Monthly Archives: May 2011

Nick De Genova

I should post this on my other blog; perhaps I will cross post it. I am writing it so I can clear out the journal issue in which the article in question lies: Gangster Rap and Nihilism in Black America. Some Questions of Life and Death. I do not know Nicholas de Genova and I was struck by his piece long before he had all of these problems.

You can see the epigraph from Richard Wright on the first pace of this piece, to which I linked in the paragraph above. At the time I read this I thought it useful in several ways; years have passed since, so we will see.


– “creative nihilism” in Wright – from this idea we will study gangster rap
– this article will critically engage Cornel West and his “facile sermonizing” (89)
– “There is little merit in criticizing a complex … cultural field for its political inconsistencies in light of some ideal political agenda to which it has absolutely no conscious relationship.” (90)
– Wright and the entanglements of life and death – creativity and destruction, life under terror
– Wright does not romanticize and idyllic space of African American racial community
– Ellison recognizes about Wright that the experience of violence is key
– Gilroy suggests this is why Wright is only partially canonical – he is ambivalent about Black community because of violence and the ideology of the family
– West, the moralizer, says nihilism is Black America’s problem
– for West nihilism is not a struggle with death; it is death, and the violence of everyday life is a result of it (very Christian of West, I must say)
– but what Wright sees is the complicity of (older) Black people with terror [N. Ed.:  note Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi; the narrator’s struggle against her parents’ fears is a significant aspect of the narrative]
– Wright’s “nihilism” is a refusal to go under to that terror … he is willing to cross over to freedom even if the price is death (95)
– Wright’s blind spot, if you will is machismo
– Morrison’s Beloved is actually “nihilistic” from De Genova’s point of view
– In Native Son transgression is the only way to expression
– rebellion and madness (connected according to Wright, for sociological reasons, but West does not allow for this)
– Nihilism is the expression of undaunted yearning
– Angela Davis has questioned West’s notion of nihilism
– West is kind of in the position of the colonial elite – doubling himself, lamenting the lack of civilization among the savages
– Gangster rap is the expresion of an urban American “culture of terror” and “space of death” (106) [cf. Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man – the colonizers conjure mythology about the “savagery” of the colonized, which the colonized people use to manipulate the delusions of their enemies
– 106-107: Toni Morrison on the idea of the jungle: it is what “whitefolks” project onto people of color … so in gangster rap Black realism and white enchantment (with the “jungle”) converge
– Gangster rap serves up white America’s most cherished gun slinging mythologies in the form of its blackest nighmares … while  empowering Black imaginations to negate the existential terror of ghetto life [N. Ed. et les femmes? – but he does address this]
– [I understand de Genova’s  argument but I am still not pleased with justifications of criminality, or idealizations of it, whether the criminals be Black, French (Genet), or whatever…]
– the reality of violence; death as a reward
– West’s essential defense of capitalism; gangster rap as the reply
– de Genova looks at [destruction] not as meaningless nihilism but as “the inpulse … which is our only hope of new life”


So I was interested in that article, then, and saved it all of this time, because it went against the West-style preachiness and was able to conceive of destruction as a source of growth.


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This old or perhaps permanent song came on the radio this afternoon, taking me by surprise.

Here you can see the fascinating 1973 performance of the censored version of this song.

This is how the (uncensored) song ends; note the play on words:

Pai! Afasta de mim esse cálice
Pai! Afasta de mim esse cálice
Pai! Afasta de mim esse cálice
De vinho tinto de sangue…

Talvez o mundo não seja pequeno, (Cale-se!)
Nem seja a vida um fato consumado. (Cale-se!)
Quero inventar o meu próprio pecado. (Cale-se!)
Quero morrer do meu próprio veneno. (Pai! Cale-se!)
Quero perder de vez tua cabeça! (Cale-se!)
Minha cabeça perder teu juízo. (Cale-se!)
Quero cheirar fumaça de óleo diesel. (Cale-se!)
Me embriagar até que alguém me esqueça. (Cale-se!)

This video has English subtitles, and a complete English translation (minus the play on words) below the fold.


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On Walking in the Spirit

Gil Scott-Heron (foi poeta, porra).


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El look del verano

This look involves Kiehl’s tinted moisturizer SPF 15, Burt’s Bees lip gloss, Almay brow defining pencil, and some type of mascara, perhaps Almay intense i-color. That is all I am willing to keep track of in this heat. I am also resigning from the use of heels of any type until 21 September.

The look will be finished with OPI Suzi Sells Sushi nail polish and Mountain Ocean Skin Trip coconut moisturizer. If any of these companies would like to pay me for product placement, they are welcome to do so.

I am taking suggestions for swimwear and bicycles (a fashion item, too, you know). I seek a one speed bicycle with a hand brake in front and coaster brakes as well, and there are no budget ones. I also seek an inexpensive yet sturdy bistro set, ideally a little less ornate than this one, made to be outdoor furniture but that would also work well indoors.

I would suggest clothes by Bee Rio and, for the brave, some of the things the Urban Socialite wears. The sunglasses I recommend are by Native. I cannot think of anything else to recommend except some expensive, but very good perfume by Hové.


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Aaron Neville

This blog has gone somewhat old-timey in the past few days because I am convincing myself to go to this passion play they are putting on at Angola.

I will go for the sakes of some of the players, although I would like to boycott this event given my objection to the fact that, in the prison where our state conducts its executions, the play which has been allowed past the censors is a passion play. I will go.

The most interesting thing to me about having become an academic is that it brought me to my present region, which I would not otherwise know. Here is where the music starts, and I am glad to hear it every day.

“You can’t hate your neighbor with your mind stayed on freedom.”


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Read It Slant (On Baldwin)

Minority writers who write about being minorities generally aren’t treated very well in America: too often they are offered up in high school and college courses merely as ritual sacrifices to the gods of multiculturalism. Yet the reason to read James Baldwin, and any good writer regardless of color or creed, is that he can teach us how to be more human. “Pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain,” Baldwin observed in 1963, “and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”

Elias Altman


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On Doing Things Right Four or Five Times (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

The discovery of this swinging video is the result of thinking about James Baldwin. He has a novel, Just Above My Head, whose title naturally makes one want to look at Sister Rosetta Tharpe, that great, possibly rock guitarist.

My favorite YouTube comment of all time is on her Strange Things Happening Every Day. “If it were not for the Church of God in Christ, there would be no rock and roll as we now know it.” But this is blues.


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Rainbow Sign

Georgia 1929: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, “No more water, but fire next time!”


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On James Baldwin

This is smart.


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Miriam Schapiro, Celia Gilbert

As we know, I am fascinated with Working It Out. I need to put this volume aside, though, so as to pore over other things. I also think I will see some things in it more clearly still if I come back to it later, yet I do not want to leave it unfinished on the present read-through. This is a set of brief notes on some pieces to which I shall not attempt to do justice now, and quotations from two which draw my attention sharply: Miriam Schapiro‘s “Notes from a Conversation on Art, Feminism, and Work” (283-305) and Celia Gilbert‘s “The Sacred Fire” (306-322).

Essays to which I am paying less attention now are Kay Keeshan Hamod’s, which includes a really useful discussion of women in Victorian England (and I do think my mother and I were both raised to believe we were there); Hamod was later Professor of History at Rutgers University and died in the late 1990s. alice atkinson lyndon (Alice Wingwall) writes on her work as a sculptor; Joann Green shows telling work in progress or process; Diana Michener talks about the difficulty of daring to become an art and not a journalistic photographer.

Alice Walker’s 1974 piece for Ms., In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, is reprinted here; it carries the power of the saints. “Our mothers” are plural and they reach back and back in time. Connie Young Yu writes about deciding to “write Chinese America;” I think “but she is a doctor’s wife, she can afford to work in the way she does;” then I think of the doctors’ wives I know in real life, now, who do not do such things. Naomi Thornton writes about acting; I will return to all these people in a few months.

There are references in many of these pieces to the fear that if the writer is truly successful, in a way that is true to herself, people will die (or, alternatively, she will be killed). I am assailed by these images as well.


Born in 1923, Schapiro grew up with the idea that the world was a place where only a man could work. She did not act on this idea, of course. What constitutes work? She considers teaching, which she does for pay, her second work and painting her primary work. I knew that when I was in school, but this idea has been considered almost sinful, for women, in some places I have been a professor. She has trouble recognizing the kind of domestic labor her mother performs as work. Read Alice Walker, and also become aware of the skill and planning that goes into that kind of work – especially if one is doing more than take care of a student apartment, or helping out with light cleaning.

She was a token woman in a male art world, and was beset by doubts as to whether she, a woman, could or should really be an artist. And the male artists were not comfortable with woman artists who did not establish themselves as female – e.g. relate in a sexual way, discuss sexual identity – first. Women artists, meanwhile, did not seem to respect each other deeply. They would talk about their personal lives, but not about painting.

And she was, like many writers in this volume, lost in her role as a woman artist. Not having the conditions to work the twelve hour days Rembrandt had, giving pieces of herself to others as women in patriarchal society do, she began to have difficulty affirming herself in her art in the time she did have to devote to it. She actually lost the ability to work, and experienced this as having forgotten how to make a painting. She went into a psychoanalysis based on the theories of Karen Horney, which are worth studying. Looking up Karen Horney, I found this sentence, which explains many things: “In the 1930’s, Brooklyn was the intellectual capital of the world, due in part to the influx of Jewish refugees from Germany.”

She started working again, but in a different vein and spirit. “Although I was indoctrinated early into the ways of work, no one had been able to tell me before why to work or for whom.” (291) In California in 1970, she met and worked with Judy Chicago. She was fascinated by the women artists she met in California — serious people but poorer than New York artists, working “in the most invisible, most anonymous way” (294) and with what I would call a much stronger feminist consciousness. (292-294)

After this experience she began working in a more feminist way. This had various aspects, only one of which was beginning

to redress the trivialization of women’s experience…. I learned … that my sense of my life, of my conflicts, of my work as mine alone, was a false view of my own history. I learned that all women had experienced some version of problems I had taken to be unique. (300)

She says:

When I talk to you about my ambivalence, my fears, my guilts, I too am trying to help us make new connections. I too was “victimized” by this culture. It took a movement of women to equal, to balance, in my head, my father’s image. Until I was struck by the mass, the weight, of women’s works, I could only live with my fears, not overcome them. Women made me understand that I could join them, that we could join together, that I could proclaim myself a woman and do my work. Things seemed to snap into place; my work ecame joy. I had been in the fog for many years. I had been clear about being an artist, but not about much else. (302)


When I look back on the years of excessive self-doubt, I wonder how I was able to make my paintings. In part, I managed to paint because I had a desire … to push through, to make an image that signified. The fear of death is on the other side of that desire, the other side of creativity…. I don’t want to be mystical. I do want to stress … the interconnectedness, the experienced duality, of death and creation. The principal artists in the fifties were men; and almost every other one drank himself to death. Why? … It had to do with … responsibility for one’s work and doubts about fulfilling that responsibility alone in the studio. It had to do with facing death, alone, while trying to create life.” (303-304; there is much more here about the relationship between life, creativity, work, and death, that is worth reading and considering.)

Schapiro works in a very different way than does her husband, less apparently “organized.” And she notes that to work, to place work at the center of your life, is living, is being a full person. This is, of course, why I have always resented it when people try to break my concentration by saying, “You work too hard.” (Although these people might be related to those who say taking time off is “decadent,” I reckon.)


I am avoiding reading e-mail today because there is a letter from Evergreen Review, on a story I submitted last year. I am assuming it is a rejection. I submitted it four places – you can do that with creative writing – and it has already been rejected from two of these. I sent another fragment of this novel to only one place, and it was rejected.

I have not decided yet where to resubmit that second piece and I somehow want to get it sent off, or get that manuscript moving again in some way, before reading this rejection slip. That is one reason why I want to put Working It Out away for a while, although this book has me mesmerized. I will say a few things about Celia Gilbert, and then go.


Born in 1932, Gilbert grew up in a traditional family. Her aunt was happy as a “career girl” but her parents considered this aunt a “poor thing.” Her father appreciated her intelligence, so long as it was (at least so far as he knew) officially inferior to his own. She married a man who did not have values nearly so traditional, but she insisted upon reproducing her parents’ marriage with him – largely so as to retain her own mother’s love.

When at 34, in 1966, Gilbert began to work again as a poet (she had won a poetry prize at Smith in 1951, but stopped writing when she was married), she found that she was ignorant of work. She was “unfamiliar with the process: the need for persistence and encouragement, the small achievements that lead to greater confidence, the courage to try, the courage to fail.” (312) She was unused to viewing her actions as important, and she had a sense of inferiority that masqueraded as modesty. She assumed that others’ achievements were “real” and hers were not. (312)

Being a good daughter meant not working; Gilbert felt passive and dependent (I do not or do not realize that is what to call it) and saw herself as captive and paralyzed (I do that). She grew stronger slowly. She doesn’t feel she can write “just anytime,” and she learned to insist on her writers’ hours. Anne Sexton was one of her professors in the graduate program in Creative Writing at Boston University, and it is not clear to Gilbert that she would have become a poet without the women’s movement. And had she begun writing seriously earlier, she “might have believed in the androgyny of art and ignored the hegemony of male editors, publishers, and attitudes,” but she did not. (317) On work she says, and I could write almost exactly this:

For me, there had been a taboo on work as powerful as the proscription against incest. To give myself to my work–to admit that I loved it as much as husband and children, needed it as much, perhaps more, was the most terrifying admission I could make. [But] the challenge of work is in daring to use my whole self in the struggle for growth. Without that growth, I would be living an “unlived life.” … [Like Prometheus, women], defying their fear of punishment, [should] wrest from men that jealously guarded fire, the sacred right to a work. [She contrasts the fire Prometheus steals to the hearth fires women traditionally tend.] (319)

Perhaps the reason I am fascinated with Working It Out is that I would like to write my own contribution to it. Perhaps I will do this but if I do, I will have to find a way to limit the amount of time spent upon it per day or week. I used to think Friday evenings would be a good time for this kind of writing; perhaps they are.

It might be a creative piece, or it might be a chronicle for a feminist journal. It might be an academic piece on working — not necessarily for this journal, but for some journal. This piece and the piece I may have had rejected from Evergreen Review are some of the kinds of writing — literature, personal essay, journalistic essay — I really like to do.


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