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Nice Day for a Lynching
A poem by Kenneth Patchen, with commentary.
The bloodhounds look like sad old judges
In a strange court. They point their noses
At the Negro jerking in the tight noose;
His feet spread crow-like above these
Honourable men who laugh as he chokes.
I don’t know this black man.
I don’t know these white men.
But I know that one of my hands
Is black, and one white. I know that
One part of me is being strangled,
While another part horribly laughs.
Until it changes,
I shall be forever killing; and be killed.
Thus some modern men place God the only place they feel remains since man so discredited himself: it must be the Other that was up on the cross after all. How else did man descend so far into hell but by some such mistake? And all this, true enough. We see the world in the balance of simple binaries, at best the dialectical dance here in hopes of seeing further—somehow we are good, somehow they are good, somehow it is inexpressible, etc.—still we loop position and negation to establish the thresholds by which a thing is known. Those who see but a single side are worse than blind.
We know ourselves and we know them, and we identify with them to the extent that we approximate the ideal of Other. This amounts to war with whatever simply happens to be. Man as a whole has somehow gained an immense self-confidence, and at the same time—this oddest despair. Whatever is may be but has no reason in that alone, always this anxiety sits below our thinking. The whole world is without true authority, instead powers and principalities reign.
See everywhere the assault on categories: the city is a spiritual war. Yet foremost warring is a matter of sight, see the efforts at legibility by which aspects are called to our attention. Someone must see a thing, understand it, otherwise nothing can be done. Here I play my part in the same. Now the enemy is underdetermined; see the development of unrestricted warfare, in which citizens exist as a superposition between loyalty and treason. The state’s own population has become an attack vector, as increasingly has its infrastructure to the extent that these are controlled by penetrable information systems.
Who is the war between? We are at war with ourselves, always have been. This is reflected in the basic structure of psychoanalysis, an image of the basic order-disorder relations so common among ancient pantheons and philosophies. The total pattern of this self-consciousness is that light oppresses shadow. Yet these contrary cycles fundamentally resemble one another each taking the other as inverted counterfeit: the darkening and lightening are simultaneous aspects of the relative absolute:
The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.
Yet this partial truth is ultimately rendered false by the power of immediate issuance: Absolute as creator—an object that far exceeds our too small hands. This is eternity as the absolute principle from which all else issues: we are light and they are dark; they are dark and we are light. These are reconciled by this single source.
Thus all contraries are at last false, while the only truth—that beyond the possibility of any contrariety—sits on high inaccessible. Of course, so few have ever seen this and many claim it doesn’t even exist; hence we are trapped in cycles whatever our alignment, whether absolution or damnation. Say, what placed Judas in his role? He was—
Here I see a bird out the window,
This monstrous, self-condemning world could be destroyed, not by any ordered force compromised in history, but only by an eruption which would leave nothing standing in its fire, regardless of consequences. When I saw pictures of the negro mobs destroying suburbs in New York and Los Angeles, I thought: we are all negroes, whoever finds this strange has understood nothing of our world.