Monday, December 20, 2010

O.J. and Me: The Take of the Poet

First, a warning: The following poem was composed before the not-guilty verdict concluding the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson. Naturally that verdict ruined the poem, since its credibility and authenticity rested on the firm assumption that O.J. was guilty as charged, conformingly to the circumstances presented and alleged during the trial, and taken at face value. Therefore the O.J. here discussed is a fictional O.J., reinvented by my subjective hypothesis of what the truth is, independently of the legal judgment or of the real truth of the matter.

Second, while the subsequent verdict by the civil court ruling Simpson’s “responsibility” in the death of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman has somewhat reinstated the credibility of my guilt assumption in the poem, it also left me angry by the realization that justice—as search for the truth and correction of wrongdoings—was being perverted by people’s emotions and perceptions, and by the Machiavellianism of the arcane justice system. The death of Brown and Goldman was not really properly adjudicated per se at the end, neither, possibly, were the perpetrator or perpetrators irrefutably proven and punished.

In any case, as with the Von Bulow or the Rodney King cases—and regardless of its application in instances that pleased our ideological bias—a justice system which needs two trials (with two opposite outcomes and two sets of standards) to establish justice, must be a system of injustice. Whatever our empathy for the stricken families of the dead and our admiration for a father’s strong-mindedness in single-handedly seeking justice for the death of his son, amidst tremendous odds; and however captivating was the theatrics of the drama or demeaning was the process, the Simpson’s trials have demonstrated, if anything, that the US justice system remains a Janus, with two faces: One for the poor and one for the rich; one for Black and one for White; one for men and one for women; one for the politically connected and one for the excluded. A justice system unduly influenced by the multiple relations of power in the socio-economic sphere of human interaction, creating a general climate of mystification and untrustworthiness, thus disproving US society’s ideals of itself as a nurturing unit in the pursuit of life’s splendors. Despite our fundamental differences in wealth and material acquisition, O.J. and I have a lot in common. He is Black and male, so am I. He is an athlete, I am a poet: We both deal with elements, space, time, contingency, hazard, dreams, and speed. Speed?… Rather mistrust of the fast lane-life, for my part.

When I first heard the news of the murders, I cried for this one more romance turned hellish and nightmarish. I cried for Nicole, this beautiful woman—who was once an innocent and angelic girl—when she faced her assailant, with his look of perdition, destruction, full of mortuary passion. Her sudden life’s ending let me with a bitter feeling of a life stopped by un-necessary, un-needed and arbitrary situation. Had she woken up on another day, in different circumstances, his gaze could have been one of joy, beauty, inspiring trust, pleasure, a sense of showering in the sun and caressed by the wind, wind and hands of her man, handsome man, charnel creature who would tell her: “I love you.” I also cried for that young and innocent man, Ronald Goldman, who was apparently put, by the contingency of a mere chance encounter (or un-beknownst to us all, by other mysterious causality), between the cross-fire of passion and destruction.

I also cried, of course, for O.J., that man who suffers in silence, in the deepness of his soul and heart; a man who has lost everything that is really dear to him, including his own connection to himself. Despite my assumption of his guilt of the monstrous crime, I empathize with his terrible loss, for this man is the most miserable one among all the tragedy’s protagonists. Faced with his own conscience, probable exclusive receptacle of the ultimate truth, he becomes the undesirable hero of an unwanted drama that transcends his own apprehension of the unfolding events. He becomes an object, passive figurant in a worldwide absurd theater. A fallen hero.

Of course, a fallen hero doesn’t a fallen destiny make. As the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, one can always make something different—by mere will power, by a claim of freedom or a sense of drama,—of what is prescribed by the existential and social determinism of the existing social order. O.J. was sociologically destined, both by the structural construct of this order, and within the historical confine of the time, to be at best a hustler, possibly a resigned poor man, but certainly not a hero. His short-cutting foray into becoming a celebrated sport hero didn’t erase the fact that his success only illustrates the rules of the game: The chances are not every single Black man in the United States would become a sport hero, even though they’d want to. In any case, sport is a safe category that doesn’t need much soul searching. It’s a spectator’s pleasure activity for which the personal odyssey of the athlete is totally irrelevant, much less his political or historical context.

As was the case for most famous black athletes, notably Muhammad Ali and Nascimento Pele among them, the Establishment’s acclaim for the black athletic hero is always lived as a phenomenal, exceptional, even accidental occurrence, which together satisfies its phantasms of glory and its need of a contented self-conscience. Interestingly enough O.J. Simpson and Malcolm X come from, basically, the same historical, ethnic and social background, but while one was celebrated by the so-called mainstream Establishment, the other was perceived as its worst nemesis. While one has inoculated his soul with the fast lane splendor of the American dream, the other launched himself into the unknowns of political rebellion to force justice on the land and freedom for his people. Both are, however, survivors of the same dysfunctional, socio-economic reality from two different angles.

That one was killed as a martyr and the other vilified as a villain, says a good deal of the US spectacle culture. Make no mistake, however: their common blackness is just a small part, a referential epithet in the overall signification of the drama. The fact is that most down-trodden men and women of this society—be they black or white or yellow—share the fundamental alienation of these two men’s destinies by the constant tick-tack of validation between success and failure, representativity and exclusion, acknowledgement and oblivion, celebrity and invisibility, poverty and wealthiness, necessity and contingency, plenitude and imcomplétude, being and nothingness.

Neither the old-time chivalry of the noble classic era, nor the chic of the Post-modernist nihilistic dogma of today, has a remedy for the soul. Killing for my love is no different from killing for my property or killing for my glory and my image: the well-being of the soul is despondent of the nutrients with which it has been fed. Emptiness creates artificiality which in turn creates alienation and heartlessness.

Ironically, independently of his ultimate guilt or innocence, we make O.J. hold the key to our understanding of what occurred that fateful night: but he can also foul us by claiming either innocence or guilt. The sadness of the situation is that whatever the truth behind the dual verdict will prove to be, O.J. will always have to deal with his losses: the loss of a woman he loved, the loss of his children’s trust, the loss of his status of hero. Hero or villain O.J. will never again live in peace.

Naturally, in this matrix of virtuality and reality interceded in a symbiotic madness of wealth, power, sexuality, racism and plasticity, love ceases being a simple joy of being in the company (or the memory) of the beloved Other, be they a sister, a cousin, a friend, a lover, or a spouse; it ceases being the joy of experiencing a moment of transcendental elation with any beautiful human being who brings to your per-sonal existence a little human warmth.

In the end, stripped of its cosmic element, unrepresented in the high drama, love’s “got nothing to do with it,” as the Tina Turner song goes. It becomes an expression of a narcissistic game, a manipulated pawn in a relation of power—as if love the tender, the sweet honey, love the subliminal splendor, love the erotic trance, happiness translated in a feeling of actual well-being, had created a kind of alternated malicious sublimity, a transubstantiated eroticism made of human negations. That devi-ated love would kill on a certain day when it is faced with its reflection of existential boredom, its lacking of purpose, its emptiness, its imcomplétude of being. It will kill because it finds itself far away from the soul, penetrated by terrestrial impulses, taken by a huge force of total destruction. Alienated.

Alienated by a cosmic and social epistemology within the confines of political expediency, for which fundamental issues like life and death, suffering, happiness and human destiny are devalidated, relegated to fantasy category, dismissed as doctrinal orthodoxy coming from obscure preachers lacking the right credentials. While, of course, humans are being marketed as computer data, stupid consumers for whom no manipulation technique is absurd enough to demerit their monies—and their souls.

Today we are already being designated for mass human cloning. Perhaps we will need no mother’s mound, her uterus, her nourishing breast, nor the father’s sperm or parental wisdom, to make us grow and prosper. Can we break away from such a nightmare and build a new human perspective based on the assumption that we can recreate our lives conformingly to our liberational aspirations? That is the question.

Very fortunately, the human spirit always reaches a certain breaking point where it cannot take it anymore, and acts to change the mess—be it in a decade, a century or a millennium. Human cloning, human marketing and human devaluation may be the most trendy achievement that is offered to us today, but we also know that the concept of human redemption—cherished by the religions—is the same as the notion of liberation cherished by the revolutionary movements: a stage of humanization of life, which together encompasses and reformulates all adventures, misfortunes and aspirations of the human soul toward the realization of the dream of being.

We shall not return to the Stone Age because we invented High Technology; we must use High-Tech to help realize the dreams of the Stone Age. After all, why would we want to clone a multiplicity of the same when the sample is in such a state of dismay and decay? It’s sad that the Simpson story was such a compelling story of our time. This world of ours would be a much better world if we had devoted the same amount of attention and concern to the plight of the homeless as we had devoted to the problematic of O.J.’s guilt and innocence. The troubles of the factory worker who has no future in a system of structural exploitation; the confusion of the teen-age mother denounced as a sin-ner in a society of pseudo-parental virtue; the nightmare of the homosexual deprived of a nurturing space; the ghetto girl and boy excluded from the American Dream; the immigrant lost in a virtual and multilateral reality that devaluates his or her sense of being; the proud woman trapped in the male-dominated world of so-called penis envy and pussy reification, would be better off if the O.J. story were just a story. By default of a more nurturing and humanized cosmos tending to real human happiness, we made of the O.J. story our story, while, in fact, it is just the illustration of our nothingness. There must be another way.

Elegies to the Simpson Madness

He killed her one hundred times before
when he told her he loved her as a bird
lost in the wonderment and madness of being.
Adventurer in hell trapped by his own ego,
he descended into the pavement, his soul
had forgotten the path to the infinite space,
to the vast cosmos—celestial transcendence.

He killed because his heart was petrified
by the nostalgia coming from the time passed;
time of love under the pine trees, in open sky,
sensual and sweet moment of ultimate pleasure
when the unity of being and the grace of her flesh
were in enamoring trance with the sun.
—He killed when he was no longer just a dream.

He killed because killing has then become
the purest expression of the male’s power trip,
ero-sacrificial ritual for the fucked-up lovers
bent on destroying the pleasure principle
just to place their unhappiness in a museum.
He killed when beauty was an ideal no more,
when his heart changed suddenly to stone.

He killed when he became a prisoner
restricted in the confines of a miniature cell,
narrow road on a too fast a lane to nowhere,
to the infinite finitude of a morbidity
escaping the artificiality of the naked matter.
His endurance had conquered the magic
only to let it sleep under a zombie spell.

He killed when his love told him in disgust
that all will from now on be a disaster,
dreams changed to nightmare; hailed freedom
for a regained dignity of an oppressed soul,
would end at the tunnel of the Impossible.
O! Valorous courage to attain transcendence
within the nothingness of a dead-end corner!

While the elixir of the Simpson’s drama
was instilled in our veins of spectator guinea-pigs,
soon as the spotlight was on, fixated on the scripts
of myopia and self-hate hailed as entertainment,
you and I were reduced to primal contingence,
ideal consumers for marketing scheme
—happy recipients of soap-opera epics.

While we were dazed off by the Simpson’s pills
zealous legislators were deciding in silence
of our fate and virtues for the next millennium;
innocent men were found guilty as charged
because of their profiles of terrorist bandits;
groups of tenants ended up on the streets
due to downsizing of Wall Street’s junk bonds.
Mortuaries of broken bones, dry tears,
children killed in absence, their dreams depleted,
betrayed within the bureaucratic grandiosity.

Teen-aged mothers were made the enemies
to scapegoat scandalous bilking of the civic trust
by those who take our world as their own domain.
This was a time when suffering was made a crime.
In this diabolical mess smiles changed to swears
while love was reduced to mundane etiquette,
the ideal family was thrown trough the window
for mass consumption and anthropophagy
of a public conditioned to applauding bad-taste
—Magnificence of mediatic happiness,
defiance, defeat and death of a sad romance.

This had begun a long time ego, since the time
when the proud profiteers were made the saviors
of the exotic land—aiming for spatial conquest
and redemptive prayer for life’s degradation
in usurped lands and souls, death in the desert,
amid laments of despair of whole communities
whose souls were eaten by hunger and pain.
It began when we killed the dream and installed
in its stead a computer center to quantify progress
and dis-qualify whatever emotional in-put
or humanly feeling which distracts production.

After they had killed the ideal and the dream,
the law of the jungle became the mainstream,
global madness, false ecstasy in a hellish Nirvana.
Hatred for the self and the Other’s self, eternal
purgatory in Bad-life—and killing will follow,
for we are being told that is the only way, the way
of a soul so distraught that it needs to destroy.
The cops might have been happy, adrenalin risen,
to have hero-figure O.J. feed their prejudices
and keep peace on the land without a fanfare.

O.J. has reincarnated what he was made to be
from the start in a hatred-dominated world,
world of losers who kill wives and girlfriends,
deviants who make love under a freezing sea
beyond the frontiers of Apartheidized lives
and who kiss and yell and dream and cry,
living in constant displacement and defiance.
World of teen-age mothers giving birth
in vast cemeteries paved with grey boredom;
metamorphosis of a boy in an asshole killer
or a pimp who uses charm to collect his dues
and terror if love failed to impose blindness;
surreal manipulator with majestic prestige,
athletic hero edge from Hollywood canon
—phantasms of a universe with no dream.
Celebrate all the protagonists’ histories,
but leave in peace the dead and the living
who share the emptiness of common fate.

The O.J.’s tale is not our history—it is
the lost memory of our depravation;
the mountain’s cloud hiding the beauty.
Who will sing the song of the awakened dead?
Who will throw the first stone at O.J.?

(Boston, 1995–1997)

These essay and poem are extracted from my book, Poetica Agwe : Essays, Poems and Testimonials on Resistance, Peace, and the Ideal of Being, released in December 2010. You can purchase it at

Cet essai et ce poème sont extraits de mon livre, Poetica Agwe : Essais, poèmes et témoignages sur la résistance, la paix et l'idéal d'être, paru en décembre 2010. Vous pouvez vous le procurer

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