Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ed Bradley RIP + Poem: Alain Mabanckou

Ed Bradley Passes
BradleyI imagine that like many people, I have a low opinion of television journalists and newscasters these days, which extends to the mainstream media in general. I didn't always feel this way, but the last decade has gradually burned off whatever residue of trust and faith I had in this increasingly corporatized and commodified, entertainment-focused, ethically challenged branch of professional journalism. Ed Bradley, however, was one of the journalists I continued to respect. From his years as one of CBS's few African-American reporters to his long stint with 60 Minutes, which began in 1981, he impressed me as a fair, thoughtful, ethically grounded journalist and reporter--a journalist and reporter who took the possibilities of his profession seriously. He cared about what he did and it showed, as he received 19 Emmys during his nearly 40 year career. He regularly and actively contributed a distinctive viewpoint to the venerable news program, not solely based on his race and experiences, but inflected by them, that otherwise would have been missing. I also should add that I admired his style and presence, how he came to embody the epitome of a TV news correspondent without sacrificing or blunting his Blackness--his performance and embodiment of a certain kind of Black American-ness, which included doses of swagger, cool, braininess, rigor, delicacy, humor and wit, motherwit. Sometimes he would ask a question that startled the person being intreviewed and investigated, and then he might crack that gap-toothed grin, in effect tossing in a kind of flavor you wouldn't get from any other journalist. This flavor enriched his TV work and made it special, setting a standard for other African-American journalists who followed.

At some point this spring or summer I'd said to C. that I noticed that Bradley was doing more and more profiles on 60 Minutes and fewer of the sorts of investigative reports of prior years. While it was also clear to me that he was ill in recently aired shows, I had no idea of the extent of his health problems. According to NPR, he died of leukemia. He was 65 years old.

Poem: Alain Mabanckou
I haven't posted a translated poem in a while, so here's a new one. It's a poem by Alain Mabanckou, whom I briefly wrote about on Monday. It's from his book of poems L'usure des lendemains (The Next Days' Wear and Tear, éditions nouvelles de sud, 1995). Most of the book's poems are written in sequences, but "Lettre au soleil" is a freestanding one that caught my eye. (I am placing the French original below the English.) One aspect of the poem that doesn't really come through is Mabanckou's use of "tu," the second person singular pronoun (or tutoyer, to use the 'tu' form), which is fairly common in everyday popular speech and online, but which would be somewhat impudent and rude to strangers as well as to someone of a higher status, politically, economically, etc. I still believe students are taught, as I was, to use the "vous" form, which is both the plural and the formal, when addressing someone you do not know. Here the "tu" connotes both familiarity, which would be tinged with impudence, as well as (hyperbolic) disdain and condescension.


Here is my registered letter
with accusations of deception

I summon you right here and now
to honor the tribute of light
you owe to the lump of Earth
which capers around you

Your revolutionary course
the spheroid halo of your kisses
don't impress me
I will await you at the bend
between the Aurora's timidity
and the Blue Sky's confusion
My rage will be at its noon,
tattooed with an unfading rancor
I will go if it's necessary
to expose you in the stellar dust
and the vagabond immensity of the Galaxy
I will then lodge a complaint alongside the Eclipse
to ridicule you at full zenith
before humanity which reveres your virtues….

Copyright © Alain Mabanckou, 1995, 2006. All rights reserved.


Voici ma lettre recommandée
avec accusé de déception

Je te somme ici et maintenant
d'honorer le tribut de lumière
que tu dois à la motte de Terre
qui cabriole autour de toi

Ta course révolutionnaire
et le halo sphéroîdal de tes embrasures
ne m'impressionnent plus
Je t'attendrai au tournant
entre la timidité de l'Aurore
et la confusion de l'Azur
Ma rage sera à son midi,
tatouée d'une rancoeur immarcescible
J'irai s'il le faut
te dénicher dans la poussière stellaire
et l'immensité vagabonde de la Galaxie
Je porterai alors plainte auprès de l'Eclipse
pour te ridiculiser en plein zénith
devant l'humanité qui révère tes vertus...

Copyright © Alain Mabanckou, 1995, 2006, éditions nouvelles du sud. All rights reserved.


  1. Absolutely unrelated except by linguistic coincidence. Next week I'm teaching Ken Saro-Wiwa's short story "Africa Kills Her Sun." The condemned narrator--sentenced to death for violent robbery--wants to have "Africa kills her sun" as his cryptic epitaph, in part to register the bad pun, "that's why they call it the dark continent." The story is also a letter. Coincidence is good, if not necessarily noteworthy.

    It's a difficult poem. Apostrophe is always difficult for me and the word-play seems to pull away from the poem. I'm not sure how to think about the pun as double-entendre. I'm struck by the excess of the poem, the sense of de trop, a concept that registers much more than hyperbole. It's been a while since I read poetry. Perhaps I just need to get back into the habit.

    In response to the query, I needed to erase the blog to start elsewhere. For the moment, I am enjoying a more spectral identity.

  2. Keguro, I figured you'd signed off for a while, but I'm glad to know that even spectrally things are going fine.

    In terms of the pun, it doesn't really work in French at all. The apostrophe is a bit strange, though it has echoes both of local forms of lyric and religious poetry and also a long tradition in French and Francophone lit as well. The hyperbole, here literalized as "rage"...well, I do need to read the rest of the book. LOL On a phonemic-semantic level I'm fascinated by the shift in sonorities between the two languages, how the French music is so different at points, yet where Latinate language enters--the points of connexion--the two languages enter into cognate dialogue.