The Last Angel of History: Afrofuturism, science fiction and electronic music

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There’s been a resurgence of interest recently in Afrofuturism (see this recent newspaper article, and this site), not before time when the term has been around since 1993. The concept itself goes back a long way, at least as far as the remarkable body of work produced by Sun Ra (1914–1993) whose vast discography dates from 1956 and has to be considered the first concerted attempt to craft an expansive cosmic/futuristic mythos in music.

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Sun Ra and his Arkestra make fleeting appearances in The Last Angel of History (1997), a 45-minute documentary by John Akomfrah which looks at Afrofuturism via its manifestations in fiction, contemporary music, and in space travel. The connecting tissue is a somewhat dated bit of cyperpunk fluff but it’s worth sticking around for the cast of interviewees. On the musical side there’s George Clinton, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, DJ Spooky, Goldie, and A Guy Called Gerald; on the writing side there’s Ishmael Reed (whose early novels would have been published by my colleagues at Savoy Books if the company hadn’t gone bust in the early 80s), Samuel R. Delany (Savoy did publish one of his novels), Octavia Butler, Kodwo Eshun and Greg Tate; Nichelle Nichols has a chance to talk about something other than Star Trek for once since she helped with NASA’s recruitment programme. There’s also Bernard A. Harris Jr, one of the first African-Americans in space. The techno-fetishism seems overheated now that we’ve all calmed down about computers and the internet but that doesn’t negate the important points: sf as a reflection of the present moment, and as a means to imagine a different situation or way of life. With 2014 being Sun Ra’s centenary year I’m anticipating a lot more of this.

The Last Angel of History: part 1 | part 2 | part 3

Previously on { feuilleton }
Rammellzee RIP

Weekend links 98

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The Arcimboldo Effect again. An undated postcard from the image section of A Virtual Wunderkammer: Early Twentieth Century Erotica in Spain.

“I took George Clinton and Bootsy Collins to the Battle Station for the first time, and they left feeling like they’d just had a close encounter,” said the bassist and music producer Bill Laswell, who met Rammellzee in the early 1980s and remained one of the few people who saw him regularly.

Rammellzee’s Work and Reputation Re-emerge

• Also in the NYT: China Miéville on Apocalyptic London: “Everyone knows there’s a catastrophe unfolding, that few can afford to live in their own city. It was not always so.” Reverse the perspective and find Iain Sinclair writing in 2002 about Abel Ferrara’s The King of New York: “A memento mori of the century’s ultimate city in meltdown.”

• The Inverted Gaze: Queering the French Literary Classics in America by François Cusset. Related: Glitterwolf Magazine is asking for submissions from LGBT writers/artists/photographers.

• The vinyl releases of Cristal music by Structures Sonores Lasry-Baschet continue to be scarce and unreissued. Mark Morb has a high-quality rip of the group’s No. 4 EP here.

Henri’s Walk to Paris, the children’s book designed by Saul Bass in 1962, is being republished. Steven Heller takes a look.

As the critic Jon Savage points out, even rock’n’roll’s very roots, the blues, contained a weird gay subculture. The genre was home to songs such as George Hannah’s Freakish Man Blues, Luis Russell’s The New Call of the Freaks, and Kokomo Arnold’s Sissy Man Blues. “I woke up this morning with my pork grindin’ business in my hand,” offers Arnold, adding, “Lord, if you can’t send me no woman, please send me some sissy man.”

Straight and narrow: how pop lost its gay edge by Alex Petridis

David Pelham: The Art of Inner Space. James Pardey interviews the designer for Ballardian.

BBCX365: Johnny Selman designs an entire year of news stories.

• Sarah Funke Butler on Nabokov’s notes for Eugene Onegin.

• Leslie S. Klinger on The cult of Sherlock Holmes.

How piracy built the US publishing industry.

SynthCats

The Light Pours Out Of Me (1978) by Magazine | Touch And Go (1978) by Magazine | Motorcade (1978) by Magazine | Feed The Enemy (1979) by Magazine | Cut-Out Shapes (1979) by Magazine.

Weekend links 60

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Jean Genet (1950) by Leonor Fini.

• Bibliothèque Gay looks at a series of erotic engravings made by Leonor Fini for La Galère (1947) by Jean Genet. The author reciprocated with Mademoiselle: A Letter to Leonor Fini. At the hetero end of the erotic spectrum, Tate Liverpool will be showing a series of drawings by René Magritte produced for a proposed edition of Madame Eduarda by Georges Bataille. René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle opens next month.

George Clinton will be appearing with Nona Hendryx at the British Library on 18th June, to talk about “all things galactic”. In addition there’s a screening of John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History, a documentary about Afrofuturism and black science fiction. See an introduction to that here. Related: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has acquired the Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership for its collection.

• RIP Gil Scott-Heron. “Why does this colossus remain relatively unknown? Is he too political? Too uncompromising? Too angry? Too satirical? Too painful? Too playful? Too alive? Too black? Too human?” Jamie Byng in Gil Scott-Heron: poet, campaigner and America’s rough healer.

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Le Fils du Maçon (1950) by Leonor Fini.

China Miéville examines alternative histories in Brian Aldiss’s The Malacia Tapestry, David Britton’s Lord Horror and Richard Curtis’s chilling dystopia, Notting Hill.

• What happened to Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and Gille Lettmann when the Kosmische Musik dream collapsed? Find out here.

• Mlle Ghoul interviews Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction about horror paperbacks, good and bad.

• Another Surrealist woman: Claude Cahun at Strange Flowers.

The Key of Hell: an eighteenth-century sorcery manual.

Partitura 001: realtime sound visualisation.

Scientific Illustration: a Tumblr.

Cosmic Slop (1973) by Funkadelic | Cosmic Slop (1991) by Material.