Now we're looking at a poem by Amiri Baraka, called Incident. The poem was published in 1969, some years after Baraka, as LeRoi Jones, was closely associated with the Beats. But I still think it's a good poem for us to end on in this chapter. It's called Incident, so what happens? He's talking about an incident. Something happened. Anne-Marisse, what happened? >> A man was shot and were faced with the sight of the corpse. And it was probably a hate crime for racial nature. >> Seems to be. How did you know that? >> Pictures of the dead man. He died in darkness darker than his soul. >> Mm-hm, although the killer knew the victim, we know that. Anyway, who's he? >> And who's him, for that matter? >> And who's him? >> Pronoun ambiguity. >> Yeah, and in chapter eight, John Ashbury with a very different kind of poetry is going to do a lot with that. He came back and shot. He shot him. Why confuse the both are the male pronoun, third person. Why do it that way? Molly? Why does Baraka do it that way? Confusing. >> I guess because what's important here is the incident itself, the shooting and who did the shooting and who the victim was. >> Wow, how radical of you. Let me read the first stanza and you can say more about that. He came back and shot. He shot him. When he came back, he shot and he fell, stumbling, past the shadow wood, down shot, dying, dead, to full halt. Why write like that? >> It really reminds me of Gertrude Stein. >> Yeah, sure it does. >> In the fact that you can't directly represent with a traditional sentence, a crime like this, an event like this, you're fumbling for the right words to show the scene. >> Because? >> Because it doesn't work that way. >> It doesn't work that way, if you describe a murder in very clear terms distinguishing the subject from the object, or distinguishing the killer from the victim, then you make much more coherence out of an event that's quite incoherent and disturbing and confusing. So that the writing creates the openness and the not knowingness that's so crucial to understanding the incident. What else does he do? It's not just that he confuses the pronouns but you were talking about Stein. He came back and shot, he shot and when he came back, he shot. That sounds very repetitive. >> Time is messed up. >> Time is messed up. Dave? >> He also came back and the poem says he came back at least three times, which implies that they came from the same spot originally. >> Either that, I mean, he does say came back but either that or that this is almost a cubistic rendering. This is like the police report turned into cubism. Why all these emphasis on what we know? Ally, why is it important to know what we know and what we don't know? >> I think one of the reasons that there's this cubistic method of representation is that it almost seems, especially in that first stanza, that he might not be able to decide what the best way is to represent it. And with an incident like this, and of course, the title harkens back to Incident we read by Countee Cullen. >> It seems like it would be a very famous poem by Countee Cullen. It should strike us that this is a deliberate reference to Countee Cullen's Incident, which does make it seem like somehow race must be involved or racial hatred, which is what that other poem is about. Go ahead. >> Countee Cullen can't ever forget about that and there's still this sense in that poem that he could never quite make amends with it or make peace with it and here we know nothing even though we are given a lot of information. The fact that there's still so much that isn't known just sums up this whole there's no right way to express it to make it be a coherent incident. >> And that, to me, is why this poem is so much more successful than Countee Cullen's. Because Countee Cullen makes it pretty easy. >> And he makes it coherent. >> And he has his own reasons for- >> For the purpose of making sure we remember. >> That we remember and we understand. What this does, for me, is makes it very not easy because murder is not easy. It's not easy to understand, it's not easy. >> It's not easy to understand how they could have known each other and how it's possible in a situation like this. This is the way so, we'll just call it modern violence is, it's not even clear who's the killer and who's the victim. In fact, it might even be possible for them to be reversed, that's how desperate the situation is in our lives. I'm kind of with you, I appreciate the fact that Baraka is making this hard to understand because he's using a writing that gives honor, if that's the right word, due honor to the complexity of this violence. What is this stuff about we have no word? >> I think it's exactly the opposite Countee Cullen's Incident. In that poem, everything really rests on one word. It's the n word that is the trauma that shocks you out of the poem. And here, there's no way to say the event, the trauma, is unsayable. There's no way to accurately depict it or represent it. >> We have no word, we have no language for this. But it works doubly because it's also without punctuation, we have no word, continue on, on the killer. Where is that, where do we hear that language? Where is that vocabulary from? >> Newscasts. >> Newscasts. We have no word this afternoon. It's 6 o'clock. We have no word on the killer. And where else? It's also a police report talk. We have no word. We have no word on the killer except he came back from somewhere to do what he did. So we have no word. Let's go to the end of the poem. We know the killer was skillful, quick, and silent. And that the victim probably knew him. Other than that, aside from the caked sourness of the dead man's expression and the cool surprise in the fixture of his hands and fingers, we know nothing. >> The turn is really interesting, from we have no word, and all of a sudden, after that, it's the killer and the victim. So it's more delineated on who is who, it's not he and him. He shot him. He came back. He shot and he fell. After we know no word on the killer, into his victim's stare. [COUGH] >> And left him quickly. We know that him is referring to the victim. We know the killer was skillful. Yeah, it's an interesting turn in the. >> Yeah, I agree. What does the phrase, we know nothing, mean? What import does it have in this situation? >> Because they obviously know something, and even a surprising degree of things. Knowing about the cake's sourness and how his fingers are implies a lot of specificity and a personal experience of that. And to have that sum, that data of knowledge and then say after that, we know nothing. >> So that means that there must be a higher level of not knowing is at work at here. What's that higher level? >> Of knowing why these things happen, of knowing what they mean, of knowing how to represent them. >> How to represent them? Let us describe how they went? Boy, I don't think I can do it. These are my people. They went, they died. I can't do it, language doesn't work, I have no word for this. And I want my poem to represent that not knowingness. I don't want to cheat, I don't want to make it coherent when it's incoherent. I want life's and America's incoherence to be in the writing. We know nothing. Anne-Marisse, what else don't we know in the larger sense that Emily was starting us on? >> New racial relations that wouldn't breed this type of violence and how to create them. >> We know nothing about that. >> At this point, that language hasn't been created, the word from Countee Cullen's poem here has been transformed into a bullet. We see how the seeming innocuous nature of that experience of one young boy to another, not understanding what that word meant and its adult implications. Here has reality and there are no words left to describe the pain and sorrow of what happened there. >> So far all the poems that we talked about in this chapter, chapter seven, the Beat poems, so called, have all had an antic side to them. They've all been seeking pleasure and funny, at certain points, even the grimmest moments of Howl. This is the one that seems pretty angry. Maybe that's evidence that it doesn't have a relationship to the Beat aesthetic, but what's he angry about? >> Maybe the presumption that you could know, implicit in all police reports and all newscasts, that knowing is possible. >> And the kind of journalistic and police reporting language that acts as if it's just a matter of denotation. You accumulate a certain number of facts and that somehow suggests that you know something. So there's anger there. Anybody else? >> because there's such a distance in that language. Even the victim was shot at this time, at this day, at this place, by this person. There's such distance there that you become desensitized to what happened. >> Baraka is saying in contrast that he died in darkness darker than his soul. He's willing, he's willing to go, to blow deeply there. I know a man and what can we do against this darkness? One thing we need to do against this darkness is to write like this. Use the confusion of pronouns, polyptoton, which is a rhetorical device that John Ashbury likes to do. So we don't know who's being talked about because that's the way the world works. Let's get some final words on this. Emily. >> I don't know, it's just very moving to say we know nothing and have that be a morally confident declaration of taking pride, and having that ignorance and being able to call it ignorance. >> Okay. Any final words, Ane-Marisse? >> In the third stanza, he said pictures of the man are everywhere, so even though the words don't exist, the police report that can't hope to encapsulate all his life and reduce him just to the identity of victim, are compensated for by that image that was so important to the Beats >> The image and the sound which he enacts and replicates here in the form of the poem. >> It's also nice to see how if this, to the extent that this is a Beat aesthetic, how the Beat aesthetic draws so much from Steinian repetition. We need to think of modernism as continuous and leading to the Beats at this point. Dave, final thought? >> I think going off of what Anna said about the distance, part of what Baraka may be saying is that this is an incident that happens all the time. We don't know much about it, and the problem is that we don't really care. >> Good. Ally, your thought? >> I think it's interesting how it starts off more confused than it ends. Whereas, I feel like things we've come across so far, it tends to deconstruct the other way around. There's just something, it's effective because it's demonstrated first and then, finally, we get a middle, especially with that we have no word. We have a center of replication of the usual reporter, journalistic type of recording something and then at the end, that final declaration, we know nothing. This is an effect of this won't work. >> Good. Anna? >> [COUGH] >> I have no word. >> You have no word? Molly? >> I think we know nothing is just such a beautiful way to express the state one is in after a trauma like this. Where like, who am I, where am I, what day is it? I have no idea. >> I think to add to what Molly said, there's a great, there's an almost masterful rhythm between these moments of not knowing and confusion and moments of knowing and having details and having something you can report. When he's just struggling for the words but then he can say something as also profound as his spirit sucks up the light. Which is judgment or an assessment or an analysis or detail or something that's completely situated against these frustrated and struggling descriptions like wood down, shot, dying, dead. >> Mm-hm. I stake a the shot at a final word. I'm wrestling with where the anger comes from. I admire this poem very much and I think it's easy to miss understand Baraka's radicalism here. I think it's not so much that his anger against the murderer or about the victim, on behalf of the victim. And it's easy to miss understand and then say, Baraka's somehow making this complex and kind of excusing. He's confusing victim and murderer and that's just such an easy radical thing to do and it sorts of excuses this kind of behavior. Not at all, I think he's not so much angry at that, as angry at a system of representation that so utterly fails to describe such a thing. And that's the thing that he wants to radically reinvent or participate in the poetics that makes us focus on the paucity of our means of representation, which is almost word for word what Alan Ginsberg used to say. We are impoverished in the way we can describe this kind of stuff and that's what makes the situation worse. It's possible to imagine this kind of violence lessening or even going away, if we can figure out how it is to represent exactly what this is. In the meantime, we're left failing to do so and knowing nothing.