The computer is staging a slowdown. Not sure why. It started a few hours ago with a download and has spread through to websites. In the meantime, I began feeling lightheaded and throat-scratchy – not a good thing as I anticipate making a speech. So, I’m grabbing several pieces of reading material and huddling under the covers with a large dose of zinc, vitamin C, and several gallons of H2O.
Just for fun here’s a picture that we discussed in the veterans’ writing group tonight. It’s before the war (WWI, that is). One of our guys spotted the mistake. Can you?
I won’t be smoking a cigar or wearing a white suit as Mark Twain did. Nevertheless it is a thrill to announce that I will be delivering a modern version of a “Trouble Begins” lecture Wednesday, December 10, at the Mark Twain House. I will be talking about my James family’s evolution in Hartford from just after the Civil War – and also our connection to the Clemens family.
The James family had a brief connection to Hawaiian royalty.
Some slang isn’t so modern.
Women through several generations died of the same illness.
In which I promise not to draw any (further) comparison between the serial periods and the human anatomy.
The events of the past days have left me exhausted at a time when I need to muster my strength – reason to be explained tomorrow. So today I turn from the weighty issue of profiling to a less fraught topic, which leaves me not despairing but irritated. It is the use of the colon in the title of pretty much every work of nonfiction that’s been published lately. I’m not sure when the change occurred – older works are mercifully free of those annoying stacked dots.
A random selection from the nearest bookshelf yields: Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963), The Underground Railroad in Connecticut (1962), Silences (1965, reprint 2003), The Writing Life (2005). The one exception was Older Than The Nation: The Life and Times of the Hartford Courant… Oldest Paper of Continuous Publication in America (1964).
On the other hand … a quick check of the Sunday NYTBR shows that every single nonfiction title in the “Editors’ Choice” and “Paperback Row” columns includes those pesky dots. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life; Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love; Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (It’s OK to exhale now); The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food; A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life; Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century; The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War;Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars; The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible.
With the exception of that last, nothing is lost by skipping the words before or after the colon. Hence one fully understands Penelope Fitzgerald, Philip Larkin are the subject of biographies. That “deep down dark” is problematical – Thirty-Three Men in a Mine comes to mind. Skip “the chain” and the “fate of our food” remains. How about The Dulles Brothers without the rest of verbiage? Life Among the Stars is a great title and would probably attract a wider audience.
It feels as though we’re reverting to the days of the nineteenth century. I’ll leave you with just one example: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Let’s keep the concepts and can the twenty-word titles.
As with the lack of indictment in the Michael Brown slaying, I am not surprised by the treatment that Professor Kiese Laymon and his students have received from law enforcement on campus and off. Nor am I surprised that the Vassar faculty has been less than welcoming.
It is obvious from Professor Laymon’s descriptions of the interactions with each of these groups that not one of the antagonists has ever had anyone of equal or higher status challenge their entrenched belief systems. Part of that system says if they say the right words, it doesn’t matter if they continue to oppress or to sanction oppression by refusing to acknowledge the existence of “white privilege.”
What I find most outrageous: The college, which has been aware of problems since it started admitting larger numbers of minorities in the late 1960s, is only now responding – with more words. Here’s a link to the president’s non-response. Her letter follows a statement on her home page: “The ability to understand and engage in the lives of others, and the world we all live in, is what a Vassar education nurtures.” Oh, really?
I have a suggestion. Until the profiling stops, don’t apply to Vassar if you are black or Chicano. Go somewhere else. And to the majority population at Vassar, give minority faculty and students the opportunity to speak without being re-profiled.
Thank you, Michael Eric Dyson, for using Ann Petry’s The Street, to frame the issue of how blacks and whites seen matters in Ferguson so clearly. Check out “Where Do We Go After Ferguson?: Our racial divide has been illuminated once more” in the NYTimes Sunday Review, p. 1 November 30, 2014.
My mother’s novel was published almost seventy years ago, but the protagonist’s comments so eloquently illustrate that stereotypes ruled perceptions then, and they continue to do so today. Racial stereotypes of course have always been at the top of the pyramid in this country.
I have another suggestion for achieving understanding of the dynamics at play in Ferguson and that is Ann Petry’s short story “In Darkness and Confusion.” It concerns the reaction of a community, and one family in particular, to the shooting of a black soldier by a white police officer. The story was based on a riot in Harlem in 1943 that followed the shooting. Spike Lee said he’d re-read the story when he was filming Do the Right Thing.
Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin writes of Mother in Harlem Nocturne: “This is her major contribution as an artist: to give voice and complexity to those people who remain nameless in official accounts. She portrays their humanism, their frustrations, their anger and fear. She gives them names. Many people wrote about the riots. Few people wrote about the rioters with such compassion and detail.”
This generation needs an Ann Petry to bring that same humanity to the people in Ferguson and in the rest of the country.