Ramcat Reads #5
Capshaw, Katharine. Civil Rights Childhood: Picturing Liberation in African American Photobooks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Emphasizes the photographs and writings of children. Gives special attention to what is seldom examined regarding children in studies of the Black Arts Movement. Mentions the importance of Today (1965), a photobook created largely by Doris Derby for the Child Development Group of Mississippi. Today is available in the McCain Library, University of Southern Mississippi.
Cooley, Peter. The Van Gogh Notebooks. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2004. Cooley's sustained meditations on Van Gogh's creativity and paintings are sketches of a poet's mind at work, and they remind one of Ralph Ellison's writing about Romare Bearden's artistry. Cooley, of course, limits his introspection to the personal, the immediacy of his aesthetic experience divorced from explicit social implications.
Ellis, Thomas Sayers. The Maverick Room. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2005.
________________. Skin, Inc. : Identity Repair Poems. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2010.
Ellis stands out from Sharon Strange and other poets associated with the Dark Room Collective much as Lorenzo Thomas does from members of the legendary Society of Umbra: Ellis and Thomas are fiercely independent, following their divergent interests in the visual and sonic manifestations of the constantly changing NOW. Both bring a maverick spirit of exploration to the task of naming the unpredictable.
Frank, Edwin, ed. Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature's Hidden Masterpieces. New York: New York Review Books, 2003. "Masterpieces are showpieces," according to Frank, "designed to establish a public reputation; classics...constitute the public face of knowledge, the books that everyone should know" (xi). Unknown Masterpieces is an example of ideological formation, and its singular charm exists in testing whether Elizabeth Hardwick, Toni Morrison, and James Wood can persuade readers that Tess Slesinger, Camara Laye, and Shchedrin [M. E. Saltykov] indeed wrote works that everyone should know. Everyone may refer only to a small community of readers predisposed to share the tastes and values of the thirteen writers who are "rediscovering" works that a larger community of readers, the more authentic everyone, has chosen not to remember. The special conditions of "rediscovering" ought to be taken into consideration in discussions of the recovery work that has been influential in the expansion of African American canons.
Gardner, John. On Moral Fiction. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2009. First published in 1978, Gardner's book should be read by every person who believes she or he must be a writer; it should be required reading for people who so easily confuse the possession of a degree in creative writing with knowledge that does not demand earning a degree. Gardner was shockingly honest in asserting "it is the universality of woundedness in the human condition which makes the work of art significant as medicine or distraction" (167). Few people who call themselves writers have the capacity to embrace woundedness or the will power to reject fashioning what is genuinely universal in their own images.
Howard, Ravi. Driving the King. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Howard is the author Like Trees, Walking (2008) and winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence (2008). The novel may one day receive a bit of notice in critical discourses on how Nat King Cole as a musical icon can be appropriated for discussion of civil rights issues.
Rose, Tricia. The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop --- and Why It Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2008. Rose describes certain arguments regarding causes of violence, the reflection of dysfunctional ghetto cultures, symbolic injury of African Americans, devaluation of women, and the ongoing destruction of American values. She juxtaposes the defensive arguments used to justify rather negative forms of representation ----the clichéd notion "keeping it real," denial of responsibility for sexism, the vexed possibility that bitches and hoes (whores) exist outside of symbolic representation, the denial that artists have any obligation to be role models for anyone, and loud complaints that large numbers of people do not talk about positive aspects of hip hop. Rose struggles to construct guiding principles for progressive creativity, consumption, and community in and beyond the phenomenon of hip hop.
Despite her dedicated scholarship, Rose does not get very far in exposing the amorality of the music industry in the American economy. The mechanisms of that economy are not controlled by African American businesspeople, and they batten on the absence of ethics and moral struggle in the unfolding of the United States of America as a nation. Rose fails to deal with the possibility that will power does need to be talked about, even if the talk is itself theoretical and philosophical. She doesn't take into account that home education (what back in the day was called "home training") and public schooling (what is now too frequently miseducation of everyone) ought to be held accountable for encouraging a destructive sense of freedom and entitlement (e.g. the mirroring of the violence applied in the name of combating terrorism). Almost echoing James Baldwin, Rose recommends the use of affirmative love and argues that "transformational love is necessary and crucial"(272). To add salt to wounds in a hostile American environment, Rose is content to reify the deadly black/white binary as if Hispanic drug suppliers, Islamic thugs, and Asian criminals do not participate in maintaining destructive features of hip hop. The hip hop wars are overwhelmingly economic in nature, although they are disguised as innate manifestations of biocultural evolution.
Neither Rose nor any cultural critic who is not prepared to commit to plunge into boiling water will suggest the draconian remedies needed to minimize the hip hop wars, because those methods only promise to beget other forms of corruption and inequality in the manufacturing of wealth. Such is the moral poverty of our nation.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
October 29, 2015