Kara Keeling "On 'Digitopia': Blackness, Technology, and the Digital Frame"| AHCS Speaker Series
Associate Professor, Cinema Studies, University of Southern California
On “Digitopia”: Blackness, Technology, and the Digital Frame
Abstract: Questions concerning technology have long been part of Black film studies. Indeed, as John Akomfrah points out in “Digitopia and the Spectres of Diaspora," the extent to which anti-black racism is inherent in the film apparatus itself has been of concern to those film and media scholars and makers who have sought to craft theories, analyses, films and videos capable of transforming existing race relations by revealing another organization of things within the cinematic. For Akomfrah, the history of debate, analysis, experimentation, and failure within analogue media forms, such as film and video, that raise the possibility that those forms might support anti-racist and/or Black media practices point towards what he calls a “digitopic desire” or a “digitopic yearning” that haunts the history of analogue media praxis. Akomfrah argues that such a “digitopia,” perceptible throughout film history, anticipates today’s digital media technologies and is fulfilled by them. In this talk, I consider Akomfrah’s proposition concerning the potential of digital media technology. While Akomfrah reads the preoccupation with the technologies of media making within the history of Black film praxis as the presence of a yearning for today’s digital technologies, I argue that digital media technologies, like the analogue ones to which they are related, raise a series of issues about the ongoing centrality of technology and technē to Black existence. Rather than fulfilling a promise made and broken by celluloid and other analogue media technologies, digital media intensifies elements constitutive of the cinematic by making them more broadly perceptible. As Akomfrah points out, digital media technologies make the mode of production of audio-visual images more accessible to filmmakers whose access to image-making has been structurally limited. New possibilities for creative exploration and imaginative experimentation, including new strategies for improvisation with audio-visual images, open up for those filmmakers because the barriers to production are less formidable than with the more capital intensive technologies. At the same time, the greater accessibility of digital media technologies makes it possible to renew an interrogation of historical relationships between technology and Blackness in ways that, perhaps, reach beyond any digital frame.