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JB and Fela Paper.doc

Michael New

Professor Doyle

English 597 E

13 December 2007

 

                                                                                                                                            The Mothership Connection:  Diasporic Funk and Electribe Formation

    The cross pollination of musical style and expressive culture between the United States and Africa is well known.  The trans-Atlantic slave trade which created the black diaspora ripped millions of Africans from their homes and transplanted them throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe.  Made to work without pay and relegated to sub-human status, these men, women, and children were forcibly kept from any means of self-improvement.  Literacy and education were denied to slaves, and even the bonds of kinship were subordinated to economic forces, as these human beings were considered no more than commodities to be bought and sold.  However, since no system of control is omnipresent or omnipotent, slaves evolved highly specialized and complex forms of communication to express thoughts and ideas that threatened the institution which subjugated them in bondage.  Michel Foucault demonstrates the ways in which power must not be characterized as “a general system of domination exerted by one group over another,” but rather he says power “is the moving substrate of force relations which, by virtue of their inequality, constantly engender states of power, but the latter are always local and unstable” (History 92-3).  Therefore, while the terror of slavery must not be underestimated, it is necessary to remain mindful of the constant conflict, subversion, and rupture implied in the nature of institutional power: “Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power” (Foucault, History 95).  Music, then, became a discourse employed to seep through the fissures in the power matrix of racial slavery.

    Africans brought their oral traditions, including musical knowledge, with them across the middle passage and they manifested in innovative ways.  Because slave owners outlawed drumming for its capacity to broadcast relatively large amounts of information over great distances, where recognizable rhythms held specific meanings, the impulse towards clandestine communication was channeled into song.  Blending European songs with African scales and tonal sensibilities produced a new musical tradition that evolved in the spaces that slaves were allowed to inhabit such as religious worship, since many slaves were converted to Christianity, and in secular work songs.  The ability to embed meanings in this tonal discourse, as a code only available to the initiated, enabled many slaves to steal away from their captivity and head north towards freedom.  Paul Gilroy says of the black musical tradition that, “The irrepressible rhythms of the once forbidden drum are often still audible in their [black musicians’] work.  Its characteristic syncopations still animate the basic desires—to be free and to be oneself—that are revealed in this counterculture’s unique conjunction of body and music” (76).  While syncopated temporality, as Gilroy terms this orientation to musical time (202), originated in Africa and took on new significance as Africans were imported to America, there is a critical feedback loop that undermines any model of unidirectional flow across the Atlantic.  The consistent crossing of that ocean in both directions since Columbus’s first voyage has also become one of the most salient aspects of black Atlantic cultures, and just as technology develops so do the types of inter-continental interactions.

    As music was one of the only methods of communication available for enslaved Africans it makes sense that this tradition would persist.  Therefore, I would like to examine the mutual influence of two touchstones in the black musical tradition hailing from opposite sides of the Atlantic.  First, the hardest working man in show-business, the godfather of soul, soul brother number one: James Brown—truly a man who needs no introduction.  From the uncontainable raw soul of his early years to his later, funky socio-political awareness, James Brown and his band may have done more to shape the future of music than any other musicians of his generation.  His hyper-awareness of the performativity of his music, his enormous ego, dogged work ethic, and visionary creativity all made him a central figure in civil rights era America.  Similarly, his counterpart, who the godfather of soul, himself, dubbed “the African James Brown,” Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, was also a musical and political icon (Brown, The Godfather 221).  Born in Nigeria to parents both prominent in politics, Fela Kuti left to study in London at the Trinity College of Music in 1958.  When he returned to a newly independent Nigeria in 1963, he began performing a brand of West African Highlife music blended with a heavy jazz influence that he had cultivated in England by listening to musicians like Charlie Parker (Olaniyan 10-11).  Over the course of the next decade Fela Kuti would eschew highlife-jazz for a self-proclaimed genre called afrobeat.

While I hope to explicate the numerous similarities in style, approach, and impact between these musicians, I would also like to focus on the time period from the late 1960s into the 1970s in order to contextualize their music within the framework of the politics of racial identity at that time.  In America the Cold War, war in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement created a complex matrix of tensions that all centered around or otherwise affected racial politics, while on the African continent decolonization was having similarly critical effects.  After gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria experienced conflicts between regional and ethnic groups which led to a set of military coups and eventually devolved into a civil war in 1967.  Often called the Biafran War, the predominantly Igbo Eastern region attempted to form an independent nation (Veal 55-56).  The interrelatedness of all these global events is especially palpable in the music of the time.  In this period, maybe more than any other before or since, black Music in American and in Africa was mutually symbolic and influential.  By charting the movements and manifestations of this music (funk and afrobeat) and these musicians (Brown and Kuti) I hope to show that the diasporic search for African selfhood was both a response to, and a strategy for overcoming racial oppression and marginalization in the post-World War II world.

The innovators and inventors of both funk and afrobeat, Brown and Kuti respectively, were much more than theoretically indebted to each other, creatively and culturally.  In 1968 James Brown set foot on African soil for the first time.  Though it was a short trip, it was a meaningful one.  Brown writes:

I would have preferred to remain in Africa for months—years, even—as I felt the strong pull of my ancestors.  This was far different from reading about history—this was walking in it.  Here I was, in a land where Black meant something other than ‘Hey, you’ or ‘You’re not welcome here.’ Leaving America for this trip, I found a new sense of who I was, where I had come from, and where I wanted to go. […] [M]y visit to Africa was a profound experience for me, life-affirming and life-changing.  I had no idea how much and how quickly those changes were about to take place. (I Feel Good 147)

Just two days after returning from his trip through the Ivory Coast, Tanzania, and Nigeria (but refusing to play in South Africa), Brown, and the rest of the world, learned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.  This tragedy profoundly affected Brown, but he kept on doing his thing the only way he knew how.  He kept his engagement to play the Boston Garden on April 5th, which was televised and then replayed immediately in order to prevent riots: “It wasn’t over until two o’clock in the morning.  By that time the danger was past.  Boston got through the weekend almost without any trouble at all” (Brown, The Godfather 188).  Shortly thereafter Brown learned that he had gained clearance to travel to Vietnam to perform for the troops, which he had been campaigning to do in his conversations with White House officials for quite some time.  After playing almost three shows per day for three straight weeks in Vietnam, from the end of May to the middle of June, 1968, Brown returned to the United States where his song “America is My Home” was causing criticism from the black community (Brown, The Godfather 196).  Later that summer, however, Brown would create a momentous rallying cry for people of African descent: the epic “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).”

    All of these incredible events clearly show the complex ways in which Brown, in his newfound cosmopolitan context, began to think of racial identity and race relations in more global terms.  In the above quote pertaining to his first trip to Africa, his impressions are deeply embedded with concepts of time and history.  Significantly, he begins by invoking his ancestors.  Beyond pointing to the literal genealogy that leads back across the middle passage to the west coast of Africa, Brown claims that the ancestors are able to exert spiritual force in the real world.  Kwame Gyekye explains that in West African religious ontology, “The Supreme Being, the deities, and the ancestors are spiritual entities” (69).  Brown goes even further by claiming that his journey to Africa was more than a cultural or intellectual experience, rather it was more akin to time travel: “This was far different from reading about history—this was walking in it” (147).  His identity is also organized temporally.  Not only did Africa help him to metaprogram his current and prior concepts of selfhood, but it also tuned his notions of what was possible and where he wanted to go.  Brown’s sense of history and constant orientation towards the future are consistent characteristics of an otherwise idiosyncratic personality, and his experience in Africa only compounded his notions of pride, dignity, and potential.

The global dimensions of blackness were further compounded by Brown’s visit to Vietnam.  By going to Asia to entertain the troops, Brown was seen in the black community as a supporter of an extremely unpopular war, earning him the label of “Uncle Tom” from some critics (Brown, I Feel Good 156).  However, beyond the racial tensions within the United States over the war, James Brown witnessed first-hand the very real power of music to sonically overcome all cultural, political, and ideological barriers.  He remembers that during one show in Vietnam, while playing as loud as possible the constant sound of gunfire in the background had stopped: “Everyone knew what was going on.  The other side was enjoying our music just as much as our own boys.  In effect, the James Brown Revue had brought a temporary cease-fire to the war!” (I Feel Good 159).  Although his funk was able to do what so many bullets could not, the realities of war and its implications for racial politics on a global scale did not escape him.  He writes:

Although I was only in Vietnam for a brief time, I felt as if I now understood the world in a way I hadn’t before.  Being on the front lines had made me aware of just how endless the fight against racism really was.  I saw White men and Black men fighting Yellow men.  And it depressed and saddened me.  (I Feel Good 161)

It was this context in which James Brown returned to the United States to create an anthem of black empowerment and pride.

    Here again, Brown’s strategy of positive activism and faith in the future shines.  He writes that his hit “Say it Loud” is a children’s song: “That’s why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride” (The Godfather 200).  Ironically, Brown notes that many of the kids who scream “I’m Black and I’m Proud” on the track’s call-and-response chorus were not, themselves, black.  The multi-racial makeup of the children who proclaim their black pride, however, underlies the fundamental message of the song.  Blackness has become metaphysical: it is a symbol of mobility and opportunity, rather than shame or dejection.  In the song, blackness has no nationality—Brown has traded the patriotism of “America is My Home” for an affirmation of racial identity that encompasses the diaspora and beyond.  Racial difference is, therefore, rhetorically reconfigured as neither a solely political and ideological category, nor as essential intellectual and physical otherness marked visibly on the body.  Rather, blackness becomes defined as a lived knowledge, constructed through shared experience.  Therefore the antiphonal musical form of “Say it Loud” enacts a new relationship of identity in which, “the performer dissolves into the crowd.  Together, they collaborate in a creative process governed by formal and informal, democratic rules” (Gilroy 200).  The call and response pattern enacts mutual authorship, shared participation, and programmable identity.

While the song was often misread by whites as a militant, nationalist call to arms, Brown’s version of Black Power has more to do with economic improvement, community building, and self-sufficiency. He makes a simultaneous call for equality and economic independence, but consciously not for radical separatism: “Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves/ We’re tired of beating our heads against the wall, and working for someone else” (“Say it Loud”).  For James Brown the charge to “Be ready.  Be qualified.  Own something.  Be somebody” was not theoretical or hypothetical, but rather a lived praxis (Brown, The Godfather 189).  Early on in 1968 Brown bought his first radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee in order to ensure that there would always be a venue through which he would be able to make his voice heard.  Though he later ran into financial difficulties, Brown’s model of black entrepreneurship serves as a good example of how the tools and technology of oppression can be refashioned and used to liberate.  His message of empowerment came at a critical time not just in his own career, but also in American and world history.

     The fact that Brown’s development of funk music is simultaneous with all of these crucial global events is not surprising.  Funk is fundamentally future-music at its core.  In transcending national, cultural, and even human boundaries, the form of the song is replaced by the groove.  While a “song” remains trapped inside of formally divided sections (verse, chorus, etc.) the “groove” lives and breathes liberated repetition: organized sound unfettered from the restrictions of hierarchical European arrangement.  The static pulse of a continuously looped eight bars “give[s] the impression of the absence of overall formal division that is so typical of most funk” (Danielsen 41).  Funk emerged out of a musical recalibration that diminished the role of melody and subsequently introduced rhythm as the core of its vitality.  Kodwo Eshun writes:

Traditionally, the music of the future is always beatless.  To be futuristic is to jettison rhythm.  The beat is the ballast which prevents escape velocity, which stops music breaking beyond the event horizon.  The music of the future is weightless, transcendent, neatly converging with online disembodiment.  Holst’s Planet Suite as used in Kubrick’s 2001, Eno’s Apollo soundtrack, Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack: all of these are good records—but sonically speaking, they’re about as futuristic as the Titanic, nothing but updated examples of an 18th C[entury] sublime.  (67)

Therefore, it is in the extended groove that people are able to reorganize their identities and negotiate new ones.  Funk requires that “The ass, the brain and the spine all change places,” meaning that Pop music’s traditional listener-subjectivity is thrown out the window, and the erstwhile observer is abducted by the Mothership as a participant in antiphony (Eshun 150).  This profoundly mutinous call to reconfigure oneself through the call and response of polyrhythm is significantly a product of the cosmopolitan diaspora.

The funk phenomenon, however, was certainly not confined within the borders of the United States and the more places where it caught hold, the faster its evolution accelerated.  In 1968 James Brown had noticed that many of the kids in West Africa owned his albums, and carried them around with them, “What they would do is go into town and use a communal phonograph whenever they wanted to hear them” (Brown, I Feel Good 146).  This electribe formation, Eshun’s term for a communal audience amassed through technology (5), again points to the production of new participant-listener subjectivities brought on by the spirit of the groove-trance.  American soul music, along with the early funk grooves that were still being sold as soul, were taking over the world in just this way, for example in Nigeria:

By the end of the [1960s], soul had even eclipsed the popularity of highlife and other local styles, with James Brown as the reigning favorite.  There were important musical and symbolic reasons for Brown’s dramatic impact throughout Africa, and, as with Afro-Caribbean music, these illustrate the cultural role of the African diaspora in the construction of modern Pan-African identity.  (Veal 57)

This “Pan-African identity,” which had its origins in the decolonization of Africa—with Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana at the leading edge in 1957—was profoundly entwined with the civil rights struggle in the United States and the music, like Brown’s, which both propelled it and responded to it.  Just as Brown found inspiration in Africa, however, Africans were finding encouragement in America.

Fela Kuti, one of the most important musical proponents of this Pan-African consciousness, was a direct link to black Americans’ struggle, as he had witnessed it first hand.  In 1969 Fela took his band, at the time called Koola Lobitos, to the United States in order to “promote Africa in the United States and help the cause of the Afro-Americans” (qtd. in Olaniyan 25).  Only a year earlier Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and James Brown had released his monumental song “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”.  While previously Fela had been uninterested in politics despite, or possibly because of his politically active parents, it was on this trip that he encountered a historical and political perspective that appealed to him.  While in Los Angeles playing a show for the NAACP, Fela met Sandra Smith Isidore, a former Black Panther and political activist who became the musician’s mentor and teacher.  Fela writes:

Sandra gave me the education I wanted to know.  She was the one who opened my eyes.  I swear, man! She’s the one who spoke to me about […] Africa!  For the first time I heard things I’d never heard about Africa!  Sandra was my adviser.  She talked to me about politics, history.  She taught me what she knew and what she knew was enough for me to start on.  (qtd. in Olaniyan 30)

It might seem ironic that Fela only came to understand his own identity and heritage through the eyes of others, but as Paul Gilroy points out: “There has been (at least) a two-way traffic between African cultural forms and the political cultures of diaspora blacks over a long period” (199).  Another of those black Atlantic travelers who exerted his influence on Fela during his American sojourn was Malcolm X—though assassinated in 1965, Fela encountered his autobiography through Sandra during his 1969 trip.

    Malcolm X was “by the time of his death evolving a more secular philosophy that was equal parts black nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and Marxist-basted material/class analysis” (Veal 70).  Further, Malcolm X’s trips to Africa in 1964 and 1965 took him to both Nigeria and Ghana, where he met Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah—a friend of Fela’s parents and guest at their home.  The complex entanglement of all these political and cultural icons of the black power movements attests to the truly symbiotic relationships between and among black Atlantic cultures at the time.  Through Fela’s relationship with Sandra and his introduction to the American black power movement, he declared that he would ground his identity and his music in an African centered world, a philosophy he called “blackism” (Veal 269).

This rediscovered African-ness, it must be remembered, was deeply indebted to the ideologies of civil rights America, and as such its origins are truly diasporic in nature.  Thus even Africans themselves were engaging in a search for the African self.  Fela once remarked:

It’s crazy; in the States people think the black power movement drew inspiration from Africa.  All these American come over here looking for awareness.  They don’t realize they’re the ones who’ve got it over there.  Why, we were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th Street. (qtd. in Veal 71)

Upon his return to Nigeria in 1971, Fela began to play a very different kind of music with a very different attitude.  Kuti’s analysis of dress as a political code foreshadows his later song “Gentleman,” in which he critiques the internalized Western attitudes and colonial mentalities of men who wear a suit and tie in the scorching heat.  Over a hypnotic extended drum groove whose infrastructure is wrought from the recognizable sounds of uncut funk, Fela proclaims: “He put him tie, he put him coat/ He come cover all wetin hot!/ He be gentleman!/ He go sweat—all over/ He go faint—right down/  He go smell—like shit/ […] I no be gentleman like that!” (“Gentleman”).  However, this change did not come immediately, Fela and his group, renamed Nigeria 70, would have to put in countless hours before they finally developed the sound they would come to be known for, and built up an audience that wanted to hear it.

    Although he had coined the term “afrobeat” for his new style of music in 1968, before he left for the United States, it was not until several months after he got back to Africa that his new genre of music and political ideology took off.  Still in an experimental stage upon his return, his first political songs, “Buy Africa” and “Black Man’s Cry” were both released in 1970 and “feature stark ruminations on blackism over Africanized James Brown grooves.  His rhetoric on these songs is heavily influenced by African-American discourse” (Veal 85).  Similarly, Kuti’s themes in these songs—exhortations toward economic enfranchisement and racial pride—also resonate with the messages that James Brown was exploring contemporaneously.  Yet another comparison with the godfather of soul presents itself at this point: just as James Brown began buying radio stations in the United States in order to ensure a public space for black voices to present their perspectives, Fela Kuti established a club.  The Afro-Spot, located in Lagos, Nigeria—which was the center of West African musical production at the time—was a venue where Fela could guarantee his music would be heard.  Consequently this is where James Brown and his band first saw the band’s show.

     In December of 1970 James Brown found himself in Africa again.  When he played in Lagos at the Onikan Stadium Fela was in attendance, and after the performance Brown and the other JB’s sampled the local music scene (Veal 89).  In recalling his experience at the Afro-Spot Brown writes of the links between his music and the sounds he heard at Fela’s club; the image he creates is worth citing at some length:

While we were in Lagos we visited Fela Ransom Kuti’s club, the Afro-Spot, to hear him and his band.  He’d come to hear us, and we went to hear him.  I think when he started as a musician he was playing a kind of music they called Highlife, but by this time he was developing Afro-beat out of African music and funk.  He was kind of like the African James Brown.  His band had a strong rhythm; I think Clyde [Stubblefield] picked up on it in his drumming, and Bootsy [Collins] dug it, too.  Some of the ideas my band was getting from that band had come from me in the first place, but that was okay with me.  It made the music that much stronger. (The Godfather 221).

Though characteristically hesitant to admit any outside influence on his own style, Brown still rightly points out the effect that Kuti’s afrobeat had on his band and their musical approach.  The musicians that he mentions are significant figures not only in the funk movement, but also for the future of music on the whole.  Bootsy Collins, the Bassist for the JBs at that time, would go on to become an integral member of the seminal future-funk outfit Parliament, where he would lay the foundation for some of the most lasting grooves ever inscribed into wax.  Clyde Stubblefield, Brown’s drummer, made his contribution to posterity in another way.  As the backbone of the classic track “Funky Drummer,” released in 1970, Stubblefield’s drum solo was a cornerstone of the break, as used in hip hop, and it quickly became the most sampled piece of sound in music history.  Moreover, James Brown is acutely aware of the way in which the shared, syncretic origins of funk only redouble the music’s power through feedback.  However, for all of Brown’s widespread popularity in Africa and the profound interconnectivity between the civil rights struggle and Africa’s independence movements, conducted through Pan-African philosophy and the syncretic polyrhythms of funk, Nigerian audiences were not fluent in the codes of black power—at least not yet.

    Fela Kuti, after his return from the U.S., began greeting the club-goers at his Afro-Spot with the clenched-fist black power salute, “but there was no response from the crowd—because at that time, they did not know what a Black Power Salute stood for” (Idowu 39).  Although they were not immediately receptive, the Lagos audiences quickly caught on and within a short amount of time Fela had changed the name of his group from Nigeria 70 to Africa 70 in order to reflect his growing continental and diasporic consciousness.

Further reflecting this broadened concept of African-ness was the fact that he decided to stop writing music in his native Yoruba tongue in favor of singing his lyrics in Pidgin English (Veal 94).  This innovation, while symbolic, also had material effects.  Pidgin is a blend of English vocabulary and West-African syntax created partially through urbanization, which blurred traditional regional, ethnic, and linguistic borders by bringing diverse groups into close proximity with one another inside expanding city centers.  Therefore, the introduction of this syncretic, inherently cross-cultural dialect found a strong resonance with the poor, urban audience.  Ultimately, singing in Pidgin increased the accessibility of Fela’s music by “circumvent[ing] the customary identification of musical genres with specific ethnic groups and social classes, [and] linking his art with millions of English-speaking Africans across national, religious, class and ethnic boundaries” (Veal 95).  Further, as Olaniyan remarks, the fact that many African languages are tonal in nature bridges the gap between language and song (33), and in addition to Pidgin, Fela began using more extra-verbal, nonsense syllables in his singing style (Veal 95).  These tempo-nemes—by which I mean vocalized sound that keeps time or creates rhythmic statements—are closely related to the function of the Nigerian talking drum, and, consequently, are also a well noted aspect of James Brown’s signature vocal style.  The addition of a rhythmic parameter to the sound-signification axis, therefore, adds a new dimension of semantic capacity, encoded through traditional diasporic technology.  Paul Gilroy refers to this “dramaturgy, enunciation, and gesture—[as] the pre- and anti-discursive constituents of black metacommunication” (Gilroy 75).

Neither was this electribe commons formation a solely aesthetic or theoretical exercise, Fela lived this practice in numerous ways.  The changes Kuti made to his style and philosophy generated momentum, and his Nigerian audiences were learning to dig his Afro-diasporic consciousness.  Around this time (the early 70s) Fela and Africa 70 outgrew their previous home at the Afro-Spot and so had to move to a larger space, which they called the Africa Shrine in order to spread a specific message.  Fela thought that “the Shrine should be regarded as a place of worship for black people because it is not a night club where people go to enjoy themselves forgetting all the nagging problems around them” (qtd. in Idowu 41).  But this was no ordinary religious edifice, it was a highly politicized space oriented towards Pan-African education and revolution against colonial (and racial) oppression.  On the altar at the Africa Shrine there was a bust of Kwame Nkrumah, and photographs of Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba, and they sold books and speeches by these and other leaders like Cheik Anta Diop.  Additionally, Fela bought space in newspapers where he ran abusive and satirical columns about government figures and he “even formed a pan-African-oriented think tank, the Nigerian Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes, as an ideological resource pool” (Olaniyan 51, 78).

All this political activity, however, did not come without its repercussions.  Beginning in 1974, the Nigerian police and authorities conducted successive violent raids on Fela and his commune, where approximately seventy people lived at any given moment.  Though his compound had been under surveillance for quite some time, it was not until April 30, 1974 that the situation erupted beyond the usual harassment, like flying glass bottles, occurring at the nightly Africa Shrine shows.  That night more than fifty armed Nigerian police officers stormed into Fela’s residence unannounced on charges of “hemp peddling, drug addiction, and underage girls on the premises” (qtd. Olaniyan 52).  When they had thoroughly searched the house and came up with nothing, they were quite frustrated and hauled more than sixty people into jail anyway.  While most were released on bail the next day, Fela remained in Alagbon Close prison for eight days.  Twenty-four hours after he was released, the police returned to his compound yet again.  Dissatisfied with the results of their first search, and coming up with nothing on their second try either, the officers produced a stash of their own that they were going to use to frame Kuti.  As they held it in front of him, he knew that he had to seize any opportunity to disarm the situation.  In Fela’s own words, he recreates the moment: “I looked at it.  I was thinking fast, man.  Then suddenly, in split second—really fast!—I went for the paper, grabbed it and put it in my mouth and jumped on my bed, man.  I’d swallowed it!  I took the whiskey bottle by my bed, put it to my mouth and washed the shit down” (qtd. in Olaniyan 52).

The police promptly took him back to prison, where he was locked up and ordered to defecate only in a designated pot.  While he was locked in prison, his mother brought him fresh vegetables to cleanse his system, and he secretly used the communal toilet while the guards were asleep.  So when it finally came time for him to “produce” the evidence, his feces was absolutely clean.  Again, Fela’s own words best convey the tragic hilarity of the event, and are worth citing in full:

Ooh, see the commotion in the police station, man!  “Fela wants to shit!”  Helter-skelter!  Everybody looking for chamber pot—policeman, orderly, constable, everyone!  They all want Fela’s shit!  They took me to the backyard, put the chamber pot under my yansch [behind].  I shit.  When I look at my shit, man, it was clean like a baby’s shit.  Clean!  That’s how I got myself out of that shit that time, man.  The motherfuckers couldn’t charge me for any fucking thing.  No evidence!  (qtd. in Veal 140)

Upon his release, Fela composed a song which he called “Expensive Shit” that, in addition to the newspapers that also covered the story, publicized his trouble.  This altercation cemented Fela Kuti and Africa 70 as central figures in a new Nigerian counterculture.  The fact that the whole event literally revolves around Fela’s shit is significant because it represents the full-scale incorporation of funk into the style and music of Fela Kuti, as a response to the authorities’ attempt to control his basest bodily funtion.  He inverts the logic of incarceration by showing the government’s extreme desire for his excrement.  Rather than being a criminal, he held within his body the very thing that the government needed.  He is now in control, since he alone governs his own digestion; the police and jailers have turned his waste into a valuable commodity.  Therefore, the visceral, olfactory nature of his song “Expensive Shit,” which related directly to these events, truly represented a new sensory interaction with his audience: “Because humans have no noselids, they’re defenceless from rhinal attack.  Formless and pointless, funkadelia therefore invades through the nostrils and seeps through the nerves, setting inhalation at war with the body.  You breath in the putrefacation of the universe” (Eshun 54).  It is therefore through shit, ironically, that Fela simultaneously displays his master funksmanship and organizes his supporters into a certifiable counterculture.

It was through his experience with American counterculture in the 1960s that he began using marijuana in the first place, and although he mentions it in some places it remains unclear as to whether he participated in the use of psychedelic drugs, like LSD (Veal 71).  His marijuana use ultimately became one of the most recognizable symbols of his anti-authority stance, but he also explained it as an indigenous African spiritual practice, which he argued was a traditional sacrament.  Additionally, “At the Shrine, [marijuana smoking] fostered a sense of community, alternative reality, and intensified experience among attendants.  In the larger social scheme, it was one practice through which Fela’s subcultural community could enact its rebellious social vision” (Veal 133).

    Interestingly, the attack on Fela’s commune, rather than having the intended effect of closing down the Shrine and curtailing Fela’s political influence, had the opposite outcome.  The incident actually rallied his supporters by getting him more publicity and a hit record, both of which fostered his provocatively dangerous persona.  After Fela returned home from jail the second time, however, the police returned again and nearly beat him to death, fearing that they were going to lose their court case against him.  He was taken first to the hospital and then to jail later.  Again, the beating only reified his image as a martyr in the public’s eye, thereby giving him even more social clout.  When he was released from this stint, he renamed his commune “The Kalakuta Republic,” meaning “Rascal’s Republic” in Swahili (Olaniyan 56).  He put up electric fences, added security measures, and declared his autonomy from the Nigerian state, consequently crowning himself king of his new nation.

    The symbolism of all these events is profound.  First, it is telling that the Nigerian government and police were persecuting Fela and his followers for a spiritual practice meant to intensify community bonds and sensory awareness.  His communal living was clearly a threat to the kind of neo-colonialist order that they wanted to inaugurate in Nigeria after their Civil War.  However, the authorities’ continual failure to actually contain Fela and his use of marijuana, shows their lack of actual control, despite the severe ten-year jail sentence attached to the crime of possession, and the tyrannical penalty of death for cultivation of cannabis, at the time.  Clearly, it was the fear tactics, rather than an actual ability to enforce the law, which were meant to keep people from using “Indian Hemp,” as marijuana was then called in Nigeria.  Therefore, at the moment when the fifty armed policemen brandished the next decade of Fela’s life in front of his face in their attempt to frame him with marijuana they had brought, Fela decided that the only way to beat them, and the charge, was to overcome fear and introduce the herb into his own body.  In effect, he snatched the symbolic power out of the authorities’ hands and ingested it himself.  This moment of insubordinate triumph enacts the very behavior that the law forbids, and does so in plain sight of those individuals meant to maintain control.  Kuti was able to topple not only the authorities’ pretension to complete control, but also any remnant of colonial mentality in his mind.  Fela, for years, had argued that marijuana was not a drug, but rather “a natural, beneficial product of African soil, and an effective means of dismantling the colonial mindset” (Veal 133).  Clearly, this transcendent thinking was a danger to the government and its status quo.  Unfortunately, this event was not the last of Fela Kuti’s violent encounters with police.

    Similarly, James Brown’s crusade for diasporic racial consciousness and economic enfranchisement also earned him some trouble.  The fact that his song “Say it Loud” was taken up as an anthem of the black power movement, though it was more moderate than militant, was enough to cause concern.  After he helped to prevent riots in Boston the night after Dr. King was assassinated, he went to Washington D.C., where he delivered an address to the black community to try and assuage the pain of the tragedy.  After that, Brown suspects that he came under the watch of the authorities.  He writes:

There was a lot of suspicion, especially among the national police, the FBI, and the CIA about this so-called display of “Black Power” on my part.  Their thinking went something along the lines of, if he could stop a riot that easily (although how they came to think what had happened that night was “easy” I’ll never know), he could just as easily start one.  From that moment I knew I was put under national security surveillance.  I felt like there were government eyes everywhere, because there were.  Somehow, they were able to see me through TV, using some kind of special reverse X-rays or something.  I ran out and bought sunglasses to protect my eyes and my brain while I watched. (I Feel Good 152)

While at times his thinking may sound paranoid, Brown’s sentiments reveal something important about the nature of “National Security” and, more importantly, about surveillance itself.  By believing in the omnipresence of any surveillance effort, a person subjects him/herself to the constant fear of being “caught.”  Therefore, the subject supposedly being watched will then self-police him/herself.  Foucault makes use of the Panopticon model of the prison to elucidate this point.  In the Panopticon, one can be seen at all times, but cannot see the people who do the watching.  He writes: “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection” (Discipline 202-3).  Similarly, Brown imagines that “there were government eyes everywhere.”

    Interesting, however, is the nature of the television in his characterization.  Surveillance is a two way street.  He watches the screen while it watches him.  Further, there is a hint of sarcasm in his science-fantasy depiction of the television: “special reverse X-rays or something” are supposedly going to read his mind.  His solution is to buy sunglasses.  While this tongue-in-cheek fix points out the absurdity of the whole situation, it also suggests Brown’s own strategy for overcoming Panoptic anxiety: style.  Evoked through nuanced gesture, the fancy footwork, or the signature grunt and unmistakable “goodgod,” his style “signals a Refusal.  […] [T]he smiles and the sneers have some subversive value” (Hebdige 3).  The refusal spurns the self-policing fear of the control-society and manifests in music as funk.  While “reverse X-rays” might read the mind, funk operates as its own radiation therapy to ward off infection: “If you’ve got faults, defects, or shortcomings—you know, like arthritis, rheumatism, or migraines—whatever part of your body it is, I want you to lay it on your radio; let the vibes flow through.  Funk not only moves, it can re-move.  Dig?” (“P-Funk”).  The metaphor of funktification as medicine, whether preventative or curative, suggests its corporeal implications, but funk is also a holistic treatment, and therefore has a psychological component.

    Funk’s communicative power to incite new modes of listenership subjectivity, coupled with its diasporic origins, make it an effective technology for evolving consciousness beyond the limitations imposed by fear and shame.  Whether the vessel of those obstacles be called “the colonial mentality,” “the control-society,” or simply “racial discrimination,” style, especially in the context of funk, upsets the rhythmic order of the status quo by sonically joining its listeners into a powerful electribe.  To return to Foucault’s concept of power, and its modes of operation, it is essential to remember that no system of domination is ever complete, rather there are tenuous states of power which are ceaselessly produced everywhere and all the time.  Consequently, resistances to power also exist everywhere and “they too are distributed in irregular fashion: the points, knots, or focuses of resistance are spread over time and space at varying densities, at times mobilizing groups of individuals in a definitive way, inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior” (Foucault, History 96).  Funk, therefore, is primarily a technology for focusing human attention, and as such, it sets groups of people into motion.  What I earlier called the search for the African self is the very process of clustering nodes of resistance through the search for new and restructured identities.  Kodwo Eshun writes:

Atlantic Futurism is always building Futurhythmachines, sensory technologies, instruments which renovate perception, which synthesize new states of mind. […] Seeping in from the futurepast, it feedsforward in to the present, anachronizing everything it reaches. […] By mobilizing rhythms across the communication landscape, the Rhythmengine crosspollinates the eager fan, transmaterializes your sensorium through the onomatopoeic illogic called HipHop. (12)

The fact that funk provides so much of the raw material for hip hop is a further example of its futurism and inherent reproductive capability.  Therefore, the unfinished project of these musics, to reorganize subjectivity in an attempt to form larger and more powerful electribes, makes them perennially interesting and continually constructive.  In evolving beyond the traditional constraints of music which were once thought to be essential to its creation, such as the arrangement of the song, the originality of the author, or the virtuosity of the instrumentalist, these funky “Futurhythmachines” ask the participant-observer to imagine, and then become what is next.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Brown, James.  “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).”  Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).  Polydor, 1969.

 

---.  I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul.  New York: New American Library, 2005.

 

---, with Bruce Tucker.  The Godfather of Soul.  New York: Macmillian Publishing, 1986.

 

Danielsen, Anne.  Presence and Pleasure: The Funk Grooves of James Brown and Parliament.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2006.

 

Eshun, Kodwo.  More Brilliant Than The Sun: Adventures In Sonic Fiction: Concept Engineered By Kodwo Eshun.  London: Quartet Books, 1998.

 

Foucault, Michel.  The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction.  Trans. Robert Hurley.  New York: Random House, 1978.

 

---.  Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.  Trans. Alan Sheridan.  New York: Random House, 1977.

 

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

 

Gyekye, Kwame.  An Essay on African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme.  Revised edition.  Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995.

 

Hebdige, Dick.  Subculture: The Meaning of Style.  London: Routledge, 1979.

 

Idowu, Mabinuori Kayode.  Fela: Why Blackman Carry Shit.  Kaduna: Opinion Media Limited, 1986.

 

Kuti, Fela.  “Gentleman.”  Gentleman.  Creole, 1973.

 

Olaniyan, Tejumola.  Arrest the Music!: Fela and his Rebel Art and Politics.  Bloomington: Indian UP, 2004.

 

Parliament.  “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up).”  Mothership Connection.  Casablanca, 1976.

 

Veal, Michael E.  Fela: The Life & Times of an African Musical Icon.  Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we have explored the possibilities open to conscious­ness and personality, and the knowledge of them has become Common property, a new source of unrest will have emerged, will realize and believe that if proper measures are taken, no one need be starved of true satisfaction, or con­demned to sub-standard fulfillment. This process too will begin by being unpleasant, and end by being beneficent. It will begin by destroying the ideas and the institutions that stand in the way of our realizing our possibilities (or even deny that the possibilities are there to be realized), and will go on by at least making a start with the actual construction of true human destiny.

 

For instance, that beauty (some­thing to enjoy and something to be proud of) is indispensable, and therefore that ugly or depressing towns are immoral; that quality of people, not mere quantity, is what we must aim at, and therefore that a concerted policy is required to prevent the present flood of population-increase from wrecking all our hopes for a better world; [...] --“Transhumanism” by Julian Huxley (1957)

 

I liked this essay quite well, but I think there is a decided utopian shift toward the end--which for some reason I resist. Whether out of the paranoia for that security state that immediately presents itself inside of statements like "no one need be starved of true satisfaction, or con­demned to sub-standard fulfillment" or a genuine belief that so much indispensable beauty comes from some sort of pain and suffering, I don't know. I am very invested in the idea of overcoming the self and exploring the realms of human potential, but I also believe that humans are not only capable of experiencing great ecstacy, but also undergoing extreme trials. Would a move past our selves and our burdens necessitate some move beyond emotion in its full spectrum of manifestations?

 

What does "quality" of people really mean? the happiest people? Obviously not. But the arbitration of human *quality* is not something I am comfotable with. Aren't we after E-Kwalatee afterall? Indeed, life is a beautiful struggle. As long as this transhuman evolution begins (painfully, as noted) by transforming reality into something that is equally available to all, you can count me in.

 


 

(Invest in tinfoil hat manufacturers; it's the future of headgear!)

 

The great men of the past have given us glimpses of what is possible in the way of personality, of intellectual understanding, of spiritual achievement, of artistic creation. But these are scarcely more than Pisgah glimpses. We need to explore and map the whole realm of human possibility, as the realm of physical geography has been explored and mapped. How to create new possibilities for ordinary living?What can be done to bring out the latent capacities of the ordinary man and woman for understanding and enjoyment; to teach people the techniques of achieving spiritual experience (after all, one can acquire the technique of dancing or tennis, so why not of mystical ecstasy or spiritual peace?)

-“Transhumanism” by Julian Huxley (1957)

 

Very nice.

 


 

By the way, where is this wikifest going down? Are we meeting in the regularly scheduled place and then moving on?

 


 

After a long, frustrating week I'm back online. And in the name of not-quite-fall weather, I thought I'd go on a rant that reeks of Al Gore's signature cologne. Now that the leaves have turned (could anybody tell me how, since it has been 90 degrees!?) and the weather has finally cooled off, I noticed the University's staff this morning rounding up leaves with a tractor blowing air. I know this sounds ridiculous, but truth is stranger than fiction they say. Basically the strategy is to blow air from one side of the riding mower (which makes a hell of a lot of noise) and the driver rides around in a circle, which eventually rounds all the leaves up into a pile. The next phase of the leaf-removal-program is that a giant gas-sucking sucker-machine comes along and whisks the leaves away to some unknown location. Basically I'm wondering why? Why remove the leaves in the first place? Why do it with a tractor? Why suck them up with a giant leaf hose? It seems like the university might spend the money that goes towards GASOLINE for all those motorized vehicles on something a bit more worthwhile that doesn't poke holes in the ozone. What happened to rake technology?

 

Hacked! - David

 

 


 

 

I just finished reading the Clastres piece. Overall, I liked it. I like the notion of the existence of other ways to conceptualize work, and I think that those Puritans didn't know much about much--I'm also in a class on Colonial American Lit which is confirming this sentiment more and more every week (work ethic, shmirk ethic). However, I'm wondering if there's not a bit of nostalgia for the concept of the Noble Savage which only reproduces the ideas of cultural evolution that were (once upon a time) called the comparative method. Although it's a positive spin, it's still a positive spin on a framework that reproduces difference in a way that continually excludes cultural Others from "Western Modernity" (regardless of whether that's a good or bad thing in your mind). He takes for granted at the very beginning the "fact" that primitive societies lack a state. Although he says that this "fact" actually hides an opinion, he says that it is "accurate in itself." By reproducing the binary construction of Primitive/Modern, which is translated into different economic, social, and political manifestations, Clastres fails to question, at least here, the definition and origins of Modernity itself. While I think he gets to this eventually--though in a round about way--I think that his construction (modernity: bad, pre-modernity: good-- this might be a little overly simplistic) fails to account for the complex and multi-cultural origins of what we think of as "our" Modernity. The mutually constitutive, collaborative nature of modern systems, processes, and institutions is silenced in order to reproduce the modernity binary (which I've just mentioned) with the ultimate goal of harkening back to supposedly simpler times in many ways. While this geneology of the State and Class systems makes a good point about the primacy of political divisions, I'm wondering where and when people pre-existed any kind of division? or for that matter, when did humans--or other animals--predate power relations?

 

In my mind, I'm not sure this time has ever existed (or maybe I'm just misreading). However, I do see his point in that I believe that there must have been a watershed moment, marking a change in the operations of power dynamics. At some point the virtue of sustainability got lost. I think it has probably happened several times in human history, at different places, by different people, in different eras, and sometimes it may have even been regained, but I'm reluctant to assume that this rupture, or loss, or fissure is the marker of Modernity. If it is, maybe we ought to rethink our definitions, and then move on to a better idea: hopefully one that points us in the direction we want to go.


 

I Thought I was watching TV, but it turns out The TV was watching ME

Prophetic f'sho

YouTube plugin error

 


 

Ok, after a short hiatus (I don't know how to spell that, does this wiki thing have a spell check?-- ok, just consulted the web genie: it's cool, but SPCHK would be a good addition) I'm back without further ado after a pretty stressful week. Even though it was just a short paper I had due for another class, and a stack of grading on top of that, it's amazing how far away it can get me from my regularly scheduled programming. I need some Meta in that Programming, I think. Anyway, I'm going to be trying to start my promised SCOTTHERON&sql=11:0pfoxqwgldhe~T1Gil Scott Heron entry. I imagine it will be an ongoing project that I'll keep working on here. I've spent all morning trying to find video and sound clips all across the euniverse (e-universe?). I've found a couple of things out there that would be good material for the page, but what I was really looking for was a track from Gil's album The First Minute of a New Day called "A Talk: Bluesology/Black History/Jaws/The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" I thought loading it directly on the page might be a little bit of copyright infringement, but I thought if I could find it out there, at least it wouldn't be my fault for posting on the inter-web, eh?

 

Anyway, the lyrics aren't out there either because it's an improv-based reading of poetry interspersed with stand-up comedy-routine-style oration, in flux back and forth between registers and sandwiched, ultimately, on an album of MUSIC!

 

Ok, I just got distrcted with all my shmancy software, so I created a video and am currently am uploading it to YouTube. Hopefully I'll have it posted up here soon.

 

I think this a fascinating performance, not just for the aural pleasure of the high-quality word play, the hilarity of his analysis of horror movies, or the poignancy of his political commentary (all of these are fascinating as well), but also for the fact of its genre-blending (not just within the track) is performed live!

 

Because of my technological wanderings I've run out of time for more analysis, but I think I'll have the video up in time for the next installment. For now feast your eyes on this:

 

YouTube plugin error

 


Reading the history of Pirate Radio, the first thing that struck me was his description of the FCC's surveilance efforts. I took notice of this because I was browsing around the main site that hosted the "Psychological Operations" article we read for last week. It was a company that provides surveilance to people who ask for it, in order to find out if anyone's watching you. Under the "How do you know if you're being watched?" section one of the hints was that your TV or radio started acting funny.

 

Anyway, another aspect of the Pirate Radio article that I found interesting is the shifts in the popular bands, from AM to FM. I've grown up with almost exclusively FM radio all my life, where AM was reserved for "talk radio." When the author says that, "These were great days for WHOT, when music, fun and entertainment ruled the day." I couldn't help but wonder why fun and entertainment seem to be the enemy. However, the Pirate Radio phenomenon, from the description I'm reading, seems like something that couldn't actually happen today (at least in the same way). Not because people aren't creative or energetic or subversive or interesting enough to make it happen, but because the system of control is different. I don't think that the fear of getting caught is necessarily something that affects us more today than in the past (although, it's definitely possible) but I think that the way that our society shuts down operations like this is to exploit them for financial gains by forcing the margins/periphery to the center/mainstream in a way that strips it of much of its cultural capital. I kept thinking that if these guys were so popular and fun to listen to, why wasn't there any radio station after them to work for an FCC-licensed station. It seems to me that that is how we suck the fun out of things now: make them commercial, and glamorous, and popular... and lame. By taking things that people do for sheer pleasure and using them to turn a profit for somebody, something gets lost.

 

I guess my biggest question is why does the government care so much that these guys are playing some music and joking around on the radio? Maybe that's just a silly question.

 


 

Just reading up on some Creative Commons licensing tonight. Thought I'd give the html shznit a shot... here goes. Here are some of my favorite photos from Nicaragua that I took during a trip through CentroAmerica in 2006.

 

Taken at a beach on the Isla de Ometepe (one of the most beautiful spots on Planet BlueGreen).

 

 

 

During the Revolution in Nicaragua, Granada was the conservative's stronghold city.

 

Leon boasts Central America's largest cathedral.

 

 

 

Creative Commons License

 

 

 

 

This work is licensed under a

 

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License.

 

That's right. Use it, don't abuse it... well, abuse it if you really really want to. But let me know what happens.

 

 


 

I just wanted to post this mural from revolution-era Nicaragua. It's based on a real photograph taken by Orlando Valenzuela, who was and is a Nica journalist. I couldn't find the photo or his others (which are also incredible) probably due to copyright issues. Anyway, here it is.

 

la mujer liberada - the liberated woman

 


 

Brown-Eyed-Woman's post in response to mine, gives me a chance to ask a question that has been nagging at me a bit over the past couple weeks. I agree with the Foucauldian analysis of education and power, but I think it's a bit too easy to graft our perceptions of "specialized institutions" (like hospitals, prisons, and schools) onto people who live in another cultural world. While I recognize that these two spheres have much in common (they share one of the 5 continents if you ask any Nicaraguan) there are also significant differences. This is my question: when we talk about the "society of control" whose society are we talking about? It seems that we might be speaking about US-American culture, or maybe the "developed West" (whatever that might mean), or maybe just all technocultures, or... or... or...

 

From my experience, people in other places have a much different relationship to their government, work, schools, etc., so how does it change our thinking about the society of control when we put ourselves in a global context. As Deleuze said in our reading for last week,

 

But in the present situation, capitalism is no longer involved in production, which it often relegates to the Third World, even for the complex forms of textiles, metallurgy, or oil production. It's a capitalism of higher-order production. It no-longer buys raw materials and no longer sells the finished products: it buys the finished products or assembles parts. What it wants to sell is services but what it wants to buy is stocks. This is no longer a capitalism for production but for the product, which is to say, for being sold or marketed. Thus is essentially dispersive, and the factory has given way to the corporation.

 

So what about that Thrid World? Are we just dragging them along through the stages of our own development? Now that we are no longer buying raw materials from them, but rather finished or semi-finished goods, now that the factories have migrated south out of the US, can we see the Third World as version 2.0 of our up-to-date program, which will catch up if given the proper amount of time/bandwith? I think not. And I think that this type of thinking belies a certain amount of arrogance on our part. When children are not forced into school (more often they're forced into work instead, I suppose) and sometimes there's not even enough work, I think education comes to mean something different. Not that power works in a different way, or that Foucault holds no water outside Europe and N.America, but I think it's not insignificant that even those "specialized institutions" look different, are arranged differently, and operate according to other logics of institutional discipline. Basically, I'm wondering how these differences affect the ways in which we can think about others (or "Others") when we talk about the society of control-- where all people are not controlled equally.

 

 


 

 

As I read the instruction manual for psychological operations in guerrilla warfare, I began asking myself questions of a rhetorical nature (this being a class in rhetoric and all...). Who is the intended audience for this document? I'm not exactly sure how to answer that. At first I thought possibly members of the US military infiltrating communities of "Democratic Revolutionary" Nicagaguans. But as I read on, it seemed to me that this was unlikely because statements like,

 

It is a principle of psychology that we humans have the tendency to form personal associations from "we" and "the others," or"we" and "they", "friends" and "enemies," "fellow countrymen" and "foreigners,""mestizos" and "gringos."

 

definitely reinforced the fact that it is Nicaraguans who are meant to carry out these operations. The next logical thought might be too obvious to mention, but I will anyway. Why English? It seems as though there is a very strange tension in the document as to who is meant to read it and who is meant to act the part. Maybe this is just a translation of a Spanish-language document. I didn't see too much contextualization of the piece on the site itself. Maybe it's meant for exactly the group of people that are reading it now on the Internets...

 

Further, it seems that the (anonymous?) writer(s) of the document also operate under the principle that Nicaraguans are weak-minded, incapable, or only partially capable, of comprehending complex political situations. For example,

 

It is appropriate for the cadre (or the leader) to guide the discussion of a group to cover a number of points and to reach a correct conclusion. The guerrillas should feel that it was their free and own decision. The cadres hould serve as a private teacher. The cadre or leader will not act as a lecturer, but will help the members of the group to study and express their own opinions.

 

...that is, only if those opinions are the "correct" ones. It is also interesting how the recognizable forms of education and discussion are used here to indoctrinate-- maybe this shouldn't be that surprising-- when (ideally) the goals of education seem to stand in such firm opposition to it. Our education system, though, is definitely based on a philosophy of knowledge and society rooted in the US American versions of democracy, citizenship, and-- to a large extent-- capitalism. Another point in the piece where I see ethnocentric thinking is in the statement that,

 

Special attention will be given to the individual ability to discuss the objectives of the insurrection struggle. Whenever a guerrilla expresses his opinion, he will be interested in listening to the opinions of others, leading as a result to the unity of thought.

 

 

This sentiment seems to stem naturally from the idea that thesis + antithesis = synthesis. However, one of the beauties of the graduate seminar is that it has taught me that it doesn't work this way.

 

 

 


 

 

Ok, so I saw on the syllabus that we're to respond to the reading for the week. Sorry bout that. I suppose, though, that analog v. digital can connect to the section from Deleuze's Society of Control where he says, "Types of machines are easily matched with each type of society--not that machines are determining, but because they express those social forms capable of generating them and using them. The old societies of sovereignty made use of simple machines--levers, pulleys, clocks; but the recent disciplinary societies equipped themselves with machines involving energy, with the passive danger of entropy and the active danger of sabotage; the societies of control operate with machines of a third type, computers, whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy or the introduction of viruses." I'll have to deliberate further as to how electromechanical instruments are representative of the Disciplinary society, whereas Midi and digital samplers implicate us in the Society of Control... hmmm...

 

One thing that I did want to take up here from Deleuze was when he said that "The individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its own laws: first the family; then the school ("you are no longer in your family"); then the barracks ("you are no longer at school"); then the factory; from time to time the hospital; possibly the prison, the preeminent instance of the enclosed environment."

 

I want to also consider supposedly "public land" and wilderness areas as closed spaces. I suppose "natural area" only begins to have any meaning when contrasted to "non-natural areas" (the history of that distinction might be something for me to further consider). A few weeks ago we tried to have a little get together in the Alan Seager Natural Area that got broken up by park ranger surveilance. I suppose he's just doing his job, at least that was everyone else's rationalization, but what is the nature of that job? When lands are called public, but aren't really for the public, what is their use? There is definitely a very specific "family-values" orientation to the policing of wilderness, which I understand through a sustainability/conservation mind-set, but when rules come to exist solely to be enforced, something has gotten lost. I'll say more on this when I have some more time to write at leisure.

 


 

Are You Experienced?

 

This is my all-time-first-ever blog experience. As of now I'm not entirely sure what I ought to be writing, though I imagine the subject matter to be somewhere between abstract musings and quotidian occurences. Lately a lot of my mental energy has gone into researching and learning about ToneWheel Organs (hence the moniker) and the Leslie Tone Cabinets that help create the classic organ sound for jazz, blues, rock, soul, etc. There's just something about analog instruments and all-tube amplifiers that digital and midi just cannot replicate no matter how hard the engineers try. When the baffle (wooden box with vents) underneath the leslie's speaker spins it uses the dopplar effect to create a vibrato/tremelo/chorus effect by slightly raising and lowering the pitch (by throwing the sound around in a circle), though there are lots of imitations, none replicates the effect with accuracy.

 

Beyond looking at schematics for the kit that I needed to hook my new (1958) Spinet organ to the rotating leslie box, I have basically just tried to get back into the swing of things at school and get over this cold/flu thing that has taken over my body over the past few days. Everyone says it's better to get sick at the beginning of the semester than at the end, but I would rather not get sick at all. There's definitely something about Pennsylvania (or just Happy Valley) that my body doesn't like. I haven't ever been sick so often as I have been here.

 

To add something slightly relevant to our class topic (I'm sorry to have gone on so long if the whole thing was supposed to be), but I was watching Upright Citizens' Brigade on a DVD last night. Their stated goal is to wreak havoc on the citizens of Earth, which they do by surveiling everyone on the planet and inducing chaos. Mostly it seems like a Monty Python-esque sketch comedy show that ends up being pretty funny.

http://www.uprightcitizens.org/48/gallery/images/cassie_bg.gif

(the girlscout reads the unibomber's anti-government manifesto)

 

Hopefully I'll have more to say, well- more relevant things to say anyway, next time.

 

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