August 18, 2012
Are We Losing Our Humanity, Part 2.2
This blog serves notice that many of my friends and I are not losing our humanity. We are transforming our humanity. We are using “new and improved” humanity to produce more than toothless civic discourses and critiques in the orbit of the merely academic. Uses of language that divorce themselves from the actuality of physical, spiritual and psychological suffering among the seven billion people on Earth get no respect from us. We recognize that language is by nature participatory in combat and contact zones. Treating acts of language as if they were absolutely metaphors only intensifies the reality of suffering. It does not acknowledge the necessity for scholarly activism. It creates more wretchedness. Truth be told, cultural work or knowledge work can not eradicate terrorism or wretchedness. This fact is not a sufficient reason for cloaking the hidden dimensions, betrayals, and hypocrisies of so-called civic discourse. We have read the dying words of Richard Wright’s Cross Damon and we do know what they mean.
We resist the temptation to “play it safe.” Common sense and intellectual wisdom must act in opposition to the savage aspects of metaphors and civility. The trash talk of academic worlds ought to be replaced by the application of plain language to plain local and global issues so that plain people can understand what is truly at stake. We do not besmirch ourselves with the dirty work of the state. We strive to rethink what the field and function of African American literary and cultural studies might be if we are to have effective confrontations with multiple instances of omni- American deception. We seek, in the name of our humanity, to recuperate activism for sustaining possible goodness. Seven billion people are sick and tired of being told they are post-something/whatever entities when they know they are pre-future human beings. The September 7 forum provides a unique initial point for rethinking the purposes of literary criticism in the public sphere.
“We have imbibed from the surrounding white world a childish idea of progress.”
This sentence from W. E. B. DuBois’s 1933 speech “The Field and Function of the Negro College” at Fisk University is jolting. The pre-future vision meets the past. It recalls that Afro-American Literature: The Reconstruction of Instruction (New York: MLA, 1979) was published to emphasize “what is literary (as opposed to sociological, ideological, ect.) in Afro-American written art” (7). This was progress. There was more progress, of course, in Black Literature and Literary Theory (New York: MLA, 1984) and “Race,” Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), which ordained race as “a meaningful category in the study of literature and the shaping of critical theory”(2). Ultimate progress came with the canonization Black literature in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1997), which literary politics forced to engage in a bloodless battle royal with Call & Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition (1998). Question: What is wrong with this story of progress? Answer: It is an epic about a brave new world that has no people in it. I ain’t drunk, I’m just drinking. And my name is not Caliban.
As I suggested in “Are We Losing Our Humanity, Part 1,” pre-future vision relocates itself by reading in such disciplines as the hard sciences, law, social sciences. The books I listed were points on a map for a long journey back to the surrounding diasporic world of African American people who live in actuality rather than in theory. The list was eclectic and incomplete. It was not an algorithm to produce answers. As technology ascends, the discoveries we need to make in reconnecting literature as writing and people may lead to new, life-related literary critical, and scientifically responsible and rigorous functions. If pre-future vision begins to speak meaningfully with rather than down to or at people who breathe and struggle for survival, we may say humanity is achieving adult ideas of progress.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.