Monthly Archives: May 2007

Kalfou Danjere

This is Boukman Eksperyans on their classic Jou Nou Revolte. We are playing it in honor of tonight’s blue moon. Work your magic and look up these names: Mackandal, Boukman, Bois Caiman, and kalfou or crossroads.

Axé.

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Martial Law

Dambala calls our attention to the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive, which appears to have been made law May 9 essentially by decree. Dambala says it “supercedes the National Emergency Act and re-constitutes the mandates of martial law.”

In the event of a ‘national emergency’ . . . defined by the executive branch . . . the President can incorporate martial law and bypass all levels of government from Congress down to “tribal” levels. The previous law which mandated such a scenario was the National Emergency Act, passed in 1976, which gave Congress oversight of the Executive Branch and allowed them to retract such dictatorial authority if they deemed it unnecessary.

For the next national emergency we have a lot of detention centers ready to go – the ones built for immigrants are also for displaced persons and anyone else the government might want to place somewhere secure. Thinking darkly, I do not know that we are having another Presidential inauguration anytime soon. We could go into a “state of emergency” and get a ruling junta — in our case, probably a corporate, rather than a military one.

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Giulietta Simionato

It is time once again to post versions of Voi che sapete. Here are two: a serious and beautiful one by Giulietta Simionato, performed in Tokyo in 1956, and an animated French spoof which is hilarious. This post, however, is actually a continuation of my notes on writing from earlier today. Getting into a piece makes me feel as shaky as Cherubino. And I also note that “ma pur mi piace languir così.”

Axé.

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On Writing: Notes

Why does writing appear to be so closely imbricated with managing the self? This post does not answer that question.

I

Now I have made a small amount of progress on this paper. I have discovered a way to redefine it, at least for myself, so that it is less intimidating: I will think of it as a series of reviews or a journalistic essay with footnotes, but not as an article. I have discovered a way to handle the linguistic schizophrenia which plagues me (I need to write it in Spanish, but it wants to be written in English): I am storyboarding it in English, and composing from there in Spanish.

“Storyboarding” is what I do for presentations of all kinds, and my presentations are excellent – if I do say so myself – because of my secret storyboarding technique. I have sometimes storyboarded instinctively for writing, and I show the students how to do it often, but I had not realized I could invoke storyboarding actively, to unravel one of my own knots of ideas. Jotting down notes in any language that comes to mind, but then doing the actual composition in the language you need, is another technique I show students regularly, but I had forgotten that I could avail myself of it as well.

Finally, I have decided I have definitely read enough on the topic. I may reread some of my sources, but I will read nothing more unless it absolutely leaps out at me.

II

Still, it is harrowing. This is partly because it is one of those pieces I did not invent myself: someone needs a piece like this for their book, and I gave a talk like this, so I can write this piece, and the publisher is already lined up, so I really ought to just push it out. It should be easy, but it is precisely this sort of writing situation I find the most difficult: I do not feel free.

It is also because I am not being entirely grown up about this paper. I fear getting into it, because I am afraid that if I do, I will not be able to get out again. I do not want to go into a writing frenzy which might, for instance, cause me to stay up late or smoke cigarettes. I want to live sensibly.

To write (and I do not believe I am writing now, but speaking) is to define yourself, but also to lose yourself; the reason I both like it and dislike it is that I both like and dislike both the finding and the losing. This, although I know perfectly well that when I am truly inside a project, I stop and start easily, and the rest of life hums along on its own.

III

Lumpenprofessoriat has had an entire series of posts – and comments – and spinoff posts – on the labor theory of blogging, which I would love to delve into but have not (yet) because it would be such a good tool for procrastination. I will say, however, that in my younger days, I experienced academic writing as self expression. I enjoyed it then. At a certain point, however, my academic writing got colonized by, if I am not mistaken, use value. It was all too useful, it fed too many alien machines, and those machines had too many desires which did not harmonize well enough with mine.

At that point, academic writing became work – not only alienated, but alienating, which is the worst of it. Since then, I have done better by refusing to write anything which did not feel like play. . . until, of course, I came flat up against my current piece. If I do not find a way to turn this piece into play, I need to find a way to turn it into a mere memo. To do either, I must take power over it. I have been trying to detach from it but in reality, I need to infuse it with myself.

IV

Perhaps related is the fact that, with texts I assign myself, I always know exactly how much material fits into each. With texts assigned by others, I never think I have enough ideas or material – and only then realize that I have, in fact, too many and too much. What I lack is a way to hierarchize them, a principle by which to add and cut; that is because the assignment is not my own.

I have been telling myself to “make it new,” but I believe the correct instructions would be to make it mine.

Axé.

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Graduation Story

Although I am not among those who say they “love” teaching, one thing I genuinely like about my particular academic job are the students. I have so many interesting and marvelous stories and vignettes about them that I have a near total ban on describing them here, on the theory that if I began to do so, I would have so much to say that I would never get anything else done. And there were many graduation stories this year, happy endings to harrowing paths. But my own students’ stories did not surprise me, as I knew them ahead of time.

This is not a story about any of my majors or graduate students, but of a student I taught four years ago in a freshman course which falls to me every once in a while. And I have political reasons to find stories of striving and success like this one hackneyed and contrived, and I am afraid that by telling them I may be Affirming The System or attributing more good to the efforts of the university than we deserve. Yet I know at the same time that entertaining these wry thoughts is a luxury I may be able to afford and some cannot.

In my section was a young man from New Orleans East on a football scholarship, whose legal name was not [Edward or Theodore], nor even [Ed or Ted], but “Teddy.” He wanted this name translated into Spanish on the first day, and I was glad it at least had a direct translation: Lalito. “It is not a very grownup name in Spanish,” I warned. “But is it my name?” “Yes.” “That is fine, then. Call me that.”

Sitting at his desk Lalito looked like anyone else, but when I found myself standing next to him in line at the bookstore, I realized he was almost larger than life. A Rodin bronze walked among us. “You really are a football player, aren’t you?” “Yes.”

Experience has borne out my prejudice, according to which one cannot expect a great deal academically from football players, but Lalito did well. At the beginning I thought it was because we were covering material he had seen in high school, but when he remained strong after the halfway point in the term I realized he was studying.

One of the exercises on the final examination involved writing a short composition using certain structures which would force the use of tenses other than the present, and the formation of somewhat complex ideas and sentences: “I know that…”, “I plan to…”, “I believe…”. Lalito wrote in part:

I know that playing college football does not necessarily mean I will be drafted into the NFL, and even if I were, I could not play in the NFL forever. Therefore I will not get so caught up in football that I do not do well in school. I believe I can implement this plan without losing my athletic scholarship. I would like to graduate with two majors and good grades, so that I can work toward a professional degree later on, if I should so choose.

After that I saw Lalito around on campus occasionally, and we waved and smiled, but I did not keep close track of the football team, or of the years. As this spring’s graduation ceremony progressed through disciplines in which I knew no one, I took to examining peoples’ shoes.

Then I realized that a very tall student was approaching the podium and heard the Dean saying, “Graduating cum laude in [Sociology] and [Economics] … Lalito! And I saw the photographer snap his picture as he was handed his diploma, looking grownup and grave. And he was no longer really my student, but I found myself clapping wildly.

Axé.

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Louisiana Politics

I would be curious to know what the suspension of Southern University President Ralph Slaughter is really all about. Did Slaughter lie in wait for an opportunity to jump on Anderson, and use the allegations of sexual harassment to do it? Or, conversely, did the Board and the Governor (who appointed Anderson) improperly protect Anderson, virtually forcing Slaughter to stand up for the victims and the law? Or did the Board and the Governor, lying in wait for an excuse to get rid of Slaughter, jump on this thing to fulfill an unrelated agenda?

There was an LSU administrator once who had diverted money for minority scholarships to his white fraternity brothers, and got fired for it. My sources told me, though, that the authorities had known about the embezzlement for some time, but had been waiting to use it against him until they had someone they wanted to reward with his job.

Axé.

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Impeach Alberto Gonzales

Part I: The Lies

Part II: The Crimes

Part I is good, but Part II is better.

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All the Colors Are Perfuming

Thanks to Rebel Girl, we now present Dick Gaughan, Emmylou Harris, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle on Wild Mountain Thyme, just in time for the blue moon the night of May 31 / June 1.

Axé.

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The Perceptionists

I am delighted to be able to present the Perceptionists’ “Memorial Day” from the album Black Dialogue, which I know about thanks to a very intelligent disc jockey at KLSU. It was fun coming into Baton Rouge, where Republicans love to tread, and hearing “Where are the weapons of mass destruction / We been looking for months and we ain’t found nothing / Please, Mr. President, tell us something / We knew from the beginning that your ass was fronting.” Listen to all the lyrics. Then watch this live performance of another cut from the same album.

Axé.

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Emmylou Harris, Mary Black

The song is Green Rolling Hills (of West Virginia). I spent a benighted summer in New England once. To the south New York bathed in heat was cosmopolitan and seemed positively Mediterranean, and I longed to go.

In August I did go, feeling my bones relax and expand as I crossed the state line. On the George Washington Bridge local radio came on, a program called “Tennessee Border,” and I thought, that is a good idea.

I flipped my right turn signal as soon as I could and merged onto another freeway, and was well along the Blue Ridge Parkway by nightfall.

Axé.

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