One of the primary reasons I read is to understand and to connect. To understand my connection with persons, people and worlds I am otherwise consciously removed from (as a result of the limitations of my personal experiences). What I chose to read is often guided by what enchants and connects with me, but what enchants and what connects do not always intersect. I connect with everything whether it enchants me or not, and whether I desire to or not. It is important to actively seek to understand identities and experiences that superficially seem separate from one’s own — they are not separate, unimportant and meaningless. No man is an island – we bear responsibilities to understand the waves we make in society and to persons.
Why and how did ‘The Color Purple’ break your heart? What was it about to you? What about Murakami’s work speaks to you and sets you free? free from what? or free to what? What inspired you through what painful times and how?
I sometimes overemphasize the identity of an author when judging a story because I am using it as a proxy for the importance of the identity of the character and experiences expressed in literature. It’s dangerous to quarantine an understanding the world through a filter of politics, power dynamics, variables of gender, race, sex, class, etc. to the academic world because life and lived identities are of the practical world — this understanding needs to be actively pursued, deconstructed and practiced in society to avoid inadvertently perpetuating oppression of self and of others. In emphasizing the importance of post-colonial and ‘ethnic’ studies, I don’t want to delineate the complexity of a white male, but rather to uplift the infinite complexity of all identities. This is one type of reading for me…
When I speak of identities, I’m speaking in the context of the practical world — which is tied to the soul, but is hardly adequate to contain the soul. Of course, being ‘white’ and ‘gay’ in greek times was a much different experience than it is today. ‘White’ was also probably not a functional term or political identity at that time. When I say ‘white’ or ‘male’ today, it is undeniably charged with dominance in the context of our society (which ironically is also oppressing the complexity of european-ish identities). Post-colonial and ‘ethnic’ works strive to dismantle is this unquestioned norm.
Much of my life, I’ve identified myself by what I am not. I am not a man. I am a woman. Not being a man does not default me to being a woman. Being a woman is different from being not a man, and I am both a woman and not a man. And being not a man changes as what being a man changes. So I can only tell you part of who I am now… who are you?… once I know, I can tell you part of who/what I am and am not.
A canon has been formed, my education has been infused with white men, and the thoughts and experiences of white men — I feel like I’ve been taught a language of ‘great literature’ as timeless and universal, which it can be, and I’ve also acquiesced to colonialism. To not deconstruct assumed eurocentricism would be to disregards the cultural, social, regional, national, etc. differences in experiences and outlook (of the practical world) – this brings forth the textures of ‘white’ identity as well.
‘Saturday in the Prime of Life’ is a discontinued book about a lesbian couple and the symptoms of not being able to label themselves as ‘married’. The things that resonated with me most were the ways the other characters interacted with them affected their relationship — little things like this woman character’s mother referring to her life partner as a ‘friend’ or ‘girlfriend’ — the language of other people had the power to eroded their relationship. Similar to the way I realized for the first time the real ways my friend from high school experienced being poor (cutting up face wipes to extend use), through reading this book, I realized the real ways this lesbian couple experienced homophobia — just as it wasn’t my friend living in a small apartment, it wasn’t just this couple being faced with slurs or threats. These things heightened my sensitivity in the ways I interact with people that could be oppressive.
‘Strange Fruit’ – a poem written during the civil rights movement about the lynching of two black men made me realize the flatness of the way I read and interpreted ‘trees’ as they appeared in literature. It made very explicit to me the luxurious dominance of the way I move through society. To me, I’m inclined to glaze over the mention of a tree in literature as a scenic prop. To a Black person during that time, to read about a tree, to hear about a tree would resonate of lynching, of threat, oppression…I bring this up, though not perfectly pertinent, for mainly three reasons – 1. it made me aware of a ‘Black’ experience; 1. it made me aware of how unaware I was that language and symbols did not naturally transition the historical Black experience; 1. it was written by a ‘white’ jewish school teacher from the Bronx.
I want to read the books you’ve read, I want to know how you read them, I want to know how I read them, I want to read the books you’ll write, I want to know how you wrote them. When you share a special book, you are expressing something about yourself. But the book I read wont be the same book that you gave me. I think when you share how you read a book and why it is special you express something about yourself as well. And how I read a book expresses something about myself.
‘Man struggles with his unborn needs and fulfillment. New unfoldings struggle up in torment in him, as buds struggle forth from the midst of a plant. Any man of real individuality tries to know and to understand what is happening, even in himself, as he goes along. This struggle for verbal consciousness should not be left out in art. It is a very great part of life. It is not superimposition of a theory. It is the passionate struggle into conscious being. We are now in a period of crisis. Every man who is acutely alive is acutely wrestling with his own soul. The people that can bring forth the new passion, the new idea, this people will endure. Those others, that fix themselves in old idea, will perish with the new life strangled unborn within them. Men must speak out to one another.’ – D.H. Lawrence
What do you think about all this? I’m not sure myself…