Wednesday, April 27, 2011

APOCALYPSE comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means the unconcealing, the bringing to light, the revealing. The Western canon, insofar as there ever was such a thing, has believed in the occlusion of the pre-apocalyptic present from itself. In this tightly-guarded monument to paranoia that is European Ideals, the present can only exist insofar as it is not apocalyptic, insofar as it hides its true nature, which is the apex of the highest beauty and the lowest degradation, all at once in the figure of the banal, the heart-disease-ridden bag lady at the bus stop, the shivering heroin addict on the corner, oversexed chattering people, men who love gambling, pub quizzes, immigrants and "natives." The incessant, libidinal invasion of the present by dark spectres, formless forms, by the chromatism of hiding, eruption and fugitivity. The Black death, the hiddenness of truth, the final uncovering of truth in the Holy Revelation and Resurrection. The light is only at the beginning and at the end, in the cratio ex nihilo and the apocalyptic revealing of the bifurcation of being into those who are saved and those who are damned, the civilized and the sinners.

How to think the apocalypse otherwise is our hope and our wager. What could the apocalypse be if not a revealing, or could it be a revealing that reveals what was already there? The collapse of everyday things into other forms, the life that lives on death? The apocalypse which is real for the grass dying outside, for the plants and animals dissembling in our intestines, just as much as for the new lives which emerge to multiply from the fresh corpses. There is no drama here, at least not in the sense of a final Reckoning or Revelation, aside, perhaps, from the plant's understanding that it will be returned to the multiplicity which already traversed it. To feed on sunlight, on the creator which will ultimately destroy our world with its overzealous, exuberant abundance.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Angry-dad-ification of Marshall Mathers

Having been twelve and amidst a large cohort of urban white kids, I remember vividly Eminem's dramatic entrance onto the national scene in 1999. For the first time, it seemed, the familial, oedipal, self-harming psychoses of a white youth were placed alongside the gangstafied funk and soul revivals of a black producer-icon, Dr. Dre. It was as if Kurt Cobain had been reborn, in a black neighborhood, with a sense of humor. A perverse kind of musical cotton candy, it became the quintessential youth "headmusic," to borrow Kodwo Eshun's phrase. For the entirety of my 13-year-old life I could remember men in the neighborhood blasting hip hop from huge, lumbering American cars as they passed my house. Eminem seemed to be the first massive rap artist who was immune to this type of broadcasting. Yet every private-school boy, mostly white and asian, had a copy, bootleg or genuine, of the Slim Shady LP and its darker followup, the Marshall Mathers LP.

Hey, kids! Do you like violence?

Eminem's appeal seemed solely male, a sort of musical accompaniment to the first-person-shooter game, each track repeating, in explicit and gory detail, a series of assaults and overdoses (See, for instance, "Brain Damage"). It was their outlandishness, their absurdity, that made them OK to us, and this appetite for the fantastic may have been Eminem's way of refusing the compulsion to prove his "street cred"--the stories, like those of Slick Rick, were often so entertaining that nobody cared to ask if they were true or not. At the same time, though, there were stories about his relationship with Kim that made people hope they weren't true. One of the moments in Eminem that I loved the most was his hook on the track "Role Model":

I came to the club drunk with a fake ID
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I've been with 10 women who got HIV
Now don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I got genital warts and it burns when I pee
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I tie a rope around my penis and jump from a tree
You probably wanna grow up to be just like me!!!

His joy at the prospect of his own imaginary castration set him far apart from other hip hop artists, even Dre himself, for whom the mention of one's own penis could only be a metaphoric reference to size and power. Eminem's antics were all in the service of the overarching philosophical journey towards "just not giving a fuck".

I would not, then, have guessed that Eminem's career would proceed the way it has, although, looking back, I really can't imagine how else it could have gone. Nowadays, his tracks are inevitably put together by superstar producers and played almost as a kind of "urban easy listening," that is to say, everywhere that plays hip hop music--malls, convenience stores, salons. His new ("post-addiction-metamorphosis") tracks lack the utter Dionysian destructiveness of his early ones, but are no less angry or violent. Nowadays, he yells like a middle-aged alcoholic, his voice devoid of the mischief and humor of the bleached-blonde days. His tracks have always, since "My Name Is," been mainstream, but now they occupy a different mainstream, one which includes middle-aged people, black people, and women. That's not to say that black people never listened to Eminem at the beginning, but I remember the moment when D12 came out as a turning point, at which a black kid I knew told me he thought the early stuff wasn't very good, but this new stuff was better. At the beginning he really was Elvis to many people, the white guy stealing the art form and making a lot of money off of it. Now he's just another abusive dad, his anger completely uncontroversial, the pitched rage of his voice used to "balance out" the soulful harmonies of the female singer he accompanies. I don't mean to suggest that his anger was more controversial when he directed his vitriol toward Christina Aguilera, Fred Durst, Insane Clown Posse, and Mariah Carey. But in those days it fooled people for whom the entire world consisted of MTV into thinking that he really was rocking the boat. Nowadays he's another jealous, over-the-hill lover, yelling at Rihanna: "I'ma tie you to the bed and set this house on fire!!"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Something Spiritual Stops Terrorism

2008's Deja Vu, a satisfying romp in the impossible, directed in name by Tony Scott but in reality by Bruckheimer.

It's hard to isolate what it is about the film that makes it pre-recession, but it couldn't have been made after 2008. Not enough cynicism, too much techno-optimism and naive terrorist paranoia. Denzel sends a note back in time to an ATF agent, his former partner, which says, in few words, that there will be a terrorist attack at a particular time and place. The agent rushes, alone, to the location, and is shot dead by the terrorist. In light of the recent scholarship showing that the authorities passed up the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to prevent 9/11, this is a nice, comforting fiction that does not belong. The entire idea that any federal agent is willing to put his/her life on the line for the lives of everyday people is dubious, unfortunately. Since their creation, the various secret polices have not served to protect the people, but to protect the people from being dissuaded from following certain legitimized centers of power, and "neutralizing" others such as Fred Hampton, Patrice Lumumba, and so on.

A more amusing comfort is the creation of an attractive collaboration of races in the execution of cutting-edge scientific projects... when last I checked the faculty at CalTech was about 95% white. Val Kilmer, a Jewish guy (the Hebrew Hammer AKA Adam Goldberg, an actor who, in not changing his Jewish name, and in playing stereotypically Jewish characters, has become a "character actor"), and a Black woman (Erika Alexander, from "Living Single") are the three top time-travel scientists in the world who create a wormhole in spacetime. Denzel is the House M.D. to them, the subject-supposed-to-know, a kind of brash father figure who tells them what they're wrong and cowardly about, and he's always right, because he can see beyond their narrow, bureaucratic perspective.

Jewish guy: It's physically impossible.

Denzel: What if it's more than physics?

Jewish guy: Something spiritual?

Denzel: Yeah. Something spiritual.

Denzel is the Ed Harris character in The Truman Show, in love with his subject, who he monitors without her knowing, on massive projection screens with a team of lackeys administering reality for him on a billion dollars' worth of technical equipment. Yet, unlike Harris' Manichean manipulator, Denzel is squarely on the side of good in his voyeurism, doing it all for the good of humanity and a beautiful woman who stands for the lives of hundreds of innocents.

The most ignorant option for the terrorist antagonist would have also been the easiest: the mindless Arab bomber from The Hurt Locker (thanks to Hisham Awad for pointing this out). But the filmmakers are not that simpleminded--they opt, instead, for the white nationalist patriot, the Timothy McVeigh type, equally-feared, in urban bourgeois circles. Jim Caviezel, best known for his portrayal of Jesus, is a more perverted messenger now, spreading an incoherent message which is unimportant to the plot, having something to do with patriotism. At the end they try to make it into a Se7en moment, with the terrorist confessing his motivations, but it turns out just to be a ploy to stall for time while Paula Patton prepares to crush him between two cars, which she does, sending him flailing, shooting semiautomatic rounds everywhere. Caviezel's character is a cross between McVeigh and the Columbine Shooters, yet the narrative explains as much about them as Hurt Locker does about Islamic terrorists.

But nobody expected it to explain anything. It does mention an interesting idea about folding spacetime in on itself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

There are some Black people who think that O.J. Simpson is an asshole, like I do. And some Black people wished Black people would stop cheering and that white people would stop weeping and that we would all say, "well, it's not a big deal." But those days right around in there, I really did feel that, perhaps, white people were going to riot.
- Hortense Spillers

Monday, April 18, 2011

the mainstream coverage of kingsley burrell's death tries to completely rid the event of any emotion. passive voice, technical terminology, short sentences: . Compare it to this story, which reaches far fewer readers:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Troubled Politics: Kanye and Bush

We all remember Kanye West, wearing a striped T-shirt, staring at the camera with the same look of disbelief as Mike Myers standing next to him, maybe not sure if he actually just said what he just said. Mike Myers wished he could suddenly be back in Canada where things are calmer. We all knew West was right, even those who claimed to disagree with him, feeling sorry for themselves and their guilty consciences.

Out of all the things that happened to him in office, the worst thing, Bush said, the single hardest thing for him to cope with, was Kanye West calling him a racist on television.

The interviewer corrected him: "well, Mr President, he said you didn't care about black people, not that--"

Bush interrupted, "yeah! He called me a racist! I am not a racist and I have never been one..."

The interviewer pushed him: "are you sure that this was even worse than all the lives lost and livelihoods destroyed in Hurricane Katrina...?"

Bush waffled..."of course that affected me deeply..."

So far this is a typical Bush strategy. Act like a deer in the headlights. In the War on Terror, he's Dirty Harry, ready to smoke the enemy out of his cave, but right now, he's a doe in a pasture, good mood crushed by the thought of someone calling him the supposed "worst epithet in a multicultural society"--a racist.

It looked like his feelings might actually have been hurt. His face trembled with the anxiety that came with any of his talking about issues not related to bombing the shit out of Arab countries. He said that he was hurt by West's comment and did not appreciate it one bit. It's not difficult to call his bluff: there were so many other scandals, with stakes so much higher than this minor incident, and Bush was so good at selling a man-of-steel, shoot-first-ask-questions-later image to his white constituents with a careful, thorough pride.

Sincerity aside, Bush supplemented his vulnerable admission with a phrase lifted from Ebonics (via a hard-working PR intern?)--"I'm not a hater though." He didn't seem to be using the phrase right (being a hater usually implies jealousy), but it's the idea that counts: he's extending the olive branch to West, in his very own native tongue, no less! He's a hep cat! Maybe he actually came across this phrase all by himself (his daughter reported that he listens to Lauryn Hill).

So here's where the Twilight Zone begins: Kanye West apologized to Bush. "I would tell George Bush, in my moment of frustration, I didn't have the grounds to call him a racist," he said to Matt Lauer. "But I believe that, in a situation of high emotion like that, we as human beings don't always choose the right words."

West could have chosen a better platform than the middle of the pledge drive, so that he might have been able to elaborate, to point to some tell tale signs. Under Bush, a drastic expansion of the size of the federal government and the national debt through military and incarceration spending, combined with thorough destruction of many social services and other public programs creates a situation where the rate of poverty for black children is actually higher today than it was in 1968, and there are fewer black senators now than there were in the late 1800s. If one were to take social conditions as one's evidence, and not famous names and faces, it would not be difficult to conclude that George Bush doesn't care about black people.

This statement does not mean, Cornel West said, that Bush believes that every black individual is inferior to every white individual, or that he cares any more about poor people of any other color. Bush has no problem accepting that there are exceptional black individuals, because this is America, where anyone can succeed. But this has nothing to do with justice for a people. And all of the non-black, mostly poor folks who were paralyzed in Iraq or lost their homes to shady unregulated mortgage deals were just as short-changed as poor black folks.

What's most thought-provoking about this apology is that it raises the possibility that Kanye West might care a little bit less about black people than he thought he did. Or that he would rather feel safer by retracting a statement that he felt like he couldn't afford to have made. Or, perhaps most likely, that the increasing division between wealthy and poor Americans, the splitting of society under the dogma of finance profiteerism, is wrenching a small elite of blacks from even the symbolic possibility to make political statements, because they feel that too much is at stake. See, for instance, the interesting, but quite unexpected, shouting match between Cornel West and Al Sharpton on MSNBC regarding Obama's political commitments, or lack thereof.

We are going to see more Clarence Thomases, and perhaps more John Browns. The real possibilities lie in setting aside our common cowardice about saying "love" in a political way, saying that we can love one another in a revolutionary sense.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This is a description of the most wanted man in America, according to the FBI's most wanted list:

"Brown speaks fluent French and has a Masters Degree in International Business. He is an avid golfer, snowboarder, skier, and dirt biker. Brown enjoys being the center of attention and has been known to frequent nightclubs where he enjoys showing off his high-priced vehicles, boats, and other toys. He has been described as possibly having bisexual tendencies."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

women's styles and lifestyles

She's got style. At least, that's how it seemed for the few moments I saw her on the train and afterwards. She wasn't cheerful, per se, and she had that peculiarly British way of turning inward, which can seem like a lack of confidence but is another way of having a British reserve. But when I asked if I could take her picture, she said, "sure," and, for a moment, seemed satisfied. It struck me as very un-American the way she didn't smile when I took her picture. This not-smiling gaze was a kind of style that I noticed the moment I saw her.

One day, when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, I encountered a man on the bus, either the 40, the 40L, the 51, or the 51A, going between Oakland and Berkeley. I'm not even sure if these bus lines exist anymore, but I used to take them regularly. I might have been with friends this time, because when I was with friends on the bus and people said things that were memorable, often homeless or nomadic people, we would repeat these things to each other for the rest of the day.

I don't remember much about the man or what he looked like, but, like many nomadic people, he had a philosophy that he was ready and willing to share with us, a philosophy of women. On the one hand, he was developing it as he went, and on the other hand, he was kind of trying to instruct us, as if he knew that we didn't have much experience with women, as if he knew that he could tell us something about them. He was both developing a philosophy and acutely exasperated with the lack of a certain trait among women. He kept saying to us, "gameless bitches, man! Gameless bitches! Don't mess with them gameless bitches!" He was describing to us how "gameless bitches" are something to be avoided, a kind of horrible affliction. We didn't discuss it much, probably because we were still very unsure what it might mean to have any kind of "game" ourselves, or what having "game" might mean, and for what, but for the rest of the day we repeated it with a kind of intoxicated glee. We couldn't tell if we were ridiculing him or spreading his insight.

It's really astonishing how many times I've returned to that day in my mind, how many times I've found it utterly treacherous to deal with a woman who has no notion that it might be a good thing to have game. This is something that I have to put into writing to get a hearing for it, because people find it so difficult to believe when I say it to them in speech. The computer screen can't disagree with me and tell me I'm full of shit. The truth is that it's not just a woman's looks that matter. Or, when we say a woman is good-looking, we aren't talking, simply, about her physiognomy or her "natural" features. As Oscar Wilde said, acting natural is a difficult act to keep up. The idea that a woman is beautiful simply because she was born that way is, on a certain level, a complex ploy, a conspiracy perpetrated by an alliance of that woman and a community of style. This is how a woman becomes beautiful, by mobilizing a kind of propaganda machine, a subterranean logic of capture and withdrawal, in order to display a kind of game whose rules are both incomplete and full of traps.

Style is inseparable from looks, in the same way that race and gender are inseparable from behavior. It's not possible to silence the hordes of blank starers who never get tired of insisting on the naturalness and biological predeterminedness of separable and isolated race, gender, and culture. But they protest so much because they know, on a liminal, subliminal layer, that there is something about identity which is not at all predetermined or genetically written. Women have known this for far longer than men. There is very little about Humphrey Bogart's physical body, his facial structure, the shape of his torso, that makes him a sex icon to women--it's all about the way he turns words around, the flick of his cigarette, the positioning of his shoulders, the pursing of his lips, the gaze beyond time which he gives when he looks at a woman, as if to say, I could have you but that might be irrelevant, because there's only one way of all flesh. Game is something like this, a social physics of entanglement which is at peace, what Achille Mbembe has called "serenity in the face of tragedy" in his "Variations of the Beautiful in Congolese Worlds of Sound."

I don't want to disparage "gameless bitches" as much as the guy on the bus, because I know that so many of them are kind and well-meaning and intelligent people. It's not simple enough to say that it's the woman who believes herself not to be beautiful. Game is not the same thing as beauty, because the concept of beauty is older, and has more to do with the object of desire. Game is something like the object that desires, or the object that breaks out of its objecthood through a deployment of desire.

Increasingly, to be a beautiful woman is to have style which is to have game. One impact of feminism and of changing conditions in gender relations is that women are implicated in strategies previously thought to be the domain of men alone, like having game. Her "natural" capacities, then, the things which she possessed when she emerged from the womb, are backgrounded and couched in a rhetorical assemblage of enunciation which is her "game" and her style. The way she allows her body to inhabit her clothing, the way she styles her hair, her makeup, her technologies of the self.

P.S. the woman with no game watches a LOT of television.