killing denouement

interview @ current intelligence on gulf & other ethnifiturisms

I was interviewed by Scott Smith of Changeist for the Summer 2013 issue of Current Intelligence: Ethnic Futurism in the Gulf

SS: To the outside eye, views of weird buildings, non-Western tech art, sci-fi films, etc. looks like an aesthetic observation, about finding instances where strong aesthetics of local culture are situated next to icons or genres strongly defined via Western culture. This seems to sell these non-Western futurisms far short, however. From within, say, Gulf futurism, what are the key tensions or contrasts that we might miss from a strictly Western view?

RA: Do you mean Gulf futurism as articulated by Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria? I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment to say that it’s predicated largely, upon the visual (or that this is necessarily a bad thing). The problem with Gulf futurism, though? It’s already here, and like [science fiction author William] Gibson’s futurist pizza, its slices are really, really unevenly distributed.

Gulf futurism, as I understand it, is conceptualised in the mould of Marinetti’s Italian futurism, and inherits many of the same touchstones. All of its seductiveness: sun, sand, and solar-sintered glassy desolation of the Arabian gulf at the extreme promontory of the millennia. All the beautiful/callous brutality, all the proto-fascism of a society that privileges success and speed over human life.

Yet Gulf futurism offers no new imagery to displace the hegemonic ones in power—instead setting up the scaffolding to reproduce the injustices, structural degradation and racial erasures of the present. As ethnifuturisms go, it feels like there’s something missing, too. Where’s the longing, the displacement, the impossibility of return? Where’s the Afghan, the Filipino, the Indian, the Iranian, the Somali, the Pakistani, the Bangladeshi, the Iraqi, and all the other non-Khaleeji Arabs all bound up into one pathologised brown body? [Experimental jazz musician] Sun Ra had to go all the way to Saturn; the Gulf futurist doesn’t need to go anywhere because they’re welcomed, and even reified, right at home.

At base, Gulf futurism is “plus ça change futurism,” all wrapped up in what a friend has dubbed “flying force fields of neo-Arabness.” It’s not imagining a future so much as mapping shards of future detritus—imagery strongly defined-as-future by Western culture, as you put it—in the present. It’s an aesthetic scaffolding that reproduces all the injustices, structural degradation and racial erasures of the present. I do want to tread carefully here, as I still live and work in the region. And I’m awfully reluctant to invoke any kind of rights-based frameworks which I think are problematic in their own way, but you can probably extrapolate and posit what else gets thrown out with the bathwater here. How can it be sci-fi without social justice?

reanimation library: Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century

In march, for the Reanimation Libraryʻs word processor series—the 21st century, as imagined in the 80s, futurecasting, techtopias, the Apolo 11 moon landing, Blade Runner, robot rights, #botiliciousness, and technomagicality: Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century

“Here’s another problem with technological extrapolation. It assumes a technologically determinist, utopian vision of the future in which all the callous brutishness of the present is somehow magically erased. That the future will somehow be evenly distributed, with relatively equal access to these technologies that make it all better. That the future will be made in the image of those currently in power, using the same tools and technologies. That it gets better, and not way, way, worse.

a spy in the house of hip – cluster mag

For Cluster Magazine’s recent «Branding» issue: cultural imperialism, becoming a William Gibson character, the dubious politics of being a cultural informant, ethnomarketing in the uae, coolhunting in the age of the internet. Also, anxiety—A Spy in the House of Hip 

Included in the brief for my own possible assignment was a directive that the respondents be—and I quote directly—“open to American brands and brand America, ie, not anti-America.” I wondered whether this was a standard brief point, or an assumption specific to the Middle East; whether it was a crypto-assertion of soft power, intimated in blue denim, rivets, and a zipper. Whether this was what cultural imperialism had become in this age of light-speed transnational exchange.

new(ish) at brownbook: babak radboy & the library of bidoun
September 26, 2012, 2:27 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A feature on Bidoun’s Babak Radboy: the X-files, the Bidoun Library, post-orientalism, class, cultural constructs, and the diasporic Middle East—Radical Literature (This is from ages ago—Brownbook’s March issue.)

Imagine a library that contained every imaginable book on the Middle East, variously housed in hexagonal galleries from Stockholm to the Lower East Side. The Library of Bidoun comes pretty close: pulpy desert sheikh romance novels jostle for space with meditations on the 1970s oil crisis, multilingual literary ephemera and frowning Soviet era political pamphlets. Its chief curator, Iranian-born Babak Radboy isn’t what you might expect from your usual librarian either. Creative director of Bidoun magazine, his commercial clients include the likes of Hugo Boss and a kaleidescopic VMA nominated video for Kanye West. Not bad for a young émigré who arrived in New York City (NYC) on a whim, aged 19 and clutching $600 in his pockets.

the web that can’t wait
September 17, 2012, 2:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Recently at Rhizome: THE WEB THAT CAN’T WAIT—reading anxieties online, the Fast and Slow Webs, Robin Sloan’s Fish App, and a book printed in ink that fades in two months.

One of my earliest memories is getting hit in the face by a book. I was two; we had just moved to Dubai, and were staying with another family for the first few weeks. While we were playing, their younger son threw his book at me. It cut open the thin skin below my right eye, just above the line now demarcated by insomnia’s purplish bruisings. I remember only fragmented flashes. The green Small World Library hardback with Goofy on its cover, the tears, and the blood—so much blood that the book retained a rusty stain on the spine.

on the new & mew aesthetics
August 23, 2012, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So the New Aesthetic happened, for a time. Seemingly everywhere—the ad above is from a Harvey Nichols in the UAE. And in a short-lived side project, so too did the Mew Aesthetic. A few months ago, I wrote two things on the New Aesthetic—at the Creators Project and at The New Inquiry

BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL: DUENDE AND THE NEW AESTHETIC. With Woody Allen, Lorca’s duende, Kim Jong Il, and machines rolling over like Golden Retrievers.

In an early response, Matthew Battles compellingly framed the New Aesthetic in terms of ‘pathetic fallacy,’ or an attribution of human-like emotions to inanimate objects. It’s hard to argue with, yet equally applies to our relations with just about any technology. Just look at the way we baby our laptops’ temperature tantrums, ascribing nuance to each sulky bleep and whir. As a literary device or effect, then, it seems fairly bankrupt. Instead, perhaps we should compare the New Aesthetic to the ceremonial breaking of the fourth wall. It happened with Brechtian theatre, and later Godard and the New Wave of French cinema. A few decades later, the age of confessional media and YouTube rants dawned, and what was once a radical rupture of boundaries began to feel pretty old hat. But then the New Aesthetic and the machines got involved.

With Laura Mulvey, the gaze, curation as feminised labour, the odd glamour of anti-grooming, and robots laughing alone with salad.

Remember the earlier decades of the uncharted Internet, and the pioneering gusto with which certain browser software was named. First came Netscape Navigator, sailing the high seas, followed by Internet Explorer and Safari tentatively traipsing through the World Wide Wilderness. Now it’s time to begin making contact with the natives — with the spambots, mail-order brides, and online apothecarists already appearing unsolicited in our inboxes, introducing themselves in their own languages. It’s time to wonder about their interiority. Are they listening? Are they looking back at us? Do they feel, or even care? Don’t they just want to be loved, too?

four new pieces up at brownbook

Given that I’m pretty much blogging near-daily at THE STATE, might use this space as a kind of record of pieces up elsewhere. For now, at least.

In the intervening months? Almost entirely Dubai, with a recent trip to Bangalore and Ooty. Summer is looking like a return to Brooklyn, with a possibly move to Istanbul (!) afterwards, roundabout October. More on this later, though; for now, have at Brownbook’s gorgeously redesigned site. I have four pieces newly up there, mostly from the last issue that I was with them:

East is East—on Nada Debs, and a design aesthetic that merges the Middle and Far East(s) Continue reading


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