Expulsion and the Gaze

Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable,
Yet Extraordinary Renditions
Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin
11.02.18 – 16.12.18

Will you be bound for nothing? be mad, good master: cry ‘The devil!’1

Today, the subjects of the White gaze have become ghosts. At the beginning of modern colonial history, did the people who constituted the Other appear as ghosts when Vasco da Gama’s Portuguese India Armada arrived on the subcontinent? Regardless, these ghosts have not yet decayed and disappeared, collapsing into true souls. This scorching hot land received unprecedented nourishment: taking advantage of the physical defeat of the colonised, these ghosts waited for their chance to conquer hearts, functioning as technologies of the self in the body. When the White gaze was fully internalised by the colonised, dominant colonial discourses were stretched to the limit, then immediately declined; they were then wiped out one by one by anti-colonial movements. However, Frantz Fanon described the uncertainty of identity shared by the national liberators ( ‘Who am I, really? Is my heart European or Algerian?’ ) as part of the collective mental disorders of the colonised peoples.2 And this suggests another side to history – namely, that the decline itself is an ingenious strategy. Colonialism takes on bodily form, as a ghost that permanently inhabits the colonised subject.

Exorcism after Revolution

Should we believe in the application of Jean Baudrillard’s invalid inferences from The Structural Law of Value and the Order of Simulacra to post-war colonial space? When the colonisers are physically absent, how do anti-colonial revolutions anchored in the colonialism remain in the cultural DNA?

In the past, both W. E. B. Du Bois’ pan-Africanism and Malcolm X’s separatism provided strategic guidance for anti-colonial or pro-civil rights movements. Today, the theory of revolution and the revolution of theory have already split and separated: the former circulates within language, becoming a closed ceremonial process, whereas the latter is randomly triggered in reality, seen as a one-way disturbance and a political marker waiting to be called in. Dissenters believe that Edward Said’s fictive White man was a one-sided vision, and ‘the West’ and ‘the Rest’ is simply an undying fabrication,3 or that Homi K. Bhabha’s hybridity passes over the most practical material suffering and immerses itself in a haze of discursive systems.4

Religious exorcisms attempt to draw on imaginative distillations of subjective anxiety, and the exorcism of colonialism actually continues to produce anxiety. In the moment that the exorcism begins, the exorcist of anti-colonial discourse has already been repossessed by the ghosts of the West. Because the exorcist speaks in a ghost’s whisper, the exorcism is a resummoning of those ghosts. The exposure of this process and the exposure of this exposure constantly shift between multiple layers of overlapping exorcisms, which are finally and unconsciously placed into capitalist circulation.

In an interview, Gabi Ngcobo, curator of the 10th Berlin Biennale, rejected the categorisation of her research as post-colonialism. Faced with these constantly shifting chaotic situations, does the art world have any strategy to deal with this, other than negation?

Arthur Jafa’s Gaze

Like Aureliano Buendía seeing ice for the first time in a gypsy camp, a young filmgoer saw the Star Gate sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey and discovered that he could not find the experiences or vocabulary to describe his amazement.5 Twelve-year-old Arthur Jafa was bemused after the film ended and walked toward the White manager at the back of the theatre. Although he had never in his life had a real conversation with a White person, this visceral shock subsumed all timidity, and he felt compelled to ask: ‘What was that all about?’

‘What was that all about?’

This question comes from on high, transcending racial differences and the oppositions between the majority and the minority; it strikes at the soul of everyone asking that question. Confronted with this kind of amazement, the wandering spirit of colonialism seems faintly visible. Of course, this ghost will not disappear because of this question, but why must we completely dispel it? Can it be that dispelling the ghosts also tears us apart? Perhaps, we can tentatively admit that the ghosts cannot be separated, and by transcending the quagmire of binary opposition, we resituate them in the centre.

More than half a century later, Arthur Jafa wanted to use an African-American epic to represent his amazement at the Star Gate sequence, while also showing us a strategy for using the aesthetics of film to confront the predicament of exorcism. After the presentation at London’s Serpentine Gallery, Jafa held his heart-rending exhibition, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, at the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin. The exhibition centres on two films called APEX and Mix 1 – 4_ Constantly Evolving. Edited by Jafa himself, this grand film encompasses fights between Black gangs, Wakaliwood films, Black drivers shot to death, contemporary Black cowboys, Black characters in video games, Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, the 1970s Black dance show Soul Train, clips from Alien ( with a Black performer ) and post-racial internet video manifestos, thereby representing the difficult history of a single people, transcending racial and ethnic differences, and directly triggering deeper emotions in everyone. The vivid, yet sad, visions in the montage allow the media, as well as the slavery and freedom, oppression and resistance, love and terror, death and rebirth recorded in that medium, to transcend discursive transcoding and anthropology’s distant gaze, and this, in turn, links images to politics in its most naked form.

In an interview, Jafa said that Black people were bound like objects and taken to the American continent, so Black people today have a special affection for objects: the gaze directed at Black bodies in Western film has always been a White gaze, and so he attempts to transform the Black vocal intonation into film and derive a Black visual intonation with the same rhythm, thereby creating the equivalent of a Black-on-Black gaze. ( In his work, the dynamism of Black bodies visually guides the rhythm of the images: bodies use movement to complete processes of entertainment, religion, government, revolution and death, thereby creating an ethno-historical narrative in the film. ) His exhibition shows the efficacy of this strategy. In his plan, the White gaze is transformed into a footnote to the work; the intonations of Jafa’s films were colonial anti-colonial discourses, transforming these ghosts into a power that he could use, and incorporating it into the universality of art. In the meandering Stoschek Collection, I felt once again a tension present at the birth of the language of film; this return seemed to verify that there must be a corresponding aesthetic narrative for my present arrival in history.

When I left the exhibition that evening, the Berlin winter consumed the last ounce of my strength on Leipziger Strasse. I suddenly thought of a somewhat inappropriate analogy. In The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Padmasambhava admonishes middle-aged esoteric ascetics not to flee because of the terror of his wrathful appearance, because the terror that they were confronting would transform them. The anxiety we encounter in the contemporary colonial context perhaps simply stems from a misunderstanding of the gaze – because the ghosts at which we gaze are ourselves.

1. Dromio of Ephesus in William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, IV, 4, 1382.
2. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1963, pp. 249 – 50.
3. See Hamid Dabashi, The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism, Zed Books, London, 2012, p. 75.
4. See Abdul R. JanMohamed, ‘The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 12, no. 1 ( Autumn 1985 ), pp. 59 – 87 ( p. 59 ).
5. ‘Aureliano Buendía seeing ice for the first time’ is a reference to a scene in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude ( 1967 ).


2018 年2 月11 日—2018 年12 月16 日

“难道您愿意白白地叫人绑上吗? 干脆就发疯吧,主人; 大呼小叫地喊几声‘魔鬼!’”

今天,白色凝视的主体已彻底成为了幽灵。近代殖民史之初, 构造了他者之别的实体,是否在达·伽马的葡萄牙印度舰队抵达次大陆时就已呈现出了幽灵的样貌? 无论如何,它尚未腐坏与隐匿,塌缩成真正的阴魂,反在这片炎热的土地上得到了前所未有的滋养: 趁着被殖民者肉体溃败之际,它伺机征服心灵,并分泌出同时作用于肉身的自我技术。在白色凝视彻底内化于被殖民者之时,显性殖民话语就扩张到了至高点,并随即向下跌落,最后在反殖民运动中被逐一剪除。但是,民族解放者的身份困惑( “我究竟是谁? 我的心灵是欧洲的还是阿尔及利亚的?”法侬将其形容为被殖民者的集体精神错乱。2 ) 暗示了历史的另一面: 坠落本身就是一项绝妙的策略,借此殖民主义化身为了永驻于被殖民者主体性的幽灵。


我们是否应该相信,鲍德里亚价值结构革命失效的论断,也适用于二战后的殖民空间? 或者,当殖民者的肉身缺席时,反殖民革命应该如何锚定遗留在文化基因中的殖民性?

在过去,无论是杜波依斯的泛非主义还是马尔克姆·X 的分离主义,都为反殖民 / 民权运动做出了战略性的引导。而今天, 理论的革命与革命的理念已然分裂与疏离:前者循环于语言内部, 成为了封闭的仪式过程; 后者则在现实中被无序地触发,被视为了单向度的骚乱与等待支配的政治筹码。对此,异议者们认为, 萨义德所谓的“白人”仅是单方面的幻想,而“西方”和“非西方” 只不过是一次不灭的虚构3; 霍米·巴巴的“混杂性”则略过了最切实的物质苦难,并沉陷在了话语系统的迷雾之中。4

宗教的驱鬼仪式试图借助想象蒸馏出主体的焦虑,而殖民主义的驱鬼仪式却反而持续生产焦虑。从施行仪式的那一刻起,作为“驱鬼师”的反殖民话语就已重新被西方的幽灵附身: 因为驱鬼者的话语就是幽灵的耳语,驱鬼仪式即是对幽灵的再次召唤。




就如奥雷里亚诺·布恩迪亚在吉普赛营地初冰块时一般, 《2001 太空漫游》上映之际,年轻的影院观众在面对片尾星门穿越场景时,发现自己找不到已有的经验和修辞来表述这种震撼。5 作为其中的一员,年仅12 岁的亚瑟·贾法在电影结束后, 带着强烈的迷惑走向了坐在后台的白人影院经理—虽然自出生起他还未曾与白人有过真正的交流,但此时心灵的震颤已经覆盖了胆怯,驱使他问道:“这究竟都说了些什么?”


这个问题从高处散射而下,越过种族之别以及多数与少数之间的对垒,直抵每一位提问者的心灵。面对这样的震颤,殖民主义的游魂似乎隐匿不见,当然,这只幽灵并不会因此消散—但是我们为什么必须将它彻底湮灭? 毁灭幽灵,难道不就意味着同时将我们自身撕裂? 也许,我们可以姑且承认它的不可分割,并越过二元对立的泥潭,重置它在主体中的位置。


继伦敦蛇形画廊之后,贾法在柏林尤莉娅·施托舍克收藏馆再次举办了他那动人心弦的展览“一系列决不可能,但又无与伦比的表演”。展览的主体是两部名为“顶点”和“混合1—4_ 持续演化”的影像系列。非裔帮派冲突、“瓦卡莱坞”电影、被枪杀的非裔司机、当代黑人牛仔、视频游戏中的非裔色、伍斯托克音乐节上的吉米·亨德里克斯、70 年代黑人舞蹈秀“灵魂列车”、初代“异形”的试片场景( 由非裔演员扮演 )、后种族主义网络视频宣言……这部宏大的影像集合在贾法的编辑之下,不仅再现了单个民族的苦难史,也超越族裔之别,直接触及每一个人的深层情感; 而其蒙太奇中真切与悲悯的凝视,让媒介,以及媒介中所记载的奴役与自由、压迫与反抗、爱与恐惧,以及死亡与再生越过了话语的转码和人类学的遥远凝视,让图像在最赤裸之处与政治相连。

贾法在一次采访中说道,黑人如物品般被绑至美洲大陆,所以美洲非裔至今都对物有着特殊的情感; 而西方电影镜头中对黑人身体的凝视,自始至终都是以一种白色的凝视,因此他试图将“黑

人声调”转化于影像之中,并衍生出有着对应节奏的“黑人视觉语调”,从而在影像中创造出黑人对自身的凝视( 在他的作品中, 恰是黑人身体的动态在视觉上引导了图像的韵律: 身体借助运动完成了娱乐、宗教、被规训、革命以及死亡的过程,并由此构成了影像中的民族史叙事 )。他的展览也证明这项策略的功效: 在后者的统筹中,白色的凝视竟化为了作品的注脚; 而贾法的影像语调也在殖民 / 反殖民的话语之上,将这只幽灵化作一股可为己所用的能量,并将其吸纳进艺术的普适性之中。在曲折的施托舍克展馆中,我几乎再次感觉到了电影语言诞生之初的张力,而这次回归似乎也印证了,能在当下到达历史上方的,必然是一种相应的美学叙事。

那天傍晚,当我走出藏馆时,柏林的冬天正在莱比锡大街上消耗尽最后一丝体力。那时,我忽然想到了一个并不恰当的类比: 在《西藏渡亡经》中,莲花生告诫已成为了中阴身的密宗修行者们, 不要由于“忿怒诸尊”的可怖相貌而产生逃避之心,因为他们正在凝视的恐惧,恰是自身的显化。而我们在当代殖民语境中所遭遇的焦虑,也许只是源自于一场对凝视的误会—因为我们所凝视的幽灵,即是我们自己。

1. [ 英] 威廉·莎士比亚. 错误的喜剧[DB / OL]. 朱生豪 译. 上海: 上海古籍出版社, 2002.
2. [ 法] 弗朗茨·法农. 全世界受苦的人[M]. 万冰 译. 南京: 译林出版社,2005:117.
3. Dabashi, Hamid. The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism [M]. London: Zed Books, 2012.
4. Janmohamed, Shelina. The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature[G] Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986: 79.
5. ‘Aureliano Buendía seeing ice for the first time’ is a reference to a scene in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude ( 1967 ).