Cargo suggests trade, economic value of some kind.
Of what economic value would dead black people be?
Bounty hunting perhaps?
From: Debra San [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Wednesday, June 30, 2004 3:16 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: cargo
Carrol suggested that I talk about my original post. By coincidence
(I guess), it was prompted by something he had said:
>But the cargo of "dead negroes" is offensive. One wonders about the
>process by which _any_ corpse, black or white, ends up floating down
The process, it seemed to me, was explained by the economics of the
slave trade, which was information that Eliot's poem had not provided
because it _is_ a poem and not a history textbook. At this point you
can imagine the little lightbulb that went on over my head. Or maybe
it was three lightbulbs:
(1) If "a cargo of dead (N)(n)egroes" had appeared in a textbook's
discussion of the slave trade, would it not be evident that the
offensiveness comes from the facts of history and not from Eliot
alluding to those facts?
(2) Didn't Eliot's own language -- "the torment of others," "the
agony abides" -- demonstrate better than any commentary I might write
the grief that motivated the image in his poem?
(3) Wouldn't putting the two together -- the historical information
and the language Eliot used -- be a helpful device for approaching
some of the complexities of his poem, in particular its meditations
on how time affects perceptions of and responses to suffering?
I specified 1941, the year that "The Dry Salvages" was first
published, because to contemporary ears the word "Negro" or "negro"
is prejudicial -- it sounds only one notch above the slur known as
"the N word."
re: Carrol's new post
>Any construal of the line certainly has to give some explanation of the
>collocation of negroes (or Negroes), chicken coops, and cows.
To group dead people, chicken coops, and cows is to create a
startling, even shocking, image. It practically jumps off the page.
Whatever the image is saying, it's not whispering or implying; it's
shouting. But what is it shouting? Maybe a proclamation of Eliot's
hidden racist self: "These (N)(n)egroes, these so-called humans, are
really no better than animals! What I said about the agony of
others, forget that sentimental crap! What I want to do is
contribute to that agony with this demeaning and dehumanizing
collocation." Well, that's one possibility. But maybe something
else is going on. Maybe instead of making mincemeat of the poem's
philosophical points, the image enacts them by shouting: "The agony
of others is not an abstraction! I'm talking about demeaning and
dehumanizing reality, the reality of (N)(n)egroes tossed overboard,
being treated like animals! Like animals! Get the picture?" So
that's another possibility. There are no doubt more.
To Will: Thank you. I'm sure we'll do fine.