I Gave You Power

Life isn’t fair. We hear this phrase from time to time whether it be from our parents or friends to justify instances of improper treatment. Unfortunately, many people live this reality every day, persecuted by prejudiced laws and generations of inequality.

In his second studio album “It Was Written”, which was released in 1996, Nas reflects on his experiences growing up in NYC’s Queensbridge housing projects during the height of the crack epidemic in the 80s and 90s. Nas’s life embodies the “Life isn’t fair” phrase that low-income Black Americans were too acquainted with at the time. His unique ability to poetically share his experience saved him from a life of drugs, gangs, and violence, and gave us a taste of his life story through songs like “I Gave You Power”. Lyrics can be found here.

“I Gave you Power” is truly a one-of-a-kind song. Its central meaning reflects the paradox of gun violence in the impoverished neighborhood Nas grew up in. On one hand, Nas talks about needing to bear arms for protection in the violent streets. On the other hand, he acknowledges the destruction guns have on his neighborhood and future generations. The short-term need to carry a gun for safety perpetuates the long-term danger of gun violence in his neighborhood. Economical pressures to make money force him to live unsafely. Throughout the song, there are hints of the conflicts between Nas vs. the police and the thought process needed to survive in a constant high-pressure environment.

Damn! Look how muh-fuckers use a n****
Just use me for whatever the fuck they want
I don’t get to say shit
Just grab me, just do what the fuck they want
Sell me, throw me away
N***** just don’t give a fuck about a n**** like me right?
Like I’m a f… I’m a gun, shit

In the opening verse, Nas compares the way he gets treated from his friends to a gun. This personification of a gun continues as an extended metaphor throughout the song. This line is important because it sets up the context for the rest of the song. This metaphor is powerful because it shines a light on the dehumanization and objectification that people like Nas experienced growing up.

How you like me now? I go blaow
It’s that shit that moves crowds makin every ghetto foul
I might have took your first child
Scarred your life, crippled your style
I gave you power
I made you buck wild

This interlude shines a light on the destruction cause by gun violence around the housing projects that Nas grew up in. In these few lines, Nas talks about the pain that mothers feel to see their kids succumb to gun violence, the communal PTSD associated with death, and the repurcussions of living paralyzed. The last two lines talk about the effects of carrying guns from the carriers perspective. They note that it makes them powerful and more likely to act crazily or “buck wild.”

He squeezed harder, I didn’t budge, sick of the blood
Sick of the thugs, sick of wrath of the, next man’s grudge
What the other kid did was pull out, no doubt
A newer me in better shape, before he lit out, he lead the chase
My owner fell to the floor, his wig split so fast
I didn’t know he was hit, it’s over with
Heard mad n***** screamin, n***** runnin, cops is comin
Now I’m happy, until I felt somebody else grab me

The ending lines of the song, this excerpt shines a light on the cycle of violence experienced in the Queensbridge housing projects. The story follows a gun that jams, which causes the victim to turn into a murderer. The gun, which is temporarily given feelings, laments that someone else picks up the gun and continues the cycle. Much like the gun, Nas awaits an end to the violence, and is constantly let down through the environment he lives in.

Understanding Camus’ Argument in “Myth of Sisyphus”

The Myth of Sisyphus is a popular Greek myth that follows a mortal and his punishment by the gods. Sisyphus is a mortal and was the ruler of Corinth, a city in Greece. He notoriously was able to cheat death twice. On his second death, he convinced Hades to let him go to the overworld after death, in order to instruct his wife on proper burial procedure. He then stayed in the overworld for many years until his last death, where he was subject to the wrath of the gods. Once back with Hades, he was punished by being made to roll a boulder up a hill. After getting it up, the boulder would roll down the hill, and Sisyphus would be made to repeat the task for eternity.

Most people who read the myth and hear about the fate of Sisyphus feel sadness and pity because repetition and hopelessness seem to be traditionally sad qualities. However, Albert Camus argues that Sisyphus is happy and free to do what he wants. Camus says that by knowing his fate and the hopelessness of his situation, Sisyphus is empowered to accept his new way of life and has nothing to complain about.

Camus states that the absurdity of normal life does not make Sisyphus truly punished. In reality, by changing what he wants himself, Sisyphus is able to meet his expectations and is therefor free to do as he pleases, despite being tasked with rolling the boulder up the hill.

My thoughts on Camus’ Argument

I disagree with Camus’ perspective on Sisyphus’ situation. When looking at the myth, we come to learn that Sisyphus lived a long and happy life for the most part. For this reason, I believe that Sisyphus has a strong ground of memories. Now that he is tasked to roll this rock up a hill in hell for the rest of his life, his past will likely remind him of his unfavorable eternal fate. I think that Camus glosses over the fact that Sisyphus had a privileged life before entering hell. The absurdity of life can be found among people who find themselves involved in long hours at work or at physical labor, which may resemble similarity to rolling up the boulder. However, for Sisyphus, the ruler of a kingdom, his life and mindset is not adjusted to the absurdity of life due to the non-traditional upbringing he had.

I do think that Camus is correct in certain aspects. For example, think about an animal that spends most of its life hunting for food, sleeping, and general survival. The animal would not have the despair that Sisyphus would have, even though the repetition of their life is comparable. This is due to the fact that the animal is doing all they have ever known, while Sisyphus’ condition is an obvious downgrade from his previous life.

This changes one’s look at how our world works. The only difference between the animal and Sisyphus (or any other human with a routine) is perspective and experiences. The perspective of the animal is narrow, focused on survival, which is all that they know to do. The perspective of humans revolves around happiness, which is the absurd expectations we send to our universe. Disappointment is therefore infinitely easier for a human who sets their goals above survival.

“The Secret Woman” and its take on Relationship Insecurities

“The Secret Woman” by Colette is a short story that follows an insecure husband’s journey of trying to catch his wife in the midst of an affair at an opera house. The husband, originally scheduled to go to the show with his wife, lies about a work commitment and disguises himself before showing up to the opera house.

The story follows the numerous encounters his wife has with other people at the showing, and documents the husbands anxiety and (in a way) hope that his suspicion about his wife is correct. Thankfully, (although she kisses another man) by the end of the story, the husband is relieved to find out that his wife is not having an affair.

To truly digest the level of insecurity and lack of faith that the husband had in his wife’s loyalty to their relationship, it is important to see his reaction to each event.

She’s here for someone, with someone. In less than an hour I’ll know everything.”

The surety in which the husband expects his wife to have an affair with someone else emphasizes how insecurities can warp rational thinking into a twisted reality. As readers we come to find out that the husbands theories are all false, yet for a majority of the story, we are convinced that the wife is unfaithful.

Her husband ran a few steps and reached the couple just as Irene was crying flatteringly, “You big brute!”

This is an example of how the husband jumps to conclusions about his wife’s actions with other people. The lack of trust in their relationship leads the husband to believe that his wife receiving a hug in a crowded opera house by a mysterious man must be evidence of cheating, even though his wife was the one being harassed.

She went down the steps, placed her hand on the shoulders of a warrior who asked her, silently, to dance, and she danced, clinging to him.
“That’s the man,” the husband said to himself.

Following this interaction the husband realizes that his wife didn’t say a word to the warrior after dancing, and promptly left. This 3rd false alarm in the row seemed to finally effect the husband and cause him to think more about the problems on his end. Why is he so insecure about his relationship? Why doesn’t he posses the trust in his wife?

This realization seemed to happen at a very confusing time, right after the man witnesses his wife kissing another tired man who is resting on a bench after heavy dancing.

This time, however, instead of jumping to a conclusion and interrupting the two, he decides to reflect on both of their actions. The last paragraph of the story documents the change in the man’s mentality, and leaves the reader happy with the progression and knowledge that the husband has gained.

In his consternation he no longer feared, no longer hoped for betrayal. He was sure now that Irene did not know the young man, drunk with dancing, who she was kissing, nor the Hercules; he was sure that she was was neither waiting nor looking for anyone, and that abandoning the lips she held beneath her own like an empty grape, she was going to leave again the next moment, wander about once more, collect some other passer-by, forget him, and simply enjoy, until she felt tired and went back home, the monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state, of being the unknown woman, eternally solitary and shameless, restored to her irremediable solitude and immodest innocence by a little mask and a concealing costume.

Understanding Jessica Benjamin’s Theory on Subjectivity

Jessica Benjamin argues that identity is formed from mutual recognition and intersubjectivity. In traditional psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud’s theory on subjectivity states that a childs identity is created from the father (a figure of authority) raising a conflict between the child and their mother (symbol of comfort and nurturing). This enlightenment marks the end of the childs “mirror stage” where they believe that they are an extension of their mother. However, as many psychology analysts will note, this theory is flawed because it it leaves out a crucial group of people: women. For women, since the anatomical difference between the mother and daughter is not as clear cut, a hole in reasoning opens up to the development of subjectivity of women under Freud’s theory. In his time, Freud shrugged off this logical hole by using it to say that women have inferior reasoning skills to men. Evidently, this is not true, which has led many psychoanalysts to revise Freuds theory and create new ways to explain the development of subjectivity.

This is where Benjamin steps in to share her comprehensive argument on intersubjectivity and mutual recognition. Rather than proposing a binary system where the child is their own person because they are NOT their mother, Benjamin proposes that a person becomes a subject through mutual recognition. She explains that through interactions between people who each believe that the other is an individual with a separate identity, one strengthens their own individuality. This idea shatters the thought that one builds individuality through differentiation, and instead proposes one’s individuality through connections with others. This theory also builds on power struggles. It proposes the idea that domination and submission (or any power struggle/imbalance) are the result of unbalanced relationships of mutual recognition, where one person does not believe that the other is a subject (submission), while the other one asserts themselves (domination). Overall, this explanation, although optimistic regarding mutual recognition, better explains intersubjectivity compared to Freud’s theory.