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Monday, September 30, 2013

Answer to a Chinese Colleague


Wang: Besides “Race” or “Racial issues” in the study of African American literary criticism, “Gender issues,” or “Gender equality” has been foregrounded at least since the 1970s. What do you think of different approaches/aspects in black feminism and their possible tendencies in the new century?

 

 

Ward:  Any thinking I do in this area of cultural study is centered on womanism not feminism, because Alice Walker’s making a distinction between the womanist and feminist perspectives was a key moment in intellectual history.[1] Her distinction is a warrant for investigating gender as a thread of concern interwoven with other threads we call class, biology, race, and ethnicity, of seeing the fabric through the lens of American history. Inspecting the 19th century fabric and texture enables us to find similar patterns in the literary criticism that has been manufactured since the 1970s.

Discussions of gender in the North were apparent in abolitionist debates about the evils of enslaving Africans and African Americans, and those debates were enlarged by proposals from the Woman’s Rights Convention of 1848. In the antebellum South, black women inscribed their gender issues in the narratives they wrote or dictated, in oral traditions, in successful flights to freedom.  After the American Civil War, African American women wrote what Claudia Tate aptly named “domestic allegories of political desire,” were exceptionally active in promoting literary and education, and in disputing with white feminists that women’s rights pertained to women as a class; in these quarrels we discern how race and economic status made gender equality problematic. Leap to 1920.  American women finally got the right to vote, but that political gesture left many gender and racial issues unresolved.  Just as abolitionist efforts in the 19th century provided models for women’s assertive actions, so too did the long struggle of African American women (notably Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ella Baker ) and men for civil rights provide a template for political and literary actions among women, the upsurge of Women’s Liberation and feminist theorizing which smashed against the every-present wall of  race, ethnic, and class interests and the immense capability of globalization to reinforce abuses of women. 

Cultural critics should use the discipline of history to study the fragmentation and bifurcation of feminism and womanism. We should learn from such twentieth-century writers, scholars and critics as Trudier Harris, Carolyn Fowler, Farah Frances Smith Foster, Gloria T. Hull, Audre Lorde, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Deborah McDowell, Darlene Clark Hine, Elizabeth McHenry, Claudia Tate, Nell Irvin Painter, Andree Nicola McLaughlin, Nellie McKay, Joanne V.  Gabbin, Brenda Marie Osbey, Sherley Anne Williams, Margaret Walker, Octavia Butler, Toni Cade Bambara, Thadious M. Davis, Hortense Spillers, Maryemma Graham, Barbara Christian and dozens of other women ----all of whom worked assiduously to build foundations for twenty-first- century work.

In a near future, the tendency in African American literary criticism may lean toward androgyny, more exploration of gender’s bending and blending without minimizing the need to use literary knowledge in substantive critiques of material conditions perpetuated by the gendered rhetorics of public policy, sex traffic and religious bondage, of the gap between wealth and poverty in the African Diaspora and everywhere else, and of  the now permanent threat of amoral terrorism. I would hope that significantly more attention would be given to excellent qualities in women’s minds and their contributions to science, sports, statespersonship, and life-affirming literature and culture and less to shameless praise of women’s bodies in the transnational neo-slave auctions of “beauty pageants.”  This new century offers many opportunities to spend our enormous intellectual capital wisely, particularly in efforts to minimize the cruelties human beings inflict upon human beings.  Many of our colleagues would argue rigorously that such is not the responsibility of scholars.  If they are right and I am wrong, I shall hold fast to my heresy and transgressions.

 

 



[1] See Alice Walker. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eugene Redmond and Englightenment


Eugene B. Redmond and Enlightenment

 

Responding to my comments on Angela Jackson’s Where I Must Go as a luminous web, Eugene B. Redmond raised the stakes.  Might we not need “a theo-religo-soular corollary,” namely a reconsideration of Howard Thurman’s The Luminous Darkness (1965)? The answer: Yes. In thunder.

Just as the literary discourse of Nathan A. Scott, Jr. drew my attention to presence within the text, Howard Thurman’s Christian writings quicken my noticing that theological and religious allusions in the novel’s text bespeak absence or yearning in the act of reading the text.  The critical absence pertains to subtle morality that makes the act of reading an existential act.  Once again, Redmond has done a bit of “re-w (rap) ping.”  Thurman’s meditation on what happens to the human spirit and neighborliness after the walls of segregation have tumbled down is explicit in the plot of Where I Must Go.  By way of making an intertextual connection, Redmond gave me an onus that exceeds any finitude I might assume exists in the aesthetics of reading.  Using the wisdom of racialized oral tradition, Redmond sends me back to roots.

I react to Redmond’s onus of memory much as I react to Curtis Mayfield’s Roots album, recorded at Chicago’s RCA Studios and released October 1971. Listen to the tracks “Underground” and “Keep On Keeping On.” Redmond has sponsored a shock of enlightenment, a shock of recognition.  Behind all the veils of spectacular theory and well-wrought criticism the obligation to examine one’s soul remains permanent. Nature abhors a vacuum.  The soul abhors absence.

Never underestimate the power of real poet/critics and righteous singers and philosopher/theologians in African/African American traditions to make a reader ponder how the souls of black folk got over the bridge of black writing.

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                                   

September 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Angela Jackson: The Novel as Luminous Web


Angela Jackson: The Novel as Luminous Web

 

It is not uncommon for writers to use many genres to provoke thought about historical time.  It is unusual, however, to consider that the interplay of genres shapes our larger visions of time and life.

 

Reading a stanza from Angela Jackson’s poem “The Spider Tells Her Horror Stories”

 

Even I

have no sufficient howl.

Not enough thunder

in the cups of my eyes

To slit irises, let out

the barren spaces, the

besieged lives.

 

[[Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners (Evanston, IL: Triquarterly Books, 1993), pp. 38-39]]

against, or in tandem with, her novel Where I Must Go (Evanston, IL: Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2009), brings into being what Nathan A. Scott, Jr. described wonderfully in Visions of Presence in Modern American Poetry (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).  Echoing H. D. Lewis, Scott argued that the end toward which poetic art is devoted is the apprehension and disclosure of “the character of particular things in the starkness and strangeness of their being what they are” (2).  Along with the recognition that it is quintessentially “poetic,” Where I Must Go brings the mystery of presence into our line of vision. Jackson’s novel is a luminous web.  Once you enter the poetic architectonics of the web, you are caught in remembering the seductive discord between the popular culture in the 1960s and the life-serious activities of the Civil Rights Movement and integration in higher education, of the rise of Black Studies and Black Power and Afrocentricity, and of Time’s sweeping of us all into modes of the post-whatever.  The quality of remembering, need it be said, is directly dependent on whether you were there in the 1960s or only born into consciousness in the late 1990s.

 

The first-person narration Jackson uses in constructing a story about events at Eden University (substitute Northwestern University in your acts of discerning referentiality) obligates you to pay attention to the work of language in occasioning aesthetic experiences and in sponsoring perplexity about what you thought you understood about American and African American life in the last century. Jackson dislocates racially-marked certainty about the texture of urban experiences, education, and the properties of womanist thinking that has been baptized by Roman Catholic ideologies.  Jackson is a poet and novelist who demands much of her readers.  That fact may explain, in part, why Where I Must Go has not been anointed with rivers of praise and has received scant notice from those who canonize African American novels. Habitation in a luminous web requires labor and love.

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                                         

September 23, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Upon Hearing That Kofi Awoonor Is Dead

Death, thou art derelict--

your flavor,
your edgeless sting,
your timeless amnesia


explain


your habit of arriving
after we are dead
of dying
after we are dead


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
September 22, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

The sound of an egg instructing an adult crane on how to fly

Troubling Case of Yeliang Xia
September 19, 2013, 12:23 pm
The following is a guest post by Thomas Cushman, a professor of sociology at Wellesley College.
————————————————————————————————

Yeilang Xia, an economics professor at Peking U (left), with Thomas Cushman,  Thmas Cushman,
Yeliang Xia, an economics professor at Peking U. (left), with Thomas Cushman, a professor of sociology at Wellesley College
Earlier this month, faculty members at Wellesley College took an unusual step to protect academic freedom in China: 136 of us signed a public letter addressed to officers of Peking University. The letter expressed grave concern over the fate of Yeliang Xia, a distinguished faculty member in the School of Economics, who says he is being threatened with expulsion from the university. The reason? Arguing for freedom of expression, constitutional democracy, and the rule of law.
Xia is a longtime advocate for human rights and democracy in China, perhaps best known for writing a blog post in 2009 that attacked the rigid censorship policies of Liu Yunshan, who was at the time the head of China’s Ministry of Propaganda. He says professors at the economics school may hold a vote soon to decide whether he is dismissed. Administrators at the university have been silent about the reason for this, but there’s little doubt that his political views are behind the move and that Communist Party officials are pressuring the university to fire him.
So, why did so many Wellesley faculty members—notably from all ranks and disciplines—sign this letter to support Xia? It is rare, and rightly so, for American faculty to get involved so directly in the internal affairs of a foreign university. In this case, however, the situation was different.
In June the president of Wellesley College signed an agreement with the president of Peking University, one of China’s most prestigious universities. It called for, among other things, student and faculty exchanges between the two institutions. Few faculty members had been involved in the planning of the partnership, and it was formed without any direct consent of the faculty as a whole through its Academic Council. In signing the deal, the college’s president entered the faculty of Wellesley College into a formal relationship with the faculty of Peking University, effectively making us all colleagues of Xia. (The faculty learned about Xia’s possible ouster after the agreement was signed.)
The letter restates the importance of academic freedom as the fundamental principle of liberal-arts education. This principle had not been mentioned in any of the public statements regarding the partnership. The Wellesley letter declared, unequivocally, that if Xia were to be terminated, the signatories would ask the college’s president to reconsider the partnership with Peking.
In most cases, when faculty are critical of their institutions’ Chinese partnerships, concerns are directed at their own administrators. But we went further and addressed our concerns to the administration of Peking University. Our intention was to speak to the Chinese authorities and ask them not to infringe on Xia’s academic freedom and his right of freedom of expression. For many of us, coming to his defense was no different a response than it would have been if it were one of our own colleagues at Wellesley. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that a faculty at any American college or university has “taken the fight” to a Chinese partner institution.
Our immediate concern is to save Xia from personal and professional destruction at the hands of the ideologues who continue to engage in “thought management” in Chinese universities. His particular case, however, also illustrates more general problems and paradoxes that arise as American liberal-arts institutions increasingly work in authoritarian countries. What are the rules of engagement when we enter into such partnerships? Have pragmatic considerations come to trump considerations of principle? If we are trying to foster freedom of inquiry and pluralism in our students, what lessons do they learn when we then tell them that considerations of conscience are to be suspended for the sake of engagement and realpolitik? To what extent do we, as liberal-arts institutions, lose our own dignity if we stand by while the dignity of our colleagues is effaced and degraded by our new authoritarian partners?
The best argument in favor of exchanges with China is that it gives our students experiences in a nation that will decisively shape world events over the course of their lives. It is hard to argue that this experience, even under the pall of a kind of polite self-censorship, is valuable for students. There is a strong argument to be made, and has been made by administrators, that our presence there might serve to influence more and more Chinese students on the path to freedom and democracy. And clearly, there are many valuable exchanges that can take place between faculty whose scholarship is on “permitted topics.” Yet these positive possibilities need to be weighed against some of the unintended undesirable consequences of working with China.
The leaders of China have courted American institutions as part of a soft-power strategy aimed at gaining legitimacy for the “Chinese Dream.” This dream is a propaganda construction concocted by Xi Jinping, the president of China, and promotes a sanitized vision of sustainable economic progress in China. But it masks the fundamentally repressive nature of the Communist Party. In their haste to engage with China, many leaders of American universities have fallen prey to these propaganda efforts and seem mostly oblivious to the continuing repression of freedom of speech in China and the lack of meaningful academic freedom in Chinese universities. It is hard to imagine that this is due to ignorance.
When Wellesley College representatives were in Beijing signing agreements with the Peking University, China had just issued a new diktat forbidding the discussion of seven “dangerous” topics in Chinese universities. These so-called speak-nots include: universal values, freedom of speech, civil society, and criticisms of the errors of the Communist Party. Under this new regime of thought control and overt hostility to core liberal ideas and values, one wonders how it is that higher-education partnerships aimed at fostering new ideas and understandings between our nations can be successful.
Xia is one of the original authors and signatories of Charter 08, the foundational document of the modern human-rights movement in China. Though there is some room for critical thinking in China as long as it is carefully managed and stays within the confines of small groups, Xia has been willing to take what most people actually think privately to the street and on social media, where his Weibo account is regularly hacked and censored. He says he has been harassed by police, put under surveillance, and maligned and slandered in the official news media. Because many of our academic leaders have remained consciously silent on the repressive nature of their new partners, it is all the more important that the defense of Xia by American academics be vigorous and unrelenting.
What is needed is a thorough examination of this new rush of American higher-education institutions to work with China. It appears that many of these exchanges are fueled by the political and economic interests of powerful alumni and trustees. Faculty members, in many cases, have been marginalized in the process.
It is not enough for faculties to orchestrate in-house campaigns expressing their discontent with administrative decisions. Instead, faculties have to organize, in opposition to their administrations if need be, to tell our new partners in China—through forms of direct action—that we wholeheartedly desire to have exchanges, but that we will stand for fundamental values of freedom of speech and expression. If they harass, intimidate, and repress our new colleagues, if they subject them to the whimsical vicissitudes of ideological repression, we will find it impossible to work with them. Chinese universities and the regime that controls them have much to lose from persecuting intellectuals such as Xia. If more American academics take a stand against such persecution, it might be possible to invest these partnerships with our fundamental principles and some degree of authenticity rather than have them stand as charades that work against the values and principles of the liberal arts.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Critical Talk


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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Judas Jazz





THE JUDAS JAZZ

 

 

 

Tell those festering lies,

Judas. Bandage them in sounds –

The truth when you agonize to pray.

 

Your sax is a crane

Whose mouth harbors mooncakes ---

A bank account totally black.

 

Riff news for people---

Horn gone funky

Like thrill gone soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                       August 18, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself

I am sharing Nichola Lemann's review of Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself  because the book encourages us to reflect deeply on our practices and what we say about them in the sciences, humanities, social sciences and study of law.  I do not anticipate a shift in our fields comparable to the one occasioned by The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but I do believe the book will help us to become more thoughtful and ethical.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.



The New Deal We Didn’t Know

September 26, 2013

Nicholas Lemann

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Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
by Ira Katznelson
Liveright, 706 pp., $29.95
lemann_1-092613.jpg
An African-American entering a movie theater through the segregated back entrance, Mississippi, October 1939; photograph by Marion Post Walcott for the Farm Security Administration
The New Deal, the apogee of liberal political power in American history and a story with a relatively happy ending—the Great Depression vanquished, World War II won—has usually had its history presented, except by conservatives who disapprove of the expansion of central government and taxation in the 1930s and 1940s, as an uplifting, inspiring one. That is not how Ira Katznelson presents it. There is only one very brief personal note in his long, scholarly book—a snip of memory about having to wear military-style dogtags and practice responses to a nuclear attack as a schoolchild in the early 1950s—but all of Fear Itself is suffused with the same sense of pure terror during the Roosevelt and Truman years as, say, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. It’s easy to forget not just how dangerous the situation was, at home and abroad, during the New Deal, but how palpable were outcomes far worse than what we got.
Another difference between Fear Itself and most of the familiar histories of the New Deal is that Katznelson thinks like a political scientist. That means that, although he defines the period presidentially, as the twenty years when Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were in the White House, Roosevelt and Truman themselves are spectral presences. They are not the primary determiners of the course of government, and Katznelson has no interest in their personal qualities or their methods of leadership. Instead his focus is on Congress and government agencies, and more broadly on political systems, voting, and interest groups. This gives Fear Itself the feeling of a fresh look at a familiar story; what Katznelson loses in ignoring the inherent force of the hero narrative, he gains in being able to make an argument that largely ignores the presidency.
The argument bears laying out in some detail. Katznelson begins, usefully, by placing the New Deal in a global setting: the severity of the Great Depression presented an existential threat to liberal democracy everywhere, both as an ideal and as a reality. In response to the same economic crisis that confronted the United States, Germany turned to National Socialism, Italy to Fascism, and the Soviet Union already had a form of communism that no liberals except willfully blind ones could believe in. During Roosevelt’s first term, these alternate systems were on the verge of imposing themselves by force on many other countries.
It was not at all clear that democracy would survive here. George Kennan privately came to believe that the United States should become an “authoritarian state.” Walter Lippmann, on a visit to Roosevelt a month before his inauguration as president, advised him that “you may have no alternative but to assume dictatorial powers.” Even in public, all sorts of prominent people praised the undemocratic alternative political systems that were emerging in Europe, especially Italian Fascism. One prominent New Deal official hung a portrait of Benito Mussolini in his office. Nicholas Murray Butler told the Columbia freshman class that the dictatorships were now producing a better class of leaders than the democracies.
When Italo Balbo, Italy’s minister of aviation, barnstormed across the United States in 1933, he was greeted as a hero. At a grand welcoming dinner at a Chicago hotel, Katznelson tells us, “many rose to offer a Fascist salute when Balbo and his squadron entered the ballroom.” Even after the war, it wasn’t considered disqualifying that Iola Nikitchenko, the Soviet judge at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, had presided over Stalin’s worst legal depredations, like the 1937 Moscow show trials, just a few years earlier.
Katznelson wants us to understand how far from assured the final result of the New Deal was. And—since there was no real space separating the Depression from World War II, or the war from the threat of nuclear destruction—he maintains that the national fear that attended Roosevelt’s coming to the presidency did not abate much over the next twenty years. The New Deal took place, he writes, in “an atmosphere of unremitting uncertainty about liberal democracy’s capacity and fate.” This is a very dark picture of the period that also manages to convey how profoundly grateful we should be that things didn’t turn out worse, as they easily could have.
For Katznelson, the central institution in a democracy is the national legislature, so the test of a democracy’s strength is whether the executive takes the legislature’s authority away. What the Italian, German, and Soviet systems had in common was the complete abolition of legislative authority—without, at first, any real public objection. Roosevelt and Truman consistently tried to shift authority from the legislative branch to the executive, but the United States never wound up venturing anywhere near a permanent diminution in Congress’s role. This was, Katznelson says, “a notable, even extraordinary, attainment.”
Concentrating far more intensely on Congress than New Deal histories aimed at a nonacademic audience have usually done naturally leads Katznelson to a concomitant focus on the essential role that the South played in the shaping of the New Deal. Anyone who ever took an American history course is aware that the South was an essential part of the Democratic Party coalition during the New Deal, and that during that period it maintained the Jim Crow system of legal racial segregation. By making this a major theme of Fear Itself and examining it in great detail, Katznelson removes the South’s place in the story from its usual duly noted blandness to an arresting, almost obsessive centrality. The New Deal made two great Faustian bargains with allies Katznelson would not hesitate to call evil, and they frame his idea of the New Deal: the one with Stalin and the one with the Jim Crow South. And it wasn’t just that the New Deal looked away from these systems’ horrors and proceeded on its way; it’s that the new political system the United States devised during the period was profoundly shaped by these unsavory alliances.
The South was of course Democratic because of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the political bargain that ended Reconstruction, in 1877, the Republicans got the White House (for Rutherford B. Hayes) and the Democrats got the withdrawal of federal troops from the South—which meant that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution (guaranteeing African-Americans civil rights and voting rights) would no longer be enforced there, since they had been enforceable during Reconstruction only at gunpoint. The South was so profoundly grateful for this that it remained substantially loyal to the Democratic Party until the Democrats strongly reversed their previous position and endorsed the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. Conversely, at the beginning of the New Deal, and for the same reasons, most black voters (who were necessarily outside the South) were still loyally voting Republican.
Katznelson reminds us that for large sections of the period he covers, including at the outset, the Democratic Party was not capable of winning a presidential election without the South (as is true of the Republican Party today). In the 1932 elections, Democratic congressional candidates outside the South, taken together, got only 40 percent of the vote, but 86 percent in the South. When Roosevelt took office, more than half the committee chairs in Congress were southerners.
Katznelson also reminds us that whites as well as blacks were substantially disenfranchised in the South, because of poll taxes. Voter turnout was shockingly low in the South—below 20 percent of eligible (meaning mainly white) voters, for example, in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina in the crucial presidential election of 1940. In the 1938 midterm elections, Mississippi, with a population of more than two million, had only 35,000 voters. A tight-knit group of very secure and long-serving southern politicians, for whom the maintenance of Jim Crow was an absolute necessity, used the congressional seniority system to maintain a working veto power over all New Deal policies.
In the narrow sense, the South used its power to create de facto regional exceptions to many New Deal policies, either by exempting domestic and agricultural workers (meaning blacks) from them, or by placing administrative and policy control of them in the hands of state governments. To use the most obvious example, the 1935 law that created the Social Security system had both of these features. In the larger sense, Katznelson argues, it was specifically the South that blocked off the possibility of the New Deal’s moving further left in its policies. The New Deal wound up largely achieving one set of goals—an American welfare state, including retirement security and an empowered labor movement—but stopped far short of another, which would have involved creating, through democratic procedures, a more centrally planned economy, like those of this country’s undemocratic, and evidently successful, competitors during the 1930s and 1940s.
This was not, Katznelson insists, a matter of Roosevelt’s changing his mind, or reacting to the setback of the Supreme Court’s undoing in 1935 of his first major foray into planning, the creation of the National Recovery Administration. Nor was there a national consensus on central planning. The period was too chaotic for any of that to be the case. It was Congress that blocked national planning, for reasons having to do with the southern bloc’s overriding concern with maintaining the regional racial order. The South, in Katznelson’s view, was willing to move left on economic issues as long as that didn’t threaten segregation. When economic policy and race began to seem intertwined, the South opted out on economic policy, and that defined the leftward boundary of the New Deal.
The turning point, Katznelson says, was the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, the law that established the federal minimum wage and “the last lawmaking victory of the New Deal’s radical moment.” Although the author of the earliest version of the law was Senator (later Justice) Hugo Black of Alabama, by 1937 the South’s support for federal legislation affecting working conditions had begun to crumble, because southern members of Congress no longer felt quite so confident that they could amend any law so that their system would be excluded. The national political power of organized labor, which was interested in enlisting blacks as well as whites, was rising rapidly, and there was now a distinct, though small, black voting bloc within the Democratic Party, located in the northern cities. With the South suddenly (though, it turned out, enduringly) in doubt, the FLSA barely passed, and only after a very long legislative struggle.
As the South was turning away from solidarity with Roosevelt on domestic issues, Roosevelt’s own attention was turning to the coming of World War II—and there, in Katznelson’s telling, the South was completely supportive, far more so than the rest of the country. The dominant strain in the Republican Party in those days was isolationist, and, as Katznelson reminds us, the northern, urban wing of the Democratic Party included many Italian-Americans, German-Americans, and Irish-Americans who were skeptical about the war.
lemann_2-092613.jpg
A poster for an all-black production of Macbeth, directed by John Houseman and Orson Welles, for the Works Progress Administration, 1936
The South has always had a more martial culture than the country as a whole. Still, it isn’t entirely clear why the South was so militantly anti-Nazi—Adolf Hitler was a big fan of Gone With the Wind, and many prominent Nazis assumed that many in the South would find their racial views sympathetic, but they didn’t. The crucial steps before the Pearl Harbor attack that made the United States as prepared for the war as it was—including large increases in military spending, military aid to Great Britain, and the establishment of a draft—would all have been impossible without the enthusiastic backing of southerners in Congress. In return, the South got some assurances that the militarization of the United States would proceed in ways that did not threaten Jim Crow, such as the maintenance of segregated army units.
As with all the positive outcomes in Fear Itself, the United States’ turn away from isolationism came at a price: the embrace, once again determined by the South, of a national security state that operated in secrecy outside the ordinary boundaries of democratic politics. Roosevelt declared a national state of emergency, giving him extraordinary power, six months in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbor. From this followed loyalty oaths for federal employees, the Japanese internment program, and a vast, overaggressive FBI program of surveillance of people who hadn’t been accused of anything (including African-Americans solely on the basis of their race). The program entailed the establishment of a network of 70,000 civilian informants.
The House Un-American Activities Committee was created by John Nance Garner, of Texas, and chaired by Martin Dies, also of Texas. The Alien Registration Act, which wound up registering five million people and designating nearly a million of them as “enemy aliens” with restricted rights, was the work of Howard Smith, of Virginia. This turn by the federal government would come up as a regularly recurring aspect of Washington’s role in the life of the country. It is recurring now in the PRISM program and similar activities launched by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama.
Because of the war, the turn toward central economic planning that the country declined to take in the 1930s happened almost overnight in the 1940s, through executive action rather than legislation. The federal government grew tenfold, established control over wages and prices, and was deeply involved in planning the activities of most American industries. As Katznelson puts it, “the country learned to act as if it were one great unified corporation.” World War II proved that the United States could compete successfully with nondemocratic countries, but at the price of becoming significantly less democratic itself.
Like the Great Depression and the ascension of Roosevelt, the end of the war provided an opportunity to remake the American political order. Katznelson places the South at the center of this process. Its influence in Congress had grown because Republican gains in the 1942 and 1946 elections had increased the southern share of Democratic seats. The larger setting for policymaking was fear, as it is throughout Katznelson’s account of the New Deal. The war may have ended, but the fear did not abate.
Roosevelt and Truman, through their choices about how to conduct the war, made the quick onset of the cold war almost inevitable. Roosevelt formed an alliance with a totalitarian state and then allowed it to bear most of the human cost of the war: the Soviet Union’s military death toll during the war was over twenty times that of the United States. This meant that when the war ended, the Soviets were in control of Eastern Europe and had no inclination to give that up. Truman’s decision to deploy two atomic bombs in Japan ensured that a gripping terror would pervade international relations for decades, if not forever. It turned out to be impossible for the United States to contemplate its postwar competition with the Soviets calmly.
Anything pertaining to the cold war wound up as a permanently large part of government, likely to be protected from the ordinary legislative processes of a democracy. The reason Susan Rice just became national security adviser rather than secretary of state is that the National Security Council was created after the war outside the sphere of congressional oversight, so her position doesn’t require a confirmation hearing.
The CIA dates from the same period. So does the Department of Defense and its headquarters building, the Pentagon. So does the Air Force and its aggressive branch devoted to planning nuclear war, the Strategic Air Command. Defense spending and the size of the standing military dropped precipitously with the end of the war, but soon soared again, and has ever since. The kind of planning process in which government collaborated with business—which Katznelson calls “corporatist”—became the rule, again permanently, in military and defense matters. The military became the dominant funder of scientific research, including inside private universities. All these changes amounted to the United States’s becoming what Katznelson calls “a crusading state” with “a permanent war economy.” And they were all enthusiastically endorsed, often without recorded votes, by a Congress (especially the committees that oversee military matters) dominated by the South.
Domestically, the process was the opposite: the United States, which might have created a social democratic system like Western Europe’s, instead scaled back. The two pieces of legislation that encapsulate the change from the height of the New Deal to the postwar order are the Wagner Act of 1935, empowering organized labor, and the antilabor Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Both had the South’s crucial support, and Katznelson attributes the change from one to the other to the South’s growing nervousness about its ability to maintain its racial order. “For southern legislators, labor had become race,” he writes, and Taft-Hartley was, to its southern supporters, a “triumph for the security of Jim Crow.”
Just as important as the shift in labor policy, Katznelson argues, was the idea that the government’s management of the economy should focus on taxation and spending, rather than on economic planning. In 1939, Congress established the National Resources Planning Board and the Bureau of the Budget; after the war, the former died and the latter became an important agency, now called the Office of Management and Budget. Agencies that could have established a larger central government part in the economy were prevented from doing so, for racial reasons, by the South. The United States Employment Service, quite a substantial operation, was taken out of the Department of Labor and put under the sort of local control that the South always favored. Southern offices routinely listed jobs as being for whites or blacks only.
The Fair Employment Practices Commission, created by Roosevelt in 1941 as a small wartime harbinger of the federal government’s commitment to civil rights, was abolished by Congress, against Truman’s wishes, after the war, because the South so deeply disliked it. Katznelson reminds us that the South’s role in the Democratic Party remained so crucial that both of Adlai Stevenson’s running mates in the presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956 were southern senators, the first staunchly segregationist, the second less so.
Political scientists use the term “pluralist” to describe a system in which interest groups compete incessantly for advantage, and there is no overarching, determinative notion of the public interest. The side that wins gets to define the public interest, and the system’s moral commitment is to the procedure, not the outcomes. The final product of the New Deal, Katznelson argues, was a pluralist, “procedural” state in domestic affairs, and a far more expansive and less democratic state—corporatist, committed to planning in the “national interest”—in military affairs. This amounts to a liberal nightmare (and also demonstrates that one should not be confident that reducing interest-group influence in politics would necessarily produce pleasing results): the aspect of government liberals focus on was constrained, the aspect conservatives focus on was unbridled. And it was the South’s doing.
Ira Katznelson, who is a Columbia colleague of mine, has done something remarkable in Fear Itself in creating a large-scale, densely detailed tableau of the New Deal that feels fresh and unfamiliar. The book’s success comes partly from its insistent focus on material that lies outside the standard confines of the New Deal narrative, and partly from its powerfully tragic consciousness. Rather than seeing the New Deal as entailing a series of compromises, as with all politics, Katznelson presents us with a grand achievement, the preservation of American democracy, attained only through deeply corrupting alliances with Stalin’s Soviet Union and the pre–civil rights American South.
In Roth’s The Plot Against America, a relentlessly escalating series of horrors culminates in the Roth family of Newark being ordered to relocate to Kentucky (merely a border state!), where, we are made to understand, at any moment one of them could simply disappear. A similar feeling of utter horror about the South suffuses Fear Itself. The irony of Katznelson’s accomplishment here is that it has come, in part, through a Faustian bargain of his own: he has made the New Deal much more complex and interesting by oversimplifying one of its major actors.
Katznelson’s South has no black organizations of political consequence, no white racial liberals, no native union movement—indeed, very little internal variation on any issue, even though it’s a large region, because its focus on maintaining the Jim Crow system is so overwhelming. Although his account makes one appreciate how long the odds against the success of the civil rights movement were, it’s hard to imagine how, just a couple of years after Fear Itself ends, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference could have mounted its successful boycott of the municipal bus system in Montgomery; the elements underlying a nonquixotic act of resistance of that kind don’t seem to be in place.
More specifically, Katznelson’s treatment of race as the trump card in southern politics, though generally justified, leads him to treat the South’s views on economic issues as having been far less internally contentious and farther to the left than they actually were. Race could have been overwhelmingly important to the South and there could still have been—and was—room for differences on economic and other issues that had lasting regional and national effects.
On March 25, 1965, when Martin Luther King spoke from the steps of the Alabama state capitol building at the conclusion of the Selma-to-Montgomery march—a more dramatic civil rights moment, and a better speech, than “I Have a Dream” during the 1963 March on Washington—he devoted a significant part of his time at the podium to summarizing the work of historian C. Vann Woodward on economic strategies. It was an important intellectual event when the South began to produce prominent scholars—like Woodward (born in Vanndale, Arkansas, in 1908) and the political scientist V.O. Key (born in Austin, Texas, the same year)—who were not inclined to celebrate the Jim Crow system, as their predecessors going back to Woodrow Wilson had been.
Woodward and Key were pro–New Deal economic populists who spun out an alternate history of the South in which racism, rather than being the inevitable controlling factor in southern politics, had been put front and center by prosperous white conservatives so as to distract the poor majority from making common cause across racial lines and demanding economic justice. Here is King’s version, as delivered in Montgomery:
Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land.
You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.
It’s hard to think of academic work with more direct and immediate political consequences than Woodward’s mid-twentieth century conjuring up of a version of southern history in which Jim Crow had been avoidable in the first instance, and therefore was reversible in the present. Only a few months after King’s speech, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act (which the Supreme Court has just substantially negated) and liberal democracy in a recognizable if imperfect form came to the South.
Today Woodward’s view of southern history seems overoptimistic. The economically populist strain that he believed could have become dominant after Reconstruction seems retrospectively faint in comparison to white racism at the time. (Many more blacks were murdered in the late 1860s and early 1870s by white terrorists who were trying to overturn Reconstruction than were ever lynched.)
Even if Katznelson is essentially right, though, it’s a real stretch for him to present southern Bourbons like Harry Byrd of Virginia or James Eastland of Mississippi and bank-hating populists like Wright Patman of Texas or Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi as not having been meaningfully different politically. “Most of the region’s political leaders almost giddily propelled the New Deal’s radical economic policies,” Katznelson writes; these policies, he says elsewhere, “simply would have been impossible without the willing audacity of the segregated South.” But this is too dismissive of the importance of business-oriented “New South” conservatives who were active throughout the New Deal and became dominant afterward, and who were inclined to become a little less extreme on race, especially when they felt that doing so would bring economic rewards, and were anything but radical on nonracial domestic issues.
The people who created the South’s garment- and furniture-making industries, for example, had reasons to be anti-union that were more direct and immediate than the fear that unionization would undermine the racial order. They wanted to pay lower wages than their northern competitors. When Katznelson writes, by way of explaining southern opposition to pro-labor legislation in the late 1940s, that “a truly national labor system threatened to erode the ability of plantations to hold on to low-paid field-workers,” he is missing the South’s fundamental shift, already well underway, from Cotton Belt to Sunbelt (to borrow the title of an excellent 1994 book by Bruce Schulman).
The same political logic applies to the South’s oil, chemical, banking, and military-contracting industries, which were quite powerful by the end of the period Katznelson covers. They did not want their congressional representatives to push for radical economic policies. But neither did they want them to be focused on the maintenance of segregation to the exclusion of attending to their business interests. Whether or not Woodward (and King) were right that southern Bourbons had consciously used racism as a kind of ruse to get what they wanted economically, one can also make a reverse argument: southern business has tended to play down race if that seemed to serve economic development, for example in wooing northern companies to relocate to the South. And southern business has for many years reflexively turned to government for help, without having any populist inclinations. It practices what Katznelson calls “corporatism,” but as a matter just between government and business, without a substantial role for unions.
This isn’t a small matter. Katznelson argues persuasively that the basic political order of the United States was remade during the New Deal: government’s role expanded, but only up to a point, domestically, and expanded almost without limit militarily. But the variations within the South on nonracial issues also became nationally consequential.
Beginning with Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat defection from the Democratic Party in 1948, the South became less solidly Democratic—rapidly so after the height of the civil rights era. That was about race. Also, beginning with Jimmy Carter in 1976, the South began to demonstrate that it could produce successful presidential candidates (I’m not counting Lyndon Johnson because he was elevated from the vice-presidency), something that had not been possible during most of the Jim Crow era, when congressional leadership positions were the most that even the most talented southern politicians could aspire to. Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all became major-party nominees, and although they did not all come from the same party, they all ran as more or less moderate, pro-business politicians who were sensitive to middle-class voters’ needs and did not openly appeal to white racial prejudice. This set of views, which dominated presidential politics for years, emerged from a tradition of business-oriented politics in the South—going back at least to the 1880s, when Henry Grady of The Atlanta Constitution began using the phrase “The New South” to express the hope of a move beyond dependence on agriculture—which Katznelson doesn’t mention.
That period of high southern influence on national politics may now be over. Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in 2008 in part because she attended too closely during the Democratic primary season to the lessons she had learned in becoming a southern moderate during her years in Arkansas. The Democratic Leadership Council, the moderate-to-conservative group that both Clinton and Gore chaired, has gone out of business. The Democrats have found a way to win presidential elections that largely bypasses the South (but not Florida), and the Republicans are dominated by a libertarian strain in the party that doesn’t have much room for blacks but also doesn’t have roots in traditional southern politics.
Still, even in the Obama administration, a moderate, pro-market, anti-regulation, less than wholeheartedly pro-union politics dominates. So does the idea that military and “security” affairs can be legitimately conducted in secret by the executive branch. This is partly a legacy of a long-standing congeries of southern views that can’t be completely understood in racial terms. Conversely, one lesson of the Obama presidency thus far is that even the immense effort the president obviously makes to take overt considerations of race out of politics—the passion and eloquence of his brief remarks about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case gave some sense of how much he is usually suppressing—does not produce the benefits in other areas that liberals have dreamed of for many years. It has not led to the undoing of the frustrating aspects of the legacy of the New Deal, as Katznelson persuasively sets them forth.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Centennial 2014


Centennial 2014

 

 

Dudley Randall (1914-2000), Daisy Bates (1914-1999), Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914 – 2005), Billy Eckstine [William Clarence Eckstine 1914-1993] Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), Joe Lewis [Joseph Louis Barrow 1914-1981], Sun Ra [Herman Poole Blount 1914-1993], Woody Strode [Woodrow Wilson Woodwine Strode 1914-1994], Sonny Boy Williamson I [John Lee Curtis Williamson 1914-1948], and Emmett Ashford (1914-1980) are all candidates for centennial celebration

 

It shall be edifying to chronicle how remembering will be divided among interest groups----- literary and social historians, patriotic warmongers, the musicologists, political analysts,  sports experts,  film critics, transnational theorists and  civil rights scholars. The year 2014 presents an opportunity to think again about 1714, 1814 and World War I.  Can we adequately assess the role of time and circumstance in the making of Americans if we segregate those listed above from Jiang Qing, William Westmoreland, Jonas Stalk, Joe DiMaggio, Daniel Boorstin, Clayton Moore, William S. Burroughs, Octavio Paz, Dylan Thomas, Lester Flatt, Bernard Malamud, and Ernest Tubb? What do we gain from selective celebration that is predicated on use of the social construction named “race”?

 

In ideal situations, it would be easy to have collective centennials. We live, however, in reality and amoral actuality. Our cultural studies and remembering thrive on interdisciplinarity which is governed more by ideology than by reason. Viewed comparatively, remembering the achievements and life histories of Dudley Randall and Joe Lewis or of Billy Eckstine and Sonny Boy Williamson might illuminate similar comparisons of William Westmoreland and Daisy Bates or of Sun Ra and Lester Flatt. We talk multiculturalism and the Omni-American.  We talk, make hot air, and put with Z “in conversation “A, but we do not have critical absorption that minimizes cultural amnesia.

 

In my work as one of the “little people” from Mississippi, the commitment of Dudley Randall as a poet and founder of Broadside Press is a stronger candidate for memory than Ralph Ellison and the novel Invisible Man. Putting Randall’s life and accomplishments under the microscope of 2014 does not minimize the need to attend to other writers born in 2014. It accelerates my interest in looking at the Black Arts Movement from the perspective of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in hearing Sonny Boy Williamson from the angle of Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, in asking whether Daisy Bates made a more substantial contribution to the moral dimensions of the American mind than did William Westmoreland or William Burroughs.

 

For my centennial rituals in 2014, I shall examine again

 

Boyd, Melba Joyce. Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

 

Miller, R. Baxter. “ ‘Endowing the World and Time’: The Life and Work of Dudley Randall.” Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960. Ed. R. Baxter Miller. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

 

Thompson, Julius E.  Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.      September 14, 2013   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

PMLA (January 1998), pp. 130-131

To the Editor:

Referring to James Russell Lowell's importnce to her, Sandra M. Gilbert wrote in the 1996 Presidential Address (112[1977]:370-79) that "unless I am doing a grave injustice to one of the 103 colleagues who held this office between his tenure and mine, I believe I am the first poet to preside over the MLA since he did" (372). In MLA history, Houston A. Baker, Jr. stands between Lowell and Gilbert. Baker, who has published three books of poetry, was included in my anthology Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry (1997) because he is one of our most accomplished poet-critics. Gilbert's claim in not necessarily a grave injustice but an oversight to be corrected.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
Tougaloo College

Alice Walker






Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alice Walker, Autobiographical Contract, and Sciences of Memory

[By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]


Definition is essential. What does womanist mean and what is its relation to feminist? Does the assertion that womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender explain saturation as a major difference in historical experience? The various essays, bits of interviews, poetry (inside prose frames) and reviews collected in Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens (1983) suggest an answer. They suggest that Walker the novelist is of a “revolutionary” mind like a furious flower, is as serious as was Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, and Toni Cade Bambara. These women assumed the freedom to create is an entitlement of nature not of man. And they have the backing of words attributed to Sojourner Truth in 1851: “Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.”

Walker’s attitude toward literature has a faint echo of Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” Do not confuse attitude with heritage. Mountains are gendered property, and in Walker’s case, Sojourner Truth holds the mortgage! Interpretation can take the guise of paying interest, escrow, and principle.


Walker’s trope of the garden has a great deal to do with memory and with the fact that canonized writers have no monopoly in cultivating ART. Context requires remembering that Walker first broadcast ideas about mothers and gardens at the 1973 Phillis Wheatley Festival in Jackson, Mississippi and remembering I had taught The Third Life of Grange Copeland the previous year. My memory of that event and of my teaching has been reactivated by how the biologist Steven Rose commented on the Rosetta Stone in The Making of Memory (1992):


Memory pervades ancient ballads and modern novels alike. Especially in the present century, from James Joyce and Marcel Proust to the new writing of Margaret Atwood, of J. G. Ballard, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie and Alice Walker, the theme of personal memory, of the constant examination, interpretation, and reinterpretation of lived experience, is central.

And Rose asked in the same paragraph: Or are we doomed to live always in the divided worlds of subjectivity and objectivity, with no translation possible between these languages? (7)
Mother transmits the seed of art and the desire to grow it into ART to daughter. We are expected to read the fine print in the title essay “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens” as Walker’s autobiographical contract.

Walker’s recent thinking about her autobiographical contract appears in the appended reader’s guide for Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004). Asked what inspired her to write the novel, Walker replied: “So in Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart I set out to chart such a journey, the adventures of Kate Nelson Talkingtree, who is named partly for a grandmother, my father’s mother, who was murdered when he was a boy.” This novel incorporates Walker’s quest for the culture of the Grandmother, her keeping the faith with the autobiographical contract. Through fiction, Walker provisionally confirms Steven Rose’s idea that sciences of the collective -- “ecology and ethnology, sociology and economics” (7-8) -- are better instruments than the sciences of “individual psychology or neuroscience” (7) for exploring the nature of memory. The jury is still out, however, on any permanent conjoining of subjectivity and objectivity, inside or outside of fictions.