Monday, April 4, 2011


SMOKE, LILIES, AND JADE __________________________________________

“Nugent put movement” through its aesthetic paces.” —David A. Gerstner, Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic __________________________________________

Bruce Nugent’s earlier work with his Harlem pals takes on an experimental form that strays from the more linear narrative we find in his Jigger narrative on the Niggeratti Manor dayz of the Harlem black queer intelligentsia. __________________________________________

“That is, as inconsistent as his lived experience with movement were, his creative designs on movement were as variable. The story told in “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade,” his contribution to Fire!!, is far less teleological than several of his other essays— and certainly less teleological than Jigger.” —David A. Gerstner, Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic __________________________________________

What then is written? What is written even tattooed on the black queer skin of writers like Baldwin and Nugent by both white & black racial homophobia? This ongoing history of brutal, discriminatory, slashed, scarring violence that manifests an ambiguously realized identity for queer blacks? __________________________________________

What is it? What is this inscription process by straight blacks & whites—onto queer black consciousness? For some queer black writers like Baldwin, such discrimination “contains the promise of rape”—sodomitically fertilizing the black queer person onto which a straight whiteness is being “written” not as pain but rather as pleasure even? __________________________________________

Straight black writers resent this complicit homoerotic “cocksucking” behavior & sexual accommodation by writers like James Baldwin—with Eldridge Cleaver, Ishmael Reed and Amiri Baraka in their various PC homophobic critiques & derogatory criticisms of Baldwin’s queer lifestyle. __________________________________________

Black queerness is dreamed-up as a white man’s disease—something slavery instituted on black “Mandingo” desires. Often opining like Toni Morrison & others that queer blackness didn’t exist in Africa—in Beloved even exterminating it in the name of God and Religion. A straight sexual fantasy—ungrounded in historical reality & lacking any archival proof. __________________________________________

Nevertheless Baldwin’s “partisan anti-cocksucker homophobes” are only to be the first to say that other than Baldwin’s homosexuality—James “Jimmy” Baldwin is a great black writer. If he just weren’t a nelly disgusting cocksucker!!! __________________________________________

Wallace Thurmond, after encountering the same queer black-discrimination from both blacks and whites that Baldwin experiences—ends Infants of the Spring and his commitment to the gay Harlem Renaissance on a pessimistic note. The end of the Niggeratti Manor writers commune is the end of the Harlem Renaissance for the young gay black queer intelligentsia. __________________________________________

“With this in mind, Thurman was not inaccurate in his description of the fleurs du mal atmosphere Arabian/Nugent invoked in Harlem culture. As a queer black decadent, Arabian/Nugent’s range of creative expression came to life through “the golden spores of decadent pollen” —David A. Gerstner, Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic __________________________________________

Thurman and Nugent saw black desire differently—Thurman’s view was that the promise of white sodomitic rape dragged both black & whites down “into the slime.” __________________________________________

While Nugent & Baldwin were more loose & bohemian about their black queer aesthetic encounters with both queer & straight blacks and queer & straight whites. It was a mutual, decadent seduction that could be seen as an unavoidable aesthetic even perverse desire on both sides. __________________________________________

Nugent tricked with young straight Italian thugs & criminals—since his light complexion enabled him to pass for “white.” Wasn’t this what Charles Bon Sutpen did in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom? Tricking in the Ole Miss dorms with Henry Sutpen—the supposed heir to the Sutpen’s Hundred Plantation owned by the Delta Bourbon Plantation Master Old Man Sutpen? In other words, Nugent “aestheticizes” such interracial encounters—seeing them not as demise or a loss of macho black manhood, but rather as a transient identity being cross-pollinated & marking the spot where the queer black artist literally dances through a set of creative and homosexualized venues one after the other. __________________________________________

With these sexual, miscegenal, sometimes incestuous encounters, writer-artists like Nugent let various spatial-temporal movements guide their narrative strategies, Nugent constantly reconfiguring the terms of his sexual desire—as well as creative goals & racial identity. __________________________________________

Nugent isn’t frozen in time like Thurmond who sees the failure of Fire & his other works as well as Hollywood ventures—as endgames like he sees the closing of the Niggeratti Manor: as the aesthetic death & demise of the Harlem Renaissance. While actually it’s a movement of aesthetic possibilities. __________________________________________

Hollywood, according to Gerstner’s Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic, doesn’t monopolize everything with the tacky cinematic glitter that Thurman sensed in LA—but rather is more like Nugent’s literary imagination which delves into other experimental film possibilities. __________________________________________

Going beyond the straight linear movement of Jigger, his version of Infants of Spring, Nugent turns to his attention to other variable creative writing techniques, as well as painting, drawing & illustration art as he did with Fire. How did he accomplish this with “Smoke, Lilies and Jade”? __________________________________________

Nugent’s prose-poem follows an elliptical course of events, a montage of fragmented and disjointed scenes that unfold while enveloping space and time.” —David A. Gerstner, Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic __________________________________________

Nugent begins “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” with an artistic question: __________________________________________

“He wanted to do something…” __________________________________________

And then, Nugent proceeds with a series of brief fragmented disjointed phrases evoking what it’s like to be stoned in bed letting his mind wander in his bedroom. __________________________________________

“…to write or draw…” __________________________________________

Nugent could do either one since he was a writer and artist—thus letting his pleasant, laid-back, mildly hallucinogenic stream of consciousness describe what he’d like to do while actually doing it—transcribing his meandering thoughts later or perhaps while in bed on a notepad or in his own mind’s eye… __________________________________________

“…and think…think of everything…short disconnected thoughts…to wonder…to remember…to think and smoke…” __________________________________________

Weed, cocaine & other drugs were available in Harlem like in the Village & anywhere else in NYC. __________________________________________

“…and was he sophisticated…no because he was seldom bored…seldom bored by anything…and weren’t the sophisticated continually suffering fro ennui…on the contrary…he was amused…amused by the artificiality of naivete and sophistication alike…but maybe that in itself was the essence of sophistication or…was it cynicism…or were the two identical…he blew a cloud of smoke…and the smoke no longer had a ladder to climb…but soon the moon would rise and then he would clothe the silver moon in blue smoke garments…truly smoke was like imagination…” __________________________________________

“This form evokes his homosexual encounter in the story as one that is intermingled with his aesthetically mobile life— that is, his art and cultural milieu.” —David A. Gerstner, Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic __________________________________________

“…and they undressed by the blue dawn…Alex knew he had never seen a more perfect being…his body was all symmetry and music…and Alex called him Beauty…Alex admired Beauty’s strength…I like you more than anybody Dulce…long they lay…blowing smoke and exchanging thoughts…Beauty was in the air…in the smoke…a field of blue smoke and black poppies and red calla lilies…pushing aside poppy stems…and saw two strong white legs…dance’s lets…the contours pleased him…his eyes wandered…on past the muscular hocks to the firm white thighs…the rounded buttocks…then to the lithe narrow waist…strong torso and broad deep chest…the heavy shoulders…the graceful muscled neck…Grecian nose and its temperamental nostrils…his hair curly and black and all tousled…and it was Beauty…ad suddenly he stood erect…exultant…and in his hand he held…an ivory…inlaid with red jade…and green…” __________________________________________

“Regardless of whether the cinematic form Nugent uses in his stories, drawings and choreography is avant-garde or Hollywood linear, we invariably come upon his sodomitic fertilization of black and white male bodies through a sentient multiple-media experience.” —David A. Gerstner, Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic __________________________________________

According to many Harlem historians, literary critics and others—“Smoke, Lilies and Jade” published in the November 1926 issue of FIRE!! is Bruce Nugent’s most important work. Its homoerotic content was unprecedented in Harlem literature at the time—shocking the old guard Harlem Renaissance elders & setting the Niggeratti Manor young black literary intelligentsia at the cutting-edge of GLBT consciousness long before Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL turned the straight world upside-down with the new SF Renaissance in the late ‘50s & ‘60s. __________________________________________

According to Thomas Wirth, editor of Richard Bruce Nugent: Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance (2002), “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” was most transgressive of all Nugent’s stream-of-consciousness prose compositions. “Written from an explicitly homoerotic perspective, complete with bedroom scenes, it attracted more criticism than any other piece in FIRE!!” __________________________________________

If there is or was such a thing as the Harlem gay muse—then perhaps “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” first defines the scene when & where an artist…and a poet…and a few lines of Bruce Nugent’s poem…let itself or himself be known…to the various cosmopolitan sophisticates & new Harlem literati… __________________________________________

That there in NYC in the twenties…somewhat like Ariel…somewhat like Puck…somewhat like a gutter boy…who loves to play in muck…somewhat like Bacchus…somewhat like Pan…and a way with women…like a sailor man…the Male Muse was letting itself be known…then in 1926…a little ahead of time…before the 1969 Stonewall Riots…that announced another NYC Renaissance…being born once again.

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