I love the way small, independent, outsider and outlaw publishers rewrite the way books are produced, edited and distributed. I just read Stacy Hardy’s 52 Niggers (2007), a small edgy booklet published by Chimurenga, a South African collective, which visited Helsinki last winter. During a week-long act, a cooperation with Third Space gallery and the art journal Rab-Rab, Chimurenga ran its ‘Pan AfricanSpace Station’ in Kallio Library, and broadcasted discussions and music together with local artists, musicians and intellectuals. They left behind them journals and booklets – one of them being the pile of publications that I just borrowed from Sezgin Boynik, the editor of Rab-Rab.
The author of 52 Niggers, Stacy Hardy, is a South African theater artist, writer and journalist. This tiny literary work is a half-fictional interpretation of the life and artistic career of Julius Eastman, a US-based African-American avant-garde composer (1940-1990). Eastman made a scandalous career in experimental modern music. He used provoking names for his compositions, like Evil Nigger and Crazy Nigger, and Hardy’s book dives into his mind, the complex constellation of ethnicity, the stressful career culture of the modern music industry and the whitewashed highbrow scene of the United States. There’s a lot of monologue on music and the world in the books, a lot of anger, and a lot of historical documentation and pedagogy for those who do not know Eastman (listen to his music here).
I felt that I got punched in the face as I read this – but in a positive way. 52 Niggers works like a boxing match. It consists of short sentences, careful use of rough language – no attempts to street credibility here, it is all about minimalist efficiency – and the reader faces both slopes of anger and neurosis in a fast pace.
“A failed application to the Paris Conservatoire. The letter came in the post. One white envelope, black type. He said, “Damn them damn them damn them.” He tore it up. He let it drop. He headed out to score. (…) He kept going. He walked. He didn’t give a shit. He felt zero. He felt zip. He felt ate up. His skin buzzed. He took a left. He crunched glass underfoot. He took a right. Low door. Dark interior. Match boxes and glass pipes. Cracker jacks on low stools. White smoke that hung in low clouds. He took a seat. He took the hit. He sucked deep. He held it in. He let go. He felt it hit. His mouth closed. His head dropped black. His eyes rolled. And white appeared. Absolute white. White beyond all whiteness.”
Damn I like this text! I wish I’d be closer to South Africa so I could check out Hardy’s theatrical work. The booklet is small but it reminds me about something Adorno said about art in the era of culture industry. Records, films and books have to have a certain length as they are actually seen to be products. What a great deed to publish short stories on their own and to break this vicious circle.