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  • Future Imperfect:An Introduction
  • Keith D. Leonard (bio) and Kyle Dargan

The Changing Same Again

Being asked to name the future—I originally thought that this was the strange privilege and humbling burden inherent in serving as guest editors of "The Next Thirty" issue of Callaloo. I thought that our task would be to name and claim the voices in African-American and Africana studies and literature that were most fully pushing the boundaries of the known, writers whose scholarship actively bucked trends and whose poems and plays and fiction insistently defied convention. I had even worked out a nice little schema in my head. Whatever its subject matter, the work accepted into "The Next Thirty" issue would be theoretically sophisticated in terms of the self-critical stances and thoughtfulness about culture, power and discourse so prized in postmodern thought. It would be devoid of the divisive pieties of authenticity and resistant to the simplistic, even romanticized, valorization of the vernacular. Our best writers and thinkers included here would be invested, I thought, in the implications of multiplicity so beautifully brought to the fore by studies of diaspora, even if those writers were not explicitly writing about or out of that perspective. And I imagined that questions of sexuality would constitute a broad foreground of the work we would get. Picking and choosing from these great submissions, I would be like a Hollywood agent, looking for the newest hip-hop art or the hottest post-human critical perspective. And my final responsibility, I thought, would be to use my soapbox as editor, based on the authority of learning from these new works first, to illuminate the face of the future by asserting the lessons of this material as a challenge. And I almost expected that this arduous task would be easy. But I was wrong.

It turns out that the work of this issue, as least for me, was not and is not about naming the future. Instead, it is about seeing and confronting the past. During the past year, I have been consistently reminded of how, in The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha critiques the emphasis on the "post" in contemporary cultural thought, an emphasis evident in terms like "postmodern" and "postcolonial" in which the naming of the future paradoxically resists the naming it claims to offer. With such terms, Bhabha aptly observes, one is claiming only a chronology—calling oneself "after"—without unseating the previous regime or providing any substantive definition of the present. This misnamed "beyond," as he calls the era that is after the past, constitutes a missed conceptual opportunity too easily disciplined by our emphasis simply on being "after." What results, paradoxically, is a kind of nostalgia in which the terms by which we reject past cultural narratives, especially oppressive ones, imply an absolute difference between the now and that past even though that past is actually what gets affirmed and defined and therefore continues to [End Page 959] dominate. The future's face actually darkens then, shadowed by this nostalgic spotlight. By contrast, says Bhabha, "[t]he wider significance of the postmodern condition lies in the awareness that the epistemological 'limits' of [past oppressive thought] are also the enunciative boundaries of a range of other dissonant, even dissident histories and voices" (Bhabha ). In these terms, what this issue of Callaloo should do is resist dubiously claiming that the epistemological limits of the past are fixed and that the "beyond" is fixed against that past. Instead, it should acknowledge and represent the interactions between past and present from which the dissonant and dissident voices gain their force. To conceive of the future is not to treat it as if it could be sliced from the past with the cutting edge of innovative writing, an ideal that paradoxically gives too much power to the past. Rather, it is to inhabit the permeable places in the past and present where cross-cutting and splicing create the new.

I now think Bhabha is right that naming the future in the way that I had imagined is actually taming it to our past priorities, and the work accepted here proves that point. All of the best submissions were in...


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pp. 959-963
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