CONFESSIONS OF A ‘SOULLESS TROGLODYTE’: How My Brooklyn Literary Friendships Fell Apart in the Age of Trump.
Over time, I seized on Jamie’s stories to help explain the chasm between the giant Jamie I idolized in Brooklyn and the shrunken Jamie who stood before me. There was a political undercurrent: The idea of Jamie as a victim of not just the circumstances of his own household, but also systemic racism more generally, seemed very much in keeping with America’s history of persecuting black boys and men.
“Forget them,” I said, referring to the members of Jamie’s unsupportive workshop. “Let’s start our own.” My futile MFA attempt behind me, I imagined the two of us engaging with the books we loved back in our childhood, in an environment free of social friction. Rather than nibble at the edges of style or craft, we could interrogate the moral choices made by enduring characters in history’s great novels: Why was it wrong to kill old women in Crime and Punishment? Who was this Gatz before he became Gatsby, and what was it that really motivated him? Together, we could trace the contours of the divine in Isaac Bashevis Singer and Flannery O’Connor, or the specter of war in John Cheever and Walker Percy; we could expose madness in Chekhov’s placid stories and Santiago’s courage in The Old Man and the Sea. A hopelessly old-fashioned reader, I wanted us to revisit Hamlet, the saddest moral clown of them all, as well as Chaucer’s lustful pranksters, no less juvenile than Jamie and I once had been on Brooklyn’s streets.
“Let’s start with Lolita,” I said.
But Jamie said that Lolita bored him after the first few sentences, so he stopped reading: “Maybe it was a bad translation.”
It brought me no joy to have to tell him that while Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian émigré who wrote his first nine novels in his native tongue, the later Nabokov of Lolita fame was one of the great prose stylists of the English language. What followed was a contentious exchange in which it became clear that Jamie has never read or finished many of the great books that I held dear. When I asked, in all sincerity, how he could teach writing to college students, he shot back by rejecting my beloved texts as artifacts of white, male European hegemony.
It wasn’t long before tirades against the Western canon—against my use of terms such as “Shakespearean” or “Dickensian” in reference to Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston—spilled over onto Facebook pages, where they turned personal, especially after I critiqued Ta-Nehisi Coates’ politics of nihilism and doom.
“I take offence to that as a man of colour,” Jamie wrote in response.
Identity politics are destroying the left’s ability to reason. Long but well worth a read.
(Via Maggie’s Farm.)