passages: A Brief History

Passages: A Chronicle of the Humanities. . .the journal founded in 1991 at the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University, is being revived at the University of Michigan with the permission of Northwestern University. It will appear as passages, within the on-line journal GEFAME, a joint project of the University of Michigan's Michigan Publishing and the Center for Afro-American and African Studies.

As noted in the first number,

Texts, including Passages, have complex histories and sociologies. In the summer of 1989, Gaurav Desai-then completing his undergraduate studies at Northwestern and embarking on graduate study at Duke [an important passage]-conceived a new serial publication which would take as its project the assemblage and stimulation of new and diverse work in cultural studies. . .most specifically, writing on Africa and the African humanities in all the possible sites of production of culture. As Gaurav's proposal circulated among faculty at Northwestern and beyond, Irma Majer, working in French literature and having just moved to Evanston, suggested the name Passages. . .a play on words and acronyms which also beautifully conveyed the textual, heterotopic, metaphorical, conjunctive, and temporal elements of cultural production. In the summer of 1990, Laura Helper. . .turned her attention, and unusually acute research skills, to the investigation of how a journal begins its life. A plan evolved for a twice a year journal operating initially outside the framework of university presses-without the bureaucratic and censoring functions of a board and peer review-inviting contributions of diverse origin, length, and intention, availing itself of low production costs and securing a portion of its mailing expense as an appendage to-or enclosure within-PAS, a five times a year publication of the Program of African Studies. Passages would evolve, according to the plan, through the collaboration of guest editors, and Gaurav was invited to work on the editing of the first two numbers.

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Passages is intended to evoke the processes of construction of a world of traffic, travel, voyage, transport, caravan, migration, journey, relocation, exploration, field-work, dispossession, pilgrimage, resettlement, circulation, trade, communication, transposition, return, and exile. . .in which meaning and power attach themselves to the heterotopic circumstances of observation, inscription, reading, hearing, and learning. . .the organization of states and empires through the traffic of officials, goods, ideas, and edicts. . .the constitution of the New World through a commerce in slaves. . .the circulation of religious ideas, practices, and law through travel, itinerant pedagogy, missions, and pilgrimages. . .the constitution of knowledge of the world through journeys of exploration, commerce, and description. . .the formation of classes and societies through the migrations of laborers, students, intellectuals, and capital. . .the connection and disconnection of cultures, peoples, and nationalities through movements of individuals, groups, ideas, knowledge, and through the constructions of boundaries and communications.

Passages is also intended to evoke the significance of the partial text in the constitution of our present world. The partial text bears its own problematics. . .unfolding amidst a recognition of the multiplicity of forms of textuality. . .the never exhausted aesthetics and programs of textualization. . .the always uncertain, ambiguous, sociologies of authorship and audience. . .the never finished boundaries between art, surveillance, and censorship. . .the sometimes paradoxical nature of act and effect in performance. . .the always contentious and forever productive sites of translation in which the very intention of the text may be transfigured. . .and the programs of transcription, redaction, and publication in which texts may be transformed into property or commodity.

Passages, the partial texts of discovery of "new worlds" from an explorer's path, become critical to the formation of new forms of authority, new states, new colonialisms and imperialisms. Passages, the partial texts finessing the complexities of mediation, negotiation, and interpretation, become "law" through codification of the "customary," yet injecting the situation of the "authentic" into contests over representation: discourses over "what is" or "what should be" or "what was." Passages, the partial texts of description, become a medium of control of whole populations and also a source of resistance. . .a resource of invention, re-invention, identity.

Partial texts carry meaning, knowledge, and interest across time. Passages evoke chronicity, rituals of transition, processes of transformation, eras of change. They produce memory and interpretation; they impel new inscriptions, new texts; and they occasionally forces hesitations, and powerful silences. They constitute passages through disparate but connected terrains and moments. . .forcing examinations, interpretations, comprehensions of the powers of complex topographies, temporalities, and temporicities.

Partial texts move through passages among diverse contexts of inscription, reading, hearing, interpretation, analysis, deconstruction. . .directing attention to the distinctive and also related programs of cultural production within different aesthetic and intellectual projects. . .schools, universities, research institutes, state organizations, arts organizations, theaters, film collectives, literary societies, but also the "public arenas" of the street, bar, taxi, courtroom and the "intimate" arenas of family, household, friends.

Passages invite/s more exploration, more travel, traffic, circulation, among sites, texts, authorships, and audience. . .

Passages are—in this case, is—on-going, open to new entries, readings, interpretations, writings, inviting suggestions, criticism, and contributions. . .

Over some four years, Passages published articles by, among others, Oyvind Aadland, Funso Afolayan, Kofi E. Agovi, Peter Amuka, Andrew Apter, Kofi Anyidoho, K. Anthony Appiah, Adam Ashforth, Thomas J. Bassett, T. O. Beidelman, Timothy Burke, David William Cohen, Gaurav Desai, Margaret Thompson Drewal, Toyin Falola, Drue Fergison, Michael M. J. Fischer, Agbo Folarin, Leon Forrest, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Philip Graham, John Brian Harley, Rachel Holmes, Abdullahi Ibrahim, Rachael Kagan, Françoise Lionnet, John McCall, Morris Meyer, Mbulelo Mzamane, Dieudonne Mbala Nkanga, Ikem Okoye, Tejumola Olaniyan, Deon Opperman, Danny Schecter, Richard Shain, Ian Steadman, Lillian Trager, Raymond Verdier, Derek Walcott, Alan Waters, Beth Willey, Philip Zachernuk.

Passages put into print proceedings of special seminars and conferences including a collection of papers on "Present-ing the Past: A Roundtable on the Production of Nigerian History and Culture"; a collective interview of five "Comrades" on violence and political action in South Africa; a roundtable "Discussing Afrocentrism".

Passages tapped into material appearing in newspapers and other public documents relating to the representation of Africa, including collections of reviews of museum exhibits on African art and culture, articles from papers in the United States and Spain on the controversy developing in the run-up to the Barcelona Olympics around the exhibition of a "stuffed black man" in a museum in Banyoles, Spain, articles from the French press regarding the 1991 prosecutions of excision cases in France (as well as the transcripts of proceedings), and the transcript of the testimony of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the so called "2 Live Crew Trial" in Broward County, Florida, materials relating to the ways in which American media use the words "tribe" and "tribalism" in reporting on Africa. As well, Passages published an extended treatment of the ways in which American media were covering and not covering the unfolding liberation struggle in South Africa.

Passages published a range of articles on current debates and contests, including the issue of African excision practices and ritual, the treatment of sexualities in the 1991 trial of Winnie Mandela, and the locations of gender politics in and around the liberation struggle in South Africa. Passages published articles on the arts in somewhat unusual locations, including the refiguration of the mbira and other African instruments and materials in contemporary high-end interior decorating, and the performance of a South Africa play in a women's correctional institution in the United States. Passages published articles on African and African-American orality and oral performance, song, poetry, and speech, including a treatment of radio-trattoir.. And Passages published a text on ethnography educed through the practice of Ifa divination in a partnership between a student and an Ifa diviner in Chicago.

In its time, Passages was, within Africa, one of the most widely circulated journals dedicated to the African humanities. Each number was circulated to some five hundred individual and institutional addresses on the African continent as well as several thousand addresses outside of Africa. There was no subscription charge, so the journal stood rather alone. Letters were received from around Africa, as well as proposals for articles, along with article texts. Voice of America broadcasters and American libraries in Africa became further passages through which knowledge of the journal and some of the issues circulated. One letter-writer had picked it up from a seat in the Lagos Airport.

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