Follow by Email

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

a month of circus

a month of circus::prelude for  a poem

After a month of spectatorship in the circus of political insanity, I am bored to the point of needing  long conversations with friends.  Face-to-face talks are best, but telephone discussions can suffice to assure me that logic and civility prevail.  The core of sanity is tilted but not destroyed by concentric circles of calculated madness.  There's stuff in the world that the Trump tribe fails to obliterate.

After a month of spectatorship, combat fatigue sets in.  It is like cabinet fever, the too warm air of a Southern winter conjuring memory of suffocation.  It is already enough that living seven decades in the nightmare quarters of the American Dream did not culminate in murder, in the messiness of washing another person's blood out of my mind and off  my hands.  Nominal Christians tell me to count my blessings.  I listen politely and ignore such well-intentioned nonsense.  In this world it is more important to count Benjamins, bank account balances, and  accumulated gains or losses in the quarterly reports on investments than to calculate prospects of salvation. It is more important to consult with my doctors and instruct them how best to deal with my medical imperfections.  It is more important to write, whether what is written is read or not read, published or unpublished.   The evidence of things seen and quantified matters.  The promises of the unseen and the unknown can wait until I travel to Eternity or into  a reasonable facsimile thereof.  I need to breathe.  There's no space in the circus battlefields for piety.

After a month of spectatorship, it is absurd to hope that the outcomes of conversation can be catharsis or peace that surpasses human understanding or absolution.  No and Hell No.  The most to be hoped for is the buttressing of courage, the restoration of energy to keep on keeping on.  Contemporary tragedy is not chained to the ancient Greek genre.  Nirvana is an attractive idea, but that's all it is ---an bodiless idea.  And absolution is just a Roman Catholic notion.

After a month of spectatorship, of discovering there's more of truth on TCM, AMC and Sci-Fi than on Fox, CNN, PBS, MSNBC and a couple of hundred World Wide Websites or in the fictions that pretend to be newspapers, I have made peace with relentless  irony.  Mark my words.  In the circus American citizens have achieved after three hundred years of social experimenting, conversation and militant actions shall deliver all of us to something that looks like the Unpromised Land!

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            February 20, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

note from the combat zone


Relief from Agenbite of Inwit is not forthcoming from Fickensiesich Consolations of Philosophy.  We ought not retard our progress with energy-draining intellectualism, because  it is necessary to sharpen our intellects by any means available.  Second Amendment tools and well-aimed words are most effective now.  March today. Dance tomorrow.

We must hunt out and capture models for action in our fight against fascism.  Some of the better ones are highly visible in the wilderness of conservative discourses.  Read Paul Waldman's Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn from Conservative Success ( Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006).  Give close attention to Chapter 7: "Manipulating the Media for Fun and Profit."  Manipulate the media.

Take a tip from page 324 of Newt Gingrich's To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Ind., 2010):  "You lead when you mobilize fellow citizens to gather at rallies, demonstrations and events to voice your objections to government policy." A word to the wise was once sufficient.

Weigh the pound of  brilliance on page 135 in Joe Scarborough's conservative manifesto The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise (New York: Crown, 2009):

 "The only grim scenario that seemed to be missing from the Obama White House's political version of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows was an aide leaking a top-secret intelligence memo suggesting that failure to pass the stimulus bill would result in Saddam Hussein rising from the dead and finally getting his hands on that yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Throughout the stimulus debate, President Obama emulated his predecessor."

Work and suffer now.  Relax and heal only when victory is obvious.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            February 20, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

what do we do?: a cognitive warning


What do we do?  Whom do we serve?  What do we stand for?  The simplicity of these questions is devastating.  It may seem easy to respond to them from the perspectives available in the state of nature.  We may say that we live, that we signal our being alive by way of motions governed by some combination of  five senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling).  The very saying, the act of speech, betrays our delusion.  We may claim that we serve ourselves first (the Darwinian impulse or imperative)  and  only secondly serve the not-ourselves (the Other, an unknowable Supreme Being, or the ideals of the Absurd) and refuse to consider that serving, in itself,  signals membership in a group or community.  We may claim to be self-sufficient individuals and delude ourselves; we may deny that a definition of "individual" is based upon a sense of "collective."  We may argue that we stand for (have responsibility for) nothing, thereby betraying that we do stand for something: existence or being.  The impossibility of being in the state of nature, as Huck Finn discovered, is a superb agony.  Whether we like it or not, we are condemned and imprisoned in a state of civilization. We who are most sensitive are infuriated by the lie that all of us have entitlement to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  We do not. We have to grab these wonderful things, often by trusting instinct and  using extreme brutality.

As a thinker and critic, I envy people who live happily  without having their minds ravished by the simplicity of questions.  Rick Shenkman's very readable  Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2016) has enlightened me, to a small degree, about my mood swings between happiness and unhappiness.  When I use my cognitive abilities that have been tuned by Western education, I maximize my unhappiness.  Happiness or bliss is available to me only when I float through the world by instinct, the driver of animal behavior.  For example,  pure instinct informs me that human beings are fundamentally evil with potential to be good.  I suspect that children are innocent and good up to a certain age, but even infants are born with the genetic potential to become agents of evil.  If in adulthood they become agents of good, it is a matter of accident and the cultivation of mysterious will power.  After seven decades of trial and error, I have learned that fundamentally good human beings do not exist.  A human being who professes to be fundamentally good is a consummate liar. I do not lie.

Shenkman's book has two interrelated conclusions: (1) "What science is teaching us is that if we want to elect more honest politicians we first have to be honest with ourselves about our own limits." (page 240) and (2) "If we want a democracy that works we can have one, even with our Pleistocene brain….While we busy ourselves with projects to reform the system, we need to work at reforming ourselves, too.  Science, fortunately, shows us we can." (page 247)  I am skeptical about these concluding platitudes.  Science as science is driven by exquisitely refined instincts.  It is not yet so transcendent, so divine,  as to persuade me beyond doubt that I must reform myself in order to reform the systemic, historical dimensions of American politics and culture that are designed to exterminate me.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            February 17, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

vetting spleen


The Scene:  A party for writers

The Story:

She:  "An artist has no responsibility other than to make art."

He:  "If I knew you truly believed what you just said, I'd cut your throat and call it art."

The Lesson:

Writers are ordinary people who simply write more than most ordinary people.  They have no monopoly on good behavior, morality, or the practice of virtue.  Instead, they use their skill in using language to wound or to attempt to heal.  The snippet of dialogue above does not tell the whole story.  The whole story would be a novel, an epic, a stage play, or a learned treatise on human insensitivity.

Being insensitive to the full range of reactions her statement might trigger, She endangered herself. She was apparently oblivious to the possibility that art does not exist in a vacuum and that those who create art do have responsibilities that exceed the act of creation.  He, being a writer totally committed to standing behind his words, demonstrated insensitivity to the injury his words caused.

The recommendation:

She and He ought to be examined in the contexts of whole stories that inform us about our "normal" behavior and how we choose to locate ourselves in the realm of responsibility.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            February 15, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

humanities without lamentation


After enduring complaint after complaint from post-whatever humanists about exploitation, underfunding, and lack of praise from the general public, I was energized by Keenan Norris's sending news about a "writing freedom" project.  Norris, a young professor of African American Studies and English at Evergreen Valley College, is a writer who maximizes work and minimizes self-serving lament. He is not a "star," a spectacle, a chaser of fame.  He is just a scholar and writer who works to benefit people outside the invisible walls of Academe as well as his students.  He affirms my  notion of what a humanist should be and do. And thanks to his intervention, I now know a little about Carmen McCain as a humanist.

I got to know a bit about the quality of Norris's scholarship and imagination while he was still a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Riverside. He submitted a fine article, "The Dark Role of Excess in the Literary Marketplace and the Genesis and Evolution of Urban Literature," for the Journal of Ethnic American Literature, Issue 1 (2011).  As the guest editor, I had the pleasure of working with him on making minor revisions.  Shortly thereafter he sent me an early draft of his first novel Brother and the Dancer (Berkeley: Heyday, 2013), which was the winner of the 2012 James D. Houston Award.  In a blurb for  that book I called it "a refreshing signal that fiction in the twenty-first century can still carry the weight of moral imperatives as it mediates chaotic aspects of our heritage." I still feel "it is most rewarding to savor Norris's remarkable insights."  His mastery of prose and refusal to pander in his novel is evidenced also in his nonfiction.  His commitment to being an engaged writer was reflected in his editing Street Lit: Representing the Urban Landscape (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2014), a solid guide to the genre of urban fiction.  Most recently, Norris has written mind-opening essays for Abernathy, the leading online magazine for black men. Willie Jackson, the founder and publisher, has wittily remarked the magazine is "simply a metaphor for being a decent human."  And Norris is a more than decent humanist.

A few days ago, Norris sent information about how the question  "Can we design FREEDOM?" would be answered on February 18 at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts ( /whats-on/public-square;  he included a link --- ---for "the multimedia installation about the suppression of free speech, literature, and writers' resistance to it in past and present time…."  Norris's essay on David Walker is paired with Carmen McCain's outstanding series of blogs on "The Subversive Women who Self-Publish Novels Amidst Jihadist War," which documents, in the words of Novian Whitsitt, a "vital contribution to social transformation of Hausa-Islamic culture." Together Norris and McCain do humanistic work without special pleading and lamentation.

Norris and McCain are thinkers who deserve our passionate attention.  McCain, who does research  on Hausa film, novels, and literary culture, is as clear in explaining why is it wrongheaded to think of Hausa romances as tools to escape the reality of conflict, to escape the horror of Boko Haram, as Norris is in persuading us that Walker's Appeal is a tool for confronting the horror of the Age of Trump. Both understand what the commerce of literature and politics is in the United States and in Nigeria. Or as McCain says with authority: People read to "escape" daily life , but in my research and conversations with [Nigerian] writers, they often mentioned that they wrote about things that happened to them or things they felt needed to be discussed in society.  So novels are seen as avenues not just of "escape" and "entertainment" but also seen as avenues for "advice" and "instruction." It's a godsend to have such humanists as Norris and McCain who expand our knowledge and our visions.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            February 14, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lincoln's Birthday

Lincoln's Birthday

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, celebrated his 208th birthday on February 12, 2017.  He did not fail to inform everyone that he was of the party of Donald John Trump.  In the first half of  the 20th century, a number of Negroes and their non-Negro allies  esteemed  Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.  They possessed fewer facts about Lincoln's dream that the enslaved should be freed and exported in a reverse Middle Passage back to their motherlands than their African American and multi-ethnic descendants now have.  Richard Wright used Lincoln's birthday and iconic status to contextualize the behavior of Jake Jackson, the anti-hero of the novel Lawd Today!  At crucial points throughout Wright's satiric portrayal of Jackson, a radio station broadcasts platitudes about Lincoln's greatness. 

Readers can't ignore the distance Wright established between Lincoln's mythological greatness and Jackson's wretchedness as a classic stereotype of the urbanized Negro male. Lincoln and Jackson are at the opposite extreme ends of a line drawn through the American Dream.  In 2017, Trump and his tribe are alternative surrogates of Lincoln;  American citizens who castigate Trump, whether they look like Jackson or not, are commodities in the political supermarket. Eight decades after the draft of Lawd Today! was completed in 1935, we still grapple with the disconnection between American political leaders and the constituents whom they hesitate to serve, the disjointedness of ideologies as myths.

It is reasonable to add Lawd Today! to the growing list of fictional works we can use in mapping the ideological foundations of the American Dream's rapid transformation into an American Nightmare, an alleged prerequisite for making America great again.  Just as Brave New World, 1984, and Animal Farm serve as fictional strops for honing vision, Lawd Today! can be a tool for sharpening awareness of why our democratic, racialized and gendered social contract authorized the ascent of a Trump. Wright's novel offers us an excellent portrait of what, to use Albert Murray's term, an uncritical omni-American can be and fail to do.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            February 13, 2017

Book Notes

BOOK NOTES 2/12/2017

New publications from Commonwealth Books

Séjour, Victor. The Fortune-Teller. Trans. Norman R. Shapiro.  Boston: Second Line Press, 2017.

Séjour, Victor. The Jew of Seville. Trans. Norman R. Shapiro. Boston: Second Line Press, 2017.

Shapiro, Norman R., Trans. Creole Echoes: The Francophone Poetry of Nineteenth-Century Louisiana.

Boston: Second Line Press, 2016.

Victor Séjour (1817-1874) is in the foreground of the Francophone and exile tradition in African American literature, but little attention is given to his works outside of comparative literature studies and specialized studies of Louisiana literature.  This may change if the contributions of " Creoles -of-color" (gens de couleur libres) are discussed during the New Orleans Tricentennial in 2018, if due attention is paid to Les Cenelles: Choix de Poesies indigenes (1845).  Although he is only mentioned in a single paragraph in The Cambridge History of African American Literature (2011), his play The Brown Overcoat was included in Black Theater USA (1974) and his short story "The Mulatto" (1837) was acclaimed as "the earliest known work of African American fiction in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1997).  More recently, his poem "The Return of Napoleon" appeared in N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature (2013), edited by Nancy Dixon.

A bright moment of  necessary  rediscovery occurs when one reads Victor-Ernest Rillieux's ode to Ida B. Wells, "Amour et Dévouement" ("Love and Devotion") in Creole Echoes.

Salutes from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

Winners of the 2017 BCALA Literary Awards are

Natashia Deon, Grace ---1st Novelist Award

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn ---Fiction category

Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad and Brit Bennett, The Mothers ---Honor Books for Fiction

Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race ----Nonfiction category

Monique Morris, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools ---Honor Book for Nonfiction

Clint Smith, Counting Descent: Poems ---Best Poetry Award

Monique Ferrell,  Attraversiamo (let's cross over) ---Honor Book for Best Poetry Award

Tyehimba Jess, Olio ---Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            February 12, 2017

Saturday, February 11, 2017

George Yancy's Letter to His Nation

 George Yancy's Letter to His Nation

Part I, February 10, 2017

A Turkish colleague sent George Yancy's recent contribution to "The Stone" feature of the New York Times, "It's Black HistoryMonth. Look in the Mirror." with the following  message:  "I believe we will be extremely busy working on Trump-related issues on Whiteness, discrimination and verbal violence.  Prof. George Yancy published this in opinion pages.  I thought you may like to see it."

I did like seeing Yancy's essay and reading it as one of many descendents of David Walker's 1829 Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World…. Nevertheless, for me Yancy did not inspire the bold courage that Walker provides each time I read his passionate appeal.  It is not that Yancy lacks passion.  His passion is more deeply nuanced that Walker's , more tempered by philosophical niceties.  Thus, I replied: "Thanks for sharing Yancy's extremely polite message to American citizens.  Although I wish to share what I'd call his civility and guarded optimism, I find doing so to be impossible.  My daily witnessing of our nation's political insanity  ---it infects all of us regardless of ethnicity or ideology  --- leads me to think the lack of morality is beyond cure.  Indeed, if Friedrich Nietzsche's sermons on nihilism have any credibility, I am left with pure dread."

My colleague then responded:  "I agree with you, but on the other hand, good comes out of evil.  At lease Trump made 'insidious operations of ideology of Whiteness' quite visible, quite a challenge to those scholars or people in general who keep whitewashing race and call U.S. and the world as 'postracial'."

My reaction was to write a period: "You are right.  Good comes out of evil, stays for a brief moment, and vanishes; the cycle resumes.  I think I'm just flat out weary of the cycle."  My colleague had touched a sensitive nerve.  I am weary, almost in the sense that Fannie Lou Hamer was "sick and tired."  The sinister cycle that is the movement of America's experiment with democracy has long been annoying.  In less than a month, the antics of the Trump political reality show have transformed annoyance into  resentment throughout the spectrum of our uniquely constructed nation.  I resent and explode like Langston Hughes's universally recognized raisin in the sun.  My "liberal"  act is a matter of exploding to keep from imploding. In "conservative" quarters, mirror images of both my reaction and act are separate in kind but equal in degree. The grounds, reasons, or excuses for resenting are different; the spleen and bitterness match my own.  In our nation, the house has many divisions.

Yancy's epistle (although it lacks the generic features of a letter to his fellow citizens who willfully or accidentally occupy the identity position of barbarians) is very philosophical, restrained, ethical, and laden a bit overmuch with noble but disabling concessions (  disabling from the reader response angle of one African American reader: me).  Yancy speaks with the grace and charity that has been the bane of more than two centuries of African American, Christ-imprisoned special pleading, much of it devoted to helping those who insist on being "White" (even if they have black skins) to travel the highway to redemption.  Redemption is defunct.

 I respect Yancy's right to be merciful.  Keeping  unfettered anger in check is fine, but I am more inclined, as a  Roman Catholic with Jesuit leanings ,  to feel African American epistles in the Age of Trump should imitate Aton and  Yahweh not Jesus the Christ and the martyred Apostles.

Part II, February 11, 2017

Yancy's prose is clear, attractively rational even in moments when rhetoric ordains combativeness. He deploys his pronouns well.  Consider  points he argues  in "It's Black History Month….."

(1) "…African-Americans forced the United States of America to look deep into its own soul and to see the moral bankruptcy that lay there."

Objection:  Where is the proof that our nation possesses a soul and has the capacity to discern its moral condition?

(2)  The exposure of bankruptcy occurred "as African-Americans struggled to live under white supremacy" in a nominal home ---"a home that was already brutally taken from Native Americans by white colonial settlers…"

Objection: The house that race built is neither literally nor figuratively  a home.

(3) Our (my pronoun not Yancy's) bodies "were subject to unconscionable white enslavement" and "we lived through forms of carnage, mutilation, rape, castration and injustice that will forever mark the profound ethical failure of this country."

Objection: The trope of victimization does not sufficiently acknowledge the resistive powers of indigenous and "African-becoming-American" minds.

(4) By virtue of survival, "we became far more American than those who withheld America's promise."

Objection:   Given that all members of the body politic have never been included in the process of shaping  the concept " American"  except by dubious theory and praxis, one political animal is not "far more" than all the others. The literary imagination too often deludes itself in belief that it transcends the limits of philosophical actuality.

These post-truth, tendentious  objections can suggest Yancy's eloquence serves the ends of prophecy better than  the aims of the pedagogy of the oppressed.  His admirable intentions are diminished  by such default as  is innate and regrettably permanent  in  the motions of human history.

The bulk of Yancy's essay belongs to the tradition of the African American jeremiad.  Cultural nationalism often competes in the genre  with political nationalism.  After quoting Lillian Smith and Frederick Douglass, icons of righteousness, Yancy mentions instances of Donald John Trump's failure to speak truth to Christianity.  He insists that we ought to "refuse to forget the often unspeakable atrocities we endured."  My objection to an idea that I support  ---we should remember daily to remember and not merely remember in February ---is that we have blissfully little remembered the atrocities indigenous peoples in the USA endured and still endure.  Many of us are complicit in precisely what we condemn.  Yancy suggests that at least one of Trump's famous executive orders bastardizes the Judaic concept of Tikkun Olam, reminding us of a long-standing African American love/hate romance with all things Hebraic.  With rhetorical panache, Yancy swerves to recommend "white people" ought to use Black History Month to embrace responsibility and recognize "how white racist complicity and black suffering were historically linked and are currently intertwined."  Yancy can anticipate having as much success as Richard Wright had with White Man, Listen!  And does this gesture not leave non-white readers in a quandary that wants to be a dilemma?  The quandary is compounded by Yancy's invoking two ideas from his fellow philosopher Judith Butler regarding "the essence of the human."  Had he invoked Angela Davis I might have been happier, less given to complaint.  Alluding to Cornel West's August 24, 2011 New York Times op-ed "Dr. King Weeps From His Grave," urges in conclusion that we should heed the prophetic warning of a sermon Martin Luther King, Jr. did not live long enough to preach, one titled "Why American May Go to Hell."   People in the Hell that is Yancy's nation do not need warning.  They need cold water.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Friday, February 10, 2017

F. Nietzsche and R. Wright

 F. Nietzsche's Antichrist and R. Wright's God

Rereading Friedrich Nietzsche's The Will To Power  and The Antichrist: A Criticism of Christianity  and Richard Wright's The Outsider and "Man, God Ain't Like That…" amplify a sense of dread.

  The Will…segment 1012:

      He who urges rational thought forward, thereby also drives its antagonistic power ---mysticism and foolery of every kind ---to new feats of strength.

     We should recognise that every movement is (1) partly the manifestation of fatigue resulting from a previous movement (satiety after it, the malice of weakness towards it, and disease); and (2) partly a newly awakened accumulation of long slumbering forces, and therefore wanton, violent, healthy.

# The Antichrist, Part 16:

"……A man is grateful for his own existence; for this he must have a God.  Such a God must be able to benefit and to injure him, he must be able to act the friend and the foe.  He must be esteemed for his good as well as his evil qualities.  The monstrous castration of a God by making him a God only of goodness, would lie beyond the pale of the desires of such a community.  The evil God is just as urgently needed as the good God: for a people in such a as form of society certainly does not owe its existence to toleration and humaneness…What would be the good of a God who knew nothing of anger, revenge, envy, scorn, craft, and violence?"

@ The Outsider, Book Five: Decision

Cross Damon tutors Ely Houston:  "…I've lived alone, but I'm everywhere…Man is returning to the earth…For a long time he has been sleeping, wrapped in a dream…He is awakening now, awakening from his dreams and finding himself in a waking nightmare…The myth-men are going…The real men, the last men are coming…Somebody must prepare the way for them…Tell the world what they are like…We are here already, if others but had the courage to see us…"

# "Man, God Ain't Like That…":

"-----You test Babu like you test Jew that time.  Jew, he no believe.  White man kill you and prove you God.  Then you rose from dead in three days and you make white man powerful.  Now it's black man's turn!"

In Richard Wright: Books & Writers, Michel Fabre noted Wright bought The Antichrist  and The Will To Power sometime after 1940, quoted Nietzsche in The Outsider, Savage Holiday, Pagan Spain, Black Power and White Man, Listen!, and considered him to be a prophet "whose questions are actual and everlasting."  The important word is "prophet."  Nietzsche and Wright can be thought of as secular heirs of Jeremiah, descendents who castigate our contemporary vanity of vanities.  Although Wright found the tragic sense of desperation in a book he purchased on June 11, 1945, Sǿren Kierkegaard's The Concept of Dread, it is through his blending of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Black vernacular existentialism that his legacy haunts us as does Nietzsche's unsurpassed meditations on the Absurd. As we try to identify our locations in the time and space of ideas, reading  Nietzsche and Wright is quintessential.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            February 10, 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

reading the dystopia

reading the dystopia wherein you live

Since January 20, 2017, it is quite fashionable to talk about Donald J. Trump under the influence of reading dystopian or apocalyptic fictions.  There is the possibility that what fifty years ago was accepted as "the news" is now a blatant form of social fiction.  Broadcast from every ideological angle, what seems to be the news is replete with alternative facts and unacknowledged projections of imagination. There is a thin line between description of actuality and its reception in various media.  And many readers hop across the line without benefit of thought.  Reading is simply automatic, a reflex action

A few of us who assiduously stay out of touch with reality believe genre distinctions matter, and we attempt to discriminate such dystopian novels as Ishmael Reed's The Free-Lance Pallbearers and George Orwell's Animal Farm from tomorrow's news that happened always already yesterday.  Our reading is a mission impossible, because we are the news.  That is to say, we inhabit the dystopia we'd like to claim is external to us.

The problem is beyond resolution.  We can, however, take pragmatic measures to minimize its paralyzing effects.  We can segregate dystopian fictions from descriptive treatises by using traditional conventions of reading.  The treatise purports to be objective and explanatory.  The fiction is a subjective guide or template for analysis and interpretation, the necessary preconditions for explanation. We gain a bit of comfort from thinking we know the critical difference between fiction and nonfiction.

The hasty  insertion of Trump within the act of reading Animal Farm or The Free-Lance Pallbearers involves one major error. We fail to account for the agency of citizens, readers and non-readers alike, who use the being identified as Trump as the heroic symbol of their lesser selves.  We should try to avoid the error as much as we can.  Reginald Martin's remark about Reed's early novel in Ishmael Reed and the New Black Aesthetic Critics invites us to be cautious: "the contemporary indices [here the reference is 1967]in the course of the novel certainly changed the reference points of American novels up to that time"(42). Fifty years later, the novel's indices are still recognizable and operative in the dystopia of American political economy.  All changes.  All remains the same.

 Read with prudent skepticism as you critique the Other that you are and give voice to dialogues about the Trump, as you broadcast the news

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            February 7, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017

Clay Blooming


(Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977 )

Sharecropper woman, woman of the earth,

fire-tempered, patterned in the smithy

of hard licks and heavy hammers,

you nailed together the possible dream;

yes, you did;

you nailed together the possible dream.

In Sunflower County, in Eastland eyes,

the sun peels skin, sweats profit

from the common coal-black clay;

in Sunflower County, under Eastland eyes,

Mississippi colonels steal life

and profit from the common coal-black clay.

Sharecropper woman, woman of soil

and toil and steel, battered

from the age of six, you rose

militant in Ruleville, massed

your people against the slavery;

against the slavery, you threw

a stone conniption of truth,

No more yesssah block for me.

No cotton, no Wall Street White House

gonna make you free.

Power of common clay gonna make you free.

You gotta make you free.

In Sunflower County, in Eastland eyes,

sharecropper woman, woman of the earth,

you turned that land to sunflower country,

awakened the common coal-black clay

with grit and love and motherwit;

with grit and love and motherwit

you nailed together the possible dream;

yes, you did;

you breathed rebellion in our souls,

breathed courage in our souls,

breathed some freedom in our souls.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


America's Ideologies

Coined in 1796 by the French philosopher Antoine Louis Claude, Comte  Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), the word "ideology" was not in the lexicon of people who lived North America prior to 1776 and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  Doubtless indigenous peoples, Africans, and Europeans of various complexions  possessed abstract  cultural and social ideas that pertain to what "ideology" signifies ----freedom, tyranny, law, thief,  justice,  corruption, morality,  domination, equality, patriotism, happiness, sovereignty, right, legality, and so forth. Concepts exist prior to our abusing them, or locking them up in cages of language.  Otherwise, we would be unable to speak about political economy and unfinished political histories.  Destutt  deTracy's Enlightenment neologism, replete with its emphasis on sensations,   is crucial for discovering what it means to be an American, although the robust tradition of condemning  or trivializing intellectual commerce prevails in the United States of America in 2017.  We are less than anxious to have American citizens dwell on knowledge of ideology. Contemporary education in the USA is "p-----whipped" by the hegemony of testing.  We are not hospitable to liberated thinking.

Our inhospitality has serious consequences.  For example, most  American voters had a superficial grasp of how ideology functions in segregating a Democracy from a Republic in the November 2016 elections. That factoid , the trumping of cold reason by hot emotion and the "legal tyranny" of the Electoral College secured the Presidency for a wode male.  Ignorance of ideology matters. We wouldn't be corrupting the young in America were we to do a better job of teaching them about the soil on which they walk or the ground where ideologies grow.

The real dirt about how ideologies come into being in the USA  is not highly publicized.  Few Americans know jack about the science of ideas that the aristocrat Destutt de Tracy constructed.  Strict construction, however,  does not authorize our confusing  what he had in mind with simple, history-impoverished  political theories. When we ask, "What does it mean to be an American?", I would suggest we have to ask quite embarrassing questions of histories.   How do we, who are not direct descendents of  indigenous peoples, live blissfully in territory that by virtue of  jus naturale (natural law) belongs to them?  How do we justify our criminality?

When we revisit  the hidden dimensions of the  American Revolution, the dirty laundry of genocide and enslavement begins to pile up.  Read the British humor in Nicholas Guyatt's Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (New York: Basic Books, 2016) and the remarkable scholarship in  Robert G. Parkinson's The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).  What is becoming known better and better now is that through the colonial  newspapers and broadsides and other printed materials, not only was the case being made for the rights of those people who resented blind loyalty  to the British Crown, but the case was made for them  to be independent in a very specious way.  To confirm their special independence that contradicted the  beautiful words  written in the second draft of the Declaration of Independence, meant that they had to diminish and reduce to derogation  other peoples, particularly so-called  Native Americans and Africans. They had to insist that those two populations did not and would not ever  deserve to be fully invested in the enterprise of liberation from what was called the tyranny of the king.

Indeed, using various arguments, especially those from what was known as natural history at the time, the founding mothers and fathers of the USA set those two populations  completely  outside the pale. This is very important in terms of what  Americans do need to know in the 21st century  about the origins of  America's odd ideologies ; about how we practice them in the ambiance of the America democratic experiment, post-capitalism, and intense globalization; about patriotic insanity as the ship of state drifts from democracy to fascism.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            February 5, 2017