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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ramcat Reads #12


Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free Press, 2010.  Hauser, Marc D. Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Within the last decade, interest in the forms moral and ethical criticism might assume has increased among some humanists as faith in the efficacy of theory as theory has declined.  It is a sign of progress that Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, and Marc Hauser, a psychologist, have brought the sciences to the foreground in their very readable speculations about the origins of human morality.  The keyword is "readable."  Both authors strike a conversational tone in discussing issues of moral philosophy, and both are refreshingly honest about the limits of explanation.  Readers who are baffled by the flood of moral irrationality and hardcore hatreds that assaults critical thinking in 2016 can arm themselves by attending to the models of thought which Harris and Hauser provide.  Humanists who have been reluctant to make common cause with principled scientists may be persuaded to alter the course of their thinking.

Sollors, Werner. African American Writing: A Literary Approach. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2016.

Were a relatively unknown Professor of English at a small college to propose that her collection of essays provided a literary approach to African American writing, she would be challenged to (1) discriminate African American writing from African American literature and (2) devote several paragraphs to what was uniquely "literary" about her approach (and perhaps whether the "approach" involves motions of "objectivity" or "indulgence and subjective appreciation." When the Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Research Professor of English Literature at Harvard University makes the same proposal, a Columbia University Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies asserts that his "model of literary scholarship will be indispensable to those who study and teach African American literature."  In the Age of Trump, it is noteworthy that the unknown professor is virtually put on trial while the privileged Harvard professor gets off scot-free.  The discrepancy must not be passed over lightly, because it reveals one of the many hidden "rules" in the game of scholarship that is simultaneously a game of ideological hegemony.  Sollors' African American Writing does have some merit in its drawing of attention to works by Frank Webb and Adrienne Kennedy and to experiences W. E. B. DuBois had in Nazi Germany in 1936, but his meditations on Equiano, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston,  and Amiri Baraka are far less than indispensable. What is indispensable is the discussion of black writing that remains independent of colleges and universities. The status quo limits of the "literary" retard the growth of knowledge in the Age of Trump.  Occasionally, Sollors provides tidbits of contextualization to make up for the moral flabbiness of "a literary approach," and one hopes the ethical dimensions of doing so is not ignored by his Harvard students.  It they (and their peers who don't live in circles of privilege) examine those dimensions, they may profit from the lesson Phillis Wheatley tried to teach students at the University at Cambridge a couple of centuries ago.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.      August 28, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016



This summer's rejection,

its tart magic blazing

in the rainbow flood,

Can reflect no middling passing,

nor leave unremarked smirks

of sand-drying lips in repose;

Can betray not in mad oil

or colors watered down

rich economy of salient laughing,

For truly the sign, the signature,

the thing unclocked is death

redeemed in thundering growth.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

August 24, 2016

Saturday, August 20, 2016



                One should congratulate Michael Eric Dyson for exposing once again the banality of race in the recently published The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).  In an election year, it is a useful  nonfiction companion for Colson Whitehead's  novel The Underground Railroad (New York: Doubleday, 2016).  It is necessary to be reminded that much in our nation never changes.  The 346 pages of Dyson's book can be casually read in one sitting, because his prose flows as smoothly as a duet by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.  "Obama's presidency represents, " Dyson reminds his readers, "the paradox of American representation" (xi).  His observation about representing representation gives one pause.  It articulates at once the limits of human reason and the acute pathology of American political discourses before and after 2016.  How tempting to entertain in a sunlit region of imagination a comparison of what the Statue of Liberty is supposed to represent with what the brief display of a nude statue of Donald Trump in New York's Union Square actually represented.  Race in America is incapable of shame.

                Some years from now, people who will write trenchant critiques of Obama's two-term presidency may thank Dyson for depicting the thin line between instant, emotional reactions to race (which occupy the territory of nonsense) and sustained critical race theory (which searches for the land of wisdom).  They will perhaps thank Dyson for making the inspired mistake of urging readers to believe the American presidency is capable of having a complexion.

                In the language of classical rhetoric, The Black Presidency is an example of deliberative oratory.  It is a powerful magnet for 360 degrees of disagreement.  Casual reading of the book does suggest that Dyson's uncovering the pathetic operations of "race" in American thought simultaneously pulls a veil over the need to have panoptical disclosures about American presidents and their presidencies.  However desirable such disclosures might be, they are difficult to construct.  They are predicated on some ability to account for the knotty, intertwined domestic and international factors that define a modern presidency.  That accounting requires more than a year or two of interdisciplinary research and qualitative/quantitative analyses.  Be assured the disclosures shall not appear in the lifetimes of people who are now reading Dyson's book.

                The probability that a future will identify Obama's presidency with the death of American democracy --an identification Dyson has good reason not to make ---should not be attributed to Obama's frustrated audacity of hope.  Obama could recommend hope as a political virtue or as a pathway to sanity.  He could not force the American people to embrace a vision that lacked Machiavellian properties.  The death of democracy will have to be attributed, in part,  to the banality of race, to its remarkable success in moving American citizens to the Omega point they have purchased with freedom of choice.  Indeed, casual readings of The Black Presidency  ought to be supplemented with cautious readings of Teilhard de Cardin's The Phenomenon of Man (1955), or better yet,  Revelation 22: 12-16.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            August 20, 2016

Thursday, August 18, 2016

James Agee's Cotton Tenants

Agee's Cotton Tenants

                Reading James Agee's Cotton Tenants: Three Families (Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2013) tempts one to sink into a past that is the present and to allow this book to magnify the finer elements of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).  The latter is Agee's great achievement.  It exposes the vexed morality of his art and confirms that invading the privacy of another human being falls a yard short of being a virtue.  Invasions Agee undertook  to fulfill an assignment from Fortune magazine in summer 1936, with Walker Evans in tow as "counter-spy, traveling as a photographer,"  to investigate white tenant farming in Alabama ----those invasions hit the ground with a violent thud. 

                The sound reverberates unto today.  Consider the quality of guilt and judgment in Agee's accomplished prose: "A civilization which for any reason puts a human life at a disadvantage; or a civilization which can exist only by putting human life at a disadvantage; is worthy neither of the name nor continuance.  And a human being whose life is nurtured in an advantage which has accrued from the disadvantage of other human beings, and who prefers that this should remain as it is, is a human being by definition only…."(Cotton Tenants 34).  The vexed, formulaic morality screams from the page.  Is Agee speaking of American civilization? Of American citizens who live in 2016?  There is amorality afoot here.  In according serious attention to human life, Agee secured his self-condemnation.

                In his 1960 foreword for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Walker Evans confessed that  "Agee's rebellion was unquenchable, self-damaging, deeply principled, infinitely costly, and ultimately priceless."  Note well the superlatives.  There is a hint in such characterization of a major difference between William Faulkner and Agee as Southern modernist writers.  Faulkner so desperately yearned to be a man of quality.  Agee was a man who possessed qualities. Note the abyss between having and yearning to have, between exposing social amorality and hiding behind it.   Noting the difference allows one to discriminate judiciously between writers of merit who have something of value yet to say to contemporary readers.

                Let Us Now Praise Famous Men concludes with a poem wherein Agee indicated "our fathers that begat us" were as worthy of remembering as the famous who are remembered in official histories. And in Cotton Tenants, the report Fortune magazine refused to publish in 1936, Agee had the courage to suggest

"There is in Southern white man, distributed almost as thickly as the dialect, an epidemic capability of sadism which you would have to go as far to match and whose chief basis is possibly, but only possibly, and only one among many, a fear of the Negro, deeper and more terrible than any brief accounting can suggest or explain.  This flaw of sadism can turn its victims loose into extremities which the gaudiest report have only begun to suggest ." (223-234)

                This  infamous fear was magnificently depicted in Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, and there is some profit in seeing Agee as one of Melville's heirs.  Doing so, however, inspires existential dread. The cotton tenants Agee so ruthlessly depicted in 1936 may have reproduced themselves as the classless Americans of 2016, who are "as oblivious of country and state as of national politics" (49).  Dread comes home to roost.  The cotton tenants of now are not merely Southern; they are  "the people"  --- all of them ---whom Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump so assiduously seek to bamboozle and ensnare.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            August 18, 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016


Ferris, William. The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists.  Chapel Hill: University of

North Carolina Press, 2013.  $ 35.00    ISBN  978-1-4696-0754-2

            Fred Hobson suggested in Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (1983) that Southerners have, or may be possessed by, a compulsion to explain, to apologize for, to defend, or to celebrate the history of a region which non-Southerners "have long been fascinated with…as spectacle, as land of extremes in the most innocent part of America in one respect and the guiltiest in another…."(9).  Hobson's speculation cuts both ways.  While many Southerners do have a gift for drawling in ways that fascinate, a significant number of them can be as taciturn as stereotyped New Englanders.  Hobson's hyperbole confirmed the very oddity he intended to place in an objective perspective regarding habits.  He exercised due diligence in borrowing his main title from William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! as he explored selected works by people who were neither novelists nor scholars.  He also used predictable Southern diligence in excluding black writers  (notably Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison) on the grounds that "it would be impossible to do them justice" (13) in the scope of his study.  Thus, Hobson self-fashioned himself as a quintessential Southern apologist.

            Thirty-three years later, it is instructive to contrast Tell About the South with William Ferris's The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists, which incorporates self-fashioning with minimal apology  Ferris acknowledges that Hobson and many other of his University of North Carolina colleagues gave him encouragement in every step of writing this book, a worthy companion to his earlier Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues (2009).  One might argue that Hobson's work was a prelude to Ferris's explaining increasingly complex functions of narrative in the South.  Less an overt apologist than Hobson, Ferris tells us about his own "intellectual and artistic growth through friendships with" seven writers, five scholars, two musicians, three photographers, and nine painters. Ferris relies primarily on interviews to create a species of oral history. The absence of question and answer markers, however,  foregrounds shared authority in the making of historical explanation.  By exercising his autobiographical voice in prefaces for the stories the writers and artists tell, Ferris demonstrates that subjective artistry can enliven scholarship which focuses on difference in a region of the United States.

             To be sure, his method of presentation enables selected voices to expose or to demythologize  problems of credibility that arise in contemporary studies of geographical  regions. By virtue of  its celebratory, non-defensive aura , The Storied South  alerts readers to aspects of a story always untold in interdisciplinary investigations of Southern cultures. In that sense, the book has an inevitable relationship to a provocative series of manifestos about the future of Southern Studies in PMLA 131.1 (2016).  That relationship is defined, in part, by Ferris's rationale and folkloric methodological choices, items crucial for understanding the rewards of Southern storytelling.  This book is a remarkable self-portrait of Ferris as a white, male scholar who is a native son of Mississippi, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  It is simultaneously a documentation of how twentieth-century Southern writers, musicians, photographers, scholars, and painters "created a body of work that defined both their regions and their nation"(2).  Ferris's manipulation of interviews exposes how oral traditions give compelling forms to "the contested memory of black and white southerners who offer opposing views of the region's history" (3).

            The adequacy of this kind of binary narration (spinning of tales)  and history-making is itself contestable and open to passionate, rigorous scrutiny by a new generation of scholars who embrace motives and values quite unlike those espoused by Hobson and Ferris.  Younger scholars may believe, as does Jay Watson, that "we need the combined conceptual resources of southern and environmental studies to unpack the thick layers of meaning that accrue when southerners write ecologically and environmental thinkers write about the South" (PMLA 131.1: 159).  Just as Ferris refines Hobson's penchant for the rage to tell, recent developments in southern studies help us to identify the charming limitations of Ferris's traditional approach to the implications of story without diminishing the considerable value of how Ferris seeks to recuperate time past and to display it to its best advantage.  His intervention is a Faulknerian reminder that some Southern imperatives defy being wished into oblivion. They haunt the South and our entire nation; if they cannot be resolved, they can be addressed in ways that serve the commonweal.  Indeed, the rage of younger scholars to theorize the multiple facets of the South, to tell a new story, only amplifies the humanistic civility of Ferris's work.

            As an esteemed scholar of all things Southern, Ferris is keenly aware that the spatial and temporal dimensions of a Southern story must assume combative configurations in the Zeitgeist of now.  Our history-laden ideas about  Old South and  New South cultures are being rapidly relocated in scholarship by new fields of interpretation which draw attention to the dramatic clashes  of remembering and forgetting the centrality of story.  Meaning and significance are recast in discussions of the global South; the deep, down, and dirty South; the South as a racially and ecologically challenged locus of cognition and imagination.  The voices of the South retrofit themselves in concert with revisionist historiographies, emerging digital humanities and revitalized empiricism  Thus, Ferris wisely includes a generous and timely selected bibliography, discography, and filmography in The Storied South and appends CD (interview sound recordings) and DVD (archival films) companion discs as special resources or paratextual supplements.

From the vantage of a probable future, The Storied South is an excellent, authoritative record of how William Ferris at once mediates and  meditates on Southern exceptionalism.  It is a valuable foundational text for American and international scholars who are existentially obligated to tell explanatory stories which supersede regional boundedness.  If their stories prove to be as principled and good as the one Ferris tells, we shall indeed be fortunate and better prepared to avoid delusions that disguise themselves as contributions to knowledge.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Humanistic Protest

The Tragedy of Humanistic Protest

The Chronicle of Higher Education (online version) saturates readers with the complaints of humanists who seem to envy the relatively "good fortunes" of their colleagues in STEM-disciplines. For example, the historian L. D. Burnett moaned in the August 12 issue that the public and policy makers "view the purpose of college as purely vocational, and see humanistic inquiry  --  the study of literature, the arts, history, anthropology, philosophy  --  as a waste of time and money."  According to Burnett, it is urgent that we "defend the place of the humanities in higher education…defend the opportunity for our students to grapple with ideas and questions of enduring value."  Do American students not deal with such ideas and questions prior to entering colleges and universities; do they  not practice critical thinking while they are still in a state of lower education?  And if they do not, should we not ask hard questions about where waste of time and money is actually located in American society and its forms of education?  Instead of demanding that readers interrogate (severely question)  the energy-draining tragedy of humanistic protest, CHE and other publications broadcast the tragedy with tacit alacrity.

Perhaps this shortcoming is "normal" in the contexts of terrorism, the expanding gap between wealth and poverty, the banality of dying, and ecological imbalance.  Unfortunately, Burnett and some other humanists err in their annoying protests about the legitimacy of vocation in the training of the human mind. It is disingenuous to pretend that people who value what is practical and necessary in the conduct of daily economic, social and  cultural operations are guilty of (1) being aliterate, (2) never having aesthetic experiences in museums and art galleries, (3) ignoring the importance of temporal and spatial narratives, (4) dismissing the findings of anthropology, or (5) being immune to abstract speculation.  Indeed, it is fair to suspect that humanists who traffic with such pretense are either willfully tendentious or  enthralled by a tragic sense of life or both.

Job preparedness and acquiring cognitive and physical skill-sets are not necessarily segregated from  pleasures that resist quantification. Enlightened humanists should protest less and work harder (in concert with non-humanistic colleagues)  to forge pre-future projects wherein the humanities and the sciences cooperate in seeking the ultimate ends of human existence.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            August 13, 2016

Sonic Gadflies


morph and mutate

become obese like hate




kneeling down

before golden bullies

of her/history.

you have heard them

termite the logic of law,

with love

pledge allegiance

to a magic surrealism

of perfected madness.

ah, if you can spell


Eden is need.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

August 13, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016



                In one of his finest Hebraic moments, the Jewish American writer Norman Mailer produced a sexy Freudian "reading " of the United States of America under the title "The White Negro."  That was 1957 when the seductiveness of the black/white binary was seldom challenged.  Mailer's essay transcends its overt topicality under the influence of our current Trump/Clinton obsessions, our suspending disbelief that a paragon or a paradox might be elected President.  The image of the White Negro is an undistorted mirroring of the Black Caucasian, albeit one that troubles sleep.

                Despite the absence of genuine proof, one suspects Mailer had an epiphany regarding the future that is now.  What he saw as he pondered the "psychopathic brilliance" of American democracy was the inevitability of people's being incarcerated in the fate of living "with death from adolescence to premature senescence" as they tremble "with the knowledge that new kinds of victories increase one's power for new kinds of perception; and defeats, the wrong kind of defeats, attack the body and imprison one's energy until one is jailed in the prison air of other people's habits, other people's defeats, boredom, quiet desperation, and muted icy self-destroying rage." At present, rage is unmuzzled.

                One has no real proof that Mailer ever analyzed The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois.  Nevertheless, it is fair to suspect that he echoed DuBois in his function as a rhetor, truly absorbing DuBois' idea of what measures the ways of the world.  In the heterotopia  (Foucault's daemonic notion) of the prison, Mailer's essay endures as a valuable pre-future lesson.  In panoptical 2016, one empowers oneself by learning what Mailer insisted on teaching.

                From the imperfect hindsight of 2016, one can read "The White Negro" as a fine example of how engaged American writers indict themselves in the act of writing and sentence themselves to infamy.  If this point is too miniscule to be detected by the naked ear, one hears it loud and clear in the 24/7  palaver of mediated  infotainment, in excessive contemplation of what lurks in Swamp Clinton-Trump.  Something is slithering to be born on November 8, 2016.  Even incarcerated children  have the smarts to grasp that probability.

                In the ears of American memory, Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" has come home to roost, and all the inmates in American cells (spaces of totalitarian freedom) do know now what Mailer as the epitome of the Black Caucasian knew in 1957: "a stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve."  Sixty years after Mailer wrote, the phrase "failure of nerve" is less than apt, for the American people are  robustly exercising their nerves with alacrity and glee.  After re-reading what a Black Caucasian lectured on in 1957, all the prisoners might do well to say "Ashe" in solidarity with my African American ancestors who never confused Moses with Christ, who never taken in by facile hipsters political and non-political  who disguised themselves as women and men of integrity.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            August 11, 2016

Friday, August 5, 2016

Shakespeare and American Politics in 2016


One of my favorite plays is The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus (1593/94?), which is one of the least celebrated and most despised examples of dramatic art among the guardians of William Shakespeare's legacy.  My favorite character within the play is Aaron.  I agree with the Renaissance scholar  Frank Kermode's remark in his headnote  for The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997) that it is Aaron's "brazen vitality that endears him.  His terrific self-sufficiency, an acceptance of the Machiavellian homo homini lupus, makes him at once a matter of wonder and a dangerous joke; he rages round a society ostensibly governed by law and custom, a black among the whites.  Even Tamora, herself a monster of lust and cruelty, seems in the end to belong to the tamer white world" (1068).

 Seeking the legitimacy of the ancient and the modern in constructing a revenge tragedy, Shakespeare took liberties with his Latin sources, with what was known in the Elizabethan period about Roman imperial politics.  How clever of him to appeal to a spectrum of base emotions in audiences where class distinctions were more important than they might be for 21st century spectators. The aesthetic blurring of  politics in Titus Andronicus is germane for detecting parallels in American political confusions during the hot summer of 2016.  The play magnifies the long history of white-on-white crime and passion, enabling anyone who is not physically blind to see that American politics in 2016 is a revenge tragedy of white on white crime.  In this context, Aaron's brazen and bracing vitality is a moral compass with many ethical fractures. 

Aaron's plight inspires some use of cultural literacy and common sense; it invites vibrant social constructions of reality as buffers against the fear of actuality.  Within the constraints of Elizabethan imagination, great chain of being and all, Shakespeare finessed his color/race cards, leaving Western thinkers of now  ample possibilities for grasping how the rules of political discourses are modified by time.  His text can be forced to bespeak the multicultural and the global.  Yes, it is impossible to recuperate many of the emotional dynamics of Titus Andronicus for audiences in 1594, but it is likely we can recognize contemporary equivalents of those dynamics. For the purpose of identifying crucial differences in how roles are constructed and acted out, one can contrast Aaron with Iago.  As a white among whites, Iago operates with greater stealth in plotting revenge as a subtext in The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (1603), successfully manipulating the human foibles of Othello and other characters to effect ruin.  Transposed into the drama of contemporary American politics, Iago trumps Aaron as an agent of evil.

By imitating Shakespeare's taking of liberties with historical fact to achieve ideological as well as artistic ends, we become aware that Aaron  has no equivalent in the American dramas of political reality.  Iago does.  He is the fictive surrogate for the great white hope created in large measure by those American citizens whom Republican rhetoric designates "The People."  Note the theatricality of translating the proletarian language of the 1930s --the masses -- into the unified liberal/conservative buzzwords of 2016.  Aaron has no role, but Othello still plays a major one as Iago's target.  One does not need a doctoral degree in political science or literary theory to grasp that President Obama is Othello.  Aaron has no role or place, because his warrants for being were erased in the discourses of the American Revolution.  The inscriptions of the founding mothers and fathers of what became the United States of America ensured that our nation's social and racial contracts would "disappear" the likes of Aaron.  It is tantalizing to imagine Donald Trump as Iago, but then one is imprisoned in the trick bag of a deadly joke.  From the vantage of Democratic counter-rhetoric, Hillary Clinton can be neither Desdemona, nor,  in the terms of Titus Andronicus, the cruel Tamora or the hapless Lavinia. By stretch of critical imagination, she must be Lady Macbeth. We have the impasse of NO WIN/NO WIN.

                I was led to renew my interest in Shakespeare and politics by ideas that occur as I find comfort and pleasure in a leisurely reading of

Parkinson, Robert G. The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Parkinson's exacting scholarship provides grounds for a trenchant re-examination of the idea of "common cause" and current operations of social and racial contracts.  The scripts or narratives that "patriot publicists broadcast," according to Parkinson, "blocked policymakers…from pursuing political or diplomatic agendas that opened the door for friendly Indians to enjoy citizenship. African Americans, free and enslaved, suffered a similar foreclosure" (398).  Let a swath of the  final paragraph of Parkinson's Chapter 5 nail Martin Luther recognitions on the doors of American political imagination:

Because the patriots emphasized some stories but not others, not only did the previously hated French become the Revolution's saviors but the German mercenaries, men who were sent to America for the specific purpose of crushing the rebellion, became sympathetic fellow victims of monarchical tyranny.  This did not occur for African Americans or Indians.  When patriot publicists loudly denounced Indians' slaying of Jane McCrea but not Virginians' slaying of Cornstalk, when they did not substantiate how many blacks served in the Continental army but exchanged stories of slaves running to the British, they rescinded any opportunity for the sort of redemption enjoyed by the French and Germans.  Moreover, when those stories became codified in the Articles of Confederation, the Massachusetts state constitution, or Congress's proclamation announcing the French alliance, they became foundational to the new republic.  Spurning Great Britain's best offer of reconciliation meant that the common cause would continue.  This invited further opportunities to proved that African Americans and Indians did not deserve to be part of the newly recognized United States. (399)

The patriot publicists of 2016 must be informed that they do not deserve to be a part of a nation where LIFE MATTERS.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            August 5, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

aesthetic spins

  aesthetic spins: of poetry and protest

            The distinction Louise M. Rosenblatt made in The Reader, The Text, The Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978)  between aesthetic reading and efferent reading focuses on directedness.  For the efferent reader, the main concern is acquiring information.  Less concerned with utility as such, the aesthetic reader  centers "directly on what he is living through during his relationship with that particular text"(25).  Rosenblatt constructs no brick, iron or bamboo wall between the modes of reading, because the aesthetic involves a degree of the efferent.  Given the difference between a cooking recipe and a poem, the efferent need not incorporate the aesthetic.  The experience of reading

 Medina, Tony, ed. Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky. Durham, NC: Jacar Press, 2016.



Cushway, Philip and Michael Warr, eds.  Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.  $21.95

invites vacillating between aesthetic and efferent modes.  One might note how aesthetic spins affect  the EKG of the efferent.

            This note focuses only on the anthology titles and adds a listing of the poets whose works appeared in both of the books.  In the first instance, the title Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky provides a clever surprise. The main title triggers ideas about antagonism between police officers and citizens, the prison industry, and police killings as the current malady of choice in the United States.  We think of information, as in Tony Medina's saying the poets in the book "remind us of a universal hurt, grief, anger, rage, shame and love that we all can recall when confronting the blunt reality and the savagery of abuses associated with corrupted power, indifference and intolerance" (x).  The subtitle might remind us, on the other hand, of the magic of poetry, of its ability to make our minds the sky and stretch them.

            Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin involves more unity of title and subtitle, suggesting poetry that protests is limited to violence and outrage.  When we actually read the poems in the anthology, we quickly discover a broader meaning of protest.  If we need help, Amiri Baraka's brief essay "Protest Poetry" (22-23) can guide us. His first sentence reads: "I have always resented the term 'protest poetry' because it seemed to me that it was dropping the poetry I felt closest to in a lead box so it wouldn't contaminate the dull ass mainstream" (22). His final paragraph reads: "So the main thrust of the term 'protest poetry' is to stigmatize the literature that questions the given, the status quo.  But wouldn't that include The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the old and new testaments of the Bible. Isn't Revelation Protest Poetry?" (23). In the case of Baraka, I sense the aesthetic is the efferent.

            It may interest a handful of readers to know the following poets have poems in both volumes:

Kwame Dawes/ Rita Dove/ Cornelius Eady/ Kelly Norman Ellis/ Patricia Spears Jones/ Douglas Kearney/ Yusef Komunyakaa/ Quraysh Alis Lansana/ Haki R. Madhubuti/ devorah major/ Marilyn Nelson/ Ishmael Reed/ Sonia Sanchez/ Quincy Troupe/ Frank X. Walker, and Afaa Michael Weaver.

Noting what efferent results  come from the aesthetic spins of their poems is a timely exercise.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.     July 28, 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

Letter to the NYRB

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

1928 Gentilly Blvd.

New Orleans, LA 70119-2002

August 2, 2016

Mr. Robert B. Silvers


The New York Review of Books

435 Hudson Street, Suite 300

New York, New York 10014-3994

Dear Mr. Silvers:

Having enjoyed and profited from Darryl Pinckney's articles in NYR, I wish to make three comments about "Black Lives and the Police" [NYR, August 18].  It is true that Colonial law "invented whiteness in America" and "helped to keep blacks and poor whites from seeking common cause" from Colonial times to the present (with a few exceptions noted by American historians).  Nevertheless, Pinckney's assertion would be strengthened by reference to Robert G. Parkinson's excellent study The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (2016).  I  agree with Rosemarie Zagarri's comment in a blurb for that book which suggests patriotic stories by "white Americans marginalized, demonized, and excluded enslaved people and native Americans, shaping the Revolutionary narrative down to the present day."  Zagarri's remark makes us aware of the intellectual poverty of writing about events in the United States as if they occur within a privileged narrative involving only blacks and whites.

It is slightly baffling that Pinckney did not more thoroughly contextualize why Officer Nakia Jones's "passion recalls Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964." Did Pinckney want to imply that morality is rare in American social and political discourses?  Did he want us to begin thinking that American women and men should put down their guns, stop murdering one another, and mentor young females and males?  It that is his point, the horror of self-fashioned , domestic genocide (i.e. infamous black-on-black crime) indeed casts light on where the most violent "retribution" is occurring.

Finally, I urge that Pinckney and others who advocate "reform of the criminal justice system" give more attention to the fact that Americans of all colors, classes, and occupations are logical, inevitable victims of amoral ironies in our nation's democratic experiments.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Professor Emeritus

Tougaloo College

Tougaloo, Mississippi