funk : informal >noun (also blue funk)
chiefly N. amer. A state of depression : I sat absorbed in my own blue funk.
[in sing] chiefly Brit. A state of great fear or panic : are you in a blue funk about running out of things to say
> verb [with obj] chiefly Brit. Avoid (a task or a thing) out of fear : I could have seen him this morning but I funked it.
- ORIGIN mid 18th cent. (first recorded as Oxford University slang) : perhaps from FUNK in the slang sense ‘tobacco-smoke’, or from obsolete flemish fonck ‘disturbance-agitation’.
funk : >noun 1 [mass noun] a style of popular dance music of US black origin, based on elements of blues and soul and having a strong rythm that typically accentuates the first beat in the bar.
2 [in sing.] N. Amer. Informal, dated a strong nusty smell of sweat or tobacco.
- ORIGIN mid 18th cent. (in the sense ‘musty smell’) perhaps from french dialect funkier ‘blow smoke on’, based on latina fumus ‘smoke’.
(Source : New Oxford Dictionnary of English, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1998.)
In English language the funk term indicates alternatively : a kind of black music popular exuberant born with the end of the Sixties ; a vigorous odor of sweat or tobacco ; a state of depression, cowardice generated by the fear, or of panic. This last meaning finds an illustration removed in the ’ Williams Conference on the assassination considered as one of Beautiful-Arts’, given in some suburb of London, to the attention of a clandestine brotherhood and solemnly declining, or ruined, joined together by its love of the murder perfect, alambiqué or conceptually fertile. The quoted passage is extracted from the section devoted by the speaker to the assassinations from philosophers and men of spirit. « the history is too pleasant so that it is shortened. I will thus restore it exactly according to French of his biographer. ’ ’ Mr. Descartes avoit not of another conversation only that of its servant, with whom it parloit François. The marines, who rather prenoient it for a stallholder that for a Rider, judged that it devoit to have money. It is what made them take resolutions which étoient by no means favorable to its purse (...) They voyoient but it étoit a by far come foreigner and who avoit null connoissance in the country, and which nobody aviseroit to claim it when it viendroit to miss.’’ Think Messrs, with these dogs of Plank discussing a philosopher as if it were a puncheon of rum dispatched with some ship-owner. ’ They found it of extremely quiet, high mood patient ; and judging with the softness of its mine (...) they concluded that they auroient the cheaper of its life. They did not make a difficulty in holding their council his involved, not believing only it sçût of another language that that of which it entretenoit with its servant ; and their deliberations alloient to strike it, to throw it in water and to benefit from its skins.’’ Forgive me to laugh, Messrs ; but the fact is that I always laugh when I think of this case, so much appear drolatic two of his features to me. First is horrible panic or funk (as one says to Eton) whose Mr. Descartes had to be approached when it intended to outline this drama in form of its characteristic died, concerning his funeral, his succession and the provision of his goods. But another feature which still appears more comic to me in this business, it is that, if these molosses of Plank had not been craniums, we would not have had Cartesian philosophy (...) »
It is of a punished slang and scholar of which it all is when the funk is made fright, cowardice or aphasia ; a slang of class, quasi aristocratic, cultivated at the XIXème century on the benches of worthy British universities. A slang used by an author being authorized the eccentricity to consider the possibility of a ridiculous death for an eminent philosopher, that I say, for the angular stone of the French rationalist thought, and thus balancing the Franco-English accounts in two three blows of spade. But when the term evokes body entêtants remugles, it comes from the subsoils of the multiculturalism afro-American, some share between dialects of the paradise lost in Black Africa and slang coded suburbs of Los Angeles. « In the black vernacular language, the funk indicates in the beginning an odor considered to be rather unpleasant, that of sweat and intimate reports/ratios (...) According to the ethnologist Robert Farris Thompson, the funky term comes from the dialect ki-kongo, meaning ’ ’ sweat positive’ ’. »In spite of the etymology Dutchwoman of the word, fonck indicating bitter and powerful smoke releasing itself from the tobacco, and though Jerry Roll Morton, a pioneer of the jazz of the Orleans News, which was to know itself there in volutes, was the first, in 1938, to use the term in I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say,« sweat remains the base of the funk, form of the roughest expression of the negro musics, which is with the rythm’ blues and the soul what the jazz is with the free jazz, an exacerbated language of the black identity. » As well as rock’ roll, be-bop or jazz, funk has an onomatopoeical value. The onomatopoeia of the sound funk, evoking a vibrating act of copulation, redoubled by its close friend terminological proximity with the word fuck, program real and fantasmée crudeness of the relation of the funk to a polyrythmic and ultra sexuality hot.
Smoke, sweat, sex : the black musicians adapt the word funk « to indicate their dirtiest recordings » and most impregnated of a vice liberator and/or deeply declining. What one will retain especially here, it is the charismatic extravagance of the getup funk, result of a syncretic operation which mixes African ritual ornaments ; masks, rough jewels and loincloths, and attributes of the contemporary urban mode ; spangled, chemical, oversize. The disguise (because it is one) funk, superb and laughing, synthesizes with excess the camp, this dandyism joyeusement popular and which corrupted of post-modernity. Notorious Sly Stone, junkie eccentric with notorious with depressive megalomania, would be the short and final tragi-comic incarnation, on the album There’ S has Riot Going On, who « evokes before all the riot (riot) which occurs in its own life ». As a heir to the figure funk, with his excesses and his dichotomies stylistics, there would be the uniform crump clowndancers which animate the festivals of birthday of the children of the black districts of Los Angeles. A clown in the train of breakdancer hystériquement in front of some kids in miserable suburbs of the years 2000, here perhaps one of the absurdest and sardonic products but also most humanly (within the meaning of humanistic) sophisticated contemporary culture. At a few decades of variation, the background of the funk is not very different from that of the crump, with the racial riots of Watts in 1965, then death into 1970 of Charles Oatman, teenager black and deaf, imprisoned, or that of two black students killed by police balls in a dormitory of the Mississippi the same year, which starts new riots in the black districts... And also to become business of the funk very near, flirtant with the disco music and the giant concerts in stage. Because as of the moment that the pop music is crucial and prodigal, as soon as it marries a need for social conscientisation, as soon as it is propagated and burned by accuracy, that never lasts that a moment, and the brevity of this moment is the source of the character deeply melancholic person of the history of the pop music.
Back to the blue funk ;
return to panic and the depression. Contrary to the spleen, more atmospheric and more domesticable, almost more civilized, the funk is a depressive state whose negativity is not negotiable. It would develop a specific form of energy : low, sharp and amazed. Impossible dynamic aphasia, hébétude hyper tended, excited apoplexy : it is a depression stiff, but fertile, a paroxystic mood which promises an abrupt reversal of situation. The funk forecasts the imminence of an obscure hyperactivity or a worrying agitation. In short, the funk is ’ the truc’ the depressive ones. The panic which it describes resembles an unverifiable trac or a phobic fear. Then, the funk arches a vibratile tension, entirely projected towards the desire of an escape speed large V, pushed of radical Archimedes and wall of the exploded sound « I yield I unfold myself, I arcboute, I am reduced to concentrate my forces, the ground is a springboard, my body unfolds myself, all unfolds myself, it is necessary continuous to push in the air, it is what is hardest, one slips with the top of the summits, one is with the top of the noises far which one does not see any more, noises without body, running away of children Pygmies without head. »the decorated whole of a frozen sweat. And I sat, chaussee of platform boots out of green leather of ostrich emerald, the sheathed of white bottoms and partially covered legs of a loincloth in sheets of banana tree and of a gray tweed frock coat beads, avoided of a broad starched white flange, an Ethiopian ebony mask and a wig of purple nylon clown, absorptive in my funk blue.
1. Williams conference : conference placed under the old people’s homes of the assassin John Williams : « Never from one end to another of annals of all Christendom there was not act made by a single individual, isolated, who was armed with one more terrifying to be able on the men that carnage by which, during the winter of 1812, John Williams, in one hour, made the vacuum in two houses, exterminated, except for two members, all the inhabitants, and affirmed his supremacy of them on all wire of Caïn. » Thomas de Quincey, Of the assassination considered as one of the Art schools, Editions Gallimard, 1963 for the French translation, Idées/Gallimard, 1975, p. 94-95.