Thursday, January 05, 2006

For Christmas Santa sent me two Eminem CDs, Encore and Curtain Call. Having seen 8Mile and his political video, Mosh, plus a growing curiosity about hip hop culture in general and rap in particular, I wanted to hear/see more closely what Eminem’s phenomena is about.

As I listened to the CDs, I became nervous. There were references to suicide, violence, the sound of a gun and on the cd cover a picture of Eminem with a gun in his mouth and in another he is shooting at the audience. I began to feel guilty.

Yet I wanted to get closer, to understand my visceral reaction. I began to recognize how the rational mind acts to police this reaction by labeling it as: degrading, mysoginistic, pugilistic, provocative, dangerous, immoral, corrupting. These labels impose guilt and shame and then a condemnation of “otherness” – admittedly, by letting this sound into my ear, paying for it – I have become an accomplice. Maybe this is a trace of Protestant guilt, I tell myself.

I have been telling myself that I want to break out of the prison of Modernity. Usually, when I consciously desire something, I don't really know where this desire leads; the unconscious starts to work its way into some answers. In earlier posts, I mentioned that these texts came to me: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, The End of Suburbia: The Peaking of Oil and the End of the American Dream, Jared Diamond’s Collapse.

The book I reached for as I listened to Eminem is James Perkinson’s Shamanism, Racism and HipHop Culture. I am sharing some highlights from my reading.

Rap is the strange rapture of unwrapping the nightmare inside the (American) Dream without flinching. It is the embodiment of the other ancestor (in reference to Africa) that Thomas Jefferson denied. It is the code of contemporary healing, offered in the key of challenge (136).

It (rap) returns what the mainstream culture tries to hide (the denial of death): the grotesque grin of universal desire in the face of demise. It does so in a living form of grotesquery – of artistry performed on the ugliness of destruction that renders it strangely beautiful and vital. Rap straddles life and death by refusing the quarantine. Something of the animation of human “being” in general and alive to its own impermanence and improbability – is damnably and yet irresistibly revealed in this particular body of articulate aggression gesturing under duress in a social topography, refracted in a sensibility rooted in (West and Central) African explorations of percussive polyphony, and intensified in histories of enslavement and enghettoization inflected in griot traditions of rhyming narration, spread with digital amplification of trance and rhythm. (132)

Rap growls with an aliveness common to every human “awake” existence. It is no mystery why it sells in the suburb. Ironically, it offers an intimation of wholeness.

Re the shamanistic vocation of rap: Rap can be read as a raid on ultimate destiny for the sake of a proximate deliverance. As a modern reconfiguration of an ancient incantation of the universe. As gateway to the spirit world – perceiving and experiencing the permeability of border one to another; result: alternative consciousness. (150)

Hip hop culture is a stiletto to the wall of the ghetto, letting the spirits out.

Beneath all our civilizing veneer of vanity, the grin is from the groin. (154)

The burden of the shaman is to divine the devil inside the god, the soul inside the sickness, the beast in the rock, the spirit in the matter, variation under the vibration (154)

Racism, Shamanism and Hip hop: The epidermal wall is the new shamanic stall – the place of writing wild motion against the granite grain. Melanin is the postmodern surface of the healing spell, but the modality is primarily musicality, not paint. “Paint” has been the control tactic of colonizing tyranny, making skins yield a curse, making eyeball king, raising the screen as ultimate technology of racial supremacy. Today the necessary counter erupts as time, off-beat repeat of the bass-line, fracturing the design of white melody. (155)

As initiation rite reworking the alienating consumption in Western scientific discourses into new forms of ritual practice that gave them an intimate home underneath or inside of Western surveillance. (169)

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