– identify the philosopher’s main point and argument
– answer How do you understand the aesthetics and politics of the Black Arts Movement as reflected in Neal’s essay or Lorde’s and Baraka’s poems?
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Black Art By Amiri Baraka Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth or trees or lemons piled on a step. Or black ladies dying of men leaving nickel hearts beating them down. Fuck poems and they are useful, wd they shoot come at you, love what you are, breathe like wrestlers, or shudder strangely after pissing. We want live words of the hip world live flesh & coursing blood. Hearts Brains Souls splintering fire. We want poems like fists beating niggers out of Jocks or dagger poems in the slimy bellies of the owner-jews. Black poems to smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches whose brains are red jelly stuck between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking Whores! we want “poems that kill.” Assassin poems, Poems that shoot guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys and take their weapons leaving them dead with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite politicians Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . .tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh . . .rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . . Setting fire and death to whities ass. Look at the Liberal Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat & puke himself into eternity . . . rrrrrrrr There’s a negroleader pinned to a bar stool in Sardi’s eyeballs melting in hot flame Another negroleader on the steps of the white house one kneeling between the sheriff’s thighs negotiating coolly for his people. Aggh . . . stumbles across the room . . . Put it on him, poem. Strip him naked to the world! Another bad poem cracking steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth Poem scream poison gas on beasts in green berets Clean out the world for virtue and love, Let there be no love poems written until love can exist freely and cleanly. Let Black people understand that they are the lovers and the sons of warriors and sons of warriors Are poems & poets & all the loveliness here in the world We want a black poem. And a Black World. Let the world be a Black Poem And Let All Black People Speak This Poem Silently or LOUD Source: Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1979) Also reprinted in Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal, eds. (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1968/2007). A Woman Speaks BY A UDR E LOR DE Moon marked and touched by sun my magic is unwritten but when the sea turns back it will leave my shape behind. I seek no favor untouched by blood unrelenting as the curse of love permanent as my errors or my pride I do not mix love with pity nor hate with scorn and if you would know me look into the entrails of Uranus where the restless oceans pound. I do not dwell within my birth nor my divinities who am ageless and half-grown and still seeking my sisters witches in Dahomey wear me inside their coiled cloths as our mother did mourning. I have been woman for a long time beware my smile I am treacherous with old magic and the noon’s new fury with all your wide futures promised I am woman and not white. Audre Lorde, “A Woman Speaks” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by Audre Lorde. Reprinted with the permission of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.nortonpoets.com. Source: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997) o University of Massachusetts Press Chapter Title: The Black Arts Movement Chapter Author(s): LARRY NEAL Book Title: SOS — Calling All Black People Book Subtitle: A Black Arts Movement Reader Book Editor(s): John H. Bracey Jr., Sonia Sanchez and James Smethurst Published by: University of Massachusetts Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.com/stable/j.ctt5vk2mr.11 JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at https://about.jstor.org/terms University of Massachusetts Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to SOS — Calling All Black People This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Mon, 09 Aug 2021 17:32:09 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms L arry N e al The Black Arts Movement 1. The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America. In order to perform this task, the Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic. It proposes a separate symbolism, mythology, critique, and iconology. The Black Arts and the Black Power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire for self-determination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic. One is concerned with the relationship between art and politics; the other with the art of politics. Recently, these two movements have begun to merge: the political values inherent in the Black Power concept are now finding concrete expression in the aesthetics of AfroAmerican dramatists, poets, choreographers, musicians, and novelists. A main tenet of Black Power is the necessity for Black people to define the world in their own terms. The Black artist has made the same point in the context of aesthetics. The two movements postulate that there are in fact and in spirit two Americas—one black, one white. The Black artist takes this to mean that his primary duty is to speak to the spiritual and cultural needs of Black people. Therefore, the main thrust of this new breed of contemporary writers is to confront the contradictions arising out of the Black man’s experience in the racist West. Currently, these writers are re-evaluating western aesthetics, the traditional role of the writer, and the social function of art. Implicit in this re-evaluation is the need to develop a “black aesthetic.” It is the opinion of many Black writers, I among them, that the Western aesthetic has run its course: it is impossible to construct anything meaningful within its decaying structure. We advocate a cultural revolution in art and ideas. The cultural values inherent in western history must either be radicalized or destroyed, and we will probably find that even radicalization is impossible. In fact, what is needed is a whole new system of ideas. Poet Don L. Lee expresses it: . . . We must destroy Faulkner, dick, jane, and other perpetuators of evil. It’s time for Du Bois, Nat Turner, and Kwame Nkrumah. As Frantz Fanon points out: destroy the From TDR: The Drama Review 12.4, Black Theatre Issue (Summer 1968). 55 This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Mon, 09 Aug 2021 17:32:09 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms culture and you destroy the people. This must not happen. Black artists are culture stabilizers; bringing back old values, and introducing new ones. Black Art will talk to the people and with the will of the people stop impending “protective custody.” The Black Arts Movement eschews “protest” literature. It speaks directly to Black people. Implicit in the concept of “protest” literature, as Brother Knight has made clear, is an appeal to white morality: Now any Black man who masters the technique of his particular art form, who adheres to the white aesthetic, and who directs his work toward a white audience is, in one sense, protesting. And implicit in the act of protest is the belief that a change will be forthcoming once the masters are aware of the protestor’s “grievance” (the very word connotes begging, supplications to the gods). Only when that belief has faded and protestings end, will Black art begin. Brother Knight also has some interesting statements about the development of a “Black aesthetic”: Unless the Black artist establishes a “Black aesthetic” he will have no future at all. To accept the white aesthetic is to accept and validate a society that will not allow him to live. The Black artist must create new forms and new values, sing new songs (or purify old ones); and along with other Black authorities, he must create a new history, new symbols, myths and legends (and purify old ones by fire). And the Black artist, in creating his own aesthetic, must be accountable for it only to the Black people. Further, he must hasten his own dissolution as an individual (in the Western sense)—painful though the process may be, having been breast-fed the poison of “individual experience.” When we speak of a “Black aesthetic” several things are meant. First, we assume that there is already in existence the basis for such an aesthetic. Essentially, it consists of an African-American cultural tradition. But this aesthetic is finally, by implication, broader than that tradition. It encompasses most of the useable elements of Third World culture. The motive behind the Black aesthetic is the destruction of the white thing, the destruction of white ideas, and white ways of looking at the world. The new aesthetic is mostly predicated on an Ethics which asks the question: whose vision of the world is finally more meaningful, ours or the white oppressors’? What is truth? Or more precisely, whose truth shall we express, that of the oppressed or of the oppressors? These are basic questions. Black intellectuals of previous decades failed to ask them. Further, national and international affairs demand that we appraise the world in terms of our own interests. It is clear that the question of human survival is at the core of contemporary experience. The Black artist must address himself to this reality in the strongest terms possible. In a context of world upheaval, ethics and aesthetics must interact positively and be consistent with the demands for a more spiritual world. Consequently, the Black Arts Movement is an ethical movement. Ethical, that is, from the viewpoint of the oppressed. And much of the 56 L arry N e al This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Mon, 09 Aug 2021 17:32:09 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms oppression confronting the Third World and Black America is directly traceable to the Euro-American cultural sensibility. This sensibility, anti-human in nature, has, until recently, dominated the psyches of most Black artists and intellectuals; it must be destroyed before the Black creative artist can have a meaningful role in the transformation of society. It is this natural reaction to an alien sensibility that informs the cultural attitudes of the Black Arts and the Black Power movement. It is a profound ethical sense that makes a Black artist question a society in which art is one thing and the actions of men another. The Black Arts Movement believes that your ethics and your aesthetics are one. That the contradictions between ethics and aesthetics in western society is symptomatic of a dying culture. The term “Black Arts” is of ancient origin, but it was first used in a positive sense by LeRoi Jones: We are unfair And unfair We are black magicians Black arts we make in black labs of the heart The fair are fair and deathly white The day will not save them And we own the night There is also a section of the poem “Black Dada Nihilismus” that carries the same motif. But a fuller amplification of the nature of the new aesthetics appears in the poem “Black Art”: Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth or trees or lemons piled on a step. Or black ladies dying of men leaving nickel hearts beating them down. Fuck poems and they are useful, would they shoot come at you, love what you are, breathe like wrestlers, or shudder strangely after peeing. We want live words of the hip world, live flesh & coursing blood. Hearts and Brains Souls splintering fire. We want poems like fists beating niggers out of Jocks or dagger poems in the slimy bellies of the owner-jews . . . T h e B lac k A rts M o v e m e nt This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Mon, 09 Aug 2021 17:32:09 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 57 Poetry is a concrete function, an action. No more abstractions. Poems are physical entities: fists, daggers, airplane poems, and poems that shoot guns. Poems are transformed from physical objects into personal forces: . . . Put it on him poem. Strip him naked to the world. Another bad poem cracking steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth Poem scream poison gas on breasts in green berets . . . Then the poem affirms the integral relationship between Black Art and Black people: . . . Let Black people understand that they are the lovers and the sons of lovers and warriors and sons of warriors Are poems & poets & all the loveliness here in the world It ends with the following lines, a central assertion in both the Black Arts Movement and the philosophy of Black Power: We want a black poem. And a Black World. Let the world be a Black Poem And let All Black People Speak This Poem Silently Or LOUD The poem comes to stand for the collective conscious and unconscious of Black America— the real impulse in back of the Black Power movement, which is the will toward selfdetermination and nationhood, a radical reordering of the nature and function of both art and the artist. 2. In the spring of 1964, LeRoi Jones, Charles Patterson, William Patterson, Clarence Reed, Johnny Moore, and a number of other Black artists opened the Black Arts Repertoire Theatre School. They produced a number of plays including Jones’ Experimental Death Unit # One, Black Mass, Jello, and Dutchman. They also initiated a series of poetry readings and concerts. These activities represented the most advanced tendencies in the movement and were of excellent artistic quality. The Black Arts School came under immediate attack by the New York power structure. The Establishment, fearing Black creativity, did exactly what it was expected to do—it attacked the theatre and all of its values. In the meantime, the school was granted funds by OEO through HARYOU-ACT. Lacking a cultural program itself, HARYOU turned to the only organization which addressed itself to the needs 58 L arry N e al This content downloaded from 184.108.40.206 on Mon, 09 Aug 2021 17:32:09 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms of the community. In keeping with its “revolutionary” cultural ideas, the Black Arts Theatre took its programs into the streets of Harlem. For three months, the theatre presented plays, concerts, and poetry readings to the people of the community. Plays that shattered the illusions of the American body politic, and awakened Black people to the meaning of their lives. Then the hawks from the OEO moved in and chopped off the funds. Again, this should have been expected. The Black Arts Theatre stood in radical opposition to the feeble attitudes about culture of the “War on Poverty” bureaucrats. And later, because of internal problems, the theatre was forced to close. But the Black Arts group proved that the community could be served by a valid and dynamic art. It also proved that there was a definite need for a cultural revolution in the Black community. With the closing of the Black Arts Theatre, the implications of what Brother Jones and his colleagues were trying to do took on even more significance. Black Art groups sprang up on the West Coast and the idea spread to Detroit, Philadelphia, Jersey City, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. Black Arts movements began on the campuses of San Francisco State College, Fisk University, Lincoln University, Hunter College in the Bronx, Columbia University, and Oberlin College. In Watts, after the rebellion, Maulana Karenga welded the Blacks Arts Movement into a cohesive cultural ideology, which owed much to the work of LeRoi Jones. Karenga sees culture as the most important element in the struggle for self-determination: Culture is the basis of all ideas, images and actions. To move is to move culturally, i.e., by a set of values given to you by your culture. Without a culture Negroes are only a set of reactions to white people. The seven criteria for culture are: 1. Mythology 2. History 3. Social Organization 4. Political Organization 5. Economic Organization 6. Creative Motif 7. Ethos In drama, LeRoi Jones represents the most advanced aspects of the movement. He is its prime mover and chief designer. In a poetic essay entitled “The Revolutionary Theatre,” he outlines the iconology of the movement: The Revolutionary Theatre should force change: it should be change. (All their faces turned into the lights and you work on them black nigger magic, and cleanse them at having seen the ugliness. And if the beautiful see themselves, they will love themselves.) We are preaching virtue again, but by that to mean NOW, toward what seems the most constructive use of the word. The theatre that Jones proposes is inextricably linked to the Afro-American political dynamic. And such a link is perfectly consistent with Black America’s contemporary T h e B lac k A rts M o v e m e nt This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Mon, 09 Aug 2021 17:32:09 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 59 emands. For theatre is potentially the most social of all of the arts. It is an integral part d of the socializing process. It exists in direct relationship to the audience it claims to serve. The decadence and inanity of the contemporary American theatre is an accurate reflection of the state of American society. Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is very American: sick white lives in a homosexual hell hole. The theatre of white America is escapist, refusing to confront concrete reality. Into this cultural emptiness come the musicals, an up-tempo version of the same stale lives. And the use of Negroes in such plays as Hello Dolly and Hallelujah Baby does not alert their nature; it compounds the problem. These plays are simply hipper versions of the minstrel show. They present Negroes acting out the hang-ups of middle-class white America. Consequently, the American theatre is a palliative prescribed to bourgeois patients who refuse to see the world as it is. Or, more crucially, as the world sees them. It is no accident, therefore, that the most “important” plays come from Europe—Brecht, Weiss, and Ghelderode. And even these have begun to run dry. The Black Arts theatre, the theatre of LeRoi Jones, is a radical alternative to the sterility of the American theatre. It is primarily a theatre of the Spirit, confronting the Black man in his interaction with his brothers and with the white thing. Our theatre will show victims so that their brothers in the audience will be better able to understand that they are the brothers of victims, and that they themselves are blood brothers. And what we show must cause the blood to rush, so that prerevolutionary temperaments will be bathed in this blood, and it will cause their deepest souls to move, and they will find themselves tensed and clenched, even ready to die, at what the soul has been taught. We will scream and cry, murder, run through the streets in agony, if it means some soul will be moved, moved to actual life understanding of what the world is, and what it ought to be. We are preaching virtue and feeling, and a natural sense of the self in the world. All men live in the world, and the world ought to be a place for them to live. The victims in the world of Jones’ early plays are Clay, murdered by the white bitch- goddess in Dutchman, and Walker Vessels, the revolutionary in The Slave. Both of these plays present Black men in transition. Clay, the middle-class Negro trying to get himself a little action from Lula, digs himself and his own…
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