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Maria’s College Advice for the Younger RBS:


Hi everyone –


I wasn’t able to be on the call last weekend because my phone was having issues. However, I had written up some notes and posted to a listserv I’m on in preparation. Here’s a running list of advice I wanted to share. As always, I’m available at XXXXX if you need someone to talk to, want someone to read over a paper, or have any other questions about going to college.


1)      If you have to work on campus, try to get a job with a professor you love. I worked as a research assistant for my minor advisor, and she changed my life.

a)       This is especially important if you want to go to grad school. You’ll need at least 3 professors willing to write a recommendation for you, and it’ll look really good if they’ve known you for longer than a semester. Plus, if you need someone to go to bat for you (in my case, I wanted to transfer in my credits from another university, and my major advisor wasn’t feeling that) they’ll be more likely to take that risk for someone they’ve worked with.

b)      This doesn’t need to be a faculty member of color – it just needs to be someone you connect with.


2)      Get involved with someone in the administration… especially in the dean’s office. I worked a lot with the two deans who dealt with institutional diversity and multicultural affairs. They put me in touch with many opportunities that I’m still reaping the benefits of, like scholarship organizations for grad school.


3)      Take a position in your dorm. I was a social events planner and eventually joined ResLife. While I didn't always LIKE my housemates, I felt really proud that I worked so hard to change house community for the better.



mercifulserpent: (Default)
TAURUS (April 20-May 20): You have underestimated how
much happiness you are capable of attracting into your life.
Believe it or not, this artificially low expectation has cheated you out of your fair share of joy, pleasure, fulfillment, and a sense of meaning. Your assignment for the next four weeks is to jack up your levels of happiness by at least 20 percent. Work hard at this task, Taurus -- at least as hard as you do at your job. (The greater your effort, the more cosmic assistance you'll receive.) To get started, divest yourself of a mediocre thrill that distracts you from an intelligence-building excitement.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
Prose-Poem-Drama: "Proemdra" -- "Black Aesthetics" versus "White Aesthetics" in South Africa
Zander, Horst

As is well known, blacks in South Africa were not only at odds with political and economic colonialism right from the start, but also quarreled with white concepts of writing from the very. moment the colonialists imported them into the country. These Western views of literature differed considerably from those the blacks were familiar with in their oral tradition.

It has often been pointed out that in traditional African communities there are strong holistic tendencies. Various fields of social activities are not separated from each other, nor is there any apparent division of labor. A similar situation exists among the discourses in such communities. The political discourse, the historical discourse, the religious discourse, the literary discourse -- all these are intimately interwoven, or actually one. In addition, there also seem to be no clear-cut boundaries between different types or genres of texts, not even a real distinction between verse and prose (see, e.g., Finnegan 74-76, 361-68, 390-91, and Opland 33). This tendency towards an homogeneous, integrative discourse is particularly intensified by the orality of all communication in such societies, since a division of discourses is largely connected with literacy and print. It is true that studies on the African oral tradition regularly subdivide their corpus into various forms of literature, but then this kind of classification seems to represent primarily an effort of Western or Western-trained black scholars to organize their research material rather than a reflection of the actual features of traditional literature.(2) As it is, blacks in South Africa and in other parts of the continent regularly emphasize that in their tradition "art like life is whole" (Dathorne 5). This also means that literature is not regarded as performing a function differing from other discourses; instead, it serves definite social goals.

Up to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European societies shared many features with traditional African communities. There, too, no clear distinction existed, for example, between religious and secular activities, between work and spare time, between a private and a public sphere. Similarly, no distinct borderlines were drawn between different types of discourse. And as far as a particular discourse was -- either at that time or subsequently -- identified as a specific literary discourse, it exercised apparently social and political functions.

All this changed, however, during the seventeenth and especially the eighteenth century, when many comparably autonomous spheres emerged, affecting the discourses as well. Now, for example, a news discourse was separated from a "novels discourse" (on this issue, cf. Lennard J. Davis) and from political, religious, and scientific forms of discourse, all of which achieved relative independence; from them the literary discourse was delimitated as well. Gradually, an increasing number of literary texts abstained from producing political or ecclesiastical propaganda, and they no longer served primarily to convey social information; instead, they aimed at entertainment and at providing literary experiences in their own right. This emergence of literature as an "autonomous" sphere was accompanied, moreover, by various efforts to differentiate within the field of literary texts, for instance between different genres -- especially in the wake of neoclassical orientations.

Subsequently, the "autonomous" literary sphere became the object of a similarly "autonomous" metadiscourse, initiated primarily by Kant, who uncoupled aesthetics from other fields of cognition. For Kant, there existed a hiatus between the discerning subject and the world, and he held that the beautiful in particular could not be seized by conceptual thought. Therefore, he regarded all judgments on aesthetic representations as judgments of taste, not, however, of cognition. Basically, he conceived of literary works as autonomous objects that are characterized by "purposiveness without purpose" and should be treated with "disinterested complacency."

Of course, Hegel subsequently attempted to conjoin all that Kant had shattered and to subject literature to conceptual thought, thus, in a way, reapproaching older Western as well as African conceptions. Following Hegel, in the twentieth century, we can find similar tendencies in Marxist literary theory. The mainstream of later Western literary theory and aesthetics adhered, however, to the conceptions of Kant, as is particularly evident in Formalism, New Criticism, and Structuralism. The literary artefact came to be regarded as a self-contained, self-sufficient world, as a text that is independent of its production and reception situation and that pursues exclusively literary aims (since all that is important happens within the text itself). It is especially this renunciation of all extratextual intentions that is, moreover, held to guarantee a text's transcendence of particular contexts and to turn the issues created by the text into "universal" issues. Literature that serves pragmatic goals (which nevertheless continued to be produced), didactic, political, religious, socially committed literature, is often dismissed in such an aesthetic view, based on a division of labor between the various discourses, as an inferior, bastardized form. This approach to literature was to culminate in modernist conceptions. It goes without saying that such theories claim universal validity.

In the nineteenth century, when blacks in South Africa were gradually starting to become literate, the clash of African and Western conceptions evidently contributed among blacks to an almost total refusal to write fictional texts, which -- according to Western views -- lacked any immediate social or political significance. Instead, black South African authors concentrated on imitating various forms of white journalistic writing: travelogues, biographies, and autobiographies that served obvious social functions. In fact, this kind of nonfictional writing was, more often than not, profoundly political, discussing the role of the blacks in a society dominated by whites.

In the early twentieth century, the strong tendency of black writers towards a politicized journalism continued. During the first three decades, a vast number of journalistic texts (both in English and in African languages) were published in newspapers and magazines, and various books appeared, all of them, however, factual ones. Apart from a few exceptions,(3) fictional and literary texts did not emerge until the end of the 1920s, when R. R. R. Dhlomo published An African Tragedy (1928), Sol. T. Plaatje at last managed to find a publisher for his novel Mhudi (1930), and Dhlomo started to write numerous stories for magazines and newspapers.

Though copying Western models, this black fiction was -- and for some two decades remained -- to a fair extent influenced by the oral tradition; and it regularly aimed at performing pragmatic functions. Thus Dhlomo's An African Tragedy occasionally turns into a fervent pamphlet, with no less overtly religious aims than in the case of a sermon; and Mhudi is not just intended as a fictional historical novel, but as an endeavor to re-read and re-write history from a black point of view.

With the beginning of the 1950s, black authors -- following the earlier example of Peter Abrahams -- began more intensively to copy Western, especially black American models of writing, refuting altogether literary conventions of the indigenous tradition. In fact, the authors of the so-called Drum generation perfected the imitation of white writing and largely complied with Western conceptions of literature. In one important aspect, however, these writers also deviated from orthodox Western aesthetics, namely in often producing works, predominantly short stories, of protest (though they appeared mainly in other outlets than Drum). It was primarily as a result of the introduction and implementation of the various apartheid laws during the 1950s that black authors used fictional texts as instruments to achieve political goals, to condemn the apartheid system, thus violating the Western ideal of the "purposelessness" of literature of quality. Because of their Western orientation, many authors were quite apologetic about their texts, but claimed that the political situation in South Africa left them no other option.

The 1960s witnessed a massive clampdown by the government on this type of protest writing (and black writing in general), resulting in the authors being silenced and driven into exile. And when, after this period of deprivation, black literature was revived in the following decade, it again looked quite different. Based now on the concepts of Black Consciousness, white literary orientations were no less denounced than the political values of whites: in fact, this new generation of blacks conceived of the Western literary conceptions as an integral part of Western imperialism. In a reaction that paralleled discussions by other Africans and black Americans about creating a black aesthetic as opposed to a white aesthetic (e.g., Gayle; Gurr and Zirimu; Chinweizu et al.; Johnson et al.), black South African authors now again returned to traditional African models of literature. And one of the most important aspects of their black aesthetic was to reject the Western idea of a division of labor between thevarious discourses. Thus Mothobi Mutloatse declared:

In a race-obsessed country like South Africa the part the black writer has to play is rather demanding -- but nevertheless worth it. It seems to me that he is expected to be a jack of all trades -- and a master of all! He has to be tradesman, docker, psychologist, nurse, miner, matshigilane, tshotsa, teacher, athlete, toddler, mother, musician, father, visionary, imbongi and -- above all -- oral historian. (1)(4)

This also meant renouncing the Western credo according to which "good" literature has to abstain from all political goals and is to pursue only literary aims of its own. In the black tradition, it was contended, literature always had distinct social functions. Zakes Mda points out:

I have dismally failed to respond to the strange aesthetic concepts so cherished in the western world that profess that artistic creation is an end in itself, independent of politics and social requirements. I draw from the traditional African aesthetics where art could not be separated from life. In our various African societies the artist was a social commentator. (296; see also Gwala)

Consequently, it was claimed that the current black literature, especially under the conditions of apartheid, had also primarily to serve political goals, namely the resistance against white oppression. Therefore, black South Africans not only saw no more reason to have a bad conscience when writing political fiction; black writers and critics now declared that "good" black literature necessarily had to be politically committed. As Mbulelo Mzamane puts it:

Since the most important lessons for South Africans are in the political sphere, a writer in that land is
unimportant, irrelevant and probably alienated unless he is political. Art and politics in South Africa, as
in many parts of Africa, have become inseparable for the simple reason that politics pervades all
aspects of a blackman's existence. (150)

In part as a reaction against the massive censorship in South Africa, this new black literature of the
1970s was mainly poetry (which could be transmitted orally, avoiding government control); but such
oral poetry also conformed well to the objectives of Black Consciousness. In contrast to the solitary
act of reading, orally performed poetry afforded a common social experience. Accordingly, the former
protest literature was now replaced by a resistance literature that appealed to black solidarity in the
struggle against white hegemony.

In written and printed literature, black authors displayed a similar recurrence to traditional African
concepts, even writers who had only little sympathy with Black Consciousness ideals.(5) A
particularly clear expression of the attack on Western literary conceptions appears in those texts that
were labeled "proemdras" and that, in the final decade of the apartheid regime, assumed in several
ways a programmatic status in the blacks' opposition to white aesthetics and values.

The development of the concept of the "proemdra" was also motivated by the spirit of Black
Consciousness; and it was Mothobi Mutloatse who coined the term and wrote a kind of manifesto,
namely in the introduction of the anthology Forced Landing (1980), from which some lines were
already quoted above:

We are involved in and consumed by an exciting experimental art form that I can only call, to coin a
phrase, `proemdra': Prose, Poem and Drama in one!

We will have to donder conventional literature: old-fashioned critic and reader alike. We are going to
pee, spit and shit on literary convention before we are through; we are going to kick and pull and push
and drag literature into the form we prefer. We are going to experiment and probe and not give a damn
what the critics have to say. Because we are in search of our true selves -- undergoing self-discovery
as a people.

We are not going to be told how to re-live our feelings, pains and aspirations by anybody who speaks
from the platform of his own rickety culture. We'll write our poems in a narrative form; we'll write
journalistic pieces in poetry form; we'll dramatise our poetic experiences; we'll poeticise our historical
dramas. We will do all these things at the same time. (5)

As the neologistic term "proemdra" indicates, the main target of this new kind of writing is the
Western compartmentalization of literature into different genres, hence the primary aim is the fusion of
modes. But as the phrase "we'll write journalistic pieces in poetry form" demonstrates, the boundary
between fictional and nonfictional discourse is under attack as well. Moreover, the condemnation of
critics and the reference to the self-discovery of blacks as a people disclose that the literary attack is
simultaneously a political attack: the emancipation from Western literary conceptions is part of the
liberation from white domination in general.

This exuberant introduction of the "proemdras" as a new and exclusively South African genre (or rather
nongenre) did not, however, evoke, as far as can be ascertained by evidence from printed texts, too
large an echo. Strangely enough, the anthology Forced Landing does not contain a single "proemdra."
That this text type did nevertheless enjoy some popularity is illustrated by the fact that occasionally
older texts, written long before the term "proemdra" was coined, were later relabeled "proemdras." This
is the case, for example, with a piece by Can Themba entitled "Music, Food of Love! Tale of a Girl
Whom Music Saved from the Blues," which Essop Patel classifies as a "proemdra" in the collection
The World of Can Themba (1985). The text offers a short love story, presented in what appear to be 14
little prose stanzas. Originally, however, these "stanzas" were subtexts to photographs; and what is
declared here to be a "proemdra" is but the verbal extract of a picture story published in Drum in
August 1957.

The label "proemdra" seems somewhat confusing, also with regard to Mothobi Mutloatse's "A Walk
Down Memory Lane," which is included in the anthology Reconstruction (1981) in a separate
"Proemdra" section. This piece deals with the first anniversary of 16 June 1976 (when the Soweto
uprise started) and recalls some of the main events, discussing the consequences and lessons for the
future they provide for both blacks and whites. The text gives the overall impression of an essay, but
employs a highly condensed language and displays numerous rhetorical devices, for instance when
Mutloatse writes:

Warped minds became alive; babies stopped crawling and started strutting; boozers jumped out of the
barrel; liars stopped cheating; conmen walked the straight way of the Lord; and the men of God
walked the way of the people; and the people walked the way of Unity. And they walked tall!

We were the enemies of fear. Fear was so afraid of us that it hid itself inside bullets and burst during a
fit of frustration and paranoia coupled with claustrophobia.

We smoked teargas and swallowed bullets, and vet we died so that we should live in peace and
harmony. We were reborn -- without the help of the Bible. We were new people. WE ARE


Yes, we all remember well how we burnt our useless voices singing songs from the bottoms of our
hearts; songs of hope; songs of thirst; songs of hunger; songs of metamorphosis; and songs of an
awakened people; songs of old of Zenzi; songs of we-shall-be-free-and-God-knows-it-too.

O, yes, we know what panic did to THEM.

And on the fourth day of the eighth month, we still managed to scrape up that hill to seek the release
of our brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends, sons and daughters who
had been whisked off to our reluctant resort -- jail. (306-07)

In these passages, Mutloatse's effort to transform his prose language into poetic diction are more than
evident, and though the importance of the Bible for blacks is dismissed, the text itself displays obvious
traits of a Biblical style. The last three lines of the piece then actually take the form of lines of
poetry.(6) Moreover, the motifs of life, death, and rebirth touched upon in the paragraphs quoted
meander through the whole text, and at the end the corpse becomes the central image for the whites
in the country.

Although "A Walk Down Memory Lane" may thus be an example of a journalistic article written in
poetry form, according to Mutloatse's programmatic declarations, there is no element of drama in this
text. Neither does this piece break new ground with regard to the distinction between fictional and
factual discourse. It is rather similar to many pieces of black South African journalism that use various
rhetorical and literary devices in order to enhance their political impact and of which some instances
are also included in the section "Journalism" of the anthology Reconstruction (R. V. Selope-Thema,
"How Congress Began"; Nokugcina Mhlope, "My Dear Madam"). The main difference between "A
Walk Down Memory Lane" and those articles therefore seems to lie simply in the label of this text --
and, in fact, in the influential magazine Staffrider, in which many of the pieces of the anthology first
appeared, and especially in the collection Reconstruction in the Staffrider Series, an arbitrary play with
labels seems to be part of a strategy to subvert different classifications of texts. Thus, the anthology
contains inter alia a section "Prose," implying fiction as opposed to the section "Journalism"; but two
of the allegedly fictional pieces (Mankati Kwadi's "Fate" and Narain Aiyer's "The Cane Is Singing") are
apparently journalistic texts. "Cane" was originally published as a "story" in Staffrider (3.4 [1980-81]),
as was Nokugcina Mhlope's piece "My Dear Madam" (3.4 [1980-81]; under the name Nogukcina
Sigwili) which in Reconstruction is relabeled "Journalism." Thus, the game with labels started by the
magazine, which aimed at showing the close affiliation of "documentary" and "imaginative" genres
(see Vaughan, "Staffrider" 200) is continued and intensified by Mutloatse in the collection
Reconstruction. He, too, places "Cane" in an apparently wrong section, whereas in the case of
Mhlope's text he seems to rectify the labeling. But in so doing, he again contributes to the game in
that this text now bears two different and contradicting labels. As it is, the Western differentiation
between journalism and (fictional) prose seems to be introduced in Reconstruction only in order to blur
such compartmentalizations. And in the case of "A Walk Down Memory Lane," the boundary
transgression of the alleged "proemdra" also lies primarily in its confounding label.

The situation is somewhat, though not altogether different in Maropodi Mapalakanye's "Somebody Is
Dangling (Edited Version of a Dramatic Presentation)" in the same collection. Although this text
contains no genuine prose, the verses are quite prosaic indeed. Furthermore, the beginning of the
"proemdra" displays an obvious narrative element, which is perhaps reminiscent of prose rather than of

Down Plein Street

At the park,

I met a privileged underdog.

Of his paint I couldn't draw

Whether pink or colourless.

This worn-out skeleton was pretty dirty.

I greeted,

He didn't reply;

I smiled

He begged;

I sympathised,

He knelt;

I offered 50 cents,

He played a raw comedy.

Then a black hobo landed with rage and motive

From somewhere, I don't know where

And --

`Don't give to that Nationalist!

He votes for our miseries,

He's a Broederbonder,

Take it back!

Don't let him have it.'

`Voertsek kaffir.'


I protested.

I lunged at him

Caught his paw

Enriched by my coin,

And --

`Asseblief, Asseblief,'

He begged me.

I meant business.

The black one Shared the Struggle.

We retrieved the coin,

And I gave it to the

Brother. (310-11)

Later, however, the text turns rather mediative or descriptive:

Let me say it:

Life here is rich with

Art and matter, mad with emotions

Whose human frictions and tensions

Contribute to earthquakes and revolutions.

Peasants here

Are terrorists to voters,

Voters terrorists to peasants,

Freedom fighters to soldiers terrorists,

Soldiers terrorists to freedom fighters.

Are our forces in combat with tornadoes

From outside

Intending to grab `our' Gold?

Or is it that our defender

Is a vulture to most species of this land?

Don't tell me

If you know.

If you don't,


Yourself with any class you belong to.

But make it yours.

I'm tired of human classification.

You know, I've learned enough from the dumps of bantu education. (312)

The poetic element represented by the verse form is further substantiated by occasional song-like
stanzas (313), and it is intensified in that the central image reoccurs refrain-like throughout the text,
namely that "somebody is dangling / From the branch of a rootless tree" (314), an image, naturally, for
the white people in the country. The dramatic element, finally, also emerges from the beginning of the
piece, which is perhaps as much drama as narrative; in addition, the text as a whole is described in
the subtitle as an "[e]dited version of a dramatic presentation" (310).

In fusing fictional and factual discourse, however, the text proves as little illuminating as "A Walk
Down Memory Lane." On the other hand, the piece displays, to a larger degree than Mutloatse's
"proemdra," features of mixing conventions of poetic texts with those of expository pieces. The second
quotation may serve as an example. As the antithetic and chiastic juxtaposition of the respective
"terrorists" demonstrates, the text's attack on such classifications is not only stated, but created in
exposing the interchangeability, of the classifying labels. Nevertheless, there is also the overt verdict
on such classifications in the lines further down. In a similar way, the whole "proemdra" -- which is
primarily concerned with such a "human classification," while striving to reveal it as an actually
"inhuman classification" (318) and dealing with the rift and hatred between blacks and whites as well
as with the pending danger emerging from this confrontation -- seems also constantly compelled to
spell out expressis verbis what it constitutes. It repeatedly creates the issues in a -- modernist --
poetic manner, and yet Mapalakanye seems afraid that they are too highly encoded and hence may
be obscured; he therefore simultaneously explains them as in an expository text. In this aspect,
"Somebody Is Dangling" is similar to much of the black poetry of the 1970s and 1980s, which
endeavors to be populist. Though opting for a poetic form, the authors nevertheless want their texts to
display some of the clarity and immediateness of a political pamphlet. Consequently, "Somebody Is
Dangling" also exercises the functions of such a pamphlet: like numerous other texts, it is designed
as a warning against whites and as an appeal to the solidarity and the liberation efforts of blacks (as is
evidenced by the capitalizatio
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Bay State Banner 2/18/1971 V.VI; N.23 p. 14
Word Count: 996

Visual arts and black aesthetics
Gaither, Edmund B. "Barry"

Aesthetics generally refers to the philosophy of beauty. It is an abstract notion used to define and
state intellectually those pleasurable experiences occasioned by artistic encounters.

In every case, aesthetics has, at its core represented the artistic judgment of creative arts within a
fixed cultural context. Though some notions of universal beauty and the like have been postulated, all
such views are in fact culture-bound, and therefore partisan. Aestheticians who have come from the
ranks of the educated elite have been charged with the job of defining, conserving, and promoting the
central artistic values of the "in" culture.

There is, however, another sense in which aesthetics may be used, a more popular sense. Aesthetics,
as a functional concept describes the coherency demonstrated in the struggle of people in a culture to
reveal their finest visions of the Good, the Beautiful. In this case, the term assumes a broader meaning
and corresponds essentially with commonly held cultural aspirations.

The specific creation of the artist is then, not only a particular exercise with an aesthetic value: it is
also an element of the struggle for a fuller realization of cultural potential. This one may see in the total
creation of the culture patterns of approved and cherished expression as well as of deviation.

Recently, young black visual artists and art historians have wrestled with discarding the semantic
burden of the terminology used in historical art discussion. At the same time, they have striven to give
meaning to terms such as black art, and black aesthetics, through equivalent terms. Always the
necessity to make distinctions, to judge quality and locate the contemporary in the traditional, recurs
and impresses itself anew. Consequently, the black discussant of the visual art has not escaped the
direct need to clarify and come to grips with the notion of aesthetics, of black aesthetics. And for
what it's worth, I offer my thoughts on the subject.

Cultures, though never fully synchronized, strive toward coherency. This struggle is perhaps no where
more apparent than in the arts. If a broad enough view of the total life of a culture can be gained, one
can then suggest central tenets of its ideals of the Justice, the Good, the Beautiful. These ideals are
internally generated and manifest themselves in all areas of the culture. Thus no question can be
raised as to whether different cultures have different aesthetics, nor of whether each culture's
aesthetics are self-validating.

It is evident that each culture has an essential and peculiar aesthetic system which is self-validating,
although such an umbrella aesthetic is also likely to contain competing systems giving rise to artistic
tensions. Occidental art is not Oriental art; each abides in its own system, each is valid, each is
diverse and in some sense contradictory, better or worse than the other.

How one may then ask, does all of this affect the black visual artist in the States? The answer is very
complex, drawing its greatest difficulty from the complicated relationship between black people and
their white matrix.

There were, and indeed there remain, intact aesthetic systems in Africa. Also there were, and remain,
largely intact, African aesthetic systems in parts of the Americas. There systems, manifested in visual
arts, dance, drama, music, speech, etc., vary in specific realization. However they seem broadly to
reflect an internally coherent life style emphasizing the rhythmic over the geometric, the spiritual over
the scientific, the human over the machine, the symbolic over the factual. And though increasingly
African tastes and African aesthetics are obscured by the input of colonial cultures, in many places
the African has been able to digest these new elements on his own terms.

In the United States, Africans were made into "negroes" and on the return to being African, have
become "black people." In being made into a "negro" in America, black people suffered major cultural
surgery at the hands of unsympathetic doctors. Presently, black people find themselves painfully
aware of a forced marriage in which they have been brutalized, while the colonialist and neo-colonialist,
through ruthlessness, have prevailed.

Black culture, which has never disappeared and which is incapable of death, has nevertheless been
forced to assume abhorrent forms, to lend itself to prostitution, and finally to be used to the advantage
of the oppressor against the oppressed. Black culture is not full intact, but it is vital. Black culture,
twisted and distorted by white usurpers, finds itself at once defensive and boldly declarative, at once
catholic and patriarchal. And the black visual artist, in honesty to himself, has to search for threads of
his own overly-complicated and oppressed existence.

The black visual artist cannot create a black aesthetic. Aesthetics, functional aesthetics, exist by
virtue of intact culture and its ideals. The degree to which black culture has remained intact in the
States is the degree to which there is black aesthetics. The degree to which black culture has
suffered perversion and distortion in the context of white culture is the degree to which black culture
has been compromised.

The degree to which the contemporary black artist is able to draw upon and make sense of the black
experience on its own terms is the degree to which black aesthetic finds concrete manifestation.

Would that one could declare that all is well with black aesthetics, but one cannot. The stay here has
been too tragic! in this nation time, the need is to reclaim the healthy facets of black culture, to add
the best of the present, and to lay the groundwork for a real flourishing of genuine black aesthetics, a
black aesthetic that is rich, honest, and capable of innovation within tradition.

Article copyright The Bay State Banner.
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Half-Japanese Mandy Willingham, 25, has been mistaken for a multitude of ethnicities, including Tahitian, Inuit, American Indian, East Indian, Spanish, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian and Filipina. She's had waiters address her in Spanish in Mexican restaurants and on one occasion, a pharmacist even tried to argue with her in Arabic. Her boyfriend attributes all of this to what he calls her "ethnic currency." Willingham explains: "He says my appearance allows me to be accepted almost anywhere in the world. While I'm not sure if this is completely true, I've grown to appreciate the value of having a multi-ethnic look."
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The Case for the Empire
Everything you think you know about Star Wars is wrong.
by Jonathan V. Last
05/16/2002 12:00:00 AM

Jonathan V. Last, online editor

STAR WARS RETURNS today with its fifth installment, "Attack of the Clones." There will be talk of the Force and the Dark Side and the epic morality of George Lucas's series. But the truth is that from the beginning, Lucas confused the good guys with the bad. The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good.

It's a difficult leap to make--embracing Darth Vader and the Emperor over the plucky and attractive Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia--but a careful examination of the facts, sorted apart from Lucas's off-the-shelf moral cues, makes a quite convincing case.

First, an aside: For the sake of this discussion, I've considered only the history gleaned from the actual Star Wars films, not the Expanded Universe. If you know what the Expanded Universe is and want to argue that no discussion of Star Wars can be complete without considering material outside the canon, that's fine. However, it's always been my view that the comic books and novels largely serve to clean up Lucas's narrative and philosophical messes. Therefore, discussions of intrinsic intent must necessarily revolve around the movies alone. You may disagree, but please don't e-mail me about it.

If you don't know what the Expanded Universe is, well, uh, neither do I.

I. The Problems with the Galactic Republic

At the beginning of the Star Wars saga, the known universe is governed by the Galactic Republic. The Republic is controlled by a Senate, which is, in turn, run by an elected chancellor who's in charge of procedure, but has little real power.

Scores of thousands of planets are represented in the Galactic Senate, and as we first encounter it, it is sclerotic and ineffectual. The Republic has grown over many millennia to the point where there are so many factions and disparate interests, that it is simply too big to be governable. Even the Republic's staunchest supporters recognize this failing: In "The Phantom Menace," Queen Amidala admits, "It is clear to me now that the Republic no longer functions." In "Attack of the Clones," young Anakin Skywalker observes that it simply "doesn't work."

The Senate moves so slowly that it is powerless to stop aggression between member states. In "The Phantom Menace" a supra-planetary alliance, the Trade Federation (think of it as OPEC to the Galactic Republic's United Nations), invades a planet and all the Senate can agree to do is call for an investigation.

Like the United Nations, the Republic has no armed forces of its own, but instead relies on a group of warriors, the Jedi knights, to "keep the peace." The Jedi, while autonomous, often work in tandem with the Senate, trying to smooth over quarrels and avoid conflicts. But the Jedi number only in the thousands--they cannot protect everyone.

What's more, it's not clear that they should be "protecting" anyone. The Jedi are Lucas's great heroes, full of Zen wisdom and righteous power. They encourage people to "use the Force"--the mystical energy which is the source of their power--but the truth, revealed in "The Phantom Menace," is that the Force isn't available to the rabble. The Force comes from midi-chlorians, tiny symbiotic organisms in people's blood, like mitochondria. The Force, it turns out, is an inherited, genetic trait. If you don't have the blood, you don't get the Force. Which makes the Jedi not a democratic militia, but a royalist Swiss guard.

And an arrogant royalist Swiss guard, at that. With one or two notable exceptions, the Jedi we meet in Star Wars are full of themselves. They ignore the counsel of others (often with terrible consequences), and seem honestly to believe that they are at the center of the universe. When the chief Jedi record-keeper is asked in "Attack of the Clones" about a planet she has never heard of, she replies that if it's not in the Jedi archives, it doesn't exist. (The planet in question does exist, again, with terrible consequences.)

In "Attack of the Clones," a mysterious figure, Count Dooku, leads a separatist movement of planets that want to secede from the Republic. Dooku promises these confederates smaller government, unlimited free trade, and an "absolute commitment to capitalism." Dooku's motives are suspect--it's not clear whether or not he believes in these causes. However, there's no reason to doubt the motives of the other separatists--they seem genuinely to want to make a fresh start with a government that isn't bloated and dysfunctional.

The Republic, of course, is eager to quash these separatists, but they never make a compelling case--or any case, for that matter--as to why, if they are such a freedom-loving regime, these planets should not be allowed to check out of the Republic and take control of their own destinies.

II. The Empire

We do not yet know the exact how's and why's, but we do know this: At some point between the end of Episode II and the beginning of Episode IV, the Republic is replaced by an Empire. The first hint comes in "Attack of the Clones," when the Senate's Chancellor Palpatine is granted emergency powers to deal with the separatists. It spoils very little to tell you that Palpatine eventually becomes the Emperor. For a time, he keeps the Senate in place, functioning as a rubber-stamp, much like the Roman imperial senate, but a few minutes into Episode IV, we are informed that the he has dissolved the Senate, and that "the last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away."

Lucas wants the Empire to stand for evil, so he tells us that the Emperor and Darth Vader have gone over to the Dark Side and dresses them in black.

But look closer. When Palpatine is still a senator, he says, "The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates. There is no interest in the common good." At one point he laments that "the bureaucrats are in charge now."

Palpatine believes that the political order must be manipulated to produce peace and stability. When he mutters, "There is no civility, there is only politics," we see that at heart, he's an esoteric Straussian.

Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.

Also, unlike the divine-right Jedi, the Empire is a meritocracy. The Empire runs academies throughout the galaxy (Han Solo begins his career at an Imperial academy), and those who show promise are promoted, often rapidly. In "The Empire Strikes Back" Captain Piett is quickly promoted to admiral when his predecessor "falls down on the job."

And while it's a small point, the Empire's manners and decorum speak well of it. When Darth Vader is forced to employ bounty hunters to track down Han Solo, he refuses to address them by name. Even Boba Fett, the greatest of all trackers, is referred to icily as "bounty hunter." And yet Fett understands the protocol. When he captures Solo, he calls him "Captain Solo." (Whether this is in deference to Han's former rank in the Imperial starfleet, or simply because Han owns and pilots his own ship, we don't know. I suspect it's the former.)

But the most compelling evidence that the Empire isn't evil comes in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: "There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy." It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.

None of which is to say that the Empire isn't sometimes brutal. In Episode IV, Imperial stormtroopers kill Luke's aunt and uncle and Grand Moff Tarkin orders the destruction of an entire planet, Alderaan. But viewed in context, these acts are less brutal than they initially appear. Poor Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen reach a grisly end, but only after they aid the rebellion by hiding Luke and harboring two fugitive droids. They aren't given due process, but they are traitors.

The destruction of Alderaan is often cited as ipso facto proof of the Empire's "evilness" because it seems like mass murder--planeticide, even. As Tarkin prepares to fire the Death Star, Princess Leia implores him to spare the planet, saying, "Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons." Her plea is important, if true.

But the audience has no reason to believe that Leia is telling the truth. In Episode IV, every bit of information she gives the Empire is willfully untrue. In the opening, she tells Darth Vader that she is on a diplomatic mission of mercy, when in fact she is on a spy mission, trying to deliver schematics of the Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. When asked where the Alliance is headquartered, she lies again.

Leia's lies are perfectly defensible--she thinks she's serving the greater good--but they make her wholly unreliable on the question of whether or not Alderaan really is peaceful and defenseless. If anything, since Leia is a high-ranking member of the rebellion and the princess of Alderaan, it would be reasonable to suspect that Alderaan is a front for Rebel activity or at least home to many more spies and insurgents like Leia.

Whatever the case, the important thing to recognize is that the Empire is not committing random acts of terror. It is engaged in a fight for the survival of its regime against a violent group of rebels who are committed to its destruction.

III. After the Rebellion

As we all know from the final Star Wars installment, "Return of the Jedi," the rebellion is eventually successful. The Emperor is assassinated, Darth Vader abdicates his post and dies, the central governing apparatus of the Empire is destroyed in a spectacular space battle, and the rebels rejoice with their small, annoying Ewok friends. But what happens next?

(There is a raft of literature on this point, but, as I said at the beginning, I'm going to ignore it because it doesn't speak to Lucas's original intent.)

In Episode IV, after Grand Moff Tarkin announces that the Imperial Senate has been abolished, he's asked how the Emperor can possibly hope to keep control of the galaxy. "The regional governors now have direct control over territories," he says. "Fear will keep the local systems in line."

So under Imperial rule, a large group of regional potentates, each with access to a sizable army and star destroyers, runs local affairs. These governors owe their fealty to the Emperor. And once the Emperor is dead, the galaxy will be plunged into chaos.

In all of the time we spend observing the Rebel Alliance, we never hear of their governing strategy or their plans for a post-Imperial universe. All we see are plots and fighting. Their victory over the Empire doesn't liberate the galaxy--it turns the galaxy into Somalia writ large: dominated by local warlords who are answerable to no one.

Which makes the rebels--Lucas's heroes--an unimpressive crew of anarchic royals who wreck the galaxy so that Princess Leia can have her tiara back.

I'll take the Empire.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
deliriouspomo: I don't know what it is, but every time I see a white guy walking towards me, I tense up. My heart starts racing, and I immediately begin to look for an escape route and a means to defend myself. I kick myself for even being in this part of town after dark. Didn't I notice the suspicious gangs of white people lurking on every street corner, drinking Starbucks and wearing their gang colors of Gap turquoise or J Crew mauve? What an idiot! Now the white person is coming closer, closer - and then - whew! He walks by without harming me, and I breathe a sigh of relief. White people scare the crap out of me. This may be hard for you to understand - considering that I am white - but then again, my color gives me a certain insight. For instance, I find myself pretty scary a lot of the time, so I know what I'm talking about.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model and the San Fernando Valley is her teenybopper sister, then New York is their cousin. Her hair is dyed autumn red or aubergine or Egyptian henna, depending on her mood. Her skin is pale as frost and she wears beautiful Jil Sander suits and Prada pumps on which she walks faster than a speeding taxi (when it is caught in rush hour, that is). Her lips are some unlikely shade of copper or violet, courtesy of her local MAC drag queen makeup consultant. She is always carrying bags of clothes, bouquets of roses, take-out Chinese containers, or bagels. Museum tags fill her pockets and purses, along with perfume samples and invitations to art gallery openings. When she is walking to work, to ward off bums or psychos, her face resembles the Statue of Liberty, but at home in her candlelit, dove-colored apartment, the stony look fades away and she smiles like the sterling roses she has bought for herself to make up for the fact that she is single and her feet are sore.

- from I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block

Maybe Mab was real. Maybe she was the fury, the courage, the sex. Whatever Mab had been, now, joined with her tiny winged red-haired biscuit, Mab was the love, flying through the night like an errant star that had longed to know, even briefly, what make planet Earth's children weep and sing. - I Was A Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block

Barbie was no longer afraid of anything. It was like the thing Mab had said about belief. The belief is sometimes the biggest part of it all. You can choose to believe in your published book being held in the loving hands of strangers, your name tattooed forever on the heart of the one you adore; you can choose to believe in tiny red-haired pesk piskies - all the things 'they' may tell you not to believe in. But who are they anyway? What do they know? What makes them any more real? And now, Barbie realized, I am telling Mab to believe. I am telling Belief herself to believe. - I Was A Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block

mercifulserpent: (Default)
damn. there are so many quotes i loved in this movie. only, i can't put them here because i want everyone to go see it and have it be a virgin experience, untainted with prior ideas about intonation and meaning and wahtever.

but this was def one of the better parts.

Thomas Builds-the-Fire:
How do we forgive our fathers. Maybe in a dream?
Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often, or forever, when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous, because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.
Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers, for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning, for shutting doors, for speaking through walls, or never speaking, or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?
Or in their deaths, saying it to them, or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers what is left?

dude. that is an AWESOME MOVIE.


mercifulserpent: (Default)

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