Friday, December 10, 2010

moth's powder (12.anotherfriday.04)


dear moth's powder,

one of my favorite congregational songs is

send it on down lord, send it on down

lord let your holy ghost come on down

send it on down lord, send it down

lord let your holy ghost come on down

which, of course, must be finished with

power, power lord, power, power lord

power, power lord, power, power lord

and i love this song because, you know, we'd sing it and sing it and sing it sometimes for ten and others fifteen minutes. and that doesn't appear to be a long time at first blush until you realize that it is the same melodic structure the entire time and the lyrics do not really change. it's something so cool about singing around and around and around again, expecting something to come to you. even thinking about the song now, i can see Mother Burke with her white head covering, habit and stockings - she'd start the song from the pulpit when she was gonna preach, banging on her tambourine - and her voice was, i suppose, contralto, teetering on tenor, gravely, full of conviction and emotion.

she wouldn't just delicately sing send it on down but would add accent and texture send it ooown down lode, send it owwwwn down! and the congregation would have no recourse but to follow with just as much intensity and intention, clarity and conviction. and she'd bang that tambourine, and when she really got into it, she'd stand up from her seat and with the shack-a-lack shack-a-lack of the rings and pig skin held tightly together by wooden rim, nails and thumbtacks, she'd close her eyes, throw her head back and sing even louder. and the only way for me not to become bored on the b-3 was to become creative with the chording, sometimes laying into it and staying on one chord and then following with another, line by line, and other times switching chords and bass notes back forth back forth back forth.

what i love about the song, of course, is the fact that the saints would be moving and moving and moving in order to bring the lord's power down. you know i'm all into migration stories and have read entirely too many enslavement narratives where folks would escape from the conditions of enslavement by moving their bodies to above the Mason-Dixon Line, and to new york and to boston and to canada, which is cool. but i don't like the idea that seems to animate at least some peoples' thoughts about the folks who never "ran" but remained. there's all this moral judgment that is too close to implying that it must've not been that bad if people stayed, if everyone didn't just drown themselves in the sea throwing themselves overboard. whatever. it is easy to make pronouncements about well, what i would've done if i was a slave? i would've beat every god damned fucker who tried to touch me. this just seems a bit vulgar and wrong to me. and so i love the song because it changes what movement does, and thinks about it differently.

the lord's power coming down is about the recognition that we can use movement or stillness in order to bring something to ourselves. the lord's power coming down means that the singing and testifying and dancing and speaking in tongues is so moving and persuasive and powerful that not even the lord could stay on the outside, up above or some such exterior. no. the lord would be so compelled to move to where the sound and movement is going on. the song is all about how we know and give that which we have in us that can move things around us. or maybe this. movement is not always about going, but is likewise about things coming. but i wonder just what could we be trying to bring to ourselves? folks who read and take up Orlando Patterson would say something like because one is marginalized and enslaved that they have no honor, that this lack is irreducible. of course, they think that this notion of honor is what individuates and what makes a subject and so those who do not have honor do not have subjectivity. so they think that performing certain rituals and behaviors brings honor, respect and respectability and, thus, the ability to be a citizen, a part of this great nation and world.

well, needless to say, i'd disagree with this. if people are trying to bring anything to themselves, it is attention that is sustained and engaged. power, power lord is singing with power about the power one has in order to ask for more power. it is not a demonstration of fundamental lack or irreducible dishonor. rather, it says that honor as so defined by Patterson isn't desirable in the first place. desiring the coming down of the holy ghost is nothing other than knowing that there is something here, with us, in us that moves us. every song ain't about heaven. and i'd be all nerdy to say that this desire for the sending down is the repudiation of humiliation, shame and abjection in which some theorists and scholars would so relegate black social life. to say send it on down rather than take us on up is another way to think movement and motion, migration and flight. so no. folks did not have to leave conditions in order to critique conditions that marginalize and oppress.

you know, i'd written you about ecstatic asceticism, about being outside oneself together with others, but away and removed from such linear temporality. and i said that foucault would probably be against this sorta asceticism because it is a seeming renunciation of pleasure. i agree with foucault partially, at least. that is, what if asceticism itself functions as a mode of pleasure? what if renunciation feels good? what if staying is bound up with a different sorta critique, no less important? what in asceticism can require us to think pleasure differently? well. there was always pleasure in Mother Burke's voice, she was convinced and convicted that the lord's power could and, indeed, would come down. i guess the vulgarity is in the idea that she could not find a particular becoming together with others in a sorta ecstatic asceticism isn't possible, it's in the idea that she would only aimlessly repeat these phrases without such movement on the part of the lord.

well. more again, another soon.



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