Political Repertoires: Tellability and Subjectivation in Gil Scott-Heron

Political Repertoires: Tellability and Subjectivation in Gil Scott-Heron

Teófilo Espada-Brignoni, Frances Ruiz-Alfaro
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1986-7.ch003
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Songwriting, whether creative or unoriginal, can challenge or promote the values of the dominant discourses in a particular society. Within the context of popular music, Gil Scott-Heron wrote songs that problematize official discourses about family life, the African-American experience, the government, and rappers, among other topics. Through discourse analysis, in this chapter the authors explore how songs written by Scott-Heron deal with the narrations and definitions others ascribe to the self, questioning a diversity of accounts and explanations regarding social and personal experience. Gathering ideas from Michel Foucault's and Judith Butler's notion of “subjectivation,” Kathy Popkin's considerations on “tellability,” and Enrique Pichón- Rivière's conceptualization of bonds, the authors discuss political repertoires articulated through music.
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Gil Scott-Heron was an African American novelist, poet, singer, and political activist. Some called him the “godfather of rap” although he was not completely comfortable with that title (Baram, 2014). He was born on April 1, 1949, in Chicago but grew up in Jackson, Tennessee with his grandmother. In 1962 his mother took him to New York where he attended high school. They lived in a small apartment for a while, but later they had to move to the projects. Thanks to a scholarship, he was able to attend the prestigious Fieldstone High School (Scott-Heron, 2012). After high school, he studied at Lincoln University. A few years later he completed a master’s degree in creative literature at John Hopkins University. According to his autobiography, he attended John Hopkins on a scholarship because he had already written two novels, a poetry book, and had a few recordings (Scott-Heron, 2012). Considered by many a predecessor of rap music, various artists mourned his death on May 27, 2011 (Baram, 2012)

Two book-length biographies analyze the life of Gil Scott-Heron. Published in 2012, Leslie Gordon Goffe’s Gil Scott-Heron: A Father and Son Story provides an account of Scott-Heron’s parents, particularly his father, Gilbert St. Elmo Heron. Goffe’s book is written in a compelling style using Scott-Heron’s lyrics to construct arguments about his life. Marcus Baram’s (2014) biography, Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man is concerned with Scott-Heron’s life story, his musical inter-influences, and his context. Both books are good sources for understanding the personal life of Scott-Heron. However, both Baram and Goffe interpret his songs mostly as a reflection of Scott-Heron’s internal struggles with his family and drugs.

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