SWP: Ah Noh Music Dat (Week Three)

In the third week Mark McMorris gave the lecture titled Ah Noh Music Dat: Speech in the Discourse of Nationalism. The title for the lecture came from a conversation he overheard between two Jamaican workers outside his home in New York. The two workers discussed the musician Yellow Man and one of them proclaimed, Ah no music dat. ?

McMorris quoted and critiqued T. S. Eliot on his statements about poetry and nationalism. Eliot believed that the core of a nation was it’s language and that the language was harbored and harvested in it’s literature. The situation can be represented by this equation:

Nation = Language = Literature

The quote by Eliot that No art is more stubbornly national than poetry ? caused several in the audience to gasp. It is a heavy statement. McMorris qualified it with an explanation that Eliot was talking about an homogeneous society (what ever that might be) and explained that the concept of nation ? is artificial and a late European phenomenon.

McMorris quoted Eliot several more times: Poets have a tribal function to purify the language ? and for the transmission of culture there is no means more certain than language. ? Of course, we can readily counter the first quote by claiming that the poet’s function is not to purify the language but to disturb it.

The second quote is more subtle. I’m sure that its true, but the implications are simultaneously hopeful and terrifying.

The most disturbing quote from Elliot was:

What else does writer mean if not nation-maker? ?

Because the term nation ? had very specific (and out-dated) meanings for Elliot, I think a more modern (and more challenging) phrasing of that statement would be What else does writer mean if not race-maker? ?

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