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 I have been in Paris, London, and Berlin the past six months. . . . The only thing

that is different is the language. The treatment and resentment and racist

attitudes they have is their only real accommodating social link with one another. 

 

 

Responses to Jean Baudrillard

By Jonathan Scott and Dennis Leroy Moore

"The Pyres of Autumn"

 A Consideration of Sharif's Fourth World Peoples in Light of the Paris Rebellion

 

Rudy: E. Ethelbert Miller brought to my attention Jean Baudrillard’s “The Pyres of Autumn,”   published by the New Left Review, which is probably a remnant of the old New Left of the 60s. Unlike the black left, the "new left" can always return to that which is the status quo or become neoliberals or neo-conservatives. Their dilemma was always their paucity of ideas. What kept them afloat was their colorless form of Marxism. 

Faced with the aftermath of colonialism and jim crowism, they, like David Horowitz, become too often one of the more reactionary sectors of Western society in their defense of so called "western values." They cannot imagine that those remnants of the so-called Third World, now citizens of New York, Paris, London, or Berlin, have contributed anything at all, other than labor and raw resources, to the making of the West. Nor do they believe that these people have any role in revitalizing the West or creating a New West.

In his essay Jean Baudrillard cannot imagine a Western World which can accommodate the Immigrant Other, even if they have lived in Paris or London or Berlin or New York three or four generations or longer. For if these "immigrants" are not willing to accept the culture from above, as handed down, there cannot be a New Paris, a New London, a New Berlin, a New New York. 

Because of this intellectual paucity, Amin Sharif is developing the concept of the Fourth World. The concept is still in the process of development; he welcomes discussion and assistance in filling out what it means to be Fourth World.

It attempts in broad outlines, however, to go beyond the racial nationalisms and ideologies handed down to us from the 19th century (including Marxism) and seeks an assimilation that accommodates all the peoples of the globe, especially focusing on those "colored peoples" who now find themselves not full citizens of Paris, London, Berlin, and New York. The concept of the Fourth World, I think is deserving of attention, much more so than the pessimism exhibited in Jean Baudrillard's “The Pyres of Autumn.”

We welcome any responses on "The Pyres of Autumn" and or Sharif's The Fourth World  or the intellectual paucity (emphasizing absence and loss) of the New Left.

Dennis (DLM): Rudy, from what I can see here in Berlin - there is no way - ever - that Berlin or Paris will ever "accept" people of color. The way it is now is the way it will always be until we change it. I have been in Paris, London, and Berlin the past six months. The great thing is that traveling is cheap here.  But honestly they are all the same cities/countries. The only thing that is different is the language. The treatment and resentment and racist attitudes they have is their only real accommodating social link with one another. 

Italy and Spain - are two I have avoided at all costs right now.  And Scandinavia? Well, we see the "in your face" attitude peering up from there...A Danish woman remarked to me at the Berlin Film Festival that I was conservative and childish- because I could not accept Denmark's Mohammed cartoons and that I shouldn't be an artist if I was going to react on behalf of the Muslims.  She asked me wasn't I "Radical" and all for "Free Speech" and all that bullshit? 

Do you see what is happening?  The so called progressive Whites are using such contemptuous acts such as the cartoon publishing - to make it seem like they are "risk" takers. Trying to turn the tables around...and it is frustrating out here cause the dissent and the arguments here are not defended and assisted by other black people in public the way it might be in, say, New York - depending on where you are at.  

"You must toe the line!" she told me. "It is good to offend people," she said. Can you believe it?  I thought "Oh really? Offend, huh?  Why don't you watch my movie - I bet there will be enough to offend you about..."  This actress will be leading a panel and a jury of critics when my film screens here and I will let you know the response in April.

London and Paris like to think of themselves as a New York City (I suppose it is - an extreme conservative New York City and that is not even saying much) - but what Jean Baudrillard writes seems accurate to me and very representative of what most whites truly feel: those Third World people have not added anything to our city or country. Meaning: "You brown people are just getting in the way and you are only making it difficult for us to push you around, make money off you, etc."

I feel it more here now that I have been able to relax into the Berlin atmosphere and its simply dreary and awful. It is not as subtle as in New York because it is less of a melting pot. At least it is more honest...But the real point, contrary to what nearly everyone believes because they think they should, is that Europe could care less about the Third World people, the Arabs, the Blacks, etc. - and are simply getting aggravated with the whole issue. 

That is the number one reason the cartoons were published here. Have you seen them? It's quite obvious what is happening here - as it is quite essential that a Fourth World movement getting started - but we have to not care what the status quo says or what the white people in power feel about it. 

It is crucial that dialogues about this begin amongst black people, Middle Easterners, Asians, - gradually and slowly first...I wouldn't even attempt or know how to communicate these ideas to even the most conscious white people right now because I feel they are usually very quick to smirk and shoot down any real revolutionary idea. That is one of the major problems of the "Left" - as you pointed out, especially as it relates to people of color.

I did email Sharif and I am excited to dialogue with him. I read portions of Dark Child of the Fourth World - with my wife translating - to some fellow artists and Arab activists and it was met with much success. I am trying to not lose my head here and figure what the next step is...I am not an organizer - so this has been very interesting for me and absolutely mind blowing for Nina.

Anyway, brother, I miss you all back in the USA. Keep writing.

Jonathan: Baudrillard is not from the "new left." he came from poor origins in rural france and in the 1980s became famous for his concept of the "simulacrum." he is a philosopher known for his attacks on eurocentric and narrow-minded western philosophy. most of his books are polemical attacks on the notion of western rationalism.

in this piece, his argument is that the rioters were attacking the myth of french democracy. baudrillard is not the kind of critic who has ever argued that non-western immigrants cannot be integrated into france. his idea is the opposite: that there is nothing in france to integrate into, because it has sold itself to americanization.

Rudy: The problem with Baudrillard's essay, "The Pyres of Autumn,"  is his view of what he calls the "Immigrant." It is almost as if being black or Muslim is and always will be that which is other than being French. I do not think that the so-called rioters were "attacking the myth of french democracy." They were attacking their exclusion from French or Western democracy or the benefits of full citizenship within France. That is, these dark children of france protested against French racism and French bigotry, and French delimitations of their freedoms and freedom of expression.

Baudrillard over-rationalizes the situation. What he needed to talk about was the hostility, meanness, and brutality of French democracy when it comes to its non-white and non-Christian citizens. That is, for these Fourth World rebels, the problem with Western democracy is not its "americanization," whatever that means.

What is at the crux of the European problem is the lack of imagination. There is always a falling back on an ethnic democracy that feels that its cultural history, ideas, and ideals are superior to anything that can be created. That is, race and Christianity and secularism are viewed under the heading of Democracy. That is, only white Christian secularists know truly what Democracy is and means. This view excludes the political ideas and cultural views of those Third World peoples who have become citizens and a part of Western democracies.

The word "integration," which Baudrillard uses is different from what I call "assimilation,"  which is different from the standard view in which the Immigrant must don what Fanon called the "white mask." The Immigrant or Fourth World peoples are rejecting the "white mask" as a requirement of citizenship. Baudrillard does not express his sympathy for this new sentiment of his Immigrant. 

Baudrillard's lack of imagination leads him thus into a pessimistic view of the future of Western democracies and a pessimistic view of the inability of the whites of Western democracies to adapt to  a more multicultural and tolerant society.

Thus, he views, at least in this essay, The Pyres of Autumn the future as one that will lead  essentially to race and cultural wars. That is, my primary criticism of Baudrillard is that he ends up being too "French" rather than New French in his vision of the future. It's in this way that he ends up expressing the conservatism of the New Left.

Jonathan:  Rudy, the view that "There is always a falling back on an ethnic democracy that feels that its cultural history, ideas, and ideals are superior to anything that can be created" is being revived in Europe and we see more evidence of that every day. In his comments, Dennis makes this same point. But
Baudrillard is against that and has written many books, including his latest book "The Intelligence of Evil," which exposes the hypocrisies of European (especially French) claims to a universal humanism.

Baudrillard is a highly ironic writer, but in all events he has never been accused of trying to restore Western cultural supremacy. He is known for quite the opposite: as a dissident intellectual who feels France (and Western Europe in general) have gone the way of McDonald's--that is, to a system in which the images projected by corporate media are perceived as more real than reality.

The "New Left" refers to a group of British leftist intellectuals organized around May 1968. They have not become right wing, but they did distance themselves from the older Marxist traditions of dialectical criticism, organizing and party-building, turning instead to structuralism and anarchism.

You made a link between Marxism and "racial nationalism." I'm not sure what you mean by this. Beginning with Marx, the major thinkers of the Marxist tradition, from DuBois and Gramsci to C.L.R. James, Fanon, and Marcuse, have been very sensitive to racial oppression and helped organize anticolonial resistance to it. Marx was an outspoken critic of white supremacy, which inspired DuBois to write "Black Reconstruction," one of the greatest Marxist works of the 20th century. James's book, "The Black Jacobins," is another classic work of Marxism. Maybe you could specify the Marxists who you believe are racial nationalists, because I can't think of any.

Rudy: 
A link seems to be made between Marxists (Marxism) and racial nationalism in the criticism in Ellison's Invisible Man, in Nicholas Berdyaev Communism as Russian Imperialism, in Richard Wright's I Tried to Be a Communist. This criticism is also suggested in Amin Sharif's The Fourth World and the Marxists.

Jonathan: rudy, wright and ellison were criticizing white supremacy within the american communist party. these white communist party hacks were anything but marxists—dubois was frequently making this point in some of his crisis columns on the u.s. socialist party.

i think we should always be intellectually vigilant about distinguishing between vulgarizers and popularizers of a system of thinking such as marxism and the actual theorists and historians of that tradition. once dubois read marx closely, he became a marxist, and the same is true of many african american intellectuals, including langston hughes and amiri baraka.

the issue is that certain white party leaders were trying to tell black radicals such as wright and ellison what marxism was. (cruse makes this point persuasively in "the crisis of the negro intellectual.") for dubois and hughes and later baraka, they ignored the white communist party leaders and read the original thinkers for themselves.

so when we say "marxism"--just as when we say "garveyism," "pan-africanism" or "freudianism"--we should mean what garvey, marx or martin delany or blyden or freud actually meant in their theories. that would mean actually reading garvey, marx and the other theorists.

i've found that in u.s. political culture today it's become the norm to assign meanings to entire traditions without having read any of the writers of these traditions. it's a disturbing development, and i'm not sure where it came from. i'm tempted to say right-wing propaganda, where you find this kind of blanket categotization of diverse traditions—for example, when they say "islamism." the people who use this terminology are clearly racists who have never read any islamic thinkers nor do they intend to.

Rudy: For me "white supremacy" or any expression of racial or cultural supremacy is for me a "racial nationalism." In general, I stand corrected by your response. 

We all, in some way, have been influenced by Marx or some aspect of Marx, and by persons you are suggesting were Marxists, like Du Bois and Hughes, making use of some aspect of Marx. And we have all been and to some extent embrace(d) socialism, or some aspect of socialism. 

Are you suggesting that everything that Marx wrote is gospel?

Jonathan: wright and ellison were criticizing white supremacy within the american communist party. these white communist party hacks were anything but marxists--dubois was frequently making this point in some of his crisis columns on the u.s. socialist party.

i think we should always be intellectually vigilant about distinguishing between vulgarizers and popularizers of a system of thinking such as marxism and the actual theorists and historians of that tradition. once dubois read marx closely, he became a marxist, and the same is true of many african american intellectuals, including langston hughes and amiri baraka.

the issue is that certain white party leaders were trying to tell black radicals such as wright and ellison what marxism was. (cruse makes this point persuasively in "the crisis of the negro intellectual.") for dubois and hughes and later baraka, they ignored the white communist party leaders and read the original thinkers for themselves.

so when we say "marxism"--just as when we say "garveyism," "pan-africanism" or "freudianism"--we should mean what garvey, marx or martin delany or blyden or freud actually meant in their theories. that would mean actually reading garvey, marx and the other theorists.

i've found that in u.s. political culture today it's become the norm to assign meanings to entire traditions without having read any of the writers of these traditions. it's a disturbing development, and i'm not sure where it came from. i'm tempted to say right-wing propaganda, where you find this kind of blanket categotization of diverse traditions--for example, when they say "islamism." the people who use this terminology are clearly racists who have never read any islamic thinkers nor do they intend to.

Rudy: Jonathan, I did a google search on Jean Baudrillard. I knew nothing of him. My focus was on what he had written in his "The Pyres of Autumn," an essay I still find troublesome even though as you suggest it was written ironically. His more philosophical writings I find too complex and abstract.

As far as my quip about Marxism, you are right I am not a scholar when it comes to Marxism. I have only read snatches here and there. Most of that which I read was beyond my comprehension. In general I tend to be anti-ideological, regardless of the ideology. I'm more inclined toward well-meaning gut responses.

Of course, I did not intend to offend you personally if you are indeed a Marxist, like Hughes or Du Bois or Baraka.

Though I am religious, my criticism of Marxism is not the same as that of the Pope. I generally support liberation theologians. Nor are my criticisms of Marx those of the right wing. Generally, as I stated in previous emails, 19th century ideologies have little appeal for me. In practice, though I identify with some aspects of Marxist class analysis, I do not see how identifying myself or oneself as a Marxist is of any value to me or to others.

It seems, also, that even Jean Baudrillard, according to Wikepedia is a critic of Marxist thought, as you can see below:

While early in his career he was influenced by Marxism, he eventually came to the conclusion that Marx's attitudes were in mirror opposition to that of capitalist thought, and that Marx in fact held the same basic worldview as the capitalist. For instance, he did not question such concepts as "work" or "value". In short, while perhaps well-intentioned, he argued that Marx was infected by the "virus of bourgeois thought". 

I would also encourage you to read again Sharif's The Fourth World and the Marxists . If you want an extended discussion of Marxism, he'd probably be better at it than I

Jonathan: i think marx's theory of class struggle has stood the test of time. marx was limited by his times, as all thinkers are. for example, he simply could not have understood in any systematic way white racial oppression in the u.s.--he went as far as the civil war and reconstruction and then died shortly after. dubois greatly improved marx's theory of class struggle in black reconstruction, but dubois himself said that he could not have written that book without marx's theory of class struggle.

i don't think anyone's work is gospel, but there's a big difference between criticizing racist managers of a political party, which is what wright and ellison did, and the theoretical protocols of a whole system of thinking. to refute marxism would be to show that class struggle no longer determines the course of history and i've yet to see that done. 

Rudy: One can acknowledge class struggle without being a "marxist." As one can acknowledge the greatness of Jesus without believing that he was the son of God, or without being a Christian.  There is more to Marx than simply class struggle. Marx as Marx would have no understanding on the nature of class struggle in America. It defies his theory, primarily because of the overweening role that religion, race, and gender play in today's society. The other problem is his theory of historical development. The other is the use of Marx by so-called Marxists.

I had a falling out with two black male Marxists (Little Joe and Aduku Adade) over the question of Aristide and the right-wing insurgency coming in from the Dominican Republic. They despised Aristide, probably because he was a priest, and viewed the right wing insurgents as the true representatives of the working class. The people themselves have proved their analysis askew

Jonathan: in fact, marx had a lot to say about the u.s. many of his writings on slavery in the u.s. have been compiled in a book called "marx on the u.s."

i agree that you can understand class struggle without being a marxist, that's a good point. i don't go around calling myself anything, although my political position is always socialist. to me, marx provided the first systematic critique of the capitalist system and that will always be his great contribution. he took hegel's dialectical criticism to the ground floor of life and labor. in terms of an approach to history and society, i'm much closer to the marxist tradition than any other, because of this emphasis on labor producing all value.

Rudy: It seems then we have no fundamental disagreement with respect to Marxism. We have thus come full circle.

As I said before I am no Marxist scholar and that much of what Marx wrote I find personally incomprehensible, especially his views on surplus value. I have problems balancing my checkbook. I have difficulties with almost any discussion of finance and economics. 

Similarly, Marx's historical teleology is just as complicated for me as I find in any religious teleology—be it Christian, Hebrew, Hindu, or Buddhist. And, of course, his views on religion (as practiced in the Soviet Union and China) did not gain any permanent traction. As far as his historical materialism, I just do not know whether we can speak of that which is inevitable, especially with man's ability to destroy the world altogether, in a minute.

Although Sharif finds something in Marx's dialectical criticism, I am not convinced; though I find it interesting, it's all above my head.

Though I might encourage a study of Marx, I'm not sure that Marx is any more relevant for the present situation than a study of James Madison or Thomas Jefferson. All of them carry historical baggage that can be misleading if not fully digested. They all need to be given new life for our present circumstances.

For that reason, I find the Fourth World concept, which is rather open-ended and inclusive, the most dynamic and relevant political thinking that exists today.

posted 21 February 2006

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
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#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 21 February 2006

 

 

 

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Related files:  The Fourth World and the Marxists  Paris Is Burning  Lessons from France   Letters from Young Activists  The Venezuelan Revolution   Responses to Jean Baudrillard   

The Fourth World: In the Belly of the Beast    Big Easy Blues  New Orleans: The American Nightmare   Black Middle Class and a Party for the Poor  The Day the Devil Has Won  Election Day Returns