Notes for Today (2)

Something has been bothering me for the past three or four years while stuck here in the bowels of Berlin. I have already accepted the fact that Berlin is incapable of making itself into a true cultural mecca because it doesn’t really know what the fuck “culture” really is. Actually it has a set idea of “culture”–spelled with a “K” and minus the “e” on the end–an idea set in stone and worshiped at special shrines throughout Berlin. You know–the Deutsche Oper or the Volksbuehne or some aging gallery where one can see what the greats of decades and centuries past once achieved. In other words, people here subconsciously (or even consciously) think that true cultural achievement, cultural greatness, is yesterday’s news. Today, we’re lead to believe that everything “cultural”–and not just in Berlin–is just fucking finger-painting, mental masturbation, funny clothes and house/techno/rap crap, or gypsy swing minus the soul, to say nothing of the swing, much less the funk.

But the thing that has me irritated is not so much this phony-assed Berlin art scene. One can easily write that off. In fact mocking Berlin’s shortcomings is easier than shooting fish in a fucking barrel. One can get so wrapped up in making fun of this place that one can forget a more pertinent question, which is: how in the hell are we–we being SERIOUS artists, and not hipster/poser assclowns–going to go about creating a new, living, distinctive and vibrant culture of the TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY?

And another question–exactly which culture? A national culture? Or an international culture–a TRUE international culture, as opposed to fake mass-manufactured “global” kitsch-culture designed by Sony and Seagram’s and imposed upon us?

I can’t answer that question right now, and won’t try to.

Instead I’ll just throw some ideas around. Most of them are scribbled from my notebooks.

First off: what the hell is “culture,” anyway? It’s funny that in the whole time I have been preoccupied in trying to redefine (in my own way) Afro-American culture and identity through my own art, I really haven’t taken time to define just what “culture” means. So I simply looked it up on Google and came up with this:

A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

Well hell, if what we have now is a “culture” then we’re fucking finished as a species!! Everything has to be changed fundamentally. Practically nothing of what we are doing now in America (especially) should be passed down to the next generation. As an artist I am responsible for either changing or redefining the behaviors, beliefs, values and symbols of my own group of people–Americans, and not just Afro-Americans. (After all, the American majority is always dick-riding off the African minority.) These changes and re-definitions are done on paper, canvas and keyboard. As for the current cultural ugliness, one has to examine it closely from afar, in order to turn it upside down and inside out, and make it irrelevant.

  1. American architecture is UGLY. The street layout is UGLY. Everything about an American city–well, just about everything–screams cheap, makeshift, brutalist, inelegant, stupid and just fucking ugly. Like in some ex-commie country, everything is strictly functional in design with virtually no thought at all to beauty. Somebody should consider rebuilding ruined cities in America in a truly elegant and dignified way, like a medieval African, European or Asian city. But I guess that’s a tall order for an American city (outside of San Francisco).
  2. Speaking of behaviors: the current snarky, falsely ironic “hipster” pose has nothing whatsoever to do with the true “hipster,” who is a hep-cat and usually black. The old “hep-cat” had a hard-won cool and detachment if he didn’t get it through shooting smack (heroin). The detachment was necessary to not lose your cool in a society that was (and still is) always trying to grind you down into nothing.
  3. The same rule would apply today. Don’t get involved in mainstream shit if you are serious about making a 21st century culture. Culture is not about money. Cultural arbiters’ main goal is not to sell units–it is to help shape people’s minds and attitudes in such a way that is spiritually beneficial to them, individually and collectively…unlike these coons running around snapping at each other about the number of “units” 50 Cent sold in contrast to fat, greasy-ass Rick “Warden” Ross. Who fucking cares? I can’t listen to royalty statements!!
  4. The “mainstream” Kanye West/Pharrell Williams/Will.I.am stuff is not hip. When the mainstream co-opts something (duhh) it isn’t hip anymore–it’s square. You want something hip? Make it your goddamned self, and do it right. Be creative and put feeling into it. And as usual, you need to keep your eyes and ears open; you need to see things as they are and not the way you wish to see them. You have to do the hard work of looking past the gaudy curtain (re: Milan Kundera) and observe what is really going in America and the rest of the world. You need to know people and what makes them tick; don’t just assume you know them based on stupid stereotypes or hearsay.
  5. Of course if you don’t have any feeling or drive to do these things, you should get into a different line of work.
  6. American “art” music has already crossed a certain threshold, pushing it some ways beyond the limitations of European classicism and Romanticism. Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen and Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in spots merely hint at the possibilities of what Afro-Americans achieved in jazz and its predecessor ragtime. The trouble with American musicians is that, 9 times out of 10, they have no idea what they are doing with their own music; they don’t really know how to play it. And if they do, they simply cannot approach this music with the dignity and respect that this music (American classical music) demands. Even if they try to do so, they still fail, since true dignity, true respect and above all true feeling, is simply not in most American classical musicians. In other words, the American is psychically cut off from his own folk heritage.
  7. American singers, and the non-American bitches who cunt-ride off them, all sound more or less alike. Why is that?
  8. African American culture–I prefer Afro-American–has become outdated, parochial, stereotyped, and just plain corny. In its current attempts to be highbrow it becomes  ponderous and pretentious in the extreme; when it tries to “get back to the roots” or “to the people” (whom these black artists usually barely know; they barely know themselves) it becomes nasty, vulgar, insupportably stupid–a virtual parody of the worst sort of KKK fantasies about black people.
  9. The fucking “cultural nationalist” wants to go back to an Africa that exists only in his head. Let’s make one thing clear: Africa never was a wild jungle full of gorillas and spear-chucking negroes. It had empires stretching back thousands of years. We know that, or should know it. What we refuse to know is that these empires were just like all other empires the world over–that is, riddled with empire problems such as maintaining control over subject peoples, feudalism and other banal details. Most people could not read, let alone vote. We were not all “kings” and “queens”–most of us are descended from the subjects and slaves of those very same kings and queens. We don’t need to return to a feudal African empire where guys like myself would be condemned to being blacksmiths or shoemakers for life simply because I happened to be born of a blacksmith, or a shoemaker, or worse yet, a slave. (Note: in Ancient Egypt and Meroe, Medieval Mali and Renaissance Songhai or Kanem-Bornu (just to name a few empires), occupations were hereditary.)
  10. The block boy (or block boy middle-class wannabe*) wants to “keep it real” while not knowing a goddamned difference between what is truly Afro-American and what white liberal paternalists concocted and passed off as “black.” Naturally, Mr. Keep-it-Real prefers the white liberal fantasy of the Noble Savage which, no matter how noble it sounds, is simply not who or what he is. In fact white liberal fantasies about blackness are merely the flip side of what the KKK thinks about blackness, but Mr. Keep-it-Real is so embroiled in concealing just who he is and what he thinks about life that he might as well stay backstage and not torture us anymore with his confusion. Mr. Keep-it-Real wants to be ignorant, primitive, corrupt, base, BAD, because that’s what he thinks “blackness” is. He sees himself as the white man’s shadow and can’t function without him or knowledge of him.

To be continued…

 

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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

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.