Archives for posts with tag: afro pomo homos

Doris Lessing may have been — but for her acceptance of the Nobel Prize — the first of the feminist breed for whose existence Virginia Woolf called in *Three Guineas*. The non-secessionist outsider.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91tg/chapter3.html

I never loved the *Golden Notebooks*. As someone who had from my childhood in Africa been there and done that it was no big woop. I have to think more about Lessing as an African, an Africanist, and an Afro-futurist.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/arts/design/the-shadows-took-shape-at-the-studio-museum.html?_r=0

A much greater book, *The Four-Gated City*, has immortal passages, not least of Martha Quest walking for days through Blitz-cratered London, one of the 20th century’s number one *flaneuses*, a woman seeing the city. Check out Deborah Parsons’ important book on this matter.
http://www.amazon.com/Streetwalking-Metropolis-Women-City-Modernity/dp/0198186835

*The Four Gated City* is the only book I can think of, with Dickens right up there at the top, which actually gets down to what the virtue of money is. One of the protagonists is a rich schizophrenic. In those days the treatment was some lobotomizing drug like Lithium. The rich schizophrenic has the wherewithal to reject Lithium, go home to a safe and well-equipped basement apartment in the family home, in a safe neighborhood, with servants, and stay there, going over the walls with her fingertips, until the fearful tempest has passed. Martha Quest stays with her and takes care of her. In this way, the rich schizophrenic is not a vegetable all the time, but can continue with a life of the mind and maternal affections when she is not ill. That is the value of money — and it presumably exists in village or community life even when there is no money, and a superfluity of unmarried women at home, if not precisely servants. This scene speaks directly to one small political aspect of Foucault’s indictment of mental health practice — Lithium is brain police for the poor.

Lessing’s third great contribution to civilization was frankly telling it like it is about motherhood and abandoning her two little children, just as her mother had spent Lessing’s own childhood telling her what a burden it was. Yep.

The science fiction was, perhaps, a mistake unless you think of it more as unmedicated Sun Ra Afro-futurist riffs. Did she deserve the Nobel? I think perhaps not. But I would have given it to her just for saying motherhood is too hard, spiritually deceptive, and not as important as the patriarchs want you to believe.
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2007/lessing-lecture_en.htmlSt

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Tressie McMillan Cottom in her epic post on the Miley Cyrus MTV awards performance has got down to the stasis point in all the gasbaggery around that performance. My old friend Karen DeWitt has posted on Facebook today betraying a freshly shocked outrage at the unreasoning persistence of racism, as she contemplated incarceration and arrest rates for black men in the U.S..

I felt the same, shocked that I could be this old and still have my world rocked by Ms. Cottom’s piece relating her personal experience in college town bars with twerking frat boys and girls soliciting a threesome with her (and not her black date), as a matter of course. She relates to the black women whose asses Cyrus was slapping in her MTV performance.

Recovering somewhat from the shock of Cottom’s incandescent racist experience, I have two discreditable responses.

One is only slightly neener neener. With the Trayvon Martin verdict, the Crunk Feminist Collective raised, quite properly, the issue of white feminists’ responsibility for the all-female jury verdict. I accept this responsibility. I also see where those white women on the jury are patsies of a racist sytem. I also see there is a point where free people can stand up and say no to unjust law — that is, indeed, part of what a trial by jury system is for. (I still believe a trial by jury of your peers is one of humankind’s greatest inventions, if not number one. And, please, perfection is the enemy of the good.)

I also see, where the defense of the Hutus in the Rwanda genocide quickly reverted to blaming the French for setting up a society in which Tsutsis were considered smarter and prettier, that I am doing the same for the patsy jury verdict. There is a point where the perp needs to be told, you did the crime. Not the French. With the big round black women dancing in the Cyrus performance? Girlfriend, you were out there shakin’ it for the man.

Second, I want to declare, once and for all, how stupid all the twinkie feminists are for inventing the protest against slut-shaming. There’s no slut like a crone slut, and I am going to tell you what it is.

A slut does not do femme performance. She does not kiss other women in bars for frat boys or Joe Francis himself. She does not ask the only black woman in the bar to leave her date and come twerk with Miss Anne’s creepy boyfriend. A slut does not go all Mrs. Grundy and shake her finger at people for slut-shaming — every libertarian who calls herself a slut has a secret sociopathic and anti-social agenda which is not feminist. Trust me.

A slut — and do not ask me how I know this — is a gourmet. She simply does not give a shit what other people think, and she is never on camera. It’s not a secret vice, it’s just of no concern to a slut that other people know about it through photographs, video, performance. I repeat, there is no femme performance (or butch or whatever) in being a slut. To call people critiquing Cyrus’ performance slut-shamers is just about the stupidest, and most proscriptive, prune-lipped use of “feminism” I’ve ever heard of. There is not an authentic, unmediated bone in Miley Cyrus’ body, except perhaps the Molly’d-out stoner one, and to accuse people of slut-shaming a completely commodified capitalist tool is approaching abomination.

The real issue is what fake sluts are doing to black women. Cut it the fuck out.

http://tressiemc.com/2013/08/27/when-your-brown-body-is-a-white-wonderland/

Eric Hobsbawm, by Karen Robinson for the Guardian.

I was having dinner recently with the assistant to the Macondo state historian, a man of the people, who was the first in his family to have attended college. I brought up the name of Marx, about whom I’ve been thinking for a couple of years as part of my sense that the epochal occurences of the 19th century, and its thinkers, have yet to be dealt with. The 20th century cataclysms, perhaps a result of the 19th century ones, interrupted our taking in of the 19th century.

This feisty self-made PhD. snorted, and said, “Marx is passe.”

Perhaps. Perhaps in the office of the state historian here in Macondo.

But nowhere else, as even I know, I who don’t really believe in history except the way Marxists write it, about women, minorities, children, jazz, material culture, subalterns, Mafiosi, slaves, lives of the obscure, post-colonials, criminals, food, peasant and popular culture, back channel economies, mental illness, Muslims, Cambodians, peasant resistance, labor, prostitutes, modernity, survivors of genocide — people who lived outside of “history”, the tale of 300 white boys in Paris.

Eric Hobsbawm, perhaps the premier Marxist historian,  has died, aged 95, having lived through most of the 20th century, from his birth in the year of the Russian revolution through the 2008 implosion of capitalism.

Some people think he even invented the idea of popular culture.

More than 50 years ago, a bunch of dissident Oxbridge-educated academic historians changed the way the British saw culture. They understood, long before anyone else, that culture is what shapes the world. They also saw that culture is totally democratic and comes from the people. While the official guardians of the arts, such as Kenneth Clark, were praising the “civilisation” of the elite on television and in print, Hobsbawm and co were resurrecting the lost cultures of Luddites, the masked poachers and anyonymous letter writers, of William Blake and John Milton. They discovered and popularised the value of popular culture – something so integral to our lives today it seems bizarre it was ever denigrated.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/oct/02/eric-hobsbawm-on-culture

He taught all his life at a working mens’ college in London, of which he became president, and defended Marxism through its darkest hours. He joined the Communist party in 1936 at Cambridge, along with the intellectual arbiters society, the Apostles. He let his CP membership lapse in the 21st century, and said it had been his life.

“I didn’t want to break with the tradition that was my life and with what I thought when I first got into it,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “I still think it was a great cause, the emancipation of humanity. Maybe we got into it the wrong way, maybe we backed the wrong horse, but you have to be in that race, or else human life isn’t worth living.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/eric-hobsbawm-british-historian-dies-at-95.html?pagewanted=all

It cost him, though how much only the old atheist could know. During World War II he volunteered to be a spy, as all his Cambridge contemporaries did, but his party affiliation excluded him. He spent the years 1939-1945 building worthless fortifications in East Anglia, making common cause with his working class colleagues. “I did nothing of significance in it,” he wrote of the war, “and was not asked to.” Of his colleagues in the 560 Field Company, he said, “There was something sublime about them and about Britain at that time. That wartime experience converted me to the British working class. They were not very clever, except for the Scots and Welsh, but they were very, very good people.”

If Communism kept him from fighting the war against fascism, it also kept him from writing about the tumultuous 20th century through whose greater part he lived. Only after he was well into his 80s, finally writing his history of the 20th century in The Age of Extremes, did Hobsbawm feel he could write about his own times, “given the strong official Party and Soviet views about the 20th century, one could not write about anything later than 1917 without the strong likelihood of being denounced as a political heretic.”

He wrote, lectured, entertained the chattering classes at tea in Hampstead, and starred as a public intellectual almost until the end. Tony Blair, acknowledging Hobsbawm’s intellectual contributions to Britain’s Labour Party, got him a medal from the Queen in 1998. He always did think of himself as a “Tory communist,” not much admiring the free love communalism of the 1960s.

At the end of his life, he stunned people who think of old men as heroes by defending Stalin’s mass killings.

“Historical understanding is what I’m after, not agreement, approval, or sympathy,” he wrote in his memoir.

In 1994, he shocked viewers when, in an interview with Michael Ignatieff on the BBC, he said that the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens under Stalin would have been worth it if a genuine Communist society had been the result.
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ttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/eric-hobsbawm-british-historian-dies-at-95.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Not to fight fascism, not to write about the 20th century, to defend Stalin’s genocides, seems a high price to pay for loyalty. But Hobsbawm paid it. His work on the rise of capitalism made him Britain’s most respected historian, and he died active, thoughtful, well-loved. And writing.

Ever since I read this vignette, in 2000, about Bill Gates’ great Eureka, in which he finally ceases to be an entirely white boy, I have been thinking.

Gates looks back with some amusement at his belated realization that access to technological information might not be the answer to the world’s most serious problems. Microsoft was donating computers to poor communities in Africa in the mid-90’s, and during a visit to Johannesburg, Gates went to Soweto where he was proudly shown the town’s single computer. As he took in his surroundings, he recalls, he said to himself: ”Hey, wait a minute — there’s only one electrical outlet in this whole place.’ And yup, they had plugged in that computer, and when I was there, man, that thing was running and everybody was very thankful. But I looked around and thought, Hmm, computers may not be the highest priority in this particular place. I wondered, Who the heck is going to be really using this thing?”
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/16/magazine/how-to-give-away-21.8-billion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

I’ve been collecting a number of pieces of string around this, one being that Gates was so overwhelmed by actually being able to See something among all the invisible men and sockets in Soweto that he missed the picture of Tupac taped to the wall. I imagine the wall to be made of flattened 25-liter cooking oil tins. Maybe the picture is of Diddy or Little Richard or Snoop or Afrika Bambaataa or L’il Kim’s plastic breasts. Maybe it is affixed to the wall with a magnet, or wired to the wall through holes drilled in the tins. Whoever the picture is of, it is not a picture of anything Americans promulgate as American culture. American culture would be the socket they don’t have. The software Gates is trying to sell them.

From that moment, I realized that African Americans are the arbiters of American and thus global popular culture. Just finished reading a book called An Empire  of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. I await the sequel, about how African Americans — and System D — invented popular culture. And I do believe, as a very old school fan of the O’Jays and their love train, that the hip hop love train energy is what is moving through System D — what the African Francophones call the back channel economy, which now employs half the world’s workers and is the second-largest economy (after ours)  — to save the world. Out of the garbage pile that is Lagos it comes, slouching toward Bethlehem Wall fucking Street.


As usual, the comments on this clip are as important as the clip itself, if not more so.

Now comes this stunning profile of Kuk Harrell, a  black man who is Justin Bieber’s and Rihanna’s vocal producer. He is now my template for culture czar. First thought. It’s all pastiche and technology. Second thought, Romare Bearden is all pastiche and he did it, he sliced up America, Justin Bieber, Bill Gates and Rihanna, listening, as many African American fine artists do, to jazz.

Kuk Harrell, culture arbiter.

Jazz is way too intellectual for me. I suspect it has to do with the heroin-like abstractions of bone-deep existential Cool. I am not cool. I do lurk late though, and so I nearly passed out staring at Bearden’s Tomorrow I May Be Far Away at the National Gallery’s great 2003 retrospective when I saw fragments of wood siding samples pasted into the [entirely modernist] cubist melange. (Was Picasso the first black president?)

I immediately connected them to the collageurs and pastiche masters of African American yard art, in which hub caps are transformed into mandalas and geomancy energy changers, and drive shafts driven into graves into axes mundi. This Bearden did with advertising images he clipped and re-imagined from white Life or black Ebony magazine.

Romare Bearden. Tomorrow I May Be Far Away. 1967

Finally, there’s nothing post-modern about the pastiche. I need to think some more about that. It’s totes modern, and totes Marxist in its deconstruction, or explosion, and synthesis (as Harrell’s biographer puts it) into a Frankensteinian work of cobbled System D art. It’s a total reappropriation by Harrell/Bearden/Frankenstein. I need to think a whole lot more about that, and the interpolation of technology — the mastery of recording technology — with which Harrell mediates, collages, and pastiches a song. You think it’s Bieber? Think again.

For now, hear this. African Americans and Kuk Harrell are your popular cultural arbiters. Nothin’ post-racial about it.

I have to get some more System D and Frenchie philosophy under my belt. I’m still flipping out around the idea that Lacan was a Freudian psychoanalyst. Nothin’ Afro pomo homo about that.

People all over the world? Join hands. Join hands.

I am sometimes amazed at the accuracy of my nose for news. The reading of omens is, you will comprehend, a child survivor strategy which, because it operates on an almost limbic, and yet learned level, I never really credit as fully evolved intelligence.

But it is. Thanks to the colloquy over at [a friends-locked blog] on bloviatin’ bloggers’ overuse of the term curating, I am reading, finally, a generation after everybody else, Douglas Crimp‘s admirably crystalline On the Ruin of Museums, which you can gank in PDF form here.

He says everything I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, while I was aware, in a mildly amused way, of the Foucauldian museum wars.*

These were at their fiercest while the Jews, the Native Americans, and the African Americans were all playing the race card to jockey their museums into one of the last few spaces of the Mall in D.C. — the Mall having been designed as America’s great democratic gathering space, bookended by the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

Of the pomo museums, the Holocaust Museum is the most Disneyesque — Epcot Auschwitz — I have yet seen, truly insulting.

(I hasten to add that its library, all honey-colored wood and carpet and clerestory light, is almost as gorgeous as the I.M. Pei library in the East Wing of the National Gallery, which may be the best modern space ever. You know I dote on library architecture, and had a long discussion once on my private blog about what a lady’s library might look like. Part of my love is that qua public space, libraries — like museums — are the very instrument of democracy. They are the tool with which nations are built, as Foucault argued, and as the Jews, and the Native Americans and the African Americans knew before he did. This piece, about America’s busiest library, in Queens, N.Y. makes me want to stand and sing every time I read it. Sometimes I can still believe. Rejecting the canon is for people who have a nation; and the very identity politics “museumization” seems to decry are the tell-tale, self-destructive, modern earmark of post-modernism.)

The best thing about the Native American museum is the way the pond has attracted and shelters “wild” birds within view of the Capitol.

It surprises me to think that people say Foucault defines post-modernism, as Crimp asserts, as rupture from past historicism. I thought (schooled by Marxists, I admit; I think Marx got modernity right, and I’m thrilled that Crimp quotes clever old wrong Adorno first) modernity itself was defined as rupture, coalescing, rupture — thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And that pomo, like fascism, is just one of modernity’s….antitheses? Or backlashes.

My latest theory is, we haven’t worked out the ideas and problems raised in the 19th century’s great access of modernity yet. The 20th century was all reaction to that shit, without any time spent working out you know, the issues raised in Saturn Devouring His Son or Faust or Our Mutual Friend, surely three of modernity’s greatest documents, much less Darwin and Marx. (Museumization note: Googling for an image to illustrate Faust building his metropolis, the number four image for “Faust’s metropolis” is a Flickr shot of my own backyard, which I’ve tagged “Faust’s Metropolis”. This is….sputter…sputter… retromingent.)

To which end, I am going to try to read Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club. You will congratulate me for the marathon achieved in completing the 800 page bio of William James, exceedingly well written, I must say, on a subject worth every page, fascinating as a survey of the enormities of the 19th century (Swedenborg! holy crap! the Civil War! Boston as the capital of the republic of women! America as the laboratory of modernity!), and accurately subtitled In the Maelstrom of American Modernism,  touched upon above. In short, a true portrait of modernity at its most influential, the point to which, my nose for news tells me, we are just now getting back to.

As one of the major progenitors of modernity, you don’t want to mess with Goya.

_____________

*I think they are well-taken, the essentially feminist, queer, subaltern arguments of the baby boomer counterculture. Nuthin’ pomo about that.

Like Tiresias, who lived both as a man and a woman, I have lived two ways. First, as a student taught that there was a canon, and that it had no women or people of color in it. There were no Godless Asians, either, preaching that there is no prime mover, since neither women nor people of color nor Godless Asians can read or write. Second, I have lived as a grownup observing from afar the Afro pomo homo — what do they call it? — project of beating the dead white men to death.

I can see the face of Dr. Baizer, as we speak, making eye contact with me, the lone female in the seminar, in 1968, to announce that Jane Austen, the one female of the entire canon, was a minor and miniaturist writer, as she did not write about war. Twenty-five years later Eddie Said said, au contraire, Jane Austen is the very billy club with which British imperialists cold-cocked smart little Palestinian boys like Eddie, being eddimicated at the American School and Victoria College in Cairo ca. 1947-51.

There is a long argument somewhere, in one of the literary journals I used to read — the TLS, the LRB, the NYRB — a long and persuasive discussion about why, for example, Islamic culture failed to produce capitalism, the Protestant reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution — all the anomalous glories of western civ. It was pretty interesting, and as I recall, its rhetorical stasis point was, no Aristotle. No scientific method based on thesis, antithesis, synthesis. At some point, Islamic science and mathematics — which as you will recall, invented the numbers you use and astronomy and medieval medicine — stopped competing with the argumentative Greeks’ notion that things have causes and effects, and the disputatious rhetoric of scientific method could cut these out of the morass of superstition, false witness, false evidence, to produce replicable results. One old genocide scholar, pondering the expulsion from Spain of the Moors and the Jews by Isabella la Catolica in 1492 — the end of the Caliphate all the Islamists are trying to re-establish —  pointedly noted that no academic institution of any accomplishment had been established in Spain since. One wonders if the Islamists’ implicit argument is true, that progressive Islamic culture, like the Spanish, also ended with the Caliphate.

No Aristotle? Don’t seem to have harmed the Chinese none. Chinese medicine, based on chi and no prime mover and no scientific method, is marvelously diagnostic and effective for ailments much more invasive western medicine cannot touch. A friend of mine with some physical problem and a big secret — multiple personality disorder — got up on the gurney of a gifted acupuncturist. The acupuncturist held her hands over my friend, and said, after about three minutes, There’s another energy here. I can’t treat you. But we have somebody who can.

The sadness of the idea that native Americans had not invented the wheel nor had beasts of burden (aside from women); that eyeless-in-Gaza Sphinx feeling I used to get gazing at the empty desert of pre-colonial African literature, never passes. Whether Aristotle gave syphilis to Montezuma or vice versa is something they’re still fighting about, also sadder than bears thinking about too much. I remember encountering, in New York City, at the Museum of African Art, a small mimetic 14th century Ife sculpture of a woman’s face and thinking, but there was a Renaissance in Africa. Where are the documents? Buried in the sand with Ozymandias? Sliced and bogarted by Elgin for the British Museum, or by Andre Malraux from Angkor Wat for auction? There, at least, in Europe, the third world antiquities would have a chance of surviving. As the Cleopatra-era chair at the Cairo Museum, popping pearl inlays before your eyes in the drafty glass case, or the karyatids of the Acropolis, melting in modern Athens’ carbon monoxide, and the beheaded apsaras of Angkor Wat, squeezed by boa-constrictor banyan roots, barely did.

Fourteenth century Ife sculpture: there was a Renaissance in Africa.

http://www.africanart.org/traveling/13/dynasty_and_divinity_ife_art_in_ancient_nigeria

For 20 years, a view of the Khmer Rouge genocide as the rage of illiterates held sway simply because no one had found their meticulous documents, and, oh yes! They were in Khmer. For four centuries, the documents of the Dutch founders of Manhattan lay hidden and untranslated somewhere upstate, much obscuring the libertarian and capitalist legacy which made New York City, for one brief shining moment, ca. Jackson Pollock drip paintings, 1947-Sept. 11, 2001, the capital of the world. This, the idea that Africa’s Canterbury Tales and the Incas’ World According to King Ruang, are buried somewhere in an urn under the shifting desert sands, to be recovered, perhaps only in our dreams, as were the Nag Hammadi scrolls, half of which were burned for firewood, is of course the essential problem with the canon. As with the genocide of the Jews, the People of the Word, by the Nazis, the People of the Meticulous Records, the canon rests on literacy and the preservation of paper.

It also rests on some pretty damn good ideas. That you don’t have to reinvent the wheel in every generation, for example, and the possibility that women and slaves have souls — the latter notion noticeably absent in Islamist and Chinese culture. I am thinking about Seneca, and the accidents of cultural transmission — how and why he got to Shakespeare, and Montaigne, and the Renaissance, and thence to us. According to the intarnets, Seneca wrote in Latin and other Stoics did not. Educated Renaissance Euros like Montaigne, on whose invention of autobiography (pace, St. Augustine) and interiority much of the rise of individual human rights and modernity, and the French language itself, depend, spoke only Latin until he was six years old. He could read Seneca and not others who wrote in Greek. By the same token — of Latin speakers, like Montaigne, translating into European idiom the Roman canon — Shakespeare got his English translation of Seneca in the early 17th century. There is an argument that Shakespeare’s splendid vision of man, to which modernity owes its representative forms of government — What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! — rests firmly in the humanism of the pagan philosophers.
http://www.stoics.com/why_stoics.html

So. While the Afro pomo homos play video games, homeschool their children, and labor to reinvent communitarianism and civil obligation as Rome burns? Let’s you and me go into the back yard.  Cultivate our cabbages. Sit in the sunshine with the undertoads. Then get out and do some voter registration.

Roll on, Seneca. Power to the people.

Seneca the Younger, Nero's tutor.

(c)Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.

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