Post Number: 383
|Posted on Saturday, August 30, 2008 - 11:23 pm: |
Thumper, I'm finishing up chapter 10.
My final thought about influence. Jerry Watts wrote an attack on Ralph Ellison based, not on his novel, but on his "political and metaphysical ideas on integration" (to quote Charles Johsnon). Identity politics, in other words. Watts wrote:
"Suppose . . . that Ellison's ambitions stem from a need to prove himself in the eyes of white writers or the Western literati at large. . . . This is a rather typical black intellectual 'disease.' It is a disease that arises out of the struggle to confront the inevitable internalization of inferiority among subjugated persons. . . . In this sense, a metaphorical, unsatisfiable 'great white master' may have taken up residence in Ellison's black superego."
Norman Podhoretz, in his review of Juneteenth, seems to echo this view of a "great white master" inside Ellison's psyche, but he takes it one step further with the bizarre claim that Ellison's supposed "literary enslavement" to William Faulkner prevented him from finishing the second novel! Podhoretz wrote:
"Other parts of the 2,000 page manuscript he left behind may prove me wrong, but for now my speculation is that Ellison -- a man of great inteligence and literary erudition who had an ear second to none -- knew that Faulkner had invaded and taken him over and that this was why he could never finish the book. I can imagine him searching desparately for the lost voice he had created in Invisible Man; I can imagine him trying to fool himself into thinking that he had finally found it again, and then realizing that he had not; and I can imagine him being reduced to despair at this literary enslavement into which some incorrigible defect in his nature had sold him -- and to a Southern Master, at that!" (Norman Podhoretz Reader, p. 369 not part of Google preview)
http://books.google.com/books?id=xceDZqLnBs0C&pg=PA349&lpg=PA349&dq=norman+podho retz+reader+what+happened+to+ralph+ellison&source=web&ots=z0VJynr1MZ&sig=8ywowce AeSJycf9-qDxEqWMi8RM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result
Man, what they do to poor Ralph Ellison is a crime! So with that in mind I suppose I can understand why Toni Morrison might want to downplay any possible Faulkner influence in her work, as she suggests in "Conversations with Toni Morrison":
"...We have no systematic mode of criticism that has yet evolved from us, but it will. I am not like James Joyce; I am not like Thomas Hardy; I am not like Faulkner. I am not like in that sense. I do not have objections to being compared to such extraordinarily gifted and facile writers, but it does leave me sort of hanging there when I know that my effort is to be like something that has probably only been fully expressed perhaps in music, or in some other culture-gen that survives almost in isolation because the community manages to hold on to it...."
And then she talks a bit about her conception of a Black Aesthetic, however, in my opinion, the idea of an autonomous black aesthetic never really took hold in jazz after the brief fling with nationalism in the 1960s and so Herbie Hancock, for example, is free to name Bill Evans, Alexander Scriabin, or whomever's quartal harmony influenced his style without any pejorative connotations. Everybody knows where jazz comes from. It is interesting however that cultural nationalism in jazz, was transplanted to the Netherlands, where, through the efforts of the jazz musician's union, it's been institutionalized (the jazz venues are subsidized, for example), however, it's not black cultural nationalism (and although there are black musicians - mostly from Surinam - they're not privileged by race), it's their (Dutch) music, described in the book "New Dutch Swing" as a mixture of "Jazz + Classical + Absurdism."
Anyway, I still think that Harold Bloom probably has some idea of what he's talking about when he says something like this:
"In some sense, all of Morrison's protagonists leap wheeling towards the death struggle, with the fine abandon of Faulkner's doom-eager men and women. Toni Morrison, in her time and place, answering to the travail of her people, speaks to the needs of an era, but her art comes out of a literary tradition not altogether at one with her cultural politics." (from the introduction to "Toni Morrison (Bloom's Modern Critical Views)"
Although I can't comment specifically on his opinion, he's deeply into her writing and I doubt that he has any ulterior motives in comparing her work to Woolf and Faulkner.
At the beginning of "Light in August," Lena Grove arrives in Jefferson just as Joe Brown/Lucas Burch has set fire to the house belonging to Joanna Burden, while her corpse is still in it. In "As I Lay Dying," Darl Bundren sets fire to the barn in an attempt to destroy his mother's corpse. In "Sula," Eva sets fire to her son and Hannah accidentally sets herself on fire. These may be superficial similarities, but I don't know these two author's works well to comment more deeply.
I'd like to forget all this comparative stuff and just talk about the book itself whenever you or Crystal or anyone is ready.