Of freedom and the problem of the future in contemporary diasporic African speculative fiction

By Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra

Reading Deji Bryce Olukotun’s After the Flare (2017) and Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” (2017) alongside Emmanuel Dongala’s “Jazz et vin de palme” (“Jazz and Palm Wine,” 1970), this essay begins with the observation that these contemporary works of speculative fiction by writers from the recent African diaspora suggest a sense of crisis about the future. Both Arimah and Olukotun proffer future worlds little different from the present, in which current conditions of exploitation and inequality are magnified. Rather than being the symptom of a creative impasse that cannot imagine a world beyond the domination of capital, however, I argue that these attenuated futures function as counter-futurisms, facilitating critical meditation on the question of freedom in the present in a manner consonant with what Dongala earlier achieved via his more comical approach. For all three writers, freedom is a project that extends beyond the limits of the nation-state and calls for a larger epistemic break along the lines of what Rinaldo Walcott has termed Black freedom—an irruptive force that rejects the linear and entails a fundamental reorganization of what it means to be human.