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  #21  
Old 08-16-2018, 04:58 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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I posted the McWhorter because I am interested in the debate.

"Do you really think the publication, in a left-wing magazine like The Nation, of a poem whose only crime may be clumsiness is going to fuel more racism of the sort you describe from your upbringing?"

No, not really, but I can see why people of color might be wary of something edging on minstrelsy, and no surprise you can find people who are more right-wing on Twitter trying to champion the poem. They were doing so even before 'The Nation' put up it's apology.

Craven is a better word; I don't know Smith's poetry, and I don't love Burt's, though I respect the hell out of her intellect and criticism.

Woke is just white people who "get it." I'm not going to go through Eve Ewing's whole twitter feed to get back to roughly when it was published, in part because I may be wrong, though I suspect given the domain that she treads that she was one of the first on it, and probably one of the more insightful.

As to creative freedom, I'm generally on your side. But I think we do have to have context. Here's an idea:

Philip Roth has his Zuckerman character fall in love with someone he convinces himself is Anne Frank. Can that even work if he isn't Jewish?

I can't seem to find the novel--and it generated a lot of controversy even among the Jewish population--but it came out a few years ago and Anne Frank survives and is quite vulgar in it. Can a non-Jewish person do that?

Mel Brooks made "The Producers" in the late 1960s. Could anyone else do that?

There was a lynching in 1981 in the US, and in certain parts of the country the noose comes up as a threat hanging places still to this day. The Confederate Flag waves over some states. I can imagine it's more real here than it would be elsewhere.
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  #22  
Old 08-16-2018, 05:13 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Here's the poem so we all know what we're talking about:

How to

If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,
say you’re pregnant––nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.

If there were right-wing people championing this they either missed the point or they were just trying to piss off the left wing people who were attacking it. For sport. The editors say they published it because they originally thought it 'a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization.' I'd say that's a pretty good analysis and they should have stuck to their guns. I don't agree it 'edges on minstrelsy'.

Quote:
Philip Roth has his Zuckerman character fall in love with someone he convinces himself is Anne Frank. Can that even work if he isn't Jewish?

I can't seem to find the novel--and it generated a lot of controversy even among the Jewish population--but it came out a few years ago and Anne Frank survives and is quite vulgar in it. Can a non-Jewish person do that?

Mel Brooks made "The Producers" in the late 1960s. Could anyone else do that?
Yes, yes and yes. That was easy wasn't it? They could do it well or badly. In the same way that Jim Moonan, raised Catholic, can evoke the holocaust in his poem currently on non-met. I don't think Jim's poem is entirely successful, as I've told him, but I'd damn well defend him against anyone trying to make him apologise for writing it!

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-16-2018 at 06:57 PM.
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  #23  
Old 08-16-2018, 05:52 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I was just looking at responses to Philip Levine's "They Feed They Lion." Here's a page of comments, including that of the poet:

http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps...evine/lion.htm

And here's the poem:

They Feed They Lion
By Philip Levine

Listen
Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.

Out of the gray hills
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,
Out of the bones' need to sharpen and the muscles' to stretch,
They Lion grow.

Earth is eating trees, fence posts,
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,
"Come home, Come home!" From pig balls,
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness,
From the furred ear and the full jowl come
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose
They Lion grow.

From the sweet glues of the trotters
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower
Of the hams the thorax of caves,
From "Bow Down" come "Rise Up,"
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels,
The grained arm that pulls the hands,
They Lion grow.

From my five arms and all my hands,
From all my white sins forgiven, they feed,
From my car passing under the stars,
They Lion, from my children inherit,
From the oak turned to a wall, they Lion,
From they sack and they belly opened
And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth
They feed they Lion and he comes.


Cheers,
John
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  #24  
Old 08-16-2018, 05:56 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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We're also not talking, necessarily, about apology. I think we both are in agreement that the apology of the Nation was craven. Anders Carlson-Wee also apologized, and I'm of the mind that if you do such a bad job at a poem that you accidentally evoke minstrelsy, you should at least meditate on the choices that led you to this.

We're also not talking about legal, here. I don't think someone else trying to do "The Producers" should be jailed. But perhaps it might be more problematic for a non-Jewish person to make, let's say, a hardcore Anne Frank porn, than a Jewish person, no? Aren't these choices not just moving towards taste but moving into exploitation?

We're also not talking about, say, merely evoking the holocaust as Jim did. People complained that he may not have earned the weight of the association (I haven't gone through the whole thread). We're instead talking about actively picking up and speaking in the voice of someone who went through a collective tragedy. Imagine all you want: aren't you inevitably going to fail? Aren't the costs of failure necessarily coming across as exploitative?
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  #25  
Old 08-16-2018, 06:44 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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We're going round in circles, Andrew, but never mind. Carlson-Wee 'evoked minstrelsy', for most of his critics, just by writing the poem, regardless of its quality or the accuracy of his use of the vernacular. He simply didn't have the right to, according to them. I disagree with this. And we are talking about apology, that's the issue whether you like it or not. What he meditates on in private is his business, but he shouldn't have been made to apologise. The forced public apology is worthless. One's own conscience should dictate that. Maybe, given time, Carlson-Wee would have read enough criticism of his poem and genuinely reflected and honestly, quietly, apologised on Twitter, or in private, of his own volition. Maybe not. His choice.

I'm glad to hear you don't think a non-Jewish person putting on a production of The Producers should be jailed! That's wonderfully liberal of you! As to the hardcore porn version of Anne Frank, no, I don't think it would be more 'problematic' for a non-Jew to make this. I think it would be equally distasteful whether made by Jew or non-Jew. If you're asking whether the Jewish pornographer should be spared jail and the non-Jewish pornographer jailed then no again. If their motivation was the same, then I think they should be treated with equal contempt. But then I'm not sure I even think holocaust denial should be a crime. It just makes martyrs of right-wing extremists for other right-wing extremists. They should be ignored or, if they won't go away, publicly humiliated with facts.

I also don't believe that a Jewish or African American writer, born in say 1982, has any more or less of a right to write a first person persona novel or poem about the holocaust or slavery than anyone else. They might be more likely to do it better, but they might not. What matters is empathy for humanity, sincerity of intention and artistic merit.

'Imagine all you want: aren't you inevitably going to fail?'

That's a depressingly pessimistic view of the human capacity for imagination and empathy that might one day get us out of our tendency towards tribalism.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-17-2018 at 03:12 AM.
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  #26  
Old 08-17-2018, 07:22 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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My point on jailing, which should be obvious, is here we're talking about artistic stakes and audience tastes; a world like "could" (which I used) perhaps could open up more. I don't want it to.

Do you think white actors should play roles in blackface? How is visually recalling minstrels different than aurally? You keep saying that it was Carlson-Wee's very act of trying on a black persona is what caused the furor, but you are wrong on this. All the serious critiques, whether we agree with them or not, focus on his language. First, not every black person speaks in AAVE. Second, in jumping in to that specific persona and speaking from it poorly, I can see the argument that he's not far from minstrelsy. You talk about the Civil War, but that's not what this is about. The history of minstrelsy pushes far past that, and the history of appropriating a black voice to denigrate black people's intelligence stretches to today. To keep the black/jewish parallel, it would be like a non-Jew writing a poem and being overly concerned with money. Are there ways in which it logically fits into the poem? Sure, but that's a narrow window that isn't going to stink of anti-Semitism, and a Jewish person who is writing that poem is necessarily going to strike the audience differently. Take, for instance, pretty much anything Sacha Baron Cohen does. That's what the critiques are.

There are many effects that art can and should have, one of which should be unsettling the reader. Far too many poets fear trying new things or pushing their audience. That said, the further a poet pushes into areas that unsettle the audience, the more excellent the poem needs to be to justify it. It's like walking out onto a triangular edge over an abyss, or being asymptotic. Can a white man write a poem about Trayvon Martin? Sure, but it needs to be damn good for it not to come across to most as exploitative.

You don't ignore holocaust deniers or the Alex Jones' of the world; they're symptoms of a disease in society, and you don't ignore symptoms (though I don't think they should get the excessive media they do get). But that's a side-bar.
That's a depressingly pessimistic view of the human capacity for imagination and empathy that might one day get us out of our tendency towards tribalism.
I don't think so. I think it's realistic for the reasons I noted. I think we ultimately can and must move past tribalism. And I'm not telling people that they can't or shouldn't empathize. There's a difference between empathizing and creating well-meaning art about it that misses the mark to people and then attempting to publish that.
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  #27  
Old 08-17-2018, 08:24 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Here's an article appearing on my Twitter feed that basically says no one should ever use AAVE: https://wearyourvoicemag.com/identit...opriating-aave

Here's what I find frustrating about this: "As a mixed race Asian-American growing up primarily in the United States, I acknowledge that I, too, have been part of the problem, and am guilty of appropriating AAVE—online and in person. However, I am actively trying to unlearn these habits because I believe they are harmful and disrespectful to Black folks, given my positionality within the racial hierarchy of the United States."

Okay...but why is this harmful? I'm genuinely confused how me using "hip" or "bae" is a problem. This isn't a person talking about "minstrelsy," this is a person concerned that "Over time, these innovations are appropriated into the dominant classes, after which their true origins are erased, forgotten, and reclaimed by the very groups who continue to oppress the original innovators." But we're talking about slang, and frankly the birth of such slang strikes me as more a class issue than a race one: wealthy people, particularly in the music industry, have taken words from the poor and popularized them for their own profit. When was the last time Beyoncé or Jay-Z had anything to do with the typical user of AAVE?

I find the arguments I've outlined above in previous posts compelling. Even if I think the whole Carlson-Wee incident might be overblown, I can see an intelligent disagreement; in this case I struggle because, as has been stated, the writer takes her position as obvious and doesn't deign to explain why using slang that may have originated in AAVE might cause actual harm.
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  #28  
Old 08-18-2018, 02:52 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Andrew,

Are we still doing this? Ok. Well let's look at your second post first. I only skimmed through the article you linked to because I can't keep up a debate with you and someone else, but unsurprisingly I agree with you. If you want to say 'bae' and 'hella' then you go ahead and don't let the mean lady from the Twitter stop you. I won't be using those words, not because of cultural sensitivity but because I'm 46 and my kids would stop speaking to me. I could make many more serious points but I don't think her article is worth the time. I genuinely think she's inventing a problem that doesn't exist. Or rather taking a phenomenon (that language is in constant organic flux) and making it a problem that needs to be policed or fixed.

As to your first post: lots of points, lots of questions.

Quote:
My point on jailing, which should be obvious, is here we're talking about artistic stakes and audience tastes; a world like "could" (which I used) perhaps could open up more. I don't want it to.
I'm sorry I genuinely still don't understand the point you were making about jail and this doesn't help.


Quote:
Do you think white actors should play roles in blackface?
What, as a rule? As the norm? Of course not. But it's so easy and tempting to say 'No! Never!' isn't it? Nearly all of the time the answer would be no. And in mainstream entertainment it rightly pretty much never happens any more. But I can imagine some arthouse film or experimental theatre production where a director makes that artistic decision as some sort of Brechtian alienation device. I can imagine a play commenting on race with white actors in blackface and black actors in whiteface. That could be interesting. So like anything in art, one shouldn't make make hard and fast rules. I thought I'd answer this question seriously even though I think you meant it as a rhetorical one to set up your next…

Quote:
How is visually recalling minstrels different than aurally?
It's different. Can a white playwright, screenplay writer or novelist create a black character and write dialogue for them that include some of the vernacular of black speech? I think so, don't you? Unless you envisage a future where all fiction with a multi-racial cast of characters should be written by committee. Should a white actor then be hired to play the part in blackface? Of course not, that would be ridiculous.

Quote:
You keep saying that it was Carlson-Wee's very act of trying on a black persona is what caused the furor, but you are wrong on this. All the serious critiques, whether we agree with them or not, focus on his language.
Well, provide me with links and I'll read them. Maybe they'll change my mind about the poem. They wouldn't change my mind about the magazine's decision to apologise for publishing it though, however well argued. 'All the serious critiques' suggests you must have at least three. All the Twitter comments from the black poets I posted earlier suggest the former.

Quote:
First, not every black person speaks in AAVE. Second, in jumping in to that specific persona and speaking from it poorly, I can see the argument that he's not far from minstrelsy.
Of course not every black person speaks in AAVE. The poem isn't suggesting that. But I'm sure you'd accept that there's a good chance that a homeless black person might, given your own comments about AAVE and class. I suppose you might now ask 'why choose a black person to be the homeless character?' Statistically, black people make up around 14% of the US population, yet comprise 46% of the homeless population. That's a terrible statistic, but it's a good argument for the poem's artistic choices unfortunately. You keep telling me how 'poorly' the AAVE is achieved in the poem. Can you be specific, in terms of syntax and word choice, if it's so obvious? It might be my English ear, but I don't hear 'minstrelsy', nor do I hear an unintelligent voice. The speaker seems sharp and insightful. That's the point of the poem isn't it?

Quote:
You talk about the Civil War, but that's not what this is about.
I haven't mentioned the Civil War.

Quote:
The history of minstrelsy pushes far past that, and the history of appropriating a black voice to denigrate black people's intelligence stretches to today.
I have no doubt. But I don't see anything in this poem that denigrates the speaker's intelligence. See above.

Quote:
To keep the black/jewish parallel, it would be like a non-Jew writing a poem and being overly concerned with money.
I assume you mean a non-Jew writing from the persona of a Jew who was overly concerned with money? No it wouldn't! That's a silly comparison. Being homeless isn't a 'black stereotype', it's a terrible reality. See statistics above. For that analogy to work Carlson-Wees poem would have to have his speaker talking about how much he loved watermelon.

Quote:
Can a white man write a poem about Trayvon Martin? Sure, but it needs to be damn good for it not to come across to most as exploitative.
Well, you know my answer. Yes he damn well can! Just as a black writer can write a Jane Austen-esque novel about the English aristocracy in the late 18th century if he damn well wants to. And I don't think it would have to be 'damn good' not to come across as exploitative. It would have to be sincere and meant, that's all. Whether it is published is a secondary issue to the creation of art. 'Can a white person...?' 'Can a black person...?'. That's identity politics talking. For artistic freedom to mean anything the answer to a question starting with 'can' should always be 'yes'.

How can anyone dictate what is or isn't to be allowed expression from a person's imaginative life? Anyone can write about anything under the sun that moves or interests them, and imagine themselves into any situation or persona they want. They might do it clumsily or awkwardly, but unless their motives were to deliberately cause harm they SHOULDN'T BE MADE TO FUCKING APOLOGISE for it.

Cheers Andrew, this is interesting. Sorry for the swearing and ALL CAPS haha.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-18-2018 at 04:47 AM.
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  #29  
Old 08-18-2018, 04:21 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Since I'm running a parallel commentary on this discussion, I'll add another comment. :-)
The British comedian Lenny Henry began his career with an impression of Michael Crawford, which everybody was doing in the late 70s, only Lenny Henry did so while black. He also did a TV spot in, oh, the early 80s which began "Hello. I'm Eddie Murphy": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dath4xOukPs
Meanwhile, Spike Lee's movie Bamboozled entirely concerns a group of black actors performing in blackface, and what ensues.
Patrick Stewart starred in a race-reversed Othello in DC, and besides Carmen Jones, there was a Black Mikado in the 70s whose soundtrack I have. The movie Jesus Christ Superstar had a black Judas in 1971, Carl Anderson.
My point being just that yes, all these choices are visibly and appropriately open to art. It's what's done with them that matters.

Cheers,
John
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  #30  
Old 08-18-2018, 06:33 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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Well it is an interesting discussion. It reminds me of the controversy over William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, which won a Pulitzer and was published in 1967.

At the logical limit of the group identity argument, no one should try to publish a book like Styron’s except someone who was a black slave in Virginia in the early 1800s. That seems absurd; it makes historical fiction impossible. Toni Morrison should not have published Beloved, because Toni Morrison was not herself a slave, nor did she have a daughter, much less… Annie Proulx should not have written "Brokeback Mountain" because Annie Proulx is neither a male homosexual nor a cowboy.

I think the strict group identity argument finally rests on the denial that there is such a thing as human nature. I affirm that there is such a thing, and that we all partake of it, even if I can’t define it with mathematical rigor. I believe with Mark in the miraculous human capacity for imagination and empathy, which lives in literature at its best. We need more of it.

My buck fiddy.
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