Through a series of email exchanges, published by Thames & Hudson and accessible through the above link, multidisciplinary artist/activist Björk and professor/philosopher Timothy Morton privately collaborated in an effort to articulate indefinable feelings through their outward manifestations in a cultural landscape to which both have contributed greatly and continue to reshape.
Early on Morton relates his word “hyperobject” to one of the terminological oddities in Björk’s lyrics, just one of many musical elements used by the media to trap her within this alien variant of the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl well into her thirties. The emotional bluntness of Vespertine and her most recent album Vulnicura then produced an equally diminutive, oddly colonial and disturbingly fetishistic fascination with the “newfound humanity” she now displays in her maturity.
While in interviews she’s effectively countered with clarity the fundamental disbelief among her critics that her compositions somehow weren’t successes owed to her accomplished male producers, the barrage of labelese must become difficult to deflect over time without inventing a few words not already established in the Merriam-Webster lexicon. Because said language, however, is part of the internal dialogue that’s played out across her discography, the critical miscategorizing rarely results from an intentional effort to dismiss her or her art.
With Kanye West the opposite is very much the case, having escalated to petitions arising from insult to the idea of calling what he does ‘art.’ Someone of West’s stature expects to be scrutinized at every turn, but even his supposed fans and allies recite the “enjoy the spectacle” defense any time the man dares speak “out of term.” Is this not emblematic of a society that touts a few thematic love-taps in truly corporate spectacle as “brave” and “radical?”
I can sit here and denounce from behind a keyboard as well as they, but I admit my past guilt in perpetuating the notion that West’s abrasive personality, specifically through the misogynistic lyrics present in Yeezus, need be looked past in order to appreciate what he’s doing, musically or politically. In an article I found on Dazed shortly after reading the excerpted Björk/Morton letters, I came across this:
And now I get it.
West’s contribution to the cultural landscape comes from his visual approach to hip-hop as a medium for expression. His outlandish-at-first-blush comments obviously derive from his immediate sense of worldly oppression*, as observed through the imagery he exposes himself to. Timid commentators will suggest that what West needs is a proper filter, as if it wasn’t already doing its job of translating his frustration into its most concentrated, hard-hitting form. Is it not the artist’s role to comment on society as he/she/they see it? In this country, we always invite this contest of highbrow vs lowbrow art. Ever consider that the latter’s mainstream domination is due to the general public’s refusal to unpack and determine for themselves the basis and validity of said commentary?**
While Björk’s verbal conundrum’s represent her internal struggle to contextualize her emotional role within society, West’s “Swaghili” is an assertion of his value to a society that won’t have hear it unless he’s screaming it from the top of the fucking mountain. Just as territorial drug dealing within society’s fringes only registers as a symptomatic problem when it erupts into urban gang war, Yeezus‘s aggression results from privileged critics’ attempts to box him in and trivialize his struggle. In his opus “New Slaves”, it’s directed toward Wall Street prison industrialists who don’t respond unless they catch a threatening whiff penetrating the familiar stench of shit-stained blood money. As uncomfortable as the misogyny is here, there are few more threatening images to a billionaire than the thought of a so-called nigger fucking his trophy wife or, in one of the song’s more transcendent touches, West’s “Y’all niggas can’t fuck with ‘Ye” turning of the n-word back on the fat cats (the nerve!)***
And, do yourself a favor: give “On Sight” a relisten. Notice how tired West sounds here? The sleeve rolling and towel throwing is almost audible*** as he gears into his angry minstrel persona. But then something hits him. His mother is dead and he’s about to bring her grandchild into a world that has changed far too little since “clean water was only served to the fairer skin.” Suddenly his “How much do I not give a fuck?” boast takes on a new meaning. Kanye West the renowned producer is at his peak powers, powers that could easily overshadow his message if he lets it. He won’t. There’s too much at stake. Gotta wind this shit down. . . but no rush.
* Although the basis of “Bush doesn’t care about black people” is tangible, given how Bush’s policies almost never reflected his desire to help anyone beyond whomever his dynastic administration of the financial elite wanted to.
** I realize my hypocrisy in criticizing Captain America: The Winter Soldier for vaguely hinting at the military-industrial complex stranglehold while defending West for his brazen (but still vague in terms of narrative detailing) accusations of societal racism; but, once again, that’s not his job. Captain America’s, if his true enemy is the military-industrial complex, is to fucking defeat it. I’m sure, between the bickering and explosions, the third sequel will play this out to its dramatic conclusion, but come on: it’ll be in its usual, grossly simplified super-villain form. Why? Because the thematic weight is superficial. It’s one thing to argue about the film’s own responsibility for offering a solution to its central conflict, but it’s a whole other to praise it for its use of window dressing.
*** As is the “yeah, yeah, yeah” in the “black dick in all your spouse again” line. He’s aware by now, possibly through its use in numerous trailers such as The Social Network’s, that “Power” became an anthem for the white and privileged who already held the power.