Category Archives: Assignments

KW5 (220)

Moki’s shadow comes from Mabanckou’s post-colonial novel Blue White Red and refers to Massala-Massala, a young man from Congo-Brazzaville who hopes to emigrate to Paris in order to become a sapuer. A shadow motif is present throughout the text and it can be read as a doubling gesture which complicates the issue of identity as it is experienced by young African migrants who live in a globalized world where the aftereffects of colonialism linger. Notably, a shadow is an insubstantial and thus inferior twin of the object which casts it. In this scenario, Moki is the object, someone who has ‘weight’ and occupies space, qualities M-M lacks. The fact that M-M also possesses additional false identities– Marcel, Georges– further undercuts his basic social being. Who is M-M really? What does it mean to be an African from the post-colony?

An obvious link between texts here would be the figure of Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The Kurtz of Brussels, adored by his naive fiancee, the Intended, represents just one part of his schismatic identity. The Kurtz in Congo is a feverish and brutal colonizer, a dark twin symbolizing the inherent barbarism of Europes ‘civilizing mission.’ In this vein we could also consider Selver and Davidson from The Word for World is Forest as differing aspects of colonization. One seeks to destroy and consume while the other fights defensively to preserve Athshea.

KW4 (376)

  1. Spontaneous prose is the method of composition Kerouac elucidates in his short manifesto “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” It indicates a heavy emphasis on spontaneity and improvisation– 2 key characteristics of Bop– and tends to value language for its subjective and musical properties. The Subterraneans is a good example of such prose: passages in that novella often run on for pages and feature sudden pivots and digressions. The purpose of this method is to peel away the confining conventions of rational, predictable writing in favor of rhythm and sound in order to express the truth of our situated, partial perceptions of reality.

8. Heavenly Lane is where Mardou, Leo’s lover in The Subterraneans, lives. The name is significant b/c it implies that Mardou is another “angel”– a beatific and modern figure whose style and sensibilities elevate her above the conformist mass who remain caught in the web of official culture, with its deadening logic and shallow, consumerist dreams. Mardou is Beat– stripped to the basics, often animated by madness, “the child of Bop”– and in these senses she represents something transcendent. Those qualities also stem from her status as African-American. Linked to a marginalized community, she retains something rooted and authentic– or so Leo believes.

3. Mise-en-scène is a film term taken from Villarejo’s short chapter on film form. It encompasses any visual element within the frame such as setting (props, decor), lighting, costume, makeup, and figure behavior. The m-e-s of Robert Frank’s ‘jazz film’ Pull My Daisy offers us a Beat world. A low-rent apartment scattered with Milo’s “tortured socks” and the homely, dilapidated accoutrements of the kitchen form the backdrop of Kerouac’s drama about a visit by the Bishop. Ginsberg (The Subterranean’s Adam Moored), Corso (Yuri Gligoric), and. others– their frantic playfulness and naughty behavior– further elaborate the fundamental beatitude (Beatness) of this world.

7. “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” This line comes from Ginsberg’s poem “America.” It is the speaker’s final statement ( a promise or a threat?)– a very bold one as it amounts to a confession of the poet’s sexuality in an era of crushing heteronormativity. The poem itself constitutes a thorough critique of Cold War culture. Using a sprawling, free-form line and non-standard language “America” points out the absurdity and violence of the official culture of the US, its inability to understand utopian hopes, and its harsh efforts to bend people to its “insane demands.” Personal, subjective beliefs and attitudes thus become part of an anti-conformist arsenal. Asserting his gay identity, the speaker undertakes a cultural-political act. All of this can with profit be compared with the “naked,” often embarrassing confessional stance of Kerouac’s novel. Both texts– and the Beat movement in general– argue that the truth can be revealed only by manifesting the properties and vagaries of Individual Mind.

2. Pull My Daisy is a short film by photographer Robert Frank (The Americans) narrated by Jack Kerouac and ‘starring’ Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and David Amram (who also created the film’s score [extra-diegetic sound]). The title, taken from an early poem by Ginsberg, is an example of the Beats’ ‘free’ use of language as championed by Kerouac in his manifesto The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose. It also closely resembles the irony and nonsense that can be found in Ginsberg’s poem “America”. One of the more salient aspects of PMD is the contentious relationship between Milo and his wife Evelyn. As Milo’s friends clamor downstairs, excited to embark on a boys-only evening of pleasures, Evelyn and Milo argue about the Bishop’s disastrous visit. His desires are inconsistent with hers– a major feature of Leo and Mardou’s fated love affair.

5. to blow. The term can be found in Pull My Daisy, The Subterraneans, Sterrit’s short chapter, and Essentials of Spontaneous Prose. Briefly, blowing is closely associated with Jazz performance, particularly an improvised solo. When the quasi-Beat figure in DOA yells “Blow up a storm, Fisherman” he is encouraging the musician to take his musical statement as far as it will possibly go– in other words to express himself (his thought, his sentiment) as completely as he can. This is what Kerouac meant when he told would-be writrs to “blow! now! your way is your way!” To blow is to give voice to individual consciousness and perception. This conceit is portrayed in a more homely and diminutive way when Kerouac, narrating PMD, tells little Pablo to “blow boy blow”. The Beat attitude or stance, then, values self-expression, oddly enough, as an avenue to community and self-transcendence.

SPR21 Filmographies

HUM220 Values and Culture

J-Horror

AMST310/HUM485 Arts and American Culture

Weird South: Two Thousand Maniacs, Mandingo, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Manifest Destiny: Ravenous, Jacob’s Ladder, Bone Tomahawk, Annihilation

Industrial Gothic: Robocop, Snowpiercer, Session 9

HUM415 Contemporary Culture

The Spectacle: Crash, Videodrome,

Body and Identity: Dead Ringers, The Skin I Live In, Possessor, Eyes of Laura Mars

Empire: Waiting for the Barbarians, Ravenous, Annihilation

True Detective Season One

485/310 SPR21

HUM485/AMST310

Manifest Destiny

Alemán and Streeby, eds. Empire and The Literature of Sensation: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2007.

Note: online edition available through SFSU Library.

ISBN 9780813540757

Weird South

Crews, Harry. A Feast of Snakes. 1st ed. New York: Atheneum, 1976. 

ISBN 9780684842486

Vampire Capital

Attaway, William. Blood on the Forge. New York: NYRB, 2005. Originally published: Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1941.

ISBN 9781590171349

Connecting Dots (303/415)

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”

Can anyone really imagine any American politician saying this out loud? Even as a metaphor– one of the ways James intended this statement– it’s impossible to envision the most “radical” political figures in national politics– an Ilhan Omar or a Rashida Tlaib– using such language. 

One of the secrets of American politics is that both Democrats and Republicans share a common philosophy: they are Liberal in the broadest sense of that term, which is to say they are devoted to the notion of a Free Market as the foundation of political rights, the social order, and economic prosperity. Unified by this commitment, in the absence of any substantial disagreement on the basic principle, Dems and Reps have had to find other ways to distinguish themselves from one another. The easiest, most inflammatory and engaging means of doing so is to fight Culture Wars that focus on issues of identity and morality rather than on the structural violence of the inequality that is an unavoidable outcome of the capitalist system. Though they may quibble about specific policies, on the issue of political economy, as Barack Obama affirms, the two parties are fundamentally in agreement.

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Try Harder (303/415)

In the email conversations I’ve had with students many of them have suggested they’d like to screen 1804: The Hidden History of Haiti for the film assignment. This choice is problematic for two reasons. First, it’s a documentary, not a fiction film. Second, it’s the outcome of only the most cursory research. If you google “haitian revolution film” it’s literally in the first couple of hits you get.

This latter point is very significant because it confirms that the Just Google It method of research produces homogeneous results. One of the weirdest and most threatening aspects of the internet is that if we let it, it will think for us. The search engine algorithm determines the object of our attention and thus the content of our thought.

Students who are interested in thinking independently, outside of a relatively narrow spectrum of Google-approved stuff, must try harder. Do a google search using the kw -.com, which weeds out some (not all) commercial sites. Use multiple search terms to narrow your focus. Refine your search as you go. Use the library. There are online books about the cinema of the African Diaspora. Access to those resources is essentially what you’re paying for (in addition to my disembodied voice, droning on endlessly).

Anybody who wants to actually Think Different, as the Apple Borg cube/monopoly insists everyone should, is going to have to work for it.