I find Colin's suggestion of a data base an excellent idea especially in the light of our discussion about the manifold imbalances and asymmetries which shape the “field.” So to have open access to such a data base would be a big step forward to level the imbalances. Needless to say, such a move requires some funding and a proper structure/institutional home to maintain and update the site/databank. I assume there also copyright issues. Yet it seems such an obvious move, was it ever discussed within ACASA? Perhaps its even part of Okwui’s initiatives he referred to in his previous post?
As to the textbook question – I understand the skepticism, but it depends how it is done. I remember having attended one panel where someone proposed a sort of reader tracing the history how the contemporary evolved from the modern as both a discourse and a practice. A kind of extended, modified and updated version of Sidney’s narrative. The model made sense to me, especially in view of Chika’s second question.
I realize the issues involved are too large to be discussed properly in such a forum. Nevertheless and at the risk of stating and repeating the obvious I want to raise two points: one concerns the singularity of the contemporary and the second entails the understanding of the contemporary as a self-reflexive palimpsest consisting of multiple layers of historical experiences and sedimented knowledge. The idea of the palimpsest stems from my reading of some of the articles in Okwui’s reader “Antinomies of Art and Culture.” One of the lessons I learnt from the reading was the insight into the limits of the contemporary as it were. Thus it is one thing to acknowledge the difference in the (historical) experience of the contemporary; it is another to actually explicate this difference on a conceptual level. That is to say, we have learned how to pluralize modernity in terms of “entangled,” “divergent,” “alternative,” “double” or “para” modernities. But how does one pluralize contemporary as a state or condition? After all, “contemporary” invokes sameness not difference. And yet it is difference and not sameness – or rather the dialectics of sameness and difference – to which we keep coming back. In my view one of the challenges in the study of the “contemporary” is thus the need to properly analyze this dialectic from different regional perspectives. We have excellent studies but they are very few and we need more.
Needless to say that power is key. My earlier post in this respect was poorly phrased and I should have given it more time. I did not mean to discard postcolonial theory. What I meant was the danger to turn postcolonialism into a “lazy discourse” by keeping on replicating the same old frontlines. Truly institutions change slowly, and I am aware that the frontlines are still very much virulent and by no means a matter of the past. On the other hand, don’t we enforce the stereotypes if we keep on blaming “the ethnographic?” As we know, modernism had a fair share in the framing of African art. If I am not mistaken it was Frank McEwen who coined the term “airport art” denoting a sort of aesthetic failure or rather betrayal of the modernist fight against the colonial/capitalist spectacle.
But it is not my aim to add another target. My argument is rather to stress the historicity and changeability of what the field constitutes and how we define it. In view of Chika’s last question for me this means: what looks like incompatible today may be compatible in the future and vice versa. The history of academic disciplines is full of examples. Course we always only know after the fact. So why not remain “multilingual”? As we have seen, even in the contemporary field we favor different models and speak different languages. What matters is the translation.
-Peter Probst, Tufts University