Filed under: Books | Tags: english literature, grotesque, ohio, paris metro, rereading, sherwood anderson, winesburg
This is my third time reading Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.
The book has always evoked a strong reaction on my part, each time a different emotion.
When assigned this book in English class my junior year of high school, I do not believe I knew what I was getting into. I remember hating the book. I did not enjoy any bit of it. It is hard now in retrospect to understand or quite remember the exact feelings of my former self, a Sarah who clearly missed something, everything, in this book. If I were to hypothesize now (and who is it that says memory is always affected by remembering, there is no objective remembering?) I would imagine that my high school self was angry with Anderson for writing such depressing vignettes. Funny though, I know that myself of a year later was moved by the darkness of The Dubliners and White Teeth. Against her credit, that girl felt aversely towards To the Lighthouse, and in response simply quoted Janis Joplin, “It’s all the same fucking day, man.”
So I hated it at 16. At 20 it was assigned for my sophomore History and Literature tutorial. We were meant to read it and as our first writing assignment write about one of the sections. In this reading, I remember being very excited by the book! I was really jazzed up about it! Look! He has really peered into the windows of American Main Street. He has captured the depth of small town citizens, the pain, the longing, the greed, the ever elusive love. I read with ferocity and I was happy that I was reading it. I questioned myself of years before, and I think I respected the book all the more because it had proven itself to me.
Today, in Paris, I mostly read Winesburg while riding the metro- surrounded by strangers. The second vignette “Hands,” is about a man who is chased out of town because his hands, whose movement was “like unto the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird,” were always caressing the heads of his young male students. It left me horribly sad- the kind of ache that can only come from learning of or encountering of others’ persecution. It is almost cruel the way in which Anderson can tell such tight tales of torture and weakness. Their brevity is often jarring. I finish a tale and my quick investment, interest in the characters of the small Midwestern town feels almost foolish as the page break reminds me that it is fiction.
So reading it on the metro I become convinced that every person I sit in front of is like the characters in Winseburg. Theirs is a tragic and brief story of human desire and failure. This man with the flat eyes and jaundiced skin is a grotesque. We are all grotesques.
Filed under: Dust | Tags: baldwin, children, france, mixed-race, paris, race, race relations, the fire next time
Saturday afternoon, after taking the GRE subject test in English Literature, I sat down in the sun at La Laurier, a restaurant near my apartment, to read and treat myself to a big lunch.
I had recently begun to reread James Baldwin’s slim volume, The Fire Next Time. It contains two letters, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind.”
Baldwin is great. Baldwin writing on Paris is provocative. Reading Baldwin in Paris, is something else. In this city I am confronted by unfamiliar racial conflicts and concepts of ethnicity. Between my postcolonial theory class and speaking with friends here who are immigrants and minorities, I am left with a fuzzy idea of what it means to be a minority in Paris. Baldwin, who loved Paris and wrote most poignantly about this city (it’s good and bad) reminds me of America’s historical obsession with racial binaries. The complexities of race relations in France are constant reminder of how difficult it is to assume a simple racial binary in the states. But to be brief, this is the story of something very strange, if small, that happened to me while I was reading his second letter at La Laurier.
Just as I read the following lines, “- the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” a young girl of maybe 3 stopped right next to my table and commenced to grimace at me. Her tiny scowl first took me aback. This olive-skinned curly brown-haired child wearing pink leggings and bows, who looked eerily like photos I’ve seen of me when I was that age, stared me in the eyes for what felt like an eternity.
I felt shivers all over me thinking, “What could she want?” when suddenly she burst into laughter. This giggling and smiling persisted and yet she never lost her gaze. Instantly the girl had transformed from a horrible Damien-esque child sending me a bad omen, into a cherub who had merely been teasing me. As she laughed I found myself laughing out loud and watching her skip away. She was trailed by her white mother who gave me a look I could not quite interpret.
But the daughter’s message, or at least what I found myself left with after puzzling over the interaction, was something of a, “I am the future. I will be a different problem– with a different name. Don’t you see that?”
What it means, or will come to mean, to be a mixed-race child in France I do not know. Surely it will be different than the meaning in the states. What will it mean to be a mixed-race child in the future America? Will it still be, in some cases, “the Negro problem” or will people think of another name for the discomfort they feel around people who self-identify as having a multiracial heritage.
I quote below the complete paragraph from Baldwin’s letter, and ask if, almost 50 years after he wrote this, one can ask the same questions? Does “the Negro problem” as Baldwin knew it still exist? Will changes in demographics bring about a replacement for it or another “problem” in addition to it?
White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this– which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never– the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.
Filed under: Music | Tags: bookstore, burlesque, Jerome foundation, music, paris, piano, ragtime, shakespeare and company
Here’s the link to my first DAP reporting in Paris. Click to read the whole story. This singer/songwriter was amazing! Hope you check out the blog and her music.