Cry, the Benighted Country: No More Gifts or, “Which Side are the Savages on?”

“This letter is a gift for you. Bear in mind, though, that some gifts can be heavy to bear. You don’t have to accept it; there is no obligation. I give it freely, believing that many of you will throw the gift back in my face, saying that I wrongly accuse you, that I am too sensitive, that I’m a race hustler, and that I blame white people (you) for everything.” George Yancy, “Dear White America,” New York Times, Dec. 24, 2015

I’m sorry, but statements like the above make my eyes hurt. I see exactly what the author intended in writing his open letter to White America. What I don’t understand is why he felt he had to write it.

Between this letter and the massive wave of police terror afflicting black and brown (and, apparently, young white) people in the United States, absolutely nothing is new. The only thing that has surprised me is the speed with which the scales have fallen from our eyes concerning America these past two years. In spite of a black President, in spite of the enormous contributions that African Americans have offered to those United States, we are still considered somehow inferior, unworthy of the same respect shown people who are not black. Even our own elite conspires to keep the bulk of us at the bottom of the world’s racial totem pole: by refusing to invest their hundreds of billions in poor black communities, by refusing to educate those of us who are semi-literate (or worse), house our homeless and keep the drugs off the streets and the gangsters from destroying the lives of our children. Better yet, our elite has never once given a thought to creating industries that can offer employment to millions of African Americans; instead they hoard their money somewhere on some little island in the Caribbean, and blow it on dope, hookers, fancy cars and McMansions. Meanwhile, everyday black people keep getting casually gunned down–if not by cops then certainly by thugs from within the community and racist scum from without.

I repeat: none of this is new, save for the cell phones recording it.

 

I have heard–and in some cases witnessed–horror stories involving the police wherever I’ve been in the United States. One of my older brothers, who is autistic, was brutally beaten by P.G.County Police about 20 years ago. My youngest brother, who doesn’t have a criminal record, was pulled over by the police for kicks and called “boy,” among other things. When I was a student at Howard University, I overheard a story about a young pregnant woman (in D.C.) who was body-slammed on the sidewalk by an irate rookie cop; the two drunks (both black) who were telling the tale were laughing about it. My mother spoke of an incident in the 80s in which a cop literally rode upon the back of a black “suspect” as one would ride a horse–in broad daylight. At Howard, the campus police could be as thuggish and corrupt as the police off-campus; in fact, campus police once casually brutalized a fellow student who turned out to be the son of Andrew Young. (As a side note: decades earlier, an uncle of mine was lynched in Depression-Era Florida by a mob of rednecks; my father witnessed it first-hand.)

I witnessed one loathsome incident back around 1992. It was directly in front of the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, ironically enough. There was a drunken black man being collared on the ground in front of the library being taunted and tortured by a black DC cop. I referenced this incident in my previous novel, “NATE,” published in 2006. The only people who had stopped to stare at the incident were blacks and an occasional white; everyone else kept passing by, I wrote, unmoved, unconcerned. It was true.

Many years later and I would find a cop in front of our door in Langley Park, Maryland, after my mother called to report a racist incident being perpetrated by our Latino neighbors. I recall talking to the cop and he appeared to be trying to say two things at once—the first thing being the words which could be heard and the second carefully couched whispers under his breath. I realized what the cop was telling me under his breath: fuck your mother. He said it more than once. It was a white cop with a Latino partner.

Naturally, I didn’t fall for the bait.

After that incident, and a number of others, I became convinced that a lot of the police brutality incidents were in fact carefully (and perhaps subtly) provoked by the officers themselves—they knowing full well that they are policing communities full of desperate, despairing, angry, divided, bitter people. And for sheer spite and a petty sense of their own omnipotence, these rogue cops continued to subtly and overtly push people around.

George Yancy wrote an article for the New York Times in December of 2015. The gist of the article was a plea—yet another—on the part of Black America to White America. After three centuries of such pleas on Black America it does not bear repeating what the gist of this plea is. We already know it, or should know it.

I have read many of your comments. I have even received some hate mail. In this letter, I ask you to look deep, to look into your souls with silence, to quiet that voice that will speak to you of your white “innocence.” So, as you read this letter, take a deep breath. Make a space for my voice in the deepest part of your psyche. Try to listen, to practice being silent. There are times when you must quiet your own voice to hear from or about those who suffer in ways that you do not.

In other words, it is the same old hoagie sandwich in a new wrapper. White America, I really am a human being. White America, accept me as your brother. For I really am your brother. I bleed like you. I eat, drink, vomit, defecate, urinate, copulate, walk, talk, sing, dance and even die like you. In fact, I may even be related to you.

The sad part about this plea is that—like countless other attempts on the part of black intellectuals to gain the ear of White America—it passed unnoticed, unheard. George Yancy shouted his self-effacing and mock-eloquent words into a massive white void where nothing of substance gets heard, anyway. It is hard to be heard above a sea of racial slurs, fat demagogues, ringtones and auto-tuned, Stepinfetchit gangsta rap.

What if I told you that I’m sexist? Well, I am. Yes. I said it and I mean just that. I have watched my male students squirm in their seats when I’ve asked them to identify and talk about their sexism. There are few men, I suspect, who would say that they are sexists, and even fewer would admit that their sexism actually oppresses women. Certainly not publicly, as I’ve just done. No taking it back now.

In my opinion, Mr. Yancy is demanding far more from White America than what it can possibly give. His plea is couched in abstraction and riddled with clueless idealism. I would assume that Mr. Yancy is not a stupid man, and not half as blind as he makes himself out to be. I say “blind,” because somehow Yancy conflates his sexist tendencies with the overwhelmingly oppressive power of a racist state which, as it turns out, is the most powerful nation on earth—a state that can literally erase him at the slightest whim, with not a tear shed, and with the flimsiest of alibis. Yancy confuses his having been “fed a poisonous diet of images that fragment women into mere body parts” with America’s massive adult entertainment industry, which actually provides such sexual malnourishment to hundreds of millions around the world.

Meanwhile, Michael Eric Dyson has a few choice words of his own–his own “gift” to White America, one could say–concerning America’s KKKiller KKKop Mania.

 You hold an entire population of Muslims accountable for the evil acts of a few. Yet you rarely muster the courage to put down your binoculars, and with them, your corrosive self-pity, and see what we see. You say religions and cultures breed violence stoked by the complicity of silence because peoples will not denounce the villains who act in their names.

Yet you do the same. In the aftermath of these deaths, you do not all condemn these cops; to do so, you would have to condemn the culture that produced them — the same culture that produced you. Condemning a culture is not inciting hate. That is very important. Yet black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than anything else.

You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer. It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives.

You do not know that after we get angry with you, we get even angrier with ourselves, because we don’t know how to make you stop, or how to make you care enough to stop those who pull the triggers. We do not know what to do now that sadness is compounded by more sadness.

Oh, well. Dyson says here what has been said countless times before, from Douglass to Baldwin to Ishmael Reed. The white majority response to such remarks has always been the same, their reprisals  only slightly softening with each passing decade. But from day one the overall intent of the white majority towards Blacks in the U.S. has been unwavering.

The intent is to keep the niggers corralled. Keep the niggers in their proper place. Keep the niggers from freaking out—or, to be more precise, to keep African Americans from fully recognizing that when they bleed, it is no different than when a European or a Euro-American bleeds; that like any other people on the planet, they have a right to their own outrage and moral indignation, and that they have the human right to redress and ultimately correct the injustices heaped upon them in any way they see fit.

But the African American is not an abstract concept that can be manipulated and defined by entertainment execs or U.S. senators or alt-right demagogues or Tom Wolfe. The African American is a human being, and demands to be recognized as a human being. The African American is not “different,” deep down. All we “want” is what everyone else wants—to live, no more or no less free as anyone else on this planet.

Screen-Shot-2014-11-13-at-11.11.02-AM
“Which side are the savages on? Where is barbarism?”

If your average white American bled like the black American bled; if the average white American lived merely one week in the body of the average black American; if the average white American were forced to live just for five months as a Native American in the bowels of the Oglala Reservation, or a Puerto Rican in Spanish Harlem, or a Salvadoran in Langley Park, Maryland, the entire country—and not just white Americans—would be screaming for a bloody revolution. The rest of the country would fall in line with the rebellious white man without a second thought, because in America—even today—whatever any white man says is elevated far above what anyone else has to say. The white American’s views of reality are held as the laws of the universe, and this unfortunate fact has led hundreds of millions of people around the world to embrace the neo-coon Rap culture, to beat niggers and firebomb mosques, or to take a fat, ignorant thug like Trump seriously.

In fact, it took far less abuse from England to rouse the American colonists to revolt against the British crown. And it is considered not only just, but necessary, for a Ukrainian, or a Chinese, or a Romanian, or an Egyptian, or a Libyan to take up arms against a corrupt regime. Of course one must remember that the American mass media takes great care in defining precisely which Egyptians, or Romanians, or Libyans are actual “revolutionaries” and which ones are simply “terrorists”; and those of us who understand the U.S. media know damned well that all too often, those freedom fighters designated as “terrorists” are those who are fighting for interests not compatible with those of the U.S. Government, or U.S. economic interests.

“They require of me a song,” James Baldwin once said, “less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own.”

How the Black Lives Matter Movement fits into this remains to be seen; judging by the rough treatment they receive at the hands of American police, and their demonization in the American mass media, one would think that the aims of BLM are precisely in opposition to those of the American State. Actually, in a real sense, they are: for the American State—judging by its bloody record alone—has never given serious consideration to the civil rights or the human rights of African Americans. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution have been repeatedly violated in cases too numerous to mention here.

But I doubt this new movement’s ability to implement change in America. I have the gut feeling that BLM is essentially a controlled opposition, funded and directed by the same oppressive force it appears to confront. Maybe I’m wrong. But I have noticed a glaring difference between BLM’s reaction to the death of an African-American, no matter how socially dubious–and that of a non-black. When Dylan Noble, an unarmed, emotionally disturbed 19 year old white man, was casually killed on June 25th by Fresno, CA police, BLM was mum. They were equally silent when, in the previous week, six Latinos–Anthony Nunez, Fermin Vincent Valenzuela, Vinson Ramos, Melissa Ventura, Pedro Villanueva and Raul Saavedra-Vargas–were gunned down in cold blood by “America’s Finest.” Tactically, this is as mindbogglingly stupid as it is racially divisive. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I feel that there is an ugly method in such madness from this new movement–if one can call it a movement.

Whether BLM will up the ante by striking at the heart of American racist oppression–that is, the American economy–remains to be seen. Their hearts appear to be in the right place. But at my age–and having seen a previous (and much milder) pro-black surge in the late eighties to early nineties–I know that these kids are barely making a scratch upon the behemoth of racist oppression in the United States. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is howling into that same white void–the void of white noise–that Dr. Yancy and Dr. Dyson shouted into, and with the same result: stasis.

*

Black America has given enough “gifts” to White America. Pick virtually any era and one can find such “gifts” in abundance. Our own bare, black asses were “gifts” from Africa, by which both Northern and Southern slave-owners used to build the very foundations of the American metropolis; indeed, much of the White House and the Capitol was built by slave labor. (And let’s not mention Crispus Attucks and Benjamin Banneker.) In the 1890s, at the beginning of the “Nadir” of race relations in the United States, Americans were given the gift of Ragtime—the first truly American musical art form. (Naturally, Native Americans mght dispute this, with good reason.) For decades after that the “gifts” came and went: Jazz (via King Oliver, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, etc.), The Negro Renaissance (via Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, W.E.B. DuBois and too many other names to mention here), and innumerable inventions such as the golf-tee, the light-bulb filament, the ironing board, the gas mask, mobile blood banks, the internet, the cotton gin, ice cream, the potato chip, and food which was actually edible and a way of speaking English that didn’t stink of England. And a new way of comprehending reality–particularly among black intellectuals–that offered a spiritual alternative to the colonial cultures imposed upon the rest of the world by Europe. Hip-hop was but one of the manifestations of this new spiritual reality.

I, myself, and many of my artist friends who are black, have offered our own gifts to America; some of us have pleaded and continue to plead with white America to recognize our humanity. I, for one, never bothered and will never bother to plead my humanity to a group of people who, collectively speaking, always thought of me and my life as a bad joke. I personally don’t see the point of giving anything to such a people. America, at this stage in history, is not worth the trouble. It persistently demands of Black America that we “like” them. Unfortunately, in America these days, there doesn’t seem to be very much to like. I don’t need to waste my time tallying a laundry list of America’s ills, since the reader can find these details elsewhere, and in abundance.

America is not the center of the Universe. There are certainly other nations on earth where a creative black person can apply his or her genius, talent and drive. White America imagines that we have no memories and no history; they are wrong. They have almost always been wrong about the world, and most particularly about their own countrymen. They have never known us, anymore than they have known themselves, or anybody else on earth. We already know what our past gift-bearers have gotten in return for their “love” of America.

No: it’s too late. Worse, actually: it’s over. Done.

*

When Frederick Douglass declared in his Fourth of July speech that the crimes committed against black Americans* would “disgrace a nation of savages,” he was not being hyperbolic, but stating a simple fact. The worst crime committed by these white American savages has not, ironically, been these countless lynchings, beatings, burnings, brandings, castrations, rapes, nor scorched-earth pogroms such as Wounded Knee or Elaine, Arkansas (where up to 600 blacks were butchered in 1919). It has been the outright insistence that the African American—particularly the African American—be “happy” in the face of such systematic dehumanization.

“They require of me a song,” James Baldwin once said, “less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own.” The African American was told to smile when getting raped and to tap-dance after being castrated; and to add insult to injury, the narratives of such sickening racist brutality were either denied outright, dismissed as “paranoia” or, still worse, carefully re-shaped to appear as comedy. It makes one ask the question that Jean-Paul Sartre asked, in his well-known preface to The Wretched of the Earth, “which side are the savages on?”

 

*Douglass could have just as well mentioned Native Americans, or the Chinese or even the Irish.

A Requiem for Uncle Sam

 

Note: I completed this poem back in August of 2012. At the time I actually felt it was too strong to post online(!). Thankfully, in the following years, I decided to grow a pair of balls and put excerpts of it up for free. The rest will be featured in a poetry booklet due out later this year or early next year, regardless of the political situation in America.

 

A REQUIEM FOR UNCLE SAM

For Henry Dumas and Trayvon Martin

I

Now

Now is the time to tell the truth

About you

There is a conspiracy of silence

That must be broken

Concerning you

An elaborate system of manners

In referring to you

Must be violated

The universe

Must be exposed

From the bottom up;

The cover must be broken,

The compromises must cease;

It’s high time someone snatched

The veil from your face;

You’ve been too long

In self-imposed exile

From reality

 

If the time comes for me

To be arrested for saying these things,

To be sent to Guantanamo Bay,

Or imprisoned in a lunatic asylum,

Then let the chips fall where they may

All your Mickey Mouse novelists

And Hollywood shills

Can’t keep the truth sealed

Forever

No secret shall stay hidden,

Nothing is concealed

That shall not soon be revealed

I shall tell the truth

About You,

That you live in a bullet-proof

Glass house

With no mirrors:

Only flattering portraits

Hung on every wall, even

In your bathroom

No need to see what

You really look like, right?

No need to check if

All your hundreds of millions

Of flatterers and flunkies

Are actually bullshitting

After all, You think, the world

Loves you

Everyone wears your clothes,

Everyone listens to your music,

Everyone dines at your tables,

Eats your food,

Wipes their ass on toilet paper

Made in China

(for you)

And pukes in the same toilet bowls

You puke in,

Washes their hands with the same water

You drink from,

Reads the same newspapers

And books

You not only read, but wrote

Dreams the same silly fantasies

You not only dream, but conjured

Screams the same racist insults

You not only scream, but invented

Everyone is walking in lock step

Behind You, believing all

Your dreams, all your little

Fairy tales

Everyone believes in Santa Claus

And the Almighty Ringtone,

In Justin Bieber, Kanye West

And the War on Terror,

saline injections, Brazilian waxes

And the funny little notion

That Elvis is still alive

The whole world wants to live on your block,

Walking your dog,

Playing your video games,

Fucking your old lady,

Or sticking their face in your favorite

Glory hole,

Eating chocolate

And cream

before bedtime

No one is allowed to step inside your house,

Because no one is allowed to see your face

In fact, You never leave your house

Although you think the world

Loves You,

You don’t love the world.

 

Sir, your flunkies and flatters

Have deceived you

And as Nizar Qabbani writes,

It’s time to break the cover,

And let the people pass

Through the armed guards

To peep inside your house

And if the guards hold them

Back, I shall tell them what’s inside

Worse yet, I shall tell them what’s inside

You

The world hasn’t a clue,

they don’t know

How flowers and trees

Make you cringe,

How a simple act of making love

Arouses your indignation,

How the sight of a woman’s nipple

Drives you to homicidal fury…

How even the sunshine

And sea breeze

And fresh vegetables

And fruits

Nauseate You…

Everything, to You,

Must be contaminated

Everything must be filled with poison

Everything must be made ugly

And useless

Everything good and true must be rendered obsolete,

Every candlelight must be snuffed out,

Every breath of air must be stilled,

Every laugh must be choked

Or shoved in a barrel…

Every scent of jasmine

Must be fumigated…

Every old house in the world

Must be destroyed…

Beauty and Joy must be criminalized,

And Love made an alibi

For the death penalty…

Every conscience must be erased,

Every mind stuffed with your conceits,

Every bone filled with your cynicism,

Every heart weighed down with your

Hatreds,

And every soul possessed by your

Foul spirit

 

No

The world has no idea

Of what you have accomplished

In the name of Beelzebub

They have no idea

How you have silenced the world,

Silenced all your musicians,

Snuffed out all your poets,

Starved all your artists,

Bought out all your visionaries,

And assassinated,

Down to the last man

And woman,

Every single one of your leaders

It wasn’t (so much) their bodies that you killed,

But their memory

You shoved them under the rug of

What you think is your “history”

Turned them into cheap ad copy

For Burger King

Or stuck them on the shelves of libraries

Or the storage rooms of museums

(where Americans never go, anyway)

Or in the lurid bios

Of lying historians,

Eager to reveal all their flaws

To a perverted public

You call them heroes now,

But You called them terrorists

When they walked the earth

You still do, anyway, behind

Closed doors

You should know best what a terrorist looks like

Since You wrote the definitive edition

On terror

Stop screaming about the Arabs,

They are just doing your dirty work

(like Israel)

They have learned a lot from You, by the way

Was Osama Bin Laden not on your payroll?

Did Saddam Hussein not dine with You

At the Waldorf-Astoria?

Was it not true that the lunacy

Of Sayyid Quttub

Crystalized

When he came to your shores?

And was it not true that Hifter,

The Nathan Bedford Forrest of Africa,

Spent twenty years sucking at your

Sagging teat?

 

Shall I remind you of your crimes

With yet another roll call?

Shall I bore the reader (yet again)

With another long list

Of your fuck-ups?

Does Martin King

Ring a bell

Or is he just another holiday,

Another excuse to stay home

And get drunk while watching

the Super Bowl?

Is Malcolm

Only fit for the prurient speculations

Of yellow journalists

Or just a face

To be slapped on a t-shirt,

Or a meaningless name emblazoned

On a ten-dollar baseball cap?

Is John Brown still just a madman

With a funny-looking beard?

Was Huey Newton just a

Cocaine addict?

Were Sacco and Vanzetti

Just a couple of terrorists,

Or was Marcus Garvey just a big-time crook?

 

Is Leonard Pelletier just another wild,

Drunken Indian

Like Crazy Horse,

Or Geronimo, or Sitting Bull,

Or Tecumseh, or Montezuma,

Or Atahualpa?

Was Gabriel Prosser just another bad nigger?

Was Che Guevara just a loud, cigar-chomping

Spic?

Was Sojourner Truth just another Negress

with a funny accent?

Or was H. Rap Brown merely guilty

Of trying to break inside your glass

House?

__

 

How do you silence a musician?

Did Jack Purvis really kill himself?

Was Bix the jazz god You insist he was

Or are You ashamed that he dropped

Dead at 28, screaming of “Mexicans” under his bed?

Or Fats Navarro, dead at 25

Or little Hersal Thomas, dead at 16?

What was the real reason Yardbird flew away?

Or why The Prez started drinking

Or why The Hawk stopped eating?

Or why Lady Day

Was arrested on her death bed

With several hundred dollars

Between her thighs?

Remember Bessie Smith’s end

On the Mississippi backroads?

Remember Lee Morgan?

Louis Chauvin?

Scott Joplin?

Leon Roppolo’s last days in the

Nut house?

Or Buddy Bolden’s last days in the

Nut house?

Or Eric Dolphy, dying on the Ku’damm in Berlin,

Or Bud Powell’s last days in a Parisian stupor?

Remember Pinetop Smith catching a bullet

In the gut?

Remember Jelly’s last jam

Under a hoodoo curse?

Did the Melrose Brothers

Ever pay his royalties?

What became of poor Herbie Nichols

And his music?

Or Sam Cooke?

Or Chano Pozo?

Or Chu Berry?

Or Clifford Brown?

Or Billy Banks?

Or La Lupe?

Or Little Walter?

Or Little Willie John?

Remember when Gerry Mulligan died

And You chose to write an obituary of

Minnesota Fats instead?

Remember Fletcher Henderson, ending his days

as a pathetic charity case?

Remember when they found Wardell Gray

In the desert with a broken neck?

Remember King Curtis, stabbed by junkies on a

Harlem stoop?

Remember King Oliver, fat, blind, toothless, dying in a

Run-down pool hall in Savannah?

Or Tommy Ladnier, dying in a Harlem rooming house

With only a walking stick and a pair of underwear

To his name?

 

One could wrap a list of your fuck-ups

Around the world

Several times

And still have room for more

One need not go on

No need to explain why David Walker

Ended his days on a

Boston doorstep

Too many people have perished

On those same doorsteps

They are still perishing,

Their voices drowned out by billions

Of ringtones and screeching cop sirens

Nobody’s left to hang around

these stoops

Playing music

Or singing songs

Or reciting poetry

Or serenading a loved one

No one hears the screams of

Children playing

You’ve killed the children

with gangsta rap,

poisoned school lunches,

play stations, iPods or

Neo-Nazi message boards

Single parents beat them

Within an inch of their lives,

Murderous pedophiles

bugger them in

Every street,

Killer cops and gangstas

Use them for target practice,

And jail-like junior high schools

Teach them the law of the jungle

You’ve raised a new generation

Of faceless, soulless robots

Not one of them will rock the boat

Not one of them will lift a finger in resistance

Not one of them will give the lie

To all your crackpot sophistry

Everybody knows their place

Everybody knows when to keep

Their windows closed

One might as well, because outside,

There’s nothing but silence

Not even the howling of the wind

Not even the braying of a dog,

The chirp of birds

Or the yowling of cats

Not even the buzz of bees, flies or

Mosquitoes

We can’t even hear the rustling of leaves in the trees

Mother Nature has gone into exile

The sun is afraid to show its face

And roses are too ashamed to open their petals

In this hell

 

 

 

 

Notes for Today (1)…

berlin_asylum_frontcover
Coming to a website near you–in the Fall of 2016…

 

I’m merely flexing the muscles in my head today. It has been so cold over here in Berlin I can barely even think, let alone write. And yet I have a mountain of literary work prepared for this year; in fact I’ve been preparing this novel for the past six or seven years.

Ever since coming to Berlin I had promised myself to complete a whole laundry list of literary works, including a book of poems and a play, of all things. Very few of these things have actually been completed or even started. I still have the play in my head and an outline for it on paper (or to be more precise, on the hard drive). But anybody who has lived in this fucking city for any amount of time knows that it is extremely easy to get sidetracked into petty shit that has little or nothing to do with art. Worse yet, the city is full of so-called “artists” who spend much of their time hanging out in cheap dives (no, not “cheap” in regards to the food and drinks, but the decor and attitudes), generally just going through their phony shit. Ever see “Fritz the Cat”? (I mean, the animated movie, not Crumb’s cartoon.) The opening scenes dealing with those spaced-out, pretentious potheads in their “pads” having orgies and talking pseudo-left pablum are Berlin right down to a “T,” only I don’t see too many orgies. (Or maybe I’m not invited to them. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if I get invited to an orgy at a Berlin loft or not; I don’t find these hipsterettes, with their Mary Poppins clothes and 29-inch hips, to be all that sexy.)

So if I want to write, I simply don’t go out, I shut off the cell-phone (called “handies” over here) and, preferably, the internet. And since I’ve picked up the bad habit of composing music as a way of avoiding literature, I put my scores and midi files away. However, I can’t avoid the art. Most of it, admittedly, is not really serious art, but quasi-kitschy pinup art. I’ve been drawing these things for the past seventeen years and quite frankly, I’m tired of it. It’s boring. But people like this stuff a lot, and it brings in the bread.

51F5M8CH3WLThe creative stuff I do in the daytime and the grunt work I do at night. Or vice versa. When I begin the new series of novels I will have to get the grunt work (ie., pinups) out of the way during the day so I can write at night–I usually write at night, sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning. I said series of novels. In reality what I’ve planned is a very large novel on the order of Hermann Broch’s Sleepwalkers. I would like to give out details but I do not want anybody stealing the fucking plot, so I will let it go at that.

Die Schlafwandler is actually a trilogy of novels dealing with the disintegration of values in pre-war Germany from 1888 to 1918. I like Broch’s idea, but not necessarily his approach; to me his writing is very detached, very dry, shorn of emotion, to the point where much of the novel reads more like sociology than fiction. One could call it “objectivism” in novel form. (I would use it sparingly, only where needed, when writing my own series of books.) But I like the idea of presenting the current American “disintegration of values” in book form, particularly over a series of books–maybe as many as five or six, but most certainly four. I like the idea of highlighting this disintegration through several different points of view, from various people from varying backgrounds. AND THAT’S AS MUCH AS I’M GOING TO SAY, THANK YOU. WAIT TILL THE BOOK COMES OUT.*

Berlin Asylum, the 673-page book I completed four-and-a-half years ago, will be published as a Kindle Book this fall. I have already designed a cover for it. I planned on something a little different, but as I was playing around with this design on CorelDraw last year I came up with something striking. I don’t think it’s too amateurish, don’t you? It’s a lot better than the “NATE” cover, which did not help in selling copies…

Coincidentally, it is the 10th anniversary of the publication of my second novel, Nate. Between 1993 and 2016 I’ve only published two novels. And back in the late 80s I naively imagined I would be a famous, rich and well-published novelist and pundit by now.(If I had only known!!) However, I think Berlin Asylum will do surprisingly well. I think. I would assume that people are finally fed up with the same old middle-class, semi-respectable voices detailing their tired semi-privileged lives in the redneck version of Paris.

*I already know the publishers won’t be much interested in some darky analyzing America’s own disintegration of values and destruction of ethnic identities in favor of a false multiculturalism that claims to celebrate Afro-Americanness, Asian-Americanness, Latino-Americanness–but is really keen on appropriating our identities and defining FOR THEMSELVES what a black, brown or yellow person is. But fuck the publishers, anyway.

*

Another note: the older I get, the more I find myself completely disgusted with every aspect of contemporary American culture, especially African-American culture. I no longer have any patience for these black idiots who keep on whining about how horrible Hollywood is when black America quite literally doesn’t need either Hollywood or Madison Avenue or Silicon Valley. Black America is stuck in a mental and spiritual time-warp; they seem to think it’s still 1962 or 1972 or 1982–whether that’s B.C. or A.D. is debatable.

It doesn’t matter a damn whether white people have a culture or not, or if they are basically still stuck on Plymouth Rock (especially regarding their religious or sexual mores). The fact is that it is increasingly clear that we do not need to put up with any more of their primitive and self-righteous shit. Black Americans are worth 1 TRILLION dollars a YEAR, for fuck’s sake. Rather than try to take over NBC, they would do better and create at least two or three completely independent media stations. But they don’t. They’d rather sit around and whine about “thug rap” (which I have already talked about and analyzed to death and will reprint the article shortly) rather than stop listening to that crap. After all, nobody is forcing them to watch “rap”. Nobody is holding them back from creating their own industries, AND IF THEY CAN’T DO IT IN AMERICA THEY CAN JUST AS WELL DO IT IN THE CARIBBEAN OR AFRICA.

After all, the first step towards a genuine revolution (providing that’s what Black America wants) is economic independence, economic autarky. Trying to buy NBC or trying to be the first African-American head of Mutual of fucking Omaha is not revolutionary.

Brief Reflections on What a “Black” Writer Should Do (or, rather, what I think “Black” writers should do)

In the global media, the African American has been obliterated as a human being and as an historical and cultural entity. In fact his identity and humanity are subject to change and manipulation at any given moment by forces more or less beyond his control. One moment he is an amusing entertainer, a powerful and loveable athlete; the very next he is a wild, raging beast who needs to be subdued.

Black American writing should be an effort to reclaim and reinvent, or reconstruct, a history and identity which has been relentlessly trivialized. Americans deny the importance of history because if they were to remember anything that they had truly done in their past, they would probably hang themselves in shame. American history, for the most part, is an ugly testimony to humanity’s failure; it shows one just how exceedingly monstrous people can be towards other people and towards their environment, and above all, just how immeasurably stupid, cruel and callous. The “history” is built on lies, and for a very simple reason that James Baldwin pointed out earlier: in order to tell the truth about the African American, one must tell the truth about every other American, particularly white Americans, and their interaction with African Americans. Such a truth telling would render virtually every American history book useless. The lies continue to the present day: idiots like T-Pain and T.I. and 50 Cent and the rest of the thug bunch were invented and hyped for a clear reason: so that the world can’t see the rest of us. The thugs are a smokescreen.

In the Name of The Father

In the Name of the Father

 

for Nizar Qabbani, Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Henry Dumas, Harold Carrington

 

 

In the name of the Father, the Son

And the Holy Ghost.

 

We, The People,

 

Thank you for your blessings

These past ten thousand years:

 

We thank you for not listening to

A single one of our prayers.

 

Thank you, O lord, for stuffing

Your blessed ears with wool,

 

for turning your backside to us,

for an eternity of neglect.

 

Thank you for mocking our struggle,

 

For making of our misery

A source of endless entertainment.

 

Thank you for gangsters and thugs,

Thank you for allowing cops

 

In New York, San Francisco,

Washington, Milwaukee, Houston,

 

Toronto, London, Paris, Budapest,

Cairo, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro,

 

To beat us with impunity,

To kick us in our genitals

 

And sodomize us in filthy alleys

And police stations.

 

Glory be to God,

For blessing us with a nation

 

Of Nigger-lynchers:

Praise Allah for the most honorable

 

Obeidah tribe of East Libya,

Who aims to finish the honorable work

 

Of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

 

Thank you, O lord, for upstanding men

like Pinochet, the Assads, the Obammys,

 

the Reagans, the Bushes, the Rockefellers;

Thank you for Hosni Mubarak.

 

Thank you for Syria

and a mountain of rubble

and an avalanche of corpses.

 

Thank you for Dylan Roof

and Jim Jones at Guyana,

thank you for understanding

that Yes, indeed, Black Lives

don’t really matter.

 

Thank you, O lord, for deposing our King;

Thank you, O lord, for killing Thomas Sankara;

 

Thank you, O lord, for Tupac Shakur,

Zip Coon, Amos and Andy, J.J., Nicky Barnes,

P. Diddy, Rick Ross, Hip-Hop, Crack, Crunk,

And the brilliant minds who produced it all.

 

Thank you,

Glory be to God.

 

Thank you for the International Monetary Fund,

And guys like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

 

Thank you for reality shows,

Thank you for Jersey Shore and Bensonhurst.

 

Thank you for Maury Povich, and all

The lumpens who parade

 

Through his camera lens—the better to

Distract us from Afghanistan.

 

Thank you for Michelle Malkin, Ann

Coulter, Michael Savage, Ken Hamblin,

 

Joseph Goebbels, Julius Streicher, Rush

Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Howard Stern,

and Donald Trump.

 

Thank you, O lord, for Obama’s waffling

And Oprah’s mammy-made re-runs.

 

Thank you for Wolf Blitzer,

Thank you for Likudniks,

 

Thank you for Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer,

Judge Judy, the Supreme Court Justice

 

System, for Homeland Security, for the Trans-

Portation Security Administration, and all

 

The perverts who grope girl’s pussies

For plutonium.

 

Thank you for playing worker against worker,

straight against gay,

 

Thank you for playing man against woman,

Old against young, north against south, east

 

Against west, spics against niggers,

gooks against spics, kikes against

 

gooks, Ay-rabs against

kikes, and so on and so forth;

 

Thank you for the Middle Passage, for

Nanking, for Hiroshima, for Libya,

for Baghdad, for Afghanistan,

 

Thank you for all the Holocausts, for

All the Conquistadors, for King Leopold and Tippu Tib,

 

Thank you for the destruction of Timbuktu,

Benin City, and Tulsa’s Black Wall Street,

 

Thank you for burning our libraries,

Thank you for destroying our culture,

 

Thank you for forcing us to live in the ghetto,

Thank you for making us hock our kidneys

 

Just to eat a hamburger;

Thank you for killing us

 

For stealing a slice of pound cake:

 

Thank you.

 

Thank you for flooding Harlem with

Heroin, Hipsters and Walt Disney,

 

Thank you for Hipsters, Hipsters, Hipsters,

Hipsters, Hipsters, and more Hipsters,

 

Thanks for gang-bangers

Who shoot at the drop of a pin.

 

Thank you, O lord, for forcing Cuba

To eat its own shit,

 

For forcing Haiti to grovel in the dirt

For yet another century,

 

For forcing Somalia to choose between

Starvation and piracy,

 

For forcing Mother Africa to sell

Her ass again.

 

Thank you, O lord, for bringing back

Torture camps and Inquisitions,

 

Thank you, O lord, for the guys

Who hacked off the manhood

 

of Hamza Khatib—

 

I mean, it was really his fault that

He was a mere thirteen year old,

 

Wasn’t it? And maybe his big, fat

Stomach should not have been in

 

The way of the bullets that struck him,

And maybe his dick should not have

 

Been in the way of the knife that

Removed it.

 

Glory be to the Creator, to God,

To Jehovah, the One and only—

 

Et benedictus,

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you,

 

Thank you.

 

We are eternally grateful that our

Earth has been hopelessly poisoned.

 

Thank you.

 

We are eternally grateful for facing extinction

at the hands of morons.

 

Thank you.

 

We are eternally grateful for you,

British Petroleum: you’ve done it again.

 

We are eternally grateful for the

Radiation eating out our insides,

 

O great guys of TEPCO:

Thank you for not telling the truth,

 

We did not need to hear it.

 

Thank you.

 

 

© 2011-2015 Philip Lewis

Review of “The Kid,” by Sapphire

 

(Note: this review was written for Transition magazine back in 2012, but apparently never accepted.)

Whether through expectation or intent, too many American black writers take the low road into petty-bourgeois minstrelsy: think Mary B. Morrison, Carl Weber or Michael Baisden. A huge moral evasiveness damns much of their work; it is far more insidious than in the works of white writers who, generally speaking, make considerably less noise about “keeping it real.” Urban life, as depicted by the K’wans and Vicki Stringers is, for the most part, imaginary: a collection of prurient fantasies tailored for a public—largely middle-class, and often white—that could care less how “real” they are. Their books clutter the shelves of Barnes and Noble and sell by the truckloads on Harlem street corners, and are as iniquitous as and possibly even more dangerous than anything written by Thomas Dixon: the very blackness of these authors lends them a credibility they do not deserve. There is no need to consider their artistic “integrity” since these authors are simply, in effect, selling crack—only to be read, not smoked. Cynical, churlish and childish, their inevitable response when questioned about their total inability to think is “if you don’t like it, don’t read it.” This, of course, is the exact same thing real crack dealers say on these very same streets.

Fantasies these books are, indeed—and from a purely technical standpoint, singularly unambitious in scope and atrociously executed. Dale Peck, in writing of Stanley Crouch’s benighted first attempt at a novel, stated that a bad book can be a blessing. I presume so, if the “blessing” lay in an overrated author leaving himself open to a long-awaited and well-deserved scrutiny. With Sapphire’s second attempt at a novel, The Kid, I am tempted to refrain from passing unduly harsh judgment on a book which, sad to say, is anything but a blessing. I am compelled nonetheless to be honest about the book’s overall construction and content. As for the former, it is a rambling, 374-page falsetto shriek with little in the way of insight and intelligence, to say nothing of plot; the latter, about Abdul Jones, the son of the late Precious Jones (the narrator of her previous book, Push), is distinctly unmemorable—this in spite of our being exposed to virtually everything that Abdul thinks and does in his tortured path from an orphaned childhood to a shaky, confused manhood.

At the tender age of nine, Abdul is hurriedly whisked away from his Aunt Rita in Harlem after witnessing his mother’s funeral. I may be wrong, but I find it far-fetched that a black kid growing up in the bowels of Harlem would know virtually nothing about death, let alone that of his mother. The kid is apparently so ignorant that he knows nothing of new-fangled trash bags: “Rita hands me a shiny plastic square that opens out to be a garbage bag” (p. 28). At times he even sounds like a caricature of an African native attempting to speak English:

 

Coffins? Graveyard? Spooky place from Halloween movies on television. Dracula climbing out the casket with spiderwebs and stuff. Dark, scary stuff. But when the car stops, it’s like a pretty park, green grass, sky blue with fluffy white clouds. I lean back on the seat close my eyes, hear car doors open people talking, hear this car door open, open my eyes, get out…Green grass, the gravestones are little houses; a person is under each one? First a person then they turn into bones? (p. 23)

 

In fact the stupidity of the Harlem denizens depicted is beyond belief. We all know that ignorance, illiteracy and vulgarity damns far too many folk in true-to-life, impoverished Harlem, but the funeral scene itself is absurd; it reads like a racist caricature of a “colored” church gathering, with profanities mixed in to give an illusion of authenticity.

Indeed, one could merely cut to the chase and state unequivocally that the entire novel reads this way, as little Abdul moves from childhood to adolescence. In Book Two, appropriately titled “Falling,” Abdul is now pushing fourteen, six feet tall and attending St. Ailanthus School for Boys. Heretofore exposed to things African and African-American by his late mother Precious, he is further drawn into blackness (so we are led to believe) by occasional visits to the Schomburg Center, where he sees “faggots like Martin Luther King and astronauts and shit” (p. 61). He has a spate of new friends, some of whom, like four-feet Jaime Jose Colon, he rapes for kicks:

 

He’s shivering with excitement. I’m hard. I grab him with both hands, raise his little booty to me. I jam him…It’s so good, tight. He squeal, I slam his face in the pillow, kill that. OOOHHHH this shit feel good!…Bed creaking turn me on more. The in-out creak music. I hear that sound in the dark, turn me on, I know somebody getting it on. Fucking him I wanna sssscream but I don’t…He start to cry. Stupid! Stupid motherfucker (p. 54)

 

St. Ailanthus is a cesspool of pedophilia and religious hypocrisy. Brother John and Brother Samuel in their respective turns have their way with the confused and vulnerable Abdul. “I’m no faggot,” he repeats to himself throughout the book, while “tak(ing) his penis into my mouth” (p. 67). Abdul continues to clown around, eating the food off other student’s plates and screwing his pals until he is expelled from St. Ailanthus for raping Richie Jackson. Despondent, he moves into a foster home with an ex-whore from Mississippi he sneeringly calls “Slavery Days,” apparently from the antiquated way she speaks:

 

Yeah, honey, I was sittin’ up on a rock away from de picnic tables ‘n de music. Lookin’ down de road. Sky blue fluffy clouds, hog on de spit, good smell up yo’ nose. Nigger Boy pluckin’ de banjo. Banjo stop. Somebody start up on guitar. Black shadow cross me, Nigger Boy’s pant legs. Hair on my arm stand up. ‘Youze lookin’ for yo mama?’ (p. 177)

 

It gets worse than this—much, much worse. The monologue is flat-out minstrel dialect, straight out of Octavius Roy Cohen or Thomas Nelson Page. Now even Abdul’s sudden interest in African and Haitian dance does not dampen our suspicions about this novel’s true intent. It may sound cynical, but the writer suspects that the raves for this abysmal book have less to do with its supposed documentation of a soul’s birth and more to do with its resurrection of cheap Nigger Minstrelsy, the hundreds of times the word “motherfucker!” is shrieked, and its graphic depictions of blowjobs between young boys.

My cynicism about this book was not mollified by Abdul’s passage into manhood, his newfound artistic ambitions and erotic encounters with My Lai, a Vietnamese dancer, or his struggle with encroaching mental illness. At times I suspended disbelief and imagined the novel was something of a satirical blast from National Lampoon. It certainly does read like a parody of urban fiction, exemplified by Percival Everett’s “My Pafology,” a novel within a novel (Erasure). Reading “My Pafology” side by side with The Kid one is disturbed at the alarming similarities between the two narratives. Only there’s one problem: The Kid does not attempt to function as satire.

The most ironic and telling thing about Abdul Jones is that, in spite of our knowing virtually his every thought, his every emotion, and having heard his every scream and seen his endless freak-outs and masturbations, he remains as grotesquely one-dimensional as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Endless episodes of Abdul raping anything that moves, slitting his wrists, cursing life, cursing humanity, the universe, while pretending to be an “artist” do not a character make. Certainly, he does nothing to challenge hardening prejudices against young black men, for as James Baldwin states, “(a)s long as I react as a “nigger,” as long as I protest my case on evidence or assumptions held by others, I’m simply reinforcing those assumptions” (Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality, p. 105). Any non-black reader with a modicum of prejudice toward African Americans can find one’s prejudices further reinforced simply by reading The Kid, for it reveals nothing of the complexity and the humanity of the African American, whether gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, male or female.

It is not simply a moral failing on Sapphire’s part, but an artistic failing as well. None of The Kid’s non-black characters, such as My Lai or Brother Samuel, are even remotely memorable. The praise that this book has been given seems incomprehensible: “A fascinating novel that may well find a place in the African American literary canon,” writes the Philadelphia Inquirer; “brilliant, blunt, merciless,” Newsday calls it. Well, two of the aforementioned adjectives certainly apply to this book; brilliant isn’t one of them. It is, quite simply, a cartoon, and a bad cartoon at that—specifically tailored for those non-blacks who wish to go slumming inside the mind of a savage Harlem native without, God forbid, going through the trouble of knowing an actual African American. One leaves this book feeling not that one has witnessed the “birth of a soul,” as Entertainment Weekly claims, but insulted, degraded, and swindled out of twenty-six dollars.

 

 

The New Absurdism: the emergence of an American literary sensibility (or, don’t conceal the real)

Absurdism is not the cheap toilet-paper irony of white school children who have just learned to masturbate. Absurdism is rooted in a blues sensibility and a blues aesthetic. Once again, it must be made perfectly clear just what we mean when we define a “blues aesthetic” in neo-modernism and absurdism. It is not merely “singing the blues,” let alone wearing Ray-Ban sunshades and pork-pie hats and playing bad imitations of Son House. The “blues aesthetic,” for us, is rooted in an acknowledgement of our historical and contemporary struggles to stay afloat in a hostile universe. Fiction, like the Blues, is a vehicle by which we give expression to our anger, our sense of confusion and outrage; it is a vehicle by which we keep alive the “jagged edges” of the experience and by which, we transcend that experience, at least through art. To quote Elif Batuman in “Get A Real Degree,” her rebuttal of Mark McGurl’s defense of “program writing”:

At a certain point in the history of the novel, Jewishness, having ceased to be a merely comic or villainous attribute, had come to operate as a reality principle that exposed the machinery of social life. Swann’s way – the prosaic way of the narrator’s half-Jewish next-door neighbour – revealed the truth about the Guermantes way, and Jewishness became, to an extent, identifiable with the mechanism of the novel itself: the comic, slightly vulgar exposure of the world as a place where would-be knightly heroes have to eat, sleep and carry money…. To justify its perpetuation, the novel itself had somehow to become Jewish. Jewishness, which had once been a codeword for the changing of the times, came to represent a kind of tragedy that would never change, no matter how much time passed. (Italics mine)

As with us, the American and/or modern novel, if it is to exist, must become Black. Our fiction requires distillation, rejection of the academic aesthetic and creation of and/or appropriation of older techniques and aesthetics in expressing what is real to us: we, the so-called “marginalized,” whose thousands of deaths each year barely get an inch of space on some off-beat web-blog. It should be understood that the academies of the West, or even the non-West, are not going to take us seriously; they have trained themselves not to take us seriously, except when we function in the capacities they have created for us. And these capacities, of course, have nothing whatever to do with so-called “high” art.

We writers need to assess for ourselves what constitutes “high” art. How any form of art became “high” in the first place is cause for careful examination. Students of Dante Alighieri often forget that the Divine Comedy was written in what was considered a “low” language of 13th century Florence: Italian. Before Pushkin Russian literature, as a rule, did not exist; the Russian elite wrote and spoke in French. Russian was considered a “rude” language.

*

The African American is in more of a disadvantageous position than he or she realizes. The main disadvantage has less to do with the sorry state of the American publishing industry and more to do with actual matters of craft–or, to be more specific, matters of language. Each black American writer (providing he is serious, and not a hack) has to reinvent the American literary language in his or her own way. He must virtually reinvent the Black vernacular by reclaiming it, by taking it out of the hands of rednecks and clueless minstrel rappers. This is not an easy task. Much of the so-called Black vernacular defines African-Americans in ways that are just as trite, just as stale and stereotyped, as that of the dominant American vocabulary. (Which is tantamount to saying that no true Afro-American language really exists!!) Furthermore, the Vernacular itself often comes off as sounding really hackneyed–the whole “whassup, nigga” thing is more than just played out. Enough should be enough: it’s time to step outside of the narrow confines of the American and Afro-American vocabularies and at last give a true account of what it means to be black and American in the world today.

The African or Arab writer, by contrast, has it easier: armed with his or her own language, he or she is already in an advantaged position over the poor native black writer: the Ghanaian-American or Nigerian-American–unlike the native black–already speaks a language that does not define him as a nigger. This is not to say that African or Arab writers don’t have their own hurdles to jump over. The Nigerian novelist, by and large, writes in English, not in Edo, Yoruba or Hausa, nor in any of the dozens of languages of Nigeria. The “Arab” writer, who in reality is an Egyptian, a Yemeni or a Moroccan, writes in a language that virtually no Arab speaks anywhere in the world. This is tantamount to saying that Egyptian literature, for example, doesn’t really exist…

African-American literature doesn’t really exist, either: when Amiri Baraka proclaimed “Negro Literature” to be a “myth” he was not necessarily hyperbolic. There are a few examples but by and large, African American literature has been deformed by the expectations and demands of American publishing editors, almost exclusively white, who think they know what “black” writing is supposed to be like. “Black” literature has been largely tailored to the expectations of a reading public that wishes to see what it wants to see of Black America, and the end result is that there is a distinct unreality about most Black writing, as it is for Latino, Asian and Native American writing. (For white writers, the problem is virtually the same, save that ethnicity and race are more or less out of the question. There is a 180-degree difference between Raymond Carver in book form and Raymond Carver on manuscript. “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” was not written by Carver; it was written by Gordon Lish. Carver merely handed in the manuscript.)*

*

Today, in place of Absurdism, we have polite writers (largely white and upper-middle-class) who–to be concise–are in the business of concealing more about life on this planet than revealing it. To genuinely reveal anything in literature one must be willing to face reality: our inner reality, our true feelings and passions as well as the sorry state of the world outside of ourselves, outside of our neighborhoods, outside of our cities. Reality is often unpleasant and unnerving; it all to often provokes feelings which make us, in some form or another, extremely uncomfortable. Contemporary Anglo-American literature functions in much the same way as cutesy-poo cat designs on the panties of Japanese schoolgirls: cheap kitsch to conceal the real.

American literature does not exist. Maybe it had existed in the past, but it does not now. In order for American literature to exist the point-of-view must change; the cultural referents must be considerably broadened to take in the Asian as well as the African, the Latino as well as the Native American, the Jewish as well as the Arab, and so on and so forth. Meaning that from now on the American writer, if he or she is to be a writer, must have a lot more on the ball than before. No more of that cozy provincialism of the past decades, slumming in one’s own ethnic ghetto writing only of Puerto Ricans or Jamaicans or Italians or Jews or Jordanians. And no more of that phony inclusion, writing of Puerto Ricans, or African Americans, or Jews, or Irish, or Armenians, as mere gaudy novelistic decoration to make the book “colorful.” A thorough grounding in the concerns and problems of each group is necessary before any real American literature is to be written, and as always, the viewpoint must be that of an outsider, one who has rejected the national fantasies.

*I will make more personal observations on Raymond Carver later.