Pushcart XL: James Hannaham, “Artist’s Statement” (non-fiction) from Gigantic #6

As a black artist of color with an Irishman’s name, I feel it is necessary to let the viewer know that I am black. By using such a methodology, I may allow the reader to begin the process of dismissing my work for its highly specialized racial content, or conversely, the procedure reality of praising it excessively for its Negro-specific performativity with regards to the blactification of subject matter, and in the case of academic and/or funding institutions, commence the compartmentalization and commodification of my identity as well as the inherently intrinsic angry political nature of the work for the consumption of those sympathetic to, or pitying of, what they may or may not perceive to be my apparent st(rug)gle(s).

Pretty strange that, as someone who knows very little about art, I should find the art-related pieces in Pushcart so much to my liking. This one’s good. It’s great. If I’m reading it correctly. Because, well, it’s written in gibberish. But it’s great gibberish. I think.

The gibberish is, I’m pretty sure, satire on typical artspeak. Then sprinkled in are some pokes in the ribs, some winks, and a few high-falutin’ references to the likes of Sarte, Nietzsche, Clarinda Mac Low, and Aimé Cesairé, a couple of whom I’ve actually heard of. But this is not gibberish, and the references are not random. This means something. This is important. The entire piece could be rewritten (translated?) into everyday language, and would still be a powerful statement. But, like colorizing old Hitchcock films, that would alter the art and in fact weaken the statement.

I deeply wish the article were available online, because I am not qualified to dissect it; and in fact, dissecting it is exactly the wrong thing to do. So let me start elsewhere: James Hannaham has the coolest bio anywhere on the web. It begins: “James Hannaham would prefer that you not cut and paste this bio if you ever have to introduce him at a reading or a panel because it is pretty irreverent. It’s also kind of lazy of you to do that, though I know your life is busy and it would be easier to just half-ass it.…” then goes into his two books and his career as a journalist and artist, before closing with: “You will probably have cut that last bit out if you’re introducing him at a reading, because it’s sort of confusing for someone to be a novelist and a journalist and then suddenly seem to swerve into visual art , but it does make a certain kind of sense in the larger scheme of things (sorry about all the “s” in this sentence). ” Hey, I was confused back at “blactification,” you really don’t have to try this hard. In any case: I love this. This is the kind of bio (and article, for that matter) my buddy Jart would write, and I’m not saying that just because Jart is black (and, yes,he’s one of the few black people I know, but in my defense I hardly know any white people, either… I’m kind of a hermit), but because he has the same streak of irreverence and self-mockery that’s really a “who, me?” mockery of everything around him.

Where was I? Oh, right, the piece. Poets & Writers tells me it’s an actual Artist’s Statement from one of Hannaham’s word art exhibits, a kind of contributor’s note. The explanation of the art. While BASS includes a section of contributor notes, Pushcart does not, I suspect on the principle that “the art must speak for itself” (and yet, I do so love to read those notes in BASS, which tells you what sort of reader I am). If you’re going to write a statement, you might as well make it a Statement.

Insomuchas reader supposition trends towards the normative cloud, thus postulating the hypothesis of apparent pallidity which is then ascribed and projected onto the part of the originator, no linguistic challenge to this customary standard can possibly forthcomb from the substantial quality inherent to the materiality of the art object, being itself composed primarily of black figures (text) upon a background of whiteness. Ergo (or “nergo,” to reconfigure the turn in an anagrammatical pseudo-Nubianism), it becomes incumbent upon the expositor herself to telegraph the projected mahogany nature of his (in this case) epidermal externality.

I didn’t put this kind of thought into blog design when I made the background black and the text white; seriously, it’s just that it’s more restful on my eyes. But I’ve never been happier that I did it that way. Because the ubiquity of white paper and black ink truly does kind of hit me as a great metaphor , and it’s embarrassing I never thought of it that way before. Think about it: no one ever described Stephen King as a white author. But as an artist, Hannaham’s race is always in the mix, either as a plus or a minus. And in a classic self-reference, this becomes the reason his race is always in the mix.

So much came to mind as I read this. The fantastic SNL skit following Beyonce’s half-time performance (“Maybe the song isn’t for us…But usually everything is!”). The Twitter comment about “white roles like god”. Rand Paul whitesplaining at Howard University (which, I must say, was surpassed by John Kasich goysplaining the Old Testament to yeshiva students after asking what they were studying at yeshiva. That’s gotta go in the –splaining hall of fame.

Lest I be accused of whitesplaining this piece: I’ve said many times, I have no idea what I’m doing here, I just read stuff and write about my reaction to it. And I’m certainly not artsplaining or writersplaining. So I’ll just say this piece entertained and instructed me (tip of the hat to Isaac Bashevis Singer there). And amused me, in an oblique way: since it’s not available online, and since it was short, I decided to dictate it, using Dragon, so I could pick at it at my leisure, highlighting here, bolding there, block copying quotes. I find reading aloud is often useful, since I often notice things I would have missed on silent reading.

Dragon choked on it.

“Linguistic stratagem” was no problem. It handled “socioeconomic stratum” with ease. But “telegraphication”? “Communitizing”? “Fleshtified”? The suffixication that is the stock in trade of pretense turned into word salad. It was delicious. I’ve seen familiar texts, like the Pledge of Allegience and words to Christmas carols, turned into nonsense this way, but this bloviation to language direction was a little different.

Don’t be dismayed by the verbal thicket. Hannaham lays out his purpose pretty explicitly, if not clearly:

In the tertiary reconfiguration above, yet another eventuality becomes emergent, not that of discourse, nor of bibliophilic culpability, but, based on the secondary alabastration in the praxis of the textuality, a contingency of narrational racification, insomuch as the personage in question, by applied verb-tense reflexivity and alphabetical augmentation, becomes emancipated from the circumstance of the oppressed to the locus of the gaze itself, insofar as we posit, in this repositioning, a juxtaposition that negligeés any sense of authorial absolutism, as Bourdieu might not put it.

Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Seriously, I couldn’t.

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One response to “Pushcart XL: James Hannaham, “Artist’s Statement” (non-fiction) from Gigantic #6

  1. Pingback: Finishing Pushcart XL | A Just Recompense

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