notes on kurt newman on the politics of chingo bling’s “they can’t deport us all.”
The following are comments posted on Kurt Newman’s wonderful series of posts exploring what he calls “the politics of interruption” (“They Can’t Deport Us All: Chingo Bling and the Politics of Interruption, Part I”; “‘he crossed with a trampoline, not with a passport’: Chingo Bling and the Politics of Interruption, Part II”; and “The Not-All, Revisited (Chingo Bling and the Politics of Interruption, Part III)”). Kurt’s posts trespass widely in wonderful ways, transgressing many borders, from Jacques Lacan’s huckster psychoanalytic wordplay to the multivalent shouts, whispers, and interruptions of Chingo Bling’s hip-hop song about US immigration policy, “They Can’t Deport Us All.”
March 19, 2014
Damn you, Kurt! You made me write yet another long comment on the USIH blog. Curses! Take what’s useful here and leave the rest.
One thing I like about this series is the way you use Lacan and other theorists to connect language to questions not only of subjectivity and constructions of the self, but also to issues of democracy, the state, and citizenship. That may be an obvious thing to say, but I wanted to say it anyway.
The other thing I was admiring about this particular installment of the series is how your writing itself develops a rhythm of interruption with its short sentences that kind of pop one out of the other and twist forward, then suddenly back against the prior statement. The prose style expresses some aspect of the very feeling of interruption that you have been exploring. Or so it reads to me.
What you got me thinking about are the many meanings of interruption. There is the interruption of others, either to silence them or to refuse being silenced. There is the interruption of “everyday” life by ruptures of something else: trauma, transformation, awakening, release, acceptance. And then there is the interruption that, if I am understanding you correctly, you are addressing here, which is a kind of interruption of subject formation as it relates to the legal, political, linguistic, and communal constructions of and by a nation-state.
This is about how language is at play in the contours and definitions of citizenship. And here, you seem to be linking the politics of interruption to something more like the politics of ambiguity or linguistic multiplicity. The way Chingo Bling’s sentence can, like the “not all apples are red” sentence, be read or understood multiple ways without ever quite resolving into a definitive statement. Or better said, “They can’t deport us all” seems at first to be a definitive statement—a demand for freedom and liberation—but the more you put the words together, the more it seems to make its demand precisely by not making one single demand. Its imprecision is its precision, its lack of resolution is its resolution to not be labeled, controlled, defeated, destroyed, oppressed, deported.
In your reading then, Chingo Bling is signifying, yes? The song seems, at first listen, like a straightforward claim. But tapping into a richness of phraseology and musical collage, it turns out to be a straightforward claim for rights, freedom, justice that is not so straightforward at all. It is built not upon the typical foundation of legal citizenship as it is grounded in an independent, autonomous subject or self (I am a man!). Rather, it is asserted (as an interruption?) from a position that is something more like an anti-foundation, one constructed of conjoining multiple voices that never resolve into one coherent, autonomous speaker. Or perhaps better said, the citizen here claims rights precisely as a kind of disorganized, polyglot self rather than a unitary one with clearly defined external boundaries and internal consistency. This cornerstone has a million fissures in it. (Incidentally, I’m drawing on Barry Shank’s work here, his interest in music and its modes of anti-foundational logic.)
So the song becomes a clear statement of outrage at immigration policy and practice on the US-Mexico border. It gathers force not only by, in an obvious way, jumping over the fence of what’s “appropriate” to state in public about this policy and practice (they can’t deport us all is simply true even in its most straightforward sense), but also by sort of tunneling under the words themselves to access, through musical performance, their weird instability and unsteadiness: as the line gets repeated over and over again, especially at the start of the song, the repetition (repetition? interruption? What’s the relationship?) starts to bend the lyric in new, almost surreal, metaphysical, almost existential directions.
To me this is what makes popular music so marvelous and so potent as intellectual discourse. It always has this quality of, Did I really just hear that? Is that really what he’s saying or meaning? The music can circulate in astounding ways, across many kinds of fences and borders. There are those who want to put it in its place, keep it detained. But it’s difficult to do that with sounds. They seep through. They go into “us all” as well as surround “us all.” They bleed into one another.
Moreover, we are not very good at processing the intellectual content of this kind of communication in the field of intellectual history. Some resist analysis of this sort outright (the old Honey Boo-Boo chestnut that’s appeared here before). Some are ambivalent (even I am sometimes) because of the seemingly vast distances of ways of talking, of social position, of cultural capital between, say the artistic creations of Chingo Bling or Buck Owens on the one hand, and the academic flights of Lacan and company on the other. And that’s not even grappling with the class, status, ethnic, racial, and gendered boundaries being leaped and transgressed as well as the various kinds of appropriations occurring, when academics shift pop culture into a scholarly idiom (which is to say, are we doing so with a trampoline or with a passport?).
Anway, back to “They Can’t Deport Us All.” As I listen to it, what at first seemed a kind of straight up social protest song becomes something way more personal and existential as the language thickens (my favorite is when “Public Enemy,” with not only its legal FBI associations, but of course also its hip-hop historical reference becomes, for Chingo Bling, “public enema”). Indeed the song’s power, for me embodied as much in that slurping, ominous Houston “Dirty South” bass line as in the lyrics, is to start to break apart the “wall” of reasoning about US immigration policy not only at the obvious surface levels of contemporary political language, but at deeper, more disorienting levels of subjectivity and understandings of what a self is in relation to a collective group identity (a “they,” an “us,” an “all”).
My questions, then, are two.
First, is this politics of interruption really conducted as interruption? Or is it more like a whispered murmur below a louder statement? Most people will hear this song on its surface level, as a protest against current immigration policy; but at the affective level, the music along with the incantation of signifying, polyvalent language might also produce other effects: a kind of tugging, a nagging, a pulsating pointing at the deeper philosophical groundings upon which US immigration policy’s legal, political, and cultural edifice is quite precariously built. Would “interruption” be the best term for this, when the thing you speak of kind of articulates itself by escaping under breath, out the corner of the mouth, as it were?
Second, there is the ending of the song, which pivots not on a moment of linguistic ambiguity, but rather on a moment of linguistic distinction. When Chingo Bling’s father is asked by the police whether he is an “American citizen born,” he responds “Jes” instead of “Yes.” This is what “busts” him. Is that a moment of interruption too or is it the moment when the kind of interruption you are describing, that undercurrent in the song that keeps destabilizing assumptions (really assertions) of what a self is in relation to receiving the rights of legal citizenship in a nation-state, gets blocked? Chingo Bling’s father “crosses with a trampoline not with a passport,” but he seems to get sent back to Mexico at the end of the song at the end of a gun.
Postscript: Oh, but then Chingo Bling does something great. As the beat stops suddenly (interrupted!), the very last line is Chingo Bling’s voice alone: “Never learn, does ye?” he says, almost so quickly that you don’t hear it before the song is over. This very last line is him ventriloquizing the voice of a white border patrol officer, of course, in the moment of the song’s story, but it doubles, nay it triples, even quadruples, up as the final word, rendered once again as a final statement through its very lack of finality, its irresolute ending.
The last line is not only the voice of the law and the state, it is also the absurdity of what that voice sounds like to Chingo Bling (and presumably his core audience) when it comes from a cartoonishly poor white Southern accent (think Dukes of Hazard with healthy dose of outsize Texas cowboy).
It is also more than that. The last line is the voice of Chingo Bling to his father, channeled through the voice of the white border patrol officer. It is rueful, sardonic, panicked, worried. It is frustrated at the linguistic error that has been committed and the terrible implications of that error.
But that’s not all. That last line is also, in some way, Chingo Bling speaking to himself, asking himself if he, in singing the song so boldly, is repeating his father’s linguistic mistake. Or to put it another way, he expresses his worry, and simultaneously his resolve, in that very last little interruption of the song as it ends. Ending (or in some sense not ending) by asking ”Never learn, does ye?” suggests, at first, that it would be far safer to hide in plain view, illegal but unnoticed. But when Chingo Bling appropriates the question at the end of the song, he is implicitly answering his own self-interrogation with a resounding “Jes!,” which is really a way of defiantly stating, “No!” He won’t ever learn. Indeed he will continue to unlearn. Now that’s an interruption worth hearing.
Correct, respond, improve, deny, restate, revise away here. Where did I follow your thinking and where did I, er, interrupt it?
March 15, 2014
Enjoying the Talmudic turn here. Chingo Bling as Esther?! Also lots and lots of goodies, such as your noting of the proximities of country and funk guitar styles (but presumably not their ideological affinities, or maybe so?).
I think the politics of interruption is a promising concept. But only if it is, as you start to propose, something more than just carnivalesque redux. Is this just “rough music” at the border, charivari with barbed wire and guard dogs (and some chicken picking), or something else, an interruption that (1) intensifies the contradictions of the ideology being disrupted or (2) resolves a “double bind” that the subaltern voices find themselves in or (3) both of the above
Also thinking about interruption vs. collage, pastiche, certain Situationist tactics that make their way into punk, the seemingly useless (but maybe not?) protest of interruption in places such as congressional gallery seats (throw up your banner, shout a few words, get manhandled out by the police, carry on), and the tensions between interruption and civility.
More! I promise not to interrupt.