If the Nobel Prize in Literature was established to celebrate words that empower, then the Swedish Academy’s selection of Bob Dylan is long overdue. In the past fifty years, one would be hard pressed to find an individual — presidents and popes included — whose words have had a more profound societal impact than Dylan. With the scratchy spin of the vinyl and the crackling of the radio, he disseminated ideas with poetic messages that verged on the prophetic. Through his words, Bob Dylan dramatically effected the trajectory of world culture through his reflection on social justice and his lasting influence on the masses and political leaders alike. More than simply honor his poetic contribution, the Academy’s selection of Dylan proves that he is still a figure engrained in the American political and social landscape.

Despite his reluctance to consciously enter the political arena, Dylan’s influence has had a vast and meaningful impact on politics. Breaking into the world of music in 1961 as a politically charged songwriter, Dylan emphasized the agency of his listeners in the issues of the era.  This marked a clear shift in the nature of political expression in music.  While many of his successors, such as Sam Cooke in “A Change is Gonna Come” and Pete Seeger in “We Shall Overcome,” offered listeners fortitude in the face of oppression by stressing that one day the oppression would end, Dylan advocated the ability of the individual to be the change they seek.  Through major hits like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Dylan called to action likeminded youth, while simultaneously requesting that obstinate sources of power — among them senators, congressmen, mothers, and fathers — to step away from their “rapidly fading” old order.  Dylan’s words helped usher in the new decade, one marked by the promise of political and social progress based upon the agency for change, not faith in it.

Dylan’s commentary on social justice was both timely and poignant, a meaningful combination for many in the American public. He wrote songs that were inextricably linked to specific social injustices in the United States.  In “Only a Pawn in the Game,” he simultaneously lamented the death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the social degradation that caused a poor white man like Byron De La Beckwith to kill him.  In “Masters of War”, Dylan forcefully admonished the military-industrial complex.  In “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” he mocked fear of communism and counter-culture movements, using the song to warn against the dangers of stifling political expression.  Dylan was remarkably in tune with the American left, which was frustrated by the slow progress of the Civil Rights Movement, uneasy about the increasing American military presence in Vietnam, and still recovering from the witch-hunts of McCarthyism.

Even when Dylan’s music stopped being overtly political, a transition marked for many by his infamous electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he continued to be a societal figure, forever analogous to the ideals of youth rebellion and dissatisfaction. Dylan’s impact, nebulous by the design of the artist, is perhaps best exemplified in how he inspired his fellow musicians. In serving as an inspiration to those who continued his topical songwriting, Dylan’s legacy multiplied. Credit must be given to Neil Young for the ingenuity in his politically-charged songs; his song “Ohio” with bandmates David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills embodied youth angst after the 1970 Kent State Massacre, and “Let’s Impeach the President” represented the musician’s disapproval of George W. Bush.  However, Young is also quick to give Dylan the recognition he deserves as an inspiration: “[Dylan’s] the master,” Young said in 2005. “If I’d like to be anyone, it’s him.”  In keeping with the post-Dylan era of topical songwriting, both of Young’s songs are calls to action, the former being a call to end political suppression of youth and the latter a call to end the Bush Presidency and with it the War in Iraq.

Dylan’s commentary on social justice was both timely and poignant, a meaningful combination for many in the American public.

Dylan remained a commendable force even after his break with topical songwriting due to his ability to incorporate implicit societal analysis, rather than explicitly discussing political or social issues, in his songs, a strategy later adopted by artists like Bruce Springsteen.  In his memoir Born to Run, released this October, Springsteen paid homage to Dylan, the subtle societal commentator:

Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home [Dylan’s first two non-political albums] were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived…The world he described was all on view, in my little town, and spread out over the television that beamed into our isolated homes, but it went uncommented on and silently tolerated…A seismic gap had opened up between generations and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless. Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become.”

Dylan’s profound impact on American youth, is supported by empirical data. In the 1979 book Woodstock Census: The Nationwide Survey of the Sixties Generation, Rex Weiner and Deanne Stillman found that 72 percent of the respondents asserted their admiration for Dylan, and claimed that he had significantly influenced them as a societal leader. This statistic made him the most influential individual in the entire study, with only the Beatles, at 79 percent, having more reported influence. These results are even more astonishing when compared to that of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., who only influenced an estimated 62 percent of respondents.

While the legacy of Dylan has long been felt and recognized in many private circles, his impact on the public sphere is also evident. President Obama’s praise of Dylan, delivered during his presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Dylan in 2012, was markedly personal and revealed of Dylan’s deep-rooted impact on Obama himself. At the time, the president said, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music…I remember, in college, listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something about this country that was so vital.”  And while he is not known to speak that openly about artists, in many ways, President Obama’s embracing of Dylan seems natural. It would only be logical for a man who campaigned for the presidency in 2008 with the messages of change and hope to have found inspiration in the counterculture of Bob Dylan.

However, it should be noted that Dylan as a political symbol has been conversely utilized to challenge the progressive ideals that he represents for so many. There has been a long history of the American judiciary system using quotes from Dylan in cases. However, what is so surprising is that the most notable evocations have come from the more conservative justices, such as Chief Justice John Roberts and the late Antonin Scalia.  The citation of Dylan by the Justices, particularly the late conservative bulwark Scalia, is perplexing.  In 2010, the Supreme Court heard the case of City of Ontario v. Quon, delving into the application of the Fourth Amendment and its ban of unreasonable search and seizure in the modern technological age. The case involved officers from Ontario, California who had used government-issued pagers to send personal messages, some of which were sexually explicit.  The Court ruled that the city had not violated the officer’s Fourth Amendment rights in searching the devices, and that the officers should not have had expected confidentiality when using the government-issued resources. While concurring with the Court’s decision, Justice Scalia nonetheless chastised the Court’s fickle stance on the intersection of technology and privacy. He suggested that the Court’s tendency to handle events like on a literal case-by-case basis shirked its responsibility of informing private action through the lens of the Constitution.  He concluded: “‘The-times-they-are-a-changin’ is a feeble excuse for disregard of duty.” Yet, Scalia’s use of the reference delivers a message far from the intended original meaning of the song.  In quoting this iconic symbol of progress, Scalia suggests that even though entities like technology are in a state of evolution, how our society handles their interaction with our core legal values must remain constant.  Through such analysis, Dylan, an emblem of societal inversion for so many, is equated with the American political left, likening the rebuking of Dylan with a critique of the progressive political current.

In a press conferencein San Francisco in 1965, an astute reporter asked Dylan, “Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?”  Through a cloud of cigarette smoke and with a coy smile, Dylan’s retort was “I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man.”  For decades, fans and critics of Dylan alike have attempted to prescribe a set of labels and political policies through which they can understand the ideology he represents.  However, the genius of Dylan as a cultural icon is that even after he left both politics and the limelight, he continues to inspire countless people. In constantly defying the expectations of others, whether it be on the Newport stage in 1965 or winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, Bob Dylan has cemented himself as an emblem of change, progress, and innovation, ideals that remain present in every stage of the American political landscape. These ideals immortalize him an ever-relevant societal and political force.

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Jang Jin-Sung is the is the pseudonym of a former North Korean propaganda poet and government official who defected to South Korea in 2004. He currently runs the North Korean defectors’ magazine, New Focus, which aims to report on North Korean news without North Korean media restrictions.

What are the standards for a good propaganda poem?  

The only criteria for a propaganda poem are how much you praise the Leader and how much the poem evokes admiration from readers. What matters most is what the Supreme Leader thinks of it. Although it is a bureaucratic and complicated process, it doesn’t matter if everyone thinks the poem is awful as long as the Supreme Leader thinks it’s good. Conversely, it doesn’t matter if everyone thinks the poem is great if the Supreme Leader thinks it is bad.

What do you think has allowed the North Korean regime to maintain its power?

More than anything, the North Korean leadership remains in power because it rewards people for submitting to the leadership and praising the Supreme Leader. The people at the top are there not because they are powerful, but because they gave up power and their way of thinking in order to reach their positions. The only way to reach the top is to submit to the system where you will get fed and rewarded for showing your loyalty.

Why do people at the top of North Korea’s political hierarchy work to maintain the personality cult if they know it is a lie?

The people at the top rationalize their loyalty to the Supreme Leadership despite knowing it’s a lie for one primary reason: In the past, this was because they wanted to maintain the image of Kim Jong-il. Today, it’s about mutual survival; the people at the top are in a good place by keeping the cult going, and all of them lose everything if it fails.

How has the North Korean Supreme Leadership been justified historically? Has this justification changed over time?

Kim Jong-il was the Supreme Leader because he had the skills to put the system into place and maintain the propaganda. With [his son] Kim Jong-un, it is not his own leadership qualities that put him there; he inherited the system. The cult today feels less valid because Kim Jong-un does not have the skills his father possessed. This poses a serious existential threat to the country. Although Kim Jong-un lacks the connections, experience, and capabilities to lead, the regime still attempts to maintain the image of him as all-powerful by showing how he executes people. They demonstrate how he brutalizes people in order to validate his power.

How would you assess the effectiveness of Western policy in North Korea?

The policies [of Western governments] have failed because Western leaders have been unable to see the North Korean leadership for what it is: a political construction. The notion that you can only be North Korean if you declare that the Supreme Leader is divine does not have historical or cultural roots. As long as politicians think that this brand of North Korea is the only one that exists, they’re only engaging with the regime’s claim of what their culture is…Until people begin to recognize that there is a very concrete political bureaucracy producing the personality cult, not some collective identity, sanctions will be ineffective.

 

Victor Fowler is a renowned Cuban writer of the Revolutionary Era. He has remained in Cuba and has published numerous essays and poetry collections, often focusing on the body, race, and sexuality.

BPR: What is the significance of being born in the period known as Revolutionary Cuba? How did your upbringing during this period influence your work?

VF: The significance is really great in my opinion. It’s something that changes your life and your way of thinking. I belong to the group of Cubans who don’t have memories of the period before the Revolution. In this sense, I am a man shaped by revolution – for good and for bad. All the things that I accept and all the things that I refuse are related to revolution in a certain way. This is just one part, and it’s a very important part. But besides that, I try to be independent of the Revolution. I am a human being. I have my ideas, some are aligned with the authorities in Cuba and others are not.

BPR: How has your writing been shaped by the fact that you stayed in Cuba as opposed to writing from abroad?

VF: I believe that the circumstance that I stayed in Cuba is very special…. The Cuban culture after the time of the Revolution is a way of life. When you live in one country, you understand things that happen around you in terms of the political situation… You live in an environment in which you are always aligning yourself around different ideas about culture, society, race, politics, power, and development while choosing and selecting. In that sense, to stay in Cuba has been very important for my work as a writer. Writing is a sort of attitude that is related to political situations and culture, but at the same time something wider. I am a Cuban of the socialist system. I am a Cuban of the Cuban culture. But I try to read, understand, and have dialogue with other cultural productions. So at the same time, I am a man of Latin American culture and am in dialogue with North American culture and with universal culture.

BPR: A lot of your research has to do with the historical relationship between North American blacks and black Cubans. What are your observations about this relationship in 2015?

VF: We are thinking about a country of Latin culture and a country of Anglo-Saxon culture – a small country and a big country, an island and a continent, the most important country of the capitalist system and a very small country of the socialist system. But in North America and Cuba, we both had countries with slaves, and now we both belong to a sort of post-colonial culture. And we have many similarities. For more than 200 years, we have been developing a history of fighting among black people to achieve their desires as free people, and not only free people, but also as human beings. We have been fighting year after year to reconsider, reassess, and represent human beings…. So, the first thing that we both should learn is that racism is a very big structure in the human mind. In this particular sense, we have the same enemy. With different names, but it’s the same enemy.

BPR: Has President Obama’s changing policies towards Cuba influenced your writing? How do you think Cuba will change as a result of these more open policies?

VF: I celebrated the policies of President Obama and so did Cuba. But until now, it’s not exactly an influence in my writing. We need to know what will happen in the future because President Obama has a wide field in front of him. Who knows what will happen in the following months? In the present, Cuba is changing as a result of the new policies, and I am sure that things will change more when the Cuban economic situation becomes more stable. It’s not possible to speak about open policies when you have an economy that is almost destroyed.

BPR: How does race impact politics and society in Cuba?

VF: Race is one of the most relevant points in politics and society in Cuba. The core of the type of society that socialist systems try to build is a society in which the difference of social classes disappears… But everybody knows and everybody understands that the majority of poor populations in Cuba are black people. So even when you don’t use the term “race” to speak about politics – even when you use the word “class” – in reality you are speaking about black people…. And in some parts, in some towns, it’s a highly visible majority. In other parts of the country, or parts of the city of Havana, it’s not the same. So even when you are speaking about social classes, and you develop a discourse, a political speech, an ideology about egalitarian society, and you suppress the use of the term “race,” in reality, at its root, you are speaking about race… After the European circuit of socialist countries, what is now the socialist system, the Cuban economy received a big economic shock. Since that moment, the Cuban government has been trying to sustain and not destroy the black, poor population.

On August 29 and 30, to commemorate a moment of national freedom, an open-air auditorium in Turkey’s capital hosted a magical encounter between two infamous and controversial figures in Turkish creative history. One was the renowned Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say, who not only made headlines in recent years with the success of his mystical Istanbul Symphony, but also with his politically inflammatory tweets for which he almost ended up in jail. The other, somewhat more unexpectedly, was the legendary Turkish poet and playwright Nazim Hikmet Ran. Despite writing almost exclusively about his undying love for his country and his dreams of peace, Nazim died in exile on charges of treason in 1963, having not set foot in his beloved homeland for over a decade.

Through the shared pain and beauty of the politically charged art of these two legends, hundreds of Turkish men, women and children in the audience, some sitting in the aisles and on the stairs while others stood wherever they could in the overflowing auditorium, found new meaning in a national holiday that had been lacking a certain enthusiasm in recent years. The event served as a reminder to the Turkish people that more often than not, history, and especially political history, repeats itself in their country. Perhaps more importantly, it showed them that there are some things that transcend the boundaries of space and time, and break down the barriers of political power, to bring people together in celebration even amid hardship.

On August 30, 1922, a battle of great significance in the Turkish Independence War came to an end with a decisive victory for the Turkish forces as the invading Greek army was expelled from Turkish soil. Since then, August 30 has been celebrated as Victory Day and has been given the symbolic significance of being the day that Turkey was rid of all enemy forces, becoming the sovereign and independent country it is today. Victory Day is one of Turkey’s three major national holidays that relate to the founding of the republic, the establishment of the Turkish parliament and the victorious end of the Independence War. As on all national holidays, there are military and diplomatic celebrations that take place in major cities around the country, accompanied by parades, concerts and air-shows by the Turkish Air Force. However, in recent years, celebrations for Victory Day have not been quite that enthusiastic due to the many serious troubles Turkey has been facing, compounded by a government that seems to have little respect for individual freedom.

In 2015, Victory Day seemed comparatively bleak in the nation’s capital where celebrations are usually most fervent, and for good reason. The war in Syria had spilled over the border into Turkish territory, culminating in several tragic attacks on border cities, the most horrifying being the attack on the town of Suruc where a Turkish youth group was planning to cross the border to help re-build the Syrian city of Kobane destroyed earlier in the year by ISIL attacks. The Suruc attack killed more than 30 people, the deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey in more than two years. Furthermore, with the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK increasing its activity in the southeastern regions of the country in response to the political void left from the controversial 2015 parliamentary elections, fresh news of the increasing death toll of terrorism had been headlining newspapers every day throughout the summer. With the failure to launch a coalition government and the announcement of the decision to hold early elections in November, a political limbo in the country led to instability and public unrest. And so, as August 30, 2015 rolled around, there seemed to be very little to celebrate. With so much to mourn and little hope of things looking up in the near future, Fazil Say’s performance of his “Nazim” oratorio was just what many Turkish citizens needed to be reminded of the importance of Victory Day and what it symbolizes: their hard-earned freedom.

The second night of Fazil Say’s concert series in Ankara was sold out and the whole crowd waited in silence for this much-needed reminder as the pianist took his place among a full chorus, the Bilkent Smphony Orchestra, three lead singers and three children all on stage to perform the “Nazim” oratorio. Say’s performance represented an important symbolic victory. Say’s music is characterized by strong melodic and thematic ties to traditional nuances of Ottoman and Turkish culture. These underlying motifs make his music unique, magical and mysterious to many, but immediately recognizable, captivatingly familiar and alluring to the Turkish ear.

Unfortunately, as with most Turkish intellectual, artistic and creative souls, Say was subjected to his fair share of political strife, turmoil and censorship during his career. In 2012, the Turkish government brought charges upon Say for his remarks on Twitter that allegedly insulted Islam and the Muslim identity. Say had retweeted remarks about a poem by the famous eleventh-century poet Omer Khayyam, poking fun at the Islamic idea of an afterlife. He had also, on a separate occasion, joked about hearing a rushed call to prayer, asking if the muezzin was impatient to get away for a quick drink. In 2013, a court in Istanbul handed down a 10-month prison sentence to Say on these charges, later suspended for five years. Say, who is an outspoken atheist and a vocal critic of the government’s social and political policies, denied the charges and after he was sentenced. In so doing, he announced in a written statement that he had committed no crime and was concerned for the state of freedom of expression in his country.

The political censorship and struggle of the two men whose work was showcased on August 30 not only brought the two together, but also gathered an impressive crowd. As the lead female singer sang one of Nazim’s most emotional odes to his country, written during the last years of his life when he realized he would die in exile and never see his treasured homeland again, tears filled everyone’s eyes.

In his latest work, the “Nazim” oratorio, Say pays tribute to a great Turkish intellectual and artist who suffered similar, if not much worse, political misunderstanding and abuse in the hands of his own government. Nazim was born in Selonika, Greece, which was then a part of the dying Ottoman Empire, at the turn of the century. Throughout his life, he endlessly struggled with his two great enemies: his chronic health problems and his unwavering yet misunderstood love for his country.

Nazim’s closest friends describe him as a romantic and a revolutionary. As a poet, he is most acclaimed for the lyrical flow of his poetic expression. However, Nazim is most famous as the symbol of one of the greatest embarrassments in Turkish history. His life of continuous and brutal imprisonment and exile is the embodiment of the paranoia of the early days of the Turkish Republic, remembered now as the tyrannical side of a new, drastically revolutionary and radically patriotic regime. When the newly formed government feared that the public would fail to adapt to the rapid changes it had enforced in social and political spheres, it found solace in suspecting and accusing everyone of being a traitor. The political climate of these years, fittingly recalled as the height of government hypocrisy, was disguised ironically as the height of government patriotism. Nazim, perhaps one of the most devoted patriots in the history of Turkish literature, tragically fell victim to this great hypocrisy.

Nazim wrote “Kuvay-i Milliye: Destan,” the poem that most beautifully expresses Turkish patriotism, while he was in prison on charges of treason. In this masterpiece he writes, “To live, as lone and free as a tree, yet as brotherly as a forest… That is our longing.” These lines echoed in the auditorium in Ankara on August 30 where Say’s compositions accompanied each word, more than half a century after Nazim died in exile in Moscow.

In 2009, the Turkish government announced that it would restore Nazim’s Turkish citizenship of which he was stripped in the 1950s after he fled the country. Yet even as recently as 2005, a teenager was detained and questioned simply for reciting his poetry. In 2013, Say’s prison sentence for insulting Islam was suspended. However, in 2014, the Turkish Presidential Symphony Orchestra dropped three of his pieces from its schedule as the latest in a series of acts of censorship of the pianist’s work. Even as the years pass and those in positions of political authority change, the Turkish government’s irrational fear of the creative freedom to express and produce remains the same.

The political censorship and struggle of the two men whose work was showcased on August 30 not only brought the two together, but also gathered an impressive crowd. As the lead female singer sang one of Nazim’s most emotional odes to his country, written during the last years of his life when he realized he would die in exile and never see his treasured homeland again, tears filled everyone’s eyes. “Memleketim,” she sang repeatedly, a word that has no exact translation in the English language, roughly translating to “my motherland” or “my homeland.” “Memleketim,” she sang, the word expressing a sense of longing and love that one can only feel towards one’s country the way Nazim did his entire life, the way Say proved, with his oratorio, that he does today and the way millions of Turkish people throughout the country remind themselves they do every year, despite all the suffering and loss, on August 30.

 

On Friday March 13th poet Kenneth Goldsmith performed a piece at Brown University entitled “Michael Brown’s Body.” A remixed recitation of Michael Brown’s Autopsy Examination Report, Goldsmith’s poem replaced the autopsy reports’ medical jargon with layman’s terms and altered its order. Despite these shallow modifications, the text retained it clinical shock, its detached description of entry and exit wounds, its voyeurism and its distasteful description of Brown’s genitals. An image of Michael Brown wearing a forest green cap and gown and holding a high school diploma was projected on the screen behind Goldsmith as he performed.

Many audience members and other performers felt profoundly uncomfortable following Goldsmith’s performance. Two scheduled presenters articulated reluctance to continue the program as planned, and many audience members were openly critical of Goldsmith. The criticism soon moved online as Goldsmith received outraged tweets and Facebook messages and online news sites published opinion pieces. Goldsmith even received a death threat on twitter. Most cited Goldsmiths aestheticizing of racial violence as the most disturbing part of the performance. Other’s pointed to his appropriation of a black body for his poetry—a reenactment and reiteration of historical appropriations of black bodies by white men. A vocal minority, confusing criticism with censorship, were outraged by the outrage and claimed critics were suppressing artistic freedom and free speech.

The Brown University event where this performance occurred, the Literary Arts department’s third Interrupt Conference, examined the intersections between digital culture, language and art. One thread of this examination was the role of authorship in the digital mediums. In the information age, the act of creation has lost its luster. Storify, Googling, “content aggregation,” the author today often organizes undigested mass, as opposed to bringing that mass into existence. The dissemination and resemination of the articles and listicles and gif essays is today’s norm. This is the cultural trend that Goldsmith is embracing with his poetry.

In Goldsmith’s initial response to the criticism he wrote on his Facebook page:

“…I did not editorialize; I simply read it without commentary or additional editorializing…. A writer need not write any new texts but rather reframe those that already exist in the world to greater effect than any subjective interpretation could lend. Perhaps people feel uncomfortable with my uncreative writing, but for me, this is the writing that is able to tell the truth in the strongest and clearest way possible…”

The phrase “uncreative writing” is central to understanding this response. Goldsmith belongs to a cluster of artists in the poetry community, who practice “uncreative writing” which embraces the digital age’s reinvention of the author. With the unprecedented amount of texts available to us in this age of Google search, this style focuses on refashioning preexisting texts instead of creating new ones.

This form of authorship, however, is complicated by its subsequent detachment of an author from their work. Conventionally the author of a text, the person who puts words to the page, is expected to take full ownership over those words. In the case of Goldsmith, he does not take responsibility for the words themselves (he didn’t write them), simply their form and presentation. Ultimately, however, “Michael Brown’s Body” represents a failure of that project. By moving into the realm of performance art, Goldsmith became very visibly a part of the text’s presentation. Goldsmith, a white man, stood on a stage and described a deceased and damaged black body. For members of the audience who watched this performance, his presence was inextricable from their experience of the text.

Goldsmith’s role as author became central to our understanding of the piece, as it should be.

“Michael Brown’s Body” is not the first instance of racial controversy in the literary art world that was rooted in the white identity of an author. There is a long history of racially appropriation in the art world. One similar incident, cited by artist Rin Johnson at the conference’s concluding penal, is the Donelle Woolford controversy. Last spring, the New York City Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial—a prestigious exhibition of younger and lesser-known contemporary artists—was steeped in controversy for its inclusion of Donelle Woolford. Donelle Woolford doesn’t exist. She is a fictional character, a black woman, conceived of by white male artist and Princeton professor Joe Scanlon and portrayed by three different black women that Scanlon hired. Many of the criticisms of Donelle were founded in a white man posing as a back woman (even if through “avatars”). The controversy reached a climax when a collective of black artists withdrew from the Biennial in protest.

Donelle Woolford, like “Michael Brown’s Body” is performance art. A distinction must be made though because unlike Goldsmith, Scanlon does not involve himself in the performance. He does not don “blackface” to portray Donelle Woolford. He does not stand on stage as a white man to present racially appropriative art, but hires others to do so. In a way, because of Scanlon’s visual—if not conceptual—absence from the performance he feels detached as an author, an alternative approach to Goldsmith’s detachment through “uncreative writing.” But what we find is, although Goldsmith’s literal presence in “Michael Brown’s Body” made his white male identity especially difficult to ignore, Scanlon’s authorial identity remains even if he isn’t physically present. Even if Scanlon’s art is meant to act as a commentary or a critique of racial appropriation, as a white man, he cannot be entirely absolved of his complicity in that appropriation.

Ultimately, the Whitney Incident can inform our understanding of “Michael Brown’s Body.” In matters of racial and political art, the identity of an author at times must be central to our understanding that art. It matters that Kenneth Goldsmith was a white man reading a description of a body that died at the hands of another white man. It matters that Goldsmith was taping into and using for his poetry the experiences of a person with entirely different cultural and economic experiences from his own. It matters that Kenneth Goldsmith was performing at an elite privileged institution in front of a mostly white audience who share in that privilege. As much as the separation of author and text may be useful as a critical tool in academic circles, in this case, who Kenneth Goldsmith is in relation to Michael Brown is necessarily central to our understanding of this piece of art. At times, believing that we can ignore the racial identity of an author can move into the realm of ignorance.