Contra A Ilusão Universalista, De Simon Njami
Against the universalist illusion
It is now time for us to distinguish between Africa and Africans, between identity and nationality, between expression and politics. Even if, as we believe, there is no true expression that has no political echoes. The artists gathered here all have in common Africa. But how are African is singular and not know constitute a community that would deny the individual. The collection to which they belong is African because the one who brought this Africanism claims. Thus we could move here that one is not born African, this is a condition that is acquired. Acquire it is born into the world and discover yourself. It is essential to make choices that will determine the direction of our life. The only way to grasp this Africa whose definition seems to be individual is to gather several times the scattered pieces of this puzzle .
Acquire the African condition turns out to be expressed in the world a perspective. And there is no expression without language. Understand said African artists is being able to decipher the original language in which each in its own way, says belong to the world. Because belonging to a territory should not lose sight of the fact that any territory is, first of all, a part of the world. 1 – Art as language Artistic writing, like any writing is, a priori , a language. That is, has the purpose of communicating to others that which itself does not necessarily dominate. This language, according to the definition of Henri Delacroix, is “one of the instruments to transform the chaotic world of sensations in a world of objects and representations.” While it is true that this definition applies to all works of art, photography and video, means by which representation takes on human form, are perfect vectors for translating what can not be said. A certain inevitable loss is inherent to this translation exercise because there is no language that is perfect. There is no language capable of fully transcribe this world of sensations always in motion, always elusive in essence.
One of the recurrent misunderstandings in the look that lay on the other, and in particular the West lay and lie about “others” is the illusion of a universal language that would refer to a community of ghosts, or at least for a essential truth. The scientific illusion of deciphering the world and put it into equation participates in this same desire that leads to the objectification of what can not be objectified. As transcribe, in fact, a wind storm or a storm in a language that can be understood in the same way in the four corners of the planet? It is the universalist illusion. The place of being, for example, in pre-industrial societies, is at the heart of this misunderstanding that still opposes the West to the rest of the world. The profound philosophy which still governs the peoples of Africa rests essentially in being. In essence embodied more than the abstraction of a world put into the equation. A thoroughly Christian separation of being and nature is the touchstone of this meeting failed. The verb, ie one of the first forms of language constitutes the very revelation of being, at the same time putting distance. The face that I see in the mirror is no longer so. It is what Merleau-Ponty calls the viewer power, which by little we pay attention to him, may appear to a mystical experience: “My body is both viewer and visible. He who looks at all things can also look up and recognize what then see the “other side” of your viewer power. “ This experience of the split, in which understanding by Sartre atentaremos ahead is even in the center of the concept of work of contemporary artists gathered here.
The experience of being a foreigner himself is common to all the people who knew the yoke of colonization. But when colonized, only they lived the unfolding as a loss, an absence of a part of themselves; It is after their independence they acquire the ability to see. But exercise in full knowledge this new talent is no small task. Is it in the first place, unlearn to look like an unalterable scheme defined by the look of the other. Then import institute its own look and to give it direction, which results in assigning a meaning to himself. The shock of being seen, of which Sartre spoke, evoking the sudden power that was given to former colonized, to throw a glance goal on their colonizers should be taken in two ways. In this text, which is announced the immanence of decolonization and the emancipation of the people who had previously been victims or at least objects of the gaze of the other, Sartre emphasizes the fact of seeing, that is, the ability to judge or at least to build their own opinion as a founding element of freedom. But if the philosopher insists on humility with which, from then on, the West should be considered, he omitted to mention the fact that this commotion also happen to the guy you see. It is as if emerging from a long night of blindness, he opened little by little the world and magic to discover as never before seen.
2 – The power of sight
Artistic production in the century we live in, is probably the last place of full expression of our freedom and our individuality. At the end of the century. XX, the West exercised a monopoly on the faculty of seeing, that is, the power to describe and thus define the world of a hegemonic perspective. Anthropometric photographs of the indigenous South of the Sahara or orientalist photography, North, participated in a conscious desire to reduce all different humanity to a set of comfortable clichés, which insisted on the otherness of the exotic. These old books from our writers or geographers are therefore full of typical portraits galleries, timeless scenes that Noubas Leni Riefenstahl is one example among many others. Tame the image itself is the same as entering into our world voices and colors that escape globalization and standardization. It refuses to be only the fruit of the gaze of the other and instead bring, as a silent contradiction, own version of himself, according to their own cultural codes and the very aesthetic. It’s back to get the measure of time, which, according to Merleau-Ponty, “remains the same because the past is a former future and a recent present, this is a near past and a recent future, the future, in short, is a present and even a past to come, because every dimension of time is treated or referred to as something beyond itself, that is, in short, because there, in the center of the time, a look (…) “.
The key word is here the word look . Imagine for a moment that the human being is comparable to the time, and that the various stages of this multiple that is Marleau-Ponty reference is no more than the essence of humanity. Thus, a kind of eternal return of the same, according to the famous concept of Nietzsche tried in vain to define an object, the man who never corresponds to the time when the envision. Because as soon as we get it, we are already in the past and in history. How then define the future if it is not an extrapolation of the lived instant and a projection that only gain value by the force of subjectivity by force clearing this look? Because the strength and the weakness of all eyes is being fragmentary. It is being isolated element of a puzzle whose general outlines always escape us, as Théodule Ribot reminds us: “with the image, intermediate step between the perception and the concept, the reduction of the object represented some fundamental characteristics stated further. “ To become aware of the impossibility of representing the real accesses the freedom of the designer. In photography, more than everything else, this distance is necessary because it only allows us, for the subjectivity of poetry that underlies it, to reach a truth that will not suffer contradiction, for that truth will never have pretensions to universality.
Being contemporary is hostage to the need to give meaning to their own acts: it is at the same time deconstructing a past and invent a future, a present time, subjected to a perpetual motion. The problem that raises him from the lack of existing tools. It is therefore to invent itself, to create to himself, in the primary sense. To find a language that reflects closer to their own aspirations, entirely preserving a grammar that is accessible to any human being, whether that is the history and the means to it themselves. The sacred can no longer be the place of speech, except to reinvent the very notion of sacred, it would be stripped of religious connotation, not to be more than the expression itself. In countries where art remains suspect and retains all its irreverent character, negotiation established between producer, public and censors (the guardians of law) is rich in all the paradoxes that induce misunderstandings and confusion of the senses. It is the inside of these interstices that can slide a new voice. Basically, the interstitial is fortunate for those who know how to handle it. It is the essential function of art. The look of the artist should remind us that it is dangerous fecharmo us in unique schemas and established truths. The radical opposition and gratuitous provocation posture will never reach because if it is empty of meaning, the purpose of forcing the company to look otherwise. It is the power and the luxury of the creator, the artist can break free from the shackles of the codes in which he was educated, to give them a new reading.
3 – The very question of We
The reading or this new interpretation necessarily have to enroll in a scheme that is known to all, to reach their end. It is the interaction of the artistic production of a given medium that gives the whole value having as points Deleuze: “The signs remain devoid of sense in that it does not enter the surface organization which provides resonance between the two series (two images-signs, two series or two lanes etc.). But this does not imply direction world or even the same direction or the same organ, which require a receiver apparatus capable of operating a successive staggering of surface planes, according to another dimension. Moreover, this world direction, with its singularities-events, presents an essential neutrality. Not only because it flies dimensions, according to which will be organized in order to acquire significance, designating demonstration; but because flies updates of its energy as potential energy, ie the achievement of its events, be it inside and outside, collective or individual, depending on the contact surface or the neutral surface boundary which transcends distances and ensures continuity between their faces. “.
The artist who was mistaken in finding the subject would therefore be in the situation of a silent or, worse, of an invisible being. Because it is necessary to rely on what surrounds us to grasp the reality that is imposed on us. The codes proposed aesthetic and must therefore necessarily be anchored somewhere, must first be intelligible to those which will be proposed. The importance of image in advertising is there to remind us subliminal function that any image is invested. In the inverted mirror that colonized peoples began to show to the worlds, from the 50s, we see a bait internalization and deconstruction of images that until then had prevailed. This symbolic emancipation went through the political and the ideological choices arising from a restless desire to go back to colonial page and question prevailing models, hitherto erected as absolute will. All this results in the non-alignment policy and flirting the regime of Moscow, which then appears more as an alternative to the Western model than as a genuine philosophical choice. But in this race to history, which is undertaken from independence, people have long colonized, the urgency of inventing nations, have perhaps beside the opportunity that was extended to them the opportunity of what Ernst Bloch appointed the essential question: the very We issue.
It is this issue that is addressed, in other words, for Deleuze the excerpt quoted above. The complex issue of We refer to two notions (always this duality of being) without which it is difficult to determine on the essence: the group and the individual. The group, that we Bloch refers, is a set of interdependent groups which form what Deleuze calls the “contact surface”, that is, the field of opinion. The family group, ethnic group, religious group, national, continental group etc. They represent as many sets, for which the individual must find the place it deserves. The identity since it is what it is, it is the synthesis of these different sets a unique and singular update. If being is to think, to resume Descartes, add that our thinking determines how we appear to the world. Alongside the exogenous image of ourselves which threatens to encircle us and enclose us in archetypes, there is the endogenous image which requires erupt, to express what we Delacroix called the “chaotic world of sensations.” For if the language has a meaning, it is surely this. But how to translate this world the reality of an image? How to turn chaos into a whole organized and balanced? Is this the challenge to contemporary artists from Africa. The question of us who occupies the center of their concerns is a seemingly endless puzzle. Caught in the double trap the local and the global, you need to invent a hybrid being at the same time, can respond to complaints of both groups. Because the contemporary is necessarily universal.
Contemporary art, through the different translations that have authorizes this ontological discussion, perhaps better than any other form of creation, because it symbolizes the place of incarnation. Art can not exist without an incarnation of any kind. The body then becomes the place of narration. The intimate body, but also the social body, the body of the other. This figuration that enables video, photo or installation, staging itself allows the expression, in tangible form, an emotion that has nothing to abstract. The smallest landscape becomes a form of self-portrait and a way to embody. This duality that we invoked acquires the instrument condition with which we can play to the provocation. The body therefore ceases to belong to the owner if Tornano in the metaphor of We is returned to the “viewer” to seize that. It is matter. Paradoxically it is the very embodiment to turn it into idea, as reminds us Henri-Piere Jeudi: “The images of the body do not concern the body as an isolated entity, they arrive simultaneously as images of the world. And language only allows you to organize arbitrary classifications, which always will approach the illusion sense of interpretation. To some extent, the collision of images of the body teaches us that there is no real body language. The ways in which it is spoken already imply a denial of the image objectification of meaning given to it. “
No need for turning our attention here on the received images on the types of races, because the body in question is multiple. I remember it if we are to face the reality of an African body, for example , to give it a substance that decoupling of clichés. The African body is only African to be claimed as such. It is, therefore, only the body that sends us a message, but the way the artist puts into play. The body becomes a metaphor. The body as a landscape, and this is no accident, it is metaphor. Virgin canvas on which the artist transposes his vision of our humanity. Mediation instrument by which the artist speaks to another, who looks and can not stop himself from qualifying, the body is the first concrete element by which we are seized. It is home to a permanent conflict, because through it you play the contradictory question of perception. There is one side the image that we send to others and to each other, that others receive from us. An image which is in order of appearance. Taming this split image turns out to correspond to introduce it, at once, the very soul. To avoid misunderstandings or, at least, the ill-seen , implied in any first look. We are here in the field of representation, that is, in the field of being-in-world. One in which we project ourselves to others as we wish to be seen. Where we negotiate the conditions of our humanity, avoiding the tragic trap that condemned Narcissus.
4 – A healthy offshoot
But, just as we are necessarily ambivalent, the Other who seizes us is not monolithic. It consists of everything that is not himself. Outside the very tight circle of family and friends (and mesme this) always have the feeling of being victims of misunderstanding permanent. Enter the world requires a profound knowledge of oneself and how we want to be seized. The body, from the moment in which this negotiation is an actor, can be coded and written abstraction. The other, which, according to Lacan, defines us, must go through the image we have of ourselves. Of course, as I said Henri-Pierre Jeudi, this implies the negation. This means that it will never reach the ideal objective sought by the artist. But is there an ideal order, unless the witness with his own words and his own flesh? We have the right to ask ourselves. The question that rises to the artist out of a former colonized country is the multiplicity of images that have available. Mirror deformed by history, postcolonial artist has to face a multitude of others, it is impossible to select a univocal message while it is impossible to make it universal, ie accessible to everyone equally. Hence the need to anchor the body, thanks to a load that exceeds the owner, and make it the emblem of a certain spirituality that does not stop being politicized by a deconstruction of colonial history. After all, what then is this body offered, if not updated incarnation of the myths and cultures marked by the contemporary label? The body then become would intercessor between us and a world of which we are unaware. A kind of trance that we should lead to exploration of the limits of our being, we oscillate between animal incarnation and spirituality, that is, the conscious staging of ourselves. It is this supernatural operation that we deploy one last time.
The sense of the body should escape his first nature and confusing messages from their appearance. The reference, or at least the referent, is often the stranger, the other. We not describe ourselves for the next beings, but to those who are far from us. Those who perceive us an image that does not necessarily correspond to our sensibility. My body would therefore this atopos that spoke Barthes, which correspond to a singular truth that could not be confused with the other. That would appear then as a truth to those who do not know me. Jeopardize this still image and reflect on the place that has the world presupposes a asceticism work starting on its own. It is diving into the depths of himself to evaluate the different ways of presenting. An exercise a little schizophrenic because supposes a Janus attitude while facing the inside and the outside. It is this development that Sartre refers, in this quote where he expresses the idea of “Negro” as “non-white” or “colonized”: “The herald of the black soul went through the white schools, according to the bronze law refusal overwhelmed all weapons that had not stolen himself the oppressor; It was with the shock of white culture that his blackness went immediate existence reflected the state. But at once he has left more or less to live. Choosing see what is unfolded, no longer coincides with himself. “
No longer coincide with itself is undoubtedly the awakening of political consciousness. This means, first of all, we are able to establish with ourselves this distance indispensable to any revelation. Considering our body as a foreign object, it is easier to get return it in all the meanings it has. Hence the importance, for an artist that is to say, to find a language capable of meeting your inner world and to be the most faithful expression of his speech. Originality has this price. Not an extreme demonstration of mastery in the use of new tools, but the appropriateness of a message and a vehicle able to serve you aesthetics. The use of Western techniques must not mask a fundamental truth: a technique can only be valid if it is made to serve a purpose. The simple reproduction of imported concepts is not enough. The need to find the right tools to this transformation whose only object, paradoxically, is the search for an intimate truth that we are the only ones to know is the condition sine qua non . This breakdown implies a mastery of the parameters by which the world is governed. The act of creating is no longer free and light act that some would describe but a commitment that goes beyond the mere individual and transforms the artist into the living illustration of a singularity. Create update is the last duality. The art itself: «Aesthetics suffers from a nagging duality. It means on one hand the sensitivity theory and experience possible shape; On the other hand, the art of theory and experience of the real reflection. For the two-way join, it is necessary that the conditions of experience in general themselves become conditions of real experience; the work of art, in turn, then appears as experimentation. “
Any artwork that does not resemble at the same time, the real experience and experimentation did not reach its end and would not bring a new voice to the art discourse. The aim is huge. It is at the same time, create a unique appearance and to make it intelligible at all. It is becoming a new mother. Here is a proposal that comes to contradict the global monotony. The risk and the price to pay for this operation are us Recalled by Hanna Arendt: “. It seems that a man is just a man lost precisely the qualities that allow others to treat it as his fellow” 
But it’s a trap that can easily avoid, from the moment that does not confuse likeness and mimicry. This is the price of revelation.
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’oeil et l’Esprit , Paris, Gallimard, 1964
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception , Paris, Gallimard, 1945
 Theodule Ribot, Evolution des idées générales , 1897
 Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens , Paris, Minuit, 1969
 Henri-Pierre Jeudi, Le corps comme objet d’art , Paris, Armand Colin / Masson, 1998
 Jean-Paul Sartre, Orphée Noir , preface to the Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et Madagascar , Paris, PUF, 1948
 Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens , Paris, Minuit, 1969
 Hannah Arendt, L’impérialisme , Paris, Seuil, 1982