I’ve Never Seen a Man Die

One constant of human experience is death; something particularly true in inner-city neighborhoods victim to high crime and gang violence. In the song, “I Seen a Man Die,” by Scarface in his album, The Diary, he analyzes the effects of murder and gang violence on the participants and communities surrounding them. The album is devoted to giving the listener the experience of crime in majority minority inner-city communities. He expresses the emotional maelstrom giving cause to so much rap music, and, in the words of NPR, “(H)e explosively deflates the stereotype of gangsta rap as empty nihilism endangering communities.” The Diary is arguably the magnum opus of his long and illustrious career, and he gives his most cogent and moving presentation of his cynical worldview in it.

The central idea behind “I Seen a Man Die” is the failure of crime-affected communities and the prison system to rehabilitate or disrupt the brutal pattern of gang violence. By seeing the world through the eyes of a convicted murderer, Scarface broadens our experience by humanizing and giving motivations behind an oft demonized group; in addition, he expresses his inability to live clean, as he is inevitably drawn back into the criminal underworld and pays the ultimate price for it. Scarface uses this intricate and moving song as a call to action to reform the prison system and combat cycles of gang violence in black neighborhoods.

Scarface uses several techniques to express this. First of all, his repetition of the eponymous chorus expresses his persona’s confusion over the gangsters values that have been inculcated in him.

I still got to wonder why

I never seen a man cry, ’til I seen a man die

By using this confusion as the refrain of the song Scarface is drawing attention to his community’s failure to keep young men from the gangster lifestyle that celebrates killing your enemies. The received values that say murder is admirable and respected in the gangster lifestyle are clashing with his real life experience of guilt, shame, and sorrow. He’s not a psychopathic or nihilistic man, rather he has been let down by the community, which has allowed the destructive gangster values to take root. This call to attention of the failure of the community to keep young men on the right path is further reinforced by his criticism of the prison and rehabilitation system.

And he’s young plus he came up in the system
But he’s smart and he’s finally makin’ eighteen
And his goal’s to get on top and try to stay clean
So he’s calling up his homie who dun came up
Livin’ like this now they dealin’ with the same stuff
And had that attitude that who he was was worth it
And with that fucked up attitude he killed his first mate
Now it’s different, he’s in dead dirt

Although he has been punished by the prison system, he still lacks any real way to make a living. Scarface draws attention to the commonality of this issue by discussing that his friend deals with the same issue. Seeing through the illusion gangster lifestyle, yet lacking any reasonable recourse, as prison has only alienated him more from his old community, he is forced back into crime. And as a result, he is shot and killed, as the narrator tells him to let go.

I hear you breathin’ but your heart no longer sounds strong
But you kinda scared of dying so you hold on
And you keep on blacking out, and yo pulse is low
Stop trying to fight the reaper just relax and let it go
Because there’s no way you can fight it, though you’ll still try

Scarface in this verse is making an allegory. He, in the garb of the narrator, is equating death and following the gangster lifestye; Scarface is fundamentally expressing the fatalistic sentiment that once you go down that path, death is the only reward. He is emphasizing that the gangster lifestlye leads to nothing but death, and that communities and institutions need to make a far greater effort to change it.

This song is a blistering critique of a worrying trend in black neighborhoods, and demonstrates an excellent example of a tradition of activist Hip-Hop.

The Theme of The Stranger and Real Life

I think that the theme of The Stranger is that although the rejection of society’s values can be very detrimental to the survival and success of an individual, by rejecting cultural values we are given the opportunity to create our own values, and in so doing impose order on an absurd world and achieve true fulfillment. This is shown various times throughout the novel. Meursault, through his breach of his society’s command to not murder, puts his own values and desires above those of his society and is imprisoned and set to be executed. However, he accepts this as a necessary consequence of his actions by accepting his execution and time in prison. And he decides that, even though he has died because of it, he is happy that follows his own values and rejects the chaplain’s attempt to impose values on him.

This is all well and good, but how should we apply this insight into real life? I think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath-water; that is, I don’t think that we should reject all cultural values; or even that creating our own values is the only way to achieve true fulfillment. My parents, for example, have followed societal values, but they’re fulfilled (I think). Rather, I think life is better lived when we just question our values. We don’t have to copy Meursault and ignore all societal values, but we should emulate his questioning of the daily values we take for granted.

The Elephant Vanishes and Worldviews

I really enjoyed “The Elephant Vanishes.” I think that the main message of the short story was how we, in our day-to-days lives, disregard things outside of our worldview and things that disagree with our opinions. In psychology, this is called the self-confirmation bias: “The tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs (Encyclopedia Britannica).” I think that Murakami was trying to teach us something about ourselves; we must not let our own worldviews and cemented opinions affect how interpret new evidence and phenomena. This is particularly important in our modern political climate. Both sides remember information supporting their points and disregard information contradicting it. Maybe this is just my interpretation, but I think it’s an important realization to have in our current zeitgeist.

Application of Benjamin’s Theory

An application of Benjamin’s theory may help to explain why people stay in abusive relationships; they acknowledge their partner’s subjectivity by recognizing that they are a separate person and fulfilling their demands, but their partner refuses to reciprocate and sees the partner as an object.

By refusing to reciprocate, the abused subconsciously begins to perceive themself as an object and disregards their own emotional wants and needs. Which then creates further trauma for the abused, until eventually they cannot function emotionally or otherwise without their abuser supporting them.

This definitely changes my understanding of how certain patterns of abuse and social control work, as many other systems of power and oppression are formed and maintained in this same manner as the domestic abuser. An action that I might urge others to take is to validate other’s emotional subjectivity.

Domestic abuse and oppression occurs because of a refusal to recognize someone as a person, as a conscious individual just like you or me;if you want to overome the deleterious and detrimental systems ingrained in our society, start with recognizing others as individuals. 

Reid M.