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May 9, 2012

The focal point of the easy is the sexual perversion inherent in the human soul “Baraka, Marquis de Sade, and the individual talent” is an essay written by Prof. Ikenna Dieke. Prof Dieke bagged his Ph.D in English at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, (U.S). He previously taught at the University of Arizona and currently teaches Caribbean and African-American literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.(Nigeria)

Dieke points that Baraka’s poetics on human sexuality has two major elements. The first he calls sexual villainy and the second, symbolization of mythologized, sacral sexuality. Both examine the persistence of the ruling passion. The two antipodals are based on Baraka’s novel The System of Dante’s Hell. Sexual villainy is in form of homosexuality and rape while the second is an affirmation of Black American reality. Prof. Dieke points out further that in Baraka’s The system of Dante’s Hell, sexual perversion is in the form of a psychodrama of erotic turbulence as we see through Roi, the hero. Roi finds himself in a satanic street underworld where he engages in all sought of sexual perversion – Homosexuality and rape. To him, sexual cruelty is an expression of a new way of life, without any from of admition and guilt as can be seen through the gang raping of a woman in a car-by him and his gang.

Baraka sees homosexuality as a symbolic misuse of “creative energy”, a form of degeneracy and swapping of what is good and natural for that which is not. The end result of homosexuality, to Baraka is fear, guilt and self-hatred. He further presents another case of sexual perversion which is homosexuality. Through the dialogue between the two sexual perverts – the knowledgeable and nameless 46 and Herman, (64’s name), Baraka expresses the importance of man’s identity.

But despite these portrayals, Baraka’s rendering of sexuality is not all absurd. In x-raying the problems posed by homosexuality and rape, Baraka ventures into the sexual underworld. Here, Roi finds a new lease of life through Peaches, a black whore. Through her sexual power, the alienated Roi was able to be initiated back to the Black life styles. He was able to be brought back into a “meaningful contact with those who truly want and need him”. The influence of the white world on him is no longer there. The new found relationship between Roi and Peaches unlike his former homosexual one is one that is mutual, beneficial and intimate.

Prof. Dieke further points out that Baraka’s portrayal of the sexual encounter between Roi and Peaches forays the perverse imagination. Roi is no longer the guilty, isolated individual he used to be but a prodigal who has returned “to the black ethos from which he has hitherto been severed.” Baraka’s perverse imagination partakes both in pathology of sexuality and pathology of art. The grinding of this pathology in aesthetic dimension unavoidably transforms erotic cruelty into a means of liberation. Baraka like Sade insists that in a community submerged with racism, the greatest attention that could be paid to the human situation is conveyed in the flesh. Baraka’s characters return to their root where security, relief and peace could be obtained. Despite this, Baraka’s vision unlike Sade does not envision total disintegration nor a complete self-surrender.

In essence, Baraka seems to suggest that in one form or the other, we plunge into sexual dungeon to find freedom and escape from the imprisonment we find ourselves.


The main idea in this essay is the senselessness, unwholesomeness and uselessness of all traditional values and belief. The essay is aimed at diffusing the tragic faith archetypal of the Dionysian spirit.

Dionysus is the perfect symbol of the tragic faith. Nietzsche in his The Birth of Tragedy distinguished between the Apollonian and the Dionysian imaginations. The Apollonian artist creates values, determines and formalizes large chunks of value judgments. The Apollonian artist makes visible an ordered past.

On the other hand, the Dionysian artist risks himself in a flux which is dark to all except his desire.

The author’s position in Baraka’s The System of Dante’s Hell is that Baraka embraces the role of the Dionysian artist. The meaning of the roles the Dionysian artist play is within four symbolic frames namely the nihilistic, the tragic, the Dionysian, and the frame of the heroic individual which Baraka calls the “Peachesman” and Nietzsche the “overman”. For Nietzsche the nihilistic frame is that of despair and anxiety. Its evolution lies in the uncompromising stand that all beliefs and traditional values and everything that exist are useless and senseless. Baraka is haunted by nihilism just the same way Nietzsche is and it is such that orthodox values can no longer be trusted. The only same justification for existence Baraka insists is the feeling for life and nothing else.

On the Christian placing of hell in another realm, Baraka and Nietzsche reject it on the ground that nihilism is rooted deeply in Christian morality. However, the author points out that there is redemptive alternate order in Baraka’s nihilism. This alternative is a “distinctly socialized hell.” Baraka’s nihilism like Nietzsche’s guns for an entirely new definition of the divine. He says:

Finally, God, is simply a white man, a white “idea,” in this society, unless we have made some other image which is stronger, and can deliver us from salvation of our enemies ….

Baraka cannot be charged with anti-religion though anti-Christian. Baraka’s like Nietzsche’s world rejected the dualistic separation of God and nature. He sees a kind of reciprocal manichaeism in everything – good and evil, normal and bizarre, ugly and beautiful, the finite and infinite. His belief is that the relationship between God and the oppressed, down-trodden ought not to be purely abstract, theoretical but ought to be the one that is felt and experienced. Just like Nietzsche, Baraka demands that freedom and redemption should not be in the world beyond but in the present world. The nihilism and tragedy of life Baraka insists is not accidental.

Prof Dieke goes further in establishing that in The System of Dante’s Hell, the most nihilistic scenario encapsulates the “brutalization and flagrant desecration of the deistic, natural, and creative world order”. This desecration he says Baraka portrays as violence “against one’s self/against God, Nature and Art”. He (Baraka) sees reality as not enshrined in Christianity alone but with nature and the art which mirrors it. The nihilistic spirit Baraka preaches is the one that does not have faith in a transcendent God, but in an immanent God in this world with link to the productive and regenerative forces in nature and man’s creative expressions. Any disordering of this bond brings a vital loss of purposefulness which is seen in Roi. He says:

Nothing to interest me but myself. Disappeared, even the thin moan of ideas that once slipped through the pan of my head …

Inspite of this, Baraka and Nietzsche posit that the crisis of nihilism shouldn’t be an excuse for man to accept void as his guide, will to nothingness or companion.

Though tragic and containing a negative ideology, it is the basis for regenerative growth.

Beyond the nihilistic stage, there is the urge to find what Nietzsche calls “the exist and hole through which one arrives at something” in order to create a new culture that can lead mankind out of the suffocating hole nihilism. Despite his nothingness, Roi does not resign into a permanent nihilism. He sees liberation in spite of his lost. Thus he is liberated and a survivor. The void Roi encountered is that of freedom to create new ideas and values. For both Baraka and Nietzsche, the achievement of freedom can only be obtained only after the destruction of the old idols and empty traditions. Thus Roi’s new space is independent of traditional moral categories. It is now an embodiment of building and creating anew.

The tragic spirit is the courage to confront something that outweighs all struggle and anguish. It is this spirit that can help the black man in America to overcome racial segregation and cultural displacement. The nihilistic and the tragic visions in Baraka’s and Nietzsche’s view are linked by an ineffable complementarity. Nietzsche equates the complementarity archetype to Dionysus. Dionysus symbolizes modern man who has lost all traditional values and faces nihilism and despair. At the same time he presents an overcomer of nihilism who finds a new meaning of life.

Prof Dieke opines further that the Dionysian spirit is that of synthesis in which negation and affirmation, suffering and joy are reconciled. His descent into the underworld of the Bottom and the joint is a descent into the Dionysian nuptials. Roi then becomes Baraka’s black antitype of the Dionysian hero. Despite his knowing that suffering, evil is part and parcel of black life, he does not refrain from it. The sufferings of Roi are the Dionysian pathos. The music of the Bottom brothel reveals a world where boundaries between people are broken down.

Roi’s experience in the “Bottom music is that of Dionysian Frenzy which encompasses pains and suffering which defines his black experience. The transformation of Roi from a perversive nihilist to a more or less extroverted tragic-Dionysian is conceived within the mythos of Dionysian creative link. “For Madmen only” inscribed on the wall of the brothel, the author says, is part of Baraka’s way of stressing the Dionysian mania symbolized by the brothel. This mania explains the level in which man’s power is harnessed to the full.

The Dionysian figure in The System of Dante’s Hell would be incomplete without a look at the “eternal feminine” which Peaches symbolize. The same way the Dionysian myth relates to women is the same way Baraka’s Peaches is the Maenad of Dionysus. Peaches like maenad helps in the transformation of Roi into a Dionysian protégé through orgasmic encounter. Roi then finds freedom which awakens him to a new sense of wholeness. In his happiness he says:

… I felt myself smiling, and it seemed that things had come to an order … I though of black men sitting on their bed … listening quietly to their wives soft talk. … A real world of flesh, of smells, of soft black harmonies and color (147-48)

This joyful reconciliation and emancipation brings Roi to a new sense of self. Instead of a faceless airman, running after valueless things, he becomes a transformed and rejuvenated Peachesman. His fate just like Nietzsche’s “overman” is the victory of the human spirit, the result of which is the seeing of greatness and beauty in the face of the horrible and ugly black experience. His experience as Peachesman is embedded in his heroic will to survive.

For Baraka and Nietzsche, the final goal of life is not gotten or attained through the abolition of the suffering and striving will, but through its tragic overcoming. Just like Nietzsche, Baraka sees with clarity the deepest roots of Blacks suffering and anonymity in racist America.

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