American Civilization

August 21, 2010

Suspended

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 3:42 pm

Amciv.wordpress.com has been suspended for the indefinite future. I now blog at analepsis.wordpress.com

May 9, 2009

Recommended reading for the summer.

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 6:49 pm

For what it’s worth here is a list of books almost all of  which I’ve read fairly recently (last 20 mos. or so) that will be of assistance to anyone seeking to better understand the contemporary era. Obviously the titles chosen reflect my own proclivities– i.e., caveat emptor.

Henri Alleg, The Question

First hand account of torture originally published in the late 50s by a journalist who fell afoul of the French military during the Algerian Revolution.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities

A very influential discussion of the nation concept.

 

 

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake.

A dystopian novel about civilizational collapse and genetic engineering.

Alain Badiou, Ethics: Understanding Evil

Written as an introduction to philosophy though quite provocative. Worth the effort required.

Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism

A splendid history of the current mode of production.

Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization

This study of Machine Age gender construction and imperialism possesses powerful resonances with the present.

Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence

From one of the major practitioners of Critical Theory.

 

JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

A slim, powerful novel which I’ve taught several times. I’ve given this book to 5 or 6 of my friends and family, which is, for me, the highest recommendation.

Jonathan Cook, Israel and the Clash of Civilizations

An insightful contemporary history of Israel and Empire by a young British journalist.

Hamid Dabashi, Iran: A People Interrupted

A hybrid text– part history, part theory, part memoir, part polemic. Very useful.

 

TsiTsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.

A remarkable novel about coming of age and colonialism in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

John Dower, War Without Mercy

A history of the Japanese and American race concepts (and racism) during WWII.

Terry Eagleton, Holy Terror

A geneology of terror from one of the best Anglophone critics out there.

Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization

Fisk is a powerful writer with a wealth of world experience. 

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story

A sharply detailed history of Afghanistan written by two very knowledgeable film-makers.

 

Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chomosome

A thought-provoking sci-fi novel/ medical mystery.

David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Not his most important book (that would likely be The Condition of Postmodernity) though certainly a tremendous asset to anyone seeking to understand the economic transformations of the last 30-odd years.

David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch

“Classic.”– Edward Said. 

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes

No living historian comes close to Hobsbawm. This volume treats “the short 20th century.”

Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Written over 40 years ago, the title essay of this book is– I’ll say it– indispensable.

Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire

A meticulous account of the militarization of the United States by a former CIA analyst.

Owen Bennett Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm

Good, broad introduction to Pakistan’s recent history and political scene.

Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire

(Or The Iron Cage or Sowing Crisis). Despised by the neoconservative, McCarthyite right, Khalidi has been quite productive in the last several years. Resurrecting Empire examines the recent past of US involvement in the Middle East. 

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

A wide-ranging and accessible survey of neoliberalism’s depredations.

Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War, and the Roots of Terror

Devastating. 

Alfred McCoy, The Question of Torture

A history of US torture. 

Anne Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire

Examines the philosophical underpinnings of neoconservatism.

Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations

Touted as a “people’s history of the Third World,” this book is just the right antidote for an omphalocentric nation.

Ahmed Rashid, Taliban

How many people even know what “taliban” means?

David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist

An exhaustive and compelliing “life and times” treatment of a man Slavoj Zizek calls “the political figure of the United States”.

Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

A collection of pointed essays by this Booker prize winner. She’s esp. insightful on global media.

Malise Ruthven, Fundamentalism

From Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” series.

Edward Said, Orientalism

Arguably the founding text of Postcolonial studies, in this work Said deconstructs “the Orient”– something American policy makers and pundits have so far been unable to do.

Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Increasingly private corporations are taking on the responsibilities of the state. Blackwater– which received so much negative publicity for killing civilians that it was compelled to change its name (now Xe)– was only one company of many who cashed in on the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus 

And Timon of Athens as well. Both of these tragedies are entirely relevant to our historical moment.

Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War

Hugely ambitious and staggeringly well informed.

Howard Winant, The World is a Ghetto

Winant’s global history of race and racism since WWII.

Robert J.C. Young, Postcolonialism

You couldn’t ask for a better introduction to postcoloniality.

Slavoj Zizek, Violence

Not his magnum opus, but a funny, mind-tweaking philosophical discussion of violence.

May 7, 2009

Pakistan

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 8:41 pm

Students preparing for war in East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

girlsmarch-5711

Spent shells.

twochildren-9016

f7f6871cfa173eb22d68609404947806

pakistan_pol_2002

Map of the Durand Line:

afghan_paki_border_rel88

Pakistan by ethnicity:

pakistan_ethnic_1973

Another map of ethnicity:

pakistan_ethnic_80

Lahore’s Old City:

pak_oldcityLahore

April 18, 2009

Speechless

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 9:05 am

whiteslaverytea

From a tax protest in Wisconsin last week.

March 5, 2009

We Cotch Him

Key Terms

modernism

expressionism

primitivism

imperialism

colonialism

“anti-colonial imperialism”

“cultural resistance”

Art and Propaganda

“Thus the white artist looking in on the colored world, if he be wise and discerning, may often see the beauty, tragedy and comedy more truly than we dare. Of course if he be simply a shyster like Tom Dixon, he will see only exaggerated evil, and fail as utterly in the other extreme as we in ours. But if, like Sheldon, he writes a fine true work of art… or like Ridgeley Torrence, a beautiful comedy… or like Eugene O’Neill, a splendid tragedy like ‘The Emperor Jones’– he finds to his own consternation the Negroes and even educated Negroes, shrinking or openly condemning…. [O]nly yesterday a protest of colored folk in a western city declared that ‘The Emperor Jones is the kind of play that should never be staged under any circumstances, regardless of theories, because it portrays the worst traits of the bad element of both races.’

“No more complete misunderstanding of this play or of the aim of Art could well be written….

“Nonsense. We stand today secure enough in our accomplishment and self-confidence to lend the whole stern human truth about ourselves to the transforming hand and seeing eye of the Artist, white and black…. Torrence and O’Neill are our great benefactors– forerunners of artists who will yet arise….”

— WEB Du Bois, “Negro Art” (1921)

“Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent….”

WEB Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926)

The Emperor Jones

On its face The Emperor Jones looks like the tarnished relic of a racist past, one more loathsome piece of kitsch in the junkyard of “ethnic notions”. Divorced from its aesthetic and socio-historical context, Eugene O’Neill’s story of the fall of Brutus Jones– the “emperor” of a nameless West Indian island, and former Pullman car porter and fled convict– seems like an exercise in the grotesque. According to this uncomplicated view the play simply represents an African American con man’s regression into his racial past, what Race Scientists might call “reversion to type” and President Andrew Johnson once suggested was a “‘tendency to relapse into barbarism’” (quoted in Fredrickson) a form of atavism ostensibly peculiar to the “Negro”.

I want to argue in this lecture that this well-intended but insufficient reading of The Emperor Jones is incorrect, that it fails to take into account not only O’Neill’s pointed criticism of US imperialism– a project which was and continues to be directed at impoverished people of color globally– but the very strange and unstable dynamics of racial identity itself.

“The inborn characteristics of the Negro had been formed by natural selection during ‘ages of degradation’ in Africa and his savage traits could not have been altered in any significant way by a mere two centuries of proximity to Caucasian civilization in America. Thus his present ‘reversion to type’ was understandable. Lacking the discipline of slavery, ‘the young negro of the South… is reverting through hereditary forces to savagery.’”

Paul B. Barringer in The American Negro: His Past and Future (1900) quoted in Fredrickson

http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/563.html

James Weldon Johnson 28 Aug. 1920

The Context: Haiti

caribbean

haiti_rel99

US Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934.

O’Neill situates the play “on an island in the West Indies as yet self-determined by White Marines”. Note the irony here. As with This Bloody Blundering Business a satirical sensibility functions as a form of criticism.

The historical context of the play, specifically the United States government’s use of gunboat diplomacy to control Haiti’s domestic situation, points to a critique of an economically and racially motivated violation of the sovereignty of so called third world Caribbean nations, an imperialist project provoked by U.S. concerns about Germany’s influence in the region and justified, legally, by the Monroe doctrine. “Humanitarian” arguments were also advanced in light of Haiti’s political instability.

His protagonist is loosely based on two Haitian rulers, Henri Christophe and Guillaume Sam (though the Gelb biography also mentions a nameless bartender).

Despite the official rationale that the occupation was a necessity imposed on the United States by Haiti’s unstable political situation– a ‘moral duty’ undertaken to protect the lives and property of American citizens– United States’ policy in Haiti reflected a desire to ‘quickly establish U.S. political and economic dominance. Further, such dominance was part of a larger Caribbean plan (Abbot, 100).

In the first year of the occupation alone, U.S. Marines ensured that Philippe-Sudre Dartiguenave was ‘elected’ president by the Haitian Senate, the customhouses were taken over, the Haitian army was disbanded, the national bank was seized and all of its available cash sent to New York , and, on September 16, 1915 an agreement was pressed upon the Haitian government that allowed U.S. Marines to ‘police the country and to control public finances for ten years’ (101).

Here is how Haitian born novelist Edwidge Danticat phrases it:

“On July 28, 1915, U.S. forces invaded Haiti, launching an occupation that would last 19 years.

The U.S. invasion came in the wake of President Woodrow Wilson’s professed commitment to make the world safe for democracy. However, as soon as the Marines landed in Haiti, Wilson’s administration remapped the country into police departments, shut down the press, installed a lame-duck government, rewrote the constitution to give foreigners land-owning rights, took charge of Haiti’s banks and customs and instituted a system of compulsory labor for poor Haitians.

Those who resisted the occupation — among them a militant peasant-run group called Cacos — were crushed. In 1919, U.S. Marines in blackface ambushed and killed the Cacos’ fearless leader, Charlemagne Peralte, mutilated his corpse and displayed it in a public square for days.

By the end of the occupation, more than 15,000 Haitians had lost their lives. A Haitian gendarmerie was trained to replace the U.S. Marines, then proceeded to form juntas, organize coups and terrorize Haitians for decades.

Although U.S. troops were officially withdrawn from Haiti in 1934, the U.S. government maintained economic control of the country until 1947.”

http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0725-20.htm

Some Documents:

“The election of Dartiguenave is preferred by the United States.”

— Navy Dept. dispatch to Adm. Caperton

“In order that no misunderstanding can possibly occur after election, it should be made perfectly clear to candidates as soon as possible and in advance of their election, that the United States expects to be intrusted with the practical control of the customs, and such financial control over the affairs of the Republic of Haiti as the United States may deem necessary for efficient administration….”

–Telegram Secretary of State to Charge D’Affairs, August 10, 1915

Art. I. The Government of the United States will, by its good offices, aid the Haitian Government in the proper and efficient development of its …resources and in the establishment of the finances of Haiti on a firm…basis.

Art II. The President of Haiti shall appoint, upon nomination by the President of the United States, a general receiver … who shall collect, receive and apply all customs duties …

The President of Haiti shall appoint, upon nomination by the President of the United States, a financial advisor…

Art. III. The Government of …Haiti will provide by law…for the payment of all customs duties to the general receiver…

Art. V. All sums collected …by the general receiver shall be applied first [to pay his expenses] second, to the interest and sinking fund of the public debt of …Haiti…

–Treaty Between The United States And Haiti Signed September 16, 1915

Further context:

These initial acts of imperialism were, however, only the beginning of an eighteen year effort to transform ‘every aspect of Haitian life’ (Suggs 36). U.S. troops dispersed Voudoun ceremonies, chased worshippers away, destroyed sacred drums and other artifacts, and arrested houngans and mambos.  Marines and the U.S. trained Haitian army sought and destroyed armed resistance on the part of officers of the old, ‘disbanded army, landowners, and peasants’ (Trouillot 101).  In order to combat guerilla warfare more effectively, the occupying American forces instituted forced labor on road construction. Laborers were ‘roped together like slaves, underfed and brutally overworked’ in a revival of an old French Colonial practice known as the corvee (Abbott 41). Those who attempted to escape risked being shot. The increasing antagonism of U.S. forces, most of whom brought with them to Haiti the prevalent racist attitudes of the United States and saw the Haitians as little more than savages, finally led to the Cacos Wars (1918-1920), in which thousands of Haitians were killed (42).

The press in the United States, particularly “Negro newspapers,” were aware of the events transpiring in Haiti. The Nation published at least four articles on U.S. involvement in Haiti in the latter half of 1920. James Weldon Johnson condemned the brutality of American troops and ‘charged that the U.S. Marines had killed 3,000 Haitians since 1916 in so-called hunting bandits expeditions’ (Suggs 36).  Two unsigned articles in the Literary Digest, ‘Probing Haitian Scandal’ and ‘Undeclared War in Haiti,’ both of which appeared in October, 1920, criticized Democratic presidential candidate James M. Cox for his position on the occupation and suggested that Republican contender Warren G. Harding would be more amenable to changing U.S. policy toward Haiti. This prediction, however, proved to be optimistic. ‘The first step in Harding’s reorganization and rationalization of his Haitian policy was the acceptance of the recommendations of the Select Senate Committee on Haiti and Santo Domingo to continue the occupation indefinitely.”

“In October 1930 Haitians chose a national assembly for the first time since 1918. It in turn elected as president Sténio Joseph Vincent. In August 1934 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew the Marines; however, the United States maintained direct fiscal control until 1941 and indirect control over Haiti until 1947” (Enc. Brit.)

The Play

At a time when most depictions of blacks on stage and screen consisted of racial myths and falsehoods, The Emperor Jones was the first American play to present black actors–as opposed to black-faced actors–and to highlight a black protagonist, arguably one of the most important African-American characters in the history of American drama.  The Emperor Jones established the careers and reputations of such legendary actors as Charles Gilpin and Paul Robeson by offering them a role that, at least superficially, defied popular racial misconceptions.  More importantly, the play assisted in encouraging white audiences to sympathize with an African-American character who did not fit the well-established minstrel show taxonomy of dandy, sambo, etc.

Critics were immediately compelled to invoke Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello. Both Othello and Brutus Jones are powerful men of African descent who are ultimately destroyed by their foibles.

The Emperor Jones was heavily influenced by expressionism, “a general term for a mode of literary or visual art which, in extreme reaction against realism or naturalism, presents a world violently distorted under the pressure of intense personal moods, ideas, and emotions: image and language thus express feeling and imagination rather than represent external reality” (Oxford Concise).

463px-the_scream

Above: Possibly the most widely known example of Expressionist painting, Edvard Munch’s The Scream (a series of paintings, actually, created between 1893 and 1910).

It is said that O’Neill’s play was a product not only of his own travels in Honduras, but the photography of Charles Sheeler, who focused on African sculpture from 1916-1918.

les_demoiselles_davignon

Above: Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, influenced by African masks.

An interest in “the primitive” was a hallmark of the early phase of modernism, a sensibility which characterized the work of both EuroAmerican and AfricanAmerican artists. Primitivism would become a fertile resource for writers such as O’Neill and Vachel Lindsay (see his frankly revolting poem The Congo) and also Harlem Renaissance figures including Aaron Douglas and Claude McKay. See also Orson Welles’ amazing adaptation of Shakespeare, the so-called Voodoo Macbeth:

douglas1and2

douglas3and4

Above: Aaron Douglas’ The Emperor Jones Series (woodcut on paper, 1926)

Racial Themes

Scene One:

The color scheme, the overdetermined whiteness of the set– “white-washed walls…. white tiles… white pillars”– are an obvious clue that the dominant racial hierachy of the period is askew.

The palace can be seen as an inversion of the plantation myth; the agrarian paradise where everyone is content and knows her place; here, the master is African-American.

Smithers enters wearing the classic effects of the colonizer: pith helmet, riding crop, puttees, pistol and cartridge belt.

The dialogue between Jones and Smithers is rife with role reversals and inversions (ex. Jones feels “contempt” for Smithers, he tells him to “talk polite, white man”).  Structurally speaking, O’Neill uses Smithers to provide exposition and background regarding Jones’ rise to power.  On another level, Smithers is a corrupt hanger-on, a vulture who scavenges on the remains of Jones’s once-mighty island empire.  He is subordinate to, fears and loathes, Jones yet also admires his cunning and tenacity.  Smithers’ sense of white supremacy, the natural order of things, is undermined by Jones’ brash effectivity.

The description of Jones is telling, and brings us back to the metaphor of blood in the “common sense” discourse of the day: Jones, according to the script, is a “full-blooded Negro” whose “features are typically negroid, yet there is something decidedly distinctive about his face– and underlying strength of will, a hardy, self-reliant confidence in himself that inspires respect.”

It would be easy to point to this passage as evidence of a relatively uncomplicated negrophobia were it not for the fact that in The Hairy Ape Mildred’s aunt is also “a type– even to the point of double chin and lorgnettes”. What this seems to indicate is that typicality is not simply a function of race. On the other hand it is undeniable that Jones’ position as emperor and the ostentation of his uniform are intended to be incongruous. Even so, according to the stage directions “he has a way of carrying it off.”

References to “the natives” are contemptuous as well. Clearly BJ views himself as superior, wilier, more sophisticated. This apparent contradiction– an African American  exploiting Afro-Caribbean people– is complicated not only because it challenges our notions of racial affinity and commonality, but because it makes us question that very assumption– i.e., that it is to be expected that BJ would feel sympathy or obligation to other members of the African Diaspora.

Rather BJ has internalized the class and race logic of wealthy American whites:

“dere’s little stealin like you does and dere’s big stealin like I does”, a lesson he attributes to his years as a Pullman car porter.

Jones even goes so far as to explain the most effective methods of colonization to Smithers: exploit local culture (Jones’ claims to be invulnerable to all weapons save a silver bullet seems to tap into native supersitions) and learn the language.

Jones’ past is interesting: it is implied he was imprisoned for murder and that he escaped by killing a guard. Mention of lynching.

The residue of minstrel show conventions: BJ talks to his feet more than once, he claims to have gotten into “an argument wid razors ovah a crap game.” Confronted with a vision of a chain gang “his eyes pop out”.

It becomes evident during his conversation with Smithers that BJ is someone to be taken seriously. He matches his defiance of white supremacy– “man, de white men went after me wid bloodhounds where I come from an’ I jes’ laughs at ’em”– with scrupulous planning– “Dawn tomorrow I’ll be out at de oder side and on de coast whar dat French gunboat is stayin’. She picks me up, take me to the Martinique when she go dar,and dere I is safe wid a mighty big bankroll in my jeans”.

Yet one of the central facts of The Emperor Jones is that it is a play about an African-American adventurer written by an Irish-American man. Does this fact mean that what we are witnessing is some sort of more sopthisticated version of a Minstrel Show? This is an important question, one that we can only answer by thinking about the play’s historical performances, from the opening with Charles Gilpin in 1920 to its revival by the Wooster Group in 1993 (revived again in 2007) when Kate Valk played Brutus Jones in black face and Willem Defoe played Smithers (see time-lapse of performance here).

The drums begin:

Letter from Marines stationed in Haiti during the occupation describe a similar experience. U.S. troops were unnerved by “the nights broken by the throb of voudou drums and the thin eerie wails of conch shells” (38). This form of cultural resistance was, perhaps, ultimately more effective than the armed resistance that the Cacos waged against the Marines.

O’Neill’s biographers also claim that he experienced this sound as a result of a bout of malaria.

Scene Two: “the forest is a wall of darkness dividing the world”. The stage directions suggest two things: Jones is headed into the dark terrain of his own unconscious or some sort of racial memory, and he is entering the domain of the “native”– the Cacos guerrilla.

The “little formless fears” can be read not only as the Jones’ internal state externalized but in terms of the Haitian guerillas who attacked both Haitian troops and U.S. Marines then seemingly vanished into the jungle during the Cacos Wars of 1918-1920.

Scene Three:

We find that Jones has lost his stylish Panama hat and “His face is scratched, his brilliant uniform shows several large rents“.

Jeff, the Pullman porter whom Jones murdered during a dispute over a game of craps, appears.  Jeff crouches on the ground, throwing dice “with the regular, rigid, mechanical movements of an automaton,'” a picture that, viewed within the context of the natives’ supernatural opposition toward Jones, suggests that Jeff is a zombie. The clicking of the dice, a sound that evokes both the rattling of bones and the casting of lots, catches Jones’ attention. Stunned, he recognizes Jeff. He takes the apparition to be a living man. Gradually, however, Jones realizes that because Jeff’s presence on the island is an impossibility, he is a ‘ha’ant’ (21). He fires his revolver, once again revealing his position in the forest and expending another round of ammunition. Jeff vanishes and Jones ‘plunges wildly into the underbrush’ (21).

The chain gang scene– Scene Four— serves to fulfill two functions: it continues Jones’ regression into his own past– pointing to the similarities between his former position as a prisoner and the natives’ situation as subjected or colonized persons– and it introduces the idea of the ‘corvee,’ a form of impressment instituted by U.S. Marines to build roads that would enable them to undertake ‘hunting bandit’ missions with greater efficacy. The road, as a symbol of empire, is both another attempt to restructure the terrain, to alter its essential features and thus recreate it in the image of the imperial center, and a means of confining the indigenous population. The natives are compelled to undertake labor, the product of which aids occupying forces to annihilate armed resistance. Peasants who have been impressed into the corvee are effectively barred from participating in the guerilla warfare that they depend upon to free them from the shackles of empire. In addition to causing Jones to relive his oppressed past, O’Neill suggests a broader critique of the methods of empire building; a set of strategies scarcely distinguishable from the crudest expression of imperialism, the slaved-based economy of EuroAmerican colonialism.

BJ is now “stripped to the waist”. It should be obvious by now that as BJ loses clothing he symbolically sheds layers of “civilization,” or what we could deem the social mask. In stripping away these marks of socialization, O’Neill isn’t simply invoking the myth of a “reversion to type” but attempting to speak universally. In this instance BJ is more than a representative of his race. It goes without saying however, that this is also a kind of strip-tease, with the athletic black male body slowly revealed to the audience. There is clearly a “phantasmatics” of fascination and desire at work here, one that is decidedly raced but which exceeds that encoding.

The Auction Scene (Scene Five):

BJ begins to break down. Plagued by doubt, fear and guilt, he laments his bad behavior, begging god forgiveness. Figures emerge from the gloom and we find ourselves confronted by the pantomime of a slave auction. Again, these figures are described as “stiff, rigid, unreal, marionettish about their movements” in the stage directions.

Note the presence of mother and child– the invocation of the destruction of the family as a consequence of chattel slavery. Outraged, Jones fires twice. He is down to his last (silver) bullet.

In Scene Six O’Neill further regresses the character of Brutus Jones– explicitly linking his “depth psychology” with historical memory. Jones’ “pants have been so torn away that what is left of them is no better than a breech cloth”

We are now witnessing the Middle Passage. The enslaved are reduced to an keening murmur. Jones joins in. It is interesting to note that certain Voudou ceremonies involve a reenactment of crucial moments in history (Parrinder).

Scene Seven: The Witchdoctor and Crocodile God

Jones, frightened and confused , remarks “seems like I ben heah befo'”.

Now appears perhaps O’Neill’s most technically accomplished portrait of an undifferentiated Other.  With his painted body, antelope horns, bone rattle, cockatoo feathers, (post-contact?) glass beads, and numerous piercings, the Congo witch-doctor is an impressively thorough hodgepodge of every conceivable cliche in the white imagination.  He starts to dance and chant, crooning ‘without articulate word divisions’ (29), yet constructing ‘a narrative in pantomime’ which echoes Jones’ own flight from pursuit.

“Jones has become completely hypnotized. His voice joins in the incantation, in the cries, he beats time with his hands and sways his body to and fro from the waist. The whole spirit and meaning of the dance has entered into him, has become his spirit. Finally the theme of the pantomime halts on a howl of despair, and is taken up again in a note of savage hope. There is a salvation. The forces of evil demand sacrifice. They must be appeased. The witch-doctor points with his wand to the sacred tree, to the river beyond, to the altar, and finally to Jones with a ferocious command. Jones seems to sense the meaning of this. It is he who must offer himself for sacrifice.”

What exactly is going on here? In Scene Eight we discover that Jones has been killed by Lem’s soldiers (Lem, the figure of Cacos resistance to imperial rule). By what witchcraft has Jones’ fired his silver bullet at the apparition of a Crocodile God and ended up dead himself?

A psychological reading of the scene would likely argue that confronted with his core psychology, the rapacious and irrational psychic forces of his unconscious, Brutus Jones is destroyed.

Our “uncomplicated” reading of the play would probably dismiss any deeper meaning to the scene, and instead contend that O’Neill is simply regurgitating an incoherent colonialist fantasy of primitive natives and racial atavism.

An overtly politicized reading might suggest that all of the supernatural elements of the play symbolize cultural resistance to imperialism, as was a significant aspect of the formation of Voudou.

Scene Eight: “We cotch him.”

Lem’s certainty and imperturbability. His ‘primitive’ soldiers. Smithers gets the last lines. Think about what it means for the last word of this play to be what it is. How is this explosive word being used? Clearly as a gesture of racist contempt on the part of Smithers. But what else does the term signify in light of all that has passed? Let’s keep this an open question.

The Performances

Brutus Jones was first played by Charles Gilpin whose tortured relationship with O’Neill over the play’s dialog has become legend. Years after the premiere of the Emperor Jones Gilpin is reported to have said “I created the role of the Emperor. That role belongs to me. That Irishman, he just wrote the play.”

Show clip from Robeson’s performance as Brutus Jones in the 1933 adaption written by Dubose Heyward the author of Porgy (1924) a novel which was the basis for the musical Porgy and Bess.

There was also a 1955 television adaptation starring Ossie Davis.

202x600outthere5minskatevalk

Above: the Wooster Theater Group’s version of the Emperor Jones. Actor Kate Valk performed the part in both racial and gender drag.

February 26, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 10:37 pm
Tags: ,

Hey, it’s castratin’ time down at the ranch, an event Bob “Dusty” Montana has documented  so all you bean-curd eating West Coast hippies can watch!

February 25, 2009

Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 5:36 pm

Please be advised that the on-line readings for March 10’s lecture “Nothing in Common” have changed. We will read

http://www.iww.org/culture/official/preamble.shtml

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/socchal13.html

http://www.lucyparsonsproject.org/iww/flynn_memories_of_iww.html

Any questions? Reply to this post.

February 18, 2009

Race Science Key Terms

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 11:12 pm

“allochronism”– literally, “other-timing”. When one group places another outside of its own temporal or historical sequence as in the phrase “they’re primitives.”

anthropometry– the measuring of human features. ex. craniometry, the measurement of the skull.

“biogenetic law”– Haeckel’s term for the principle of recapitulation

blood– one of the most powerful metaphors pertaining to race and heredity. “I have Irish blood.” “My friend has Cherokee blood” etc.

“gemmule”– “Darwin’s term for a hypothetical particle of heredity carried by all cells and capable of moving to sex cells, thus permitting a direct influence of environment upon heredity”

Mendelian inheritance– certain characteristics are transferrable from parent to child. The basis of modern genetics.

monogenist: springing from a single source. “one blood”.

neo-Lamarckism– “a popular late 19th century alternative to Darwinism, postulating that adaptations arise as characters acquired by active organic responses to environment and are passed on to offspring by heredity”

phylogeny– “the evolutionary history of a lineage, conventionally depicted as a sequence of successive adult stages”

polygenist– “the early and mid-19th century theory that human races are separate species”

racial senescence– “the theory that lineages, like individuals, pass through prgrammed stages leading inevitably to phyletic exhuastion and death (extinction)”

recapitulation– “the repetition of ancestral adult stages in embyonic or juvenile stages of descendants”. ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

February 9, 2009

Red Dawn

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 11:26 pm

Still no comments on the post about changes to the seminar. I take your silence as complicity in my plan to inculcate you with a virulent hatred of all that is wholesome and good.

In that vein, I would like everyone to read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto. Now is the time. As we proceed through the Machine Age and into what Eric Hobsbawm called the Age of Extremes (1914-1994) we’ll need to understand the nature of capital– how the social contradictions of that propulsive, destructive, dynamic, creative economic system known as capitalism have shaped American culture. The Communist Manifesto remains the best thumbnail sketch of capital’s origins and logic. You can find it any number of places on-line. I recommend marxists.org for convenience’s sake. One caveat, however: you will not need to read Section III: “Socialist and Communist Literature”. This means the reading assignment is quite light. Let’s plan on discussing the manifesto on February 17.

Remember how I asked if you wanted to kick it up a notch? Many if not most people in class that day seemed to vaguely assent to that proposition. What kicking it up means is focusing on our approach to AmCiv– finding useful theoretical tools to apply to the raw material of historical events and primary texts. The Communist Manifesto will help us in this quest as will a number of key terms I will address in class, including culture, ideology, and hegemony.

November 20, 2008

Final Paper Prompts

Filed under: Uncategorized — equiano @ 10:26 pm

Paper #2, American Studies 1A, Fall 2008

Professors Connelly, Daly, Georges

 

 

Paper #2, worth 20% of your course grade, is due December 4, 2008, at 12 noon in the lecture hall.  Choose one of the prompts below.  Articulate a coherent thesis—i.e., a non-trivial claim based on your analysis of the specific material referred to in the prompt—and substantiate it with well-organized, accurate, and richly detailed references to course material.

 

The paper must be double-spaced with normal margins.  Use an easily readable font of approximately this size (Palatino 12-point).  The paper should be four to five (4-5) pages long, or a minimum of 1000 words.  We do not accept emailed or faxed papers.  

 

Your own thinking should constitute the core of the essay, but you are permitted to use outside resources to support your analysis IF they are meticulously cited following MLA guidelines.  Citations of scholarly articles may be helpful, but you may not cite sources like Wikipedia, Sparknotes, and Cliff Notes; if you have questions about the appropriateness of any sources, talk to your seminar instructor or a university librarian.

 

 

Questions

 

What did “home” mean to antebellum, Euro-American, middle class women such as Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sarah Royce with reference to the cult of domesticity?  Compare and contrast how two of these women defined the purpose of the home and its potential power for shaping social values.

 

 

Several of our readings have concerned individuals and social movements pitted against prevailing ideas and practices such as slavery, white supremacy, patriarchy and consumer society.  Choose two primary sources (Thoreau, the Grimkés, Frederick Douglass, et al) and clearly state and contextualize the critiques these sources undertake   in order to compare and contrast them. To what or whom do these social critics appeal? What methods do they employ in elaborating their criticism?

 

 

Thoreau and Angelina Grimké propose that unjust or sinful laws should be disobeyed.  Analyze the specific historical conditions which gave rise to their critique.  Then provide a close reading (detailed analysis) of one substantial passage (~100 words) from Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Frederick Douglass which shares a similar kind of radical challenge to antebellum conformity.  The passage should be approved by your instructor before you begin writing.

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