The Propaganda of the Present
In Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. du Bois contests the accounts of the Reconstruction period that were dominant at the time – accounts that he terms ‘The Propaganda of History.’ His work is grounded in a simple methodological premise: “I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, realizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience.”
This talk will, drawing on the work of other thinkers in the Black Radical Tradition, seek to put the question of the human—a question raised with urgency and courage by contemporary struggles of impoverished people in South Africa—in conversation with a critique of some of the modes in which these struggles are systemically obscured and distorted in elite publics via what can be termed the propaganda of the present. It will be argued that the work of countering the propaganda of the past and the present is, to borrow a phrase that du Bois quotes from Thaddeus Stevens, central to “the great labor to guard the rights of the poor and downtrodden—the eternal labor of Sisyphus, forever to be renewed.”
Richard Pithouse is a scholar, journalist, editor, teacher and activist working from Johannesburg, South Africa. He has taught philosophy and politics in South African universities since 1995, and published widely in academic journals and books. He has been a regular contributor to the media in South Africa for more than twenty-five years, and has held positions as a columnist and editor-in-chief. He has also taught in trade union and social movement political schools, and in other movement spaces over the same time span. He has done some work as a curator and has been a lifelong participant in popular struggles. He is the Executive Director of The Forge, a space for public discussions, performance and exhibitions in the heart of Braamfontein, Johannesburg’s vibrant downtown student district. The Forge includes The Commune, a thriving radical bookstore and coffee shop.
Rudo Mudiwa is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Mudiwa is interested in thinking through the promise and practice of invention for black people. How do we make new ways of being in the world and with each other? Mudiwa's attempts to answer this question frequently return to the politics of public space and mobility, particularly for black women. Mudiwa is working on a first book, titled A Nation of Prostitutes: Gender, Policing, and the Invention of Zimbabwe. This book will examine how the prostitute--a symbol of the mobile and transgressive black woman--came to express anxieties regarding the challenge of remaking urban space, gender relations, and the state itself in the aftermath of 90 years of colonial rule in Zimbabwe. Along with scholarly work, Mudiwa's writing has also appeared in Transition, Chimurenga, New Frame, Ebony, and Africa is a Country.
"Black Reconstruction as a Portal" is a year-long Sawyer Seminar at the University of California, Irvine that explores the global salience of visions for Black Reconstruction as a portal between the crisis that marks our current predicament and the freedom dreams of those who have taken to the streets insisting that another world is still possible. For more information, go to: https://blackreconstructionasaportal.org or follow us on Twitter @ReadingDubois