FUTURE REVOLUTION IN CRITICAL TALK
Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren 1881-1936), one of modern China’s most important writers, understood the danger of premature celebrations. “The first thing is not to become intoxicated by victory,” he wrote in an essay on success in Nanjing and Shanghai,” and not to boast; the second thing is to consolidate the victory; the third is to give the enemy the finishing stroke, for he has been beaten, but is by no means crushed.” Xun understood that intoxication blurs awareness that victory is always provisional not permanent. Consider the “victory” of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The Randolph County Board of Education in North Carolina wants to ban it. Or the “victory” of being a Nobel Laureate. Recently, Toni Morrison had to speak out regarding the banning of The Bluest Eye in her native State of Ohio. And Richard Wright has suffered many a year from censorship by exceptional American patriots. International acclaim and respect from some Americans does not preclude one’s being thrown under the bus by other Americans. Such is the nature of American peoplekind, the universal nature of human beings.
While we celebrate the prizes and more than 15 seconds of fame earned and deserved by some African American writers, artists, and thinkers [[especially those poets who, according to Charles Henry Rowell, “are the first African Americans to be free of outside political and social dicta from blacks and whites commanding them on what and how to write” (Angles of Ascent, xl)]], we still smart from Helen Vendler’s Zimmerman-like dismissal of Rita Dove’s critical judgment. Gwendolyn Brooks reinforced Xun’s insight when she enjoined us to fight before we fiddle.
Unfortunately, the gravity of 2013 (year of remembering the fifty years between us and the murder of Medgar Evers; the March on Washington; the publication of John A. Williams’s Sissie, LeRoi Jones’s Blues People, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, John Hope Franklin’s The Emancipation Proclamation, John Oliver Killens’s And Then We Heard the Thunder; the off-Broadway opening of Langston Hughes’s Tamborines to Glory and William Hairston’s Walk in Darkness; the murder of four little girls in Birmingham, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy)—the gravity of this year seems lost on our critics who blithely disconnect their aesthetic tropes of combative opposition from how the world turned and continues to turn. We are given so many subliminal smokescreens regarding binary opposition within the colorblinded veil ---- W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Hayden and Melvin B. Tolson, Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, Amiri Baraka and J. Saunders Redding, Sarah Webster Fabio and Melvin B. Tolson. It is obvious even to the blind that victory is not consolidated. Thin as a strand of hair is the line between love and hate.
DuBois’s quite valuable but exhausted idea about “double consciousness” ought to be supplemented by what Chen Xu calls “triple consciousness.” Victory will not be consolidated until people of no-color behold their faces in their pre- and post-colonial mirrors and truly see what condition their inadequate condition is in. We can strengthen the integrity of critical talk by allowing them the pleasure of worshipping the Golden Calf and the Signifying Monkey.
Meanwhile, those of us who are not ashamed of being pre-future humanists can take Lawrence P. Jackson’s superb Indignant Generation (2011) and Ira Katznelson’s challenging Fear Itself (2013) as models of genuine, responsible scholarship for our investigations during 2014 (Dudley Randall /Romare Bearden/Ralph Waldo Ellison /Owen Dodson Centennials) and 2015 (Margaret Walker/Willie Dixon/Billie Holiday/John Hope Franklin Centennials). For 2015, Birth of a Nation shall flicker in the background.
There is little to celebrate about the fragile state of independent African American publishing ---newspapers, magazines, or books. We are still obligated to deal with drone attacks from ice-white caves on the meaning and legacy of the Black Arts Movement. In our acknowledgement of Margaret Walker’s legacy to the world, we ought to study
A Poetic Equation: Conversations between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker. Washington: Howard University Press, 1974.
Give special attention to Giovanni’s “Postscript: Emotional Outlaws: Poetic Equations.” It reveals much about why oppositions are at once combative and complementary. To be sure, I prefer to align my thinking with Lu Xun as I respect from a distance Gao Xinjian’s proposal that “literature is helped by people’s life experiences, but its insights far surpass all prognostications” (Aesthetics and Creation, 235).
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
September 19, 2013