Forget Decolonising the University, Abolish It!

This is a ‘lightening talk’ (5mins) I gave at the UAL Educational Conference 2020

I have no powerpoint – the first thing we should abolish!

Lets consider this 5 minute talk as a footnote, a scribble in the margins of a bigger text, some ramblings, a rant, agit prop… an interruption in the academic conference, a rallying call to join me in the Abolition of the university.  

The ubiquitous use of ‘decolonisation’ as a prefix for all manner of talks, papers, books, curriculums, initiatives, conferences, especially in academia and the arts has led decolonisation being more of a placeholder, a brand, an empty or floating signifier.

The incorporation of decolonisation in the university is deeply problematic given the university is driven by neoliberal, corporate, capitalist practices.

The critique of the neoliberal university is very well established:

1. An audit culture of monitoring, control, and metrics

2. Top-down managerialism

3. Exploitation of staff through high workloads, and the precarity of labour

4. The commodification and marketisation of students and education.

5. Increasing corporate vocational training with its focus on employability.

In the art school this means the production of the neoliberal ‘creative entrepreneur’ – the student who has to invest in producing the individuated self as the model for academic, creative and career success.

All these reproduce racial, class, gendered and sexualised hierarchies.

The incorporation of decolonisation into the workings of the neoliberal university is a form of racial capitalism, presented as a progressive development. Decolonisation has been integrated and stands in for, the continuously failing institutional policies, of equality, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. 

There is little positioning of decolonisation as a revolutionary idea linked to the historical anti-colonial struggles against European imperialism and capitalism. The ‘Global South’ and its agency is largely absent in institutional decolonisation, instead the global university means merely the Eurocentric scramble for international students. There is little attention to the geographies and histories of decolonisation. Decolonialisation in the west is Eurocentric.

This is not to say that are not some very good decolonial projects, but these are easily incorporated and diffused into the neoliberal infrastructure. Decolonisation and anti-racist practices and pedagogies in the contemporary art school are at best reformist that tinker at the edges, and worse reproduce institutional whiteness, eurocentrism, and racial/class exploitation. The centre remains.

Instead of decolonisation, I propose we need the Abolition of the university. What would it mean to abolish the university? This is the only way of decolonising the university.

My evocation of abolition resonates with ideas of abolishing the prison and defunding of the police especially in the US. Abolition is understood in the longer histories of anti-slavery and on-going racial violence. Abolition is the project for total social justice – for collective struggles against racial capitalism, and for building new social relations and practices.

As Ruth Wilson Gilmore posits:

‘Abolition is figuring out how to work with people to make something rather than figuring out how to erase something. Abolition is a theory of change, it’s a theory of social life.’

The neoliberal university, the art school is carceral in design.

The post-covid university is in crisis – financial and otherwise. This is evident in the closing down of arts and humanities courses, and the sacking of staff in various UK universities. (This is one problematic form of intuitional abolition and defunding).

The university is a site of alienated labour. The on-going strikes, continual ASOS, academic marking boycott, all attest to the crisis and challenges to the university.

Crisis is also opportunity.

Black Lives Matter and Climate justice have been catalysts for the youth and student protests and activism. Can this be reproduced in the university without its domestication into institutional policy?

New digital technologies are transforming the arts, education and pedagogy with the inevitably that in their corporate, privatised, algorithmic forms they will intensify staff and student monitoring, control and exploitation. Abolition will be open access, open source communication that creates insurgent and ethical modes of international study and knowledge exchange.

Abolition is the militant praxis of resistance, refusal, indifference, opacity and invention. Abolition would be what we do together, at this conjuncture, in deconstructing the university and creating new ways, of thinking, listening, making and studying. Abolition is the alternative, anti-capitalist, anti-racist university. We are the university, so why not? Abolition is an utopian idea against the false hope of the decolonial.

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Preaching Thought

Note to self: I try very hard these days not to get into adversarial exchanges, especially on social media. They normally don’t end well. I lapsed and stupidly got into a minor one yesterday. For some reason they invariably become about theory, and being accused of being theoretical, of using language that is said no one can understand, of being elitist, of not being practical and accessible to people. From across the political spectrum, they normally share a characteristic English anti-intellectualism, that see activism as being devoid of theory.

I have been teaching for over 30 years and in my classes we study difficult work. We together read, view, listen to challenging ideas and thought, it through this we see the world differently, hopefully have another relationship to it and to others.

The etymology of the word ‘theory’ is – conception, mental scheme, contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, to consider.

It what we do always, everyday in the classroom, online, in the kitchen. This is the capacity to think, to think with others.

I like to think that what i do has some value. I was really pleased to receive a letter from the mother of a student who recently started on my course. (I’m trying not it to boast about good feedback or something! More a little recognition for all us who value learning and thought –

Dear Ash
Strange times require different behaviours.
I am contacting you to say thank you. My daughter…is a first year student on your BA (Hons) Film and Screen Studies course. You have inspired her. Given her renewed self-confidence. I see her blossoming.
She loves the course. She talks positively of her experience and your teaching. She so looks forward to re-engaging.
I thought I would email to let you know.
I hope you and yours are keeping safe.
Kind Regards

I couldn’t ask for more. We couldn’t ask for more.

We all know that social media has many problematic issues, especially FB around privacy, selling of data etc, but we carry on using it. For me its about connection, sharing, valuing friends and what they are doing, reading. In this time of crisis we feel impotent and social media comes a way hearing different voices, to engage with ideas we haven’t met before. I’m happy to disagree with others, to have hard conversations, to have my mind changed, as long as they are open, we hear each other – an ethics of care.

At present more than ever we need to be together given the imposed isolation. We are being touched with the tragic loss of life, death, from close loved ones, to all the thousands of others. The crisis is a manifestation of a political culture of violence, that wants to reduce us to numbers and economic calculation. We need to resist now, as we always have tried to. We need to think together, to find routes for another way of living. This requires thought that goes beyond the capacity of any one individual.

This video recently popped on my Twitter feed – a beautiful meditation on the value of thought. Theory can be like a difficult poem, piece of music, sometimes we can’t make sense of it, perhaps the opacity of the work is its ability to make us think further, to feel more, to hear better…Fred Moten on James Baldwin from 2018 –, it could be for now – it made me happy to be alive, in a future with hope…

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On the Return to a Foreign Land

A poem I wrote on taking my mum’s ashes to India. On the 87 Press blog – The Hythe.

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For Couze: on Occidentalism: modernity and subjectivity

A short contribution I made at my dear friend and colleague Couze Venn’s memorial event. Couze was a lovely, generous and ethical thinker. The sort of nuanced thinking we need in our present time. RIP Couze.

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The return of the blog

In a time of physical isolation, and the demand to do things online with real-time social media and instantaneous digital communication tools, the blog perhaps returns for ‘slow’ thought – a sociality of thinking. A space to experiment with ideas, with speculative modes of writing and conversation. Appositional to the corporate university and academic publishing. #undercommons

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Performing Thought 2.0 – Notes

Some introductory notes to a poetry project that I have been working on with Azad Ashim Sharma and Kashif Sharma-Patel. (March 2020):

A movement in our collective thinking – our de/post/anti/non/colonial study as an on-going experimentation in/as ontological breakdown. Poetics as thought – as unthought. The diasporic thinker as poet at the limits, the postcolonial limits of language, reason, writing. If for Aime Cesaire ‘poetry is knowledge’, ours is an episteme at the edge of intelligibility, in excess of the modern subject of history – we are the madness of the postcolonial inhabiting, transversing, haunting the imperial nation in rapid descent.

At the edge of diasporic (sub)urban being – an imperceptible in/visibility, an opacity to the violent racial fetish of brownness — haunting the neuro-fascism of the police state, the state of the situation — a secret, on the edge, losing ones mind — disappearing in the shining en-lighten-ment, undoing cartographies of white terror and death.

Sub/urban poetics re-tracing the topological movement of the subaltern, the slave, the coolie, the paki, the queer abject, as incalculable figurations, ethical ruptures, in the circuitry of racial capital in the aftermaths of urban modernity. Nahum Chandler posits the ‘Negro is a problem for thought’ – thought is the problem(atic) for race, poetics, space.  

The problematic is a limit, at a limit, and an opening, a spacing, a gap, a fissure, almost nothingness in which poetic language delimits. Non-being, appositional to the urban disaster, a collective nothingness that irrupts in the temporal logics of para-coloniality, to after the end, finitude and the infinite, transversing the histories, collective memories of loss, death, trauma, life, joy, sociality, hiding in the light. An elegiac lament as nothingness, invisibility, the imperceptible demand and refusal for opacity in the lightness of being — postcolonial madness as a twisting spiral, a vortex of dense poetics after the end, at the edges of urban control and violence.

Here are some entangled traces of improvised thought and/as/or poetics mourning and futurity –  a broken lyricism for a sub/urban fugitivity.

Our hauntological study as the silences and sounds between the schizophrenia of being and words, between the inner and outer city,

Let the sub/urban riotous/righteous run amok. This is Outer London in the Black House – tracing a darker shade of communism…

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Cosmopolitics #1

Recent event I contributed to in Naples.

Notes to come on ‘cosmopoetics’, opacity, spacetime mattering and the interminable crisis of racial capitalism.


Round tables – Screenings – Dialogues

14-15 JANUARY 2019

4.15 Palazzo Giusso
Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”

Dip. Scienze Umane e Sociali



10.00 Silvana Carotenuto, “Cosmopolites de tous les pays, encore un effort!” 10.45 Screening: “Kosmos” by Reha Erdem (film, 2009)
13.00-15.00 Lunch break

15.00 Andrea Cassatella, Al-Quds University, Bard College for Arts and Sciences East Jerusalem Decolonizing the Secular World Order: Derrida and the Theologico-Political Complex

  1. Methods: reflections on language and time to rethink knowledge production and the possibility of pluralism.
  2. Politics: exploring the political beyond secularism, specifically democracy and Islam.
  3. Context: thinking, writing and teaching in Palestine.

Discussion TUESDAY 15

10.00 Ashwani Sharma, University of East London
Fugitivity and (no)thingness: Black technics, urban aesthetics, subaltern cosmopolitical futurity

  1. Locating thought: notes on postcolonial tragedy and racial capitalism, diasporic urban spacetime, and the opacity of cosmo-politics to come.
  2. Audio-visual screenings:Flying Lotus, “Until the Quiet Comes”, dir Kahlil Joseph, 2012. (3’5”) Sampha, “Process”, dir Kahlil Joseph, 2018. (35’ 12”

3. Study and the Undercommons: audio-visuals and readings.


13.00-15.00 Lunch break

15.00 Kosmopolis association (Napoli) presents: EXODUS – fuga dalla Libia radio-doc. by Michelangelo Severgnini and Piero Messina.

Final remarks

Andrea Cassatella is an Assistant Professor (Visiting) and Head of the Core Division at Al-Quds University, Bard College for Arts and Sciences, East Jerusalem, Palestine. Before joining Al-Quds Bard in 2017 he was a Lecturer at the University of Toronto, where he also completed his PhD studies in 2015. His research interests are in modern European philosophy and political theory as well as critical and decolonial thought. Cassatella’s work on Derrida, secularism, cultural translation has appeared in such journal as Contemporary Political Theory, Philosophy and Social Criticism, Bamidbar: Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Ratio Juris, and The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought. Prior to entering academia, he served as Community Service Officer for the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bosnia Herzegovina and Djibouti.

Ashwani Sharma is a Principal Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of East London (UEL), UK. He is a member of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at UEL, and is an editor of the radical cultural studies book series for Rowman and Littlefield. He teaches, researches and has published in the areas of race, postcolonialism, visual, urban and digital culture, as well as writing on open access publishing, and autonomous study and the university. He is completing a book on race, time and contemporary audio-visual culture, and co-edited Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. Sharma is the founding co-editor of darkmatter journal , where he has edited numerous issues including on ‘Post-Racial Imaginaries’ and ‘The Wire.’ He is a member of the Black Study Group (London), and has been developing an archival project ‘Must We Burn Croydon?’ He blogs at tabula rasa, and writes and performs poetry. Sharma has worked in sound in film, TV and radio, and was an aeronautical engineer.

KOSMOPOLIS – the making of
Qui è il mondo. Da qui raccontiamo il mondo.
Kosmopolis is an Association that promotes services, products, devices and multimedia with the intention of acquiring, producing, classifying and disseminating informational formats on questions of integration, defence of human rights and local developments. With a focus on the Neapolitan context, it aims to implement its multi-cultural heritage; being a hub of multiservice for a multicultural society, it both addresses Italian citizens with cosmopolitan attitudes and migrants in the process of integration in the Italian society. Its goal is to report the local context to which its work is connected to international scenarios, by promoting the interconnectedness of the welcoming society and the communities of foreign origins.

Société Réaliste is a Parisian cooperative created by Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy in 2004. It works with political design, experimental economy, territorial ergonomics and social engineering consulting. Polytechnic, it develops its production schemes through exhibitions, publications and conferences. Société Réaliste is represented by several galleries and has presented their work in the frame of several collective exhibitions.

Société Réaliste has created a cognitive see-through model under the title of Jacques Derrida’s book Cosmopolites de tous les pays encore un effort!/ Cosmopolitans of all countries, yet another effort! The model is the result of the superimposition of the topographic forms of the 192 member-states of the United Nations. All these sovereign states were put on the same scale using only two main information: their specific shape and the location of their capital city, with the intention to produce the synthetic form of potentially any state. The result is an eroded square, the average capital city lying almost in the geometrical center of it, the chaos of the frontier lines covering nearly its entire surface. Parallelly to the calculation of the shape of a ‘model state’, Société Réaliste started to work on a textual corpus which incorporates all the national anthems of the aforementioned 192 UN member states. Using the English translation of every anthems, Société Réaliste established a global compilation of national(ist) vocabulary. All words are marked with the three letter ISO code of the corresponding country, for example SVN for Slovenia, FRA for France, HUN for Hungary, etc.

Cosmopolitans of all countries, yet another effort is a standard tombstone for any state. Presented vertically, one of its side is carved with the calculation method with the superimposition of all the national frontiers of the world and the emplacement of its 192 capital cities, while on the other side is carved a textual composition using the compiled adjectives of all 192 national anthems. The complete list of 1839 hymnic adjectives – which form line from the word ABLAZE from the Turkish anthem, to YOUTHFUL, from the Jordanian one – can be applied to any sovereignty of any time. This ephemeral monument stands in the confrontation between the majestic and ceremonious sculpture, the abstract figuration of the notion of state and the methodology of its construction. “Cosmopolitans of all countries”, yet another effort intends to evoke and to represent the necessary escape and excess from detention within historical forms of political domination and to remain in the same time the parody of a monument. For more information:


Jacques Derrida, Cosmopoliti di tutti i paesi, ancora una sforzo!, Napoli, Cronopio, 1997. #A. Cassatella

Bibliographical References:

Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge. Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone”, in Acts of Religion, ed. by Gil Anidjar, New York, Routledge, 2002, pp. 42-101.

_______________, “Différance.”, in Margins of Philosophy, trans. by Alan Bass, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1982 (excerpt), p.13.

_______________, Monolingualism of the Other, or The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. by Patrick Mensah, Stanford University Press, 1996.

_______________, “To Arrive – At the Ends of the State”, in Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. by Trans. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Stanford University Press, 2005, pp. 141-159.

_______________, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. by Trans. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Stanford University Press, 2005, especially chapters. 1-3, 8, pp. 6-41, 78-94.

#A. Sharma

Bibliographic References:

Karan Barad, “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come”, Derrida Today 3.2, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2010, pp. 240-268.

Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. by Trans. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Stanford University Press, 2005, especially chs. 8-10, pp. 78-109.

Nahum Chandler, X, The Problem of the Negro for Thought, Fordham University Press, New York, 2014 (especially pp.1-67).

Nahum Chandler, Towards an African Future: Of the Limit of the World, Living Commons Collective, 2013.

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, London, Minor Compositions, 2013, especially chapter 2, pp. 22-43 (available on line ).

Fred Moten, “Notes on Passage” (chapter 10), Stolen Life, Durham, Duke University Press, 2018, pp. 191-212. AbdouMaliq Simone, “It’s Just the City after All”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40, 2016,

pp. 210-218.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Forward: Cosmopolitanisms and the Cosmopoltical”, Cultural Dynamics, 24 2-3,

London, Sage, 2012, pp. 107-114.
Liquid Blackness Journal

Cosmopolitanism as…#


• Paul Rabinow, “Representations are Social Facts: Modernity and Postmodernity in Anthropology”, in Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, eds J. Clifford and G. E. Marcus, Berkley, University of California Press, 1986, pp. 234-261.


• Arjun Appadurai and Carol A. Breckenridge, “Why Public Culture?”, Public Culture Vol.1 Issue 1, 1988, pp. 5-9.


• James Clifford, “Travelling Cultures”, in Cultural Studies, eds L. Grossberg, C. Nelson, P. Treichler, New York, Routledge, 1992, pp. 96-116.


• Bruce Robbins, “Comparative Cosmopolitanism”, Social Text, No. 31/32, Third World and Post- Colonial Issues, 1992, pp. 169-186.


  • Martha C. Nussbaum, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism”, in For Love of Country? ed. J. Cohen, Beacon Press Boston, 1996, pp. 3-20.
  • Martha C. Nussbaum, “Kant and Stoic Cosmopolitanism”, The Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 5, n. 1, 1997, pp. 1-25.Now (Revival)

• Timothy Brennan, At Home in The World, Cosmopolitanism Now, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1997.

Beyond the nation

• Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, Cosmopolitics. Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, University of Minnesota Press, 1998.


• Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Cosmopolitan Patriot”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 23, n. 3 (Spring 1997), pp. 617- 639.


Vernacular and Feminist

Another Cosmopolitanism: Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations, ed. R.

• Seyla Benhabib et al.,

Post, Oxford University Press, 2006.

• Pnina Werbner, “Cosmopolitanism, Globalisation and Diaspora, Stuart Hall in Conversation with Pnina Werbner”, in Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanism. Rooted, Feminist and Vernacular Perspectives, Oxford, Berg Publishers, 2008.

• Filmed Conversation: “S. Hall on Cosmopolitanism”

The Geographies of freedom

• David Harvey, Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, New York, Columbia University Press, 2009.

Scientific (The Science War)

• Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics I, Minneapolis and London, University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Performative Discourse

  • Ivana Spasic, “Cosmopolitanism as Discourse and Performance: A View from the Semiperiphery” Revija Za Sociologiju 41, 3, 2011, pp. 269–290.
  • Nina Hoy Petersen, Ian Woodward, Zlatko Skrbis, “Gender Performance and Cosmopolitan Practice: Exploring Gendered Frames of Openness and Hospitality”, The Sociological Review, vol. 64, 4, 2016, pp. 970-986.Radical
  • James D. Ingram, Radical Cosmopolitanism, New York, Columbia University Press, 2014.
  • James D. Ingram, “Radical Cosmopolitanism and the Tradition of Insurgent Universality”, in ed. G.Delanty, Routledge International Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies: 2nd edition, New York Routledge,2019.


  • Tamara Caraus and Camil Alexandru Parvu, eds, Cosmopolitanism and the Legacies of Dissent, Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2014.
  • Tamara Caraus, Cosmopolitanism Without Foundations? Dan Lazea, 2015.
  • Tamara Caraus and Elena Paris, eds, Re-Grounding Cosmopolitanism: Towards a Post-FoundationalCosmopolitanism, New York, Routledge, 2016. Global ProtestIn Journal Globalizations, Issue 5: “Cosmopolitanisms and Global Protests” vol. 14, 2017:
    • S. A. Hamed Hosseini, Barry K. Gills, James Goodman, “Toward Transversal Cosmopolitanism:Understanding Alternative Praxes in the Global Field of Transformative Movements”, pp. 667-684;
    • Óscar García Agustín, “Dialogic Cosmopolitanism and the New Wave of Movements: From LocalRupture to Global Openness”, pp. 700-713;
    • Bogdan Popa, “Saying No to Guilt: Subaltern Cosmopolitanism and the Indebted Man”, pp. 762-775;
    • Camil Alexandru Parvu, “Contestatory Cosmopolitanism, Neoliberal Rationality and GlobalProtests”, pp. 776-791.


      • Anjana Raghavan, Towards Corporeal Cosmopolitanism. Performing Decolonial Solidarities, London, New York, Rowman&Littlefield, 2017.


      • Ananta Kumar Giri, Beyond Cosmopolitanism, Towards Planetary Transformations, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

      As philosophy, refuge and destiny

• Agnes Heller, “Cosmopolitanism as philosophy, as refuge, as a destiny” Lectio Magistralis, Università degli Studi di Milano, October 2018. Trad. Laura Boella: filosofia-rifugio-destino-19481.html.

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Study group on Black Aesthetics with Denise Ferreira da Silva

Recently participated in this event with Denise Ferreira Da Silva at the ICA London.



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Supreme Fiction

Remembering Mum – She would have been 84 on 28 Aug. Supreme Fiction, a poem I wrote at the time of her passing.

‘For each time, and each time singularly, each time irreplaceably, each time infinitely, death is nothing less than an end of the world.’ Derrida.

dadi 31
(Narinder Sharma 1934-2013)

Mum liked stories, long ones, short ones, funny ones,
sad ones, the old ones were the best.

Halcyon days in the crisp Rawalpindi air, carefree
under the shadow of colonial rule. Partition trains soaked in bloody violence
never to forget.

Partying in the messes and verandahs of Delhi and Nasik, dressed to the nines,
smart officers ignored, proudly accompanying her daddy:
Major Lachman Singh Indian hockey player
1952 Olympic football team manger, buyer of boots in Helsinki.

Meeting the West Indian cricketers Walcott, Weekes, Worrell
sparkle in her eyes, histories unfolding
the past needs to be told, again and again, the past is the future
1962 monsoon wedding, welcome to Heathrow. 1963 snow, me.

Once upon a time…

Mum liked repeating tales ‘Mum not that one again, we’ve heard it
before, boring.’ Mum just carried on, with even more verve.

Diaries redundant, mum’s instant recall, birthdays, anniversaries,
oceans apart, histories together,
cards written, presents shipped.

Mum could talk, she talked to anyone, everyone, no one
to the end she spoke as if life depended upon words.

Recalling cold dark winter evenings, coal fires burning
heart-warming immigrant life, letters home.

Cosmopolitan living, monkey gods, Durga ma, fish and chips on Fridays, hi ram, It’s a knockout, laughing loud, Benny Hill and Norman Wisdom on the box, bhajans and Lulu. Carry on up the Khyber, It ain’t half hot mum. Nation time, ordinary lives.

Mum and dad hosts of Handsworth, alu paratha and tandoori chicken
little money, lots of joy, good times
time catches up, the past a lost image, photographs as frozen life.

Trauma repeated
dad lying down at the bus stop, mum’s despair.
time standing still. Nightmare
your nightmare, our nightmare

Gasping for life, fireworks burning bright, you left as dawn broke
the last breath ended our world,
your words live for eternity
now you are free to fly,
as little birds outside your window, till the end of time.

Mum so many stories still to be told. Tell us another one.

Shanti Shanti Shanti

(This poem was read at Narinder Sharma’s funeral on 16 Nov 2013)

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After (Post)colonial Tragedy – The Aesthetics of Eco-Planetary Futurity

Below is the abstract of a paper I will be giving at the ‘Crossroads in Cultural Studies 2018’ conference in Shanghai next week.

I’ve been interested in ecological and environmental issues for a long time. In the 1980s I thought the green movement was the future. Especially in the radical politics of the German Greens in the 1980s, embodied in the figure of Petra Kelly and others. (The Friends of the Earth in Camden didn’t cut it for me!). The focus was on linking the struggles of anti-racism and Third Worldism to the global/local ecological struggles.

This paper is an initial attempt to address again race and decoloniality by examining recent experimental film projects and how they rethink temporality in the wake of the failures of the postcolonial struggles of the 20th century. The focus on the ecological requires a rethinking of the histories of modernity, colonialism, capitalism and racism. The contention is that futures of the (decolonial) planet is only possible as a subaltern ecological struggle in where indigenous, women and the poor are central to social and economic justice. Radical aesthetics offer ways of thinking and re-imagining the times and places of cultural resistance.

After (Post)colonial Tragedy – The Aesthetics of Eco-Planetary Futurity

The mid 20thcentury optimism of Bandung and the project of Afro-Asian independence from (neo)colonialism has arguably been replaced by what David Scott has called ‘postcolonial tragedy’. For Scott ‘…tragic sensibility or tragic vision appears pre-eminently in moments of collision of in-commensurable historical forces—when, as Hamlet put it in his anguished cry, “the time is out of joint”…Thus, far from being a period of seamless succession or transition, decolonization might well be thought of as a disorienting, inconclusive moment of rupture especially conducive to tragic consciousness.’

This paper focuses on examining the ‘out of joint’ of the contemporary by considering a significant strand of global art and screen media, which is engaging with archives, memory and history to re-imagine the temporality of western modernity, capitalism and historicism. In particular by positing the relationship between (post)colonialism and modernity as an ‘ecological tragedy’, enables disjunctive, alternative, longer histories of environmental destruction, climate change, modern capitalism and racism to be envisaged.

By especially analyzing the essay film, as a dominant experimental global aesthetic, projects such as those of John Akomfrah’s, The Vertigo Sea(2015), and Purple(2017), Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s Serpent Rain(2017), and The Otolith Group’s The Radiant (2012) are in which the relationship between slavery, colonialism, capitalism, racism, the environment and time are deconstructed. In these cultural works loss, pessimism, failures, deaths, disaster and mourning of tragic pasts are the constituting conditions for spatio-temporal ‘ruptures’ for a planetary futurity of hope and utopia.

Against the prevalent notions of Eurocentric conceptualization of the ‘Anthropocene’, this paper works towards re-thinking the reconfiguration of the spatio-temporal relationship between humans, non-humans, technology, and the earth through the prisms of the entangled planetary Global South and fugitive sites of subaltern political, ecological, economic and cultural resistance.

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