Saturday, August 12, 2006
It was released years ago, and I was living and teaching in Florida at the time, at Florida International University.
I was walking through a department store in West Miami, and walked by a bank of TV sets on sale, electronic doodads, cell phones, video games, whatnot, and this video, "Days Go By" was playing on one of the wide screen TVs.
Very cinematic piece: a Black man in a business suit, yet, oddly, also wearing beat up old sneakers (high top 'Chucks'?) with duct tape wrapped around one sneaker, arrives out front of a diner somewhere in what looks like West Los Angeles, California. Palm trees ubiquitous and somewhat cadaverous in the back ground, traffic, sun beating down. It's a lightweight suit. Tie. Suspenders underneath. He's carrying a boom box and a folded up section of cardboard. He lays the cardboard down on the ground. The music from his boombox is a very mournful sort of corrido--a Mexican song of lament and grief. It has a very African beat, driving beat, but not mindless thumping--a heartbeat. Organic. Soulful. He starts to dance on the cardboard--break dancing, the robot, the electric slide, Arabic pirouette. Passersby stop, and watch him, wondering what is going on here, and engaged, made curious by the beauty of it.
A woman says to a man standing there "There he goes again." The looks at her. A sub titular text flashes over the images--"He shows up same day every year, and dances from sunrise to sunset." It is the woman whispering to the man about the dancer. "I heard," the woman and the subtitle (in the longer version of the video) continues as the dancer dances, "It's some kind of ritual. He used to dance here back in the day." Another man walks up, watching. He contributes to the discussion, saying, "They were in love. But he couldn't stop. So one day she left. No one knows where she went. I heard she got struck by lightening." The woman says, "I thought she got hit by a truck." The man says, "Yeah, well, whatever, she just didn't show up." The subtitle then intrudes again, over the image of the dancer: "Now he dances to bring her back. End of story."
All the while the Black dancer is dancing gracefully, with a striking kind of dignity; a ritualized, stylized dancing with elements of break dance, locking, street dance, and Arabic dance. In one startling passage of the video (a wonderfully done transition shot rather than a more conventional cut) he transforms into his younger self in sweat clothes, achieved by the older man jumping backward out of the frame and the younger dancer jumping back in: old, red sneakers with tape repair and the pant legs of a suit are replaced by brand new sneakers, and the legs of sweatpants. Thence, there comes a short flashback sequence of him as a boy with the lost lover.
The lyrics of the song are also being sung throughout all of this (very multi-media):
You are still a whisper on my lips/A feeling at my fingertips/That's pulling at my skin/
You leave me when I'm at my worst/Feeling as if I've been cursed/Bitter cold within/
Days go by and still I think of you/Days when I couldn't live my life without you/Days go by and still I think of you/Days when I couldn't live my life without you/Without you/Without you
A subtext of the video narrative is the intermittent cut to the members of the group, Dirty Vegas themselves, who are sitting in shadow, under the awning of a bodega, across the street from the dancer, watching. The quality of their gaze is in fact quite intense; it is as if they are seeking an essence, but not in the usual, racist, exoticizing of Black culture that White pop groups indulge. Rather, they seem to be moved by what they see, and are very much watching, and unlike the other watchers who are much closer to the dancer, Vegas seems to also be SEEING. The distinction between WATCHING and SEEING permeates the spiritus of this video, making a profound point about the nature and culture of multiculturalism-- the reality, not the bullshit product of mass media babble. The sense of insight and of compassion that is the gaze of the video itself is the next frame outward from the gave that is the gaze of Dirty Vegas. The gaze of the sidewalk audience is a third level of the gaze, while there is even an intimation that the dancer himself exerts a gaze, and has a POV (his gaze fixes momentarily, upon people in the sidewalk audience as one of them makes a more overtly dumb comment) but he never breaks his reflexivity; he dances and maintains his primary concentration upon that dance, while offering a mask of detachment to the outside world. One other moment of his breaking through that frame of spectation focused upon him, from which he is seemingly detached, is when he suddenly shoots his gaze across the street at the members of Dirty Vegas who are watching him. This is ambiguous, however, for a sudden cut shows him now looking at the younger version of his lost love, whose ghost stands before him. The denouement of the narrative then has him transforming again into his younger self, creating the impression that they two are reunited, but, no. He walks away, as the younger self, carrying the boom box with him, but alone. She is gone.
I remember that I was frozen by the spectacle of this video. I saw it as performance art. It was galvanizing. Everybody in the store around me near enough to see and hear this video stopped like me, watching. This achieved an eerie sort of performance art effect reminiscent of the kind of existential effects of the works of Warhol, Duchamp, or of Judy Chicago: dig, there was a supraliminal frame added to the several frames of spectatorship INSIDE the video, and that was this last frame OUTSIDE the video--the frame constituted by myself and the people in the department store who were stopping to look at the video. I noticed how we were mirroring the sidewalk audience INSIDE the spacetime of the video (Life imitating art?). Like the people inside the video watching the dancer, people in the store watching the video, looked wistful, even touched by the video's spectacle and narrative. Mostly Cuban Americans and Haitians, of course, because this was West Miami.
I felt sort of pierced by it this video. I was in love with and living with an Italian-American girlfriend (Peri Giovannucci) at the time; a very stable long-term relationship, but this image of the dancing Black man made me feel a hollow place in me where I missed Black women I had loved in the past.
Anyway, I recently saw this video again when it became widely available for download on the Internet--it's a cult video apparently.
It still creates in me a surprisingly strong feeling of ennui. Dirty Vegas is as much a performance art group as a pop group, a very interesting group of people. Their presence in the video, in the shadow of a street bodega, is fascinating. Are there intimations of the omniscient POV of the gaze of the ancient dramatist, Euripides, who often appeared as a character in his own dramas, bearing symbolically the gaze of the author?
DIRTY VEGAS VIDEO, "Days Go By":
Thursday, April 20, 2006
But, guess what? Dr. Perri Giovannucci has given me the seal of approval on my "response to Coach". She wrote to me, saying:
"The mere fact that I use language to communicate ideas does not make me language's bitch." Oh my God, [Ray,] these must be the most brilliant words in the English language today! How Foucauvian! How Barthesian! I LOVE IT!!! I would place it in the footer of my email template so that it would go out on every email I send -- except that I'm looking for a job and have to communicate in a properly bourgeois manner with all the proper bourgeois out there!! But I warn you now, I will steal this and use it every chance I get! Way to go, Waller! You go, boyfriend! Love, P.
So, the rest of the pharisees out there can all go jump, you feel me? I can speak in as many voices as I want to, so there. Somebody approves, so screw you if you don't. Language is a glove, and if it fits, you must acquit. I am free to try on voices, flex my fingers, try on another one, make a fist, put on yet another, and wave goodbye. I done got some props from my ex breezy up in here, and I intend to continue to represent! As St. JErome said, Amor ordinem nescit and as Santa Clause's Old Lady said to the elves to keep up their spirits in hard times like these, adeste fidelis. So, adeste fidelis to those of yawl who know what I'm talking about, and the rest can eat shiznit.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Professor Waller, I enjoyed your interview on the Atheist Hour. You showed your ability to reason under fire, which is a very tough thing to do. I was quite surprised to hear that you do not have a worldview. A worldview is a collection of beliefs that one holds as one's presuppositions. A person interprets all the evidence gathered through her senses in the light of her worldview. I would say that it is impossible, as a sentient being, to not have a worldview: "The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group." (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=worldview) How can someone not have a worldview.
Now, would you say this claim of yours (that it is not possible to not have a worldview) is a self-evident claim? Is it an a priori claim? Or, is it a predicament of language (I tend to think that the illusion language gives us that we are actually organizing the universe into definable catagories often misleads us into thinking we are making sense of things when in reality we are not making sense because there is no sense to be made)? I assume that you are too intelligent (I like your use of the indefinite pronoun, 'she' which implies that you are either a woman and thus a superior intellect, or a man who is sensitive to language) to say that your claim is biological (that way lay Hitler).
I'll tell you why I refuse to accept the idea that I must have a 'worldview', which I had hoped I'd implied strongly enough on the pastor's show, but of course, again, language often double crosses or at least fails us. I am PROFOUNDLY suspicious of this claim, in English, mind you, that I must have what you called "a collection of beliefs that one holds as one's presuppositions". First of all, why should I assume that they are MY presuppositions? Aren't they the presuppositions of the society and social sub group(s) to which I belong and which have conditioned my ideas, thoughts, values, and the like? In a sense, really, one cannot EVER have a worldview of one's own, since one's worldview is always that of some arbitrary social milieu.
Please don't imagine that I am just playing with language here, either, because I am quite serious. Logically, you will claim that having just said all I've said, I have in fact declared a worldview. Aha! See the slippery nature of language? How it defeats us? Linguistically, I cannot in fact claim to not have a worldview because the way in which grammar works will conspire to make me affirm the negative claim I make in the very act of making it. I will undo my own claim in uttering it. That's only a linguistic reality, however, I'd argue. And I'll take this idea even further: why should I not demand to be unmolested by the typically unsubtle English of "worldview"? What about the french, "approche globale", which translates as 'worldview' but notice how the French term eliminates the English-implied imperious gaze from above or without, in recline, and how the French language turns the phrase into an active rather than passive description--a 'global approach' not a 'view' as if from a rise or a remove. Then there is the wonderful Italian, "visione del mondo", which means something like 'vision of this world'. As is always the case with Italian, there is far more of a sense of poetry, imagination, and what Spanish speakers call "mente" (reflection, reflexivity) in this phrase.
You see, like so much else that happened between the pastor and me in our discussion, he compulsively tried to force, to superimpose his beliefs, his assumptions, his language, and HIS 'worldview' (concretized, fixed, and handed down from on high) onto me without my permission or even my own input. This is typical of contemporary American Christians of the Protestant type, I have found in my interactions with a wide range of people, including all sorts of Christians. Indeed, every religious group seems to have elements of this sort of force and domination at least at its edges or enscounced in its fundamentalists.
I don't have a worldview. I reject that idea, as is my right--I reject it's Anglophilic mentation and point of view, as well as the cultural smallness of its usage. Such is my right. The mere fact that I use language to communicate ideas does not make me language's bitch.
Professor Ray Waller
Thursday, January 19, 2006
As someone who has done time in Miami (City of the padded shoulders, I call her--I lived there for nearly a decade), I still feel tied to the place, try as I might to clear my head of the art deco faces and poolside souls that float along Bird Road, sit stark still in sweaty exile in the stalled traffic of Highway One in South Miami, and hurtle down the Dolphin Expressway inside the freezer-cooled, sealed consciousness of Mercedes.
Even the supermarket parking lots are done in pink motif.
But Elian Gonzales be damned, it's in my blood for the rest of my life, that place, and I'll always miss Hialeah, and the Japanese dive I hung out at with Tony and Perri on Douglas Rd., and the blue skies like the face of Prozac, and so it is for any of us who ever lived there in paradise for a time. I am dying a slow death from three years now of missing real cafe cubano, my beloved media noches, and Little Havana's garish ethnic arrogance that spills West from the shadows of downtown skyscrapers along Eighth Street to crash right through the pretentious charms of Coral Gables with its nerve to exist right in the middle of Miami and yet have streets with names like Galeano and Phoenetia and Ponce DeLeon in sharp contrast to the rest of Miami whose streets are numbers not names (Coral Gables is my former 'hood', a place where GM executives, former Guatemala CIA-backed torturers and airline executives retire to) and on and on westward until it is no longer Little Havana in body but only in spirit, past the "Pasta Factory", past a hundred dollar stores and outdoor laundromats run by plaid wearing older gentlemen named Ignacio, past Florida International University (where I used to teach--greetings, Don Watson, I miss you, Jefe!) before hurtling in spirit into the maw of the everglades to die in the open jaws of an alligator.
Elian be damned, I miss that place, for all its corruption, hideous cruelty, and shameless insanity. Imagine LA without the restraint (yeah. it's that insane).
So when things happen there, I have an opinion about it. A while back, a Black Miami politician named Arthur Teele committed suicide in the lobby of the Miami Herald by putting a gun to his head and shooting himself after telling the security guard there to tell a Herald reporter named Jim Defede to tell his (Teele's) wife that he loved her.
No. I' am not making this up. It's better than both the screenplay and the novel I wrote about Miami while I was there, so I wish I HAD made it up.
Max Castro wrote about this incident, and the political corruption that infected Teele and led him astray and toward this uniquely Mimai (neon) method of self annihilation. But Miami is MY city too. Part of me sees it as my home, Pastor Cook help me. When I read the piece in Progreso Weekly by Castro, once-and-future columnist for the Miami Herald, I had an opinion of my own. I take exception to one small aspect of what he writes, though I agree with his general attack on Miami corruption. Below is a response I wrote and sent to Progreso editors. Don't know if they will publish my response to Castro or not.
But you get to read it here. Ain't you lucky.
To the Editors of Progreso Weekly:
I disagree with Miami journalist Max Castro that Arthur Teele's death is proof of the 'multicultural' nature of corruption in Miami. Castro claims that,
The Teele tragedy is not a story about “Another Black Man Done in by Media and
the Establishment,” as some would like to portray it. It is a tale about the
equal opportunity, gloriously multicultural and immensely seductive nature of
our corruption. It’s the one area in which we in Miami have achieved absolute
parity. Arrogance and greed, your name is Humberto Hernández, Demetrio Pérez,
Howard Gary, Cesar Odio, Alex Daoud, Miriam Alonso, Alberto Gutman, Miller
Dawkins, Jimmy Burke, Donald Warshaw, Dan Paul and…Arthur Teele, may he rest in peace. Black and white, Anglo and Latino, Jew and Gentile, there are no barriers
to misfeasance and malfeasance here, no need for affirmative action or
set-asides where graft is concerned. (Castro, Progreso Weekly, Aug, 2005)
Is Castro serious? I lived several wonderful, frightening, incredible, horrific, beautiful, and insane years in Miami and every year I lived there as an undervalued, underpaid, and powerless university professor in a racist and anti-intellectual city, only served to strengthen my conviction, from my Black perspective, that three things are inescapably true about Miami:
1. That there are few places on Earth more astonishingly beautiful than Miami—from the weather, the endless sky, and the dreamlike blue ocean, to the quality of the light that I woke up to every morning and the clarity of the stars in that tropical celestial sphere every night.
2. That the utter cruelty, brutality, venality and corruption, the materialism, and self aggrandizement not only of politicians and the wealthy, but infecting all levels of social life in Miami all the way down to the working class and the poor, is breath taking and disheartening enough to kill the optimism of even the most devoted of Samaritans.
3. That my own people, Black people, are virtually invisible in the echelons of every single institution of power in Miami, from civil to economic to intellectual, other than the roles they play there as in every other modern American city, as the inevitable gladiators of the sports industry, the singers and dancers of the entertainment industry, as a handful of corrupt politicians, and as a small portion of the Black clergy that is comfortably connected to mass media influence.
‘Multicultural’ is not a word I would ever apply to the Black experience in Miami, not even in terms of crime. Arthur Teele’s horrific death is but another nail for the box I’ve buried my Miami experience in; his death does exemplify exactly the “story about “another Black Man Done in by Media and the Establishment, as some would like to portray it” that Castro says it isn’t.
Teele, a Black Miami city councilperson indicted on ethics charges, accused the Miami police of stalking him, was despairing of the negative publicity he was receiving in the Miami local media due to rumors that he had been involved in extra-marital homosexual activities. After the apparently sympathetic writings of Miami Herald reporter, Jim Defede, who questioned the actions of Miami police in his Herald column, Teele apparently felt that Defede was someone he could appeal to and trust. On the last day of his life, Teele called Defede to talk about his despair, and ultimately ended up going to the Miami Herald’s offices where he shot himself to death in the newspaper’s lobby.
Max Castro’s article, published in Progreso (Progreso Weekly, Aug 4-10, 2005) claims that this tragedy exposes the paradisiacal image of Miami as being no more than a veneer over a ‘darker’ Miami; a Miami of deep corruption, a Miami of ‘multicultural’ vice:
magical realism had given way to noir, and the paper’s front page featured a
photo of Arthur Teele sprawled on the floor of the Herald building, his head in
a pool of blood. Wednesday morning’s festive, folkloric take on Miami was
overtaken by the night’s events, which lay bare another side of the city, an
ugly and brutal one, and the reality of real power versus the purported power of
the pen. The real city (Castro, Progreso Weekly)
True, so true. The long list of multicultural names of the corrupt that Castro mentions in his article, however, includes people who definitely did not end up dead in a pool of blood on the floor of the lobby of the Herald.
And there's the rub. Yes, Black men participate in America's corruption, and among Black Miamians are Blacks who are venal, selfish, racist, and materialist, and it seems that even in Miami, some Black leaders manage to rise to the top of the corruption heap; and in fact that is exactly when American corruption stops being a trough and becomes, in Max Castro's words, a VISE--that crushes the heads of Black men, I might add.
It's the oldest sub-plot in the American epic: just when Blacks (or browns, or yellows, or women) begin to successfully play the corrupt but lucrative American political and economic 'game' the rules change, or, in the case of Teele, the allegations of sexual misconduct emerge. In the American lexicon, it's not 'corruption' until Black, brown and yellow hands begin to do it.
Lest we forget, the weapon of alleged sexual scandal was wielded even against our most (seemingly) upstanding Black leaders, such as M. L. King, who, shortly before his assassination was threatened by the FBI with the release of photographs of himself allegedly having sex with women other than his wife. According to declassified COINTELPRO files, we know that such photographs were reportedly sent to King's wife by J. Edgar Hoover. As I sit in Detroit writing this, on the anniversary of MLK's birth, It is not difficult at all to imagine, regardless of evidence of Teele's corrupt activities such as money laundering (in fact perhaps because of them), that he too, may have been victimized by law enforcement officials seeking to destroy his legitimacy within the Black community.
Teele's claims of being followed by police officers, seemingly accepted as true by Jim Defede, and Teele's abrupt disintegration into dementia and then into suicidal despair seem all too familiar from where I sit, in Detroit, as a Black man in America. Right here in Detroit not long ago a prominent member of the Black community, a political leader in the state democratic party, Melvin Hollowell, was publicly disgraced by charges of sexual misconduct. As Detroit’s local independent weekly, the Metro Times reported:
Two weeks ago, the Detroit Free Press published two long,
front-page stories that graphically destroyed the career of — and probably
immensely damaged the life of — Melvin Butch Hollowell, a man who is not an
elected official or on the public payroll, and who has been convicted of
He has, in fact, been charged with only a low-grade
misdemeanor. But they ran these stories, with large headlines (“Hollowell
accused of picking up hooker” and “Police report: Woman says Hollowell paid her
$60 for sex”) because they involved a prominent person and gave them an excuse
to write what amounted to soft porn disguised as journalism.
The newspaper described the supposed sex act in especially graphic detail in its
earlier outstate editions, basing the account on what the “known prostitute,”
also identified as a heroin addict, told police. (Hollowell denied doing
anything except stopping to help a woman he thought was in trouble.) (Jack
Lessenberry, Metro Times, 9/1/2004)
Mister Hollowell had to resign his position as a leader in the state democratic party as a result of his public humiliation.
Am I defending corruption? No. I'm simply pointing out the second oldest sub-plot in the American epic: when the Negro ends up dead his death itself becomes proof of how 'equal' we all supposedly are if not in any other way (and indeed, the "State of Black America Report," the Bureau of Statistics, FBI crime reports, national morbidity and mortality rates, and all other objective measures of Black life in this hell of urban America shows that we are not equal in any other way), then at least we are equal in terms of corruption.
Bull. As a former resident of Miami for eight years, living there as a Black professor, writer, journalist, and intellectual, I had long maintained that the hypocritical double standard that former Miami Mayor Joe Suarez was held to (they went so far as to question his manhood in the pages of the Miami weekly, New Times, which I publicly denounced the Times for doing--my letter of protest was printed in the Times) was a double standard that demonstrated that Whites in Miami saw no contradiction in 100 years of white corruption being rewarded (i.e. the elevation of corrupt oligarchs like Henry Flagler to the status of gods) while Latino corruption (or even the appearance of it, as was often the case with Suarez) is bitterly denounced. Must Max Castro be reminded that the St. Augustine Record, in 2002 reported these fateful words:
Flagler worth $100 million at death
On May 27, 1913, just a week after his death, the will of Henry M. Flagler - who was said to be worth $100 million - was made public.
The document created a trust designed to keep his businesses running and to ensure the continuance of Flagler's policy in Northeast Florida.
while this is a headline at Mr. Teele's death:
Arthur Teele Dies After Self-Inflicted Gunshot
POSTED: 6:32 pm EDT July 27,
UPDATED: 12:07 pm EDT July 28, 2005
MIAMI -- Former City Commissioner
Arthur E. Teele Jr., recently indicted on corruption charges, died after
shooting himself in the lobby of The Miami Herald building Wednesday,
Teele shot himself in the head shortly after 6
p.m., police said. The Herald said it happened just after he asked a security
guard if he could see columnist Jim DeFede.
"He said to tell
DeFede to tell his wife he loves her," the security guard, Feliz Nazco, told the
Delrish Moss, the Miami police spokesman, said Teele
died at 7:50 p.m. at Ryder Trauma Center. (NBC6, South Floria---NBC6.net)
Would Max seriously claim that these two Miami big shots, Flagler and Teele, are comparable as examples of the multicultural nature of American corruption (and of its spoils)?
I doubt it.
Another thing I ultimately am, and I'm more sure of it than ever, is agnostic. Not atheist, which I can't help but regard as the other side of the same coin as theism, but agnostic. I don't believe we puny humans (as Klatu would call us) can or will ever know the nature of the existence of God or Gods, and we cannot either confirm or refute the existence of God or gods. We just simply don't know enough of anything to even begin to test, seek out, or verify/repudiate such a thing as a creator of the universe. By the way, I doubt we are even correct in our assumption that there IS a "universe". That word is a conceptualization, a name, that we affix to the pitifully limited portion of the spacetime continua we think we can percieve. Electro-magnatism, gravity, the strong and weak forces, poor little Einstein, the smartest of all we puny hairless monkeys trying to create a 'unified field theory' to account for these ideas (ideas that probably are laughably far from the 'real', the actual '(T)truth' of existence, anyway) and Stephen Hawking gliding around in his steel auto-didacto chair, his spooky, synthesized voice mocking even the assumption that we CAN ever 'know' anything.
I was interviewed a couple nights ago by Pastor Gene Cook, a Man-of-God whom I must confess (pun unentended) I like, and whose radio show, "The Aetheist's Hour" plays on 'Unchained Radio' out of California--San Diego. Quite an experience to be grilled by a 'believer' and by the various 'believers' who called in during my segment with the pastor. You can dowload my interview at the Unchained website:
but be warned, you'll have to register with the website first. Registration to become a user is free. Callers called up and challenged me about my a-theism, and about my uses of languguage, and it was no walk in the park. I had to defend myself. It was a good experience. Made me have to think consciously and by the seat of my pants about what I think and what I wish to defend. I gather I must come off to some people as uncertain WHAT I think. People kept telling me I have a certain 'world-view', which I feel a visceral repugnace about: what is a 'world-view' and which 'world' were they accusing me of viewing? If I hold one view at this instant does that preclude me from holding some entirely other view the next? Is that in fact, a view in itself? Does that question even make sense?? As Heisenberg wrote:
The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.
--Heisenberg, uncertainty paper, 1927
The right to think anything and everything at once. That's what I stand for, that's what I defend. Not meaning to sound like Marcel Duchamp, but I'm afraid that's what it really boils down to for me: I'm a marxist, an agnostic, a Duchampian radical Incompleteness Theorum/Uncertainty Principle supporter (viva Kurt Godel and Werner Heisenberg!), and most of all, I suppose, an anarchsit.
Perri knows me.