Sunday, May 15, 2016

Nathaniel Turner & Other Monsters

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Now a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with an introduction by Elizabeth Kostova and cover art by Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes, Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.

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Bop: M. Shelley’s Frankenstein

They say he had a son—in the lore after his death.
But he never knew a woman, nor a wife. He was
wed to the Son most pure. His diary he drank
fully while he was a child and worshipped
 him as a man. He plowed his brother’s field til he
was 21, ran away, returned father of his brother’s son.

Ya runnin’ and ya runnin’ but ya can't run away from yourself

At his wake they said he in the open casket had no son
to cry forgiveness before his sister’s coffin, I was
there—entangled in unsettling memories. My burden
heavy as an outsider at a Baptist send away. As I
sat indulgently quiet, the services ran on and on.
My residence in a more ethereal world, my mother
said his elder sister forgot my birth.  Aunt baldheads
plow with no handles, forget teary mementors.
My story of strife is well known. I was sixteen.

Ya runnin’ and ya runnin’ but ya can't run away from yourself

They did not know he had a son of his own creation. For
he had no wife that he consummated. He gave his son no
name, no identity that the son could claim, but ugliness.
He asked his father to give him beauty, for he had so much love
and no one on which to satisfy his desire. He knew only rage.
The father refused his love. Cold they left the world in flames.

Ya runnin’ and ya runnin’ but ya can't run away from yourself

Rudolph Lewis        24 June 2010  

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An Overview

In the last stanza I point to a particular film version (1994), in which Frankenstein's son is played by Robert DeNiro.

This Frankenstein film was in color and ends in the arctic.  It was difficult to discern who was the real rationalist, the real human, the real monster. This monster notion is questioned throughout the film. It is a deceptive classification: Is it man or man's creation that is monstrous?

It was shown how Frankenstein's son could be gentle, caring, and thoughtful (he was a reader, a reader of his father's journal). Frankenstein Junior is profoundly hurt, abandoned, injured. But he can kill also without feeling.

Turner of Southampton was also called "monster": his killing or ordering the killing of man, woman, and child is disturbing. Whites today in the environs of Southampton still view him through these lens. One can at one’s peril ignore this warning. The notion that slavery and all of its consequences is not felt or grasped then or now.
There too is this notion of "madness" that is explored in the film. There's the emphasis as well on beauty and ugliness and its recognition in terms of possessing a "soul." So there is a lot going on in the film and in the story of Turner. I have placed my own biography in the midst of all of that in the middle stanza, as a means of exploring family relationships.

Whether the poem encapsulates all of this is still up for question. The poem may still need work, some additions (deletions). I have the time and energy and interest to see the poem through this vision of the poem and Turner.

Loving you madly, Rudy

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Okay, Rudy, 

Your tying the Frankenstein story to Nat Turner is a stroke of genius   Anyone who cannot see the connection is being deliberately blind.  I had a sense that there might be a family history connection; this clears up some things.--Wilson

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Poetic Form: The Bop 

 A recent invention, the Bop was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization, Cave Canem. Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem.

The first stanza (six lines long) states the problem, and the second stanza (eight lines long) explores or expands upon the problem. If there is a resolution to the problem, the third stanza (six lines long) finds it. If a substantive resolution cannot be made, then this final stanza documents the attempt and failure to succeed.

Although it is a young form, the Bop already exists in variations. In addition to the three-stanza Bop, some have added a six-line fourth stanza, still ending on the refrain. A good example of how a Bop introduces the crisis at hand, is a poem by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, whose first book, Black Swan, features three Bop poems. One of them, called “Bop: Haunting," begins:

“In the evening she comes, her same unsatisfied self,
with the hard, smug look of salvation. Mama,
stop bothering me. When we argue, she says
what you’re saying is not scriptural.
You need to get back in your Bible.

In one dream, I slap her. I’m tired of her mouth.
I hate to see the evening
Sun go down”

In this case, the refrain “I hate to see the evening / Sun go down” appears at the end of the subsequent two stanzas, suggesting the mournful, blue tone of the speaker who, at the end, seems not to have found the solution to her “conjuring” woes.  

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Mass Lynching 1919

237 Forgotten in Arkansas

In 1919, after the end of World War I, Black sharecroppers in Arkansas began to unionize. This attempt to form unions, triggered white vigilantism and mass killings, that left 237 Blacks dead.

Towards the end of 1918, attorney Ulysses S. Bratton of Little Rock, Arkansas listened to Black sharecroppers tell stories of theft, exploitation, and never ending debt. One man by the name of Carter, explained how he cultivated 90 acres of cotton and then had his landlord confiscate the crop and all of his possessions. Another Black farmer, from Ratio, Arkansas said a plantation manager would not give sharecroppers an itemized record of their crop. No one realized that within a year of meeting with Mr. Bratton, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. would take place. In a report released by the Equal Justice Initiative, white people in the Delta region of the South, started a massacre that left 237 Black people dead. Even though the one-time death toll was unusually high, it was not uncommon for whites to use racial violence to intimidate Blacks.
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Black Hollywood Unchained  
Edited by Ishmael Reed 

In Black Hollywood Unchained, Ishmael Reed gathers an impressive group of scholars, critics, intellectuals, and artist to examine and respond to the contemporary portrayals of Blacks in films.  Using the 2012 release of the film Django Unchained as the focal point of much of the discussion, these essays and reviews provide a critical perspective on the challenges facing filmmakers and actors when confronted with issues on race and the historical portrayal of African American characters. Reed also addresses the black community’s perceptiveness as discerning and responsible consumers of film, theatre, art, and music. Contributors to this collection are: Jill Nelson, Amiri Baraka, Cecil Brown, Halifu Osumare, Houston A. Baker, Tony Medina, Herb Boyd, Jerry Ward, Ruth Elizabeth Burks, Art Burton, Justin Desmangles, Jesse Douglass, Jack Foley, Joyce A. Joyce, C. Leigh McInnis, Heather Russell, Harriette Surovell, Kathryn Takara, and Al Young.

Black Hollywood Unchained—Once again Ishmael Reed demonstrates prescience in creating a forum for discussion of the American mindscape and some of the pathological critters that range so freely in it. Readers who wish to engage in critical thinking about aesthetics and cognitive manipulations, about sinister and thoroughly racialized discourses in our nation, can profit greatly from reading BLACK HOLLYWOOD UNCHAINED.—Jerry W. Ward Jr.

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The Border That We Keep

Lynchings--A century ago, in 1916, a Wisconsin newspaper remarked: “That there are still lynchings in the far west, especially along the Mexican border, would hardly seem to be open to question, although they escape the average collector of statistics. The subject is one that invites searching inquiry.” For more than 80 years, from 1848 to 1928, systemic analysis failed to assess the lynching of Mexicans that took place in the United States. There was very little scholarly concern for Mexican lynchings during this time, and the resultant models that sought to explain the mob violence that Mexicans suffered did not really exceed the narrower, racial focus on blacks in the South. 

A conservative estimate finds that nearly 600 Mexican lynchings took place between 1848 and 1928 in the U.S. Historians put forth this number with a word of caution: the definition of lynching has changed so much over time that an accurate collection of mob violence data is practically impossible. Used here, the term “lynching” indicates an act of murder that is retributive and/or committed by a person or persons claiming to act on behalf of the interests of justice, tradition, and the community or common good. Even despite all efforts towards a working definition of lynching, a precise count of Mexican victims is generally considered impossible to render.

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The Niggerization of Palestine
By Jonathan Scott

The parallel between the nature of Israel’s establishment in 1948 and the Anglo-American extermination of the indigenous population, the Native Americans, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is clear and many Palestinian scholars have always stressed it. In 1948 Israeli Zionists executed a genocidal war against the Palestinians, the style of which would have made Joseph Conrad nod in instant recognition. Recall his description in Heart of Darkness of the murderous British imperialism let loose in the Congo: “They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale.” 

More than 800,000 Palestinians, or 80 percent of the indigenous population, were forcibly expelled from their land and the ripest parts of it, the beautiful and bustling port cities of Haifa, Jaffa, and Akka, immediately confiscated by Israeli Zionists and set aside for Jews only. Palestinians had fled in horror after having either witnessed first-hand the massacre of fellow townspeople and villagers or heard the stories of the hundreds of neighboring towns and villages razed to ground by Zionist militias, who murdered everyone refusing to abandon their homes. 

Many works of Palestinian historiography are available that document these basic facts, and there are several classic works of Israeli historiography that do the same, which came out of the 1980s period in which a great deal of declassified material was released by Israel. See in particular Rosemary Sayigh’s Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries and Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians; for the Israeli accounts, see Benny Morris’s The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem and Simha Flapan’s The Birth of Israel. These Israeli scholars use the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the establishment of Israel and its dispossession of the Palestinians. By the logic of the Israel Lobby, these Jewish scholars are guilty of “anti-Semitism” and worse are “self-hating Jews,” even though both scholars are actually staunch Zionists.  


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