(Link Gems is a round-up of articles and essays from around the web.)
I start with two on Toni Morrison, the first one is a must read!
Here, blackness isn’t a commodity; it isn’t inherently political; it is the race of a people who are varied and complicated. This is where her works become less of a history and more of a liturgy, still stretching across geographies and time, but now more pointedly, to capture and historicize: This is how we pray, this is how we escape, this is how we hurt, this is how we repent, this is how we move on. It is a project that, although ignored by many critics, evidences itself on the page. It has allowed Morrison to play with language, to take chances with how stories unravel and to consistently resist the demand to create an empirical understanding of black life in America. Instead, she makes black life — regular, quotidian black life, the kind that doesn’t sell out concert halls or sports stadiums — complex, fantastic and heroic, despite its devaluation. It is both aphorism and beyond aphorism, and a result has been pure possibility.
– from The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, a profile of such depth and beauty.
Aaron Bady’s brilliant essay, On the Variety of Ways to Not Praise Charlie Hebdo, which hit all the points on why some of us support the Pen award protestors.
“You cannot honor “Free Speech” in the abstract without hollowing it out. I am opposed to violence against artists, journalists, writers, and dissenters because I am opposed to violence. People should not be violated, and cartoonists are people too. This is actually a very easy principle to observe in practice. And that’s why it’s just a bad idea to praise Charlie Hebdo, which represents (or is saddled with) a very particular, aggressive, and arrogant form of weaponized speech. You cannot honor Charlie Hebdo as the embodiment of courageous speech without honoring the content of their speech, their politics, and what they do with their courage. To praise “expression” in the abstract by honoring a particular version of what might make it praiseworthy makes it no longer abstract.”
“What might a poem about grief and the immediate shock that precedes it look like? I’d like to imagine a long meditation, something about a collective hurt and shared pain, empathy and a call to a renewal to faith. But I find myself more drawn, in the wake of what is happening in Kenya, and in particular to the 148 lives lost in the Garissa attack, to a poem that should be short, a brief poem, almost to the point of not existing at all.”
What we consider to be the benchmark, or even just a workaday example, tells us all we need to know about what is valued, but also what is considered “the norm”. If we can agree that something is universal, i.e. “Everyone gets this!”, what does it mean when someone doesn’t get it? …
The takeaway is this: Everything all-white is for everybody, but all-black things are reserved for black people (unless it is being Columbused as the “new” thing). When someone complains about being misled because the blackness of the list was not brought up, how do you answer? What do you come back with when someone concludes a comment with a phrase I have thought about many times since: “I just couldn’t relate”?
Percival Everett by Percival Everett – Lavelle Porter on this great African-American novelist whom I’m eager to read.
“Most of the writing we do is actually a performance of stuckness. It is a record of where we got stuck on a question for long enough to do some research and write out the whole knot until the original passion and curiosity that made us want to try to say something about something got so detailed, buried, encrypted, and diluted that the energetic and risk-taking impulse became sealed and delivered in the form of a defense against thinking any more about it. Along the way, something might have happened to the scene the question stood for: or not.”