A house is not a solitary piece of architecture—it is a solid mass of a host of houses which, when put together, form a compound, or more correctly, an agbo ilé. A wandering child is therefore never asked, “where is your house?” The appropriate question would be, “what host of houses are you from?” Such a hypothetical child knows also, that her inability to name her agbo ilé immediately puts her identity—and legitimacy—in question. Suddenly, questions may begin to arise as to whether such a child is from the town at all. Yet, if this child knows what agbo ilé she is from, she also knows something else: every member in the host of houses belongs to her. And even though she might have her own bed—or mat if accuracy is of great interest—which she would usually share with other children, she knows that her home is a multiplicity of abodes.
A Long House is a maze of intimate diasporas. Think of a kind of citizenship that is not of geographies but of temporalities and a complex network of intuitions. Diaspora here refers to portals of transfiguration. Each diaspora carries its own atmospheres, seasons and subjectivities, yet within A Long House, all are united by a thread of visionary dreaming. The houses are multiple, the houses are one.
But, as observed in the Yorùbá imagination of what a house should be, the agbo ilé is not just a home for the living, it is also a home for the dead, for ancestors. Man and spirit cohabit, and shrines are built right into the agbo ilé, so that even the gods themselves find their abode in the midst of men. The house is therefore not just a place of shelter, it is the physical manifestation of a lineage—a long line of memory and metaphysical inheritances borne down ages, given a room of its own upon the earth.
We orbit African-ness not as a category of exclusion but as fluid and open, its significance deriving from meanings that mutate, and definitions that carry the codes of their own revisions and expansions. We center blackness, through language, art and aesthetic as a form of long memory.
To think of Africa as such a house—an abode from which all blackness emanated––today is to immediately enter muddy waters. What is black? What is African? It becomes more problematic when we consider the language spoken in such a house. Swahili? English? French? Luo? In resolving such an issue the language one must therefore seek is metaphysical. The recourse has to be to language that draws upon the house as a spiritual resource rather than as a physical site.
Since the house itself is not static (it is ever growing because the clan expands and the host of houses must consequently expand), the spiritual resource of the house is also constantly in flux, deepening as it widens. Descendants of the house who have traveled far and wide, who have become lost, missing, wanderers, in exile, kidnapped, enslaved, descendants who may even no longer remember the map that points towards home, carry within themselves deposits of the house, and every land they tread upon expands the territory of the metaphysical agbo ilé.
There are particular eccentric pleasures and wisdoms to be gleaned from the architecture of A Long House. For instance, individual houses within A Long House do not have walls, they have skins. And the skins touch. A family-hood that is tactile and visceral. This is not to be confused for physical adjacency, we speak of spiritual proximities. In A Long House, doors exist but they are not borders, they are simply opportunities for perpetual arrivals. Revelations are delivered as questions. So, there is always a coming and going between valances, visceralities, intuitions, and directions.
Here, at A Long House, the map leads relentlessly forward in the direction of the past. The past, we believe, is a place of precise insights accessible only through imagination. We are a people of lineage but this lineage is not tied to any form of hubris or nationalisms. Our DNA, family trees, and claims are composed of imaginative strategies and ethical scrutinies.
This is why the agbo ilé is incredibly dynamic in its possible offerings and is able to contain all possible contradictions. And of what relevance is such a house in the world today?
Creating and inventing have always been contested acts. All of lived human history, the many instances where people have dared to invent new portals into the world, bear witness to this. The act of speaking into voids or closed systems from the margins, from without, has enchanted and polarized us for as long as humans have been around.
It has always been clear that the work it will take to attempt a measure of the history of our being and knowing, of our engagement with ideas, of archiving what we have thought about the world, of our interaction with the written text, of our attempt at making, at holding up mirrors to ourselves, would require a thinking that both reimagines or rejects familiar worlds and relies on the communal.
Glissant wondered almost fifty years ago if the written word and the genres which frame it are sufficient to render the archives of collective memory. In his philosophical treatise, Poetics of Relation, he argued for a new vision of difference as an assembler of the “dissimilars.” He believed in the need for a mingling of minds that is, of necessity, non-hierarchical and non-linear while also rejecting the establishments and their privilege of filiation and legitimation. This congregation of ideas needed to be rhizomatic, allow for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points, for it to hold any real weight.
Glissant’s thinking is, in itself, an entry point from which we begin our reimagination of the possibilities of the written word and the frames of thought and form. To consider thought through whatever lens we arrogate to ourselves, this becomes the matter at hand: now that we are here, what new frames do we want to afford ourselves as writers and thinkers if we dare to imagine ourselves free of any hierarchy and gaze? In permitting ourselves movement away from the familiar confines, what innovation or new kinds of truth telling about ourselves do we want to make possible?
What becomes of our relationship with thought and our relationship with thought within the mired frames of identity, history and language? Does the unencumbered thought exist in this material world? What does the history of unencumbered thought as meme for a self which presents for example as female and black and Nigerian look like outside of considerations of femaleness, blackness and Nigerianness? Does it matter to make an archive of these elusive things?
The charge has always been to begin. In this moment and in the times that have preceded ours, to start the task of inscribing our history of being, thinking, knowing, reading, looking in ways that both preclude and is already altered by what one is.
In rejecting the old frames and approximating new forms, we must think about making, about holding space, in forms that are as boundless as our skin; its capacity for self-historicizing, for containing what is written on it and erased and overwritten over the course of a life. How unlike the flowing river that may leave no trace of what enters it, this canvas is residual and constant. Over the course of a life, it will be all that is hyper present.
If we are being honest, this freedom to invent we speak of exists already in manifold expressions and has done so for decades (centuries even). Why limit the possibilities of this freedom?
Against this mistrust, it is on us then to continue to insist on the invention of a new praxis or at the very least to make a case for it. To haul ourselves into this non-space and insist on the kind of thinking and making we dream of as possible. To do this is to allow ourselves room for sentimentality and weirdness against pedantry.
This is the shape of the future: in A Long House, we approach the future through memory. We remember forward. We carry monographs of prophecies, we wake up daily in pursuit of the worlds and futures we have already gleamed and know to be true. In all of this, language illuminates the way.
Finally, in A Long House, the community does not swallow the individual and individuation does not negate imaginative, creative and spiritual commons. We have said the citizenship we center is at the margins, the tangential, the alienated. Subjectivity is the opposite of alienation. Subjectivity is the gravity of insight accrued overtime through a claim to self or selves. Subjectivity is the art of the vertical. We reject horizontal flattenings, and mass manufacture of homogeneity. We are interested in the worlds that have invented our seeing. We are interested in the worlds our seeing invents. There are endless and multiplying corridors in A Long House for us to display the batiks of these worlds only us could have configured. Again, language illuminates the way.
Our interest is in work that illuminates but does not simplify, subverts but does not disrespect, extends but is not hierarchical, experiments but does not alienate; work that considers the self but is also selfless enough to engage the collective. We seek work borne out of original thinking—fearless in imagination.
Founding Editors, A Long House