Culture

Athens and Yeezy

Close reading the works of Kanye West

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Kanye West broke the already broken brains of Twitter yesterday when he indicated a certain degree of "dragon energy" sympathy for President Donald Trump and Trump agreed. He tweeted a picture of his signed MAGA hat, too, poo-pooed Obama's legacy, and also expressed a desire to hang out with everyone's favorite Tolkien-loving Bond villain, Peter Thiel. That's just a bit of West's hot content that prompted Rolling Stone to call his online activities "a real threat," and he hasn't let up.

To play fast and loose with some German idealism, and fast-and-loose is the name of the game here, it has been obvious since at least November 2016 that the noumenal and phenomenal in the (civilizational) West were way out of whack, and the whiplash of correction is spinning heads and smashing political assumptions and isn't going to stop. Things are getting weirder not just year-by-year but week-by-week and day-by-day and (rapper) West's wearing a red cap is hardly going to be the zenith of the new zeitgeist. But with this new glimpse into the mind of Yeezy, one wonders if we were warned. Could Gemini Kanye have pulled a Leo and written with persecution in mind? Only a close reading of the West canon will tell us if there is an esoteric political vision to be found. 

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First off, in "Waves" Kanye raps "Even when somebody go away (turn me up!) / The feelings don't really go away / That's just the wave (yeah)," which is obviously a winking meditation on modernity ("wave") as a world without God ("somebody") left with an insatiable spiritual need and emptiness ("feelings"), so we're on the right track.

Politics is about power. Good thing Kanye has a song about that. In a key passage of  "Power" West first contextualizes himself in post-modernity and then acknowledges the problem of sovereignty—that it reduces to a singular will at some point, which is too great a responsibility for a finite and fallible human being constrained by mortality. There will always be states of exception, demanding that someone make decisions, so in the end, Kanye admits, someone will have to be sovereign:

"I'm living in the 21st century doin' something mean to it / Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it / … No one man should have all that power / The clock's tickin' I just count the hours / … / The system broken, the school's closed, the prison's open / We ain't got nothing to lose, motherfucker, we rollin'."

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The Greeks tell us politics should be ordered to eudaimonia—happiness and the good life. In "Good Life" Kanye the Graduate reminds us that this can only be found in the polis, the city of friends: "The good life, it feel like Houston / It feel like Philly, it feel like D.C / It feel like V.A. or the Bay or Yay / Ay, this is the good life (Welcome to the good life) / Homey tell me what's good / Why I only got a problem when you in the hood (Welcome to the good life)." Obviously the "homey" who West demands tell him "what's good" has a different conception of the Good—that end to which all things aim—and so disrupts the friendship that is true citizenship in the polis or "hood."

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On more conventional questions of American politics, Kanye clearly has conservative sympathies. In "Jesus Walks" he reminds us he is a religious son of the American heartland pained by the polarization that divides coastal elites from flyover country: "We at war / We at war with terrorism, racism / But most of all we at war with ourselves … You know what the Midwest is? Young and restless." In "Blood On The Leaves" he outs himself as pro-life, faithfully submitting to Christian tradition on the matter of baby-killing: "Then she said she impregnated, that's the night your heart died / Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that / Main reason cause your pastor said you can't abort that." And he has a whole song about taking personal responsibility for family and work in "FML", where he raps: "As far as my business / I'm the only one that's in control / I been feeling all I've given / For my children / I will die for those I love / God, I'm willing / To make this my mission."

So, Yeezy in a red cap ready to love President Trump and make America great again maybe shouldn't be as big a surprise as it seems. I'll give "St. Pablo" the last word on Kanye West's value as a political philosopher:

"People tryna say I'm goin' crazy on Twitter / My friends' best advice was to stay low / …. The media said he's way out of control / I just feel like I'm the only one not pretendin' / I'm not out of control, I'm just not in they control / … I can see a thousand years from now in real life / Skate on the paradigm and shift it when I feel like / Troll conventional thought, don't need to question / I know it's antiquated so sometimes I get aggressive"

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