Picturing the Black Dada Nihilismus

I warn you, brave soldier/citizen of Western Civilization, you servant of corporate officers, you potential ward of the state, right-brain activity is about to go on here. What you may see are two apparently unrelated thangs getting mixed together to make a new whole (not another bomb crater). The purpose of this exercise is to help free your mind so your ass will follow a complete thought. Respect the complete thought and you can fly… So the two apparently unrelated thangs are Amiri Baraka, his poem, “Black Dada Nihilismus” and George Clinton, his album cover for Up for the Down Stroke. Keep in mind that I am more than prepared to watch you regard this as a bunch of bullshit. Even George Clinton himself would not surprise me saying that he commissioned that album cover under the influence of at least three hard drugs and not a single conscious thought. And Amiri Baraka would not waste his time telling me that I have no idea what I am talking about… Nevertheless, my ‘stupor’ persists… I’ve seen you since you I was little child because I have been watching and playing close attention. So when you say, “whatever” I say, ‘No, look closer: see the structure.’

Up for the Downstroke

Pretend you went to college and took an art history class and you never fell asleep during the lecture in the darkened room with the slide projector. I’m going to pretend with you. Now look at the picture above as if your art history professor regards it as the most refined European classic painting in powdered wigs and high heel shoes. Are you respectful now? Good, docile Negro… (Just kidding.) So we see three figures in the picture. All of them are of African descent. The ceremonial braids and the earth-tone, patterned dress of the light-complexion woman at the far right clearly permits me to use the word “African” in this context. In spite of the Lady-Day-style flowers ‘hiding’ the “natural” hairstyle of the dark-complexion woman in the bottom of the frame, I am even more comfortable in describing these women as African. But what is the male of clearly African features doing? Foremost, let us look at his action. Clearly he is holding some kind of blunt instrument and appears to be about to strike the women. To be more daring, I say that I see this African-like male about to strike the dark-complexion woman at the bottom of the frame.

All of this male violence, however, is countered by the expressions of dramatic ecstasy, flushed through the women’s faces. This sensual rush is immediately followed by a sense of ridiculous comedy—most of the comedy comes with the image of this dark male. He dons a Hollywood-Dracula cape; he wears flashy, bikini-Conquistador armor and huge, ostentatious chains (later perfected by Isaac Hayes). What the hell is going on here? Is this like, you know, “whatever”—or is there something more?

Up for the Downstroke

What is more is a reminder of the ceremonial blunt instrument of the ‘striking’ leader of “pre-dynastic,” ancient Egypt. This is from the so-called “Narmer Palette,” which is thought (by European authorities) to be a historical document—so when we see the figure representing the leader striking the head of the vanquished we “naturally” assume that this actually happened. (There are also beheaded figures depicted in this artifact, which permits us to assume that beheading actually happened as well.) So what we have here with “Narmer” is a depiction of warrior manhood—when taken literally this means that real men are men of war—and, for our Black Dada Nihilismus, these men of violence make the women go wild with “true” ecstasy.

When we accept the ancient Egyptians as the most influential, generative cultural power of the Western world, our Black Dada Nihilismus, inherits from this literal, straightforward, non-symbolic interpretation of ancient Egyptian manhood. It is beyond the scope of this silly fluff piece to go into this ancient Egyptian matter further—let’s just say that literal, non-symbolic interpretations by the established scholars of ancient Egyptian culture are just like literal, non-symbolic interpretations of the Bible. And we all know what you think of Noah’s ark. Let’s just say that our Black Dada Nihilismus is “comfortable” with his manhood under the hard steel shell of European technology.

It is only me, alone, writing about how ridiculous he looks. He’s got the Dracula cape and the steel codpiece that looks like the chastity belt of a Renaissance Italian princess. He’s got the glinting, polished links, chains draped over his body. What does this mean—all of these elements fused together? To look for meaning here is to look for meaning in Dada representations. We must remember that Dada came out of World War I. We must remember that lone soldier walking through the horrific carnage, beyond trying to make sense of it all…

When we accept the ancient Egyptians as the most influential, generative cultural power of the Western world, our Black Dada Nihilismus, inherits from this literal, straightforward, non-symbolic interpretation of ancient Egyptian manhood.

What’s really important for our Black Dada Nihilismus is that the women are driven into a frenzy—even these African women are so driven. And, for any young male, this is all that matters. This is just the kind of nihilism that is pleasurable and entertaining—as long as the women go along with this European meaninglessness born out of warfare, its, like, whatever. The priority here is to herd these females into submission, to conquer for their pleasure. For the most determined patriarchal male this can be malformed into a sacred duty of religious proportions. The assumption here, in the rasx() context, is that Amiri Baraka explores this area thoroughly in “Black Dada Nihilismus”—and I do not dare suggest that I know all of what he is writing about… What comes to mind for me is this image from George Clinton. It is as Baraka writes, a “transmutation, from stone…”—the stone of the Narmer palette to the stone crazy shit coming out of Clintonian imagery.

You basically need a PhD in everything to understand Baraka’s “Black Dada Nihilismus” but let’s not eliminate the possibility that the poem itself is Dada—and perhaps the poet himself has a little bit of bitch in him. And, of course, every professor of poetry will tell you eventually that poetry is not meant to be understood completely. So keep this in mind when I suggest that when Baraka writes “B.D.N.” and “Trismegistus” he is referring to Masonic thought. Now Masonic thought is what makes every well-educated, rich white boy of any skin color sit up and take notice. Because the Masons made America happen. Masonic imagery is on every funky dollar bill—next to that eagle holding the Indian-killing arrows. So dig, baby, the Masons are to the ancient Egyptians, what our Black Dada Nihilismus is to the so-called “Narmer Palette.” Do you feel what I mean? What am I smoking? Hit this chief… But before you do, I can’t take credit for finding the Masonic references in “Black Dada Nihilismus.” Much respect for the mother of my third child, whom I affectionately call “Professor T.” She made this complete thought possible, the funky thangs to play whiff.

Next slide please:

Up for the Downstroke

Our African woman, darkly packed into the bottom of the frame looks cold stone in love. She can’t be seeing the ridiculous character that’s stimulating her. In fact we see her eyes closed. She is feeling something inside of herself. Maybe it’s because of a few winks in my UCSB art history classes from the Reagan-era 1980s, but I can’t help but compare the expression on this woman’s face to the Ecstasy of St Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In Bernini’s marble sculpture, a cold steel arrow held by a figure we have been trained to call “an angel” is about to pierce the heart of the faithful. Here, in the rasx() context, Baraka suggests a relationship between the “protestant” modernist color geometries of Mondrian to Catholic stained glass windows in the line, “The protestant love, wide windows, color blocked to Mondrian.” It is this obscure, flimsy, suggestion of a reference that permits me to build a similar relationship between the modern, African woman’s face and the Catholic sculptural visage of Bernini.

Again, when we take away all of the pomp and papal smoke of the censer, we have a military instrument being used to ‘inspire’ (not to impale). We have an angel with the Renaissance equivalent of the 1960’s M1 rifle vibrating with awesome power. The pious women can’t resist. Is not our Black Dada Nihilismus wielding such a seductive instrument of violence? Is he not girded with the ceremonial armor of war? Will our Black Dada Nihilismus put down his weapons and study war no more? Or will he bring his violent ways into the lives of ‘his own’—those African women enraptured. Baraka writes:

nihilismus. Rape the white girls. Rape
their fathers. Cut the mothers’ throats.

Black dada nihilismus, choke my friends

Do we think that our Black Dada Nihilismus can switch off all of this violence confused with sexuality and become intimate without a surprise attack? I don’t think our Black Dada Nihilismus can break his religious ties and abandon the missionary position. Clearly he is not alone, as these women appear to submit to all of his Greco-Roman-Hollywood trappings, encasing an ancient African self, an ancient Egyptian motion blur… “what ugliness, learned in the dome, colored holy… a moral code, so cruel…”

Up for the Downstroke

The back of the album cover, shown above, punctuates the frontispiece (“frontispiece” is an art-history-class word and I was just itching to use it). We notice immediately that our comical threat of violence is gone. The women are left to frolic alone. However, the composition is largely the same—we still see the woman with the strongest African features in the bottom of the frame—and our light-complexion African woman dominates the field of view. We see her roaring, singing and dancing in a manner that I interpret as violent. This permits me to say that her violence fills the void left by our Black Dada Nihilismus. I am tempted to be even more flip and blurt out that these two scenes make a summarizing statement of what happened to the Black world during the 1970s: we started out with some kind of male-female thang but under heavy, heavy European influence (even though we tried to “be African”) eventually the women were left alone to play all the patriarchal gender roles among themselves. All minds “packed in straw.”

So before we pack it up and get on with our “normal lives,” let’s read the lyrics of the song I think our Black Dada Nihilismus would be singing while he’s working hard, running the streets (as the theatrical stage) and whopping ass (electrically spanking African war babies). —And, no, the lyrics do not resemble anything like what Amiri Baraka’s writes. The lyrics come from and old blues verse made famous by Jimi Hendrix, his “Catfish Blues” (track number four on Blues):

Well, I wish I
I was a catfish
Swimmin’ in the
deep blue sea

I have all you
good-lookin’ women
fishing after me

Even the great Black Dada Nihilismus knows that pimpin’ ain’t easy. It would be better to just glide through the cool blue in the deep as “good-lookin’” divinity passes over the waters—you dig? It’s a strange contrivance, our soldier heroes would say, when we are reminded that the figure memorialized (or, rather, symbolized) in this “Narmer Palette” is also called “The Catfish King.” What in the hell does blues, sung by the descendants of African slaves in North America, have to do with “near eastern” ancient Egyptians?

Hah! It ain’t what “the hell” or anything east of Hellas. It’s what’s the heaven, baby…

This article was originally serialized over several days in the rasx() context, the kintespace.com Blog.