Sunday, April 16, 2017

T.C. Marshall, A Secret Agent, a Spaceman, & a Talking Bear: A Theory of Doubling the Stakes in Poetry

“ONLY YOU,” is boldly printed there above a drawing of a bear dressed like Smokey; beneath the picture, it continues: “CAN RESIST FASCIST LIARS.” Maybe you saw John Weir’s cartoon putting new words in a bear’s mouth. If you look closely at it, you see that the name on the hatband is “Wokey” not “Smokey”; this must be his cousin, awakened, and she is calling on us to awake.

We have entered a new era of resistance. From marches to postcards to interruptive demonstrations, some slumbering giant has awakened and made the middle class take up tools they haven’t handled for awhile. Smokey’s mattock has met Wokey’s wild words. The crisis is with us. The money has pushed us up against the walls of our lives, and given us common purpose.

What do we, the poets, do for this moment? If we check our tools, what do we see at the ready? The words (and their friends the spaces) can raise an image, evoke characters, tell a story, suggest a thought, shape a mask, carry info, stir a feeling, make pattern & variation show, or play a rhythm for ear or body. We can make truth dance or raise a devil and slap him down. We can express ourselves and our community in image, song, or drama, in impersonization or abstract thinking, in analysis or evocation.

Our aesthetics drive us, but how far can they go? Knowing our tools and our goals gives us impetus, but what limits us? Why can’t all the world hear? Do we swell only the same old crowd? Where is the impasse? Can the middle-class listen beyond its historical addiction to sempiternal sincerities of truth and beauty? Are our newly awakened allies “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”? Can we work with the energy of tensions instead of the certainty of resolutions? Can you get to “the Undercommons” from here, and who is there when you get there? These pressing questions push for a critical look at the aesthetic, and some place from which to take that look.

We live and work in what one French guy has called “the aesthetic regime.” This is the regimen of rules and expectations for art that is focused on and thru “the aesthetic.” Right there, the word “aesthetic” gets historicized and rescued from the blandness of including all art and the tastes of all times. It is not just a term for the artsy but a term with a specific social history, erased or blurred by the blurring of the word.

It might help us to see this if we use the term “aesthetic art” to remind us that not all art has been or will be “aesthetic.” That French guy, Jacques Rancière, has provided us with an abstract history of how the aesthetic concept freed art to do new things beyond the previous representational mimetic framework. In the same recent decades, Englishman Terry Eagleton provided an analysis of the big guy thinkers of the last couple of centuries and showed the aesthetic basis of their major concepts. Both of these historicizations help show how aesthetic art may already be unfolding into something else.

The aesthetic asks certain things of its artists and audiences with which we are all familiar. Because it was derived from a regime in which art made models for following The Good (Rancière’s “representational regime”), it adapted what had been in vogue then toward the new bourgeois vogue focusing on the individual and on the freedom and responsibility to shape one’s worldview. This freedom was opened to the artist by partly lifting the responsibility to reflect the world “as it is.” 

“The aesthetic regime of the arts,” Jacques Rancière tells us in his book on The Politics of the Aesthetic, “did not begin with decisions to initiate an artistic rupture. It began with decisions to reinterpret what makes art or what art makes” (20). Rancière’s historicization of the aesthetic begins there and shows us how the shift from a previous regime of mimetic representation could happen. What made art before, in that old regime, was what Rancière calls “forms of normativity” like “partitions between the representable and the unrepresentable; the distinction between genres according to what is represented; … the distribution of resemblances according to principles of verisimilitude, appropriateness, or correspondence; etc.” What art had been making was models for our understanding that had worked by “global analogy with an overall hierarchy of political and social occupations” to show us where we might fit into the world around us (17). Now, art could come from “the imagination” and work toward an ideal transcendent to this world. Part of its power lay in admitting that it did not reflect “the way things are.” Another part of its power came from inserting itself into the world on an equal basis with the forms of this world. This allowed art to claim some force for its shape besides reflection. The aesthetic regime tried to free art from its hierarchies “by destroying the mimetic barrier that distinguished ways of doing and making affiliated with art from other ways of doing and making.” This “simultaneously establishes the autonomy of art and the identity of its forms with the forms that life uses to shape itself” (19).

The trick to this switch is that, in the aesthetic regime, form works as though no one were working it. The artist becomes a secret agent whose effort appears effortless. In fact, Kant insisted in the early days of aesthetic theory that art must have a “purposive purposelessness.” We encounter “the power of a form of thought that has become foreign to itself: a product identical with something not produced, knowledge transformed into non-knowledge, logos identical with pathos, the intention of the unintentional, etc.” (18). As Rancière puts it, this “identity of opposites” shapes “a pure instance of suspension,” of the content of the artist’s message, “a moment when form is experienced for itself” which is “the moment of the formation and education of a specific type of humanity” (19). How to make the good bourgeois good, that was the program without a program—operating through a whole weltanschauung. Herein lies “the contradiction constitutive of the aesthetic regime of the arts, which makes art into an autonomous form of life and thereby sets down, at one and the same time, the autonomy of art and its identification with a moment in life’s process of self-formation” (21). We are trained thereby to see art unfolding as a “total life programme” (sic, 25), what we have tended to call “the artist’s vision” that springs forth fully armed.

This is not to say that we are all writing something as huge as Brian Ang’s The Totality Cantos; haiku also carry a worldview, and so do “lowku” (or “low coup” as Amiri Baraka called them). These visions may move a reader. They may even move the world. Rancière says they do so through offering a new “distribution of the sensible”(89). This is the key term in his discussions of the arts and politics. He puts a very interesting twist on the political. “Politics is generally seen as the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved: the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems for legitimizing this distribution.” Rancière chooses instead to call this “the police” and to “reserve the term politics for an extremely determined activity antagonistic to policing: whatever breaks with the tangible configuration” of representable voices—taking or presenting “the part of those who have no part.” It tests equality and “makes understood as discourse what was once only heard as noise” (Disagreement 29-30). The new allocation of voices versus the old distribution is the political core of the arts. Each voice is expected to seriously present itself, and yet it is not the contents of what they say but the very fact of participating in the discourse that makes for change.

Rancière’s concept of the political side of art being its “distribution of the sensible” goes hand in hand with his concept of “policing.” Its essence is a distribution of the sensible that precludes or represses true “politics,” that protects the hegemonic distribution of who speaks and what can be heard. Policing can exist in the form of art. Politics depends on a kind of aesthetic, a distribution of parts. This “aesthetic” aspect of politics is Rancière’s main thrust toward a politics in the aesthetic. It is not necessarily always a progressive one. ‘The modern emergence of aesthetics as an autonomous discourse determining an autonomous division of the perceptible is an emergence of an evaluation of the perceptible that is distinct from any judgment about the use to which it is put.” What we progressive poets make and what audiences make of what we make is “a world of virtual community—of community demanded—superimposed on the world of commands and lots that gives everything a use” (57). Kant’s “purposive purposelessness” can be turned toward “constituting a kind of community of sense experience that works on the world of assumption … by revealing a mode of existence of sense experience that has eluded the allocation of parties and lots,” simultaneously “freeing up the norms of representation” (58). The aesthetic allows us this purpose and the freedom to put it to use, but then the arguments of taste begin.

As we choose and argue over our ways of making art, over the uses of our tools, we re-enact the policing of the world at large. Heriberto Yépez has laid this all out sharply in his provocatively pointed “Notes on art’s crap.” In this part of his work “Against the Police-Concept of Art,” Yépez delightfully excoriates our dominant art world and indicts its aestheticisms. He has taken ideas like Rancière’s to the next level, and outdone him on all counts. The re-incorporation of severed parts of society may have been Whitman’s game, as the telling it slant was Dickinson’s, and the reaching to include other mindsets was Rimbaud’s and Mallarmé’s, and all are praised as “politics” by Rancière in his literary criticism, but art polices itself too—through us, the artists. Art’s function, Yépez says, “is to sabotage individual discontent and prevent violent collective explosions” by balancing our work against the art-world games of being heard and choosing what to hear, just as the management of finance tries to do with the other crises in our world through devaluations. It is our accounting of the world that polices it. As Heriberto writes: “Every element of art polices the others,” and “Police is the ruling concept of art.” To assert that artworks “are part of the pacification apparatus” where “you are supposed to be the detective who finds additional meanings in art and never finds the police and the crime” is almost funny in the way it frames us, but it leads him to an abrupt fierce conclusion about our arts:
Art will not change. Art will not change art. Art will not change the world. The world needs to destroy art. The transformation of the world will involve the destruction of every form of art. Art’s self-destruction is not enough.
If we look around ourselves at other arts, we may see some of this destruction in the shift of focus away from high art values. If we look at an anthology like Anthony Downey’s Art and Politics Now, we can easily see the engagement of our contemporary film and gallery artists with globalization, labor issues, citizenship issues, police terrorisms, environmental degradations, and more. They employ techniques that give new voice to the silenced, but they also invert the old relationship to The Sublime and The Beautiful; we are challenged to be better people by seeing the ugly monstrosities of daily life hidden in some lives around us. They turn the subjective ideal of an art that teaches through aesthesis toward an experience of noesis. Objectivities of various sorts have been employed; final conclusions have been eschewed; material concerns have been shifted into the place of transcendent ones; the languages of oppression, advertising, and policing have been framed to expose themselves; and laughter has been invited to throw light. Purposefulness has returned with a vengeance, like a repressed urge, and it has learned to come at us “slant”—from outside our own aesthetic sensibilities and common sense, though it is art’s old tools that get used for this.

What this art asks the audience to do is to engage the new information and the voices raised, sometimes to add our own and sometimes just to hear and digest. The trick that turns against us in this lies in the “rejectable” quality of these works. In today’s atmosphere of “alternative facts,” this is a major factor. Preaching to the choir may inspire them, but it is both self-limiting and policing in its way. The enemy has a capacity for tolerating our existence and using our voices as proof of something like democracy. Any simple stance can be both accepted and opposed without anybody being moved at all. We need to effect more pressure than merely pointing things out or handing the microphone or megaphone around the circle. A single-pointed stance is locatable; you can point to it and see where it’s at. Whether it’s Chantal Akerman’s From the Other Side showing us interviews with Mexican migrant workers and Americans commenting on their risks and rights, Santiago Serra’s giant NO on a global tour, or the self-mutilation of Mike Parr as a reference to that of detainees in Australia in indefinite incarceration, each work can be illuminating for some and something simply to turn off for others (all in Downey). It all falls back into policing in a way. There’s got to be a larger perspective that we offer and ask for from audiences, or the bourgeois habit of picking and choosing will prevail. We can offer more than a shopping cart.

If we are not going to be producing just more stance-oriented work, we probably need to re-conceive the relation to how we make art and what art makes. We can offer more than a vision or a stance. We can ask more engagement with themselves from our audience, not just a take-it-or-leave-it choice to believe us or our informants. We can make works that double the stakes of engagement by asking for something like “triangulations” as a more complex kind of location, or even providing oscillations between positions like the physicists say about unlocatable particles. There are artists who have been doing these things for awhile, and a quick look at them might shape some new ways to use our old tools.

The prime examples for this extension of artistic activity make good use of the old tools and depend on their audience’s recognition of longstanding aesthetic principles and approaches. The element that they add is formal and performative. They play good piano or tell jokes well, they move us to emotion or have a point, they batten onto familiar attitudes in us, and they blend things we already know into fresh cocktails. They are stage people, and they use who they are in their act.

The first of these I’ll discuss is the younger of the two. I shared a stage with her myself at Sushi Gallery in San Diego, a town where she honed her skills. Caryn Elaine Johnson became Whoopi Goldberg there. I remember her at a party just watching people, and when I asked what she was doing she said, “Homework.” The moment when I saw her deepest artistry was on that night when we joined other locals in a benefit. One of Caryn’s bits showed the detailed homework she had been doing. It was a perfect portrayal of a surfer girl, a stock character in the real life of San Diego. At one point, she did the hair flip that all the beach chicks had down: hang the hair forward and throw it back over the shoulder with one motion of the neck. You could almost see water come flying out of it, see its full blonde length, sense its lightness and shine. But what was shining were Whoopi’s eyes, and her skin—which was as black then as it is today. She had caught us in admiration of her mimetic skills, making another being appear in the same space where we saw Whoopi. It wrenched my head. Where her hero Moms Mabley had made us see a black body for what it is, Whoopi had made us see one for what it isn’t or was not supposed to be. Where Moms had somethin’ to tell us, Whoopi shows us our contradictions.

Herman Poole Blount did much the same every time he took the stage as Sun Ra. This forerunner of Afro-Futurism became a highly renowned composer/arranger and jazz pianist. He could play it straight and beautiful, moving people to tears with Ellington or a Disney tune, or play it avant with chord changes some people are still trying to explain. He also wrote and published poems and essays, but his writings were not his main focus. He developed a stage act that included costuming for him and his bandmates, designed on the basis of popular images of spacemen and classical Egyptian gods. He purported himself to be from Saturn a messenger sent to bring us new ways of peace and wisdom—what he called “myth-science.” Ra’s mix of space myth, mostly from movies and TV, and classical Egyptian myth from the books he had assiduously studied was a new way of being black in America. You could not quite tell if it all might be a joke, but it was designed to not let you dismiss it too quickly. A viewer, white or black or otherwise, was confronted with a set of contradictions in this man and his act. There were plenty of ways to just enjoy the music. There was much wisdom in the patter and the poetry. And there was fun in the pretense. In America, though, it was dead serious to be black and have a message. His message was a critique of a lot of accepted knowledge: there are no real spacemen, Egypt is dead and it wasn’t black anyway, music is just music and nothing more, wisdom in blacks comes from Uncle-Remus-style acceptance, and space travel is for scientists. Ra’s use of the combination of mythic materials and modern liberation language made him either a fool or a genius, or both maybe. He was a challenge to figure out. It was tough to place him. That allowed him to assert a lot of things that might have earned him a fierce reputation more like Malcolm’s had he played it straight. All of his aesthetic talents were purposefully packaged in a “ridiculousness” that could hardly be ridiculed because it included such serious matter. That crazy combo made him an all-or-nothing kind of deal, filled with contradictions that came from us. “Door of the Cosmos” was no joke if you looked at it right. “Móre than lífe / Interésted me só / That I dáred to knóck /At the dóor of the cósmos,” sang the band with a nod to the rhythms of Coltrane’s “Love Supreme.”

That “door,” of course, is metaphor and image. The thought that there’s more to life than “life” itself is a call to that feeling of adventure in each of us, and the kind of conundrum that a zen koan carries. That “knock” is an action, dramatized. And Ra’s delivery as “Ra” is as if there’s someone who knows this is the way to go, a cosmic messenger with a telegram to us. (See this character at the beginning of his film A Joyful Noise). It’s simplistic poetry worthy of hippies, on one level, and a sophisticated history of poetry on another level. Part of the “form” of this work is its delivery, and the “person” delivering it is part of that. This person may be self-effacing or identity-focused, or the interesting combination that Ra creates by denying his earthliness. No matter which one, either way this person is part of the form on paper or onstage.

“Impersonization” is one of our tools that I listed earlier. I meant then for it to include all the ways of putting a personhood into the poetry, from Browning’s “Sordello” to KRS One’s “edutainment.” It is one element that can use all of poetry’s angles. I’d say, for the professorliness of it, that there are four main angles and some pairings and oppositions among them on a sort of square of axes. They come from the history of our craft. The poetic image includes all that we learned from the task of making something appear before the six senses; this labor is “iconic” and may serve to bolster hierarchy or worship, or as “iconoclastic.” The mimetic dramatization of actions came from another phase of our history, telling stories with a lesson; the lesson of The Bourgeois Gentleman in Molière is a spoof on this and Shakespeare’s oeuvre an apotheosis with spots of spoofing too. Those two are joined in making models for us, and opposed in that the one is more subjective and the other more objective. The subjective appears again in the aesthetic that depends on shared feeling-perceptions, putting us through an experience to gain wisdom. Its partner is an opposite in that it swings outward into objective considerations, and yet it continues the idea of experiencing for ourselves through questioning. It is noetic, a kind of critical thinking. Ra works with all four, even in that verse from “Door,” and his impersonization or “de-personization” is a key to making this stuff stick.

The audience is asked to accept that he is a spaceman embodying wisdom from beyond. The audience also cannot ignore that he is black, and (though there well may be blacks in space) we can see the marks of earthly existence on him. The groove of the tune draws any music fan in, its rhythms link it to John Coltrane’s great hymn, but the contradiction of what we can see and what we’re asked to believe is a lot like it was with Whoopi. The questioning rises from there: we know “Stars Fell on Alabama” one night, but did they leave this fellow behind? How does his message of cosmic love sound from that black mouth? How does a fantasy (like Perkins & Parish’s “Stars” lyric: “I never planned in my imagination / A situation so heavenly, / A fairy land where no one else could enter, / And in the center just you and me”) speak to this world in any way beyond the aesthetical? Am I being hustled? Is this all just entertainment? When She & Him sing that song, it’s all romantic; is there more to it with this man? When the Motor City Drum Ensemble does “Door” as house music with techno imagery in the video, does it lose something Ra put in? What truth be told here? The noetic dimension lies in all such questions, and it’s put there by this guy who gets around in a Nova:

There’s no reason for us to give up the tools of the poetic iconic, mimetic dramatic, or aesthetic experiential angles; however, they all can be revivified if we take up the noetic critical angle to embrace them. Ra is beyond parody; he is not just goofing on the goofs of this world. He is beyond threnody; he wails for life beyond life. He is beyond psalmody; what he praises is both “not of this earth” and rooted in this life. His thinking is analytical and critical but delivered through iconic, dramatic, and experiential means—not simply by bland-faced professorly lecture nor even simply by poetry.

Like all the arts, poetry has used all four modes with different emphases over the centuries and over the miles around the globe. Poiesis is the shaping of forms, image used as iconic; mimesis imitates the world of action with dramatic images; aesthesis emphasizes feeling-perception to create sharing of sensual experience; and noesis puts a critical thinking dimension into the act, setting images into play in ways designed to emphasize social contradictions. The inclusion of, and emphasis on, the noetic dimension also makes use of all the other approaches. We, as writers and readers, can better appreciate the efforts in these directions over the centuries and in the near future if we look at all four dimensions. Our historical moment calls for acts of resistance that double down on what can be achieved under “the aesthetic regime.”

There are many poets adding noetic dimension like this to their work these days: I suppose I saw it first in the simple “low-coup” of Amiri Baraka, taking the haiku form and using it to speak of the “low” end of life and mind so that we engage the contradiction. Part of the joke is that maybe we even start thinking about a “coup.” Part of the presentation of these poems is illustration that helps bring out the joke. Other poets have also added pictures: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen uses them for one kind of illustration of ideas; Mark Nowak’s use of Ian Teh’s photos in Coal Mountain Elementary provides another kind of illustration of experience. Concrete visualization is present in a different way in Karen Weiser’s recent use of typography and the image of slave manacles in Or, The Ambiguities. She shapes a haunting visual dimension to extend the impact of her poems and show her reading of Melville’s Pierre character in its historical context of the contradictions in American slavery. Scott McFarland made the human microphone practice of the Occupy movement into a technical device for doubling the voice in his O Human Microphone. David Lau’s Still Dirty has its ways of making words and phrases carry both sides of the question at hand. This, too, is a kind of doubling that allows us to re-appropriate terms like “crisis” (v. my review in Galatea Resurrects #27). Ron Silliman’s Against Conceptual Poetry uses a transcript of Julian Assange speaking about the politics of outing secret government texts to subtly connect that world with poetics through common terms, linking free speech with fiscalization for example. Stephanie Young’s critique of The University and poetry world politics is composed by enjambing her revealing diaristic notes with critical reflections on a famous poetry conference or two and on “this thing that I made that failed,” a neo-benshi piece on Oscar Grant’s killing by a BART cop (v. my review in GR #21). Eileen Tabios and j/j hastain have carried doubling into a collaborative text that combines her “sense of physicality” with hastain’s trans identity and “the idea of the poem as also a body,” all while working with her adopted son’s school life and the condition of orphaned bodies (v. my review in GR #20). This seemingly labyrinthine combination was for her “a useful scaffolding for managing personal biases and emotion so that they did not get in the way of creating the poem.” She ends this book with “A Poetics Fragment” that expresses the belief that a poem is “completed elsewhere” by others, beyond the poet’s realm of control, and that “one poem can have many different completions.” This is the essence of the noetic, where questionings and contradictions put off conclusions.

The readers we are after are no longer just each other. If we try to take all our readers to one location, to bunch them up, we defeat ourselves, even if that location is the transcendence built into aestheticism—the higher plane. Going low with Baraka gets us further amongst people:
“In the Funk World”
If Elvis Presley is King,
Who is James Brown?
That poem contains multitudes in its stance. It is readable by almost any American. Its doubled dimensions are in music, pop culture, the money wrapped up in music, the funk beyond the music, and race. Baraka’s live delivery of these “low-coup” often included scatting or a band. The whole history of jazz would hover, suggesting things about how to read the questions that were raised. On the page, these poems also got illustrated:

The point is fairly blunt here with Baraka, but the approach recalls the subtlety of Moms Mabley saying, “I got sómethin’ to téll you.” Her toothless grin and bug-eyes challenged audiences to find out that this “little old lady” had some angles on things that we could use, for a laugh and some truth—for the truth in a laugh. As Whoopi told it in an interview, Moms had a joke about being asked by a cop why she drove on a red light. Her reply was sublime: “Because I saw the white folks going on the green, I thought the red was for us.” You can see what she’s saying; whether you hear or see or know her blackness, it shows us all “somethin’.” She is not just being aesthetic; she is freely drawing out provocative contradictions.

The aesthetic regime has offered an attempt at a steady state of “freedom” for the artist, though it is the bourgeois freedom of “free play.” The artist is given this freedom to create forms and enter them into life’s struggle to form itself through this world’s dialectic. The artist herself is given recognition, but the art comes across as a whole “vision” of a world of perceptions. The audience is asked to swallow it whole, or not. The audience is asked to find in the poem, in its images or story or voices, in all its elements, a composition as a whole set of feeling-perceptions located where they can be “experienced” and “shared.” The art world reifies and commodifies this set-up. All the bourgeois satisfactions are there. The morality of alignment with The Truth, for both artists and audiences, hovers.

The gratifications of a “buy-in” are involved, just as they are for a “start-up” business. The “sales pitch” is the art itself to some extent, the product that speaks for itself, but also the theory around it or in it—each work implying a world and its explication, a “lifestyle” as it were.

As aesthesis has unfolded in this now-old regime, and as resistance to the bourgeois world has arisen through life’s forms and in the arts, we have begun to shift perspectives on artists and audiences. Audiences are not unified subjects or objects; they require a variety of angles. In what might be beginning to be a new regime of noesis, the arts can be about raising questions and focusing through contradictions. The framing of any image, story, or voice gets doubled that way. The artist shapes a form that is less monolithic, an “ad campaign” or theory that is more interrogative and tentative—with nothing to “sell” that isn’t already there in society’s contradictions. The audience is asked to ask themselves if they can sustain these tensions and what “price” they are paying to do so. The artist and audiences meet in a form that is built of relations. A set of shifting relations between writer and world, between writer and audience, between audience and world, triangulates all positionings with an outside angle that defers settling on any one “deal.” The “security cameras” of taste are turned off or broken or made as irrelevant as reality TV, in the heads of audiences and artists alike. A collaboration between artist and audience can take place.

Poets can use this extra dimension of the noetic as a way of sharpening all our other tools. We can call up “the future” like Ra did to add perspective, but the rehearsals of past and present contradictions do not lead to any simple resolution in any perfect future we might campaign for. Rancière insists that the difference between the mimetic and the aesthetic is that the aesthetic “incessantly restages the past” (Politics 20). This follows from his claim that the “leap outside of mimesis is by no means the refusal of figurative representation” (19). It is a leap instead from rational sequence to a focus on “raw presence” in the leap from story to “the invention of new forms of life on the basis of an idea of what art was, an idea of what art would have been” if it had kept going under that old regime. The newness made for the future is based in a sense of what the past would have led to. This is what we’re working on with the move from the aesthetic to the noetic. It explores in a little more depth what Marx was talking about about Europe’s new future in The Eighteenth Brumaire:
The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions require recollections of past world history in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its own content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead. There the phrase went beyond the content; here the content goes beyond the phrase. (18)
We can read this with the “was” and “would have been” as about the aesthetic regime and the noetic angle as the leap into form beyond the content. When Moms or Baraka say “let the dead bury the dead,” the positioning of that statement shuffles between the “B.S.” called out in the low-coup and another joke Moms liked to tell:
Man bought him one of them new-fashioned guns and decided he was goin’ quail huntin’; you know. So, he was walkin’ all through the woods. He didn’t find no quail, but he wandered into a graveyard; you know. After awhile, he seen a big flock of quail, so he aimed his gun. His gun went off and kicked him back into an open grave. He was down there, and he says, “It’s COOOOLLLD down here. Phew. It’s COOOOLD down here.” So, a wino decided he’d take a shortcut through the graveyard. He’s walkin’ through there, and he hears somebody say, “It’s COOOOLLLD down here.” He look around, and look down, and he say, “No wonder you’re cold; you done kicked all the dirt off ya.”
Whether the man in the grave is as white as most fools in Moms’ jokes and the wino is black or not, the wisdom of false naiveté is the same and it underscores the distance between the living and the dead—between really being alive in “raw presence” and being dead to this world. Its insult to the dead (and dead ways) is its true sharpness, emphasized by Moms’ look that doubles our laughter by making ironies abound.
Doubling perspectives engages the noetic and releases us from the aesthete’s conclusions. You can’t nail it down with no coffin lid. It’s living in the future, and challenging us to go beyond our words—beyond worlds we have known. Right now, it seems like double or nothin’.

I wish I could tell a good joke here about “A Secret Agent, a Spaceman, & a Talking Bear” walking into a bar and settling down for a card game, but I haven’t got one for you. I’d like to have the bear’s desire for honey present the sweetness and light theory of art from poiesis, the spaceman’s perspective present the higher plane theory of art from mimesis, and the secret agent’s thrilling hidden actions present the “other-side-of-this-life” theory of art from aesthesis, but I can’t think of what the bartender would say in the end about those three except “Looks like you guys ain’t got no aces.”

Ang, Brian. The Totality Cantos. In progress. Pieces are in ARMED CELL 2 ( and elsewhere (like
Baraka, Amiri. Un Poco Low Coup. Ishmael Reed Publishing Co., 2004. Illustrations taken from
Burnham, Douglas. “Immanuel Kant: Aesthetics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Downey, Anthony. Art and Politics Now. Thames & Hudson, 2014.
Eagleton, Terry. The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Blackwell, 1990.
Goldberg, Whoopi. In an interview about her documentary @
Harney, Stefano & Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. Minor Compositions, 2013.
Jameson, Fredric. The Prison House of Language. Princeton UP, 1972.
Lau, David. Still Dirty. Commune, 2016.
Mabley, Moms. “Everybody’s Crazy” @
Marshall, T.C. “Cats in Their Hats: a review of six books” (incl. the relational elations of “Orphaned Algebra”) in Galatea Resurrects #20 @ (May 2013).
---. “Ontogeny Recaps Phylogeny and Then Some” in Galatea Resurrects #27 @ (December 2016).
---. “‘Whatever’ or ‘What You Will’: An Appreciation of Stephanie Young’s Ursula or University” in Galatea Resurrects #21 @ (January 2014).
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