Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mega-Dis in Amman + Bushophiles Loopy? + JengoTV + Varnedoe on Abstract Art

Bush Humiliated by Maliki
It's come to this: reality bites--and bites the non-fact-based community hard. For political reasons, the President of the United States got publicly dissed by the puppet he pushed to install--for political reasons. Tonight's abruptly canceled "high stakes" summit between W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, which the US mainstream media had begun to subserviently hype as they have so much of the Potemkin stagecraft and shadowplay for years with this charlatan, is the culminating embodiment of so much that's gone wrong since W was handed the office on a Supreme platter in 2000. Perhaps he is still unaware that a "civil war"--as even the abashed former Secretary of State General Colin Powell is now calling it--that W refuses to call a civil war rages not far from where he was publicly humiliated; that Iran is considerably stronger than it was in 2003 before the war, as is Syria; and that his advisors and generals increasingly are calling his folly just that, a folly. Put another way, it's over. Over, and more than the mainstream US media were watching. Author Ron Suskind, like so many others (John DiIulio, Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, etc.) noted that from the get-go W Ltd. disdained the reality-based community, an assertion proved so many times it became the norm and then a truism, but even W, in his haze or daze, take your pick, must have understood tonight's snub for what it really was. The zombies* can continue to deny that people are being executed gangster-style or set on fire in public squares, that Iraqis' futures look so bleak many no longer can envision a viable future, and that a nationalist cleric who made clear his hatred of the US early on is now calling the shots. But they won't be able to deny that this president, who so arrogantly arrogated himself to the stature of Churchill, Lincoln and others, received a slap across the face harder and more insulting than his party's loss of Congressional power just a few weeks ago. The corporate-synchronized US media will do their best to salvage whatever dignity may remain for him, to help him salvage face (since it's beyond saving, like Iraq), but across the rest of the world, if there were any doubts about how disastrous he's been, they've been dispelled forever.

*The Truth About Bushophiles
Straight from Tom Tomorrow via DailyKos comes a brief report from the New Haven Advocate on a study by Christopher Lohse, a Southern Connecticut State University masters student in social work: there is "a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush." I can't vouch for the accuracy of the claims in it, but I had to post it nevertheless. Says the report:

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush. [...]

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

Not that this wasn't apparent all along....

Bernie passed along an email press release for JengoTV, a new online resource and video site for LGBT people of color. Jengo describes itself like this:

JengoTV emerged from the overwhelming response and popularity of Inside Blast, an LGBT of color news and entertainment show created in February 2006.

Jengo means "building strength'' in Swahili. JengoTV is the premiere online media network for the LGBT community of color. Founded in September 2006, the goal of JengoTV is to provide original content by, for and about the LGBT community of color and gay-friendly supporters. Our site is filled with a variety of groundbreaking and acclaimed gay, lesbian films and music videos. Inside Blast is an original talk show on JengoTV and features many gay-friendly celebrities and music artists.

Everyday JengoTV is building new partnerships many of which include filmmakers from around the country, various online social networks and portals, businesses and organizations who support the gay community.

Right now there's not a lot on it, except a few trailers and promo videos (including one featuring Nick Cannon), several interviews (including ones with authors Marvin K. White and Clarence Nero and publisher Lisa Moore), and the beginnings of a bulletin board, blog, and podcast and videocast library, but it has the potential to develop into a great community-driven forum. (The initial video ads are extremely annoying!) I'm bookmarking it and will be checking it regularly to see what's up. Perhaps some J's Theater readers will be contributing to it soon.

The Value(s) of Abstraction
The late J. Kirk T. Varnedoe, for many years chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, and later a professor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, delivered a series of lectures at the very end of his life that have been collected in the volume Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock (Princeton University Press). The current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education features an adaptation of one of the pieces, entitled "The Shared Culture of Private Visions." It's a little essay that functions as a defense of abstract art, yet adopts an at-times unusual argument that differs from the criticism of art historians and critics such as Arthur Danto, Briony Fer, Yve-Alain Bois, Rosalind Krauss, Franklin Sirmans, and so on. I'll quote the final paragraph below, but I do want to note that in place of the original image that accompanies the article, a painting by Cy Twombly, I've posted an image of a screen painting by Joe Overstreet, which emblematizes some of the ideas in the piece as fully as the Twombly. And now, to quote Varnedoe:

Abstraction has been less a search for the ultimately meaningful ... than a recurrent push for the temporarily meaningless: that is, things that are found not often in exotic realms but rather on the edges of banality, familiarity, and the man-made world. It is the production of forms of order that are not recognizable as order, but vehicles of feeling that appear utterly dumb. Abstract art is a symbolic game, and it is akin to all human games: You have to get into it, risk and all, and this takes a certain act of faith. But what kind of faith? Not faith in absolutes, not a religious kind of faith. A faith in possibility, a faith not that we will know something finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Events + News Roundup + New Review

More Upcoming Events
From Phebus Etienne
December 8, 2006
Intersection of Poetry and Art: Cave Canem Faculty member Yusef Komunyakaa, and fellows Taiyon Coleman, Phebus Etienne, and Dante Micheaux respond to the African Comics Exhibit. The Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York NY. Free.

From Adodi Chicago
Adodi Chicago will have its monthly discussion group
meeting on Saturday, December 2 2006.

The topic for discussion is Picturing Early American
Black Gay Lives: A Reading by John Keene. A detailed
description is listed below.

MEETING LOCATION: Youth Pride Center
637 South Dearborn
Mtg area: The basement
Time: 2pm - 4:30pm

(Downtown-south loop location - Red line to Harrison or
State St. bus to Harrison - street parking available)
I'm excited about this event because it'll be my first time ever reading to Adodi Chicago, an organization whose membership constitutes one of the chief audiences I have been envisioning for my new novel project.

News Roundup
  • The brutal police killing of soon-to-be married 23-year-old New Yorker Sean Bell and the serious injuries to his friends Joseph Guzman, 21, and Trent Benefield, 23, by New York City policemen immediately brought back memories of some of the worst aspects of the racist Rudy Giuliani's years as mayor. Yet Giuliani's successor, Mike Bloomberg, hasn't responded with indifference and disdain; he has met with senior Black political leaders from Queens (which did not placate many critics), and with Bell's family today. He has also stated that there will be a thorough investigation--but if it drags on too long and ends in acquittal, the response could be explosive, because public furor over the killing, particularly among Black and Latino New Yorkers, as well as among human rights organizations, continues to rage. One of the most important underlying issues, the ongoing, systemic racism in the New York City police force, must be addressed. So far, one major piece of news to emerge is that the officer who fired 30 of the 50 shots that riddled the car hadn't fired his gun ever before.
  • Years before Bobby McFerrin plagued the country and world with his Bush 41-era anthem "Don't Worry, Be Happy," I would periodically hear the name Robert McFerrin at home. McFerrin (Sr.) graduated several years after my grandmother from St. Louis's main Black high school (in those days the educational system was strictly segregated by law), and like her was an Arkansas native. What I most often heard about was how in 1955 he became the Metropolitan Opera's first Black male soloist, shortly after Marian Anderson's historic debut, which led to discussions of his marvelous voice and talent. Despite suffering a stroke in the late 1980s, he continued to perform up until recently. He died just the other day at the age of 85.
  • I hadn't heard a thing about a horrific but extraordinarily courageous act of protest, which occurred on November 3, 2006: artist and musician Malachi Ritschler set himself on fire, on an expressway ramp in Chicago, to protest the Bush's Iraq and Afghan wars. In dramatically ironic fashion, he burnt himself up as an act of peace. The Chicago and national media, it seems, have not said much about it, for what I think are obvious reasons, though bloggers and the Chicago Reader have covered Ritschler's clarifyingly significant act.
  • Virginia's new Democratic US Senator, Jim Webb, nearly "slug[ged]" President W in the face after receiving a snippy reply to his response to the president's query about his son, who's serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq.
  • This Alexander Litvenenko poisoning case in London is so convoluted and bizarre I can't stop reading about it. What exactly happened? Was Russian president Vladimir Putin actively involved in the murder of one of his harshest, most dogged critics? How does it tie into the assassination of the investigative journalist and fellow Putin critic Anna Stepanova Politkovskaya? Talk about a John LeCarré novel come to life....

Another Review
Chris hipped me to John Latta's review of Seismosis (and Annotations), which is a bit of a mixed brew.

(Background: a few months ago Latta spoon-tapped in a review of Cave Canem's recent anthology Gathering Ground. (If you know someone who's interested in poetry, it's a great holiday gift!) As I wrote to Chris about the piece (slightly adapted),

With the Cave Canem [review] he seemed to conclude that Black people wrote a lot--way too much; only--about hard things, hard lives, hard luck, the hardness of oppression, its insistently heavy and hot material weight and spiritual labor, and I started to think as I read his complaint in the form of a non-review about hot kitchens and hot combs and hot summer nights and how those are important aspects of our lives and how he didn't want to really touch or smell them, but he still felt burnt.

The CC anthology seemed to be too indissoluble and blue-black a kernel for him to swallow, so he didn't.)

With Seismosis, the issue is somewhat different. I won't summarize it, but I think despite its uninterest in any sort of historicization or grasp of African-American literary traditions it's on to something. I told Chris that even with the criticisms I like it. I also like that he's actually reading and quoting it. "Tintinnabulation," so long as it's not a plague on the inner ear, isn't such a bad thing at all.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday Notes

Upcoming Events In and Around NY/NJ
Several friends have alerted me to upcoming events they'll be participating in. At Princeton University. From Dr. SWEAT:

Tracie Morris performs
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 8:30 pm, Murray Dodge Cafe (Princeton U)
free admission; open to the public

All are invited to a Dinner & Discussion on Poetry, Politics, and Performance with Tracie Morris and Professor Melissa V. Harris Lacewell (African American Studies, Politics); Professor Meredith Martin (ENG; fall freshman seminar, "Poetry and the Public Sphere"); and Cotsen Postdoc Fellow Mendi Obadike (ENG, spring freshman seminar, "The Idea of Black Music") Friday, Dec. 1, 6:00 pm; Mathey Private Dining Room (Princeton University) Space is limited! RSVP to Julia Schwartz:

December 5 Tracy K. Smith and Mendi Obadike
Tuesday, December 5, 4:30 p.m
Contemporary Poetry Colloquium (Poets in Conversation)
Reading and discussing new work
(Princeton University, location TBA)
A reception will follow

Also at Princeton, from Dr. Audiologo:

"Tarry On/Because I Must" [will be] showing as part of the Music Composition Program's monthly Composer's Ensemble series at Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall (2nd Floor), Princeton University. The series is free and open to the public. December's concert is devoted to sound and video work, and will also feature my talented colleagues Seth Cluett, Betsey Biggs, Scott Smallwood, Christopher Tignor, and Judd Greenstein.

From Evie Shockley:

everyone in and around nyc -- including anyone who just happens to be in the neighborhood at the time -- is invited to come out and celebrate my new book with me on monday, december 4, at bar 13. the good folks at louderARTS have graciously made a space for me in their reading series. the show starts at 7:30, with an open mic to kick things off, so bring a poem if you're feeling moved to share. : ) the address for bar 13 is 35 east 13th street, at university place, on the second floor. for more details, see: Louder Arts.

From Tara Betts:

OK, if you'd like to spend a Sunday at Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery
b/t Bleecker & Bowery), I will be there for two separate readings. One
for the Bowery Women anthology in the late afternoon (2 p.m.-5 p.m.)
with the likes of Ms. Lynne Procope, and another reading at 8 p.m. with
Ms. Evie Shockley and Metta Samma. If you can come to one or BOTH, I'd
love to see you. There is a press release below detailing the lineup
for the 8 p.m. reading which is responding to artwork inspired by the
confederate flag and John Sims' artwork.
take care,

Bowery Poetry Club – 308 Bowery – between Bleecker-Houston
October 27 - December 4, 2006
The Closing, “The Poetic Reflections”
Sunday Dec 3, 7 p.m. $10

performances & appearances by Amiri Baraka, Tara Betts, Bob Holman,
Celena Glenn and John Sims’ “Recoloration Proclamation Trailer”

On December 3 at 7pm, John Sims will present the trailer for his
documentary film, “Recoloration Proclamation." The closing will feature
noted poet/activist Amiri Baraka and other poets including Bob Holman,
Beau Sia, Mahogany Browne, Rich Villar, Kelly Tsai, Evie Shockley,
Metta Samma (Lydia Melvin), Celena Glenn, Survivor, Tara Betts and
others, with responses/reflections to the Confederate Flag. A blues
version of Dixie will be performed by June April and hip hop version by
Tavi & Phes.


Editor Randall Horton helped put together a reading. We'll be reading
together with Dante Micheaux, dear DC head Truth Thomas and Deborah Poe
reading our poems in the new Third World Press anthology Fingernails
Across a Chalk Board: Poetry & Prose on HIV in the Black Diaspora at
Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. The free reading takes place in the
Aula at Ely Hall at 8 p.m.

From the Asian American Writers' Workshop:

Monday, December 4, 7pm
at The Asia Society
725 Park Ave @ 70th St
New York City

Please join us in celebrating the winners:

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
(Picador USA) Nonfiction
Presented by Greg Tate
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (Grove Press) Fiction
Presented by Brian Leung
Mad Science in Imperial City by Shanxing Wang (Futurepoem Books) Poetry
Presented by Suji Kwock Kim
With announcement of the Members' Choice Award winner
Awards Presentation and Booksigning Reception
$12 general, $10 members, students free with ID
To purchase tickets, please call the Workshop at 212-494-0061

From Mszuliemusic:

Erica Hunt & Akilah Oliver
Belladonna Books
Tuesday, December 12, 7PM
@ Dixon Place (258 Bowery, 2nd Floor˜Between Houston & Prince)
Admission is $5 at the Door.
Also, Tara Betts has specific info on poetsister Sonia Sanchez's upcoming trial in Philadelphia. For those who'll be able to show support:

"Sonia Sanchez pulled on a myriad of influences to fortify the political awareness of the crowd by citing lyrics from the hip hop classic Rakim’s "Casualties of War” and a quote from Camus: “The nobility of our call lies in…refusal to lie about what we know and resistance to oppression. These thinkers led Sanchez into mentioning her pending December 1, 2006 court date at 8:30 a.m. in Philadelphia’s Community Court, located at 1401 Arch Street. She urged people to come support her and the other elder women who protested the enlisting of more young people and asked that they be sent instead earlier this year. These women were arrested and detained overnight before they were sentenced to trial in December."

As more notes come in, I'll be posting them.


My thoughts go out to the family and fans of writer Bebe Moore Campbell, who recently passed away at the age of 56. She was a best-selling author and talented journalist whose works helped to create the current wave of popular fiction by Black writers. I met Campbell briefly a few years ago and as I wrote on the Cave Canem listserve, she immediately struck me as a lovely and genuine person.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Post-Holiday Blip

What a wonderful but too brief holiday break it's been. As Ms. Toni's inquisitive gaze makes clear, one wonders where the time went. And it went, far too quickly....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Last Class of the Quarter

Last Class Meeting of the Quarter
Today was the last meeting of my undergraduate African-American literature class this quarter, and as I told C this evening, it was one of the most enjoyable classes I've ever taught. I still have papers to receive and grade, but I feel like this was the undergraduate class that I'd been waiting and wanting to teach (along with the graduate one in Fall 2005) for years, and it took me nearly a decade to get to the point where I was ready and able to do so. My teaching assistant and the students were incredibly sharp (no surprise there!), so much so that our class visitor last week, Rone Shavers, who spoke on Afrofuturism, Nalo Hopkinson, the race-class-culture triad, mediated blackness, and other topics, noted this as soon as that class meeting had ended. I hope I'll have the opportunity to teach it again, to refine and streamline it, adding new critical texts and figuring out a way to include even more poetry, and even bring in some visitors next time, but that said, it was a joy, and I can't wait to teach a new version of it or a similar class in the future. (I know I won't sweat with nervousness as the start of each class the next time!)

Short Takes
  • The Louvre gives Toni Morrison free reign, and she turns it out.
  • Albert Evans is the first choice of foreign choreographers, but New York Ballet chief Peter Martins doesn't understand why.
  • Campbell's Soup jumps on the Warhol bandwagon with limited edition cans at Barney's, Warhol's ghost laughs all the way to the bank.
  • More David Blaine hijinks in New York City (of course I am dying to see it!).
  • Robert Altman, native Missourian, highly original, flawed film director, passes away (M*A*S*H*, The Player and McCabe and Mrs. Miller are masterpieces, Kansas City has incredible music, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean is an unknown gem, Gosford Park's atmospherics are its strongest suit, Three Women creeps me out...).
  • Trouble dogs HW Bush in Middle East, W Bush in Honolulu, Bushette in Buenos Aires
  • Please, God, somebody, teach people the difference between possessives and plurals!
I'll save my Kramer's Krazy-Ass Kry for tomorrow....

Monday, November 20, 2006

An Nou Allé + Donadio on Literary Feuds + Artists' Stamps

Here we go again...the Blogger server has been down for much of the afternoon...sheesh! Come on Google, what the hell is going on?

An Nou Allé
Louis-Georges TinA while ago I wrote about the remarkable Louis-Georges Tin (at right, the founder of International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) and a leading figure in CRAN (Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires en France), the first network of Black activist organizations in France. Another organization that Tin has founded is An Nou Allé: Comité Gay et Lesbienne Antille & Guyane/Association des NoirEs LGBT en France. An Nou Allé, as the creole name suggests, is an activist, umbrella organization that not only champions the lives of African Diasporic LGBT people in France, but also calls attention to and organizes protests of various kinds while also serving as a clearinghouse for important LGBT-related information. The organization hosts rallies, meetings, and a listserve.

Some of An Nou Allé's recent actions include a protest at the offices of the Partie Socialiste, which just nominated the telegenic, Tony Blairesque Ségolène Royal as its presidential candidate, to call out and denounce George Frêche, the former mayor of France's very diverse southern city, Marseille, for his racist comments about the French national soccer squad. The organization also met with the Socialist Party's Secretary for Overseas Departments, Victorin Lurel, to present memoranda calling for the party's support in combatting government-sanctioned homophobia in places such as Guadéloupe, Martinique and New Caledonia. The organization also called again for the release of three young Cameroonian men who were imprisoned for a year's term for the "crime" of homosexuality in February 2006.

Oh--and they note with excitement that Noah's Arc will run on PinkTV this upcoming January. There's a lot more on the An Nou Allé website--but it's all in French. Unfortunately they don't yet have an English-language page.

Literary Feuds
My colleague Reg Gibbons forwarded me a link to Rachel Donadio's piece, "The Art of the Feud," from yesterday's New York Times Book Review. The title is somewhat deceptive, because rather than discussing literary feuds (of which there have been quite a few throughout history), it's really an American-centric piece about the negative responses certain writers have had because of negative reviews of their books. In almost none of the cases does Donadio really discuss "feuds" per se, or even the kinds of publicly recognized, ongoing contempt, disdain, enmity, and envy that certain writers hold for others. Well, except for the anecdote about how Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead several years after Colson had unfavorably reviewed one of Ford's short story collections. This story is very much in keeping with another story I once heard about how Ford--whose two novels The Sportswriter and Independence Day I think are excellent--responded to a negative reviews by a young writer in a university newspaper. Yet in the other cases Donadio mentions, I have to wonder whether the "feuds" really qualify as such; does Salman Rushdie really dislike John Updike, or was Rushdie's response to Updike just that? Does Rick Moody have a feud with Dale Peck, who once called Moody "the worst writer of his generation" in his review of Moody's Black Veil (and I must point out that any writer who can produce a story like "Demonology," in Demonology, 2001, ranks as one of the more talented writers of his or her generation), or might it be the case that whatever particular feelings Moody has for Peck as a response of that infamous "Black Veil" review, he's gone on with his life as has Peck? Is there anyone's work that Thomas Wolfe does like or consider to be on his aesthetic level? What does one call the mutual and often intense disdain many "formalist" poets have for many poets whose work falls into the "language" poetry camp, and vice versa, outside of a few notable figures? And what about uniformly strict reviewers such as the ones involved with Cosmoetica, who regularly go for the gusto? Are the feuds fiercer in the poetry world than in the fiction world, where the opportunity for commercial success is so much greater? I had rather hoped based on the title that we might get some accounts of some of the more famous past and contemporary feuds, but alas, no such luck, which on another level is probably for the best. (And speaking of caustic reviews, Michiko Kakutani carves up Pynchon's new novel severely, just in time for Thanksgiving. Against the Day indeed.) These things surface anyways down the road.

Artists' Postage Stamps
Have you had the desire to create stamps? If you answered yes, NURTUREart has a project for you:

Dear NURTUREart Registry Artists, I thought this open call would interest you:

Cabinet magazine is currently accepting proposals for artist-designed postage stamps to be included in a book coming out in the fall of 2007. Each of the 15 artists included in the book will design a full sheet of perforated, full-color adhesive stamps (not valid for mailing, of course). Each sheet will accommodate between 40 and 60 stamps, and the design of each stamp can be different.

The project is funded through the Greenwall Foundation's Oscar M. Ruebhausen Commission. The Foundation's arts program focuses on the creation of new work and emerging artists in the NYC area. In keeping with the Foundation's guidelines, approximately half the artists represented in the book will be emerging artists based in New York City (from any of the five boroughs). A panel will select the emerging artists from among proposals responding to this call. The remaining artists in the book will be commissioned directly by the panel.

Proposals from NYC-based emerging artists must be received at the Cabinet office by December 1, 2006, and should include:
- a statement about your intended project (500 words max).
- 3-4 supporting sketches and images of the proposed project (in color or b/w).
- 3-4 images from past projects that you'd like the panel to know about (these need not be related to the stamp project). Each can have an explanatory caption, if needed.
- a CV.

Please send all proposals to Cabinet magazine, 55 Washington Street, # 327, Brooklyn, NY 11201. All material must be printed out. We cannot mail things back; please do not include any slides or original materials.
Selected artists will be notified by January 15 and the finalized projects are due on May 1, 2007. All included artists will receive an honorarium. To learn more about the book, visit hp To learn more about the Greenwall Foundation, visit

Sunday, November 19, 2006

WaPo: "The Meaning of Work" + Ana Lara's Debut + Paul Hoover on QuickMuse

"The Meaning of Work"
In Washington, DC's Ward 3, the unemployment rate is 1.5%. In predominantly Black Ward 8, the rate is 16.3%. In "The Meaning of Work," Washington Post reporter David Finkel writes a superb article today about one young man from the second neighborhood, Chris Dansby, and his struggle to find and keep work. One quote, from a moment where Dansby and a friend consider their lives in light of the ruins of a housing project where they and others grew up:

"But I don't know," Chris said. "That's the thing that's beating me up. I don't know, man. I don't know. What's my purpose? You know what I'm saying? I'm just a speck, man. I feel like giving up sometimes. I feel like I be in limbo. Like nothing sinks into me. Like why don't I remember this? Why don't I remember that? All I remember is bad. I don't want to be that way, man. My two options, I really feel in my heart, is to make it, or to die. Just let go. For real."

Ana-Maurine Lara's Erzulie's Skirt Debuts
Erzulie's SkirtWriter Ana-Maurine Lara's début novel, Erzulie's Skirt, has just been published by Redbone Press. When I met Ana several years ago through a mutual friend, she mentioned to me that she was working on a novel and talked about some of her aims with it. She discussed its setting in her native Dominican Republic, and how she was linking the narratives of several generations of women across time and space. Then, at the university's Black Queer Studies conference last spring, a young scholar offered a insightful analysis of Ana's unpublished novel that situated it within and recognized its important new interventions to a larger body of African Diasporic women's fiction. Redbone Press and GuyLaine Charles held a book release party this past Friday in New York (I wished I could have attended), and now Erzulie's Skirt is available for purchase and review. Ana also is a co-founder of bustingbinaries, which aims "to build a community of resistance by addressing the binaries in our movements." Congratulations, Ana!

Paul Hoover on QuickMuse
I hadn't heard of QuickMuse, but here's the premise. Two (established) writers have 15 minutes to take a series of words and terms generated by a random search, draft and then post a final poem. Or as QuickMuse itself puts it

QuickMuse is a cutting contest, a linguistic jam session, a series of on-the-fly compositions in which some great poets* riff away on a randomly picked subject. It's an experiment, QuickMuse, to see if first thoughts are indeed the best ones. We're not entirely sure about this, but we suspect QuickMuse will bring readers closer to the moment of composition than they have ever been before. Best part: our "playback" feature lets you watch the poems unfold, second by second. Or as Thlyias [sic] Moss says, it's "the chance for a poem to find its/audience fast," in which words don't "have as much/time to stale, pale/lose the relevance of the moment" to which they belong.

Paul Hoover recently dropped an email to point to what he and Brad Leithauser, with whom he was paired, devised (Paul's poem is a gem). Prior QuickMusers include Kevin Young, Thylias Moss, Charles Bernstein, Marge Piercy, and peoply primarily writing prose fiction [*], like Rick Moody. Does this really bring a reader any closer to the "moment of composition"? As for the competition, which agons are really being exposed?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Quote: Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Step"The post-human in things in general, then, is that which proposes an entity with which only the human could interact as an other, and which--neither a decorated thing nor personifiable mechanism, although we may long for it to be so--is at once a being and nonorganic. The relationship between the outside and the inside of such entities is one between a blank surface and an interior which is not mechanical but is rather an affair of the electrical and the simultaneous and the near-simultaneous, more like a brain than an articulated body, and in a general way Bergsonian in its capacity to make connection through what is already present to a memory. It would in that be the place of two sorts of multiplicity. One, that of pure ratio, is what Deleuze calls the 'multiplicity of exteriority, of simultaneity, of juxtaposition, of order, of quantitative differentiation, of difference in degree...' This, he says, is 'a numerical multiplicity, discontinuous and actual' and distinct from the other, which is 'an internal multiplicity of succession, of fusion, of organization, of heterogeneity, of qualitative discrimination, or of difference in kind; it is a virtual and continuous multiplicity that cannot be reduced to numbers.' Entirely made of number, the technological may also produce a heterogeneity irreducible to them: the two conditions of the sublime, pure ratio and the infinite extension of quantity within simultaneity, limitless extension of qualities incalculable in its heterogeneity."
--Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Beauty and Contemporary Sublime (Allworth Press, 1999), pp. 138-139.

(Painting above: Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Step, 2004-5, oil on linen, 70 x 70 inches, Courtesy Gray Kapernekas/

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Round-Up

Attack on JanitorsAccording to MyDD, one of the leading netroots sites, last night Houston mounted police trampled and intimidated janitors and their supporters who were staging a nonviolent, civil disobedient protest. MyDD and Houston Janitors for Justice have still photos and video. The janitors, some of whom are trying to unionize or are union members, earn the minimum wage, $5.35/hr, some as little as $20 a day!, and have no health benefits. Who were they protesting against? One of the targets was oil behemoth Chevron, which has made record profits this year, subsidized in part by billions of dollars of government giveaways. The direct assault on organized labor has been going on for more than thirty years, and this is yet another horrible, spectacular example. Without unions, fair wages, and workers' rights, we would not have the vaunted middle class (which is also under assault) in this country that politicians love to chirp about. Despite the best efforts of the current administration, we also don't live in a police state, or at least not a fully realized one; though most of the destruction of our civil liberties occurs without ever making it in the paper, this is one grotesque public example. And even one is too many to let pass by uncommented on.

I've come across a non-mainstream, foreign movie I couldn't watch all the way through. There aren't many, but this is definitely one of them: Park Chan-Woo's Oldboy. The frenetic pacing, cartoonish acting, confusing plot, and horrible dubbing were more than I could bear when I sat down to watch it. In fact, I tried to watch it twice, but both times I ended up stopping it around the time that that imprisoned protagonist is released. I'll say no more in case you haven't seen it and want to. Maybe I'll try another one of his films in the future, since he I've seen him extolled by cineastes more than once. I haven't been able to get one horrifying image, which comes during a restaurant scene, out of my head. It nearly ruined my appetite for one of my favorite types of seafood....

Ruth BrownVivacious, earthy Ruth Brown, one of the earliest lights of post-war R&B and thus a founding mother of rock & roll, passed away today in Los Angeles. She was 78. I'll always associate her with one of my and C's favorite films of all time, John Waters' hilarious, unforgettable send-up of early 1960s cultural and social integration in Baltimore, Hairspray. She took her role as the DJ and activist Motormouth Maybelle and with sassy aplomb turned it inside out. What I hadn't realized was that despite having been one of the hitmakers for Atlantic Records in its early days, she was so penniless at one point that she couldn't afford a home phone. Later, after mid-1970s comeback, she agitated successfully for redress on behalf of herself and numerous other early R&B musicians who'd not only been cheated out of royalties and rights but heavily indebted by onerous contracts, which eventually led Atlantic to cancel her debts and resulted in the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. According to the NY Times obit, the foundation distributed millions to other R&B musicians; in a sense, then, musicians who came after her owe her tributes of gratitude many times over. But all of us who love American music of the last 50 years do as well.

A Moment's PleasureArtist Mickalene Thomas has a gallery show currently underway at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago. I've yet to post the photos C and I took when we took in Kehinde Wiley's show there, so I'll try to do that soon. This show, which runs through November 25, looks like another great one, and the Chicago Reader praises the "rhinestone-studded portraits" highly, discussing her play with pictorial depth and style, her eye-catching use of color, and her appropriation of prior forms, such as the odalisque. The one Thomas painting we saw hanging in the back was enough to make me want to go back. The one at right (Rhona Hoffman Gallery/Chicago Reader), is entitled "A Moment's Notice."

A while ago, Bernie alerted me to the New-York Historical Society's exceptional previous exhibition on slavery in New York; they now have a second one, "New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War," focusing on the years from state emancipation, in 1827, through the Civil War period. I'll have to catch it when I'm home. One of the New York Times' reviewer Edward Rothstein's most interesting points is how New York City was (and still is) the site of powerful contradictions in terms of the political, social and economic status of African Americans, particularly during this period. As it became the commercial capital of the nation, it increasingly catered to the interests of the Southerner overlords who supplied it with the raw materials on which its fortunes were made; it was an important abolitionist site, but its press was heavily pro-slavery, and the New York Draft Riots, which involved draftees' protests against military conscription to fight in the Civil War, marked one of the most brutal mass attacks on Black Americans in the United States ever. (The Colored Orphan Asylum was literally burned to the ground during the riots in 1863.) Rothstein says that the exhibit, even at its end, forecloses any sense of triumph about the situation of Black people; as the city underwent yet more transformation through immigration and growth, the position of some of New York City's earliest residents remained fraught. It sounds like a shouldn't-be-missed exhibit; I'll try not to.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

PEN Imprisoned Writer Day + Gerald Levert Dies + Etc.

PEN Day of the Imprisoned Writer
Yesterday was PEN's Day of the Imprisoned Writer. I got the email...yesterday. PEN says that

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN is marking the 26th Writers in Prison Day 2006 (November 15) with a campaign in defense of nearly 100 writers and journalists around the world who are in prison or facing custodial sentences for alleged defamation or "insult." It calls for the repeal of laws that treat defamation as a criminal rather than a civil offense, and argues that the term "insult" is too vague to have any legal standing as a charge and should thus be scrapped from penal codes entirely.

This is a great and important action, but as I read it through, I thought that for writers out there, every day should be a day to remember that other writers were imprisoned somewhere for expressing their views. Because does one designated day really do justice to anyone imprisoned around the world for being outspoken, a critic, a dissident? I know PEN wants to highlight the plights these literary figures are facing by marking out one day to do this, but I think it would be better if perhaps one day every month at the very least were so designated. Which reminds me, does anyone think our Dear Leader, who is always speaking of "democracy" and "freedom," is going to press this issue with any of the world leaders he chums up to in Southeast Asia? (Hint: China? Vietnam? Indonesia? Myanmar? etc.) Remember to breathe as you wait.

Anyways, back to the imprisoned writers. Here are the ones PEN highlights:

o Turkey—Hrant Dink: editor of an Armenian language newspaper sentenced to a six-month suspended term and two other cases still pending on charges of insult
o Ethiopia—Wesenseged Gebrekidan: journalist serving a total of two years in prison on defamation charges and facing further trials.
o Mexico—Lydia Cacho: writer on trial for defamation and under attack for her book on child pornography and prostitution
o China—Yang Xiaoqing: Internet journalist sentenced to a year in prison on extortion charges that are believed to be in retaliation for posting "defamatory" articles on local corruption
o Egypt—two journalists: each sentenced to one year in prison for articles “insulting” the Egyptian President.
The site has more info on the events that took place and on other PEN projects.

It also got me thinking that speaking of the imprisoned, we should have a day--if there isn't already one--calling attention to the 2+ million people who are incarcerated in US prisons, some of them quite wrongfully, and many on trumped up or outrageous sentences. We could also highlight the fact that rehabilitation has been almost completely replaced with punitive measures, some verging on the extremely cruel, that only worsen the lives of the incarcerated, making their post-prison experiences that more difficult and increasing the possibility of recidivism.

Goodbye, Gerald Levert
LevertI meant to post a short note on Gerald Levert's passing, but completely forgot. But he (at left, was one of those lavishly talented singers who emerged during the late 1980s, my college years, and for a time, with his group Levert, became the voice of R&B. Many of the tributes to him describe his voice, which pulled up soul like a backhoe and showered it over his listeners. His style, which also contained a sizable dose of big-poppa sexiness, spawned a legion of less talented imitators. (Have any of the obituaries mentioned this?)

But even his worst imitators, who try to stretch out a bar into fifteen and sometimes sound like they're gargling gravel, still grasped how exciting--how hot--his style of singing could be. When I think of post-1970s R&B, which has been in decline for more than a decade now, and its most talented male singers, I will always think of Gerald Levert and hear him singing songs--no, crooning is the better word--crooning songs like "Addicted to You." He was only 40--he'll be missed.

Muslim Student Repeatedly Tasered at UCLA Library
AmericaBlog and others have been covering the police assault on a UCLA student Tuesday night extensively, and a bystander in the library captured part of what occurred on his cellphone's videocamera and posted it to YouTube. The LA Times and the UCLA Daily Bruin have also covered it. From what I can tell, the 23-year-old student, who was repeatedly Tasered by police, is an Iranian-American Muslim, Mostafa Tabatabainejad. People present at the library say he was on his way out the door when the incident occurred; the police are claiming he resisted orders. According to the video, the police also Tasered him as he lay on the ground because he did not get up at their obstreperous commands, though it appears he had been handcuffed and could have been immobilized by the Taser shock. He did cry out that he had a medical condition. They also appear to have threatened witnesses on the scene who asked them for their badge numbers or considered intervening. The ACLU is saying that this is illegal. The police's actions, at least as they're being reported, are outrageous and unconscionable. Let's see where this goes.

According to AmericaBlog, you can contact UCLA's interim chancellor at:
Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams
Telephone: 310-825-2151
Fax: 310-206-6030

Adam Kirsch on Thomas Pynchon
There are some critics a writer dreads. Michiko Kakutani, when she offers praise, is fulsome, but when she slams an author, is even more fulsome, in the most negative connotations of that polyvalent word, etching her distaste, sometimes verging on ridicule, like hydrochloric acid. Dale Peck, a talented writer and pleasant person in person, could, when he was at his harshest, impersonate a firing squad in one sentence. John Simon was always good for some charcuterie with figures he deemed insufficiently serious or smart. I won't even get into Harold Bloom, who can be so harsh as to reduce a body of work (for example J. K. Rowling's) to something resembling rendered fat. In his heyday, when he still kept up the pretense that he was a creative writer, Stanley Crouch would really go for the jugular, though it became clear that envy underlined his particularly vitriolic dislike (hatred) of several of the major Black women writers. In general, I think one can say that the harshest critics are at their harshest when they're young and have something to prove, and particular harsh when expressing, whether openly or not, anxiety about their talent in relation to the writers they're taking apart.

I think this last bit applies to critic Adam Kirsch. A few months ago, I posted his critique of Louise Glück's work--he tore the entire edifice of her oeuvre down by singling on what he perceived to be the fatal flaw of her work: its insistent and unredeemable narcissism. Now, I do know of others who find Glück's work unappealing; for my part, I think she is a very good poet, sometimes stellar, and in works like Ararat and Triumph of Achilles, writing at the height of her powers. (Let me just say that I am not one of Louise Glück's protegés and am not ass-kissing; I really do find things to praise in her work.) Kirsch is an iconoclast and demolition man; some iconoclasm and demolition is necessary. But he is also a broadly learned littérateur who likes to make sweeping pronouncements, some of which are grossly advised and mistaken. Nevertheless, an iconoclast, on base or off, looks for icons. Glück is one such figure in the American poetry world. Thomas Pynchon, the ultraprivate, extraordinarily influential author of V., The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow, to name only his three greatest works, is another.

In his review of Pynchon's newest novel, Against the Day, Kirsch attempts to knock the great author flat out--cold. It isn't just that he dislikes the book--he must pass a moral judgment on Pynchon's art in general, and it's a severe judgment indeed. Yet Kirsch isn't without respect, or a hedge. So he begins by suggesting that if Pynchon's lists don't perturb you, then you might not have such a problem with the new work. You might be part of the thralled throngs. But, he says

If, on the other hand, you find that Mr. Pynchon's catalog of lab instruments adds up to less than the sum of its parts; if the sheer feat of touching on every major historical event from 1893 to 1918 seems sterile in its virtuosity; if the kind of ingenuity manifested in Mr. Pynchon's famously weird character names (in the new book we meet Professor Vanderjuice, Alonzo Meatman, Ewball Oust, Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin) strikes you as childish, and eventually sets your teeth on edge — then you will experience "Against the Day" as a neon-lit desert, full of distractions but devoid of sustenance.

For the writer who lives by the list must die by the list, and Mr. Pynchon, in pushing the form to its limits and beyond, demonstrates what a list-like novel cannot do. Multiplicity, it turns out, is not the same thing as complexity: Complexity requires syntax, and syntax is just what the maker of lists must forswear. Human meanings — psychological, social, spiritual — require other kinds of structure than the infinitely repeated "and" of the shaggy-dog story. That is why Mr. Pynchon's meanings, in "Against the Day" as in his better books, are finally inhuman, Manichean, utopian, and dystopian. He believes in conspiracies, not histories, including the individual histories that the novel was invented to tell.

So Pynchon's polysyndetonic prose is, by its very structuration here, a major part of the problem. Too much is placed side by side, stretched out, un-prioritized (which is what syntax does), and the result is sterile emptiness, a barren ocean of prose. This summation might seem to suggest a technically oriented critical reading. However, what Kirsch goes on to derive from all of this, categorically you see, is that the meanings in Pynchon's works in general are "inhuman...." "Manichean." And, in what I think is one of the most acid characterizations, because of what it implies, "utopian." Which is to say, it has the whiff of something utterly unreal about it--and, as becomes clear further on, Marxian-Soviet. Whew! And he ain't done yet!

He continues

"Against the Day," then, will inevitably be read as Mr. Pynchon's contribution to the genre of post-September 11 fiction. Yet by comparison with the other major novelists who have addressed this theme, he displays a surpassingly crude moral imagination. This is a novel, after all, in which most of the heroes are proud terrorists, committed on principle to murdering plutocrats like Scarsdale Vibe. Writing about such characters in our own age of terror, one might expect Mr. Pynchon to have given some thought to the rights and wrongs of political violence.

As I view it, the underlying critique here is a moral one, and a moralistic one. In Pynchon's fiction(s), the meanings do not comport with Kirsch's sense of a moral universe, the abundance of naming, the lack of syntactic variation symbolic of a deep flaw, an inhumanity, a dystopic view, a reading which fails to grasp what Kirsch has previously noted, which is that the book functions and can be read as a parody--yes, that's right, as the form and mode of literature that operates through imitation with a critical, often ironic function--and so if the work is parodic, and ironic, might it not be the case that the unmitigated violence, which functions on the diegetic plane of the novel's discourse, might reflect Pynchon's having "given some thought to the rights and wrongs of political violence," which is to say, that it's really a metanarrative and metadiscourse that is critical by sending them up, parodically, rather than in the sort of earnest, realistic prose that Pynchon has never written?

But Kirsch isn't finished, by half:

In fact, however, his attitude towards violence is childishly sentimental, and ruthless in a way only possible to a writer whose imagination has never dwelt among actual human beings. Mr. Pynchon's heroes (the poor, the workers, Anarchists) assassinate and blow up his villains (mine owners, Pinkerton thugs, the bourgeoisie) with no more qualms than the Road Runner has about dropping an anvil on the Coyote. In the novel as in the cartoon, good and evil are unproblematic, death is unreal, and sheer activity takes the place of human motive. The silliness of "Against the Day" about the very subjects where we are most urgently in quest of wisdom proves that, whatever he once was, Thomas Pynchon is no longer the novelist we need.

"Childishly sentimental," "ruthless," "a writer whose imagination has never dwelt among actual human beings," "as in the cartoon," "silliness"--"no longer the novelist we need." My God! Who is the "we" Kirsch is speaking of? The post-literate US population? The literary world in general, which saw the value of Pynchon's gifts before the critical world caught on? The elite conservative-leaning critics like Kirsch who were never particularly fond of Pynchon in the first place? America, run (into an abyss) by a "childishly sentimental" yet "ruthless" idiot and his cabal who never seem to have "dwelt among actual human beings"? My mother used to say when someone was overreacting that they had a "hair up their ass." I always thought this phrase applies to Kirsch, who really is going overboard with Pynchon; perhaps he should return to the paragraph where he comprehends at base what Pynchon is doing or trying to do--a parody--and then rethink this hatchet job. Perhaps the book has its failings, perhaps it's nowhere near Pynchon's best, perhaps in its bloated 1,000 pages it really is a failure on multiple levels, but to turn the critique into a moral judgment of the author, especially at this strident, pitch strikes me as a shriek whose source lies in something beyond the realm of this text or any other.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

2 Talks + Mackey Honored + Other Things

One of the most enjoyable aspects of academe beside teaching and working with students--yes, there is more that's enjoyable--is going to hear talks delivered by visiting scholars and creative people, and colleagues discussing their ongoing research. Today I heard two fine short talks, one by Landon Y. Jones, the former editor-in-chief of People magazine and the visiting nonfiction writer in residence at the university's Center for the Writing Arts this fall (and coiner of the term "baby boom"), the other by Leonardo Pereira, a professor at the University of Brasília and Rockefeller Foundation fellow at the university's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Jones's talk, "Celebrities in the Attic," explored the issue and role of celebrity in American culture from his perspective at People. He began by discussing some of the academic interest in celebrity and the celebrification of American culture, which has unsurprisingly grown over the years as celebrity has gained an even greater social space and force in our society and culture. After hitting touchstones like Andy Warhol's famous 15 minutes dictum, he spoke about how most editors of the major mainstream news magazines had ranted about the pox of celebrification, and pointed to their own personal projects, which tended towards the biographical and scholarly (Jones in fact wrote one of the few biographies of Meriwether Clark). He also noted how People's first cover featured actress Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, but how through reader demand and sales pressures, the focus shifted from actors and actresses in their fictional roles to stories about them as larger-than-life figures in their everyday lives, and then, after Betty Ford's outspokenness and confessionalism on her travails (her alcoholism and substance abuse, her depression, etc.), to narratives of trauma, suffering, degradation, and redemption, or to put it another way, to a verticalization of the celebrities themselves, a transformation of them from deific and heroic status, through stories about their life crises, to very famous, important and rich people who were, at their core, no different from the regular mass of People's readers. Mass consumption in visual and narrative form of young, white attractive females and females bodies--or female bodies in general--especially if in crisis of some sort (think Karen Carpenter, Kristi McNichol, etc.) became one of the magazine's organizing principles. Jones pointed to the late Princess Diana of Wales, who graced 54 (I believe he said) People covers as a particularly important emblem and symbol, as her death apotheosized what he said had become his editorial charge: deaths, diets and Di--but he also noted how celebrity culture had also become an American lingua franca, and pointed to a discussion in 1992 with Bill and Hillary Clinton, which opened with him breaking the ice with the future First Lady and junior Senator from New York by discussing Diana's appearance in people the week before. Shortly before I stepped out, he was concluding with a recent issue of the magazine that featured the typical series of articles about celebrities in crises (Nicole Kidman, etc.), but which located the idea of "heroism" in, well, everyday people like People's readership. He also noted that there are limits to celebrity culture saturation; although People paid a reported seven figures for photos of Brangelina's Baby Shiloh, the editors were surprised that far more readers snapped up copies of the issue memorializing the accidental death by stingray of late naturalist and zoologist Steve Irwin. (Death sells.) I wish I could have stayed to hear some of the questions, but the talk, geared for a broad, non-academic audience, provoked a number of thoughts I may try to articulate on here at some point down the road.

I raced from this talk to another building to catch cultural historian Leonardo Pereira's lecture on dancing clubs as a form of social organization and site of cultural production in Rio de Janeiro, during the early 20th century. Titled "A Borough in Fun: Leisure and Social Identity in Bangú (1892-1930)," the talk, which Pereira delivered in English in a lilting paulista accent, explored the development of dancing associations in the Bangú district, northwest of the then-capital city of Rio de Janeiro. Bangú had once been an estate or fazenda up to the period after the official end of Brazilian slavery (which occurred in 1888, through the Lei Aurea, also spelling the death of the Brazilian monarchy), but in the early years of the Brazilian Republic, it became the site of an industrial plant that drew many workers from the surrounding regions, as well as a number of immigrants from rural Italy, Portugal and Spain, and British technocrats. Many of the native workers were former enslaved Blacks or mixed-race people, mostly from the Valé do Paraíba near the town of Vassouras and the Fluminense region (near the city of Rio de Janeiro proper), and one of the issues was how to create a sense of cohesion and community. I won't even try to summarize Pereira's sparkling, nuanced and complex arguments, but I will note how he began by situating his work beside prior studies, often based on the accounts of the European immigrant labor organizers, who looked askance at what they thought were merely sites of popular leisure, which is to say, social alienation, rather than on the Afro-Brazilian workers themselves. Pereira mapped out the importance of these organizations, and sites of leisure in general (such as football clubs, Carnival celebrations, etc.) not only in terms of locale-specific social, political and cultural organization, but how, in advance of the usual top-down narratives about early 20th century Brazilian identity and racial formation, the clubs in the first two decades had begun to create a space for the post-Emancipation and republican articulation and affirmation of mixed-race and Afro-Brazilian identities and cultural formations, as opposed to strictly European-white identities and cultural ones, within the larger critical matrix of Brazil's anxieties about being a mestiço, rather than a European, nation. Participants in these clubs, especially the grémio (club) Prazer das Morenas (established in 1909) staged, produced, embodied, and performed versions of mixed-race/Afro-Brazilian social, political and cultural identities and products, using musical forms (instruments, dances, genres) derived from African and Afro-Brazilian traditions, such as samba, as opposed to what was considered "modern" music of the time (maxixe, etc.), which circulated outwards, engaging with similar and different cultural products throughout the region and the society, to be celebrated and championed by Brazilian scholars, artists and intellectuals (such as Olavo Bilac and Mário de Andrade) some time later (the 1930s). One of the attendees inquired about the relation between these dance-social clubs and the "gafeiras," or well-known open dance clubs of Rio, and Pereira pointed out that the Prazer das Mulatas considered itself to be the "first" gafeira. Another attendee suggested that Tannenbaum's Theory of Labor concept that the origins of labor organization was that it was social, and this did tie into some of Pereira's findings. Afterwards, I got to chat with Pereira, and with another Rockefeller fellow, Professor Silvia Hunold Lara, who will be speaking soon about her work on the quilombo of Palmares, and who's also exploring the tradition of the jongos, the metaphorical worksongs of the Afro-Brazilians of the Valé do Paraíba, which have their source in Angola-Congolese material traditions, and which are linked directly and indirectly in various ways to the samba and its historical and aesthetic development.

After that, I caught a snippet of Emmitt Smith and his dance partner Cheryl Burke winning Dancing with the Stars. Both he and Mario López deserve props for what they accomplished. Ah, popular culture!

Nathaniel Mackey Wins National Book Award
Author, critic and scholar Nathaniel Mackey received the 2006 National Book Award for Poetry for his newest collection, Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006)! This is a well-deserved honor for an incredible book and thinker!

The GOP Goes Backwards
On the political front, the Republicans have made it clear that they are going to go as far backwards as they can. In addition to electing Mitch McConnell (KY) as their minority leader, the Senate Republicans chose white supremacist Trent Lott (MS), who had to resign in shame several years ago after touting Strom Thurmond and segregationism, as their minority whip. Here's one of Lott's recent gems, that I couldn't make up if I tried:

Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.

Now, of all the Senate Republicans--and I do understand that their Senate caucus is heavily dominated by FAR right-wing Southerners and Southwesterners--they couldn't find anyone else? He was running against Lamar Alexander (TN), a not especially unlikeable person, so I take it that the Senate Republicans are trying to send the country a message. All of you Black Republicans, check your frequencies and please do listen up, they're sending it loud and clear! They want to go back to 1906 or 1806--and Lott is the person to get that wagon rolling! (BTW, I do wonder what the Black Republicans have to say about this. I can't wait to read the first paean to Senator Segregationist that comes over the wires from the Hoover Institution or the Manhattan Institute or wherever it is Kenneth Blackwell ends up.)

The GOP also chose Mel Martinez as the new head of the Republican National Committee. Supposedly Michael Steele, the buffon noir from Maryland, fancied considered himself perfect for this job, but Mr. "Magic Numbers" "genius" Karl Rove had other considerations, such as, how could the Republicans be as cynical and hypocritical as possible in the shortest amount of time? After pushing several extremely draconian immigration bills and attacking Latino immigrants--and mind you, the anti-immigrant rhetoric wasn't targeted at illegals from Russia or anywhere else--relentlessly leading up to November 7, the Republicans saw their share of the Latino vote fall to around 29% (from the often touted 40% or so in 2004), and they very well--we can have faith, can't we?--may have alienated a generation of future Latino voters, so Rove took the craven step of nominating a someone who makes the idea of meritocracy look like a cruel joke. Now, perhaps you don't remember Senator Mel Martinez, who previously starred as Dubya's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

  • He's a former Florida trial attorney who was determined to keep little Elián González in the United States, despite the fact that the traumatized boy's father was alive and well and wanted him to come home--to Cuba.
  • He's the colorful anti-gay bigot who labeled his 2004 Republican opponent the "darling of homosexual extremists," leading to a rebuke from fellow right-winger, retired Florida Senator Connie Mack, yet Mel had homosexuals in his employ, including disgraced ex-Congressman Mark Foley's former assistant, Kirk Fordham.
  • He's the bumbler whose staffer, Brian Darling, wrote the infamous memo urging the Republicans to make great hay of the Terri Schiavo debacle--and Martinez is so bright he claimed he didn't know about it, though he actually passed the thing off to a Democratic senator, Tom Harkin!
  • He was fingered in court papers by convicted ex-Congressman Bob Ney (OH) in relation to the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal;
  • He's the accounting genius who underestimated his campaign debts by, oh, about $500,000, which is why he's currently under investigation by the Federal Election Commission.

Whew, talk about a winner! Unfortunately for Senator Mel, he's already angering the far right nutcases in the Republican's shrunken, hood-shaped tent. I can't be sure if it's because he a (sort of) brown person, not Talevangelical enough, isn't Trent Lott, or what. But something tells me if the firebreathers keep up their attacks, he may politely or impolitely pass the hotseat on to someone else. I don't think it'll be Michael Steele, though. Maybe Trent Lott can fit it into his schedule.

Hurricane Katrina Action
One thing I've been thinking about this past week is that every J's Theater reader who's eligible could do a wonderful thing by making sure that between now and January 31, 2007, you contact your Congressperson and Senators, and urge them to make sure that they do not forget the federal government's promises to the people who were displaced and whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Phone calls, emails, a fax, a letter--all would be useful in keeping the pressure on, especially on the newly empowered Democrats, to do the right thing and not let this matter disappear from the federal docket. The newspapers have featured a number of feel-good stories about the situation down along the Gulf Coast, but the reality is that many people are still displaced, still homeless, still jobless, still suffering. It is crucial that we not let up one bit from keeping this ongoing crisis and its solution part of the national discourse.

Other Things Happening in the World
Let's see:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Harrison & Harris @ Myopic + Short Takes

There're always about 10-20 things that I want to write about but don't have time to, so this evening I think I'll post about a reading I attended on Sunday night and then list some links to other news that I find to be of note.

On Sunday I dropped by Myopic Books, in the Wicker Park neighborhood, to see and hear Duriel Harris and Roberto Harrison read their work, though with Duriel, I should say perform, since she is a singer and performer, in multiple genres and media (as well as a scholar, video and sound artist, and conceptualist, with her fellow Black Took Collectivists Dawn Lundy Martin and Ronaldo Wilson), and always brings something more than extra. Harrison read first. Before the reading I knew nothing about him, except what Myopic's bio stated, which is that he's a native Oregonian who grew up in Panama, lives in Milwaukee, and co-edits a literary journal. He read a series of poems from his book Counter Daemons (Litmus Press, 2006), and what struck me immediately was that he seemed to be offering up a number short lines which permitted lots of rapid transitions, many based on jarring juxtapositions of imagery, but bound together by rhyme. It also struck me that there wasn't much variation in the tone or voice (not just his soft voice--he seemed somewhat shy) of the pieces, which reinforced my sense of their being serial poems. They washed over into each other, with the main aural anchors being sometimes striking images that resonated after he'd passed on to the next piece. Hearing them made me want to read them on the page to see what Harrison was doing, how they fit together, what the music broke down as and added up to.

Duriel went second, and as always lit things up. She mostly read from her new project, which she intends to have appear in multiple forms and genres. It's called Amnesiac, and she presented some of it at the Cave Canem10th Anniversary Celebration (and I've seen her read very early pieces of it in the past). A lot of it appears to focus on bodily and psychic traumas--on pain, on wounds, on the aftereffects of sickness, suffering, history, and violence--but what Duriel does is to construct a fascinating, dense and carefully elaborated architecture of language around each of these moments, their various articulations, such that you find yourself born along by the intricate fretwork of the lyric itself until that jagged piece of tooth, that tumorous mass nesting in the neck abrupts you, and you viscerally experience (at least some of) the materiality of the pain, its utter ugliness and the horror it evokes, which is at battle with the beauty of the lyric form itself, that Duriel seeks to convey. This is just one aspect of a really productive tension, I think, that Duriel is developing. She does this better than anyone else I know--it is a very corporeal, performative poetry, very much in search of what I would call hard and sometimes uncontainable truths. Another way of saying is that the work stages and aims to embody truths that are opposed to a unified, universalistic and universalizing notion of truth, particularly one based in or gesturing towards a transcendental or humanistic ideal. Her work is about as anti-Platonic (and I'd say anti-Kantian) as you can get--and she works it. At the same time, I would imagine that a reader or listener anywhere would hear or read one of these poems and register in its specificity its universal resonances. Who has not suffered? I'm thinking in particular of the one that conjures Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley and powerfully summons the plangent suffering the poem successfully embodies. She has many excellent examples (she read "Thritch," one of my favorites) in her first book, Drag, and I am looking forward to the new multiplatform project, which she has said will include a DVD. I especially want to see/hear/witness that.

Roberto Harrison

Duriel Harris

From left: Krista Franklin talking with Duriel's mother, Paul Carter Harrison (!) in the background between them, Rone Shavers, and Tyehimba Jess

(I also got to meet Duriel's mother and father, which was a real pleasure.)


South Africa's parliament, dominated by the African National Congress party, has approved gay marriage, making it only one of a handful of countries across the globe (Denmark, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain) to do so. In a sop to the religious clergy there, the law will allow religious and civil authorities the right to opt out of performing a ceremony on moral grounds. The legislation has another step before going forward to President Thabo Mbeki, who will sign it into law. South Africa's visionary Constitution was the first in the world to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; let's see how long it takes the "beacon of freedom" to catch up.

Mexico City's assembly voted to allow same-sex civil unions, and the city's mayor will sign the bill into law. The new law will not permit gay marriage per se, but will afford gay couples numerous equal rights under the law. As in South Africa, Christian leaders, especially from the Catholic Church, and conservatives strongly opposed the bill, and the right-wing National Action party of outgoing president Vicente Fox and incoming president Felipe Calderón constituted the strongest political opposition to it.

At the same time, within the last few days, the government of Iran hanged a man on the charge of sodomy. According to Michael Petrelis, who quotes the Iran Focus site, Shahab Davirshi was executed in the city of Kermanshah for organizing a "'corruption ring', deliberate assault, and 'lavat'," which means sex between two men. Hundreds of people supposedly watched, and an influential cleric used the occasion to denounce gay marriage in the west, which he decried as a "weakness" of Western culture.

On a completely different note, the Democrats have elected their leaders in the Senate, and Harry Reid unsurprisingly will again be the Majority Leader. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will serve as the number 2 in the Democratic Caucus. The Senate's standing committees will be chaired by a liberal lineup that includes Tom Harkin, Teddy Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, Daniel Inouye, Dan Akaka, and Jeff Bingaman. Some of these senators are quite progressive, and the least liberal of this group, like Max Baucus, Byron Dorgan and Robert Byrd, are more liberal than the administration-enabling extremists they're replacing. "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman unfortunately will be chairing the Homeland and Government Affairs Committee, either in spite of or because he suggested, in a veiled threat, that he could switch to caucusing with the Republicans. One little noted point is that Republican Craig Thomas of Wyoming is suffering from leukemia, and were he to resign or worse, Wyoming's Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal, could appoint a Democrat to Thomas's seat, thus temporarily obviating the need for the Democrats to cater to the truculent narcissist from Connecticut. The House will be electing its leaders on Thursday, and a battle has arisen between Pennsylvania Democrat and veteran John Murtha, and Maryland representative Steny Hoyer. Both are socially quite conservative and both have ties to lobbyists, but Murtha has been extremely outspoken in the last few years on the war, and House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi is backing him over Hoyer, a decision that will seriously test her leadership abilities and power over the next few days. The Democratic House committee chairpeople should mirror far more the diversity of the US than the Republicans did, with women, African-Americans, Latinos, and very likely at least one Asian-American and one out gay person to assume leadership roles.

In response to an ACLU suit, the CIA is acknowledging that--get this!--the Bush administration secretly authorized foreign detentions and interrogations! Gee whiz whillickers, I'm shocked, I really am shocked! Who could ever believe it? Will we ever be able to have confidence in our leader again? Because this is the man who has operated with deadly determination and secrecy since taking office, who has engaged in potentially illegal warrantless wiretapping of private US citizens, who has trolled through Americans' bank records without warrant, who never adequately addressed his and his administration's failure to stop the 9/11 attacks or respond properly to them, and then took the country to the war based on grossly blatant lies, who started a war in Iraq that has turned into an abysmal quagmire, resulting in the lost of hundreds of thousands of American, Iraqi and other lives, who has bumbled while North Korea developed and now Iran is developing nuclear bombs (and both countries are in a stronger position than when he took office), who has found a way to transfer the tax burden onto middle and working-class Americans while enriching the superwealthy overlord class and corporations at a rate not seen in American history, who got this moribund sitting Congress to sign off a bill affording him and the Vice President the right to detain citizens and anyone else without due process, torture them, and so on, suspending habeas corpus, indefinitely. Oh, and on that same day, he also signed another very disturbing bill that allows him even greater power to nationalize the National Guard and station them on US territory. Yes he did. So really, who's even mildly suprised by this CIA revelation? One can only imagine how much worse it will all turn out to be when the rest of the rocks are turned over.

William Jefferson, who is facing charges of bribery, could not eke out a victory in his Louisiana House race, so he'll face fellow Democrat Karen Carter in a runoff. It's clear to me that everyone who can should help Carter out; Jefferson would probably appreciate having as much time with his legal support as possible, rather than being ignominiously convicted, like Bob Ney, while a sitting legislator.

The multiply adultering, sleazebag-connected, bad-judgment marked racist Rudy Giuliani has officially decided he wants to be president. Given that he'll have to pass through the burning-crap lined ring of the Southern, Talevangelist-dominated Republican Party, I don't think he has a chance in hell. But hey, George W. Bush got elected twice selected and elected, so anything is possible.

On yet another completely note, RIP artist Benny Andrews and journalis, critic, activist and scholar Ellen Willis.

The New York Times's Holland Cotter rhapsodizes on a David Hammons show at the Jack Tilton Gallery. Although Hammons's work can easily provoke ecstatic responses, one reason behind Cotter's enthusiasm is that it isn't only a Hammons show, but opens a window onto the rarely explored Los Angeles-based Assemblage movement, which included now acclaimed artists like Melvin Edwards and Betye Saar. It closes on November 22, and Cotter says it's not to be missed.

The Times is on a roll: Larry Rohter profiles Brazilian singer Marisa Monte (I love the pronunciation of her name, Ma-HEE-za MONCH-h), who's probably best known in the US as a member of "Os Tribalistas," the group featuring Timbalada star Carlinhos Brown that had some breakout hits a few years ago. The first time C. and I went to Brazil, I asked one of the people in a record store in Rio to pick out several really excellent CDs that I porobably would find in the US. The guy selected Bebel Gilberto's first album, which became a hit, and Monte's Barulinho Bom, which it took me a while to listen to but which I fell in love with. Now she's finally getting more international play. The guy had great taste and she's definitely worth listening to.

John Hope Franklin, the dean and doyen of African-American historians, and Yu Ying-Shih, a retired professor of intellectual history and Chinese studies at Princeton University, are co-recipients of the $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity. I'm not familiar with Yu's work at all, but Franklin's landmark scholarship helped to create a new field, and has continued to contribute through an array of projects, including his memoir of a few years ago. It has also been essential for my own intellectual development. Congratulations to both of them!

There's a new TV show starring Taye Diggs. That alone is enough to make me type this sentence and the prior one; watch it, I'm not so sure. I did watch tonight's Dancing with the Stars, which featured former Dallas Cowboys superstar Emmitt Smith and actor Mario López, both accompanied by professional dancers, in the finals. Was anyone watching this really interested in the dancing?