Uncategorized

The Marrow of Tradition by Charles W. Chesnutt

In aftermath of the American election, with the biggest question being ‘what do we do now’ in light of white supremacy/intolerance being brought back to the surface, one of the best things to do is to educate ourselves as much as we can. I will be making a pointed effort to read literature by non-whites, by women, by as many different background combinations as possible, and I’ll be posting about them here and I will (hopefully) be encouraging the readings of all these upcoming texts.

I only just started The Marrow of Tradition by Charles W. Chesnutt (found it randomly in a book shop), and for the rest of the texts I will wait until I have a sufficient chunk of the text read before I write about it, but I wanted to share a little bit about the history of this text, as it seems particularly relevant.

the-marrow-of-tradition

The Marrow of Tradition is historical novel, depicting a fictional account of Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina. The Wilmington Insurrection was described by whites at the time as ‘race riot’ that was caused by black people, but it was in fact an insurgency by white Democrats who overthrew the legitimately elected local government and expelled black leaders from the city. “What happened in Wilmington became an affirmation of white supremacy not just in that one city, but in the South and in the nation as a whole.” -Laura Edwards

When Charles W. Chesnutt learned about this incident in 1901 from some of his relatives who had lived through the violence, he wrote to his editor that it was “an outbreak of pure, malignant, and altogether indefensible race prejudice, which makes me feel personally humiliated, and ashamed for the country and the state.”

This occurred because white Democrats were seeing political control slip into the hands of the Republicans, many of whom were black. This led to white backlash and a campaign against “Negro domination”, because of a “violation of a widely held doctrine of white supremacy. Many whites objected to being summoned before a black judge, to being arrested by black officers, or to having their homes inspected by black sanitation officers, and they were unwilling to share any but the most minimal forms of authority with African Americans, especially those who replaced white Democrats in political positions.” (Eric J. Sundquist, Introduction to The Marrow of Tradition)

A note about the author: he was born to free persons of colour (people who were mixed race who were not enslaved), but due to the fact that his paternal and maternal grandfathers were white slaveholders, he was very light-skinned and could pass as white if he had wanted to. He identified as African-American though he was seven-eighths white. He never chose to pass as a white man, and spent time in Fayetteville and Charlotte working as a teacher and then assistant principal in black schools, until settling in Cleveland in 1884 to work as a court stenographer. He went on to build a successful law firm, and his successful legal career “offered him a particularly good perspective on American race relations at a moment when the law itself was being put in the service of destructive racial prejudice”. (Sundquist)

To bite or to bet, that is the question

If you haven’t yet read The Unbitten Elbow by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovksy, please do so here if you’re going to read the following piece. If you have no interest in reading the following piece, I still insist that you refer to the link above and read The Unbitten Elbow.

The Unbitten Elbow is perhaps the third or fourth piece I read by Krzhizhanovsky. His linguistic turns of phrases and philosophical tendencies had already captured me with The Letter Killers Club and his ability to weave stories within stories was enticing enough. But with The Unbitten Elbow came a gust of comedy, of laughter. Most of my friends whom I summarized the tale to reacted to the ending with a look of horror and disconcertment. Only one of my friends mirrored my own delight as she giggled and clapped her hands as I told her of the attack from the rear and the subsequent death from blood loss.

Thus I arrived at the question of whether or not The Unbitten Elbow is in fact comic. The line between comedy and tragedy is dangerously thin—an abyss in itself, reflective of the incoherence which is the root of both tragedy and comedy. Traditionally, the incoherence in a tragedy will often end, for lack of a better word, tragically, while a comedy tends to resolve itself in often what is a literal happy union. One of the benefits of tragedy is the ability to watch someone self-destruct so that you don’t have to. The same may be said of comedy, only this time the self-destruction isn’t in vain. While raging through the crook of your elbow may give off the appearance of self-destruction, whether or not it was in vain and whether or not it’s funny still remain to be seen.

(more…)

80 Books Rebecca Solnit Shouldn’t Talk About

Recently, Rebecca Solnit published a short essay in response to Esquire’s list of “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read”. The list itself isn’t great; it doesn’t list the best collection of authors and the tagline with each book degrades the text more than exalts them. I understand the need to criticize the list and what it represents for men and women, but her response is no better;

“The list made me think there should be another, with some of the same books, called 80 Books No Woman Should Read, though of course I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means. Let me prove that I’m not a misandrist by starting with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, because any book Paul Ryan loves that much bears some responsibility for the misery he’s dying to create.”

She says that she believes that everyone should read anything they want, except women who shouldn’t read these texts and authors because she believes they’re poor instructions. Notice that she doesn’t make a list of books that No One should read, or books that Everyone Should Read. She maintains the differences of the genders and places warning signs on books that she doesn’t think benefit women. But how can you decide that these are merely instructions on why women are dirt without reading it in the first place. And I don’t disagree that texts are instructions, but they are instructions that the reader puts together with the text, so she doesn’t seem to be giving women much credit if she doesn’t think that a woman may read one of these texts with an open mind to try to understand why it is so appealing to others.

And obviously she doesn’t hate men because here’s a woman right off the bat that shouldn’t be read either! And not only should it not be read, but it, the text, bears responsibility for one man’s intentions. Because the responsibility doesn’t lie with the reader in reading a text; faults and guilt lie with the words.

I have my own personal feelings towards Atlas Shrugged and the benefits of reading it in order to understand an extremist mentality to establish a spectrum, and I understand that some people genuinely just don’t like it and wouldn’t want to read it and disagree immensely with her philosophy; that’s fine. What irritates me is how Solnit raises her up in order to say “I’m not against men. Here’s a woman with whom I also disagree with so don’t bother reading her either!” And while she points out that on Esquire’s list of eighty there was only one female author (Flannery O’Connor), in her own imaginary list that she begins to concoct, Ayn Rand is seemingly the only woman on her list.

“All those novels by men that seem to believe that size is everything, the 900-page monsters that, had a woman written them, would be called overweight and told to go on a diet. All those prurient books about violent crimes against women, especially the Black Dahlia murder case, which is a horrible reminder of how much violence against women is eroticized by some men, for other men, and how it makes women internalize the hatred.”

She speaks of these tomes about killing women, and I assume that these are books that aren’t well written and that the violence against women is unnecessary and gratuitous, but then does she offer alternatives? Does she offer any case for the good giants that include violence? What about Bolaño’s 2666, with its monotonous telling of murder after murder and murder of countless women? She criticizes and lists books that shouldn’t be read and ends the piece with a list of her own favorites, but at no point does she offer anything positive or useful. And the faults she weighs against male writers come up in her own list of heroes. Hemingway she labels as a “homophobic anti-semitic misogynist”, but Virginia Woolf (an author she later lists as one of her heroes) was also incredibly anti-semitic. And even if Hemingway really and truly was all those things, we’re not talking about going out to drinks with Hemingway—we’re talking about the merits of reading his works. And even if his works do portray—to the core and out—that homophobic anti-semitic misogynistic mindset, wouldn’t it be useful to read something like that in order to understand a mentality that is not (and may never be) yours? Good instructions should include books that make us uncomfortable, that expose us to characters we deplore and could not associate with if we tried. Because that’s what happens in life.

She doesn’t want men to explain things to her, and she’s bent on being the explainer herself. That’s clear in the negativity of her language. Her solution and response is an attack on the books themselves—blaming them and not their readers. And in doing so, she gives very little credit to women as readers, who couldn’t possibly read a book that didn’t accurately depict them and get something useful out of it. Not to mention the lack of credit she gives male readers

“These books are, if they are instructions at all, instructions in extending our identities out into the world, human and nonhuman, in imagination as a great act of empathy that lifts you out of yourself, not locks you down into your gender.”

That last line—if we want books that break us out of ourselves and our genders, then wouldn’t it be useful to delve into one that is so confined in the other? Maybe it’s good to read a text centered around an identity that would reject you, because not everything in this world will accept you anyway. By denying ourselves any access to another psyche—no matter how ‘terrible’ and ‘violent’ it is—through texts, then we’re no better than the men who read The Grapes of Wrath just for the “titty”.

I understand her criticisms and I understand that a list of books that no woman should read is a joke—“of course I believe everyone should read anything they want”—but her jokes aren’t helping anything. It’s a shame that she’ll get harassed by men for identifying with Lolita, but perhaps they’re the ones not reading correctly if they are unable to realize the circumstances that would cause women to identify with Lolita. Don’t blame a text for poor readers. And maybe some books are bad. But give everyone a chance to find something useful within them.

Here’s a link to her original essay

Petition to HarperCollins Tonja B. Carter, and Andrew Nurnberg to donate the proceeds from ‘Go Set A Watchman’

Donate the proceeds from ‘Go Set A Watchman’ towards the restoration of black churches across the South.

By now you may be aware (and even tired) of all the spiraling controversies surrounding Go Set A Watchman; whether or not Harper Lee made the decision to release this book despite her lifelong insistence that she would not publish another book, the fact that this announcement came only three months after Lee’s sister passed away, the fact that the lawyer, Tonja Carter hase recently released a statement saying that there may even be a third manuscript, how none of the publishers have actually corresponded with Lee herself, instead communicating with the lawyer and the literary agent, Andrew Nurnberg.

In light of recent and not so recent events in our country, I think we can all agree that this ‘version’/sequel/prequel/whatever you want to call it, of To Kill A Mockingbird reflects a racism in America that never really went away. Maybe that’s why this text was ‘hidden’ for so many years; maybe Harper Lee wanted to write a productive book about racism rather than just parroting it. And now while actual black men and women are being killed by police and their churches are being burned, a rejected draft of a timeless classic about racism is racking in hundreds and thousands of dollars, which the author didn’t want.

With all these issues in mind, I implore you, HarperCollins, Tonja Carter, and Andrew Nurnberg, to donate all the proceeds from Go Set A Watchman towards the reconstruction of black churches across the South, eight of which to date have been destroyed by arson.

Literature doesn’t exist to profit off of the circumstances of times. Literature exists to comment on it and do something about it. It’s irresponsible to allow these people and this publishing company to reap the benefits without doing anything to help the current situation at hand.

To quote Joe Nocera from The New York Times:

“In one of her last interviews, conducted in 1964, Lee said: ‘I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.’

A publisher that cared about Harper Lee’s legacy would have taken those words to heart, and declined to publish “Go Set a Watchman,” the good idea that Lee eventually transformed into a gem. That HarperCollins decided instead to manufacture a phony literary event isn’t surprising. It’s just sad.”

this is a vague sort of survey

I know I haven’t posted anything new or of any importance lately, but I wanted to get a few different opinions on this word problem I’ve been thinking about.

Two words; romance and intimacy.

Two definitions; “physical closeness and togetherness” and “mental closeness and togetherness”.

Which goes with which?
If anyone could offer their opinion (a why or how would also be greatly appreciated) that would be absolutely lovely.

scene 0.01

Tragedy exists so man can watch man self-destruct so that he does not have to.

During life, man is both an actor and a spectator.
Theatre and plays remove the necessity for man’s participation,
rending him above all
the spectator.

With literature, with the written text,
man does not get off so lightly.
He is required to act; compose; rearticulate to himself
the written word,
as he simultaneously sits back and watches any and all
masquerades unfold.

 

The comic is always aware of the tragic,
otherwise how would it remember its own name?
Take it as seriously as stone
before you let it skip Christ-like; unnaturally.

At the end it’s always been about the same thing.
That’s why the end doesn’t matter.
And you still can’t wait to get there.

Keep checking your phone.
Pretend it’s for time.
Pretend you miss the ringing in your ears.
Pretend to be personable
—to be able to person.

 

A Solitaire Game

 

  1. A game by definition, but its spirit is expressed in the name; Solitaire, solitary. No one else is needed. The only faces you stare at are royalty.
  1. Shuffling can almost be considered the most important part of the game. However I shuffle and how well I randomize the deck will determine how the cards lay themselves out. Past that, it is partially predetermined whether or not the puzzle can be solved. I give up my free will to the cards and only ask that they allow me to attempt to order them from the absurdity that I also have given them. I begin to lay the cards down, and the front-line reveals itself to me one at a time. Seven columns in total, a number that is considered lucky in Western culture. Once all the initial cards are set up, I stare at the given pieces. Before I make my own play, I must analyze the cards for any offered orderings.

    Sometimes I am lucky and I create stacks of five or six without even first drawing from my pile. What you are given is always random, but it is up to my mind to organize it; to fix the absurdity and put in order. Sometimes when I am about to draw, my eye spots a lonely Jack of Hearts next to a Ten of Clubs, almost slipping by. Underneath the Ten is a Black Jack that I cannot do anything with. Would it have mattered if that had slipped by eye and I had drawn anyway? They would not have moved, and I would have noticed it eventually. But will that Black Jack come into play? Is it beneficial to have moved that Ten, or will it hurt me in the long run? Each move and each standstill means the world, and at the same time is entirely useless and unnecessary, as though the cards are trapped in Schrödinger’s box.

  1. Once I start drawing cards from my own pile, three at a time, more and more cards get laid out on the floor. More and more pieces, each of which has at least two potential cards to lie atop of. I stare at the two colours, back and forth, attempting to create the simplest pattern with what I have been given. And as I draw from the deck, different combinations arise, filling in the links I had broken. Chance eases the spirits. I had little to no control over what I was given in my hand, and what I was given before me, and it is up to me to put them back together in order. But there is always the lingering knowledge of the possibility that it might be unsolvable. That no order can ever be restored, just because of the random arrangement of the cards.
  1. More and more openings and moves arise, but the question remains of whether or not it would be more beneficial for me to move them, or to let them be. It is impossible to know what the hidden card may be, and it might be more of an obstacle than an ally. Sometimes I must bring back an ordered card into the mess again because I had been overeager. But that’s part of the beauty. No matter how many cards I have put above in their rightful place, I can still pull them back and use them to order all the other cards. I stare at the Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs, and Spades and they stare back. I don’t even bother to draw from the deck. I know the few cards left in it, I know their order, and they are not necessary at this moment. I can only use the cards open to me to try and rearrange them so that the last hidden cards can be revealed. It is an ongoing puzzle, and the only thing I can do is stare at it, waiting for my mind to see it, even though I never know exactly what ‘it’ looks like. I need to find the empty spaces where two and two can go together, but I also need the timing to seeing the two and two at a moment when both are useful. The Three of Clubs is meaningless until I spy a bare Four. But it has just as much meaning as all the other cards simultaneously. I get to be the one to tell them how much value they have; it is all arbitrary until I make up my mind. That is the one aspect of control in the game.
  1. After all that, there are only two possible endings. The first option is that I am able to order the cards, suit by suit, in chronological order, leaving myself with four neat piles with four Kings looking back at me with approval. I will be satisfied that I have brought order to the cards, as opposed to the order that I cannot find in the world. Everything will be packed and perfect, until the next time I pick up the deck and mess it up once more. But I remain at ease because it will always be me destroying the order, and only when I want to. The second option is that I will fail. A crucial card will remain hidden under a useless one, and no amount of puzzling and rearranging will bring it to light. And unless I go back and analyze every one of my moves, and figure out how the cards were arranged in the deck, it is impossible to know whether or not I made an error somewhere, or if the initial order of the cards yielded an unsolvable puzzle to begin with. All I’m left with are the spare cards in my hand, staring all the open cards with such an intensity, as though I can force them to make sense, force them into order with my mind. If I concentrate enough maybe I can see something that I missed. But more often than not, nothing will have been missed. I am left with an unsolvable permutation of the cards. I have failed to put order back into the system and now all of these cards have lost their meaning. All that is left to do is to recollect them all, admit defeat, and shuffle them for another game. Another chance for order.

wasted time.

One of my earliest remaining memories is reading a robins egg blue hardcover copy of Winnie-the-Pooh in a crib. In retrospect the previous sentence makes me sound like a prodigy reader, which certainly was not the case. I may be better than average, but there were no literary escapades during diapers. I slept in a crib until the end of 1st grade, due to the close-quartered living situation. I must’ve been between 5 and 7; there’s also a faint light of my mother getting ready for work next to the chair that always held all the clothes that couldn’t be bothered to be put away.

Third grade my parents encouraged Jules Verne. With sixth and seventh grade came Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm.

I hate to say in retrospect again almost as much as this upcoming retrospection and its consequences.

A great deal of classics were read, and for that thanks go to my parents. But because of any and all issues with them that I had at the time, I would read terrible books, gaudy tales of twenty-somethings being nannys and angsty young adult novels, because I knew it would frustrate them. I would roll my eyes at their suggestions and then go on to reread the most useless texts. And now I think back and all I see is wasted time. Not necessarily wasted, because who is to say what I would have grasped and retained at the time, but I’d wager to say that something would’ve been different.

And then there’s this, ‘wasted time’. I shudder to think at all the time I waste thinking about previous ‘wasted time’. I wonder how I’ll think of such waste in the years to come.