A Defense of Kayne West’s “Donda”
A Misidentification of Religion in Art
[NOTE: This essay is partly a joke, I am just writing to write, with no other end in sight. Why not have a little fun? Critique is something we have to go beyond once in a while. I understand that I tend to lose my train of thought and move somewhere else quickly, but this is just an effect of talking about nonknowledge.]
This is the article I’m “responding to” first: https://www.gq.com/story/kanye-west-donda-album-review
This is the article I’m “responding to” second: https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/kanye-west-donda/
FATHER HOLD ME CLOSE.* DON’T LET ME DOWN. I know you won’t… — Kanye West, Hurricane
*(This first sentence is the principle of the communication that Pierre Klossowski speaks of when he invokes God as the thing which connects a community, a Church, etc. together in (theological (not atheological)) communication.)
A Response to Stephen Kearse’s Critique
Kearse begins by arguing,
Donda, Kanye’s 10th studio album, samples that speech multiple times, but never channels its capacity. Although the record, relentlessly teased and finalized over the course of a chaotic month of bombastic listening events, frenzied merch drops, and bizarre livestreams, traffics in grandiosity and immediacy, in practice it is myopic and sterile. It’s a tentpole album whose only idea is bigness, a megachurch packed with pews and collection plates and believers yet devoid of spirit. It is Kanye’s emptiest offering yet.
I feel that it is quite ironic that Kearse here has a myopic view of the point of this album. He holds that its idea is bigness, it is of the megachurch, it is devoid of spirit. This is good rhetoric, but it is blind. There is no point to music. Critiquing art is nothing but a fascistic impulse… Even an atheologian such as myself can find something in the religious impulse of this album. There is an attempt (and that is all that matters) at communication in this album, as there is in all of his albums. The song “Jonah,” which Kearse labels as shoddy (it is odd he doesn’t mention “Hurricane” in the whole article…), is nothing more than a way out, that is to say, a way beyond oneself. The communication one engages in with the virtual other, that is, with the artist, the singer, etc. is not present in all songs (certainly not every song in this album), but in “Jonah,” it is most certainly present…
Donda is more of a geotag than a coherent body of work, Kanye and his legion of collaborators sharing the same space but rarely the same vision or conviction. Some guests bring their A-game, notably Fivio Foreign and Jay Electronica, but even the most inspired performances underscore how purposeless and halfhearted this album is. The verses — all of them lamely purged of profanity — make vague references to faith and redemption, but few guests bare their souls or seem to understand why they are gathered. “Bada the bada the boom/I bada the boom, I bada the bing,” Baby Keem raps at one point. Sure, why not?
Coherence is never found in religious supplication. This is not even a critique, it is a servile appeal to a conventional (but incorrect) understanding of how religion functions artistically. How does religion function in art? It doesn’t. Whether one is a theologian or an atheologian, such as myself, does not matter (vulgar atheists are just propagators of homogenizing ideologies, we do not consider such things). One can understand that religion is predicated on nonknowledge. It is predicated on saying, “I do not know.” Theologians may then say, “But God does.” And atheologians might respond, “I will never know, but that is not a problem, because in ecstasy there are no problems.” Baby Keem’s incoherence is nothing to critique because as we know religion is incoherent, but that is why it has value.
Kearse says that this album is “devoid of spirit,” but this is nothing but a “strawman,” in that certain songs in this album open up the possibility for communication, and thus, those songs are ardently materialist, and this materialism does not exclude the spiritual realm. In fact, even outside theology, atheologians, who are all more materialists than materialists, are all free spirits (in the Nietzschean sense). Though atheologians do not have spiritual summits (those summits are of anti-sensual representation), we still are free spirits. Let’s not forget what Nietzsche said,
And let us dispatch to her assistance whatever we have in is of devilry: our disgust with what is clumsy and approximate, our nitimur in vetitum our adventurous courage, our seasoned and choosy curiosity, our subtlest, most disguised, most spiritual will to power and overcoming of the world that flies and flutters covetously around all realms of the future — let us come to the assistance of our “god” with all our “devils”!
… we are prepared like no previous age for a carnival in the grand style, for the laughter and high spirits of the most spiritual revelry, for the transcendental heights of the highest insanity and Aristophanean derision of the world.
Now, of course, we atheologians initiate an inversion of Nietzsche (as Jeremy Biles, rightly claims). But nonetheless, we do not deny what Nietzsche says.
Are we to disregard the fact that Nietzsche said,
… audacious spirit, explorer who has once already strayed into all the labyrinths of the future.
We disregard nothing.
Remember that Nick Land said, “Not spirit but spiritualization (Vergeistigung); densely material throughout its process.”
There is a spiritual level for us. Nietzsche’s annunciation of the death of God proves that.
There’s no guiding sense of harmony or contrast to the match-ups or the sequencing. The LOX show up on “Jesus Lord pt 2” only because of their recent Verzuz performance. DaBaby and Marilyn Manson appear on “Jail pt 2” seemingly to prop up Kanye’s limitless persecution complex. (Why them and not other pseudo-cancelled celebrities, like say, Nicki, Lil Uzi Vert, or T.I.? Unclear. Perhaps they, Bill Cosby, and Doja Cat’s feet were all unavailable.) The record is constantly trying to bottle lightning that already struck and rekindle controversies it isn’t willing or able to probe, from Jay-Z waving away Kanye’s MAGA days on “Jail” to Larry Hoover Jr. spinning Kanye’s infamous visit to the oval office on “Jesus Lord.”
Here Kearse does not understand how dramatization functions in relation to religion. Dramatization may be what makes religion possible. When one views drama as Kearse does, that is, from the perspective of an idealist (in the Nietzschean sense of those people who uphold idols (see Ecce Homo)), one sucks all the drama out of it.
Kearse claims, “Every beat feels like a proxy of jams or an unfinished demo.”
Let’s just assume Kearse is right, even if he isn’t. What Kearse doesn’t realize is that is what makes Donda so great, or rather, the fact that Donda is an insufficient composition is what makes it so grand. Each song being nothing more than a thousand fragments (Kearse said “Every beat after all) is nothing more than a symbolization of the condition of those very subjects who produce these sings, humans. Nietzsche said,
Most men represent pieces and fragments of man: one has to add them up for a complete man to appear. Whole ages, whole peoples are in this sense somewhat fragmentary; it is perhaps part of the economy of human evolution that man should evolve piece by piece. But that should not make one forget for a moment that the real issue is the production of the synthetic man; that lower men, the tremendous majority, are merely preludes and rehearsals out of whose medley the whole man appears here and there, the milestone man who indicates how far humanity has advanced so far.
The fact that the fragmentary nature of the songs is an inadvertent reference to the fragmentary nature of man means that it also has further implications: a relation to the overman.
If communication, inner experience, going beyond oneself, is a possibility that arises with these songs then is that not the possibility of the overman? To quote Land,
For overman is not a superior model of man, but that which is beyond man; the creative surpassing of humanity.
Is this not the possibility of the will to power as music? Land says,
Unlike the will to life, the will to power is not driven by the tendency to realize and sustain a potential, its sole impetus is that of overcoming itself.
When Kanye isn’t spitting literal gibberish, his lines are dry and styleless, riddled with self-help drivel, contextless prayers, or clumsy takes on weighty subjects like mass incarceration and mental health. Nearly every line is pedestrian and strained. “Cussing at your baby mama, guess that’s why they call it custody,” he raps on “Lord I Need You.” “Not Wakanda but Wakanda is kinda like what we ‘bout to make/And who gon’ make it? Kan, duh,” he says on “Keep My Spirit Alive,” the line so forced he can’t even maintain the meter. From “God Breathed”: “God, the son, all the glory/God, the father, like Maury.” Technically skilled rapping hasn’t ever been the main draw of a Kanye album, but in the past he was at least driven by a sense of competition — with his peers, with himself, or with listeners’ expectations. Now, he just shrugs into the void.
How does one take on such political issues from the anti-political place of religion? He handled them just fine.
“Nearly every line is pedestrian and strained.” What else would it be in the face of God, dead or alive?
I do not understand why Kearse emphasizes competition. Is this not just a capitalist impulse to suppress religion which is an impulse that undoes the current capitalist order of things? Is this not just the proof that this essay is inundated with the morality of the slave?
As for the void. If Kanye is anywhere near it then his music is suspended in impossibility…
No particular motivation or passion seems to power Donda … Though Kanye has little to say or reveal, he can’t put down the megaphone.
Can intention inform communication? Not at all…
Passion is all that fuels the motor of Donda. The fact that one cannot see the passion (which I question that this is established as such), is only a testament to the fact that this passion is exhilarating.
But why must he say something, i.e., why must his words be useful? Is Kayne et al. not just engaging in poetic dissolution? Is shedding words of the utility, not poetry? Why must he reveal something? Why this nostalgia for the object Kearse?
Kearse ends his argument by arguing,
Donda offers no such revelations. Kanye evokes his god and his adversaries with steely discretion, never detailing the trials and tribulations he insists he has endured. His book of Job is stripped of temptations and losses. There are no ultralight beams, no blood on the leaves, no skipped leg days, no dark, twisted fantasies, no drunk and hot girls, no gold diggers, no spaceships, no polos, no teddy bears, no chipmunk squeals, no soul. The album can’t even spare its namesake from this relentless emptiness. On “Donda Chant,” her name is hammered into a bland litany: “Donda, Donda, Donda, Donda.” On the title track, which samples her speech, her words are edited so that she becomes a deity. “Glory, glory, glory,” a chorus of Auto-Tuned voices sings. I pity the fool that waits around for part 2.
Why must there be revelation? Is this not just the impulse of mysticism (something we are close to but still not analogous to)? Is the evocation of God in order to show his absence (he does this in “Jonah” see below) not the most atheological movement? How are we atheologians fools? Did Nietzsche not say,
Whatever a theologian feels to be true must be false: this is almost a criterion of truth.
Is a criterion of truth not, therefore ‘whatever an atheologian feels to be true must be true?’
Kearse is the fool…
A Response to Dylan Green’s Critique
I will say that I tend to agree much more with Green than with Kearse. Green even recognizes the greatness of “Jonah.”
Green starts by arguing,
[Donda’s] 1 hour and 48-minute runtime includes euphoric highs that lack connective tissue, a data dump of songs searching for a higher calling.
The connective tissue is found virtually with the artist. One must stop thinking. Stop critiquing. One must surrender themselves.
Green then argues,
Christianity has played a role in his music since at least “Jesus Walks,” but now it seems to fuel every aspect of his creativity.
The more it plays a role the better because those musical excesses such as “Jonah,” allow for a movement beyond Christianity and into a Nietzschean hyper-Christianity.
On the Hyperchrsitianity of “Jonah”
The song “Jonah” throws me into ecstatic communication with Vory, the artist who sings the chorus of the song which annihilates me.
The song invokes Christianity explicitly once when Kayne says, “Holy Father, please, let me step in.” This is a supplication which reveals a fundamental absence of God. And this leads to Vory’s testament of despair…
The song invokes Christianity implicitly once when Vory says, “Hope they got headphones up in Heaven.” In fact, this song represents a moment of despair within the Christian spirit. Vory says,
Like who’s here when I need a shoulder to lean on?
I hope you're here when I need the demons to be gone
And it’s not fair that I had to fight ’em all on my own
This is a fundamental moment of anguish displayed, and this moment of anguish which is communicated to us by way of the virtual other found in music allows us to go beyond Christianity. Let’s remember what Nietzsche said about hyper-Christianity:
… Surpassing all Christianity by means of a hyper-Christianity and not to be contented with undoing it…
We are no longer Christians, we have surpassed Christianity, because we have lived not too far from it, but too close, and certainly because it is from Christianity that we have come; our piety, more harsh and more delicate at once forbids us today from still being Christians.
What Vory’s lyrics reveal is not only the death of God, but also the way out to a hyper-Christianity.
I think this is specifically evidenced by the fact Vory says, “And it’s not fair that I had to fight ’em all on my own,” because this not only signifies that God was absent as he had to fight them on his own, but also that appeal to fairness in the face of God strikes me as useless, so there must be something else at work here… And what else could it be other than hyper-Christianity?