Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Beloved? Meh. It Could've Been Important [Now new and x-posted!] The New Republic's "This Week in the Arts" mailer suggested that since "The New York Times recently proclaimed Toni Morrison's Beloved to be 'the single best work of American fiction published in the past 25 years,'" I should check out how TNR reviewed back in 1988. A quick dip in the archives and I was reading "Aunt Medea." It opens with a misguided slam of James Baldwin. In stunning prose, Baldwin claims people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his efforts, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human like that no school on earth—and, indeed, no church—can teach. Baldwin may not always be correct, but few sound so good being wrong. According to TNR's reviewer, with Baldwin the claim to martyrdom, real or merely asserted, began to take on value. One on longer had to fear the charge of self-pity when detailing the suffering of one's group. Catastrophic experience was elevated. Race became an industry. It spawned careers, studies, experts, college departments, films, laws, hairdos, name changes, federal programs, and so many books. Then came the feminists. They exposed the patriarchial assumptions of black male protest literature. But exposing the shortcomings in protest writing by black men didn't automatically make writing by black women any better. Writers like Alice Walker revealed little more than their own inclination to melodrama, militant self-pity, guilt-mongering and pretensions to mystic wisdom. Enter Toni Morrison: With Song of Solomon, which appeared in 1979, she became a best-selling novelist, proving that the combination of poorly digested folk materials, feminist rhetoric, and a labored use of magic realism could pay off. Beloved is no better: It is designed to placate sentimental feminist ideology, and to make sure that the vision of black woman as the most scorned and rebuked of the victims doesn't weaken. For Beloved, above all else, is a blackface holocaust novel. It seems to have been written in order to enter American slavery into the big-time martyr ratings contest, a contest usually won by references to, and works about, the experience of Jews at the hands of Nazis. That Morrison chose to set the Afro-American experience in the framework of collective tragedy is fine, of course. But she lacks a true sense of the tragic. For all the memory within this book, including recollections of the trip across the Atlantic and the slave trading in the Caribbean, no one ever recalls how the Africans were captured. That would have complicated matters. That's not a bad point. Erasing the role of Africans in the slave trade is a matter of political pragmatism which does strip some formal element of tragedy from the slave trade. Wouldn't it be far more tragic to be sold into slavery by your cousin. Better...
Infamous Liar Kaufman Proven Truthiful! Story at 10. [X-posted] Scott Eric Kaufman boards a flight to Houston, TX. He stumbles into his aisle seat and opens his backpack. He pulls a stack of papers from it. Because he needs new glasses, the name “McCann” is emblazoned in 14 point font across the top of first page. Across the aisle sits a svelte young man clad all in black reading a Vintage International paperback. He glances at Scott, then at the stack, then returns to his book. The plane taxies down the runway and takes off. Svelte Young Man: (leans into the aisle) What are you reading? Scott: An essay a friend of mine sent me. Svelte Young Man: What’s it about? Scott: Getrude Stein, mostly, but it has a bit about evolutionary theory in it. Svelte Young Man: ‘Cause I noticed it said “McCann” on it. Is it by Sean McCann? Scott: Actually, it is. Svelte Young Man: One of my professors told me to check out his work. Smart stuff. Did you know he writes for this online thing? Scott: Actually… Svelte Young Man: It’s called “The Valve.” Smart stuff. I can give you the address. You should really look it up. Scott: Actually, I write for the Valve too. My name’s Scott Kaufman. (offers hand) Svelte Young Man: (stares blankly) Scott: I’ve been writing there a while. Sean and I are friends. Svelte Young Man: (continues to stare blankly) Scott: (feeling like a busted liar) No, really, I do. Did you read the text adventure parody? Svelte Young Man: Uh, no. Scott: Any of the stuff about Darwin? Svelte Young Man: (visibly uncomfortable) Not that I remember. Scott: (feeling increasingly busted) I post there all the time. Svelte Young Man: Well, I don’t read the comments... It’s all downhill from there. Scott slowly withdraws his long outstretched hand. He never manages to get the guy’s name, but he does learn (albeit indirectly) that the recommendation to track Sean down came, in all likelihood, from Mark McGurl. He posts this in the hope that the anonymous guy who thinks Scott a liar will read this. Because really, I mean, most of y’all complain he posts too much, no?

Become a Fan

Recent Comments