FD Guest Lecture: Poetic Primacy
We've long been fascinated by the poetry of Rashad McCants and have argued passionately in the comments about its literary merit. To strengthen our case, we brought in an actual academic for today's guest lecture. Below read the words of Chartin Muzzlewit, English PhD student and future big red tree, analyzing the McCants poem "Number 1."
At first glance, this poem indicates the speaker's investment in guidance by a spiritual power. And although power is initially accessible solely in a dream-world, it has troubling effects on the speaker's body ("I sense the veins in my body thicken"). The striations of muscles coming to life could indicate sheer physical strength, but this possibility is complicated by the later homoerotic intimacy between the spiritual presence ("him") and the speaker's body. For example, when the speaker imagines a spiritual consummation, the body seems both infinitely compartmentalized ("my eyelashes touch") and entirely reduced ("no thought or sound"). This combination of extreme particularity and obliteration imply that the spiritual encounter is, in fact, a self-shattering sexual encounter.
Throughout the poem, power links to sexuality in a dangerous way; access to the spiritual plane is possible, but the body challenges the spirit while it simultaneously acts as a route to spiritual life. Physical power bursts forth in the poem's opening line, only to be undercut by a progressive reduction in the body's ability to apprehend the world around it ("my eyes just blink. No thought or sound"). This is a speaker poised between a desire to enter a spiritual world that chips away at the physical body and a realization that true power can only be achieved through that body ("he knew that my life would demand some sin"). The spiritual power's foreknowledge of the body's "sin" indicates that the power dynamic (troubled by the image of the self's engorgement in the first two lines) remains in place – the spiritual power maintains its hierarchical relationship to the speaker's body.
The resolution of the poem links masochistic submission to the spiritual power ("with a command from him") with recognition of the speaker's chosenness ("I am here for a reason"). The poem closes with a momentary identification between the speaker and the spiritual power ("To be/#1"). But the question raised by this elision is, of course, how the speaker's willingness to submit to the spiritual other relates to the central tension in the poem – the sexualized connection between the spiritual and the body.