Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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September 13, 2015


Why does NGRTD, the title of rapper Youssoupha's  most recent album, contain no vowels?

Has he become an Oulipan?  

Not exactly.

In an recent interview, we understand him to explain:

I had to replace the original title, Négritude, with NGRTD after having received a letter from a lawyer informing me that I had no legal right to use the term "négritude."  A businessman, who in all likelihood had nothing to do with Aimé Césaire and his comrades in struggle, has hijacked this historic term and turned it into a registered trademark. 

Original text here.  

In another interview, hereYoussoupha adds that, after he started promoting the new album, he got hit with a series of legal notices and warning letters from the lawyer representing someone who had trademarked the name for certain "commercial and artistic activities." 

Is this for real?  

Verily, international trademark research sites confirm that a business   registered the name "negritude" in 2006. The operation does not seem to show any signs of activity during at least the past several years, and so appears to be a "dead wood" trademark.  

Nevertheless, some descriptions of the concern's proposed operations live on. TiR's favorite of these is here:

Goods and Services (ABANDONED) . . .  G & S: Clothing, footwear, headgear, shirts; leather or imitation leather clothing; belts (clothing); furs (clothing); gloves (clothing); scarves; neckties; hosiery; socks; slippers; beach, ski or sports footwear; babies' napkins of textile; underwear.

This description demonstrates the double injustice behind this business's inactivity, but for its production of lawyers' letters.  Once, in that Youssoupha is deprived of a meaningful album title. Twice, in that TiR is deprived of the possibility of owning a pair of Negritude underwear.

As Césaire aptly put it in one of his poems, translated in this volume: "let all the plots thicken in vain . . . . The law is naked."  Or in another: "but the law carries the day  --  or anxiety does." 

TiR at the moment would single out NGRTD's track "Black Out" as the album's most arresting, both sonically and lyrically; for example, we don't know of any other hip-hop that namechecks  Amílcar Cabral.  Then again, TiR lives a very sheltered life.

Aimé Césaire himself has a momentary, pre-recorded, spoken "feat." on the album, within the track "Négritude." Youssoupha affirms that he's "rendering unto Césaire what belongs to Césaire."  This lyric is so clever that, yes, it became a hashtag for about a minute this summer.

The beautiful excerpt used, on the interconnection within humans between the universal and the particular, we see is traceable to some remarks originally   published in 1997 by Unesco.   We are unsurprised but charmed to discover that the founding parent of négritude, in uttering them, in turn namechecked Hegel:

I think it was in a passage in Hegel that we found this idea about specificity. He points out that the particular and the universal are not to be seen as opposites, that the universal is not the negation of the particular but is reached by a deeper exploration of the particular.

As rendered here.

We think that Césaire is giving a gloss on passages in Hegel like this one:

The notion is concrete out and out: because the negative unity with itself, as characterisation pure and entire, which is individuality, is just what constitutes its self-relation, its universality. The functions or ‘moments’ of the notion are to this extent indissoluble. The categories of ‘reflection’ are expected to be severally apprehended and separately accepted as current, apart from their opposites. But in the notion, where their identity is expressly assumed, each of its functions can be immediately apprehended only from and with the rest.

The above, taken from Part One of Hegel's Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The LogicThird SubdivisionIX, on The Notion, § 164.

TiR likes Césaire's version better.