Saturday, April 26, 2014

New Books from Jacques Derrida

 My hard working colleague Jonathan Eburne, in his work on workaholism, points out that Derrida, like some still publishing dead rappers, is publishing at a faster rate posthumously than most of us do while still living (at least, living after our own fashion). Here are two volumes newly issued in English.

The first is one I've been eagerly awaiting, the next release in the project of publishing all of Derrida's seminars. This book gives us the first half of Derrida's considerations on the death penalty (mostly published here for the first time). 

Like me, Derrida has a strong early memory of his life long concern with what we so charmingly term capital punishment. While discussing Genet's writing, Derrida quotes, "Weidmann appeared before you in a five o'clock edition . . . ," and Derrida remarks:

"I pause for a moment on this first sentence. I have to say that I remember this photograph myself."

In my own case, my early recollection of deep revulsion at the prospect of capital punishment is of the Charles Starkweather case, a case that has been turned into more than one feature film in the years since my Nebraska childhood.

In neither case, Weidmann's or Starkweather's, was there any question about the condemned man's guilt or about the heinous nature of their crimes. No, the problem was what the cases told us about ourselves. Eugen Weidmann was the last man executed in public in France. A film of the execution was surreptitiously made from a nearby window, and the behavior of the public at the execution was so horrid that public executions were thereafter banned. (As in the U.S., where we are now so much more discreet when we kill our criminals.) Starkweather's 1959 execution was not carried out in public, but the public spectacle surrounding the event caused me to recoil from my own society.  In each case, the representations of the death penalty were themselves a damning comment on what capital punishment does to a society.  I have been opposed to he death penalty ever since.

This is a deeply thought through and historically grounded book. Part two should be available next year.

Also, from Fordham, comes For Strasbourg, bringing together three late essays by Derrida and conversations he held in 2004 with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


That was the plan anyway, but instead it was "AMIRI BARAKA: A RETROSPECTIVE," co-sponsored by the University of Kent (well represented by conference organizer Ben Hickman) and The Institute of Contemporary Arts. I'd been planning to go from the first announcement as it would have meant helping to celebrate the approach of Baraka's 80th birthday (would have been this coming October) beginning at the Black Arts conference at U.C. Merced, picking up a month later in London, and then into the home stretch.With Baraka's death I felt even more compelled to join in. I'd known Amiri for over 35 years, and had been reading him even longer. This was just a one day symposium, but it made a good opening for the many symposia and panels to come.

The symposium was also a chance to reconnect with several friends: Jean-Phillipe Marcoux from Canada, Amor Kohli from Chicago, Wei Yan from Wuhan, China. And as rushed as things were, I got to meet some of the British participants, including Colin Still, whose short film of Baraka reading poetry while Craig Harris improvised an accompaniment was screened at the evening program. Jean-Phillipe and I were a two person panel on Baraka and music. Jean-Phillipe spoke on ideophones and jazz vocalisms. My paper was another section of my growing work on Baraka's recordings. At the first session, on poetry, Ian Brinton did the important work of  introducing Yugen and Floating Bear to an audience who mostly had never seen copies of those publications before. Paul Gilroy delivered a keynote which detoured through Obama's foreign policy for a while before getting back to Baraka.  That night, following Colin's stunning film, there was a poetry reading, culminating in a now rare appearance from Linton Kwesi Johnson, who spent much of his time sharing emotional memories of his contacts with Baraka over the years.

[additional photos by Anna Everett and Wei Yan]

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


This year's CLA also marks the eighth birthday of this blog -- And my first return visit to New Orleans since Katrina -- The flash flood warnings that came to my phone the first morning were a bit worrisome, as was the lightning (AND there was that alarm that started sounding during breakfast, apparently in response to a lightning strike on the tower), but the panels inside the hotel kept my mind off the storm and things were warming up by the end of the weekend. I was there to present work on Amiri Baraka as part of a panel on literature and music. Last year the airlines didn't get me to the conference until after my panel. This year's flight delays were on the other end.  I was in New Orleans in plenty of time for my panel on that first morning, but didn't get back to State College after the conference till two in the morning.

The Langston Hughes luncheon featured a poetry reading by Brenda Marie Osbey, whose name, as mine often does, seemed to shift pronunciation as different speakers spoke it. I first met Brenda at the initial Furious Flower conference back in the 90s.  One of the great things about CLA is the family atmosphere as brethren of the text meet together. Friends too many to mention singularly, though I must mention the Tom Dent Birthday party Jerry Ward held at his house over by the campus of Dillard.

 I'd just seen Eugene Redmond in Merced at the Black Arts conference. In the week between, he'd been to Howard, just a day after I was there, to appear at their Baraka tribute.

The conference banquet featured Edwige Danticat, who read from a new essay.

Once the conference was over, I finally had time to get down the street to Mulate's for that serving of crawfish etouffee. The nice mother who stood next to me at the bar to order her drink while her eight-year-old exchanged jokes with me was followed by two parents with their eighteen-year-old son, who were told that law required the son, being under nineteen, to sit farther away from the bar, which he did.

Oh, I will mention that those three people you see at the iron table are Penn Staters Susan Weeber, Laura Vrana and Earl Brooks, who delivered great papers.