Vodoun aesthetics is interested in the waste-product of the first-world machine, whether that be in Long Island, New York or Port Au Prince, Haiti. This school of thought/philosophical venture/artistic movement (whatever you want to call it) is interested in what happens to the waste of the first-world when it ends up (inevitably) on the shores of the third-world. This is to say, what happens to the Myrtle Wilson who ends up on Haitian shores? Can she be resurrected?(2)
“Nothing is ever totally discarded in Haiti… Whatever defies disintegration becomes another state of being,” says LeGrace Benson in “Ge’de’ on Grand Rue…” Like many places with a strong history of transatlantic slavery, in Haiti, death, particularly when related to social death, is emphatically not an end, it is an important part of life. The post-apocalyptic image of Myrtle Wilson lying dead in the street, an image where the meaning begins to seep out of reality, is, to vodoo, another part of life. The third world, the black third world in particular, is constantly in a state of refuse, its cultural and environmental resources used up by a greedy first world, leaving a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Vodoun aesthetics, though, works through understanding that time does not end, that the present is ever-present and that the refuse of the first-word can become the substance of a different world when “imbued with meaning, power, history, and life force.”(3) This is not ignore the real material needs of the third-world, in fact, this provides the third-world with method of self-creation and, in turn, a truer, deeper voice to argue against a wasteful third-world machine.
What form does this voice take and, moreover, how does the refuse of the first-world become the substance of the third-world? Through artistic self creation and a mode of art which dances the line between the life and death. The form I am referring to here is that of the Fon-Yoruba, Legba, the trickster god of crossroads who “walks with a limp because his legs are of unequal lengths, one of them anchored in the world of humans and the other in that of the gods.”(4) Perhaps more than any other, this god made the middle passage in the belly of slave ships. Their limp is no deformity, rather it is the vital site of cultural and spiritual heterogeneity. With this limp Legba walks the line between life and death, waste and self-creation, humanity and divinity. If it is the role of a god to create reality, then the artist who embodies the form of Legba, which is to say, breakbeat poets, jazz musicians, vodoun artists, etc., have the power to remake themselves and others as divine. They have the power to empower the ostensible trash and recreate the world from a heterogeneous third-world perspective. Vodoun aesthetics flips the world inside out by putting the power of creation into the hands of third-world.
- The book is written to maintain the Machine. For more on this find Michael Breitweiser's work, “The Great Gatsby: Grief, Jazz and the Eye-Witness”
- I understand that there is an element of white fantasy to this scenario. I want to make this relevant to the developed world though. EDIT: I use Gatsby not to make this writing relevant, but because I am writing in a peculiar vernacular which makes Gatsby relevant. The distinction is paramount.
- Ana-Maurine Lara on “Of Unexplained Presences, Flying Ife Heads, Vampires, Sweat, Zombies, and Legbas: A Meditation on Black Queer Aesthetics.”
- Nathaniel Mackey on “Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol”