Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Can Poetry Be Racist?

Really. What a silly question, right? Of course poetry can't be racist. Well, maybe it can be. But who cares if some poetry is racist if it's good poetry? 

The question here--can poetry be racist?--actually points to a different question that presupposes it, one of the oldest philosophical questions about art and art's value: can we make aesthetic judgments based on ethical or moral or political or cultural value premises, biases, assertions and assumptions? 

Just to ask "can poetry be racist" assumes that the category of being "racist" is qualitatively "bad".  All well and good.  Except that being "racist"--good or bad--has nothing to do with aesthetic value. 

Look, you can write an amazingly beautiful poem, or write a brilliant story or paint a gorgeous mural, all dedicated to extraordinarily evil causes, ideologies or people such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Barack Obama. 

Leftist authoritarians have slammed Ayn Rand's novels for half a century now because they didn't like the messages of liberty, self-determination, independence, non-conformity and individualism she pushed forth through her art. Likewise, Ayn Rand was critical of Dostoyevsky's works because their motifs centered on the lack of redemption and objective value human existence offers without a sincere wish to live a life of god's sacrificial love (otherwise known as Christian agape). Or, consider the brilliantly choreographed and beautiful Mass Games that take place in fascist North Korea each year, which include thousands of young girls who practice their daily dance routine for grueling long hours over an entire year culminating in one spectacular celebration of a color-coordinated gymnastics show all to please the fickle megalomaniac whims of Kim-Jung-What's-His-Name's silly fat ass. 

It's okay to disagree with beautiful works of art. Yes, poetry can be racist. Or it could be nihilist, or anarchist, or individualist (i.e., it could be Punk Rock). 

Or, some poetry could be written to express the devout love one has for his Fuhrer, who is going to create a perfectly harmonious, entirely spotless society devoid of decadence and debauchery,  dedicated to the pursuit of health and safety. But that doesn't make it necessarily bad poetry. Even if the immeasurable stupidity of the message is beyond the intellect's salvation, we can still enjoy whatever fruits it offers with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our lips or even our fingertips. (I'm not sure if there is an art form in existence directed solely to the sense of touch, but if there were, I imagine it would be something related to prostitution and erotic dancing. Or, maybe it would be derived from Silly Puddy. Or something wonderfully strange and disturbing that would bond those two magical worlds of infancy and adulthood in ways only our most hideous desires could imagine.)

Either way, to slander a piece of art as "racist" doesn't say anything of its aesthetic value. Usually, in this country, it doesn't really say anything very meaningful at all. It's kind of like saying that the work of DH Lawrence was misogynistic. But in all reality, at most all you're claiming is that the work of art in question is propaganda. Perhaps a fair claim, perhaps not. But whether or not propaganda is "bad" or valueless art is another question entirely, (and I doubt it is).   And if you don't believe me, then check out the video below that makes my case. 

Here's a drink to reading some "racist" (or whatever) poetry starting with this video over Thanksgiving and enjoying it for all it's worth. Cheers!

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