Episode 6: Love Is About Becoming

Episode 6: Love Is About Becoming

Discussing activism, the meaning of love and how we heal.

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Aja Monet 00:05

Hello, listeners. My name is Aja Monet. I'm a blues surrealist poet and organizer, liver, lover, dreamer, thinker. I will be your host for this show, The Sound Bath, a podcast brought to you by Lush Cosmetics, where you'll be hearing conversations that cleanse. Thank you so much for being here with us. This podcast explores what personal social and environmental care and wellbeing really mean in today's society. This show is designed to be listened to in the bath. So sit back and enjoy the conversation. At the end, stick around for a beautiful meditative, sonic sound bath. In this episode, we have one of my favorite thinkers, and I would just say human beings right now, Dr. Bayo Akomolafe. He is rooted with the Yoruba people in a more than human world. He's a father, a life partner, a poet, a teacher, a speaker, and a fascinating post-humanist thinker. I've wanted to have Bayo on the show because he is someone that just thinks in such interesting, strange, challenging, encouraging and inspiring ways. I love the way that he discusses spirituality, philosophy, politics, and how to make our planet a better place. I cannot think of a better person to have on this podcast than Bayo Akomolafe. I am sure, I am so sure that you will enjoy this conversation. Well, I am so so excited and honored to begin this conversation today with Bayo. This is a great honor for me, and my mind is like literally firing. I don't know, there's like little rockets going off in there. So I would love to begin if you could let our listeners know who you are, how you like to introduce yourself? How do you identify?

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 02:23

I am so touched by your very warm welcome, my sister. It's a beautiful evening here in Chennai, India. I'm with my family, I would often identify as a becoming father, I'm not quite there yet, as a becoming son. As a grateful life partner to EJ, an expert dosa maker of the highest caliber, I make great dosas, ghee dosas, to be specific. And I like to play. I think I've been blessed-cursed, it's hyphenated for me at this point, with the trickster spirit, the invitation to play with categories to disturb stabilities and to open up other spaces of power by thinking with the world, thinking with others. And so, I think that’s I wanna show up today as a node in a relational matrix that exceeds me and a grateful conversationalist with my dear sister here today.

Aja Monet 02:23

Thank you. There are some concepts that I've heard you speak about. And one of them that's the most popular in conversation is about post-activism, or as you talked about compost activism. I guess I am fearful a little bit of the notion that there is a sort of post-activism. And I wanted to ask you, where does organized resistance, what role does that play in this concept around post-activism or compost activism? So, yeah, how do we respond to the needs of the time, even if only being still, knowing that organizing it has been necessary for centuries?

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 04:22

Right? Hmm. Well, by post-activism, I do not mean after activism; the post in front of activism is not postponing the urgency of now, it's not leaning into a utopian future. It's not dismissing the need for resistance, most critically. However, it is inviting a disruption of our habituated patterns of thinking about agency and thinking about responsibility. Sometimes, and I think it's quite obvious for those of us who come from the continent of Africa, that sometimes the way we respond to crisis is part of the crisis. Right? Sometimes victory is ironic. In other words, how we frame matters like justice and compensation and recognition and being seen are not idealic, platonic ideas. Justice, for instance, is not something that is abstract and dissociated from material goings-on. Right? It is quite grounded in how the nation-state is formulated, how citizenship is subsidized by the extraction, and the displacement, and the disturbance and the genocide, the ecocide of our land. So the work post-activism is trying to do is to invite us to notice those times when it seems that continuity is no longer possible, that even justice now seems to be getting in the way of transformation. Right? So we're being invited, I feel in these critical times, not to abandon or politics of resistance; I need it. And I'm sure you do need it as well, to survive, to thrive. But there is such a moment when we notice that we will often use the resources of our incarceration to buy freedom. And in this sense, freedom can turn around and re-incarcerate us or stabilize us within very troubling modernities. We will often get into trouble when we win. Or, like my brother here in India says, “Sometimes when we win, we've already lost because we've played their game”, right? And I come from a people who played the game of fighting for independence, and we won, we chased away all colonial masters. But then we turned around and looked, and we saw that our victories had purchased for us a resemblance to the people we had just chased away. We now had flags and national anthems. We now had all the assortments, and the architecture, moral and conceptual and material, that made us look like the people we had supposedly just defeated. So that I think the shamanic, ecological, archetypal invitation of our time is to notice that sometimes we need something other than resistance. This is not a dismissal of resistance, it’s a creative querying of the boundaries of resistance, is noticing that resistance can only get us so far, critique can only get us so far before we start to look like the people we’re critiquing. If you lean on something long enough you take on its shape. So we probably need a politics of going invisible. None of this is new. This is some, this is language that is deeply indebted to Indigenous realities, ways of thinking about the world that is quite strange to the modern.

Aja Monet 08:25

Yeah. In our movement spaces, you know, we're often struggling with multiple degrees of power or how people see power. You know, there's a talk you had where you said that power cannot be had, but it is a flow. While I know that your, some of your work embraces this notion of we're not that important, humans aren’t the only agents of change, right, that there are other agents of change, and while I resonate with that, and that deeply moves me, I also struggle with the notion that most of our people already believe that to be true, then most of our people have a sense of not having agency. So I wonder how do we empower when we know that, yes, we might not be the most central figures of change, there are other forms of power at play.

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 09:13

Right. There is a Trinidadian novelist called Earl Lovelace, and Earl Lovelace wrote about what he called bacchanal aesthetics. Bacchanal aesthetics is the story, the narratives that surround the capture of slaves from the continent of Africa, their transportation across the Atlantic, and their lives in the plantation. Some of them of course, many of them didn't make it to the shore alive. But then bacchanal aesthetics goes beyond just telling that story of hopelessness to tell the story of how these people responded to the colonial boots on their necks, basically. How they learned to adapt under repressive regimes of power. How they broke open power and its claims to totality, to open up other rooms of power with the world, right? My people tell the story of Eshu, who is a trickster, and Eshu steals into the slave ships and sails with the slaves across the Atlantic. And the reason why we tell the story, of course, and we say the conspiratorial things where I come from, is the understanding of the master's tools, the limitations of accounting, the limitations of numbers and figures, because the slavers, the colonial masters that stole those bodies, right, in concert with our kings who sold those bodies, of course, but those masters who took those bodies would have counted, perhaps 75 souls on board. Whereas there was a 76th person that stole in, that snuck through the devices of capture and queered the logic of coloniality. This is Blackness in motion, to pull in things into the room that we don't usually account for, such as Eshu stealing aboard a slave ship, and in this narrative, in this story, is a different concentration of power. Not a dismissal or light play with the very difficult questions that have to do with, how do we make do in a world under the boots of coloniality? How do we live? There's no easy route, you know, there's no universal answer to this, there is only the suggestion that power itself is a form of capture, not only for those captured but for the one that claims to capture. So that in a sense, power is both capture but it is also ecstatic movement away from capture. Power is not just a thing that one can own as property, power is also the fact that in owning something, we're being owned, as well, so that the distinction between the master and the tool is blurry, and a tool starts to take over. One of my dear friends, Karen Burrard, will see it this way in response to that beautiful quote, that the master's tools cannot dismantle the master's house, she would say that it's also true that the master's tools do not stay faithful to the master indefinitely. So in a world that is deeply relational, we cannot count on power being in the hands of a few or even of in the many, we have to look for other ways of, as my people would say, getting lost, right? They say in order to find your way, you must be willing to get lost, it's turning to the right, to the left, it's turning diagonally, it's looking in places that are foolish, in you know, it's finding new relationship with things that disappoints their claims to power. Hence bacchanal aesthetics, hence, post-activism. It's not a dismissal of the real-life issues and the organizing imperatives that are abounding in the world right now. It's an invitation to notice and to ask hard questions like, what do we want? And, who is wanting here? Where is power? What does victory allow us to do? And what is failure capable of allowing us to see? Even our notions of winning and justice and organizing properly are largely informed by the city, by how we live in the world, by the things we ingest. We're not individuals trying to fight off powers. This is an invitation to see beyond the individual to ask questions that transcend and exceed individuals against individuals. And to now see where that might follow. You know, some psychologists, my sister, call this post-traumatic growth, that even in the depths of trauma or in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, mushrooms might sprout. It's the idea that some conditions give birth to strange new realities. And in that sense, we're, I guess, it this is even more obvious for me, and by me, I mean, like people who have depended solely on a state-sponsored notion of victory, that has only made us sicker. And in times when your health or healing means getting sicker, you need something different. You need a path of divergence. You need something away from institutionalized habituated ways of organizing, of thinking, of reproducing realities, you need different differences. Post-activism is merely the poorly worded concept that invites sitting with the trouble of that.

Aja Monet 15:16

I mean, that's the reason why I sit with your words often. Because as an artist looking at language and trying to bring poetry into community organizing spaces, where often people are like, what is a poet going to do? You know, I think about, while there’s limitations to language, and hearing some of the ways that language has been weaponized against us and African peoples across the globe, the diaspora at large, and Indigenous people everywhere, I think there's something very, very liberating as well about what language can do. And I wonder for you, as someone who talks about this notion of getting lost and kind of doing away with winning in the masters’ game, that by winning, we grant the game permission to be, what is your relationship to the struggle with language?

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 15:16

Vast parts, the major parts of language are, are mostly unspeakable and have nothing to do with communication or meaning. So I think of language as not this grid of words and syntax and grammar and rules and regulations that divides and inadvertently centralizes humans, language is material, it shapes our bodies, it creates us. Maybe that's why the Christian text and the Jewish text begins with in the beginning was the word, right? The word creates, it makes us, just like we make words and we are made by words in return.

Aja Monet 16:58

And unmade, too.

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 16:59

And unmade as well. Thank you, my sister we’re unmade and made by words. Right? So maybe the language of these critical times with the threat of fascism and world war and melting icebergs and escalating anxieties, it just seems like a perfect storm. And I'm not saying this differentiates us from any other timeline; it just feels to us like we are in the performative depths of hell. Right. And, and yet here, there is something to be said about how we move and the possibilities for rethinking the world. I feel that the language of our moment is a gasp. A gasp. It may not take the form of voice. And modernity tends to centralize voice a lot. It's about my ability to speak and whose voice is getting heard and the algorithms around that, the calculus, the calculations, you know, which we try to decipher who has more power, you know, voice is tethered to power, as well. But where I come from, and this is something I often take pains to describe to people who live outside of my world, silence is more indicative of power. When we speak, the Yoruba people speak about (speaking in Yoruba language), there's a frequency of fear that just runs through our bones. Everyone who knows what it's up knows what is up when I say that. (Speaking in Yoruba language) is this network of strong grandmothers and mothers who have power, so to speak, who are connected with tides and shifts and topographical movements, who know where the gods live and sleep, who know how to curse and bless, right? So this is our mothers, you know, the Yoruba people speak about this and this went also across the Atlantic and took different forms. Silence is how they show up. Voice is not given that much privilege where I come from, words is not as, even though words are celebrated, words are not given the pride of place that comes with a textured silence. Not the silence that is nothing but the silence that is also doing work. The silence that is also communicating with plants, and silence that is also mimicking ancestral voices, or ancestral music, the silence that knows how to speak parables or proverbs, or knows how to discipline a child just by looking at that child. That kind of silence. So I feel we are at a time where we're meeting the diminished returns of vocality. Again, this is not to downplay the very crucial importance of speaking up, showing up and speaking out, this is not to downplay any of that. It is to actually border it and limit it and notice that everything that is alive comes with an aching, comes with a boundary, comes with trouble, comes with shadows, that even voice has its shadows. And I think we're witnessing that more and more my sister. Let me speak from my own perspective that as we have been speaking out, and just as we've been fighting for our rights, for survival, for life, for a way to claim lands and to reclaim our languages, as we fight, we are also noticing something happening to us in return. We're noticing that, that we need other spaces of power beyond vocality, beyond voice, beyond words and language, we need something that is beyond the grammar of the modern. And this is why I refer to the gasp, the place of opening the cracks, the place where words fill us, yes, the place where we're no, no longer able to speak suddenly becomes generative and surprising. And that is where I think gods show up. That is where I think magical realisms show up. That is where I think disability becomes a strange new form of capability that might allow us to open up other worlds together.

Aja Monet 21:25

Thank you. Yeah. I think the thing about invisible power is that time is not relevant, or how we see time, it's not linear. So even when you talk about sins of the father--

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 21:37

Right, different temporalities at work.

Aja Monet 21:38

Yeah, that there's things that can be passed on, or the are things that can happen in other forms or in other ways. So my next question for you is a very political question but it's also a very psychological question. What about love?

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 21:56

My favorite kinds.

Aja Monet 21:58

I hear you talk in every conversation, it's about these great large ideas. But one of the things I find most fascinating about how you speak is about your family, and your wife and your daughter seem to be two really big, I would say, teachers for you in life, and what role has love played in how you see and move through the world, just go there, wherever it takes you, as a form of wellness to as a form of practicing wellness.

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 22:32

What about love, there's a song in there, right? Is there?

Aja Monet 22:38

I'm sure.

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 22:42

There is a … I often think of love as the radical incompleteness of things. That love is how things lust for each other. That is how the earth lusts for the sky and in the lusting creates lightning, right? A charged space of steps, ladders, and just divine fury that nothing is ever whole. Or like, the goddess’ name here in India, Akhilandeshvari, which means never not broken. That to live, to thrive in a relational universe, to think of things perceptually instead of the universe as just a collection of already pre-formed, pre-relational subjects and objects and items, to inhabit that is to never be whole, is to accept that we will always show up, in part. Entanglement means that we show up in part and to show up fully formed is the imperative of modernity, is the idea that I can name myself prior to an encounter and depend on that self-referential christening of myself and positionality that coincides troublingly with colonial desires for place, for static definitions, for categoricity. So in a sense, coloniality is about being and maybe love is about becoming and maybe becoming is the disability of being that stops being’s claims to totality, you know, disturbs it a bit. So I often think of love as this crack, as an opening. It's how a piece of wood becomes an axe. Love is not easy. I don't want to jump into platitudes or I’ll just break into song before I know it, but it feels to me that in a world where the lines are always moving, where what we conveniently call law is actually a relational dynamic between positionality and potentiality. That nothing can be still enough to be central. But for now, I think of love as the openness of things, the desirous quality that would make a plantation produce fugitives. Or what I would call untold fugitivity. That means being is not enough. And I might end this rather saccharine stuff about love that I'm saying that would invite probably many of your listeners to roll their eyes. I just … this thing I wrote down a while ago that my pastor tells me that God made everything, and that doesn't impress me. Because everything is just a small part of what I'm interested in. This idea that something exceeds everything is love, is terrible, fearsome love.

Aja Monet 26:19

Yeah. My last question would be around sound. So you know, we we call this podcast, The Sound Bath and I wanted to ask what sounds bring you peace of mind, bring you calmness make you feel well, or in this sense trouble you in a state of wellness I guess.

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 26:39

It is right there, the sound of my son giggling or laughing, there's, there's a, there's something really powerful about the work he is doing with me that that really brings that home he becomes this sonic landscape of new possibilities, new ways of re-entering the ecstasy of my self. Right? And, and it's, it's him, it's my son. And I might just extend this to the sound of my children, playing my daughter. And maybe extrapolate and say children in play. Sister is--

Aja Monet 27:37


Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 27:38

Is no words. No words, children in play as Putin invades Ukraine. Children in play as the, as icebergs fall in and melt. As ocean acidification is going on, as the hand on the doomsday clock moves closer to its calibrated end of destruction, midnight. You know, children in play. I think that there's nothing more trickstery, nothing more comical and absurd than children in play as the world burns. And I think that sound is is is what I look for when I think about and write about and speak about making sanctuary. I don't mean keeping us safe. I mean, how do we make space for children and their sounds to keep on rippling through our landscapes? How do we make space for the new? I mean, that how do we experiment with risk? How do we become fugitive? How do we wade in the water? How do we lose our way generously?

Aja Monet 28:51


Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 28:53

And yeah.

Aja Monet 28:55

Yeah. Thank you so much. Bayo this has been a wonderful conversation. I said it before I'll say it again, you, you're such an inspiration, and I feel like a reckoning in the intellectual thought of today, and I look forward to this new book you're working on.

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe 29:16

Thank you, my dear sister.

The Sound Bath Podcast

The Sound Bath Podcast