Saturday, May 31, 2008


I'm traveling, so here are a few photos (all cellphone camera) from the last couple months.

George Ayala (whom I hadn't seen in over 10 years, I think) and Pato Hebert at their panel discussion, Race Sex Power Conference, Chicago

Street performer, Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Southern Illinois sunset

Leaving Saint Louis (again)

Chicago skyline, blurry style

Geese on the university's lagoon

Gas in Chicago (another reason not to drive)

A flyer from a recent panel I participated on, with three very dazzlingly brilliant people, Daphne Brooks of Princeton, and my university colleagues Barnor Hesse and Alex Weheliye

The Chicago River, from Wacker Drive, Memorial Day weekend

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Libertarians & Greens + Obama, Behavioralist + Brotha Love

This is really shaping up to be a fascinating political season. Yesterday, former Republican Congressman, Clinton impeacher and grade-A hypocrite Bob Barr gained the nomination of the Libertarian Party. Today, it appears former Democratic Congresswoman and Bush-administration critiquer Cynthia McKinney has enough support to become the Green Party's presidential candidate. (Does this mean no Nader?) In the case of Barr, it might spell danger for Republican nominee John McCain in some Southern and Western states, while McKinney is sure to draw votes away from Obama in California and the Northeast.

One question to consider will be who will siphon off more votes from the main parties' candidates, particularly in the swing states? Also, will Barr be able to push McCain further to the right to hold onto to the GOP's traditional constituencies, or will he help define him as more moderate, the narrative the media are determined to convey? I doubt McKinney will have any effect on Obama's policies, but it would be great if she could effect a more progressive approach, particularly on economic issues.

Nevertheless, there'll be two more candidates, neither of them viable, but both of whom will appeal to pockets within both of the two main parties' supporters. Then there's always the indefatigable Ralph Nader and the irrepressible Ron Paul...and maybe even Hillary Clinton (would you be surprised?)!


Speaking of Obama's economic plans and perspective, in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, John Cassidy explores the presumptive Democratic nominee's links to economic behavioralism, another "third way" between (or amid) conservatism and contemporary liberalism and neo-liberalism. Two of the major theorists whose ideas underpin many of Obama's policies, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, promote an approach they call "libertarian paternalism," or "nudging" people to make better choices, since the insights of behavioral economics has undermined the rationalist orthodoxy that mainstream economics and economists have taken as a matter of faith. "Libertarian paternalism" sounds awful to my ears, and while it's a clunker of a name, it also, if accurately described by Cassidy, is too incremental and inadequate to address the array of social, political and economic problems, domestic and global, that we face. What it certainly is not is the progressive approach some have projected onto Obama. Cassidy ends his article thus:

But for what policy purposes are the masses to be mobilized? According to Obama's program, the answers include another middle-class tax cut; more tax credits for education and fuel-efficient cars; a bigger budget for the National Science Foundation; and the establishment of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, with an annual budget of $6 billion. At best, these proposals would represent a useful start in redressing the inequities and shortcomings produced by twenty-five years of Republican domination. If the next Democratic president wants to leave a truly lasting legacy, he or she will have to do more than nudge the country in a different direction.

It's something to consider, lest people's unreal expectations be dashed, swiftly come January, against the shoals of reality.


On a more mundane plane, here's a tidbit about the Senator's Lefthand Man: truly a "Brotha Love." (Just hold the mayonnaise!) Don't get jealous, now....

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Clintons-Macbeths

In response to some of the recent events in the Democratic primary campaign, I sent the following quotes to a dear friend of mine, a retired married woman who lives on the East Coast and is supporting Barack Obama's candidacy. Back in the 1990s, I first jokingly raised the analogy of the Clintons and the Macbeths; I don't claim any originality for it since I would imagine Shakespearean scholars, students and enthusiasts could find analogies for almost anyone and anything in the rich trove of his collected works. Part of what motivated it was an annoyance at something the Clintons, whom I admire but also consider to be one of the most ruthless duos on the political horizon, had done, and part of it was my ongoing fascination with Shakespeare's play, whose drama, structure and language never fail to enthrall me. (I feel the same way about Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, Richard II, and a number of his other works.)

I still would argue that mapping the Shakespearean principals onto the junior Senator and her husband, the former President, is problematic, but I also think that one could very well pull all sorts of passages out of that place to describe some of their (behavior). So here goes (the act and scene are given in parentheses at the end of each quote):

Lady Macbeth:
(Speaking to Macbeth/Bill, but also speaking of her own ambition)
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win: thou'ldst have, great Glamis,
That which cries 'Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
And that which rather thou dost fear to do
Than wishest should be undone.' Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round. (1.5)

Lady Macbeth:
(Calling for the courage to carry out the drugging, so that Macbeth/Bill may do their enemies in)
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!' (1.5)

Lady Macbeth:
(After reading a letter/email from Macbeth/Bill, exciting her to visions of power)
Thy letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now
The future in the instant. (1.5)

Lady Macbeth:
(Talking to Macbeth/Bill about what they'll do to poor Duncan/Obama or anyone else who ends up in their lair)
O, never
Shall sun that morrow see!
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't. He that's coming
Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night's great business into my dispatch;
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom. (1.5)

Lady Macbeth:
(Her sheer ruthlessness, laid bare)
Only look up clear;
To alter favour ever is to fear:
Leave all the rest to me. (1.5)

(Her ambivalent husband, describing his feelings about the matter)
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips. ...
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other. (1.7)

Lady Macbeth:
(Speaking to Macbeth/Bill, urging him, as she will, to go on)
We fail!
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail. (1.7)

Lady Macbeth:
(Her general principle)
Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content:
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. (3.2)

Now after reading those excerpts, don't you want to go see the play performed? Admit it!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vile Bellow + Roiling Rhetoric/Obamaphobia + Manchester United Wins

I actually had to laugh at this dithyramb to one of the most overtly reactionary, yet critically praised US novels of the 20th century. Do you know which one I'm talking about? If not, it's Mr. Sammler's Planet, Saul Bellow's relentlessly grim, culturally pessimistic rant, a toxic abyss of fear, anxiety, loathing and hate whose discourse wouldn't be out of place in a volume by Spengler or Weininger, a cobbled-together brew of skewed Platonism and Niezschism, whose objects of hatred and disgust are women (naturally) and Negroes (ibid.), and whose climax involves a scene that has few peers in American literature: a tall, smartly dressed, anarchic and diabolical black thief, or, as Bellow describes him, an "African prince or great black beast . . . seeking whom he might devour," whom the helpless Mr. Sammler has been observing manipulating and robbing poor white bus riders, many of them elderly, over a series of weeks. This embodiment of the racist and sexist unrepressed corners poor Sammler and, in an apotheosis of countless repellant fantasies and nightmares, doesn't stab or shoot or bludgeon him; he flashes him with a large, black, uncut penis, before tucking it away and fleeing.

The novel, a transcript of racist, misgonyistic and classist panic and social declinism, has to be read to be believed--for a copy go to the library, please, don't patronize the Bellow estate on this one--and you may draw your own conclusions, but really, it's so over the top that whenever I read someone lauding--and this reviewer goes so far as to claim that the "black" crime wave of the 1970s and 1980s, attributable to the Enlightenment (I kid you not!), liberalism, etc., and not the particular socioeconomic and political conditions of that era, approximated the terror of the Nazi Holocaust!-- it for any reason other than the felicities of Bellow's prose and his materialist prescience, alarm bells go off concerning the reviewer. In this case, I consider the source. But I also say, if someone suggests to you that racism ended long ago or, despite the many cases studies available even in just the current presidential campaign, do point them in the direction of Magnet's review. I can think of several German publications from the late 1930s in which it would fit without much trouble, just as there are a number of "mainstream" news organs today where it wouldn't be out of place. I'm just surprised it hasn't been elevated to canonical status by the far and neocon right, but then again, I guess there's always time, especially when Obama is elected President. I doubt Magnet and his clique will worry about carrying it around in brown paper covers then.


Speaking of similar rants, this is another gem that you might almost think was an Onion piece, though it's clearly in keeping with the widespread rhetoric on display these days. (In addition to being a homophobe, she also doesn't have a high opinion of...women!) But then, Pat Buchanan (whom I used to call "Putzi" when he was running for office some years ago and giving his Enoch Powell-esque speeches, which, as some wag once noted, were "better in the original German") is a regular "mainstream" commenter on multiple MSNBC shows, so what do I know? I mean, this is a man who, as a colleague noted, uttered the other night without shame or irony hat voters chose Hillary Clinton because she was one of "us," rather than Obama, who was one of "them." Does it get any more volkisch than that?

OBAMAPHOBIA 3.0 (Obama as "Apostate"--Again)
And we ignore this sort of smear at our peril. This is attempt no. 2. The first was in the New York Times, while this one is in the Christian Science Monitor. (This article is now linked all over the web, to blogs, right-wing sites, you name it. That's the point. Is it psy ops or white ops?) Not Fox News, not the Washington Times, not some right-wing rag. That's the point. By printing trash like this in "mainstream," "establishment" publications, no matter how utterly trash it is, the trash gets legitimated.

When the swiftboating begins in earnest, please don't say it took you by surprise. They have been laying the groundwork for over a year.


Au revoir, Florent!


Manchester United defeated Chelsea 1-1 on penalty kicks
in this year's European Championships. I didn't have a favorite in this contest, being an Arsenal fan. Here are some photos. From the London Times Online:

Christiano Ronaldo scores for Manchester United
Christiano Ronaldo heads the opening goal for Manchester United (Graham Hughes/The Times)
Frank Lampard scores for Chelsea
The effort from Frank Lampard hits the back of the Manchester United net (Marc Aspland/The Times)
Manchester United players mob goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar after his save wins them the Champions League
Manchester United players mob goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar after his save wins them the Champions League (Graham Hughes/The Times)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quote: Ray Johnson

"May 30, 1973
Dear Michael,
We heard a rumor that the New York Corres-sponge
Dance School of Vancouver drowned.
The floor of my VW now has been leopard-covered.
Lucy Lippard's kid shoots caps.
New York Crap school.
Pat Loud will be here in July.
Pat Oldenburg has a darling boyfriend.
Pat Ast is quite a clown.
Felix Private Partz's teeth.
I think the Grand Jatte item is choice.
Love and kisses,
Sid and Ethyl"

from Ray Johnson: How Sad I am Today..., Vancouver: Morris/Travos Archive and Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 1995.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday Musings

Another busy week, but the quarter is nearly over, my second-to-last big reading responsibility now done, and only various exams to participate in or administer. As for the big class, three more class meetings, and three more authors to discuss: Donald Barthelme ("The Glass Mountain"), Theresa Ha Kyung Cha (Dictee), and Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)--and the huge theoretical concept of post-modernity/post-modernism, which, when I drew a schematic of it on the board on Monday, drew thanks from several of the TAs.

I also went to two talks, my colleague Evan Mwangi's penetrating discussion of Ngugi's Maitagari on Monday, which led to a conversation about translation, local languages, and Kenyan censorship of Gikuyu texts versus their English versions; and then tonight a presentation on the legacy of Aimé Césaire, led by colleague John Márquez and featuring Aaron Kamugisha, Paul Breslin, Doris Garraway, and Barnor Hesse. Brilliant people, to put it simply, speaking with cogency and subtlety about a brilliant man. (Did you know that Discourse on Colonialism was one of the leading political texts of the 20th century? If you didn't or doubt it, I know Hesse can convince you.)

I may try to say more about both events soon, but tomorrow I'm on a panel with another brilliant colleague from my department, Alex Weheliye, in conversation with Daphne Brooks, from Princeton. We'll be taking part in a discussion on African American Studies and the disciplines, with this one being English and American literary and cultural studies.


The news of Teddy Kennedy's malignant brain tumor really saddens me. I know things look grim and it's too early to start memorializing him, so let me just say that I am glad I did once have an opportunity to vote for him, back in 1988, when he ran against Joe Malone, though one of my favorite memories of him was from 1994, when we'd moved from Massachusetts, and Kennedy, again up for reelection, faced a younger Mitt Romney. C-SPAN televised one of the debates that took place in downtown Boston, and we sat cheering, many states away, as Kennedy argued rings around Romney. The TV audience was cheering and applauding so much it sounded like a revival. Of course he won that election, as he has every one since 1962, when he assumed the Senate seat his brother had held before his election (and which a family friend, Benjamin Smith, kept warm for two years). It'll be hard to imagine a US Senate without Teddy Kennedy--but then I said I ought not start memorializing him now, and I won't.


What you reap, you sow. In many cases. In big-league global publishing, this is an old and bleak story, told quite succinctly and with brio by André Schiffrin, and it has yet to get any better or less ridiculous. Out with hatchet man Peter Olson, in with...

New Head of Random Comes from Bertelsmann Printing Unit May 20, 2008
Bertelsmann is appointing the head of its worldwide printing operations to replace Peter Olson at Random House, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Markus Dohle, 39, who heads Arvato Print, one of Bertelsmann's most profitable units, is described as "entrepreneurial" and has helped Arvato expand into such unrelated businesses as repairing cell phones, storing pharmaceuticals and running call centers and billing systems, the paper said. Dohle has a degree in industrial engineering and economics from a German university and has no publishing experience.

Hartmut Ostrowski, who became Bertelsmann's CEO at the beginning of the year, headed Arvato for five years and has "vowed to shake up [Bertelsmann's] slow-growing businesses." In the past year, Random sales fell 6% and operating profit was down 5%. Random represented 10% of Bertelsmann's sales and operating profit last year.

Olson blamed the depressed numbers on a lack of megasellers last year. This year already looks brighter: Barbara Walters's memoir, Audition, has a million copies in print already and forthcoming titles include a new novel by Christopher Paolini and a biography of Warren Buffett.

Ostrowski has said that he wants other parts of Bertelsmann, including Random House, to diversify as Arvato did. According to the Journal, "an area of interest" for Random is educational services.

Now don't you think this news will make Random House's editors, authors, and readers feel a lot more secure? Call centers, Buffett bios, "educational services".... (H/T Lisa Moore).


This is one of the snarkier obituaries I've read in a while. A name I vaguely recalled from childhood, he's probably totally forgotten now. (His white elephant of a personal monument, because rich people still have the power to commemorate themselves as they see fit, no matter how ridiculous the results, however, has been radically transformed.) That still wasn't enough for the New York Times's obituary writer to serve up a dose of corrosive Schadenfreude. Read it, you won't be bored.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


There's nothing like sitting for 3 hours (or more) in an airport terminal, amid frustrated and anxious fellow passengers, inhaling recycled air and countless illnesses, while munching on a stale sandwich and drinking water that tastes like it was drawn from a sump pump, wondering if your plane is going to arrive from another city so that it can take off and get you where you'd hoped to be 3 hours ago, is there? As one of my recent students used to say all the time, echoing a phrase I would frequently hear a decade ago, good times, good times.


According to Poblano's site, 538, the person below currently matches up very well against both of the Democratic candidates, the presumptive nominee and his challenger, in the 2008 presidential race. That this is even vaguely possible gives me a headache, but as Mencken said and thousands have quoted since, as I'm doing now, never underestimate the stupidity of the American people, and I would, the ignorance, collusion and indifference of the establishment media. The person below would not know the truth if it slapped him in the face. So, my friends, here is Robert Greenwald doing the media's job, and engaging in a little enlightening, for all of us. Do pass the video on to others, at your earliest convenience.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

IDAHO: A Brief Interview with Louis-Georges Tin

Today, May 17, is International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the one day specifically set aside every year to combat the global scourge of homophobia in its many forms. Louis-Georges Tin, an impressive young writer and academic, established IDAHO in 2004, and four years later, May 17 events dedicated to addressing the problem are taking place across the world.

You can learn quite a bit about IDAHO by visiting their site, which includes commentary, links and updates on IDAHO events in various countries on the IDAHO website.

In 2006, I briefly interviewed Tin via email, and here's the bulk of that interview (which I've translated from original French).

AN INTERVIEW WITH LOUIS-GEORGE TIN, FOUNDER OF INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA (IDAHO) - SUMMER 2006 years ago, a young, Black gay French scholar and activist started what has since become one of the most important global efforts against homophobia. May 17, International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which organizations in over 60 countries now recognize and participate in, was the brainchild of Louis-George Tin (right, Patrick745, a 32-year-old university professor and author who was born in Martinique and now resides in Paris. It grew out of one of Tin's prior projects, the Dictionary of Homophobia, an authoritative compendium he edited which maps the history and theoretical discourses of an issue that remains central to the understanding of the concept of homosexuality. Recently I conducted an email interview with Tin to learn more about IDAHO, other projects he's worked on, and his thoughts about the experiences of Black gays in France.

Q: To start off by telling me some things about yourself. When did your activism in LGBT issues begin?

A: I'm 32 years old, I was born in Martinique, in the French Antilles, where I grew up until the age of 17. My parents, retired today, were both teachers at the Rivière-Salée College, my native town. I studied in Paris, at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS), and wrote a thesis on French literature. I live in Paris, and am now a university teacher, but the essence of my activism resides in my militant fight against homophobia and racism.

My first militant activities go back to the period when I was a student at the ENS. Despite the unyielding opposition of the school's administration, in 1997 I had created Homonormalités (Homonormalities), a gay and lesbian student organization. We organized parties, film screenings, debates, and conferences. I took my first steps there: I was initiated at that time into gay and lesbian studies and to LGBT militancy.

Q: In 2003, you published the Dictionary of Homophobia. What was your aim with this work?

A: The debates on same-sex couples in France provoked an avalanche of homophobic discourse, and I resolved to respond to this violence through a rational discourse, which attempted to deconstruct what centuries of history had little by little constructed. The essence of my reflection lies in this affirmation: the problem is not homosexuality, it's homophobia. It is an epistemological reversal that is also political.

Out of this arose the idea that led me to edit the Dictionary of Homophobia, a collective work comprising 75 researchers from 15 different countries, and published in 2003 by University Presses of France. For me it was a question for me of exploring homophobia in the world, across well-known theoretical systems (theology, medicine, etc.), recurrent themes (abnormal, proselytization, etc.), implicated institutions (school, army, etc.), famous victims or homophobes (Oscar Wilde, Himmler), and diverse regions of the world. It turned on the idea of a work that was at the same time scientific and militant. Apart from the dictionary form, and the choice of a dedicated editor, it was an issue also of giving the battle against homophobia intellectual and political legitimacy that was still lacking in France.

Q: How would you describe in brief the origins of IDAHO? How did you go forward in creating this World Day of fighting against homophobia?

A: The World Day Against Homophobia is, to be sure, the extension of the Dictionary of Homophobia. For me it's a matter of transforming theoretical reflection into practice, practically stated. I have mobilized international contacts whom I could call upon to launch this idea and to put it into play. In each country, there is one person or a group of people, IDAHO correspondents, charged with disseminating the campaign and coordinating actions, in whatever form they take: debates, shows, film screenings, street presentations, strikes, ceremonies, etc.

The interest in the World Day is precisely what puts the emphasis not on homosexuality, but on homophobia. That's not a big issue, but it changes a lot of things. It's not up to gays and lesbians to justify their homosexuality, it's now up to homophobes to justify their attitude towards them. What's reversed is the charge of the argument. Speaking of homophobia or of homosexuality, it's little bit of speaking of the same thing. But it's saying it in a different manner, and often more effectively.

It's why, in the numerous countries where it would seem impossible to organize a gay pride, it remains possible to organize marches against homophobia. And it's in some of these where this is happening. At the same time, a professor would be able with difficult to bring his students to Gay Pride, but he could by every measure tell them today, it's the Day against Homophobia. Within the framework of our courses in history, literature or biology, we'll be able to speak of this question. In addition, the theme for IDAHO 2007 is "No to homophobia, yes to education." The World Day thus has a pedagogical and political function.

Q: How have people responded in France? How have the government and LGBT organizations responded? Have they welcomed your new effort against this social problem? What was the response among academics? When did other countries and foreign groups join and link to you? Did you contact them? How many countries have become affiliated now with IDAHO?

A: On the whole, the reception has been very positive. All the parties on the right have supported the initiative, and the first minister, who's on the right, has promised to write this Day into the official agenda of the French Republic. Organizations have responded equally well. Since the first year, there have been more than 100 diverse actions in France organized in more than 20 cities across the entire country.

I've established a few contacts everywhere in the world, and the World Day of Battle against Homophobia is today recognized officially in the European Parliament. During the first year, in 2004, it was celebrated in 40 countries, and in 2005, it led to actions in more than 50 countries, from Canada to India, as well as Peru, Ghana, Lebanon, and Russia. Notably, at the time of the World Day in 2004, the first public LGBT rallies ever were organized in Bulgaria, Ivory Coast, and China. Feeling integrated in an international network of solidarity, the activists from these countries have surmounted their reticence, and they have decided to jump over a step on the occasion of the World Day in organizing diverse events which have been very well received. These are historic advances, and we are very happy to have contributed to this dynamic.

In a recent press release Matt Foreman, the director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has declared that his organization was ready to conduct the 2007 IDAHO campaign in the United States, which seemed excellent news.

Q: What do you foresee as the future of this important day? What do your thoughts about it in relation to the battle against homophobia around the world?

A: Right now, our principal project concerns the IDAHO resolution which will be proposed to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations: it would permit the decriminalization of homosexuality, which remains a "crime" or an "offense" in 75 states in the world. The resolution is supported by organizations such as the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights, the European Parliament Gay and Lesbian Intergroup, the International Union of Socialist Youth, the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Federation of Spanish Homosexual Associations, and by personalities such as Jack Lang (former French minister of culture), Michael Cashman (Eurodeputy), Sophie In't Veld (Eurodeputy), Edmund White (American writer), among others.

This campaign benefits from a favorable precedent: the matter of Nicholas Toonen v. Australia, which would became jurisprudence. In effect, on April 4, 1994, the Human Rights Commission ruled in favor of M. Toonen, who had been condemned for homosexual relations in Tasmania. The commission judged that the Tasmanian law contravened the fundamental liberties guaranteed by international conventions, notably in terms of the respect to private life; after that, the legislation had to evolve in Tasmania. Given this history, the aim is to extend this UN jurisprudence to other countries in the world which still penalize homosexuality.

This battle will be led to the UN, and the international petition which accompanies it will be signable on our site beginning in the month of November. I sincerely believe that this campaign can be led with success. I also believe that it's a fundamental battle for liberty, and I'm ready to get involved to the very end.

Q: I know that last fall you also founded an organization to link all the black associations in France, the Representative Council of Black Associations [Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires – CRAN], which held its first convention earlier this year, bringing together more than 2000 people from across France. How did CRAN begin?

A: CRAN was launched in November 2005. It brings together more than a thousand organizations across France. An incredible thing, to consider that until then, there didn't exist a federation bringing together Black organizations in this country. Black people didn't know how to make ourselves heard, and no one hardly wanted to hear us, so it was really necessary to acknowledge it. It's in order to right this situation that we created CRAN, for which I am in effect the spokesperson.

Q: What are the goals of the black network that you founded? How do you think this network can affect or change the situation of racism in France? What's currently happening with CRAN?

A: Certain of our claims concern the past, and others the future. For what's in the past, it's an issue of facilitating a better knowledge of colonization, of slavery, of immigration, a great many subjects that the French know nothing about, and don't want to know. The celebration of Napoleon continues, the "national hero," and what's ignored actively is that he also reestablished slavery. 2 French out of 3 continue to think that colonization was a good thing. The contribution of African troops during the Second World War is always ignored and since then, people still refuse to pay the basic pension to the survivors of the former soldiers!

With regard to the future, it's a question of fighting against discrimination, whose racial characteristic is largely hidden in France. Whether it concerns employment, lodgings, or school, there is no program for equal opportunities, for positive discrimination, and it's not really known how many Blacks there are in the country, because ethnic statistics are forbidden. France wants to see itself as the country of the Rights of Man, but this clever propaganda need not create an illusion. France pretends to be blind on race, but above all she's blind on racism!

Q: In the US, there are black LGBT people for whom "gay" culture in general (one speaks of "mainstream gay culture") is alienating. They see it as a "white" thing. Thus, they've formed a parallel black gay culture, with different language, a style and practice well sustained by African-American experience. How would you describe the life of black gays in France? Are they well integrated? Are they visible or invisible, and is it an issue of the problem of racism in general? How should one speak of this situation? Are there black LGBT groups in France? How do they relate to black groups in general?

A: One cannot truly say that there's a Black LGBT community in France. French Black people come from countries in Africa where homosexuality is penalized, or from the Outre-mer [non-continental] departments, where homosexuality is completely taboo. That hardly permits the development of any sort of black queer culture. That said, in 2004, I founded An Nou Allé, the Association of Black homosexuals in France. It's a little organization, but it engages in political lobbying to denounce social homophobia in the Antilles and Africa, and to denounce at the same time the passivity, even the complicity of the French authorities in certain cases.

Q: Now, one sees the current riots [2006] and those of last year in the banlieue, and one supposes that racial and ethnic inequalities, in a system that speaks of a society without divisions of identity and differences, a system so to speak "neutral" with regard to race and sexuality, are central to the problem. But in your life and career, you've represented this nexus and defied the idea that one cannot speak of differences. You've experienced racism, right? Can you tell me a little more about this idea?

A: Some examples? Unfortunately, I have some to give you. I will begin with the first in my university career. Being at the ENS, I wanted to do my masters on Black literature, Senghor or Césaire for example. I asked my tutorial leader for advice. In order to not influence me too much, she decided to consult all her colleagues and ultimately give me their collective response. A week later, she came back to me saying: "All my colleagues are in agreement with me. If you work on this subject, it's professional suicide. The better thing would be to work on a more classical subject, and when you are around 40 or 50 years old, only when you have your post at the Sorbonne, will you be able to do what you like!"

The worst is that this is the position of the social politics of the French university; she was right. Well, then take gay and lesbian studies. When I published the Dictionary of Homophobia, the reactions I encountered were very harsh, and my university career has simply been stopped. I'll pass on telling you all the details, but yes, it's true. This work, it was veritable "professional suicide" as I'd been told. But I regret nothing. I know that often stuns people here in France. Nevertheless, that's how it is. But I didn't drop my fists. I continue the battle… More than ever before!

Copyright © John Keene, 2006-2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

California Rules + RIP Reginald Lockett & Robert Rauschenberg

I'm traveling this weekend, so I'm only able to post intermittently, but I just wanted to note the California Supreme Court's recemt ruling, which validated the possibility of same-sex marriage in the Golden State. Or, to quote the Los Angeles Times,

The 4-3 ruling declared that the state Constitution protects a fundamental "right to marry" that extends equally to same-sex couples. It tossed a highly emotional issue into the election year while opening the way for tens of thousands of gay people to wed in California, starting as early as mid-June.

This is huge news. With a population larger than many countries and a history as a pacesetter (cf. Massachusetts as well), the California ruling, if ratified by the legislature and citizenry, may have a huge impact on the fortunes of same-sex marriage in this country. One thing I'd also note is that now that New York's highest state court has ruled that the Empire State can recognize same-sex marriages from other venues, New York could soon be full of same-sex couples as well, and Governor Paterson would probably sign same-sex marriage legislation, so....


I just learned that poet Reginald Lockett has just passed away. For years I only knew him based on his poem "Die Black Pervert," from his early Black Arts Days, which left a bad taste in my mouth, but I later got to know his work more broadly through Cave Canem, and even met him personally two years ago at the Harlem Book Fair.

Reading his work and his messages to the listserv, and seeing what he was up to in with his art, I came to admire him a great deal.

I'm very sorry to hear that he's no longer with us. RIP, Reginald.

Reginald Lockett, at the Harlem Book Fair, Summer 2006

Chris called to ask if I'd heard Robert Rauschenberg passed away. I saw the New York Times's obituary, as well as a few others, and realized that an era had passed. He was one of those icons of post-Abstract Expressionist, pre-Pop art, a signal figure of the 1950s and 1960s, and one of the great exemplars of negative capability, an experimentalist whose wide-ranging work sometimes pushed to the very limits of the banal while often achieving something novel and remarkable. And, in the deep sense of the term, post-modern.

From his monochromes to his combines to the iconic Bed to the rubbings to works such as Rebus, he was also an important leader in cementing the centrality of American art in global art world, as well as in the queering of visual, sculptural and performance art's possibilities in the post-war American art scene, along with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and his former partner, Jasper Johns. He kept at it until relatively recently, and passed away at his home in Captiva, Florida. RIP, Robert Rauschenberg.


Part of downtown North Adams, Massachusetts, with Mass MOCA in the background

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nuruddin Farah in Evanston + Rey Andújar's Candela Is Out

Last night, I finally got to meet and hear Nuruddin Farah (1945-, at left), one of the most important African novelists and perhaps Somalia's best known author, read from his work.

I almost had the opportunity to meet him back in 2001, when we happened to be staying at the same guest house, but my schedule didn't fully coincide with his, and so it didn't happen. Then we'd talked about bringing him to the university, and I'd even gotten his email from a former colleague, but things didn't work out. So I was elated when Reg Gibbons sent along an email to say that Farah would be in town to promote his newest novel, Knots (Penguin, 2007).

Knots, Farah's 10th novel overall, is the second book in his third, unnamed trilogy, and follows Links (2004). The previous trilogies are Variations on the Theme of An African Dictatorship, which includes the volumes Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), Sardines (1981), and Close Sesame (1983); and Blood in the Sun, which includes the remarkable Maps (1986), which was the first volume of his I'd read, Gifts (1993), and Secrets (1998). He was visiting from Cape Town, where he now lives, and he made it clear that he didn't want to discuss politics--though he was perfectly willing to--but rather the work, his work, itself.

He read a sliver from Knots, which I haven't yet perused, but I was struck by one of the first things he said, which was that the name of the protagonist, Cambara, was pronounced "Ambara," a name akin to its Arab cognate, and "amber." The C was silent. Not that I know anything about Somali or any other North African language, but a silent initial "c" did make me sit up. The section concerned Cambara's return to her family's house in Mogadishu (which he spells in the Italian fashion, Mogadiscio), which was now occupied by another family. There was enough suspense to make me want to read more, though Farah's voice and intonation had the effect of lulling me, even though the prose itself wasn't really incantatory. It was almost as if I were listening to an elder and what he was saying was less important than that I was listening. I usually don't have this experience at readings, even by elders, so I did jot it down.

In the Q&A session, people did raise questions relating to his work and life. I asked about the trilogies and how he conceptualized them, whether it was as a whole, in advance, or whether--though I didn't put it so adroitly--he produced them in a more exploratory manner. He talked about ambition, compared himself to a sprinter rather than a marathoner--though 10 novels is close to marathon level, no? He added a bit more, but again, I found his net of words casting a little spell, so I was registering less what he said than the fact that he was saying it. Some other points he made during the discussion were that he was a professional novelist, and not at academic (any more), so he was able to produce work fairly quickly; 5 months, I believe he said, for Knots. (I'd take the 5 year plan!) The only thing he needed, he added, was "time and a quiet place." What novelist doesn't? He stated that his novels were in a conversation with readers and other novels, not only from Africa, but across the globe and history. In fact, he suggested that "quietness, time and a newspaper 50 days old" would do the trick.

When asked about inspiration, he returned to the notion that his reading was broad, which led him to criticize the vast majority of American literature, which he claimed was driven by commerce. But then he raised another question, which was what from any era would last; much of what was being acclaimed now, he posited, wouldn't, and he included his own books. He then spoke about Shakespeare in relation to a call years ago for Africans to read African writers, and pointed out that Shakespeare's territory was broad, like Achebe's, Dante's, and some other writers. It went far beyond the little island the size of a "tissue" (was that the metaphor, or was it "napkin"?). True, true. Returning to inspiration, Maps, I believe he said, had been inspired by Camara Laye's The African Child--a novel I haven't read, though I have read the exquisite The Radiance of the Prince--while Links was sparked in part by George H. W. Bush's follies in Somalia, which the former president had characterized under the rubric of "doing good" and "the work of God." Well, we recall where that led...and now the US is back in Somalia, under the guise of the Ethiopian military, battling alleged Islamic militants it claims are allied to Al Qaeda.... Through the Q&QA, he was suitably resinous, or rather, he wasn't giving too much quarter, though he did answer the questions eagerly. Then he concluded the event with the opening chapter from Maps, which famously unfolds in the second person. This time I heard every word he uttered. I was glad I'd been able to make it, and afterwards, like a schoolboy, I got his autograph. I also think that between Reg, me, and several other colleagues, we'll get him to campus this time.


Young Dominican powerhouse writer Rey Emmanuel Andújar has sent word that his new book, Candela (Alfaguara), is now out. Here's the beautiful ad I received from him; he gave readings in Puerto Rico last week and on Monday.

A writeup of the novel is here. (According to the Cronica Digital article, the cover image below is titled "La Matinée" o "Desnudo con paraguas," by the highly regarded Puerto Rican painter Francisco Rodón. An Listín Diario interview with Andújar can be found here. (Both are in Spanish.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Obama-ana + A Little Baseball

More Obama, but a different tip: fivethirtyeight's Poblano has been producing some of the most accurate polls on the primary race. It looks very close, but according to Poblano, McCain right now is beating both Obama and Clinton in the overall race and state-by-state breakdowns. With increases in the percentage of black voters, pro-Obama latino voters, or younger voters, Obama could substantially increase his chances of winning the popular vote and the electoral college vote.


Then there's this article, by the Washington Post's Kevin Merida, on the racist abuse some of Obama's staffers have faced when campaigning for the Senator. Are you surprised? Are you also surprised that the establishment media will hardly report on this? I thought not....


The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby highlights two very good articles on Obama's and Clinton's supporters, one by Post reporter Darryl Fears (who does respond to email quickly, and is very polite), and one by the New York Times's former anti-Goreist, Katherine "Kit" Q. Seelye. He also critiques the ever-deplorable Richard Cohen, about whom the less said, the better.


Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Fausto Carmona reacts after throwing a complete game, 5-hit, 3-0 shutout over the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of their baseball double-header in Cleveland on Monday, May 12,  2008.  Shifting gears again, I am following the baseball season. The Cardinals are hovering near the top of their division, with the Chicago Cubs in first place and the Houston Astros close behind. The Milwaukee Brewers have also been decent enough. This was supposed to be Chicago's year, and the Cardinals were thought to be middling at best, but the young players, clustering around the club's lone star, Albert Pujols, have proved to be more than up to the challenge of keeping pace with the Cubs. The league's other top teams, the Florida Marlins (how having shed some of their best players do they do it?) and Arizona Diamondbacks, have similar records. The beauty-laden Mets have been a real disappointment. No hitting, spotty pitching, a general lackadaisical approach to their games.

In the AL, the team I'm watching is Cleveland, whose starting pitchers have thrown shutouts in at least 1/3rd of the team's games so far. In fact, they've thrown about 32 innings so far, with big, young righty Francisco Carmona (above, AP Amy Sancetta), throwing a complete game, 5-hit, 3-0 shutout in the first game of a double header yesterday against the Toronto Blue Jays, and CC Sabathia, last year's Cy Young winner, pitches tomorrow. Boston, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (when are they going to shed this tongue-freezer of a name?), and for a change, Baltimore (!) and Tampa Bay are among the best teams. The Yankees, in 4th place in their division, aren't so far off the lead, but they haven't looked like contenders at any point so far. Would Joe Torre not have at least gotten them to the same record?

Jumping back 40 years, here's a classic, the Cardinals' sublime Bob Gibson, striking out 17 batters to set a new World Series record, in the opening game of the 1968 World Series, against the Detroit Tigers (which Detroit won). That was the year Gibson posted his peerless 1.12 ERA, the lowest since the deadball era, and 13 shutouts. Watching him pitch this game, you see why; but how did he ever lose 9 games?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Obamaphobia x.0 + Disasters

I haven't posted on the US presidential campaign for a while, in part because a lot of other blogs are doing so and producing some excellent commentary, and because, to the extent possible, I have tried to avoid much of the establishment media's hideous coverage of it. (There is so much to say on this account that it would take several years' entries, as Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler makes clear.)

I did have to note, however, this radioactively hateful and ignorant Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, by a former Reagan administration official and neocon theorist named Edward Luttwak, that is akin to the sort of discourse I laid out last year in my post on Obamaphobia. In it, Luttwak insinuates that Obama is a Muslim (they will not let it go, people, they can't and won't) who has "converted" to Christianity, so he's now an apostate. As a result, the alleged positive reaction his election would receive in the Muslim world must be challenged on the bizarre grounds that in fact, as a said "apostate," he would the target of assassins following the dictates of Islamic jurisprudence, which Luttwak misreads to suggest that all who "convert" must be killed, and the killers would, again according to Luttwak's reading of Islamic law, remain unpunished. Thus, the governments of predominantly Islamic countries couldn't and wouldn't protect him, and thus he'd be worse than this president whose disastrous, ideologically laden bumbling Luttwak has praised for achieving a new Middle East.

Okay, did you get that? Luttwak states all of this without irony, humor (because when I first read it I had to check its dateline to make sure it wasn't supposed to be a late April Fool's post), or the least recognition of how offensive and hateful it all is, but I read it as yet another neocon attempt to inscribe within our public discourse--via The New York Times, no less--this viral meme and narrative that Obama is, despite all his protestations, a Muslim, exotic and alien, an exotic, unassimilable and unelectable Other, whom we should resign ourselves to as a potential murder target. Only in this case, it won't be crazy American racists trying to harm Obama; why, it'll be that undifferentiated mass of Muslims out there, according to Luttwak, who will do so. In fact, he won't be able to travel to any Muslim country as a result, which I guess will mean that he won't be able to improve things in the Muslim world as well as George Herbert Hoover W Decider has! And this from the man who wrote a blueprint for what's happened to our government these last 8 years, Coup d'État: A Practical Guide, in 1968.

On top of this vile crapola, there are the responses. Could someone tell me why it takes 17 until someone clearly states that Obama was not and has never been a Muslim? (Cf. "liberal" Maureen Dowd's own recent contribution to this genre.) I recognize that some posters may think that stating the obvious is unnecessary, but I also have a lingering feeling that more than a few people, at the back of their minds, continue to harbor this particular illusion. Not that there is anything wrong with being a Muslim, but here, the notion is being circulated and deployed with an overtly anti-Islamic, xenophobic aim. Luttwak's rather clumsy rhetorical gesture is to imply that "Muslim heritage" (?) equals being a Muslim, which would mean, broadly extrapolated, that a huge number of people of Spanish, Portuguese, and French descent, as well as anyone living in areas once ruled by Muslims (i.e., the Greeks, people of South Asia, Sephardic Jews, etc.) would also be captured in his problematic net. Only I don't think he's reasoned it this way. Because Muslim heritage means Obama's birth father, who left the faith before Obama was born...but you get the picture. I said this sort of thing was going to reappear in more outrageous forms, not merely from the GOP and its neocon annex, like Luttwak, but from the Republican-enabling ESTABLISHMENT MEDIA, and it's clear that we all need to be ready for and to challenge it.


Speaking of the toxic role of ideology, when combined with a natural disaster (cf. Hurricane Katrina), the situation in Burma/Myanmar is beyond tragic. In the midst of this horrific disaster, the military dictatorship there did manage to push through a vote to legitimate its power! As for the unfolding tragedy in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, how can you help?

I also heard today about the grim situation in China, whose poor, western Sichuan Province suffered a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake. So far 8,500+ people are presumed dead or injured. Beijing also suffered a tremor.

And yesterday I drove back from St. Louis, which suffered through thunderstorms for part of the weekend, but nothing like the storms and tornados that swept through southwestern Missouri, parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia, killed more than a dozen people.

What terrified me a little yesterday were the high winds sweeping across Interstate 55, particularly on those long stretches between the hills just across the river from St. Louis and the denser landscape outside Chicago. With no natural obstacles--no mounds, few hills, no woods, etc.--and vast acres of farmland, the wind was free to heave and shove, and my little sedan felt like it might blow off the road more than once. I also noticed much larger SUVs were also weaving and bobbing. I am a huge advocate of compressed air cars and lighter vehicles, but if they're ever going to be practical certain parts of the country, windbreaks or some other device will be necessary to prevent what could be lots of easily ditched or crushed (by semis and larger trucks) cars otherwise.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Emerging from the Canyons

More than a week has passed since I've last posted, so I thought I'd try a short entry here so that half of May didn't disappear before I returned to this page. Mostly it's been work--so much to read that I can't really focus on anything else, reading for all sorts of university-related student theses and final projects, programs, deadlines, etc., on top of which there's the lecture course, which, thankfully, spares me the necessity of reading the primary works (though rereading's required), but secondary critical texts are a necessity for those works (like Willa Cather's stories or Robert Lowell's poems, for example) for which I have not previously focused in my teaching or own critical work. Right now, I'm sitting at my mother's kitchen table, with nearly 20 stories to read through carefully for another required responsibility, and will get 20 more when I return to campus on Monday. I wish I could muster the mental agility to slip between these cordilleras of required reading and things like blogging, but I've found, at least of this past fall, when the mountains of work just kept rising like a volcanic cloud, that I couldn't. Well, summer will be here soon--my own work, and this blog, will see a bit more of me as a result.


One of the students who recently found the blog asked me if I was in New Jersey last week because of my post about the Princeton concert. I wasn't--I've been in Chicago (and this weekend, St. Louis) almost continuously for over a month now--but I did have the opportunity to hear the concert online, and here's what I wrote to Audiologo, whose pieces were superlative. (From my judging, and I'm not just being enthusiastic and celebratory.) I wrote about them:

I listened to the concert via streaming audio! It was so much fun to do so. I was trying to figure out whose pieces were which, since I must have missed the introduction, but the first piece sounded like a dance track [Timbaland Symphony, a mash up of various Timbaland produced cuts with Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which was a response to DJ Dangermouse]; the second a fairly straightforward performance of a classical instrumental score or a new score written in that format [Ravel's Sonatine (which was played marvelously by Francine Kay, also was the pianist on my piece) and you just got Andrea Mazzariello's fall down five times, get up six]; the third a duet (or were there more instruments?) involving a piano and cello (?), again fairly traditional [Shostakovich's Op. 20 piano trio and you only heard Anne Hege's Bedridden Fantasies]; and then I heard the final series of pieces Schubert's Der Doppelgänger], one of which included a performance of "Mary Mac," and then Aurora Micu singing "You are most beautiful," over the piano accompaniment and some electronic background material! Did I get this order correct? I also heard lots of talking between the first two main pieces and the latter two, so I kept hoping that someone would announce the pieces, but I really guessed I missed the intro. It was altogether really exciting, and your piece--and I'm not just saying this because I know you--struck me as the most inventive, daring and beautiful, especially when I considered what you took as your starting point. With the earlier instrumental pieces, I guess I was hoping to hear something more...complex? Something that synthesized some of the many 20th and 21st century strands of composition, non-electronic and electronic/digital. The first one did do this, of course, but yours felt especially fresh and engaging.
(Clarifications courtesy of Audiologo.) So I wasn't there in body, but virtually....

Dreaming on the transverse
retinas of our discourse
we transcribe through signs towards
the echoes of their singing...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Events Tonight

If you're in or around Princeton, check out Audiologo's event, which will be accessible via the Net as well:

• Thursday, May 1, 2008 •
Uncovering What Is Brave: 2008 Generals Concert
Taplin Auditorium
Fine Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ
8:00pm (live recording; seating until 8pm and during intermission only)

You Are Most Beautiful When... my live performance piece for the Composition Program's General Exams Concert. This concert promises to be a quite exciting affair, with each of us taking risks, and pushing forward our creativity with new works from my compatriot Graduate Fellows in Composition, Mark Dancigers, Anne Hege, and Andrea Mazzariello (as well as myself). Each of us has written work in response to a particular composer's work. My piece is a response to Der Doppelgänger by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) as performed by legendary contralto Marian Anderson and her long-time accompanist, pianist Franz Rupp. The theme of my response is gratitude, creative collaboration, and friendship, and features the "distinctive, rich, and compelling" voice of soprano Aurora Micu (replacing Boston Fielder), and the "...magical, something to celebrate..." pianist Francine Kay, along with other special virtual guests, and my first experimentation with a traditional libretto!

This is the second requirement of my 4-part General Exam. I hope to see you there!

For Directions to Princeton and information about parking (no campus parking permits required after 5pm, and meters are free after 7pm) and trains (NJTransit) check this link: visiting_the_campus

**Streaming Audio**
If you can't make it in person, you can access a streaming audio link via the main page of Music Department website: the link will become active on May 1st @ 8pm.

Performance order:
Mark Dancigers
Andrea Mazzariello
Anne Hege
MR Daniel

And if you're in New York City, from Khalil Jibade-Huffman:

(in conjunction with Xaviera Simmons' installation
[17 international artists transform a historical townhouse in Harlem
with site-specific artwork addressing the notion of Home]).

"Writing Home:
an evening with
Tisa Bryant and Christopher Stackhouse"

curated by Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Thursday, May 1st

764 St. Nicholas Ave. @ 148th St.
Harlem, New York
(A (express!),C,B, or D to 147th St. exit)

Project Homebase