‘Reply hazy, try again’; how Oracle Practice is better than a Magic 8-Ball.

Last week I asked the Oracle “what is the price of good health”.

This question was on my mind for a number of reasons, but mostly because more than one of my close female family members are experiencing health difficulties at the moment. I read my question aloud and then put it in the Basket of Yes, which in this moment happened to take the form of a laptop case, as did a number of others who were also present. When I read my question to the Oracle, I also gave a page number. The Oracle, otherwise known as M Archive, the second book in an experimental triptych containing series of black feminist vignettes written by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, answered my question via the writing on the page I suggested. The Oracle gave me an answer which I was invited to interpret alone, or in collaboration with others present.

The collective Basket of Yes exercise was devised by Gumbs, inspired by a vignette of a basket-wearer in M-Archive. Both the book, when it is read as a book, and the exercise, when the book is an Oracle, suggest that the archive is not just a dusty collection of records; static and useful for reference. Rather, they suggest that the archive is a collective and active body of knowledge which speaks to us in the present and to the possible versions of us in the future. Indeed, the book as Oracle answered me with a surprisingly apt and relevant passage (see pg. 63 of M-Archive).

The answer was not predetermined ala magic 8 ball. The book was not explicitly written to act as Oracle*, indeed during Gumb’s own staging of the exercise, the Oracle answers through a variety of black feminist writings. It may seem fantastical to imagine that the book could literally answer my question in this way. However, my experience in that moment was that it did answer me, although in true Oracle fashion, the answer required interpretation.

I found the experience quite affecting. This may be because of the sensitivity of the questions asked on the day. It may be because the Barnum effect gave me the impression the text was speaking directly to me. Moreover I think it was affecting because, as a mirror to the multiple possible futures the archive can address, shared Oracle practice allows the practitioner to appreciate a multiplicity of (mis)interpretations. This is a practice of thought which acknowledges the complexity and entanglement of individual perception. It undermines linearity and inevitability. It pays homage to our ancestors in the archive, and our possible future selves.

In the summer, Alexis Pauline Gumbs will be coming to Goldsmiths to speak at a seminar and will facilitate a basket of yes exercise. All the multitude of versions of me really want to go.

 *You could argue all books are destined to act as Oracle.

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