Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Notes on Toni Cade Bambara

Thabiti Lewis is the author of Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America (Third World Press, 2010) and of the forthcoming edited book, Conversations with Toni Cade Bambara (University Press of Mississippi, Spring 2012)

Every time I talk or write about Toni Cade Bambara I laugh thinking about how a graduate school professor attempted to convince me her work was too narrow for a dissertation topic.  Bambara would certainly have chuckled at his ignorance. Anyone who knows a little bit about her work is aware of how her work embraces many elements at one time.  Indeed her vision is what literary critic Joyce A. Joyce once called “a panoramic” because she explores the full scope of Black life and culture in her fiction from history, feminism, and geology to blues, jazz, clairvoyance, spiritual renewal, religion, cinematography and physics. A Black Arts movement writer, her use of  West African religions, and African and African American folk culture reflect African American literary scholars such as myself are interested in exploring: (1) how social, historical, and political conditions frame and have framed production; or (2) how African descended peoples in the United States and throughout the African Diaspora have produced texts.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ishmael Reed and Multiculturism

By HBW Contributor:  Jerry W.Ward, Jr., Professor of English at Dillard University.

In The Gift of Black Folk (1924), W. E. B. DuBois asserted that the meek in the new world “not only inherited the earth but made their heritage a thing of questing for eternal youth, of fruitful labor, or joy and music, of the free spirit and of the ministering hand, of wide and poignant sympathy with men in their struggle to live and love which is, after all, the end of being.” Strip DuBois’s sentimental prose of flowers and sugar, and one comes to the core: the descendents of African peoples in the United States gave this nation the gift of humanity, a gift that burns the hands of people who have no color.  Those who chirp endlessly about their sympathy for peoples of color have much to learn from Ishmael Reed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Notes on John Edgar Wideman's Fanon

By HBW Contributor:  Jerry W.Ward, Jr., Professor of English at Dillard University.

John Edgar Wideman is arguably one of the most serious living writers in the Americas, and one might dream that the Nobel Prize folk will recognize his value.  Remembering where the wealth that finances Nobel Prizes came from, one might decide to kill the dream and return to the more noble space where genuine respect for Wideman’s achievement can breathe.  Too often prizes are harbingers of the oblivion that conquers momentary fame when media enthusiasm dies, the trinkets of a trickster named Success.  Wideman has earned respect by virtue of his unrelenting efforts to master the language of language and his being a master teacher of how it should be done.  He has certainly shown us in his fiction and non-fiction how to manage tragedy without giving ourselves over the consolation of insanity.  He gives to us what Matthew Arnold gave to his generation in the poem “Dover Beach”: relentless determination to deal with what is actual rather than the artifice of the real.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Love Hip-Hop: Aesthetics, Politics, and Society

James Haile is a doctoral student in philosophy at Duquesne University. His research centers on the relation of philosophy to literature and sociology. His edited collection, PhilosophicalMeditations on Richard Wright (Lexington Books) is forthcoming this fall.

            What are the aesthetic, social and political messages of hip-hop music? Although much has been written—and continues to be written—on the “tremendous potential” of this musical art-form for social criticism and change (perhaps even revolution), the vast majority of it centers on the more overtly ‘socially conscious’, ‘politically oriented’ groups and MCs (a few examples: Dead Prez, Black Star, KRS-One, and, most notably, the late Tupac and the now defunct Public Enemy). Conversely, there has been scant commentary on the social and political ‘consciousness’ of more mainstream hip-hop music (a few examples: Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, and Rick Ross). Instead, many have simply relied on the too generally accepted, strict dichotomies: mainstream versus underground, authentic versus commercial, social and politically conscious versus dance/booty shake music (to name a few). And, still many of hip-hop artists (especially those who have been given the currency of social consciousness) fight these strict categories, not solely on grounds of artistic freedom (and expression), but on social and political grounds: Mos Def raps in “Close Edge”, “so stop with the nonsense that he's conscious, I'm just awake y’all”; or, Andre 3000’s insistence on “Aquemini”, “Now question: is every nigga with dreads for the cause? Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw, so don't get caught in appearance.” What is left for us to think about, especially with Andre 3000, is the nature of political expression: what do politics look like, especially for those who were born and/or grew up post-Civil Rights, what Mark Anthony Neal calls the post-soul era. Moreover, if we are to look to contemporary hip-hop to deliver a political message, to capture the post-soul era of American life, what should this hip-hop message look like?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Digging Amiri Baraka

By HBW Contributor: Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Professor of English at Dillard University.

 Baraka, Amiri.  Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

“Man is capable of doing what he is incapable of imagining.  His head tills the galaxy of the absurd.”
          RenĂ© Char, Leaves of Hypnos, Note 227

1963.  I discover Leroi Jones and “The End of Man Is His Beauty” in Beyond the Blues (1962), edited by Rosey E. Pool.  At that time, his essays and jazz commentaries had moved beyond the United States, as far away “as CRUCIBLE, a periodical published in Scotland” (Pool 135). LeRoi Jones had also published Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), which Ralph Ellison thought was an attempt to do brain surgery with a switchblade. A proper Negro would reach such a conclusion.  I was just a black teenager in Mississippi who had first listened to Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” in 1959, so I valued Mr. Jones more than Mr. Ellison did. And Blues People was easier to read than Invisible Man.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Ethics of Ekstasis

James Haile is a doctoral student in philosophy at Duquesne University. His research focuses on the relation of philosophy to literature and sociology. His edited collection, Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright (Lexington Books) is forthcoming this fall.

One of the trenchant criticisms of the hip-hop generation—generally, those born after the Civil Rights Era, coming of age between 1970 and 1980—and post hip-hop generation—those born after 1980, coming of age in an era in which hip-hop has become a world wide phenomena—has been that these generations lack the attention span of the previous generations as well as the dedication and work ethic to hone the details of craft. This lack of attention to detail and work ethic is most pronounced in the music that these generations produced. Hip-hop as a musical form encompasses, for many, all that is wrong with these generations: the desire for immediate gratification, a crumbling morality that is reflected in its materialism. What is often misunderstood, though, is that this generation and its music offer a deep ethics, one that is tied to and reflective of the paradigmatic shift that occurred in the mid to late 1970s and is experienced contemporaneously. Beneath what appears to be gross materialism is a seated ethical impulse, one that is often typified as swag, but that I will articulate as ekstasis: to be or stand out or off of, apart, from external/exogenous forces.