Drawing Points

I initially encountered Steve Prince’s work in ENGL 432, last spring, where I remember feeling somewhat frustrated with the way that we were looking at and interpreting Prince’s work.  In that setting, it seemed that Prince’s heavy use of signs and symbols was leading us towards an interpretive strategy where each symbol in a work was a puzzle piece whose meanings we had to guess correctly in order to correctly decipher the meaning of the complete piece. At the beginning of this course, I felt I was watching that strategy be carried over into this class, which was frustrating as an English major, coming out of a disciplinary context where we’re trained to disregard what an artist says their work “means” and use textual evidence and cultural/historical context to put together analyses. This situation was made more difficult by the fact that Prince, as Beth noted on Monday, can tell you what he meant with every visual element on the page, so I felt that steering towards an interpretive method that relies on our own observations was going to be one of this class’s challenges.

I also anticipated that obtaining the methods with which and the context in which to be able to come to new interpretations would be this class’s main pleasures, and I feel that the discussion we had yesterday about using the Kongo cosmogram as visual guide to analyze “Urban Mix Tape 2” was a clear indicator of how rewarding that process might turn out to be. In that vein, I want to share some thoughts about “Urban Mix Tape 2,” and how I think Thompson’s description of the Kongo cruciform can help us understand the piece. Before class, I was looking at the concentric circles expanding from the turntable on which Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” is being spin as a gear connecting with and turning the circles on the piece’s left end. The group conversation about the piece was really helpful in helping me bridge the work itself to the other readings we’ve done, and I see that besides incidental parallels, like the alchemical sign for the sun in the top right corner being analogous to the disks at the points of the yowa that represent “moments of the sun,” the representation of ancestral and supernatural figures as moving towards a central point (the hole in the record) is clearly parallel to Thompson’s description of Kongo-Cuban priests mediating between the living and the dead by “singing-and-drawing” a sacred point, which here is the record being scratched. Regardless of whether or not this was part of Prince’s intention, I think these interpretations are certainly valid (and for me, speak to Weheliye’s mix) and I look forward to producing more analyses like them in group settings.

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