Vessels of Transfer: Allegories of Afrofuturism in Jeff Mills and Janelle Monáe

tobias c. van Veen

Abstract


The performances, music, and subjectivities of Detroit techno producer Jeff Mills—radio turntablist The Wizard, space-and-time traveller The Messenger, founding member of Detroit techno outfit Underground Resistance and head of AXIS Records—and Janelle Monáe—android #57821, Cindi Mayweather, denizen and “cyber slavegirl” of Metropolis—are infused with the black Atlantic imaginary of Afrofuturism. We might understand Mills and Monáe as disseminating, in the words of Paul Gilroy, an Afrofuturist “cultural broadcast” that feeds “a new metaphysics of blackness” enacted “within the underground, alternative, public spaces constituted around an expressive culture . . . dominated by music” (Gilroy 1993: 83). Yet what precisely is meant by “blackness”—the black Atlantic of Gilroy’s Afrodiasporic cultural network—in a context that is Afrofuturist? Monáe’s Cindi Mayweather is an android on the run from human authorities, and Mills has become The Messenger, a time-and-space traveller returning from the future to forewarn Earth of catastrophic first contact with extraterrestials. The repetitious signature of electronic music, through its sonic affect, likewise appears to amplify nonrepresentational strategies. At stake is the role of allegory and its infrastructure: does Afrofuturism, and its incarnates, “represent” blackness? Or does it tend toward an unhinging of allegory, in which the coordinates of blackness, but also those of linear temporality and terrestial subjectivity, are transformed, subject to a becoming


Keywords


Afrofuturism; Afrodiaspora; blackness; allegory; representation; subjectivity; Detroit techno; science fiction; Metropolis; Jeff Mills; Janelle Monáe;

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12801/1947-5403.2013.05.02.02