Leftist writer Maralyn Lois Polak penned an adoring ode to Amiri Baraka, New Jersey’s poet laureate, who found himself at the center of a furor over a recitation he gave at a Garden State poetry festival. Ms. Polak describes Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America” as a “brutally powerful 9-11 poem…messy and sprawling and mesmerizing and incantatory and luminous.” Adjective-littered language is bad form for a writer. Polak, however, is not concerned with form in prose or poetry, much less is she concerned with principle.
Art—writing included—is a discipline. Good writing in particular can be about any topic. First and foremost, however, it must be technically accomplished. The kind of art that derives its artistic legitimacy solely from its political message is, however, a decoy for the talentless. As art critic Robert Hughes wrote, art must embody “a love of structure, clarity, complexity, nuance and imaginative ambition,” elements that are absent in Baraka. Lacking in mastery, the inept postmodernist will hide behind the bellicosity and counterculture chic of his politics.
Baraka’s artless, lazy delivery—not his subversive content—is the problem:
Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon’s mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza [sic]
Who pay Connelly [sic] to be a wooden Negro
Other more atavistic lines from Baraka’s “doo doo”-bedecked oeuvre include:
We must eliminate the white man before we can draw a free breath on this planet. Nihilismus. Rape the white girls. Rape their fathers. Cut the mother’s throats. Black dada nihilismus, choke my friends.
Who but the self-appointed intellectual elite likes this verbiage? Who but the hoity-toity literati think this doggerel is worth “celebrating”? Polak’s indirect derogatory reference to elitism is a sign of her confusion, because Baraka is of the cultural elite. Unless set to gangster rap, there is no common-man market for his balderdash. If not for the phonies on New Jersey’s State Council on the Arts (NJSCA), the general public would still presume “Baraka” is the name of a Hungarian pastry.
Baraka, then, is not a “revolutionary”—a fella that can’t be fenced in—to paraphrase Polak’s gabble. He is the banal product of state ideology that seeks to keep the self-inflicted wounds of minorities eternally suppurating, so as to give them, through the political process, a claim to what is not theirs.
Polak is also mistaken about the civilized and civilizing tradition of the state poet. The state poet survives through political patronage. Compelled as they are through coerced taxation to support Baraka, the people of New Jersey can’t withdraw their tax dollars from the NJSCA—and Baraka—without risking retaliation from the state. Reiterating sociologist Franz Oppenheimer, the late economist Murray N. Rothbard spoke of “two mutually exclusive ways” of making a living. When people engage in the process of production and “voluntary, mutual exchange,” they are using “the economic means” to survive. This is the civilized means. “The other way,” writes Rothbard,
Is simpler in that it does not require productivity; it is the way of seizure of another’s goods or services by the use of force and violence. This is the method of one-sided confiscation, of theft of the property of others.
This method is “the political means.” It’s Baraka’s way. And, contra Polak, it’s uncivilized. Undeniably, Baraka has the right to free speech. Here again, Polak misunderstands the ethics of a free society. Can Baraka demand that WorldNetDaily.com give him a hearing? Naturally not. Where private property is concerned, all Baraka has a right to do if he wants his “poems” featured on the site is to appeal to Mr. Farah and his editor, who, in turn, have an absolute right to refuse or accept. Clearly, the dilemma of free speech is a feature of public property alone and of government-regulated, nominally private property. And right now, Baraka’s speech is protected and facilitated by coercion: Like it or not, administrators forcibly appropriate funds from taxpayers to support what they call The Arts.
With some exceptions, government-supported art conjures the Soviet Socialist Realism. While the communists forced terrifically ugly, prosaic, state-affirming works on their subjects, our own supercilious liberals labor to trash what’s left of Western culture. Think Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ”! As contemptuous as Baraka is, he is merely guilty of being a talentless and tasteless parasite. The real culprits are the politicians who create and fill these positions, then make the taxpayers pay for them.
Disbanding the NJSCA and all such patronage playpens would be the constitutional thing to do. All artists, for that matter, should be removed from the public teat. Barf-making Baraka can become an honest man by seeking his livelihood through “the economic means.” Let him pursue his métier on his own ticket.
©By ILANA MERCER
October 23, 2002