Colloques & Conferences de l'Universite Lyon 2, Modernism and Unreadability / Modernisme et Illisibilite

Playing in the terrain of language: Baraka's populist modernism and the juggling with the nommo


Temps: 2008-10-24  04:00  – 04:35
Dernière modification: 2008-07-07


A central preoccupation of Amiri Baraka's drama has been the exploration of an African American linguistic perspective from which to articulate one's views and postures. Amiri Baraka's plays such as Dutchman, The Slave, Experimental Death Unit # 1, Madheart, and The Lone Ranger, explore the instrumentality of language to dramatize the social, cultural, and political encounter between the people of the blues and white Americans. Baraka's interest in linguistic oral and written forms drives him unavoidably towards more explicit mutilation and deformation of the English language during his quest for what he terms "post-American form." In an attempt to sketch the graph of the American viciousness, Baraka seems to put his already exhausted language under constant syntactic and orthographic pressure. The essay focuses on the irregularities of literary writing that involve lexis, orthographical form, textual organization, punctuation, and levels of enunciation, and highlights the inversive pattern that this writing strategy takes on. It transpires that mutilation and inversion of language are two distinct dominant elements in Baraka's new conceptualized literariness and his quest for a modernist populism.
Baraka's writing style is characterized by recurrent clippings of words, bogus grammar, weird vocabulary, short incompleted phrases, ambiguous unreadable statements, gaps and spaces, and abbreviated or cut terms. Baraka writes in a cryptic mode with eccentric typography, pervasive heterography, and unusual patterns of grammar. Variations and enigmaticity of the meaning and the shifting of words are recurrent. One of the critic refers to Baraka's writing style as the modernist politics of the open form. In this sense, communication becomes impossible since the written forms themselves are deficient as well as incomprehensible. Baraka's protagonists seem to require reworked syntax, heteroclite grammar, incorrect spelling, and novel vocabulary to overturn hegemonic paradigms. The language of the oppressor is a major hurdle towards the concretization of liberatory linguistics. This fresh disfigured language is diametrically opposed to already set notional and conventional rules.
Actually, characters of the various plays at hand, tend to invert and parody the language that they feel is not theirs. Baraka's writing includes an undeniable inversive pattern, or, say, linguistic reversal. This inversion and parody translate the imperious need to expel the ghost of an oppressive linguistic system. Baraka's transformations and alterations of the verbal and written forms, signal his desire to extricate himself from the stranglehold of American linguistic frames and literary canons. The writing formula becomes that of inversion and variation upon which rests the whole dramatist's writing style. Baraka, via his characters, transgresses the rules of formal language and pertinent import. In The Slave, Easley opines that Walker's writing takes a political slant. In fact, during Baraka's aesthetic protest, political writing permeates his theatrical texts. David L. Smith rightly notes that Baraka associates political writing with the aesthetics of ugliness and violence. There is a seeming intersection between the political evil and the linguistic one, a unity that Jacques Derrida aptly evokes in De La Grammatologie. Baraka's linguistic viciousness rests upon profane expressions and obscene indecipherable formulations. Here intervenes inversion to wreck domineering Anglo-Saxon constructs and canons. The trope of blackness ultimately conveys virtue and pride, when all the linguistic rubble of standard English is removed. Hence, unreadability becomes a dominant distinctive feature mainly when taken within the framework of Baraka's quest of a populist modernism.