At 22 years old, a gentleman of Mississippi’s
aristocracy, Quentin Compson is losing his memory.
All that he remembers is fading. For as long he
could remember, he has been dead. Dead! He can no
longer live in the collective memory of his community’s
legacy of heroics, its chivalry is the absurd white
gloves of butlers, of nanny’s breasts, of ragged,
gray-haired errand boys, of fields of toil, of averted
eyes, “yes sirs” and “yes ma’ams,” and of graves
unmarked and surrounded by the whole of the Mississippi
River. Sinking in the shifting milieu, for him,
all is lost. He has inhaled the stench of fear and
welcomes death, sinking, willingly, to the bottom
of the river.
If you take away an individual’s
mind, you take his or her memory of being alive
with ideas and thoughts, and with mechanisms for
self-defense when in danger.
This is truly risky business in the
1920’s for William Faulkner to articulate a set
of ideas about white America’s
relationship with the practice of creating fanciful
narratives of origins and the necessary foundational
practice of extermination, enslavement, and repression.
His work threatened the legitimacy of the Confederacy,
its dream of racial purity, and its legacy of racial
privilege and for Southern apologists and liberals
who preferred to allow for the memory of the Great
Old South. This writer of literature challenged
the justification for U.S. imperialist expansion
at the “end” of the Civil War.
But what were the options for a writer
of U.S. literature when confronted with the “tragedy”
of American history? In his Nobel Prize Acceptance
Speech, (1950), Faulkner spoke of the “tragedy”
we all face but particularly writers, “is a general
and universal physical fear” sustained for so long
that we can now endure it. “There are no longer
problems of the spirit.” The writer today, he Faulkner
continues, has forgotten the problems “of the human
heart in conflict with itself which alone can make
good writing because only that is worth writing
about, worth the agony and the sweat.”
The writer must learn of these conflicts
of spirit and heart:
He must teach himself that the basest
of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself
that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his
workshop for anything but the old verities and truths
of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which
any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor
and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.
Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes
not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody
loses anything of value, of victories without hope
and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His
griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no
scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands…
The poet’s voice need not merely
be the record of man, it can be one of the props,
the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
Faulkner stayed the course, hunkered
down in his little town of Oxford, where he took note of the Southern aristocracy’s dealing with
the nation’s Robber Barons, J.P. Morgan and the
Rockefellers and other powerful men, newsmen included,
controlling the destiny of the “little people.”
There was no book contract leading to millions of
sales. No Oprah or celebrity status or glitzy fame.
Faulkner damned the hard headed, the ignorant, the
hateful and he wrote, determined to use language
to help humanity “endure and prevail.”
Contrary to his pronouncement about
writers of his era, he was not alone. Faulkner’s
work followed in the tradition of confronting the
“tragedy” in order to recover the human spirit.
The “incredible paradox” Faulkner depicted in Absalom!
Absalom! tested the metal of writers such as
Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Sinclair Lewis, Steinbeck,
and others who heard and saw what Faulkner did:
…the black bones and flesh and thinking
and remembering and hopes and desires, was ravished
by violence…a soil manured with black blood from
two hundred years of oppression and exploitation
until it sprang with an incredible paradox of peaceful
greenery and crimson flowers and sugar cane sapling
size and three times the height of a man and a little
bulkier of course but valuable pound for pound almost
with silver ore…
rather than reflections of fantastical
images of glory, or of freedom, of democracy or
and of a “deferred” dream prancing
over the world like a whore
And you’ve taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows
In loin cloths and cotton trousers,
When they’ve resisted,
You’ve yelled, ‘Rape,’
At the top of your voice
And called for middies
To beat them up for not being gentlemen…
and to kill, above all - to kill
and senselessly destroy as Hemingway witnessed during
the First “Great” War:
At the start of the winter came the
permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera.
But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand
died of it in the army. (A Farewell to Arms)
and the absurdity of war, the legacy
of terrorizing profiteers, gleeful and of terrorized
cannon fodder, survivors, doomed to live life as
a walking memory of what is dead, lost.
what have we have lost!
Are there no poets and writers to
ask what is wrong, to lament the loss of the writer’s
heart and soul?
To be sure, there were also writers
of what is classified as literature in the U.S. happy to imagine, as
William Byrd of Westover, the Black chattel on Southern
plantations as “gardeners in the garden” - paternal
gardens, no less, in a capitalist’s enterprise.
It has nothing to do with
love or the inclusion of “free” human beings but
everything to do with control!
Our negroes are not so numerous or
so enterprizeing (sic) as to give us any apprehension
or uneasiness nor indeed is their Labour any other
than Gardening & less by far that what the poor
People undergo in other countrys (letter to Peter
Beckford of Jamaica, cited in The Dispossessed
The image of the “savage” and the
accompany narrative of Indigenous brutality against
the white settlers obscured the systematic violence
and removal of native people from their lands by
These works of literature offer us
depictions of fear and alienation and serve as discourse,
that is, documentation on the reasoning and justification
of white Europeans to exact violence against those
they perceived as different.
literature made progress! But
what good is true progress to the advancement of
Today, U.S. Literature is but a chronicle
of the lost writer floundering in image after image
of pathological fear of an indefinable terror. Writers
lost in “innocence,” drifting hearts and spirits,
sinking knee deep in market-driven murky waters,
unable to untangle themselves from the seaweed to
which they have become entrapped by the material
residue of things quite apart from the heart or
spirit. How are these writers today to apprehend
the “tragic” loss of the literary tradition in the
from such opaque depths? It is no wonder from them
we are treated to a steady rising from below of
gratuitous violence and lust.
Hemingway emerged from
the “innocence,” that land of la la of myths and
of legends to the fields where the wholesale slaughter
and the suffering of millions could be viewed and
understood without the obstruction of language dipped
in the red, white, and blue and not reported with
For those without
knowledge of history it is the world and
no alternative is imaginable because the imagination
has been deadened.
On the contrary, for Hemingway, to
write bravely and honestly began first in self-reflection.
Writing of his first “innocent” years as a writer
in transition from serving as a war correspondent
to a novelist, Hemingway refers to a parable of
the “Pilot Fish and the Rich, the title of his essay
(A Moveable Feast). He remembers being eager,
too eager, to appease promoters, agents and publishers,
and the Master tellers of the Dream. In that “innocent
year,” he was greedy for fame and momentarily forgot
what he had done in his short stories that even
attracted the attention of the Pilot Fish. They
saw “talent” and a malleable and therefore marketable
young writer. Hemingway had been above wars, across
fields, at hospitals were the dead and the survivors
and the absurdity of the Dream commingled:
The doctor came up to the machine
where I was sitting and said: ‘What did you like
best to do before the war? Did you practice a sport?’
They [the wounded veterans] met in
the hospital’s “new brick pavilions,” every afternoon.
They “were all polite and interested in was the
matter, and sat in machines that were to make so
much difference” (“In Another Country,” Men without
I said: ‘Yes, football.’
‘Good,’ he said. ‘You’ll be able
to play football again better than ever.’
My knee did not bend and the leg
dropped straight from the knee to the ankle without
a calf, and the machine was to bend the knee and
make it move as in riding a tricycle. But it did
not bend yet, and instead the machine lurched when
it came to the bending part. The doctor said: ‘That
will all pass. You are a fortunate man. You will
play football again like a champion.’
We only knew then that there was
always the war, but that we were not going to it
We all had the same medals, except
the boy with the black silk bandage across his face,
and he had not been at the front long enough to
get medals…He had lived a very long time with death
and was a little detached. We were all a little
detached, and there was nothing that held us together
except that we met every afternoon at the hospital.
Now, in the first year in Vorarlburg,
the Pilot Fish had come for him! The Rich has sent
the Pilot Fish Hemingway to check out the young
writer. Here was the Pilot Fish, he recalled, someone
“always going somewhere, or coming from somewhere,
and he is never around for very long…Nothing ever
catches him and it is only those who trust him who
are caught and killed.”
What good is true progress
to the advancement of capitalism?
The good, the attractive, the charming,
the soon-beloved, the generous, the understanding
rich who have no bad qualities and who give each
day the quality of a festival and who, when they
have passed and taken the nourishment they needed,
leave everything deader than the roots of a grass
Attila’s horses’ hooves have ever scoured.
But what did his “innocence” allow
him to know then? To the pilot fish and the rich
who followed, he read “aloud parts of the novel”
he had rewritten, (“which is as low as a writer
can get”). The pilot fish said: “‘It’s great, Ernest.
Truly it’s great,’” and he, Hemingway, “wagged”
his tail “in pleasure.” He recalls, in the pilot
fish, he saw a life in which “every day” would be
He did not hear those hooves of Attila’s
horses as did Toni Morrison’s Sethe, in Beloved
- the Four Horsemen, true to their creed, bringing
chaos and insanity and leaving death and spiritlessness.
But in this “winter of horror,” he
awoke to “a nightmare and a murder year disguised
as the greatest fun of all.” Why had he not asked
himself the question he should have asked:
“‘If these bastards like it what
is wrong with it?’”
Ann Petry, James Baldwin, Joseph
Heller, Leslie Silko, June Jordan and others asked.
writers of literature do not ask this or any questions
except maybe how much and how fast. The reading
public is to be “entertained” with boy meets girl,
girl meets boy - oh, but it is not love! In the
language from the depths of the defeated and decaying,
the “couple” flogs and humiliates each other because
flogging, humiliation, cruelty, torture are entertaining.
The reading public in the U.S.
has been set on this road to corporatization, that
is, death, to use Morrison’s words, by the “forces
interested in fascist solutions to national problems”
(“Racism and Fascism”).
Fascism, she writes, may talk “ideology”
but it is “just marketing - marketing power.” Fascism
in the U.S.
is recognizable by its need to purge, its strategies
to purge and by its terror of truly democratic agendas
(“Racism and Fascism”).
It changes neighbors into consumers
- so the measure of our value as humans is not our
humanity or our compassion or our generosity but
what we own…And in effecting these changes it produces
the perfect capitalist, one who is willing to kill
a human being for a product - a pair of sneakers,
a jacket, a car - or kill generations for control
of products - oil, drugs, fruit, gold.”
The Black bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia
sold our ancestors to the market (to women’s studies,
which is, white women’s studies and to the
corporate-sponsored “diversity” agenda and both
gutted the Black history of struggle). The resulting
legacy for a new generation of the bourgeoisie and
intelligentsia, budding “writers” and “thinkers,”
is the celebration of a “progressive agenda” and
the “values” of the Rich - the corporate rulers.
What were the options for
a writer of U.S. literature when confronted with the “tragedy”
of American history?
For the generation of writers today,
it is all about the “New” because there is an “Old”
of past days, past eras, unmarketable unless subservient
to capitalism. In this milieu, “work” is the dissemination
of the message (knowledge of the everlasting goodness
of corporate benevolence). You cannot imagine the
“progress” Blacks have made unless you remember
that the knowledge acquired by Harriet Tubman, Frederick
Douglass, Ella Baker, Malcolm, King, Huey Newton,
George Jackson, the Attica
prisoners threatened, not empowered, the U.S. Empire.
Today, as Morrison observed “racism
may wear a new dress, buy a new pair of boots, but
neither it nor its succubus twin fascism is new
or can make anything new.” But for those without
knowledge of history it is the world and
no alternative is imaginable because the imagination
has been deadened. Creativity is copying, and faster!
Post racism is the marketing of “Black
Romance!” White supremacy is the hooded ones
or the lone stockpilers of guns and heavy duty ammunition
(unless the ones in the hoodie or turban, that is,
So let us have the New, the Black
Romance novel! You can bet it is not about love!
Two million mug shots of mostly Black and Brown
and Red imprisoned and enslaved behind bars - and
the market produces the Black Romance! Politicians
betray Black Americans and those now campaigning
betray too because it has become necessary, indeed,
a prerequisite for any corporate endorsement and
money - and the Black Romance is the hottest commodity
on the market!
over here and see all is well in the U.S.A.!
That some Black Americans as well
as white Americans cannot point to Iraq or Afghanistan
on a map but newly enlisted American Black teens
and young adults pack their bags with iPods and
laptops with the appropriate corporate logo and
internal parts wrestled from the blood of Congolese
youth as they imagine themselves sitting atop a
tank or sweeping clean villages and neighborhoods
of homes with rifles and grenades - does not seem
to be a subject of interest to “Black” writers here
in the U.S.
Power, writes Michel Foucault, “must
be analyzed as something which articulates or rather
as something which only functions in the form of
a chain” (“Lecture One,” Power and Knowledge,
January 7, 1976). “Power is employed and exercised
through a net-like organization.”
The individual, that is, is not the
vis-à-vis of power; it is, I believe, one of its
prime effects. The effect of power, and at the same
time, or precisely to the extent to which it is
that effect, it is the element of its articulation.
The individual which power has constituted is at
the same time its vehicle.
As constituted vehicles for the Empire,
for the maintenance and survival of capitalism,
these writers, if we can call them writers, will
not ask what is wrong if these bastards
want Black Romance, for they are linked, arm
in arm and bank to bank, to global domination. How
can we expect such writers, “vehicles,” of power
to respond honestly to the winters of horror when,
in fact, their “work,” in language, effects violence
not just to the living memory of the ongoing violence
but also to the historical memory of struggle, of
As I see it, there is a selling on
the market of memories associated with defending
one’s right to reject the happily enslaved caricature
for the right to be human, and these memories, once
sold, are repackaged by state institutions, social,
educational, cultural, for dissemination that is
beneficial for the continuation and expansion of
the state (U.S. Empire’s) as a capitalist state.
The rationale for the Empire’s admittance of “Black
Romance” is bound with the Empire’s relation to
its economic system and its aim to continue to expand,
that is, survive. Most importantly, this selling
and repackaging of memories incorporates the mechanism
for policing, which, too, is the “work” of the Black
writer of this state instrument called “Black Romance,”
for the “work” enhances the Empire’s control not
just over a certain population and its readership
but also over the memories, the thoughts, the ideas,
the images, and the narratives of that population
and its readership.
The Empire’s friendly smile toward
“Black” romance writers is not a change of heart.
It has nothing to do with love or the inclusion
of “free” human beings but everything to do with
Just as it is convenient and beneficial
to the corporate rulers of the U.S. Empire to spend
millions producing Barrack Obama for consuming consumers
of innocence, these “Black” writers serve as the
NEW Storm Troopers, who now join a whole
cadre of “Black” collectibles (everybody’s gotta’
have their sambos and jezebels ready for their “new”
assignments!) in transforming the narrative history,
the history of traditions of resistance, in “innocence.”
Mindless bliss such as no enslaved Black ancestor
commodity is quite so strange/As this thing called
cultural exchange.” 
La De Da!
Romance, lady! ROMANCE! Consumers
will believe it is progress! Away with the “Old”
and cumbersome memories!
As Faulkner wrote of the American
tragedy, it is not love and the past is not past.
What is fascist about the state of
literary production in the U.S.?
Look for the large gatherings of
lights, cameras, “journalists” and “critics,” television
and radio hosts and, of course, the newest celebrities,
the writers, shouting and applauding. Against a
peoples’ revolution, these writers today are the
friendly face of Empire! As Hemingway discovered,
if you take away an individual’s mind, you take
his or her memory of being alive with ideas and
thoughts, and with mechanisms for self-defense when
in danger - and with that is the Final Solution:
the death of a people - without the overt accouterments
of camp ovens and gas chambers.
waltzes with our literary past! U.S. Literature is but a spectacle, complete with
festive attire, slogans and symbols…
“It takes steps,” Morrison said,
to reach the “Final Solution.” “It takes one step,
then another, then another.” One of them is this:
Reward mindlessness and apathy with
monumentalized entertainments and with little pleasures.
Tiny seductions: a few minutes on television, a
few lines in the press; a little pseudo-success;
the illusion of power and influence, a little fun,
a little style, a little consequence.
One day, if humanity is lucky, if
it is brave, if it out lives the innocence of the
ignorant, the new writers of U.S.
literature may wake up to discover that like Quentin
Compson, they are dead. That they have never been
alive! Their obituaries will state a foregone conclusion
but a truthful one - at last.
Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean
Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American
Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here
to contact Dr. Daniels.