DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Darius James Negrophobia (1992)

 

‘Published in 1992 by Carol/Citadel Press, Negrophobia was a wild romp through a racially charged dreamscape that zipped from one absurd scene to another so quickly, you didn’t have time to question the illogical logic as stereotypes Uncle Remus, metal lawn jockeys, African cannibals, and Little Black Sambo plowed through the pages. “Growing-up in the ’60s, I watched all of those cartoons, but I didn’t associate those images with me or any other black people,” James said to me last year from his home in New Haven, Connecticut a few days before Christmas. “Though I was aware that that was how white people might think of black people.”

‘At sixty-three years old, James is a divorced former expat who lived in Berlin for over a decade before returning to the states in 2007. With a wicked sense of humor, he chuckles often. Having read and performed his often brilliantly off-color material for years, his speaking voice is clear, though it sometimes reminds me of our shared hero, Richard Pryor. Raised by a mother who was a psychiatric nurse and a painter father whose abstract expressionist canvases hung throughout the house, James’ first artistic inkling when he was a boy was to become a visual artist.

‘“I did some painting, but my father’s criticism was so harsh that I started writing instead, because he didn’t know anything about that.” Reading widely from the time he was in fourth grade, James devoured his mom’s Freud and Jung textbooks as well as underground comics drawn by S. Clay Wilson and Robert Williams, the novels and poems of Chester Himes and Ted Joans. “I also watched tons of television,” he said. “Children’s programs hosted by Sandy Becker and Soupy Sales were my favorites. It was like a pre-drug thing. Those shows prepared you for the reality of LSD.”

‘The avant-garde black power works of Amiri Baraka were also an inspiration, but years later the noted writer was far from impressed by the Negrophobia pages he read when teaching at Yale in the ’80s. “Baraka was running a writer’s workshop, but neither he nor any of the other students were very supportive. They basically told me not to publish it. To go away and don’t publish it.” In the final text of his debut, James got his revenge by referring to Baraka’s novel, The System of Dante’s Hell (1965), as “shit-stained pulp.”

‘In James’ black (face) comedy horror, written in the form of a screenplay, the anti-heroine protagonist was a racist white teenager named Bubbles Brazil, a spoiled little rich girl who was so badly behaved that she’d been kicked to the curb by every private academy in New York City and placed at Donald Goines Senior High School. “What’s a white girl to do in a school full of jigaboos?” Bubbles wondered.

‘Back home, after smart-mouthing her “kerchief-headed . . . meaty-arm” servant, a grits-cooking maid who resembled a 1950s tele-domestic, the woman put a serious mojo on the young girl that sends missy hurling into a hallucinogenic dark place, a voodoo so vexing that it is hard for her to get out. “The maid slithers into a convulsive snake dance, foams at the mouth, and tears off her clothes,” James wrote. “Fish-eyed pancakes are slung Frisbee-style across the kitchen. Bruce Lee’s kung-fu cat cries mingle with James Brown’s R&B funk shrieks.”

‘For the next hundred-fifty pages, Bubbles bounces like an ivory-hued pinball from one surreally racist scenario to another. In my mind, the words became pictures in the style of P-Funk cover artist Pedro Bell. In addition to the race issues, Negrophobia is sexually graphic and filled with enough free-flowing bodily fluids to gross out the strongest stomach.

‘The idea to write his wild styled book came to James when he was living in the West Village in the late ’70s. “It was just as simple as putting the words ‘Negro’ and ‘phobia’ together,” he said. “The Bubbles character was based on a few different women. There was this one white girl from West Virginia I knew who, after her parents split-up, was forced to go to Martin Luther King High School, because her father wouldn’t pay for private school anymore. She would tell me these crazy stories that I thought were so funny.” Originally written in traditional narrative form, after his friend and neighbor Michael O’Donoghue, the National Lampoon writer and Saturday Night Live original cast member, suggested he compose it as a screenplay, the ideas finally gelled.

‘“I knew it would be the best way to avoid a lot of psychological jabber about the characters,” James said. “I just wanted the reader to deal with the images and therefore confront those same images on their own terms.” Taking ten years to complete the manuscript, James worked as O’Donoghue’s researcher on various film projects, including Biker Heaven, the proposed sequel to Easy Rider that, according to Splitsider.com, “was set in 2068, a hundred years after the original, and saw the original movie’s main characters resurrected by ‘the Biker God’ to recover the original Gadsden flag in the wake of a nuclear war, as they encountered numerous biker gangs.”

Negrophobia has been championed and ridiculed by critics and readers alike, with a strange array of celebrity fans that includes actor Johnny Depp, members of Fishbone, and painter Kara Walker, whose use of slave imaginary in her famed silhouettes has been called “revolting and negative” by assemblage artist Betye Saar. “I read Negrophobia in 1994, when I was just about to graduate from the art school, and I’ve dealt with it intensively,” Walker said in db-art in 2004. “It was one of those rare soothing moments that I thought there could be another person in the world who understands what I do.”

‘The book’s biggest critic, however, was an employee of James’ publisher who believed the cover promoted the same stereotypes it purported to be combating and tried to have it squashed. Florence Washington, a black administrative assistant in Carol’s New Jersey offices, was offended by the image which showed, as The New York Times described in the June 17, 1992 Book Notes column, “a white girl, scantily dressed . . . over her shoulder is a shadow of an oversize Sambo-like caricature that resembles racist art from the 1930s and 40s.” Designed by art director Steve Brower, he and Darius, “saw the picture as a visual representation of the novel’s basic satirical line: What the teen-ager sees over her shoulder is not the shadow of a real man but of her deepest fears.”

‘Washington claimed she was going to report the incident to civil rights activist Sonny Carson. “The worst part was, she hadn’t even bothered to read the book,” James said. The protest didn’t trigger any bans or burnings, but it did generate the NYT piece. James told reporter Esther B. Fein, “These stereotypes have not died; they’ve just been transformed and modernized. The whole point is that I believe black people should start taking back these images from our iconography that have been stolen and corrupted through the years by racists. I understand that these images were once oppressive. But I think we are at the stage where we can look at these images and not feel threatened. All kinds of black artists have started to take control of these images, whether they realize it or not.”

‘Los Angeles Times book critic Dany Laferrière wrote in December 1992. “I opened James’ book only to topple into hell . . . Negrophobia remains the courageous effort of a young writer to understand his time, and a mad attempt to renew the genre of the novel.”

‘Kathy Acker was the first professional to encourage James after she read the first forty pages of Negrophobia in the mid-eighties. Acker constructed books, including Kathy Goes to Haiti (1978) and Blood and Guts in High School (1984) that were genre-breaking texts that combined word collages, plagiarized text, violence, and erotic (bordering on pornographic) imaginings designed to expand the possibilities of what the novel could be. It was that uncompromising attitude that Darius James applied to his own art that would become associated with the then creatively striving community of writers, painters, filmmakers, performance artists, and musicians who congregated on the Lower East Side.

‘“The Lower East Side didn’t really start for me until I met Kathy,” James said. The two connected when James was thirty and, after living in the West Village for a few years, had returned to his native New Haven. Bored one afternoon, he looked up Acker’s phone number and cold-called her at home. “I just told her how much I enjoyed her writing and how she reminded me of a jazz musician in the way she handled language and story and identity.”

‘Instead of being creeped out, she invited him to come see her the next time he was in the city. The following week, he, Acker and writer Patrick McGrath had drinks in an East 5th Street bar downstairs from a police station. “I showed her those early pages and she read them right there. She told me she thought it was fantastic.” Although the recorded history of ’80s Lower East Side is often whitewashed, there was a thriving community of black artists as well, which essayist Jennifer Jazz described perfectly in her piece Black Like Basquiat: Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Black Kids in Downtown NYC.

‘James began hanging out at various spots on the Lower East Side including the performance space Neither/Nor where he befriended fellow black writers John Farris (The Asses Tale), Steve Cannon (Groove, Bang, and Jive Around), both who became mentors, and Norman Douglas. Junkie playwright/screenwriter Miguel Pinero also hung out there, shooting smack in the back with his Sing Sing buddies. A few blocks away, Jean-Michel Basquiat was painting, David Hammons was concepting, and Ornette Coleman was blowing his horn.

‘“Darius and I hit it off from when we first met,” Douglas said recently. “We read poetry at Life Café and drank at the Horseshoe Bar on 7th and Avenue B. Greg Tate was the big black culture writer at the time, but I thought Darius was always the more radical thinker and writer.” With Acker’s help, Darius first published in the scene’s infamous literary journal Between C & D, edited by former couple Joel Rose and Catherine Texier. Printed on dot-matrix paper and sold in ziplock plastic baggies, contributors included Acker, Bruce Benderson, Gary Indiana, Tama Janowitz, Patrick McGrath and Dennis Cooper.

*

‘While I imagined that James would’ve had a difficult time selling Negrophobia to an America publisher, the opposite was true. “I met a New Yorker writer at Michael’s house named George W. S. Trow, and we became friends,” James explained. “He introduced me to the editor at Carol, whose name I can’t remember, but I do recall he was a Deadhead.” In 1993, the book was published in paperback by St. Martin’s Press as part of a deal Darius worked out when selling his nonfiction That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ’Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury).

‘It would take me another twenty-five years to actually complete Negrophobia, and that was only after writer and Man Booker winner Paul Beatty (The Sellout) playfully shamed me after I confessed to only reading a quarter of the book when it was released. As we stood in the rain after John Farris’ memorial service in April 2016, Beatty shook his head as though disgusted. “Go back and read that book. You won’t regret it.” When I told James the story, he laughed. “It’s not an easy book to finish,” he told me. “Most people stop at the scene where Bubbles is puking up worms, so, I understand.”

‘Negrophobia has been out of print since the ’90s, but Beatty reprinted an excerpt in Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor in 2006. “I found the work of the novelist Darius James while passing through Cathy’s bookstore on Avenue B and at the Living Theater on Third Street, hearing him deliver voodoo shibboleths as unruly as his stringy dreadlocks,” Beatty wrote in the book’s introduction, which was reprinted in The New York Times in January 2006.

‘I finally dived knee-deep into the textual boogie of Negrophobia and was delighted that I did. As Richard Pryor once said, “The water’s cold . . . and it’s deep too.” Darius’ writing style was as vivid as it was precise as he piled crazed images on top of one another. After reading the first few chapters of Bubbles’ Adventures in Darkieland, I took a nap and had a multicolored nightmare of skyrockets blasting in the sky as Mickey Mouse’s dog Pluto bounced upside down, dragging his long tongue along the glittery ground. Seriously, it was as though the words worked a spell on my imagination, and even in sleep they wouldn’t let go.

‘After the release of Negrophobia, James hoped to begin working on his second novel The Last American Nigger, but life had other plans. “I think we all just assumed that when Negrophobia carried his work beyond Manhattan, Darius was going to be a star,” writer Dennis Cooper wrote in 2007, “an avant-garde superhero writer a la Burroughs and Acker. But his raucous style and subversive mode of confronting racist attitudes by embracing racist stereotypes were frequently misunderstood at the time. Despite the hubbub and some great reviews, the novel was not a big success.”

‘In 1998, Darius relocated to Berlin, which, in his words, was much like the Lower East Side in the ’80s. While Negrophobia didn’t get Darius’ face in any Dewars scotch ads, his dangerous visions expanded the limits of speculative fiction, and it took me back to the days when I was a teenage geek discovering the alternative new world universes of Harlan Ellison, Ishmael Reed, Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, and Samuel R. Delany while simultaneously blaring the sounds of Prince, David Bowie, Grandmaster Flash, and Donna Summer in the background. An obvious literary pioneer in what the kids today call Afrofuturism, his work has inspired others, including the Ego Trip crew, writer/editor Bill Campbell (Koontown Killing Kaper), Hype Williams videos, and graphic artist Tim Fielder, who once did a comic strip insert with him for Between C & D.

‘Negrophobia remains the most blackadelic funk novel of late twentieth century that has much in common with the various generations of avant-gardists, free jazz cats on stage at Slug’s and doo-rag Dadaists as it does with James Brown’s brand new bag, Ralph Bakshi’s cartoons (especially the apt titled Coonskin) and George Clinton’s aural acid adventures in Chocolate City. Currently, Darius James is working on various projects, including editing a book project with photographer Gerald Jenkins, discussing a graphic novel with Casanova Frankenstein, composing a spoken word project with Haitian electronic voodoo musician Val Jeanty, and working on a new novel tentatively called Acid Fairies.

‘“I wanted to write about black women doing acid,” James said. Knowing his work, something tells me there’s more to it than that. For now, I’ll turntable scratch the words of Dennis Cooper, who wrote in a 2007 blog, “Darius may be a slowpoke, but he’s one of the most gifted contemporary American fiction writers in my opinion, and Negrophobia is a singular mindblower of a novel that I think you should do yourself the favor of reading.”’ — Michael Gonzales, Catapult

 

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Etc.

* Buy ‘Negrophobia’
* Darius James reviews Saab Lofton’s Anarchist Democracy
* Oliver Hardt’s documentary BLACK DEUTSCHLAND is an intimate exploration of black life in Germany. It features Darius James, a.o. Read about it here.
* The Negrophobia Website
* Read about and buy Darius James’s nonfiction book That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury) (St. Martins Press, 1995)
The Zombie Monologues, by Darius James
The Evil Eyes, by Darius James
The Dark Side of the North Pole, an excerpt from the novel, “Froggy Chocolates” by Darius James
Anarchist Democracy by Darius James
Free Brother Bobby!

 

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Media


Showreel


Darius James – Sensitive Skin Magazine live @ Bowery Poetry Club 8-15-2010


Darius James at the Sensitive Skin reading, Cafe Amsterdam, 10/29/10

 

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Quotes

“I wanted to set up a situation where a reader had to confront his own racist thinking. And I wanted to talk about this in the book: that this culture – that popular culture – is predicted on the fact that it finds black people funny.” — Darius James

” …these cartoons in and of themselves aren’t intended to perpetuate racism. Rather, they were designed to subvert it(…) One of the ideas for me was that the reader himself, who might have a racist thought after reading Negrophobia, would become ill and throw up. But magically, I would like the reader to step back and look at the absurdity of these images and laugh: laugh at the images, laugh at their own racism and not feel cowed by it. And also, black people should laugh at these images and realize that these images are not reflection of black people but rather a reflection of some diseased mind, which is a real distinction. Because some people – and not a lot of them – became critical of the book because they confuse what I’m writing about with actual lives of black people. My book has nothing to do with the real live of black people. It has to do with mapping out the terrain of a racist psychology and making fun of that.” — Darius James

 

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I Hate Being Lion Fodder
A Conversation Between Darius James and Kara Walker

 

Darius James: The first thing that struck me in your work was that your use of paper cutout and silhouette has the feel of folk art, grounding the work in black storytelling traditions. I like how the frozen moments of the images narrate an entire tale, sung with the wit and cunning of the blues trickster. I say “sung,” because the stylistic execution is lyrical. Thus, your work simultaneously encompasses the visual, the narrative, and the musical.

I am also impressed by your satirical boldness. I don’t see much of that. And when it is attempted, it isn’t done well. It doesn’t go for the throat. It doesn’t smell blood. When “Negrophobia” was first published in hardback, the cover featured a white woman whose shadow was a thick-lipped, light bulb-headed coon. Some folks inside the publishing house were offended and threatened to sic the NAACP on me. Then, I kid you not, in some black bookstores, it was sold under counter in a plain brown wrapper. Now, the cover is hanging in the Smithsonian. Curiously, the people who seemed most offended by my work were middle to upper class blacks. Working class blacks, for the most part, see the humor and get the point. I tell you all this in order to ask how black people in the U.S. are reacting to your work.

Kara Walker: There have been letter-writing campaigns: once after being awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1997, and once, at least so far, for the removal of one of my least offensive prints from a museum in Detroit. My work has also been lambasted in the International Review of African American Arts: 17 pages with no byline, mostly ribbing me for my hair, my white husband – nothing at all unique – too young, haven’t paid my dues, etc. It was quite embarrassing and strangely obtuse that two issues of a magazine supposedly devoted to unraveling the lure of stereotypical, racist imagery should rely so heavily on stereotypical racist imagery of the kind that blacks dole out among themselves. Harvard and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. also put on a kind of niggerati circus in 1998 that I failed to attend – probably to my detriment, but I hate being lion fodder.

I read “Negrophobia” when I was still in grad school (I graduated in 1994) working out these notions. It was one of those good but rare occasions when I thought there might be one other person in the world that would get what I was doing. The only thing I didn’t like were the pictures in between. Sorry. We’re talking about a proud fine arts grad student here. I remember thinking, No, this is wrong. Those postcard coon images aren’t ugly because they’re ugly, they’re hateful because they’re cute, loveable, desirable. They feed on scatological, pedophiliac, incestuous, murderous longings and, like Jlo’s children’s line or ads for Babyphat, they do it in a nostalgic, seductive way.

Darius James: In your letter, you wrote that Henry Louis Gates Jr. ringmastered a niggerati circus at Harvard in 1998. What was that exactly? And why would you have been “lion fodder?”

Kara Walker: I was having a show there of a large suite of silhouette pieces. And Gates organized a weekend-long series of lectures and films around the slippery slope of race and representation. It included a panel with Betye Saar, who started a censorship/hatemail campaign against my work and against my positive reception by the art market/MacArthur Award folks, Howardina Pindell, and Michael Ray Charles (also much-hated for his pickaninny art). And from the reports of my disappointed friends, dissed because I wasn’t there, Mr. Charles couldn’t hold up his end of the argument – and he has an advertising background, for shame! Now, if I hadn’t been on a much-anticipated trip to the German Oma and Opa, they anticipating their first and only grandchild, I would have simply sat on the stage and nursed my Quadroon baby and said nothing. I mean, you know when it comes to our sordid racist past and our sordid racist relationship with Race, there is going to be some shouting. Much of it was cross-generational.

Yeah, I was also taken aback by an ad supposedly against child sexual exploitation, which really struck me as needlessly sexy, exploiting the notion of the Beautiful Black Child wearing her poor ragged shift. She is central to the image, totally exposed in all her shame-faced beauty. Her face is in profile and cast downward, toward her white Barbie doll, which she’s about to abandon. The unseen force of the image, the one we passersby are meant to identify with, is the faceless white man pulling her by the arm in the opposite direction. She’s nearly spread-eagled across the image and he’s shrouded in mystery, setting up the classic tension between illicit desire and access. The tagline, something like “she’s a child, not a sex object,” could just as easily read, “she’s a child, and a sex object.” It might also apply to the doll.

Darius James: When I began researching “Negrophobia”, along with turn-of-the-century coon images on postcards, pancake-mix boxes and tin toys, I also came across some Civil War-era editorial cartoons, some of which were as sexually explicit as your own, though without the graceful lines, of course. You seem to draw inspiration from these images, as well. I have one image in my collection of a Northern abolitionist on his knees with his tongue inserted into the rectum of a nappy-haired jungle Negress.

Race is not divorced from sexuality in the American imagination. Racism is rooted in the hypocrisy of puritanical sexuality. America’s first sex shows were plantation owners overseeing that their property bred right. Did you know Joel Chandler Harris would write his fiancée love letters in Uncle Remus dialect? It was how he showed his sexual side.

Kara Walker: Mostly I am influenced by literature, particularly bad romance novels and porno, because it’s a given that the reader should experience titillation. My experience also includes a heavy dose of shame, not just because maybe I should have been doing close readings of Black Feminist Theory, etc., instead of pursuing “The Master’s Revenge,” but also because so much of that base-level literature is so raw. So much irritating fucking truth about us and our reliance on the old master/slave dialectic to define and redefine our selves and our history. I really started working this way because I was so sick of that dialectic being the guarantor of my colored gal experience. Also, I began working this way because, conversely, so much of that paradigm became my experience, when I really wasn’t looking for it to do so.

Still, it feels a little bit strange to be here in cyberspace, spinning the all-too-familiar yarns on plantation imagery for a German audience that may be inclined to take that stuff at face value. I say this in a vain attempt to invite controversy. I like to think I know these Germans well. That advertisement for West cigarettes would never fly in the States – the one with the crazy disco Afro woman and the average white guy offering her his little ciggy. She’s all teeth and hot red Amazonian sex. The catch phrase is “Test it.”

Darius James: I’ve lived here for four years and, like yourself, I’m intimately involved with a German. I couldn’t say, however, “I know these Germans well.” But I also understand what you’re saying about taking your work at face value. I might walk into a record or comic book shop and the most ig’nint fool gangsta rap will be blasting out of the speakers. I’m not condemning gangsta rap, or rap in general, or sex and violence. I’m talking about some drunken and blunted fool spewing abusive and dysfunctional bullshit that’s not about anything at all, except being abusive and dysfunctional. And a lot of young Germans listen to this shit because it’s supposed to be hip, not really understanding what’s going on in the lyrics. If they knew, they would puke.

Going out for cigarettes this morning, I saw the specific West cigarette ad you were referring to in your letter. There are a few now. Around Christmas time, there was one featuring an Afro-haired woman in Santa’s helper suit complete with reindeer. This one you are concerned with I hadn’t seen until this morning. What I find interesting about the ad is this – the woman towers over the man offering her a cigarette, and she appears to be having a hearty laugh at the idea he is offering her such a small object. The image of the woman is clearly a projection of white male sexual fantasy, but white male sexual inadequacy is also implied by the image – desire and fear encompassed in a single image.

The image is not so much one of racism as it is one of exoticism. One of the things I find interesting about exoticism in the context of interracial sexual liaisons is that it is a kind of racism by mutual consent. Each party projects fantasies onto the other. If there is a solid basis to the attraction and a relationship is formed, the fantasy stage is transcended and one finds oneself dealing with the funky humanness of the other. Exotic differences are of no importance because one is dealing with the hard realities of another human being. Some people, of course, fetishize the idea of exoticism. I live in Europe. I have all manner of exotic masturbatory fantasies about women here, black, white, Middle Eastern, Asian, etc. Subverting gender/power sexual relations within a hetero context appeals to me.

Curiously, just like the stereotypes some like to believe about themselves attraction based on exoticism also occurs among exotics. For example, the fetishizing of black women as the Queen Mums of Africa within romantic black cultural nationalist thought. Or, like the East Indian and Bavarian German woman with whom I had an affair some years back, who complained about how she was being treated like an exotic by all the white boys she had been involved with. Yet, at the same time, as she had never been involved with a black man, she projected her particular fantasies onto me.

Kara Walker: I have a similar reading of the West ad, however, I was troubled by it just the same. One reason is because I’m a tall fancy-ass American black woman (“Are you a model?” or “Aren’t you that model in…?” have been asked of me more than I care to recall) who has always relished the idea that I could be an exoticized sexual predator. However, my internal reality is so altogether different, so 13-year old suburban sniperish. “She was always so quiet… I can’t believe she would do this.” I both relish and resent those crazy-sexy-cool attitudes that seamlessly conceal internal angst. In my premarital exploits I can safely say I had a few open wounds through which I let slip the unseemly, the ironic, and the paranoiac, which leads to another favorite stereotype, the crazy-ass nigra.

Personally, I found this situation Black Amazon meets sexually frustrated white agent, – face it, in the West ad he’s still doing all the offering, her laughter is passive, it’s a response – iconic for the immensity of the fabrications involved, and the impossibility of sustaining the illusion of race or gender roles.

You said: “If there is a solid basis to the attraction, and a relationship is formed, the fantasy stage is transcended and one finds oneself dealing with the funky humanness of the other. Exotic differences are of no importance because one is dealing with the hard realities of another human being.” But transcendence doesn’t always occur. I based many a notebook page on the idea of sustaining the tension that occurs when each party only partly reveals, does an elaborate striptease with their funky humanness. Seeking fetishized comfort in the fantasy version of one’s own body, in other words. Really, the ad for West cigarettes would be more to my liking if the funky chick had a revealing bulge in her pants.

 

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Book

Darius James Negrophobia: An Urban Parable
Citadel

Negrophobia is written in the form of a screenplay, but no movie version of it exists so far. (There had been discussions about an animated movie version, and a live theatrical production has been long in the works.) The novel becomes a big screen on which Darius James projects reality and fiction, consciousness and sub-consciousness, dreams and fears of not just an American, but a whole western society where racism is in people’s conscience. The book is actually a journey inside this racism.

‘All the characters in this book are cartoon–like. James has created a pyramid of racist stereotypes with supernatural powers. Negrophobia describes the strange and hallucinating adventures of a white, drug-addled teenage girl called Bubbles Brazil, and she has all the typical racial stereotypes of African-American people in her head. She lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is a rich girl who hates going to school with “jigaboos” since they’ve turned the high school hallways into a mad spectacle of sex, drugs and violence.

‘Bubbles finds herself transported into a nightmare dreamscape, and she is taken there through the voodoo of a demonic Aunt Jemima called “the Maid”. This Voodoo spell throws Bubbles in a parallel world of grotesque visions of racism. She now experiences racism on her own, and suddenly every racial stereotype about black people comes to life.

‘Along the way she meets “a Negro cyborg”, Uncle H. Rap Remus (who rapes little children), Malcolm X, she gets beaten up by a group of Ninja-Queens in her schools bathroom, meets a bunch of cartoon savages with grass skirts, who dream of social welfare, crackhead homeboys fantasizing about Spike Lee, a zombie Elvis, and Walt Disney, who wants to take over America and establish a Gestapo state.’ — from the Negrophobia website

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Short excerpts

Bubbles (v.o.):

My high school was overridden with niggas. Not the slow-witted, slow-shufflin’, eyeball-rollin’ flapjack- flippin’ niggas in the brownstone off Central Park West. Or the upwardly mobile, paper-bag-colored Klingon niggas – the nightmarish kind!

Mindless angel-dusted darkies slobbering insane single syllables, flicking switchblades and flashing straightrazor. Hip-Hoppity jungle bunnies in bright colored clothes, carrying large, loud radios we white wits call “Spadios”, who drank bubbling purple carbonates and ate fried pork rinds and bag after bag of dehydrated potato slices caked with orange dust. Crotch-clawin’ niggas who talked Deputy Dawg and shot dope. Saucer-lipped ragoons who called me the “Ozark Mountyin She-Devil” and asked to feel my lunch money. Percussive porch monkeys who fart with their faces to a heavy-metal beat.

These were the kind of niggas my daddy warned me about. The kind of niggas my daddy said would whisk me off to the Isle of Unrestrained Negros far, far away, and turn me into a coalblack pickaninny with a nappy ribbon top and white button eyes if I wasn’t a good girl and didn’t do as daddy said.

 

*

INT. Donald Goines Senior High-Classroom-Day

Fade up on the punkadelic blond dreads of a black-skinned GIRL. Slowly pan left to right, overlap dissolve, and pan right to left across the faces of the other STUDENTS seated in the classroom, each face a frightening caricature of the grotesque.

BUBBLES
(voice over)
My high school was overridden with niggas. Not the slow-witted, slow-shufflin’, eyeball-rollin’, flapjack-flippin’ niggas in the brownstones off Central Park West. Or the upwardly mobile, paper-bag-colored Klingon niggas of the bougie boogahood. But nigger niggas- the nightmarish kind! …

One day her black maid, being sick of her attitude, prepares a voodoo concoction which throws Bubbles into the nightmarish and surreal realm of her own mind, where she has to face her worst stereotypes: the Cosmic Sambo- a Negro cyborg, the primitive Licorice Men who grin like Louie Armstrong, the rotting corpse of Malcolm X singing and dancing in the ‘Rocky-Horror Negro Show’, a fascistoid Walt Disney who proclaims to “hang the nigger and burn the Jew”, the Elvis-Zombie, crack kids and Talking Dreads.

BUBBLES
(v.o.)
And there I dangled, in the attic, quietly hallucinating amid vile odors and strange Negro figurines. On the floor below, the maid had gone mad – her blubbersome black bulk flopping and flailing about the floor, bellowing for a pink-skinned god who would never come.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** JM, Really? That’s interesting. Huh. I can only see the current anti-Godardism as a symptom of the general conservatism about film in general. Experimental film and the writing about it is so sequestered that there’s little actual experience with it among film watchers, and it’s become a boogeyman, and Godard, whose works I would guess most of the naysayers have never or maybe hardly seen, has become a shorthand for aesthetically based, non-linear, etc. film in general, all of which is nothing but depressing. No, I didn’t watch ‘New York Weights and Measures’, but I’ll find it and will. Thanks! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. My anticipation for the new Godard, based on everything I’ve read, couldn’t be more insanely high. If I see it before you do, which seems likely, I’ll give you the scoop. And, yeah, I’m losing my shit waiting for ‘The Other Side of the Wind’. I already told you I saw five scenes from it in Welles’s presence at the Directors Guild back in the early 90s, and it looked nuts. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Oh, God, half the people I used to know were Maoists back then. It meant something very different at the time than it does now. More overblown outrage and shaming for their own sakes, yawn. Well, of course Tarantino only likes the early Godard, duh, based on what he’s into and feeds off. ‘Goodbye to Language’ is probably my favorite of Godard’s films. The thing with our producer is we just have to get her to sign off on the script then send it on to ARTE. Ultimately, her opinion doesn’t matter at all. What will become of the script is between ARTE and us. For now we’re just having to deal with her second-guessing of what ARTE wants, and we don’t think she has a clue what they want. So it’s an annoying phase that luckily will soon be over. ARTE may hate our script, we’ll see, but at least once we’re working with them, their requests/demands will actually be things we need to take seriously. Just last night a massive Chris Marker retrospective started at the Cinematheque Francaise. They’re going to be showing as many of his zillion films and videos, quite a number of which have never been seen, as they can. Should be incredible. Sounds like a very interesting interview indeed. Excited to read it and see his film. Yes, I know about Emerson’s band, and I actually heard a rough recording of part of one of their gigs many, many years ago that Gerard Malanga played for me. I only remember it sounding loose and extravagant. Everyone, Mr. Steve Erickson: ‘Here’s my return to Fandor, with a review of Sebastian Lelio’s lesbian romance DISOBEDIENCE.‘ ** Sypha, Hi. Yeah, he’s my fave of them. I guess I also really, especially like Ondine, Candy Darling, Joe D., Brigid Polk, Tom Hompertz, and I guess a bunch of others. ** Alex rose, Hi, Alex! Well, really, Gisele is in the Biennale, but since I wrote those suckers, yeah, I kind of am. I’m definitely happy about it. And it’s a chance to go back to Venice, even if summer in Venice is an atmospheric nightmare. Awesome about you being in Frieze. Yeah, between that and all the Hudson stuff, I really, really wish I could be there. I’m on the board of the Hudson Foundation or the Feature Foundation whatever it’s called, but, so far, that just means I get cc’ed in emails. I’m going to see if I can see that giant photo of your work. Wow! Hey, when I go out to eat in supposed foodie mecca Paris on extremely rare occasions, it’s usually either to Chipotle or Hard Rock Cafe. But getting you started is one of life’s raison d’etres, Alex. Bunch of love tight back to you! ** _Black_Acrylic, I like them too. Well, duh. And this new 7D holographic thing is nuts. Did you watch the video of that crashing whale hologram? Oh my God. The YnY book looks ace, Ben. That is for damn sure. ** Jeff J, Hi. Yeah, the holographic rock/rap/whatever star thing needs a lot of work still. I am very curious to see the ABBAtars, though. If anybody has enough money to use all available tech enough to make that illusion a mind blow, it’s them. Nice, nice, nice: the gig. I haven’t seen the new Lynne Ramsay, no. I think it already came and went here. To be honest, while I’m way into and supportive of what she’s doing and hope for all respect/success for her work, but I’ve never been 100% happy with or into her films. It’s been a while, so I don’t remember what I felt was lacking, but there was something. I need to revisit them. I’m absolutely sure I won’t dislike her new film. That seems like a total guarantee. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Excitement is like a gift we give to ourselves, or I guess a thing that something external offers to us and that we grab and gift to ourselves. Or something. We deserve it. Okay, noted, for my future Zicam shopping, thank you. The first ‘Deadpool’s’ snark didn’t charm me, so I’m not that excited about a #2. Might have been a mood thing though. Cool! ** Paul Curran, Paul! The sightliest sight for my sore (not kidding) eyes! Buddy! Things are good. Way, way to busy work on the TV show project at this very moment, but, yeah, stuff’s flying along pretty well. Any time you’ve had for novel work? Or novel thinking? Yes, the plan, which I feel reasonably sure will happen, is that Zac and I will come to Japan timed with ‘Crowd’ being performed in Kyoto in, I think, October? And of course Tokyo will be a big stop on whatever Japan trip we take. So, yes, very excited about that! And obviously I hope and pray you’ll be around then. A couple of people have mentioned issues with seeing the comments. I inquired with my host, and they said nothing seems to be technically wrong, so I don’t know why that’s happening, sorry. Love to you, pal. ** H, Hi! Oh, my pleasure. I haven’t forgotten about the guest-post, and, believe me, I understand about being busy. No problem. Nathaniel Dorsky: oh, cool. I’m going to look around at his stuff now, maybe make a post if I can. I don’t know the specific NYC dates yet, but I know the ‘Them’ performances end on the 28th and that I’ll return to Paris on the 29th. Good to see you! ** Okay. I’m devoting the blog’s day to, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant American novels of the 90s at the very least. I did a post about ‘Negrophobia’ many ages ago, but, in revisiting it, it was kind of crappy, so I made a new related post instead. Digging into the post and then the book itself, if you haven’t read it, is very highly recommended. See you tomorrow.

18 Comments

  1. Hi!

    Thank you so much for your kind words! Sorry for disappearing yesterday. Sitting in front of my laptop is not the most comfortable position right now. I went to the doctor and she prescribed some pills and creams but didn’t even look at my waist otherwise so… I guess I’ll just have to wait and see? Slowly, slowly but I’m getting better. I can almost stand upright now.

    Even the homepage of Musée des Arts Forains looks amazing so I can only begin to imagine how the real experience was! Please tell me about it! Did it live up to your expectations and hopes?
    How’s the script coming along? I keep my fingers crossed for Friday!

    My day consists of… resting a lot and gradually starting to move around a little. I’ve never moved so gingerly in my life, Jesus, haha.
    I hope you have a lot more fruitful and exciting day, Dennis! How is it?

  2. David Ehrenstein

    May 3, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    A”woke” (as the children say nowadays) African-American writer like James going to Europe is an automatic retracing of James Baldwin’s step,s

    Here’s my own “Negraphobic” experience

    And here’s Eddie Cantor Part One

    and

    Part Two

  3. It’s really bizarre to see critics and people on social media say “AVENGERS; INFINITY WAR is really an experimental anti-film disguised as a superhero movie.” I haven’t seen it yet, and apparently there is one scene inspired by VENOM AND ETERNITY. I am hardly an expert on avant-garde cinema, but I can’t imagine they’re referring to anything could be more than a totally superficial reference. To be fair, those folks have received some merciless mockery.

    Have you read Olivier Assayas’ memoir A POST-MAY ADOLESCENCE? He talks about his attraction to the French far left as a teenager in the early and mid ’70s, but also his staunch anti-communism due to the fact that his mother was a Hungarian who had experienced the early days of that country’s domination by Soviet communism. He had read books about the true nature of what Mao was doing to China, but his friends thought they were propaganda written by the CIA. When he finally learned about Guy Debord and the Situationists, he felt like he discovered a left he could totally identify with, but by that time the Situationists had disbanded and Debord was sinking into a downward spiral. But Daney was a Maoist at the time and said this was a mistake in the 1980s, as did many French leftists of his generation. Godard never has, and that critic thinks this is as bad as being an unrepentant Nazi, considering that Mao killed off more people than any other 20th-century dictator.

    I understand why, but it’s a damn shame NEGROPHOBIA didn’t lead to the relative success Paul Beatty has had, although it’s more formally experimental (if just as politically incorrect) than his work. I was thrilled when James “liked” my raving about the last Alejandro Jodorwosky film on Facebook. If only he would ghostwrite lyrics for Kanye West! Or interviews!

    I just downloaded Nocturnal Projections’ THE COMPLETE STUDIO PROJECTIONS, which compiles three EPs by Graeme and Peter Jefferies’ first band. Their second band, This Kind of Punishment, might get my pick for the 1980s’ most underrated rock group, so the release of two Nocturnal Projections albums (there’s also a collection of unreleased material) is very exciting. This is very much of a product of its time (1981-1983), sounding more British than New Zealand and heavily influenced by Wire and Joy Division, but the seeds of greatness are still audible.

    • Steve, I have a friend at work who grew up in communist Vietnam. He said it was a nightmare and he’ll never go back. Dude would take our state of affairs over that anytime, that’s how bad it was for him.

  4. Here’s my Gay City News review of Janelle Monae’s DIRTY COMPUTER: http://gaycitynews.nyc/janelle-monae-fleshes/. I am very proud that I got through this without gossiping about who she’s dating, unlike many reviews of the album.

  5. This book sounds very interesting. I’ll have to give it the proverbial looksie.

    Candy Darling… well, naturally!

  6. Oh, one other thing… aside from DROWNING IN BEAUTY, Snuggly Books also recently (as in this month) released DECADENCE AND SYMBOLISM: A SHOWCASE ANTHOLOGY. Edited and translated by Brian Stableford (who has done a lot of the Jean Lorrain translations for them, amongst other things), the book is close to 400 pages and features 86 different pieces of prose from 61 authors of that era. It’s pretty exhaustive and, while not complete (they only focused on writers in the public domain, so as a result no Rachilde, Gide, and so on), it’s still recommended reading for fans of those literary movements.

  7. David Ehrenstein

    May 3, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    One of Our Melvilles is Missing

    I know Olivier slightly having worked with him on a special “Cahiers visits the USA” issue back in the day. He’s quite a character — and quite Ladies Man (in the Warren Beatty tradition) a she’shas flings with everyone one from Maggie Cheung (the star of his best film to date “Irma Vep”) to my friend Meredith Brody. His politics are all over the place. “Maoism” was a fad among some — but far from all — French leftists in the immediate post-May period. As to the “How Many People (INSERT NAME HERE) Killed Game” I’ll take Henry Kissinger for the Win.

  8. David Ehrenstein

    May 3, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Here’s my piece on Guy Debord

    Serge Daney was gay and died of AIDS

  9. Chris Cochrane

    May 3, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    oh, I think my reply did not go through, or I’ve lost my mind. I’ll try again, what’s all the anti Godard hub bub going on around here. He was / is such a big influence, always made / make time to see his films. So good to hear there is positive PGL news acoming and stuff on other projects. In the midst of producing a record I’m excited about and looking to release two others, it’s all slow. I’m being very retro and slightly tortured at home, rediscovered or unearthed Time by Bowie, great break up son. I think I like Aladdin Sane more than Ziggy as I get older, though both have different types of significance in my youth. Are you still Iceage fan? they have a new record. I look forward to our upcoming collaboration with new guys, let’s see what kind of changes it might bring about. Off for my last post break pierce tomorrow. How knew I was into ritual or something. Sending buckets of love. Sorry of this a repeat of another post, maybe it slipped the post earlier somewhere unknown xoxoxo

  10. Chris Dankland

    May 4, 2018 at 1:03 am

    thanks for giving a shout out about this book, it looks really interesting !! i loved the excerpts and added it to my soon-to-be-to-read list. i’m super into those short paragraphs. i feel like more and more and more i’m only interested in writing bursts and fragments. i like things that zip around, and i feel too impatient right now to spend time trying to connect the dots.

    you’ve introduced me to so many amazing books over the years, i could never thank u enough for that. for my recent birthday i got ‘Hotel Splendid’ by Redonnet and ‘Tropisms’ by Sarraute, which were both books i learned about from the blog. i’m excited to read them soon, they look really good.

    i also got Montaigne’s collected essays, which i’m fucking loving right now. i didn’t realize that his essays were so meandering and quippy and short, i thought they’d be more like dense intellectual 30 page exhaustive treatises.

    when i get a chance i’d like to read some Balzac too — i haven’t read any of his books all the way through — but i’m not exactly sure where to start with him. anyway i’m only mentioning that b/c you’re such a francophile. are u/were u into either of those writers?

    i hope the weather in paris is nice and you’re feeling good !! sending hugs

  11. Dennis, I’d kind of love to walk into work with Negrophobia. Granted, I’d probably get kicked out, but still… Then again, I do have Hitchens’ The Missionary Position, about Mother Teresa, on my desk and no one’s said boo. A friend gave it to me, and now I haven’t seen him months. But yes, on top of that, I’d like to read the book too.

    I’m getting into I Am Radar. I like it. It’s very Chabon-esque, or the writing is. The story’s pretty good. Larsen is a bit of an over-writer.

    I fell asleep only once during the first Deadpool. I did like it, though. It’s a superhero movie and it was a bit different. I thought the opening scene with the Juice Newton song was great. The scenes between Deadpool and his girlfriend were great too. The rest of it was funny here and there. I’ll definitely catch the second one.

    We’re seeing the Avengers movie in IMAX 3D. That should be fun.

    I think the cat lady’s illness may be feline indeed. She’s still constantly hacking and gagging. I felt like I was in a TB ward today. I don’t know if she noticed it, but no one else was at work today…and it was because of her. A manager there kind of slammed her door shut during one of her coughing fits. I find it odd that she doesn’t seem to think it at all inappropriate to come into the office and hack and gag like that -it’s very loud; people at the other end of the building have told me they hear her, and even the cleaning lady asked us what was wrong with her.

    She uses her leave for her animal stuff, so she won’t take it when she’s sick. Kind of weird.

    I’ve been washing the fuck out of my hands while there and using paper towels when I touch shit she may have touched.

  12. Dennis, Octoberish, fantastic!!! I’ve just started a new university day-job so will be around then for sure. Nice weather all through Autumn too, and leading up to Halloween of course. Yes, I imagine the TV show must be crazy busy in a cool way. I’ve been getting a little novel work done. Thanks! Bit of a sludgy grind but better than nothing. I’m still writing the full version of what will be basically excerpts in the end. So that stage where you’re trying not to cut corners but also looking forward to hacking into the thing. Excellent expanded ”Negrophobia” post! A must buy this time round. Not only looks great but might also help with some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about for this J-novel. Funny, I can see the comments on my phone today, but couldn’t on my Mac (until after posting) yesterday. Maybe something to do with different mobile/computer viewer mode settings sites have these days.

  13. Hello Dennis! you’re visiting nyc! look forward to seeing you soon. Hopefully, with a few of other lovely dls. Late May is a little tricky for me, time-wise, but I will do other things diligently in the mean time.

    Oh, so sorry about the guest post thing. i will do something during the summer, hopefully. You have an amazing memory in the midst of that busy schedule…

    I hope Paris is treating you very well. It’s so warm here today.

  14. Negrophobia looks like a wild ride! Will try to score a copy soon…

    Sorry to hear about the continuing producer drama. Hope the Chris Marker retrospective is a good distraction.

    Are you going to be in Berlin in June for Crowd? I was playing with the idea of taking a trip right around then, hmm.

    By the way, a poet friend of mine will be in Paris May 10-19, and would love to buy you a drink if you have time. Let me know if you’ll be around…

    Bill

  15. Thank you for reprinting my Catapult essay on Darius James. When I was researching the piece, your writings about James’ work was quite inspiring. The Nergophobia piece was just the first of a series called The Blacklist, a monthly column that explores out-of-print books by African-American authors. Thanks again…Mg

    https://catapult.co/editorial/topics/the-blacklist/stories

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