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Monday, August 27, 2012


A POETIC JOURNEY

                Once in the 1970s when I was driving E. Ethelbert Miller and a lady whose work got some attention in the early twentieth century to some event, the lady snidely remarked that Margaret Walker was a one-poem poet.  A young man must respect his elders.  I winced in silence.  Literary history does reward snobbishness.  The lady is as seldom mentioned for her plays and poetry as her once-famous father is mentioned for his contributions to African American intellectual history.

                The one-poem poet, on the other hand is an icon in American cultural history, and her iconic status does not rest on a single poem. This single poem, however, continues to have uncanny agency.  In “The Journey of Margaret Walker’s ‘For My People,” Howard Rambsy II sketched the publishing history of the poem (http://siueblkstudies.blogspot.com/2011/07/journey-of-margeret-walkers-for-my.html ).  Publishing history tells us much about the politics of the literary marketplace and much more about why ordinary people (who may have little or no vested interest in poetry as such) have embraced and “loved” Margaret Walker’s signature poem for over seven decades.  Like James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift every Voice and Sing,” Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die,” and Langston Hughes’ “I Have Known Rivers,” the poem circulates and recirculates, providing succor in times of great need.

                In addition to appearing in many anthologies, the poem appears in two special editions.  One of the most handsome and expensive editions is For My People. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1992. It is an elephant folio with covers of red Japanese linen with black stamping, issued in 400 numbered copies. It contains lithographs by Elizabeth Catlett.  The other special edition is Margaret Walker’s ‘For My People’: A Tribute (1992) with photographs by Roland L. Freeman.

                In simple, carefully measured words, Gordon Parks wrote of this edition:  “Roland Freeman’s tribute to Margaret Walker is indeed a beautiful merging of the talent both artists have displayed in literature and photography.  Both are disciples of profound poetry.”  Alferdteen Harrison reminds us in the preface that “the publishing relationship of Walker and Freeman, reflected in the present book, stands out as the first time a photography has published a photographic essay as a tribute to a poet”(8).  Walker herself wrote on the next page: “I am grateful to Roland because I think he has the right concept --- he understands the social significance of what I try to say.  And therefore it pleases me very much” (9).

                This aesthetic phenomenon elicits nostalgia for the once useful myth of a unified “black community” in the United States. Post-Civil Rights discourses (post-Black Arts, post-Soul, post-hip hop, post-human, post-signifier and significance) have figuratively and literally killed the myth. The myth is a diachronic narrative.  We have no single “black community.”  We have black communities which are feverishly POSTING themselves.  The possible joy of flesh and blood, face-to-face communication is retreating, is almost completely displaced by the hoo doo of technology which nurtures the silence of the virtual. “For My People” will continue its journey and have aesthetic meaning and social significance for ordinary people/ cool outlaws who refuse to become willing slaves of advanced technology. “For My People” is a poem for the cool who survive.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.  August 27, 2012  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Literature and the Democratic Spirit


Black Literature and the Democratic Spirit

 

                The democratic spirit demands that all voices be heard and that all interests be represented.  In the literary sector of everyday life, the spirit can manifest itself as a risk-free membership plan offered by an African American book club.  If I join the club, I can get three books for “$3, plus shipping & processing and applicable taxes.  I agree to buy 4 more books in the next year.”  If I want to be thrifty, my option is to buy 1 book now and “reduce my commitment to 3 books in 1 year.”  I will then be billed “an added $5.98, plus shipping & processing and applicable taxes.”  Just do the math.

                The editor-in-chief of the club assures me I shall not regret joining “a powerhouse of intelligent readers who know what they want and how to get it; great books by today’s best African-American authors, deep discounts on the titles they love, round-the-clock shopping from the comfort of home and easy home delivery.”  I assume the editor-in-chief is telling me the truth.

                I am impressed with who the best African American authors are in such categories as fantastic fiction, romantic reads, real lives, Christian living, Christian reads, quality fiction, and self-help/personal development.  Among the best authors are E. N. Joy,  Bishop T. D. Jakes, Walter Mosley, Common (with help from Adam Bradley), Shaquille O’Neal (with help from Jackie MacMullan), Stephen Carter, Tananarive Due, Azarel,  N’Tyse,  Alice Randall, Eric Jerome Dickey, Sapphire, and K’wan.  This partial list suggests that many of the best authors are not taught in colleges .  Are college literature courses in conflict with the democratic spirit?

                Perhaps I should join the club, discover what “scandalicious” means, and have my ignorance erased by Power & Beauty, the debut novel by the hip hop artist T. I. (Clifford Harris, Jr.)

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

August 24, 2012

 

Friday, August 24, 2012

I am the lion and the sparrow

Howard Nemerov | The Sparrow in the Zoo



The Sparrow in the Zoo
By Howard Nemerov



No bars are set too close, no mesh too fine
To keep me from the eagle and the lion,
Whom keepers feed that I may freely dine.
This goes to show that if you have the wit
To be small, common, cute and live on shit,
Though the cage fret kings, you may make free with it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An Alpha Phi Alpha Act of Reading


 

August 21, 2012

 

TOWARD FULLER DISCLOSURE

 

                When you read such autobiographical writing as W. E. B. DuBois’ Dusk of Dawn (1940), Ja A. Jahannes’ WordSong Poet: A Memoir Anthology (2011),an innovative variant,  or Thelma V. Reed’s Black Girl from Tannery Flats (2003), you accept an invitation. On the other hand, you and the biographers are collaborating intruders when you navigate the pages of Seeds of Southern Change: The Life of Will Alexander (1962) by Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely or John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism (2010) by Keith Gilyard.  What, however, do you say about the act of reading

Long, Michael G., ed. Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

The mediated invitation to intrude is somewhat different in this case. Not only does the book bear Derrick Bell’s authenticating Foreword, but it incorporates necessary orchestration by Michael Long.  Your option is to read through Bell and Long, to go to the heart of Thurgood Marshall’s letters from 1934 to 1957 and to discover overlooked portions of civil rights history.

                It is often not noticed that African American writing encompasses more than African American literature.  Formal literary study valorizes a limited body of canonical works on aesthetic grounds, but cultural studies which attend to both writing and literature recognize the importance of letters as autobiographical acts.  Reading correspondence between Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes or between John A. Williams and Chester Himes enlarges our sense of literary politics and ideological contradictions.  Reading Thurgood Marshall’s letters expands our sense of the history of legal action and cultural practices in the United States.  As “texts,” his letters make new knowledge and unusual reading pleasures available to us.  Attention to African American writing enables us to discern why one of Michael Long’s potentially divisive rhetorical gestures is especially important.

                In his introduction to Marshalling Justice, Long compares Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr., compares a graduate of Lincoln University (PA) with a graduate of Morehouse College.

 

Commentators often state that the time was right for King to emerge as forcefully as he did, and King himself talked about the zeitgeist of history being far more important than his own role in galvanizing the civil rights movement. But what many of us fail to note is that the time was right exactly because Marshall had already pushed the clock ahead, sometimes single-handedly.  For twenty long years before King assumed leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Thurgood Marshall, the young NAACP attorney known to everyday blacks as “Mr. Civil Rights,” struggled day and night against racial discrimination and segregation in schools, transportation, the military, businesses, voting booths, courtrooms, and neighborhoods. (xvii)

 

Long, an everyday white, could not know, without having read Charles H. Wesley’s The History of Alpha Phi Alpha : A Development in College Life (Chicago: Foundation Publishers, 1959), that Marshall and King were Alpha men.  Everyday whites seldom know what a certain class of everyday blacks takes to be common knowledge. Marshall and King had taken a sacred vow to be first of all, servants of all, and to transcend all.  Their transcendence brings to the surface many things that the zeitgeist of America’s penchant for forgetting would have us leave buried.  Being myself an Alpha, I exhume what memory ought not allow us to forget.

                Marshall’s letters are models of good writing and of grace under extreme pressures, and his grace is not the self-serving kind famously broadcast by Ernest Hemingway.  These letters remind us of what human character is or can be; Marshall and King were brave men not saints.  My deliberately biased reading of Marshall’s letters enables me to see more clearly the human dimensions of America’s ongoing battles with race and civil rights.  In 1956, it was very appropriate that King received the Alpha Award of Honor in recognition of “Christian leadership in the cause of first-class citizenship for all mankind” and that Marshall got the Alpha Founder’s Award “for his contributions to constitutional law and citizenship”  (Wesley 556-557).  But brave men because they are men have feet of clay.  Marshall exposes some of his imperfections in his correspondence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation between 1955 and 1957.  Reading toward fuller disclosure is not always pleasant. It is always a matter of brutal discipline.

                When I need respite from this brutality, I find pleasure in what is absent in Marshall’s letters: commentary on his relations with his Alpha brothers.  Marshall had no need to comment.  The fraternal bonds were always already there in his work with Charles H. Houston (his most important mentor), Walter White, A. P. Tureaud, Frank DeCosta, Herman M. Sweatt, Arthur Shores, and Channing Tobias. When Marshall wrote to his wife in May 1940 that A. Maceo Smith (a figure of great importance in Texas civil rights history) “drove us over 400 miles yesterday in eight and a half hours,” he was commenting on services rendered by his Alpha brother.

                My pride in having fraternal association with Thurgood Marshall is innocent trivia.  What really counts are his letters as examples of literary excellence in African American writing and our gaining fuller disclosure from reading them;  Marshall’s bravery in the face of danger and his legacy to America; the splendid record of his life’s  work in civil and human rights, and his lifelong ability to “rabble.”  Thurgood Marshall was a righteous rebel and a king of the rabble at Lincoln University (PA). As Ja  A. Jahannes wrote in WordSong Poets ----

Perhaps the rabble is what prepared Thurgood Marshall (Class of 1930) with the argumentative skills to lead the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to victory against segregation in Brown vs. The Board of Education, or enabled him to become Solicitor General of the United States, and eventually Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Perhaps, too, it is in this milieu of verbal gymnastics of the rabble that the rich tradition of literary excellence sprang forth at Lincoln like truth-filled thunderstorms and ice-cold rain revelations, volcanic and whispered truths, and pulsating distillations of a world needing defining and refining (11-12)

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

Legitimate Rape is an Analytic Metaphor

Legitimate rape is an analytic metaphor for historical processes.  Consider the following.

Europeans legitimately raped indigenous peoples in the Americas to spawn new societies.

Europeans legitimately raped Africans to produce tools for plantations in new societies.

It is reprehensible that Congressman Akin wants to deny women the right to control their own bodies. Nevertheless, Akin has opened Pandora's box and has provided a new angle from which we can begin to analyze history.

Next

‘Legitimate Rape’—a Dangerous Fallacy

August 21, 2012, 12:15 pm
Over the weekend, the Missouri politician Todd Akin introduced a new concept to television viewers: “legitimate rape.” Representative Akin, a six-term member of Congress, professed that legitimate rapes rarely result in pregnancy. He told an interviewer:
Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, “Well, how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question?” It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
Akin’s faux pas is troubling for what it suggests regarding women and sex. On the one hand, there are different species of rape. On the other hand, only one type of rape is real or legitimate; the others are phony. Implicitly, the comment conveys that only consensual sex results in pregnancy—and not incest, marital rape, war rape, date rape, and other types of sexual coercion and abuse. If taken to its logical end, that would mean possible evidence of a rape, such as a pregnancy, could be invoked by a rapist to discredit the victim.
Akin’s theory about rape and reproduction is scientifically flawed and factually inaccurate. A three-year longitudinal study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “Rape-Related Pregnancy: Estimates and Descriptive Characteristics From a National Sample of Women,” concluded that 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancies. The study dates to 1996; however, the conclusions remain salient. The authors attempted to determine how many pregnancies result from rape and the circumstances surrounding those pregnancies (known versus unknown perpetrator, whether the rape was reported, when the rape was reported, etc.).
Among adult women who are raped in the United States, over 32,000 pregnancies occur each year. That figure can be multiplied globally as tens of thousands of girls are forced into underage marriages in India, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Yemen, and other countries. Sometimes girls are raped because they are seen as “pure” and will not infect their assailants with HIV, syphilis, or gonorrhea.
Among American cases of known rape pregnancies involving adolescents, a majority of victims are biologically related to their perpetrators. Nearly a third of the rape victims “did not discover they were pregnant until they had already entered the second trimester,” according to the 1996 study. The researchers discovered that less than 12 percent of the pregnancies resulted in a spontaneous abortion. The authors concluded that sexual victimization “frequently” leads to unwanted pregnancies.
However, Congressman Akin’s comment also marks an important opportunity to reflect on the political manipulation of women’s reproduction. In a recent article, “Precarious Moorings: Tying Fetal Drug Law Policy to Social Profiling,” I document the false assumptions and race and class profiling tangled up in legislative efforts to reduce low-birth-weight babies. That’s just one example of inaccuracies parading as facts in political comment and debate on women’s reproduction.
In recent years, politicians have warned women in recovery that they will punish them severely if they become pregnant while continuing to use drugs. In South Carolina, women were reportedly shackled during labor and delivery, carted off to jail while still bleeding from giving birth, and giving birth while in prison. (See here, here, and here.)
The punishments in that state were so severe that Regina McKnight—a rape victim—was convicted for suffering a miscarriage. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Nearly a decade later, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Justice prevailed, but at a significant cost to Ms. McKnight’s dignity, liberty, and freedom.
Akin’s comment illuminates how a predominantly male electorate is shaping the political and regulatory discourse on women’s reproduction. For example, a range of fetal-protection laws are now implemented and variously enforced in 37 states. Many of the laws are overly broad and unusually vague, criminalizing any and all activities that could harm a fetus. Most of these efforts ultimately target pregnant women.
My forthcoming book, Policing the Womb: The New Cultural Politics of Reproduction (Cambridge University Press), empirically details this political movement and its consequences. In one case, Christine Taylor, a woman from Iowa, was arrested for falling down steps during her pregnancy. In another case, an Indiana woman, Bei Bei Shuai, may be sentenced to 45 years in prison for attempting suicide during her pregnancy. In yet another case, a Florida woman, Samantha Burton, was forcibly confined for refusing bed-rest.
Sadly, this is not a new movement. To the contrary, women’s reproduction has been deployed for political sport in other eras. As the bioethicist and legal scholar Paul Lombardo’s elegant work reveals, before World War II, a majority of states adopted eugenics laws, permitting the state to forcibly sterilize women deemed “socially unfit,” as they were thought to burden local economies by birthing “imbecilic” children. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. extolled in 1927:
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.
Mostly white women suffered that fate. Decades later, states turned to sterilizing black women receiving welfare benefits; hundreds were sterilized in Southern states—many with no knowledge of what had occurred until years later. Then too, politicians were getting tough on women.
Michele Goodwin is a professor of law at the University of Minnesota with joint appointments at the university’s medical and public-health schools.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

April 4, 1997 document


 PHBW DOCUBLOG





April 4, 1997

Remarks for panel “Making Black Literary Anthologies: Past and Present” at University of Wisconsin-Madison symposium “Canonizing African American Literature: Black Anthologies in America 1843-1996”



                Memory, according to current thinking in neuroscience, can be talked about as long-term and short-term.  In light of the probability of having these two kinds of memory, we might consider The Poetry of the Negro (1949, 1974) edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps as an anthology designed for long-term memory.  On the other hand, Black Fire (1968) edited by LeRoi Jones and Larry Neal, which did not pretend to ideological neutrality was short-term.  Anthologies assist us in remembering and in forgetting.  They remain quite essential for the reconstruction of group memory, the architectural work that use pieces of the past to create for the present matter for remembering.  The forgotten aspects of literature never come forth as they were.  They come through the filter of distance, through the lens of the editor looking toward a future.  We editors have to worry about what we help people to remember and to forget.



                When I compiled Black Southern Voices (1992) with John Oliver Killens and Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry (1997), the notion that I was participating in canon formation did not dance in my head.  If people want to see these two anthologies as part of a canon-making effort, they are welcome to do so.  Black Southern Voices is Mr. Killens’ anthology; it was his idea; I was called in to help, and completed the work after his death.  The anthology was shaped according to his ideas about the social responsibility of artistic voices, and I thank Keneth Kinnamon for saying this morning that the anthology gives credibility to the idea of regional difference.  The phrase “social responsibility of artistic voices” (open to multiple disputes and debates) is an accusing finger, eliciting dread among the clerics who have given up hair shirts for the comfort of cardinal red silk.  In a nutshell, Black Southern Voices casts some light on the South and the Black South, reminding us of the origins of oppositions, of where everyday opposition is real.  With all its imperfections, Black Southern Voices is there for discovery or rediscovery.  Perhaps it reminds us of the importance of attending to African American writing in opposition to a narrow attention to literature (as literature is variously defined), a subset of writing.

                Trouble the Water only deals with poetry.  I was always mindful in making the anthology of Eugene Redmond’s Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry.  Perhaps the anthology has a mission.  Perhaps it records a wondrous accident that black poetry addresses so many different audiences at any given time.  It reminds people of the rage and sweep and placidity of water, the ineluctable necessity of water.  Thus, its title.



                As I mentioned to William Andrews yesterday, there is a secret design in this anthology, a call and response pattern based not on textuality or intertexuality so much as on historically (narratively) situated responses.  My own vision of African American poetry and poetic tradition is invested in memory.  My subjectivity is invested in preservation and in what the poetry induces us to do for a future.  The anthology is a sampler.  When people complain that something is missing, I hope they will go out and read that something.  It was also important in making this book that young people who can spend $150.00 for tennis shoes have it at the affordable price of $6.99.



                Perhaps my mission as editor was to wade in the water and to practice a nice Southern madness of helping others to make trouble, so we might all get wet with wisdom.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Lawrence Durgin Professor of Literature

Tougaloo College

Sunday, August 19, 2012


PHBW BLOG

August 18, 2012



Are We Losing Our Humanity, Part 2.2



                This blog serves notice that many of my friends and I are not losing our humanity.  We are transforming our humanity.  We are using “new and improved” humanity to produce more than toothless civic discourses and critiques in the orbit of the merely academic. Uses of language that divorce themselves from the actuality of physical, spiritual and psychological suffering among the seven billion people on Earth get no respect from us. We recognize that language is by nature participatory in combat and contact zones. Treating acts of language as if they were absolutely metaphors only intensifies the reality of suffering.  It does not acknowledge the necessity for scholarly activism. It creates more wretchedness.  Truth be told, cultural work or knowledge work can not eradicate terrorism or wretchedness.  This fact is not a sufficient reason for cloaking the hidden dimensions, betrayals, and hypocrisies of so-called civic discourse.  We have read the dying words of Richard Wright’s Cross Damon and we do know what they mean.

We resist the temptation to “play it safe.”  Common sense and intellectual wisdom must act in opposition to the savage aspects of metaphors and civility.  The trash talk of academic worlds ought to be replaced by the application of plain language to plain local and global issues so that plain people can understand what is truly at stake.  We do not besmirch ourselves with the dirty work of the state. We strive to rethink what the field and function of African American literary and cultural studies might be if we are to have effective confrontations with multiple instances of omni- American deception.  We seek, in the name of our humanity, to recuperate activism for sustaining possible goodness.  Seven billion people are sick and tired of being told they are post-something/whatever entities when they know they are pre-future human beings. The September 7 forum provides a unique initial point for rethinking the purposes of literary criticism in the public sphere.

ii

Life/Field/Mind/Function

“We have imbibed from the surrounding white world a childish idea of progress.”

This sentence from W. E. B. DuBois’s 1933 speech “The Field and Function of the Negro College” at Fisk University is jolting.  The pre-future vision meets the past.  It recalls that Afro-American Literature: The Reconstruction of Instruction (New York: MLA, 1979) was published to emphasize “what is literary (as opposed to sociological, ideological, ect.) in Afro-American written art” (7).  This was progress.  There was more progress, of course, in Black Literature and Literary Theory (New York: MLA, 1984) and “Race,” Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), which ordained race as “a meaningful category in the study of literature and the shaping of critical theory”(2).  Ultimate progress came with the canonization Black literature in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1997), which literary politics forced to engage in a bloodless battle royal with Call & Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition (1998).  Question: What is wrong with this story of progress?  Answer:   It is an epic about a brave new world that has no people in it.  I ain’t drunk, I’m just drinking. And my name is not Caliban.

As I suggested in “Are We Losing Our Humanity, Part 1,” pre-future vision relocates itself by reading in such disciplines as the hard sciences, law, social sciences.  The books I listed were points on a map for a long journey back to the surrounding diasporic world of African American people who live in actuality rather than in theory.  The list was eclectic and incomplete.  It was not an algorithm to produce answers.   As technology ascends, the discoveries we need to make in reconnecting literature as writing and people may lead to new, life-related literary critical, and scientifically responsible and rigorous functions. If pre-future vision begins to speak meaningfully with rather than down to or at people who breathe and struggle for survival, we may say humanity is achieving adult ideas of progress.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.














Friday, August 17, 2012

Ah, Humanity, Ah, Humanities


August 16, 2012         Jerry W. Ward, Jr.





Are We Losing Our Humanity?, Part 2.1



                Dr. Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English and Director, Project Humanities, at Arizona State University, will provide the opening remarks for the September 7 forum.  Lester began Project Humanities as a university initiative in 2010, and I suspect he shares my belief that maintaining a divide between the hard sciences and the humanities is bogus.  Whether he shares my belief that divisions among the soft or human sciences, matters of law, and the actuality of evil are bogus may be revealed in his remarks.  It is unlikely his remarks will cast light on my reasons for being deeply angered by the wording of the question which locates the third discussion topic:

Is there room for the humanity of all seven billion people to be recognized, or is it inevitable that many will remain (or become) commodities?

The question is at once Nazi and ghetto fabulous.  For over a million years the humanity of animals who ordained themselves human beings has been recognized.  That was the state of affairs until a few European animals/human beings  gave birth to the idea in an “Enlightenment Project” that they were superior to other animals/human beings on this planet.  The illegitimate child was named Rasse to denote her implacable imperial character.

                The wording so angers me because I translate “is there room” into Lebensraum.  The arrogance implicit in speaking of “all seven billion people” as if the implied speaker were  light years  removed from the numerical count is tendentious at best and vomit-inducing at worst.  It a matter of dismay that contemporary cultural studies have rendered critical and ethical thinking so impotent that a person would speak of another person as a commodity, an item of economic exchange.  There is no room for such sinister blather in my pre-future vision.

                To the extent that pre-future vision does work in African American literary and cultural studies, it seeks ways to make anger productive.  It will revisit What Is Life?: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self (Chicago: Third World Press, 1994) by Kalamu ya Salaam; C. S. Lewis’ s ideas about moral conflict in The Screwtape Letters (1942);  LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Home: Social Essays (New York: William Morrow, 1966), Ishmael Reed’s Mixing It Up: Taking on the Media Bullies and Other Reflections (New York: Da Capo Press, 2008), Jared Diamond’s Collapse (New York: Viking, 2005) and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010).  Pre-future vision, in its dedicated meditations on the hidden dimensions of the September 7 forum will reconsider Critical Race Theory (New York: The New Press, 1995), edited by Kimberl√©  Crenshaw et al. as well as the mandate from Vision Foundation International  (http://www.vision.org )that “the principle of generosity toward those in need must be coupled with the recipients’ willingness to make honest effort to help not only self and family but also to extend that help to others in their communities.”  The decline of compassion in the face of terrorism must be understood.  Pre-future vision, without losing its memory of what is most useful in M. M. Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination and Cornel West’s Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America, must seek to discover what such lively phrases as “shotgun sequence data,” “virulence maps,” and “mutated promoters” mean in speaking about genome biology.  It must ask in seeking a fuller response to the forum and the anger-making question what is the role in global society of the National Human Genome Research Institute, an arm of the United States National Institutes of Health. Pre-future vision is not ashamed to make literary and cultural mistakes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Enslaved Voices



Randall, Alice. The Wind Done Gone.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

               

                According to words provided on the publication page, “This novel is the author’s critique of and reaction to the world described in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.”  Those words and the dates January 1, 1940 (movie premiere of GWTW) and July 1936 (publication of GWTW) satisfy the minimum requirements for cultural literacy in America.  Well, perhaps you want to know the phrase “gone with the wind” is from Ernest Dowson’s poem ‘Non sum qualis eram bonae sub rego Cynarae “ [I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cyrana].  That information puts you one up on people who only know the wind done gone.  And Mr. Dowson got the title for his poem from the Roman poet Horace.  Enough said.

                Ms. Randall makes an effort to insert her first novel into the American novel (romance novel) tradition by imitating Hawthorne’s Custom House preface for The Scarlet Letter.  In “Notes on the Text,” Randall pretends to have discovered the document (a leather-bound diary) by Prissy Cynara Brown  in the 1990s among “the effects of an elderly colored lady who had been in an assisted-living center just outside Atlanta”(v).  Inside the document was “a fragment of green silk.”  Inside his document, Hawthorne discovered  a bit of cloth, a scarlet letter.   Let us recall that neither Hawthorne’s heroine Hester Prynne nor Mitchell’s heroine Scarlett O’Hara was a lady; they were useful tools in the making of whiteness. Unlike the superior oral narration of the enslaved heroine in Sherley Anne Williams’ Dessa Rose which tells us so much about the world described in Margaret Walker’s Jubilee, the febrile writerly voice of Prissy Cynara Brown tells us more about the pathology of the segregated South that incarcerated Margaret Mitchell than it does about the slave community.  In that sense it justifies Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s  claim that The Wind Done Gone is “a moving act of political commentary.” The novel, however, deconstructs the parodic puffery of his saying that in Randall’s novel “at last the slaves at Tara have found their voice.”  The enslaved at Tara will never have a voice to which one feels compelled to listen.  We are too much reminded that the unwritten parody of William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust is entitled Stranger in the Mud.

                Alas, in the United States, literature continues to be equipment for assisted-living.



Jeremiah Ramcat

August 14, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Post-Human Condition


PHBW blog

August 13, 2012



Are We Losing Our Humanity?: Part 1



                This is an announcement.  Time is not accidental.  Dates are.  It is accidental that November 5, 2012 is the deadline for submissions to PMLA on the general topic of tragedy.  It is accidental that on November 6, 2012 millions of American citizens will participate in the ritual of electing a president.  It is  accidental that in the May 2012 issue of PMLA one finds Rob Nixon’s thoughtful article “Neo-liberalism, Genre, and ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ “ (593-599) and Rudolph Fisher’s missing story “The Shadow of White,” nicely authenticated by Molly Anne Rothenberg’ s remarks on how “Dr. Fisher offers his audience a therapeutics of the imagination”(618).  It is accidental that Rosemary Feal, Executive Director of the Modern Language Association, will moderate the forum “Are We Losing Our Humanity?” at the National Press Club on September 7, 2012.

                These accidents are opportunities for using pre-future logics to discover and speculate. Several billion people around the world will experience the generic properties of tragedy in the outcomes of November 6, and they will not speak of their experiences in privileged academic languages or publish their feelings in peer-reviewed journals. They will curse. They will use the plain speech that the academic folk (some anthropologists and linguists are exceptions ) dismiss .  A few intelligent heretics will, like Walter Rodney, Ella Baker, and  Frantz Fanon, listen to the anguish and use their critical gifts to write survival activities that pertain to food, health care, and sources of energy.  A smaller number of heretics will broadcast the crucial information in Rob Nixon’s article, imitate Dr. Fisher, and expose the obscene content of the September 7 forum.  As an agent of the MLA, Feal has chosen to make a literary and moral sacrifice that we must respect.

                For readers who have difficulty following the rhetorical turns of pre-future thought, I will say that the content of the September 7 forum is about who has the right to live and who should be urged to die. That is my ultimate reduction of the sophisticated language used in the following information about the forum that I have “borrowed” from the Internet.

September 7, 2012; 9:00 to 10:30 am
Coffee at 8:30



National Press Club, 529 14th Street, NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20013






About the event

The pressure of explosive population growth will increasingly require us to empathize, collaborate, and negotiate within our own small communities and as nations. Yet, vitriolic political rhetoric, more time spent with technology and entertainment, and evidence of religious and cultural intolerance despite a spike in diversity within nations may all be indicative of a decrease in a globally shared sense of humanity.


As a technological, economic, and political leader of incredible social diversity, the United States serves as a bellwether for world’s ability to “all get along.” What are the implications of diminished humanist values in an era when American business, political, scientific, and policy decisions have inevitable and repercussive global ramifications?


Discussion topics:



·         In a world of proliferating technology, intensifying competition for resources, and rising nation-states how will we be able to humanize the increasingly complex choices we must make as a society?



·         How can we create a culture of intellectual confluence that embraces both technological advance and that which makes us human?





·         Is there room for the humanity of all seven billion people to be recognized, or is it inevitable that many will remain (or become) commodities?



·         As our interactions are progressively mediated through electronics, how will we educate for humanistic interchange?





·         How does the legal definition of personhood blur the human status of individual people?



Can a re-infusion of humanist values and perspectives in the way we train our scientists, businesspeople, doctors, and engineers help them develop more efficient systems and have greater impact, while increasing the bottom line?







The Challenges Before us Forums

In the spirit of ASU’s The Challenges Before Us project to tackle some of the many challenges facing society today, the forums are designed to open a dialogue between experts, practitioners and the community at large.   [ASU is the abbreviation for Arizona State University]



            In “Are We Losing Our Humanity?, Part 2, I shall comment on two things.



  1. Why the third topic question above has angered me greatly



  1. Why the September 7 forum provides a unique opportunity to rethink what the field and function of African American literary and cultural studies might be


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Exposing the Wound


PHBW blog

August 8, 2012





TO HIDE AND HIDE NOT



                Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt (2006) is a comic book.  The writer of comedy, Gilbert Highet said with some authority in The Anatomy of Satire (1962), “likes people, not in spite of their peculiarities, but because of them” (155).  Whitehead likes people.

                In Apex Hides the Hurt, he depicts what is ludicrous about how people do or do not do things with words.  Indeed, his novel is proper and slightly British.  One senses the ghost of Henry James in the book’s machinery although its effect is pure George Bernard Shaw.  After all, the novel is primarily about the deception of words.

                The plot is about nothing more than the renaming of a town, and the protagonist is merely an ad guy, a nomenclature consultant.  Everything is so comme il faut about the novel that a reader only grabs its American humor when she or he is shocked into recognizing Whitehead’s target is the pervasive dismissiveness of American life, liberty and pursuit of money.

                Words are cheap.  You can buy a whole dictionary of words for less than the cost of a hamburger at an up-scale restaurant.  Deeds are expensive.

                Put Ralph Ellison in conversation with Colson Whitehead.  Ellison mined Homeric epic, the picaresque novel and the Bildungsroman, Herman Melville’s power of whiteness, and African American folk wisdom to work up effects in Invisible Man.  Ellison had the backing of Constance Rourke’s American Humor.  Colson has the backing of J. L. Austin’s magnum opus How to Do Things with Words.  He exploits the deadpan realism of Gustave Flaubert, Herman Melville’s power of blackness, Ishmael Reed’s critiques of the exceptional American mind, and Ellison’s secret of how to appeal to cultivated sensibilities.  Whitehead and Ellison diverge nicely.

                The narrator/protagonist of Invisible Man is nameless, invisible, and loquacious.  He is a spiller of beans.  The protagonist of Apex Hides the Hurt is visible and nameless.  Whitehead lets a narrator possessed of qualified omniscience do all the talking.

                Apex Hides the Hurt will satisfy the most discerning middle-brow palate, because its magic is warranted by Blyden Jackson’s observation in “The Negro’s Image of His Universe as Reflected in His Fiction” (1960) regarding irony.  Jackson told his well-educated readers “It must be admitted that irony could hardly consort with children or with minstrel men.  It requires a certain refinement of perception.  It depends upon that nice derangement of affairs in which an outcome is incongruous with an expectation.”  For Jackson, and one surmise for Whitehead, “the presiding genius in the universe of Negro fiction is the ogre of an irony.”  Whitehead does a great service for his readers by putting the presiding genius is the spotlight one more time.  He challenges the notion that African Americans cannot write African American fiction in a post-Jim Crow circus. Band-Aid does not hide the hurt; Apex does.  But on this matter, Blyden Jackson should have the last words: “How incongruous with an expectation is this ironic outcome!”

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

An event of Interest

September 7, 2012; 9:00 to 10:30 am
Coffee at 8:30

National Press Club, 529 14th Street, NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20013

Please RSVP Here by September 3

About the event

The pressure of explosive population growth will increasingly require us to empathize, collaborate, and negotiate within our own small communities and as nations. Yet, vitriolic political rhetoric, more time spent with technology and entertainment, and evidence of religious and cultural intolerance despite a spike in diversity within nations may all be indicative of a decrease in a globally shared sense of humanity.
As a technological, economic, and political leader of incredible social diversity, the United States serves as a bellwether for world’s ability to “all get along.” What are the implications of diminished humanist values in an era when American business, political, scientific, and policy decisions have inevitable and repercussive global ramifications?
Discussion topics:
  • In a world of proliferating technology, intensifying competition for resources, and rising nation-states how will we be able to humanize the increasingly complex choices we must make as a society?
  • How can we create a culture of intellectual confluence that embraces both technological advance and that which makes us human?
  • Is there room for the humanity of all seven billion people to be recognized, or is it inevitable that many will remain (or become) commodities?
  • As our interactions are progressively mediated through electronics, how will we educate for humanistic interchange?
  • How does the legal definition of personhood blur the human status of individual people?
Can a re-infusion of humanist values and perspectives in the way we train our scientists, businesspeople, doctors, and engineers help them develop more efficient systems and have greater impact, while increasing the bottom line?

The Challenges Before us Forums

In the spirit of ASU’s The Challenges Before Us project to tackle some of the many challenges facing society today, the forums are designed to open a dialogue between experts, practitioners and the community at large.