Friday, August 17, 2007

Art and the artist, or, what’s on my mind today

No news is good news, right?

Nothing much to report. I gave a presentation last night on George Schuyler, controversial author of Black No More and not-very beloved Harlem Renaissance figure who seemed to delight in being contrary for the mere sake of a good fight. I knew there would be some sparks in class. Schuyler is seen as being something of an assimialtionist for writing a book that predates Dr. Seuss’ The Sneeches, another classic tale of what happens when you change your appearance and identity। In Schuyler’s book a scientist, Dr. Crookman, comes up with a process for turning black people white. Chaos, greed, and humor ensue. I’ll spare the readers of this here blogthing the full summary (most of you know as you’ve heard me discuss it already and the others can go read the goddamn thing themselves. It’s a mere 200 and some pages and reads really quick like most satire. Get off your fucking asses and get to the bookstore, that is if you can tear yourself away from VH1 long enough), but know only that the book raises some meaty ideas that are sure to displease and amuse. My kind of book.

We read Schuyler alongside everyone’s favorite Harlem Renaissance figure (and the only one most people know of) Langston Hughes। Hughes and Schuyler, though the latter admired the former’s work, had a sort of in print debate over “Negro art.” Schuyler didn’t think race was anything more than “superstition” and objected to the term while Hughes fused race into nearly everything he wrote.

Some people in class really hated Schuyler। His later conservative politics tend to inform contemporary readers of Black No More and accusations of pro-assimilation result. It is not really accurate to retroactively apply someone’s politics onto their earlier work, but Schuyler certainly was trying to do away with the idea of race as anything more than a social construct. Easy to do when you come from an upper class family. But there I go conflating the art and the artist, which I always preach is a bad thing to do.

But how does one keep them separate? I love the films of Roman Polanski and I had no problem with him winning an Oscar. If he slept with an underage girl back in the day, that makes him a lot of things but it does rob him of being a gifted filmmaker. Then again, I was less forgiving of the guy who directed Powder

And what about Celine the Nazi sympathizer? Or T.S. Eliot? Wonderful poet; anti-Semite. William Carlos Williams and Dylan Thomas wrote amazing poetry… and cheated on their spouses. Brendan Behan, Bukowski, Hemingway, Faulkner, Dylan Thomas (again), Malcolm Lowry… all drunks. Anne Sexton? Great poet but not a good mother. Salman Rushdie’s been married enough times for one to surmise that he must be shit to live with, even if he writes marvelously. Martin Amis got some flack back in the ‘90s as well, just as his literary sun was starting to set. Oh, and then there’s Christopher Hitchens, though I have fully gone over to the side that thinks he’s a total asshole with the occasional interesting things to say—you know, when he’s not writing pro-Iraq war nonsense or intentionally inflammatory shit about why women aren’t funny. Still, I read him. I read him as much as I can. Picasso. Now there was an artist. And a womanizer. Diego Rivera too. Pablo Neruda is among my heroes, yet he had a problem with lady hopping from time to time. And he was a communist, which I don’t fault him for considering his background, though I do fault my countrymen and women for holding that up as one of his admirable traits. Then comes Felipe Alfau, author of one of my favorite books, Locos: A Comedy of Gestures। Read his interview on the Dalkey Archive website and you’ll find the thoughts of a racist old crank.

In short, put anyone’s life under a microscope and you’ll find some evidence of what a jerk they could be। People ain’t no good.

Sorry for the misanthropic ending but it’s been a long month. Hope all is well. Kiss kiss.