the function of some urban spaces. Then, what is interesting, I think, is to think about this for permanent cities and how at some time we are going to have to think about architectural preservation not as stopping time or preventing things from moving, but rather how to persist through change, how to manage change through memory. And think about preservation through practice and not the preservation of the form and I think that can help us develop new strategies."]

[More related bookmarks collected here:
https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:76144fff16c5 ]
felipevera  architecture  2015  ephemerality  ephemeral  kumbhmela  india  praxis  practice  heritage  conservation  preservation  culture  urbanism  urbanplanning  urbandesign  cities  design  process  craft  rahulmehrotra  memory  change 
13 hours ago by robertogreco
White feminists attack Carnival culture, criticize John Boyega for wining at Notting Hill | AFROPUNK
White feminists continue to embarrass themselves. After Star Wars actor John Boyega posted a video of him grinding with a woman at a Caribbean celebration in London last weekend, feministas of the alabaster complexion rushed to denounce his actions as “demeaning” to women
JohnBoyega  Carnival  NottingHillCarnival  StarWars  Feminism  Afropunk  Dance  Culture 
15 hours ago by dk33per
We Don't Do That Here
Simple phrase that can be used to stop new people doing bad things, and to enforce your current culture
tech  culture  community  socialmedia 
17 hours ago by ebel
Badly-behaved surgeons are ​putting patients' lives in danger ​due to 'culture of bullying', report finds
The Sunday Telegraph says trainee surgeons have complained that an endemic culture of bullying among senior colleagues is putting patients' lives at risk.
The paper says some surgeons have reported being assaulted during operations for raising safety concerns, and an atmosphere of fear is said to be leading to failures in concentration that directly harm patients.
NHS  Austerity  chronic  staff  shortage  burnout  stress  Whistleblower  bullying  patient  safety  STP  CEP  rationing  waiting  times  treatment  delay  Culture  HR  human  resources  recruitment  hiring  training  CQC  excess  deaths  sick  population  healthcare  demand  sickcare  complex  diseases  governance  accountability 
20 hours ago by asterisk2a
WIPP Exhibit: Message to 12,000 A.D.
This place is a message...and part of a system of messages...pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor...no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here...nothing valued is here.

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location...it increases toward a center...the center of danger is here...of a particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.
culture 
21 hours ago by symm

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