Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bloomberg Will Win + Gates Arrest

David DinkinsWas it really 20 years ago that David Dinkins was elected New York's first, and so far only, black mayor? I listened to him chatting with Brian Lehrer on WNYC this morning, talking about his election and that era, when New York was shifting from the often dangerous and gritty but also very culturally exciting city it had been for more than a decade and a half into the increasingly prosperous, safe, museum-like, rich people-friendly (but economically teetering) metropolis it is today. (And to make it even more rich-people friendly, the city is currently shipping homeless families down South, to Paris, to Puerto Rico, to Johannesburg, anywhere but here. NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg has articulated it as simply as possible: "We love rich people.")

According to at least one poll that's been touted over the last few days, Mayor Bloomberg's 22-point lead has slipped to 10 points over Comptroller Bill Thompson. Were Thompson able to gain any traction and assemble anything close to Dinkins's original coalition, or to counter the cynicism that Bloomberg's imperial mayoralty has generated, he might squeak by. Yet nearly everyone I speak with assumes Thompson doesn't have a chance of winning, especially given Bloomberg's financial dominance and the lukewarm support from the White House (at this point should we be surprised that Barack Obama is backing a neoliberal over someone who is truly liberal?). As a result, I predict Bloomberg will probably get his third term, which he finagled from the appalling supine City Council, and many New Yorkers will just shrug and not blink an eye. The devil you know is better than...? And when you have vastly more money than anyone else around, you can usually get your way. Just ask Goldman Sachs.


I had been refraining from publicly commenting on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. incident or arrest for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I figured there'd be a lot more swift and penetrating online commentaries--from bloggers, not the legacy media, that is--than anything I might offer. I did respond to a few private queries to say that I immediately read it as another awful racist spectacle. (I mean, can anyone name any other Harvard professor--full professor, holding a chair, internationally known, etc.--who has been arrested after identifying himself or herself, in his home, in the over 350+ years of that university's existence?)

I added that the situation really did defied explanation and reconfirmed yet again that racism, even in one of the most liberal cities in the United States, is alive and well. Others have said as much, and have pointed out that racial profiling goes on 24/7/365; that countless men of color are arrested and jailed disproportionately; that we have a prison-industrial situation that is awry; that we do not live in a police state and no one should internalize authoritarianism nor be arrested for exercising her or his First Amendment rights; and, as Stanley Fish beautifully put it in a July New York Times blog post, this isn't the first time that Professor Gates has had to endure racist nonsense. Of course this prior history will be lost or ignored by the broader media. Whether we're talking about college professors or former National Security Advisors, he isn't the only one and, unfortunately, he won't be the last.

I also suggested to C that President Obama's response to Chicago Tribune reporter Lynn Sweet's question about the Gates imbroglio would be all the legacy media focused on over the next few days. Unfortunately they proved me right.

Gates's arrest reminded me a situation that a very dear friend of mine, no longer in academe, experienced shortly after he got his first teaching job. A young black man with a Ph.D. from one of the most prestigious universities, he took a job at a major urban research university that is known, as academic institutions go, for being pretty progressive. Yet within his first year of being hired, he was stopped several times by security guards who did not believe that he was a faculty member. Not that it matters, but he always carried himself professionally and found it very hard to accept that this occurred; when he asked colleagues if they had had similar experiences, they told him they hadn't. What made the situation really upsetting for him, and what we discussed more than once, was that he worried if he complained (he did, I believe) about this treatment that it might adversely affect him, particularly with the dean of his division, his senior colleagues, and perhaps the institution itself. The fear of being labeled a troublemaker, a whiner and complainer, too sensitive, "uppity" (as some called Obama before the election, and as many an outspoken person of color or woman has been called in the past), a "racist" (as Gates himself has now been labeled by people on the net and anonymous Net posters), and so on, were all things he feared, not because because he invested any of them with truth, but because he knew that others might, and that people experiencing the kind of profiling he was encountering had been so tagged, and saw their careers derailed, in the past. If I recall correctly, he received sympathetic responses from all quarters, and as it turned it, he left the institution before his tenure case came up. But I did think of this situation almost as soon as I'd heard about what Gates experienced.

It also made me think of that horrible joke about Colin Powell (or any famous black person) walking down a darkened DC street: "What do you call him when he steps into the shadows?" Well, you know the answer. And the violence that could easily be enacted upon his body also knows none of the boundaries erected, however tenuously, by the social, political or economic capital he possesses.

I predict this incident and its aftermath will all be forgotten about soon enough, after the moment of spectacle passes, and the many issues raised by will be subsumed, as so many things are these days at the speed of light (or a new scandal or brouhaha), into anecdote.

"I was myself within in the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see or hear." -- Frederick Douglass, quoted in Henry Louis Gates, Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (Oxford, 1989), p. xxiv, p. 97.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Remembering E. Lynn Harris

E. Lynn HarrisToday on the CC list, I saw a message from Major Jackson announcing that writer E. Lynn Harris had passed away, at age 54. I couldn't believe it, so I clicked on the link, from an Arkansas newssite, which verified that while attending a book tour-related event in Los Angeles, he had fallen ill. The very brief obit focused on his Arkansas Razorback ties--he was a huge fan of his alma mater's teams--in the course mentioning that he was a highly successful who "delved into black gay culture." That is certainly an understatement, because Harris is easily the best-known and best-selling writer treating aspects of black gay and bi male life of all time. He has also been a tremendous inspiration to countless writers because of his career trajectory, his determination, his countless kind acts and gestures behind the scenes, and his always striving to improve his work, make it accessible, and reach his fans. I mention all of these aspects of his life and work because so often nowadays when I encounter people who want to be writers, their first two or three questions hinge on graduate writing programs and how to get book deals. E. Lynn's career, however, showed people that there was another way--perhaps the old way, and maybe not so viable anymore--that I don't think anyone should ever discount.

C. and I first met Harris back in 1991 when he was selling his first book, Invisible Life, from the trunk of his car, and he gave a reading at, of all places, Harvard Law School. Keith Boykin probably told us about; he may even have set the reading up. We went and enjoyed not only the reading but the discussion afterwards, during which Harris expressed some of his difficulties and disappointments about living as an out gay man, finding love, and so much more. I wasn't sure if he was going to keep at it, given the downcast nature of some of his comments, but thankfully for the world he didn't give up, however; instead, he continued to sell his books and to self-publish them, until his books were picked up by a major publisher, a shift that prefigured the turn by the major publishers to a wide array of black popular fiction, including black urban literature of all types, which can now be found both online and in bookstores all over the country. As he continued to publish his work, he was always working to strengthen it; I would say that Harris became a master at what he did, and his legions of fans, mostly women, attest to this. You don't sell 4 million copies without doing something right.

But it's what he wrote about that I think is especially important. From his first book to his last, he repeatedly treated the lives of middle-class and upper-middle class (and sometimes working-class) black gay, bisexual and straight people, with real wit, verve, and assurance, demonstrating a deepening skill for compelling plotting and narrative drama. His characters and scenarios are grounded in a black--and multiracial, of course--milieu that millions of readers, black and otherwise, could identify with. So many aspects of our contemporary world appeared in his books, and from Invisible Life on, they have assumed a life of their own. For many people, he has become the black gay male author, and has worn that mantle impressively.

The title of that first book is now highly ironic, because the lives E. Lynn Harris portrayed are far less invisible than ever. While black queer people are still underrepresented in the black and gay mainstreams, Harris's work helped to open up an ongoing discussion about the complexity of black queer male lives among the black community. Terms like "down low," "on the low," and "undercover," as well as the mundane experience sof black queer men, which he animated so vividly through his characters and narratives, are now not only part of the public discourse but grist for academic debates and studies. We may, sadly, still be surprised if a black professional athlete comes out of the closet--even post-Roy Simmons, John Amaechi, Sheryl Swoopes--but we can imagine a raft of scenarios, richly imagined, about that person's life and what it might look like thanks to Harris. Non-queer people also have gotten not just glimpses, but complete immersion in certain black queer worlds through his work. And any number of writers, as well as people in publishing, owe a debt to Harris both because of what he accomplished, thereby making their work possible, and because of the hand of friendship, both publicly and privately, that he extended. (He was also devoted to his legions of fans.) After that initial meeting, I only came across him a few other times, and he was always amiable and generous, but a few years ago he edited an anthology in which an early chapter of the novel I'm working on appears, and as always, his communication was friendly and professional.

It is always a tragedy to me when someone is taken from the world before her or his time. I feel that way about E. Lynn Harris. A native of Flint, Michigan, he grew up in Arkansas and attended the University of Arkansas. He was an IBM salesperson before he decided to write and hawk his first book. He went on to publish 11 novels, including this year's Basketball Jones, he also published an acclaimed, pain-filled but triumphant memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, and edited several anthologies. E. Lynn Harris, we will certainly miss you!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The High Line

I have many favorite places and spaces in New York, and try, whenever I can, to get to them. Now I have a new one: the High Line (Park), the exquisite, elevated renovated public space that occupies what had for nearly 30 years been an abandoned rail spur for the old factories that once dotted Manhattan's southwest flank. I'd been wanting to check it out for years, even before it was renovated, but I finally got over there and can't wait to return.

The High Line extends from 10th Street, along Washington Street in the old Meatpacking District (which has become one of Manhattan's trendiest überrich playgrounds), to 20th Street and 10th Avenue, at the farthest western edge of Chelsea. At times amidst the wildflower beds I forgot I was in Manhattan so tranquil was the setting, but then all it took was a slight turn towards one of the many vistas (the Hudson and New Jersey; southwards towards the Village; eastwards towards Manhattan; northwards towards Midtown), and the city's steel, granite, brick, concrete, and glass canyons, along with the ubiquitous, immense billboards, reminded me how little and yet how far I'd been instantly transported. While I was there, I saw gardeners tending to the plantings, construction workers tinkering with some of the still blocked off walkways, and lots of people leisurely strolling, lolling on the benches, peering off over onto the streets below, and, like me, taking in the ambience. The 10th Avenue Square, a banked glass-walled amphiteater designed by starchitects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, was a particular highlight, and once spot I'd love to see a live performance. Another was a huge unfinished arcade, bearing a blue cast, that could host all sorts of events.

I'm also posting a very simple video that gives a sense of the space itself and the soundscape (note the siren--New York).

Below are photos, and I also highly recommend Martin Filler's August 13, 2009 New York Review of Books article, "Up in the Park," which offers some history and pointed commentary on many aspects of the space itself and its environs.
10 Ave. Square amphitheater, looking north
10th Avenue Square, looking upwards to the south
High Line Park, looking east
View from a lower platform
High Line Park, looking at a nearby skybridge
A nearby sky bridge
High Line Park wildflower beds
Wildflower beds
High Line Park, arch view
An arch in one of the unfinished spaces
People arriving at one of the south entrances
People arriving at one of the south entrances
Side street from High Line Park
W. 15th St. View, from the High Line (Chelsea Market on left, Phillips de Pury on right)
High Line Park lovers
Relaxing on the benches
High Line Park gardener
A gardener tending to plants near the south end of the park
High Line Park dandelions
High Line Park dandelions
A honeybee on a dandelion
High Line Park amphitheater
10th Avenue Square amphitheater, looking north (10th Avenue is visible through the glass)
High Line Park flowers awaiting potting
Flowers awaiting planting
High Line Park, near the 20th St. end
High Line, near the 20th St. end
High Line Park, at the 20th St. Exit
High Line Park, at the 20th St. Exit
The video!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Flying + 3 Ways of Looking at MJ + Maddow & B(Duke)chanan

It's the old routine: arrive at the airport, check my flight status (which I now do on my phone and crosscheck against the departures boards), see that it's on time, get to the gate, then learn the flight's delayed...oh well. Thankfully I'm not trying to make an evening meeting or class. Instead, as I've posted elsewhere (Facebook, Twitter), I learned this Monday morning as we were about to return from Provincetown that my grandmother had passed away, at age 88. I'm thus headed back to the midwest for the funeral and family-related issues. One irony is that my grandmother took me on my first airplane trip, to Washington, DC, to visit my aunt and cousins who were living there, 40 years ago, back in 1969. In recent years, waiting in airports or other transportation hubs appears to be my fate, so let me offer my thanks to the ubiquity of wireless technology, making such posts as this one possible (though I always carry more books with me than I can possibly read), and take a pointer from my late grandmother, who was always full of good thoughts and optimistic to the very end, whether faced with sitting on the tarmac, or far worse.


Michael Jackson in Hyperbaric ChamberShortly after I'd posted my Michael Jackson note, I realized that in my class this past winter, we or I might have--I use the past conditional because, truthfully, I only hazily recall the reference, which might have been a blip in a conversation but was definitely not part of the syllabus--broached him in relation to one of the course's topics, "transhumanism/posthumanism." I think the reference arose based on his successive physical and aesthetic transformations. We did look specifically at a figure like Stelarc, but we also touched upon both self-proclaimed artists like Orlan, and non-artists who could be discussed as such, like Jocelyn Wildenstein. Now that I think about Jackson, I realize that I probably could have developed a complete little module about him in relation to the larger topic, as the surgeries, his own narratives about exceeding or surpassing the human, the use of various analog and digital technologies, and so on, would place him well within aesthetic discussions that range from the earliest examples of this notion (the use of early sound technologies, say, or prostheses) to transgenesis, advanced and digitized prosthesis, and so on. Of course I'm hardly the only one who's thought of him in this way, but the idea of the transhuman makes me wonder about what it might mean in a larger sense to think of Michael Jackson in relation to transhumanism and the posthuman? How does that check the impulse to critique in psychological and moral about his skin-lightening and feature-thinning regime, his approach to parenting, his sometimes technologically advanced sleeping arrangements? Is it possible to talk about this approach to his life--as opposed, say, to his art--without shutting down or off other avenues (think negative capability)? Was he the first great black transhumanist/posthumanist artist, or would others (Sun Ra, for example) qualify? R. Sirius, in his provocative h+ article, suggests that Jackson is someone whose example should be avoided, but he also goes on to make an array of points about how to relate Jackson to a conceptual program in which he's usually not overtly linked. What do you think?

Of course there is also the possibility to consider Jackson's strangeness--which Rev. Al Sharpton, in his eulogy, deflected back onto Jackson's critics and questioners, somewhat unfairly I think, given how strange Jackson truly was and is (he was!)--in relation to conceptual art itself. One of the first things I suggested to my class was that we might think of our sitting in that classroom as a conceptual art project and could legitimately claim our performances and experiences as such if we--or someone else--properly framed it as such. They grasped this pretty quickly, but held it lightly, because of course they had to do lots of reading, participate in class conversations, and write papers, and unlike participants in a conceptual project, they couldn't just walk out and not expect some direct effect on their grade. (Though I also always take to heart Gertrude Stein's [in]famous response to a test in William James's class, so....) But what if we think about Michael Jackson's life, in all its rich strangeness, as a conceptual project, endlessly unfolding (still, after his death--remember he is posthuman), one that he might have been aware of, perhaps not in the ways that conceptual practices have been developed since George Brecht, Allen Kaprow, and others in the late 1950s, but more broadly in light of such proto-conceptual theorists and practioners, people who did argue for and in several cases transform their lives into works or art, or at least break down the barrier between them to a striking degree, like Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Nietzsche, Claude Cahun, Marcel Duchamp, and John Cage, and situate some of the at-times disturbing aspects--Wacko Jacko!--in light of this constellatory perspective? We can start, say, with that chimpanzee....

A third perspective I thought of, particularly after reading a gossipy piece in one of the British tabloids--The Sun? The Mirror?--which purported to out Jackson (he had several gay male longterm boyfriends/lovers, etc.), was of Jackson as a queer icon. I'm thinking of queerness in its array of meanings, in regard to issues of orientation, identity, sexuality, gender--and I know I wasn't the only person who thought that Jackson had remade himself at various points into Diana Ross (as Dorothy, with that fro), then, at least facially, into the young Elizabeth Taylor, and then, as one of the late 1990s mugshots appeared to suggest, and perhaps not purposefully, into something on the order of Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, among others--family, another way of reading that "strange" that Sharpton evoked, or "funny," as people might say, meaning in relation to normalized social categories more generally, "queer" might be another way of thinking about him and how he moved through the world. More than anything, his ways of living challenged all sorts of norms of American and African American middle-class respectability, which led to considerable criticism (no, we didn't always love him, well, not all of us, no matter what people are saying now.) I'm also thinking of the arguments advanced a few years ago by scholars like Leo Bersani, Lee Edelman, Judith Halberstam, and, in a different way, by José Estéban Muñoz and Tim Dean, regarding queer antisocialities and approaches to hetero and increasingly homonormativities. If we expand the notions of the queer family (as my mother said to me tonight about Joe Jackson, "those are not his biological grandchildren!"), wouldn't his creative and ever-shifting family unit, as well as the paternity of and his behavior with his 3 children be less grist for some of the tut-tutting that has occurred? (Then there's the gaggle of children he had living with and visiting him at Neverland and elsewhere, though I am not, however, talking about the pedophilic allegations.) What about his (re-)conceptualizations of home, which sometimes ranged to the highly inventive? And on and on. One thought I had was, would thinking about Michael through a queer lens be yet another step towards normalizing away the queerness that made MJ often so compelling, iconic and singular? How far should the normalizing power of queerly reorienting one's perspective go, for him or anyone else?


Last night Rachel Maddow had Pat Buchanan on her MSNBC show. As I noted a day ago, in response to Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination Buchanan has been particularly toxic. Last night he didn't disappoint, spewing rhetoric that would not have been out of place at a Klan rally. Across the web I've seen a good deal of praise for Maddow's response, and I do agree that she held her own under the circumstances. Yet the fact that this very smart woman wasn't able to marshal even a few general historical facts to counter Buchanan's assertion that "this country was built up by white people" dismayed me. I mean, come on. Whether we're talking about Buchanan's native city (Washington, DC), the city in which MSNBC is headquartered (New York), or great swathes of this country, but people of every ethnicity have "built" this country, in the physical, economic, political, and social senses. At the very least, she could have just blurted out, what about the enslaved people or the black folks and the native americans and been on solid ground. Yet she didn't counter this assertion directly, at least not at first. It was a crazy assertion, and probably as blatantly white supremacist as I've heard Buchanan utter, though he did vomit out a kleaglish stream during the segment (see for yourself below), much of it right-wing myths and canards that have been dispelled a while ago. Maddow found her voice soon enough, and challenged Buchanan on various grounds, while also politely suggesting that he perhaps didn't "mean" what he was saying, an ironic gesture I know since nyone watching, as well as both Maddow and Buchanan themselves, knew exactly what he was saying. Perhaps she was letting him know, in the nicest manner possible, that he wouldn't be coming back on her show. Some people across the net have said that they want him to hang around as the public face of the GOP, but with Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, Gingrich, Giuliani, Romney, Fox News, and the unending string of hypocritical adulterers on the scene, I seriously think we can do without Buchanan. He and his sister Bay can go fulminate, or bay, at their racial demons somewhere far, far away from any TV cameras. Seriously.


I was very glad to see the US Senate Democratic caucus successfully attach S. 909, the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe hate crimes amendment (The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act) to S. 1390, the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization bill last night, meaning that it has a very good chance to become federal law. Will President Obama, who has stumbled badly on LGBTQ issues since taking office and who said he opposes the F-22 provisions of the defense appropriations to the extent that he's threatened a veto, nevertheless do the right thing sign it into law?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quote: Margo Natalie Crawford

"In Our Terribleness, Baraka writes, 'So the blood with the Agbada (robe) and the sisters with the natural must also represent the consciousness that change symbolizes.' The very word “natural” as a reference to the afro hairstyle fully displays the way that the 'Black is Beautiful' ideology often led to a belief in the embodiment of abstraction—seemingly, the 'natural,' the hairstyle, embodies a blessed state of 'nature.' The fetishism of the afro as 'natural' during the Black Arts movement was comparable to the fetishism of dark-skinned blackness as 'naturally' beautiful. In the photograph 'Wigs' and the photographs of the black male crossdressers wearing wigs, Crawford’s normal fetishism of the 'natural' is forced to confront the fetishism of the 'unnatural'—the blond wigs, the makeup, the female clothing on male bodies. The juxtaposition of these photographs and Crawford’s 'Black is Beautiful' images reveals connections between black drag and the cultural nationalism of the Black Arts movement. As we look at these photographs, we hear Baraka’s insistence that 'I can take off these clothes and wear some others.'"
--from Margo Natalie Crawford, Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus, Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2008, p. 85. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

(Associate) Justice Sotomayor + Michael Moreci + Twitteration

Sonia Sotomayor at Senate Confirmation HearingsOn the Cave Canem listserve, one of the poets asked about impressions of the US Senate hearings to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor (right, Charles Dharapak / Associated Press) as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, and here's my response:

Based on the little of her testimony I've heard or seen, I've found Justice Sotomayor very impressive. She's incredibly smart, knowledgeable, cool under fire, and charming. I want her on the nation's highest court. Unfortunately during the hearings she's had to deal with lots of nonsense and some outright racist crap from several Republicans (Tom Coburn quoting Desi Arnaz's Ricky Ricardo character in dialect today; Jeff Sessions, a well known racist, asking her why she didn't vote the same way as a conservative Puerto Rican judge because they were both Puerto Rican; John Kyl ranting at her for 10 minutes before she could get a word in at all; etc.). It's disgraceful. I really do hope Latinos and everyone else is taking note of this stuff. On top of this, GOP-related entities are running ads calling the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund a "terrorist" organization, and various high profile Republicans have trashed Sotomayor in a way they'd never do even for a white liberal judge they disliked.

Why on earth is Frank Ricci being brought in at all? Why not bring in all the winning and losing plaintiffs in cases she's adjudicated? It's just more nonsense.

One thing I wish someone in the media would just articulate concerning her "Wise Latina" comment is that most people in this country--i.e., the vast majority of us--who are not straight upper-middle-class and rich white males--the people who still run and control the majority of everything in this society (and many others)--must learn to see the world as they do, at some point, to advance in the society while also developing our own perspectives. As a working-class woman of Latino heritage who has risen all the way to an appellate court judge now on the cusp of joining the Supreme Court of the United States, she would have had to learn to see the world, and apply many of those lessons, in ways that many of the people currently on the courts do and cannot not. I don't see her statement as controversial at all, but I also don't understand why more people don't break it down, perhaps even more simply than I have.
It is a form of bad Kabuki theater, of course. The GOP knows she will be confirmed. They know they are turning off latinos, other people of color, women, Obama supporters, anyone with any sense of decency. But the point is to create a spectacle that warms their base, roughs up Obama and the ever timorous Democrats a bit, and wounds her if possible. It's also catnip for the media, who live for this sort of thing, as it gives them an opportunity to pontificate ad nauseam using whatever talking points, shreds of cocktail party chatter, and vaguely digested commentariat and blog postings they've come across. And they also get to justify trotting out real nuts like Pat "Putzi" Buchanan, an avowed white supremacist who should have been retired a long time ago.

This is what I wrote on the CC listserve about Putzi, who is once again at its highest pitch. I'm going to ask this, though I already know the answer: could any black person, any latino, any asian american, even any woman, go on like this man does year after year and still be given a public platform as MSNBC does with him?

Randall H., I don't know if you recall when Pat Buchanan ran for the presidency, but he was basically running a Nazi-esque annex for the GOP. Years ago he propagandized for J. Edgar Hoover and circulated smears against Martin Luther King Jr. The man wrote speeches for Richard Nixon and has always been a notorious race baiter, anti-Semite, and white supremacist. Over the years his comments about black folks, latinos, Jews, feminists and women in general, and LGBTQ folks have gone beyond hateful. He has often spewed his racist crap to major journalists and media outlets, without penalty. It never ceases to astonish me that someone who is such an outright, virulent white supremacist is given carte-blanche to appear at will on a major cable TV station, but he is, and the hosts just smile and wink and act like he's not so horrendous. At this point I can't imagine what he might do that would lead to his banning, but then again, whatever that is, it would have to be beyond the pale. Literally.
I look forward to the day, very soon, when Justice Sotomayor is confirmed. Perhaps Buchanan will do us all a favor and spontaneously combust before, if not then.


On another note, I wanted to give props to one of my former graduate students, Michael Moreci. I know Michael primarily as a fiction writer and journalist, but it turns out that he's also a talent of considerable note in the comics/graphic writing world, especially, as he says on his blog, in the UK. His forthcoming graphic novel, with art by Monty Borror, is entitled Quarantine, and will be published by Insomnia Publications in the UK. Insomnia's website describes the book like this:

Quarantine follows a group of survivors trapped in a small town in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan shortly after a biological plague is released into the water supply. This plague turns a person into a homicidal war machine, which forces the borders to close, leaving our band of survivors to fight for their lives.
If you go to his blog, you can see some of the work itself. Congratulations to him.


I remarked about Twitter about a week ago, but I can say that I got the fastest response ever based on a recent tweet. I noted that the PATH system usually reserves the cleaner, less crowded trains for Hoboken-bound travelers during rush hour, sending two for every one of the dirtier, more sardine-packed trains to Journal Square and Newark (of course). This is nothing new, and I've complained about it for years now. It was especially maddening during the years I commuted daily into New York City. But all it took was one tweet stating this, out into the vast and ever growing upper canopy of twittersong out there (and mind you, I had exactly 5 followers at the time, 3 of whom are marketing Twitterbots), and the PATH folks responded. Not of course by promising to improve service or doing so, but with a tweet urging me to sign up for their tweet feeds.

Perhaps if I complain a bit more or organize a mass tweet, they might take note? I hear it is working for airline travelers, so why not public transportation corporations or public utilities?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blog Action Day: 10 Ways to Support Charity Through Social Media

Taking a tip from Reggie H, I'm excited to be participating in this blogosphere-wide event. This post, being simultaneously published across more than 100 blogs, is a collaboration between Mashable’s Summer of Social Good charitable fundraiser and Max Gladwell’s “10 Ways” series.

summerofsocialgoodnew Social media is about connecting people and providing the tools necessary to have a conversation. That global conversation is an extremely powerful platform for spreading information and awareness about social causes and issues. That’s one of the reasons charities can benefit so greatly from being active on social media channels. But you can also do a lot to help your favorite charity or causes you are passionate about through social media.

Below is a list of 10 ways you can use social media to show your support for issues that are important to you. If you can think of any other ways to help charities via social web tools, please add them in the comments. If you’d like to retweet this post or take the conversation to Twitter or FriendFeed (FriendFeed), please use the hashtag #10Ways.

1. Write a Blog Post

Blogging is one of the easiest ways you can help a charity or cause you feel passionate about. Almost everyone has an outlet for blogging these days — whether that means a site running WordPress (WordPress), an account at LiveJournal, or a blog on MySpace or Facebook. By writing about issues you’re passionate about, you’re helping to spread awareness among your social circle. Because your friends or readers already trust you, what you say is influential.

Recently, a group of green bloggers banded together to raise individual $1 donations from their readers. The beneficiaries included Sustainable Harvest, Kiva, Healthy Child, Healthy World, Environmental Working Group, and Water for People. The blog-driven campaign included voting to determine how the funds would be distributed between the charities. You can read about the results here.

You should also consider taking part in Blog Action Day, a once a year event in which thousands of blogs pledge to write at least one post about a specific social cause (last year it was fighting poverty). Blog Action Day will be on October 15 this year.

2. Share Stories with Friends


Another way to spread awareness among your social graph is to share links to blog posts and news articles via sites like Twitter, Facebook, Delicious (Delicious), Digg (Digg), and even through email. Your network of friends is likely interested in what you have to say, so you have influence wherever you’ve gathered a social network.

You’ll be doing charities you support a great service when you share links to their campaigns, or to articles about causes you care about.

3. Follow Charities on Social Networks

In addition to sharing links to articles about issues that you come across, you should also follow charities you support on the social networks where they are active. By increasing the size of their social graph, you’re increasing the size of their reach. When your charities tweet or post information about a campaign or a cause, statistics or a link to a good article, consider retweeting that post on Twitter, liking it on Facebook, or blogging about it.

Following charities on social media sites is a great way to keep in the loop and get updates, and it’s a great way to help the charity increase its reach by spreading information to your friends and followers.

You can follow the Summer of Social Good Charities:

Oxfam America (Twitter (Twitter), Facebook (Facebook), MySpace (MySpace), Flickr (Flickr), YouTube (YouTube))
The Humane Society (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr)
LIVESTRONG (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr)
WWF (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr)

4. Support Causes on Awareness Hubs


Another way you can show your support for the charities you care about is to rally around them on awareness hubs like, Care2, or the Facebook Causes application. These are social networks or applications specifically built with non-profits in mind. They offer special tools and opportunities for charities to spread awareness of issues, take action, and raise money.

It’s important to follow and support organizations on these sites because they’re another point of access for you to gather information about a charity or cause, and because by supporting your charity you’ll be increasing their overall reach. The more people they have following them and receiving their updates, the greater the chance that information they put out will spread virally.

5. Find Volunteer Opportunities

Using social media online can help connect you with volunteer opportunities offline, and according to web analytics firm Compete, traffic to volunteering sites is actually up sharply in 2009. Two of the biggest sites for locating volunteer opportunities are VolunteerMatch, which has almost 60,000 opportunities listed, and, which also lists paying jobs in the non-profit sector, in addition to maintaining databases of both volunteer jobs and willing volunteers.

For those who are interested in helping out when volunteers are urgently needed in crisis situations, check out, a site which helps register and educate those who want to help during disasters so that local resources are not tied up directing the calls of eager volunteers. Teenagers, meanwhile, should check out, a site targeted at young adults seeking volunteer opportunities in their communities.

6. Embed a Widget on Your Site

Many charities offer embeddable widgets or badges that you can use on your social networking profiles or blogs to show your support. These badges generally serve one of two purposes (or both). They raise awareness of an issue and offer up a link or links to additional information. And very often they are used to raise money.

Mashable’s Summer of Social Good campaign, for example, has a widget that does both. The embeddable widget, which was custom built using Sprout (the creators of ChipIn), can both collect funds and offer information about the four charities the campaign supports.

7. Organize a Tweetup

You can use online social media tools to organize offline events, which are a great way to gather together like-minded people to raise awareness, raise money, or just discuss an issue that’s important to you. Getting people together offline to learn about an important issue can really kick start the conversation and make supporting the cause seem more real.

Be sure to check out Mashable’s guide to organizing a tweetup to make sure yours goes off without a hitch, or check to see if there are any tweetups in your area to attend that are already organized.

8. Express Yourself Using Video

As mentioned, blog posts are great, but a picture really says a thousand words. The web has become a lot more visual in recent years and there are now a large number of social tools to help you express yourself using video. When you record a video plea or call to action about your issue or charity, you can make your message sound more authentic and real. You can use sites like (, Vimeo (Vimeo), and YouTube to easily record and spread your video message.

Last week, the Summer of Social Good campaign encouraged people to use video to show support for charity. The #12forGood campaign challenged people to submit a 12 second video of themselves doing something for the Summer of Social Good. That could be anything, from singing a song to reciting a poem to just dancing around like a maniac — the idea was to use the power of video to spread awareness about the campaign and the charities it supports.

If you’re more into watching videos than recording them, enables you to raise funds for charities like Unicef and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital by sharing viral videos by e-mail.

9. Sign or Start a Petition


There aren’t many more powerful ways to support a cause than to sign your name to a petition. Petitions spread awareness and, when successfully carried out, can demonstrate massive support for an issue. By making petitions viral, the social web has arguably made them even more powerful tools for social change. There are a large number of petition creation and hosting web sites out there. One of the biggest is The Petition Site, which is operated by the social awareness network Care2, or, which has collected more than 79 million signatures over the years.

Petitions are extremely powerful, because they can strike a chord, spread virally, and serve as a visual demonstration of the support that an issue has gathered. Social media fans will want to check out a fairly new option for creating and spreading petitions: Twitition, an application that allows people to create, spread, and sign petitions via Twitter.

10. Organize an Online Event

Social media is a great way to organize offline, but you can also use online tools to organize effective online events. That can mean free form fund raising drives, like the Twitter-and-blog-powered campaign to raise money for a crisis center in Illinois last month that took in over $130,000 in just two weeks. Or it could mean an organized “tweet-a-thon” like the ones run by the 12for12k group, which aims to raise $12,000 each month for a different charity.

In March, 12for12k ran a 12-hour tweet-a-thon, in which any donation of at least $12 over a 12 hour period gained the person donating an entry into a drawing for prizes like an iPod Touch or a Nintendo Wii Fit. Last month, 12for12k took a different approach to an online event by holding a more ambitious 24-hour live video-a-thon, which included video interviews, music and sketch comedy performances, call-ins, and drawings for a large number of prizes given out to anyone who donated $12 or more.

Bonus: Think Outside the Box

blamedrewscancerSocial media provides almost limitless opportunity for being creative. You can think outside the box to come up with all sorts of innovative ways to raise money or awareness for a charity or cause. When Drew Olanoff was diagnosed with cancer, for example, he created Blame Drew’s Cancer, a campaign that encourages people to blow off steam by blaming his cancer for bad things in their lives using the Twitter hashtag #BlameDrewsCancer. Over 16,000 things have been blamed on Drew’s cancer, and he intends to find sponsors to turn those tweets into donations to LIVESTRONG once he beats the disease.

Or check out Nathan Winters, who is biking across the United States and documenting the entire trip using social media tools, in order to raise money and awareness for The Nature Conservancy.

The number of innovative things you can do using social media to support a charity or spread information about an issue is nearly endless. Can you think of any others? Please share them in the comments.

Special thanks to

VPS Net logoA special thanks to, who are donating $100 to the Summer of Social Good for every signup they receive this week. Use the code “SOSG” and get 10% off your first purchase.

About the “10 Ways” Series

maxgladwell imageThe “10 Ways” Series was originated by Max Gladwell. This is the second simultaneous blog post in the series. The first ran on more than 80 blogs, including Mashable (Mashable). Among other things, it is a social media experiment and the exploration of a new content distribution model. You can follow Max Gladwell on Twitter.

This content was originally written by Mashable's Josh Catone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Whale-Watching off Cape Cod

C suggested we go watch whales, and so today we did. It was one of the funnest things I've done in a while. You can even hear our guide, a marine biologist, commenting on the aerodynamics of the whale's flippers! I also have videos of a mother and baby whale swimming side by side, but I couldn't get those to post to YouTube yet. Soon!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Poem: Herring Cove Beach, 1997

Since I'm in Provincetown for a few days, I thought I'd post an old poem I wrote based on my experiences there. It's unfinished, I suppose, but nevertheless, gives some flavor of the place, among other things.

Rooftop scene, Provincetown


If I wrote

    the bikinied couples fleeing the sun's
stare, the fragrance of sex over-
flowing the dune's copper cups,
mysterious rote symphony of the sea,

would that make this a poem and not just a snapshot, even though it's barely enough to fashion a brief lyric? Perhaps there's grist for verse in the sand between my thighs, or the laughter braided with cries from the bathers a few feet away, or the relentless Atlantic, relentlessly churning lyrics of its own. Or you, lying supine and oblivious, your head bobbing to a House tape and the newspaper, on the immaculate white raft of your beach towel. Remembering when this was like yesterday, the first day, our beginning. The afternoon crawling before us, unaware, our chaperone. A starfish, wafflecone fragments and watermelon rinds, a dumped-ice river, used condoms, or the abandoned lifeguard stand that flickers in the blue and shifting distance. And then I am standing facing the horizon, the water, my shoulders gaining color and authority like our silent bond, you behind me, beside me, with me here, in the ocean's ancient, ever-moving shutter.

Copyright © John Keene, 1997, 2008. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

From the Notebooks

Since I'm not feeling a real post right now, I thought I'd try something different. In the past I've posted drawings, others' and my own poems, quotations, etc. More of those are coming. I've had Susan Sontag's notebooks in mind of late, both because I've wanted to read the volume of them that her son edited since it was first announced and because of Reggie H.'s note in an email about them (he's finished them), and then today as I was rifling through some of the boxes I sent back I came across some old notebooks, so I figured, why not post some of what's in them. I can't claim to have anything approaching the excitement of anything like Sontag's scribblings, but nevertheless, here goes: The first is a list I saw displayed at the Detroit Museum of African-American History. I and many others wrote these and a slew of other names down during the summer of 2001, when we were at the Cave Canem workshops at the Cranbrook Academy, outside Detroit. My original aim was to make a poem out of them, but that never happened (others did so, if I recall) but looking back the list is almost poetic by itself. Can you guess what they are? The answer's just below the list.

L'Amitie - Encomium - Mears - La Nanette - Dwight - Hutchinson - June - Lottery - Endeavor - Jack - Protection - Nova Amora - Judith - Higgins - Armstrong - African - Fame - Charming Betsey - Sappho - Quay - Ajax - Constance - Black Joke - Despatch - Mystic - Brownlow - Science - Angola - Thomas and John - Renown - Woodward - Beckey - Kilpatrick - La Bonne - Honnete - Revel - Revels - Marshall - Sally - Watts - Sukie - Winter - Defyance - 4th of July
Slave ships!

The next is a random list of observations I penned shortly after after 9/11, probably the first weekend after, when I took the PATH into the city (I was commuting weekly from Penn Station and the Port Authority, but I usually went straight from either venue to the Jersey-bound PATH to get home) just to walk around and see the aftermath of the horrific events. Like a number of people I posted my memories of that day and the next, and sent it around via email (one of the best I read was by Samuel R. Delany), but I wanted to take notes for a work of fiction. I did write one, but nothing of this rather obvious and paltry list made it into the final piece:

Makeshift memorial @ Wash. Sq.
votives - postcards - poems - charred sheets from the towers - drawings - flowers - photos
Smell of burnt wood
Missing posters
People on the streets - only a fraction
Almost no car traffic
Sky behind the arch + NYU is empty -
Lots of people wearing masks
Heaviness in your chest -
Memorial @ firehouse on W 10th and Greenwich
At W10th @ Bleecker Miami police - 3
Brilliant late autumn day
People walking in 6th Ave.
Down Hudson @ Christopher an ocher screen
Flags from some balconies and fire esc.
"Whitney Houston probably died..."
White plume merges into the clouds

Next is a list of books I apparently was considering for my Spring 2002 advanced fiction class (the students expressed a desire to be challenged, and so they were). I only used a few of these, and added others, such as Ben Katchor's Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, and Mario Puig's An Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages. Oh, and The Atrocity Exhibition, q.v.

Jack the Modernist - Robert Glück
Wittgenstein's Mistress - David Markson
Bedouin Hornbook - Nathaniel Mackey
Oreo - Fran Ross
Travesty - John Hawkes
Ill Fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando - Reinaldo Arenas
Planetarium - Nathalie Sarraute
Les Guerrillières - Monique Wittig
... (something!) - Michelle Cliff
Age of Wire & String - Ben Marcus
The Hour of the Star - Clarice Lispector
The Woman in the Dunes - Kobe Abe
Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison
Count Julian - Juan Goytisolo
Palm-Wine Drinkard - Amos Tutuola
Living - Henry Green
Deep North - Fanny Howe
The Autobiography of Red - Anne Carson
My Summer in Baden-Baden - Leonid Tsypkin
... (something) - Justin Chin
Wigger - Lawrence Ytzhak Brathwaite
Cattle Killing - John Edgar Wideman
The Comforters - Muriel Spark
Textermination - Christine Brooke-Rose
Carnival - Wilson Harris
... (something) - Milan Kundera
--down to around 12 - Exercises - discussions
(I've still never taught some of these books, while others I've taught several or many times, even though a few, like Carnival, rank among the most difficult works of literature out. That one probably shouldn't be introduced to anyone below the graduate level--in a writing class, that is. They are all high among my personal favorites.

Also, I also once told Reggie H. that I wished I could find one of my books in every bookstore I entered, "like Wittig's Les Guerrillières." He kindly replied that he didn't think that book could be found everywhere, and I'm sure he was and is right, though I did always seem to come across it, which probably says more about the bookstores I was hanging out in that the book itself.)

And finally, a vocabulary list, of the sort I often keep when I read poetry and fiction, and especially works in another language. These are words from an array of authors, though among the words I'd interspersed quotes from a poems by Wallace Stevens (as well as Hazel Carby and George Moore!); from his poems alone you could fill many notebooks. How many of these words did you already know? (I think I've seen "ukase" countless times but always forget its meaning.)
fub (vi) - to put off, delay, cheat
girandole (n) - a showy composition; ornate candlestick
gibbet (n) - a lump, mass
schwärmerei (n) - wild devotion; sentimental enthusiasm
furbelow (n) - a flounce, ruffle; showy trimming
caparison (n) - an adornment, trapping
gloze (vt) - to make appear right or acceptable
pettifog (vi) - to engage in legal trickery, to quibble over insignificances
riband (n) - a ribbon
antinomian (n, adj) - one who rejects conventional morality
turophile (n) - a connoisseur of cheese
drabble (vt) - to draggle / (vi) - to grow wet and muddy
loricate (vt) - to coat with armor protectively
ukase (n) - edict
glacis (n) - a gentle, sloping bank
sarangousty (n) - waterproof stucco
pelisse (n) - a sleeveless cape lined with fur
scelestic (adj) - wicked; villainous
miniate (vt) - to decorate (manuscripts) with letters painted red, to decorate with red lead or vermillion
palpebral (adj) - pertaining to the eyelids
swyve (vi) - to copulate
That's it!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

July Lethargy + Franken Makes 60 + Linzy & Shonibare in NYC

While I did manage to update my book selection for July shortly after the new month began, I haven't been able to break out of my general feeling of lethargy, which has translated into an inability to begin, let alone end, blog entries. I have been writing, I'm glad to say, and working on other projects with deadlines that loom, but I am going to try to complete some of the many posts I've left hanging soon(er rather than later).

So much has transpired since my last post, on LGBTQ Pride Weekend (and the horrendous raid that Sunday in Fort Worth), but I guess what's loomed largest is the mass mourning, approaching a kind of mass hysteria, surrounding Michael Jackson's death. As I posted, I was very saddened to learn of his passing, and eagerly acknowledge his talent and greatness--as well as his flaws--but as I've also suggested to C and others, I think people are using his death as a vessel into which to transfer and transmute a wide range of emotions for which they have no or only inadequate other outlets, particularly as we move nationally and globally through a period of instability and financial and social crisis. The news media's obsessive focus on and creation of the spectacle of Jackson's death, the particulars of his children's patrimony, the raft of scandals that attended him, and so on, have contributed to this. I heard a Harlem resident say last night on the TV that she found herself crying over MJ's death whenever she was alone in her apartment, so she was taking comfort in hanging out at the Apollo Theater on 125th Street and other spaces filled by Jackson fans, such as the plaza at the Adam Clayton Powell Building just down the street. My initial question was what was going on in her life that she was bursting into tears when alone at home (I know people who're on the verge of weeping at losing their jobs or not getting hired at ones they applied for, paying their rents and medical bills, and so on), but the TV reporter didn't go near such a question, instead subsequently interviewing several other people who expressed similar sentiments. This is what I've seen them do again and again over the last few days; and the media, which knows a cash cow when it sees it, is going to milk this tragedy as much as it can. Do we really need to see the tearful tribute of Jackson's only daughter, Paris, over and over? What does genuine interest shade into the macabre? Perhaps it is good that this is where this affective energy is being directed, rather than towards more obvious and less positive ends. For a split second I thought that it might end after the tribute yesterday, which I didn't watch, but I realized this morning how wrong I was. There's too much "story" that remains to be created, told and transformed into a commodifiable spectacle, not least about the circumstances of Jackson's death itself, and then there're the will, the children, Neverland, the music catalogue, the ex-wife...I already feel myself get transported right back into the maw!


Al FrankenToday Al Franken (at right, was seated as Minnesota's junior senator and becomes the 60th member of the Senate Democratic caucus, which includes 2 independents and one recent party-changer. Given the large number of conservadems (1 of the 2 independents; the recent party flipper; a handful of "moderates"/"centrists" and corporatocrats who take their bidding not from the party leadership, what little exists, or their constituents, but from big business and lobbyists), I think it's fanciful to think that the Democrats will be pushing through anything approaching truly liberal, let alone progressive, legislation of any substance. Most of the legislative achievements since President Obama took office have been symbolic or heavily watered down. Most notable might be the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, most notorious the Stimulus package, about which we're now hearing whispers that we'll need another. Of course we will! In fact, on Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Vice President Joe Biden blurted out the administration's recognition of its conceptual and practical blunder, suggesting that it misread the economic situation, though many major economists (Paul Krugman, George Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini, Brad DeLong, etc.) had entreated for a far larger stimulus until their faces turned blue. Getting that second (and very likely a third or even fourth, etc.) massive spending package will take a herculean effort, however, and even with Franken on board, I think it's going to be extremely difficult, especially if Obama keeps sending out mixed signals and listening to much to his chief financial advisors, who continue to share more than a rib with Wall Street (Goldman Sachs). Republicans have demagogued about the stimulus since before it passed, and now that they've got the budget hawks circling--why is Pete Peterson on TV at least once every week?--their skewed perspective could start to take root, as it has many times in the past. The mainstream media haven't given any real sense of how the original stimulus bill was supposed to, let alone whether or not it is working, and why, from a basic economic standpoint, it's necessary. Instead, as I saw tonight on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, there was the usual tit-for-tat, involving a Republican spouting nonsense (but adjudged as reasonable) and a Democrat fumbling to make his case (thus equaling their positions out). There was also a "non-partisan" economist who was careful not to tip his hand either way.

The president ought to be taking pointers from Bill Clinton (for a change) and traipsing all over the US, publicizing the bill's effects and showcasing how things could be much worse. Instead, he's utterly, totally, completely focused on the health care bill, which keeps threatening to turn into a debacle as the insurance industry, conservadems, the GOP...well, you know where that's going. All in all, it makes me think that beyond marking a moment of real political relief for Minnesotans, Franken's seating will be, at least for the near term, mainly a symbolic triumph, like so much of what's transpired since this past January 20.


Below are some photos from a Kalup Linzy conversation and performance, part of his Kalup Linzy: If It Don't Fit show that C and I caught at the Studio Museum in Harlem the evening we learned of Michael Jackson's death, and from the Yinka Shonibare MBE show I attended, with Tisa, at the Brooklyn Museum. For both of these artists, these shows mark their first New York retrospectives.

I'd never seen Linzy live, though I've caught many of his performances, such as All My Churen (2003) and Da Young and Da Mess (2005) on YouTube, but I don't think I'd be stretching to say that he is one of the most highly touted younger American or African American artists today. Friends have been singing his praises, and some bloggers, like Frank Leon Roberts (who I saw briefly after the event) have posted about Linzy's art. Calling the work a highly stylized and original cross between soap operas, dramatic music videos, "chitlin circuit" dramaturgy, comedy skits, and a young artist's highly personal and savvy take on contemporary pop and art culture, performance, and spectacle only begins to credit Linzy's work adequately. Just when I think I have a handle on what he's up to, I see pieces like the ones on display at the talk, music videos/short films for "Sampled and LeftOva" and "F**k U," which presented unexplained but quickly involving dramas in which Linzy, as "Taiwan," first played witness to a confrontation between exes, one of whom was actress Chloe Sevigny, and second ended up telling off and then being told off by Sevigny. The centrality of the "drama"--or perhaps I should say, "the drama," is one of the things I like about Linzy's work, along with the fact that he writes, directs, and performs in all of them, which unfold like a series of related but often independent riffs. The conversation originally was supposed to include both SMH director Thelma Golden and writer Hilton Als, who potential presence alone made me want to attend it, but, alas, neither was able to make it. Instead, a young woman whose last name I didn't get (her first name was Aisha/Ayesha) asked Linzy, who seemed a little nervous and uncomfortable, questions about his background and practice, and then turned the floor over to the audience, several of whom also engaged him.

Ultimately, though, the Q&A, which refreshingly preceded his performance, was too brief; while he noted his knowledge of Golden's landmark and controversial 1995 Whitney Museum exhibit, The Black Male Show, momentarily discussed his use of the pre-recorded voices to transform our sense of what was going on, and talked about his watching soap operas, I really wanted to hear more about the origins of these pieces, how the evolving televisual media facilitated what he was doing, and what he felt about how his work was playing with issues of gender, sexuality, race, class, performance, and so on, all of which his work plumbs provocatively. Instead, after a short break, Linzy returned and, as the image below shows, performed a series of songs in the persona of "Taiwan," with accompaniment. The songs--among them "A*******" and "were inventive, funny, very black-and-queer (one includes a line about God "throwing shade"), and made me want to purchase his 2008 CD, SweetBerry Sonnet, on which many of them appear. (It, and his new joint, Sampled and LeftOva, are available on iTunes.)

What I told Tisa when we hung out a week later was that what struck me about Linzy's performance--as opposed to the videos--was that 20 years ago, it might be taking place in a small gay club, art space, or, I could even imagine, the Apollo Theater just down the street, rather than an art museum. On the one hand, this is certainly an achievement worth noting, and Linzy appears to be quite aware and comfortable with his relationship with the art world, which rightly adores him. On the other hand, I wondered to Tisa, is anything lost when what was once so outside the art world and (potentially) oppositional is incorporated into it, or is this really just a dead letter at this stage in The SMH show ended on June 26, so look around because I think it is traveling.
Kalup Linzy in conversation @ SMH
Kalup Linzy in conversation with a member of the Studio Museum staff
Kalup Linzy as Miss Taiwan, SMH
Kalup Linzy performing as "Taiwan"

About a week later I hit the Yinka Shonibare show at the Brooklyn Museum, one of my favorite museums in New York (or anywhere else). It's a hidden gem that I always curse myself for not taking great advantage of. Shonibare (1962-) is a contemporary British artist born to Nigerian parents in London, though he returned to Nigeria at 3, spent considerable time in Britain growing up, spoke both Yoruba and English, and then received his art education in London. His work primarily mines the tensions produced at the nexus of this background, though extrapolated far outwards from his own personal story. Certainly aesthetics, history, race, class, sexuality, and colonialism and post-colonialism are front and center in his art. That might sound like a well-trod mix, but Shonibare has some surprises up his sleeve, as I learned at the exhibit. I primarily knew him from his headless mannikins sporting Victorian costumes in brilliantly-colored Dutch wax fabric (itself ironic, as it immediately strikes the eye as "African," yet the most expensive versions are produced, as Shonibare has noted, "in Holland" and exported back to Africa (and were initially inspired by Javanese batik prints), thus encapsulating the colonial/post-colonial dynamic in vivid historical and material form), some of which have become iconic, but he also is a painter, photographer, sculptor, video filmmaker, actor, and installation artist, whose images and artefacts share with Linzy's some debt to and a sense of play with tableaux vivants. The two videos on the first floor To me the most striking aspect of this show was the site-specific installations (we missed several of them, I think) in the period rooms, which the Brooklyn Museum has a sizable number of, and which are worth seeing just on their own.

This portion of the exhibit, entitled Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play, features headless child-sized, Dutch wax-fabric clad mannikins, as shown below. The headless figures are a bit eerie, especially in miniature form, but what I also found myself doing, as Tisa did, was both trying to find them in room after room--turning the exhibit into a bit of a scavenger hunt, which was exciting and made me realize after a certain point that I was engaging in a form of "play," even going so far as to peer up at ceilings and into corners in order not to miss one--and also concentrating carefully on the periods depicted and how the presence of these "children" cast every aspect of these allegedly neutral staged historical displays into relief. Fred Wilson's brilliant critical installation work came immediately to mind; I began wondering what about the specific rooms, the time periods (several were anterior to the Victorian period) and regions (such as a 18th century South Carolinian room), had drawn Shonibare's eye, and what the figures' forms of play meant in light of the "meanings" the rooms started to assume. Though it was less clear that Wilson's work, my experience of these pieces was really quite invigorating. I was initially bummed that more of Shonibare's work, such as the "Diary of a Victorian Dandy" series, which I saw in the paper and which appear in the catalogue, did not seem to be part of this show, but Tisa told me today that in fact we'd missed a a section of the 4th floor galleries, meaning I'll have to go back and see it again. I'll have time, and so will you: the Shonibare show runs from June 26, 2009 through September 20, 2009.
Yinka Shonibare show, Brooklyn Museum
One of Shonibare's installation pieces, from Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play, in a Brooklyn Museum period room
Yinka Shonibare show, Brooklyn Museum
One of Shonibare's installation pieces, from Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play, in a Brooklyn Museum period room
Yinka Shonibare show, Brooklyn Museum
"A Scramble for Africa" (2003)