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Janelle Monáe‘s “Dirty Computer” universe saw the artist and actor take control of a narrative that pushed the boundaries of what a concept album could truly be. “Dirty Computer” revolutionized the idea of concept albums — to which Monáe is no stranger, having previously created concept albums, including their first album, “The ArchAndroid.”
Monáe’s 2018 “Emotion Picture” has sparked a collection of stories in that same universe that asks the reader to ponder the importance of memory in the schematics of power.
Stories of Dirty Computer – The Book
Monáe’s “The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer” was released in April 2022. A collection of five stories written in collaboration with other authors and storytellers, it expands on Monáe’s 2018 concept album “Dirty Computer” and its accompanying film of the same name.
The book contains stories set in the Afrofuturistic world of dirty computer’s — where queerness, race, love and gender become tools for freedom and cause for oppression. Those who would wield these tools fearlessly and proudly mark themselves as “dirty computers.” These themes are explored via memory and time in an increasingly unstable and oppositional world where different bodies and beings are subject to scrutiny by those who have been “cleaned.”
While the stories aren’t related to Monáe’s character Jane 57821 from the film — they do expand on many of the same themes found in the album’s tracks and the film’s overall concept.
Monáe’s film centers queerness primarily through the relationship between their character Jane 57821 and Tessa Thompson’s character Zen. This is an especially important aspect of the film to keep in mind since Monáe came out as nonbinary around the time of the book’s release.
Stories of Dirty Computer – The Film
The film deals with the concept of cameras focused on different bodies. The memories of Jane 57821 are aired for those in charge of wiping them from her mind, just as the film itself is screened for the viewer.
With situations of police violence and discussions of queerness, bodily autonomy and the resistance of established powers to listen to marginalized voices, the film is a touchstone and terrifying glimpse into the intense and dramatized future of a totalitarian society.
The film stands right up next to the book , making Monáe an unstoppable creative force.
At its core the universe that Monáe has created in “Dirty Computer,” and its various incarnations, sees characters fighting back for the ability to express identity and existence. It touches on the ideas of privilege and status. Specifically the privilege to express identity.
If “The Memory Librarian” truly echoes the Afrofuturism of Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor as it intends, the collection will stand among some of the most timeless and necessary Black literary voices. The film itself has already shown Monáe’s ability to incorporate Afrofuturistic elements. The gold-gilded costumes, emotional monologues and connections between music and activism seem a logical subject matter to be translated onto the page.
Monáe has shown themselves to be a multidisciplinary artist in the past. The universe that they’ve created in “Dirty Computer” promises to be one of their most ambitious projects to date.