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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