Last month I was in California for some super cool collaborations and intellectual exchanges: the Queers & Comics conference, which I recapped via twitter and this post, and the Interdisciplinary Working Group in Critical Theory (!) at Stanford. Also: birds! First of all, here are the birds I saw at Lake Merritt, in Oakland…
Before getting to the birds I saw at the Arboretum in Palo Alto, I guess I should talk about the research I shared with Stanford’s faculty & graduate students: on the vision of the future presented in Star Trek. This is the subject of a chapter in Speculative Blackness, but it’s also been on my mind in recent months as I’ve traveled the country and participated in the Penn Humanities Forum on Translation. I’ve settled on a framing device (a set of several framing devices, actually) for some topics that I don’t explore in-depth in the book. These topics–time travel and the nature of intelligent life–are central to my interpretation of how race operates on a world-historical scale, but I hadn’t quite found appropriate imagery to connect them until recently. Fortunately, some of those connections have emerged in the conversations I’ve been privileged to have, recently. In short, I think the role of Uhura as Communications Officer is more important than we’ve considered in the past, in part because she embodies the practice that’s enabled by one of the fantastic technologies envisioned in Star Trek‘s utopian future: the Universal Translator. From the perspective of literary & cultural studies, I think the Universal Translator is as significant to SF as superluminal space travel.
There’s a whole bevy of Afrofuturist epistemologies entangled with this line of inquiry, and I’m working to articulate how sound, intelligence, universalism, and time are figured through Nichols’s performance and the concept I call the Speculative Fiction of Blackness. I first spoke about these ideas in Tennessee, at the Futures of Afrofuturism Symposium, and I’m trying to carry them forward.
Anyway, back to the birds! Here are some of the locals in Palo Alto.