Why I am rescheduling the Beloved Salon Intensive—and why you should sign up for this…
A journalist friend told me never to read the comments section (better known as CiF) of articles about issues you care about—especially issues that touch on provocative subjects like race and gender—but I can not help myself. Particularly when it comes to books—why we read what we read, why it has value…so when I saw a list of ‘Ten books that shaped the World’, I leapt in.
The list, found here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/07/10-books-that-shaped-the-world, includes expected works—The Bible, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Freud…and then the unexpected: Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Beloved by Toni Morrison. I was so glad to see Beloved there—but then I began reading the comments:
“Yes, I think that saying Beloved changed the world is REALLY overstating things. And it’s not a book I ever care to read, either”
“To put relatively obscure books like A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Beloved by Toni Morrison, which few people have read, among a list of classics only serves to reduce the usefulness of the list.”
“ It only ‘speaks’ to you if you’re a black female”
Okay. So I shouldn’t have read the comments. FFS, Morrison won the Nobel Prize. Does Shakespeare only speak to 16th century white men? Morrison’s project is to make accessible the experience of slavery and its impact on identity and individual psychology—but in a way that is neither exclusive nor limiting. Her incredibly lyric writing and beautifully wrought images reveal levels of intimacy and complex relationships between people that is incredibly illuminating—not just for women, not just for black people, not just for former slaves. And yes, this book is changing the world because of the universality of the relationships portrayed AND because the story makes the horrific—and recent—experience of slavery accessible to a modern audience. Why is this important? At such a primitive level, so many of our struggles start with inequality between people—the deep gaps between individuals wrought by a sense of difference—and race is the most tangible and direct creator of that gap.
This book is so powerfully written that it does not distance me (like, for ex., Uncle Tom’s Cabin)but brings me into the black slave experience. As a person who is white, I can not know what it means to struggle with daily racial oppression—but it is crucial that I enter imaginatively into this experience—as much as possible. And why? If I remain in my own narrow perspective, if I do not reach out into any other’s realm, I am reduced—and my humanity is single-sided. I am struggling to put words to the importance of understanding the experience of another: but every time I read of racially inspired violence or inequality—on a personal or societal level, I know that our individual work to reach across difference towards understanding is crucial.
A great work of literature can open the mind in amazing and challenging ways—and this is what Morrison does in Beloved. Reading this book in a group creates an openness to discuss the dehumanization of oppression and the work to claim self-hood in the face of that struggle. The writing is luminous, the subject is hard and the realm of the book extends into the fantastical—and reading this book opens up your humanity.
I hope you can join this study.