La Furia Umana
  • I’m not like evereybody else
    The Kinks
  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
    W.C. Williams
TONI D’ANGELA / Decolonizing the genre of film criticism

TONI D’ANGELA / Decolonizing the genre of film criticism

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Assembling for a Demonstration (1928-30)

Postcolonial perspectives invite us to think of cultures as transnational processes made up of migrations, diasporas, exiles, resettlements and networks and to think of cultural identities, after all, as also shown by Cultural Studies, and in particular Stuart Hall, as hybrids, or as Bruno Latour would say collectives: they are assemblages. Perhaps a shocking or perturbing condition but one which makes us aware of the historical, constructed, “human too human” character of culture and the invention of tradition. And it works for film criticism too and its traditions and identities.

Postcolonial thought strives to elaborate, discuss and share a project that takes upon itself the complexity of cultural and political boundaries, “staying with the trouble”, in an interdisciplinary perspective, keeping dialogue alive, inhabiting the question, examining the hybrid places of culture where cultural signs and values ​​are produced and taken. Postcolonial theoretical practices re-interpret and re-write forms and effects of the most “ancient” colonial consciousness (colonialism) located in the colonies, starting from the subsequent experience of cultural transformation and dislocation that characterizes the post-war events (decolonization) of the postcolonial metropolis.

This translation-movement emerges clearly already in Edward Said’s research in the 1970s, when he observed that the response coming from the postcolonial regions of the world was like an attempt to invest one’s energies in facing the metropolitan universe, even in its cinematic ones from Djibril Diop Mambéty to Lino Brocka, from Soumanou Vierya to Lav Diaz… and Godard, and many many others. A common endeavour to re-write and re-interpret and expand values.

Decolonization of bodies and minds, gestures and habits, and decolonization of the sign had to go hand in hand with socio-political decolonization, which, on the one hand, was replaced by new forms of neo-colonialism and on the other by new forms of Orientalist cultural hegemony.

In the metropolises of the West but also in those that have now been “westernized”, “globalized”, the speech of minorities and subordinates for their daily existence in the metropolis are built and resisted precisely within this extraneousness, and today those minorities, as Homi Bhabha observes, have to face the dishonor and discrimination policies implemented by the majorities.

Postcolonial migrations have changed the face of Simmel and Benjamin’s metropolis. More and more they have become places of hybrid culture, of transition, of translation, liminal, transitional, intermediate, plural, multiform places.

The challenge of hybridization is that of translation. Like Bhabha recalling Benjamin, it is lingua in actu rather than lingua in situ. If the name is not fixed, then the translation makes the different spaces and times resonate, it is movement. Translation de-sacralizes, breaks with cultural supremacy, re-quotation is irreverent and subversive – it’s the lesson of collage/montage, Dada, Guy Debord, Jean-Luc Godard, Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger… And this has to do with the way and attitude of writing about films, visual culture, etc.

These hybridization processes, also supported by Said in his anti-essentialist polemic with Achebe in the controversy over Conrad, had already appeared in the research of Ernesto de Martino and in the films of Jean Rouch, for example in Les Maîtres fou (1956). Losing the soul is connected with losing the world. It is the lesson spelled out in Il mondo magico (1948) and elsewhere. Meaning can only be learned if it is inscribed in the historical drama of the wizarding world: critical ethnocentrism. Which, obviously, also concerns – at least for LFU – film, media, and visual criticism.

Rouch’s ethnographic documentary shows how the members of a Ghanaian sect stage rituals to heal sins and restore balance, but not only with the forces of nature and with local divinities – performing the gestures of the indigenous tradition – but also integrating, and grafting into the old rituals, the new ones, the white ones, new gestures and new rites, taken up and reused by the old “rituals” that meet these of the white civilization, which broke into Ghana, changing not only the social structure of the country, but also that of behaviour and mind.

Decolonizing the sign and, in particular, that of film criticism – which cannot be an autonomous discipline – means engaging, assembling, hybridizing, even losing presence, redeeming the past marked by violence, modifying the structures of speeches and transforming gestures and actions.

The Haukas say something true – as Michel Foucault would say – about themselves precisely through that fiction: the truth of their subjugation and their subjectification, the truth of their crisis of presence but also, albeit ambiguously, the truth of their will for redemption and liberation. Their “confession” frees, repairs, restores presence, but still within certain power relationships. The question, in short, is that of “subaltern cultures”, of their right to speak, express themselves, even make mistakes, as Frantz Fanon claimed: “Can the subaltern speak?”, Gayatri Spivak wondered many years ago. Politics dishonour and continually discriminate against minorities, which means there is still time for questioning and doing battle. But for LFU it is also the question of a critical voice that does not want to be a majority, and that affirms its own minority right, that mutilates, amputates, reassembles the discourses of the tradition of criticism, especially in an era – despite its dazzling marketing of the difference – dominated by the algorithm, that always channels the fluxus.

Filmmakers continued to inquire into the question, in an interpretation that wants to be a transformation too. Há Terra! (2016) by Ana Vaz, for example, continues Rouch’s ethnographic excavation and the decolonization of the sign by other means in the days of postcolonialism. Vaz is engaged in both field and formal research, aimed at deconstructing both the archive of images of colonialism and our postcolonial present, assembling a heterogeneity of materials, first of all the filmic elements, i.e. the materiality, carnality of the film.

But “Há Terra”, in the final analysis, is not the Capitalocene, from which it secretes the old and the new colonization; this must be undone – just as film criticism as such must be undone, which generates only clones – giving rise to new relationships and connections, hybrid, just like those shown in the films of Rouch and Vaz. For some time now Donna Haraway has been proposing making kin: generating relationships. The land is Chthulucene, it is the Assembly. Thus postcolonial thought, feminism, ecophilosophy, and Marxism, hybridizing, concatenating, open new horizons of understanding and struggle.

This journal/collective, from the beginning, perhaps without making it explicit, has always had a “postcolonial” vocation, that is, it has always tried to decolonize the sign of phallocentric, ethnocentric, academic or naively cinephilic film criticism, hybridizing practices and languages, translating the one in the other in divergent, at times even contradictory instances. LFU has always been this small laboratory, a displaced place of cinematographic culture, visual and not only, which produces the criticism of the political economy of audio-vision. Thought is network, becomes and develops in network, but struggles must also be linked to each other: climate justice, social justice, transgender justice, etc., are all fronts of a single struggle. “The pandemic, global warming, and the crises of extraction are profoundly co-constitutive and interrelated” (Haraway). Yes, at the very least, LFU‘s vocation has always been to undo the film criticism “genre”.

Toni D’Angela

Thanks to William Straw and Paul Grant