Sunday, April 27, 2008

Readings: Boomin' Blackly

African American novelist, John Edgar Wideman, is perhaps not technically a Boomer. Born in 1941, he would have been starting middle school in the year that I entered kindergarten. But, then, he was educated and raised by the so-called Greatest Generation. And he also endured its racism.

Wideman’s new novel, dedicated to its title “character,” Frantz Fanon, the West Indian revolutionary exemplar, and francophone author of The Wretched of the Earth, begins with this 1956 Fanon quote:

The imaginary life cannot be isolated from real life, the concrete and the objective world constantly feed, permit, legitimate and found the imaginary. The imaginary consciousness is obviously unreal, but it feeds on the concrete world. The imagination and the imaginary are possible only to the extent that the real world belongs to us.

Wideman then uses this idea in the first few pages of his novel. The voice is that of his protagonist, himself a writer, addressing an imagined Fanon:

Stipulating differences that matter between fact and fiction – between black and white, male and female, good and evil – imposes order in a society. Keeps people on the same page. Reading from the same script. In the society I know best, mine, fact and fiction are absolutely divided, on set above the other to rule and pillage, or, worse, fact and fiction blend into a tangled, hypermediated mess, grounding being in a no-exit maze of consuming: people as a consuming medium, people consumed by the medium.

Fiction writing and art in general are scorned, stripped of relevance to people’s daily lives, dependent on charity, mere playthings of power, privilege, buying and selling.

My society polices its boundaries with more and more self-destructive Manichean violence now that its boundaries are exposed not as naturally or supernaturally ordained but organized through various sorts of coercion by some members of the society to benefit themselves and disadvantage others.

Under what rock, whose skirts have I been hiding, you might be wondering, not to have learned these truths before I began zipping up my own trousers. A good question, Fanon. A more difficult question: if I truly understand all of the above, why am I still writing.

Fiction writing and art in general are scorned…” Hmm. Where did I hear something along those lines said just recently? Oh, yeah!:

If they [Gen-Xers] would read, they could know more; but, as you say, they don't. The thing on my blog that inevitably gets the fewest comments is a quote from a serious book. Usually, it gets none at all.

Maybe it’ll all come out as a video game one day?