We Are Everywhere

VQR-RevTmplate3

Above is a template for brief reviews used by the Virginia Quarterly Review in the old days, this one dated 6/19/79, when I, in response to a review copy of a book the VQR sent me, turned in this small note on Michael Raeburn’s We Are Everywhere: Narratives from Rhodesian Guerillas.  James Baldwin wrote the Introduction, and the few words I quote from it—I say he’s in “classic Balwin form”—ring perhaps louder today than when I latched on to the words in 1979.  The template says if you’re using elite type, type your review between vertical lines A and B; if using pica, type between lines A and C.  Here’s the short note/review I wrote between A and C:

“The five, finely-counterpointed narratives in this book rise above mere propaganda to give as human and complex a view of the Rhodesian guerilla struggle as one is likely to get. Raeburn, a distinguished young film-maker, bases his stories on actual events and succeeds in giving us a first-hand feel for various aspects of the war.  Two stories concern campaigns, another the ‘re-tribalization’ of a young man.  Another begins with an evocation of the Bloomsbury group, which provides a subtle comparison and contrast to a night of conversation about the relationship between action and ideology.  The book’s introduction is by James Baldwin, who is in classic Baldwin form.  ‘Freedom for the black man,’ he says, ‘…will bring to the white man a joy and freedom he does not, now, dare to imagine.’”

WeAreEvery2Rhodesia—Zimbabwe today—has continued being, as the jacket blurb says, “one of the political tinder boxes of Africa,” and it’s just gone through what we hope will usher in a joy and freedom it has long not dared to imagine.  As the Financial Times reported on November 24, 2017, “Emmerson Mnangagwa committed to holding democratic elections next year as he was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe on Friday at a ceremony that was the culmination of an extraordinary 10 days that ended Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule.” Mnangagwa is an old Mugabe ally, so we’ll see.

What I quoted from Baldwin rings especially true at this moment in American history.  Everyone sees it as a turning point, a water-shed moment—at least they hope that’s what it is—led by the extraordinary backlash against sexual harassment and assault symbolized by #MeToo and #TimesUp.  It’s a riskier, much less clear proposition to suggest that the white backlash that has spawned Donald Trump’s election and the resurgence of white power may be the beginning of the end of White Supremacy, too.  What men who want to preserve old-boy privilege, and whites who want to maintain their privilege and supremacy do not realize is, to paraphrase Baldwin, that freedom for women and people of color will bring to men and white people a joy and freedom they do not, now, dare to imagine.  It takes so much energy and so much denial (always a dangerous thing) to maintain such privilege, to remain on top by pushing others down, to imagine such a lofty view of yourself—a view which always detaches you not only from the humanity of others, but your own humanity as well.   ”We are everywhere.”  I can imagine that as one of the new slogans of this era when we finally realize—as we really have not for centuries of time—that women and people of color really are everywhere, and have always been.

  Go to All Things Baldwin for more on this site about James Baldwin, and go to the Teaching Diversity main page, and the Reviews and Commentary main page.

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The Dream of the American Male

eb-white-essaysThese days E.B. White may be most widely known as the author of two classics for young readers—Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little—but he is also one of America’s greatest essay writers.  The long essay “Here Is New York,” often published as a separate, small book, is the greatest paean to a city ever written, but what interests me most here is one of his shorter essay.  He was one of the cadre of writers responsible for founding The New Yorker and wrote many of the short essays, some unsigned, sprinkled throughout the magazine’s pages, especially at the beginning of each issue. Everyone calls this particular moment in American history a watershed moment, a moment when sexual harassment and assault have finally been seen as the crimes they are.  The #MeToo campaign has presented us with extraordinary numbers, and even those who have worked to expose these crimes their whole careers are stunned at how really big those numbers are.  With this in mind I want to turn to “The Dream of the American Male,” an E.B. White essay published in The New Yorker in 1944.  Only around 400 words long, it’s one of his greatest. Lamour1He begins with the news that a Life magazine poll has determined that the woman most desired by our soldiers is Dorothy Lamour, the actress who played the exotic love interest in many films, including the seven “Road to…” films she starred in with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope from 1940 to 1962.  After reasoning that young soldiers can be said to represent what every American male wants, White begins to describe the characteristics that Lamour represents—or, more importantly, how the American male wants that relationship to play out.  The essay ends like this: “Now, in the final complexity of an age which has reached its highest expression in the instrument panel of a long-range bomber, it is good to remember that Man’s most persistent dream is of a forest pool and a girl coming out of it unashamed, walking towards him with a wavy motion, childlike in her wonder, a girl exquisitely untroubled, as quite and accommodating and beautiful as a young green tree.  That’s all he really wants.  He sometimes wonders how this other stuff got in—the instrument panel, the night sky, the full load, the moment of exultation over the blackened city below….” Lamour2Well, how did this other stuff get in?  White’s casual tone hides his irony and sarcasm so well, but it’s hard to miss the sexual innuendo of this ending: night, full load, exultation.  Then, going back to the middle of this short essay, we wonder how we missed the almost sledge-hammer  message: the relationship the American Male wants is one of total possession, total domination.  He doesn’t want the Dorothy Lamour woman to “destroy a perfect situation by forming a complete sentence.”  If she uses her husky voice at all, it is only “in song or in an attempt to pick up a word or two he teaches her.”  “Her body, if concealed at all, is concealed by a water little, a frond, a fern, a bit of moss, or by a sarong—which is a simple garment carrying the implicit promise that it will not long stay in place.” That’s how this other stuff got in.  The root of aggression, even this World War, is in our desire and practice of controlling, possessing, dominating women.

  This article is part of the series The Arts of the Essay.
  Go to a list of Reviews and Commentary on this site.

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Heavy Eating

Pancakes

 

 

 

 

Listen. Go get ten tablespoons of sugar,
eight teaspoons of baking powder, four of salt.
Get two cups of yogurt, two of milk, two of flour,
one of cornstarch.  Last, a dozen eggs, the yolks.
This isn’t just a poem, it’s a recipe. Save the whites.
Sugar, yolks, yogurt, milk—all mixed. The rest
sifted together before everything tumbles into a
grainy slurry of batter. I remember Howard McCommas
not believing it. “Yogurt? Cornstarch?!” he said,
just like that, and who could blame him? (The
Hindenburg brought down miles from the tower
by the sheer gravity of pancakes!)  But whip
the whites into meringue and folding that gently in
make of the slurry a froth to pour on a medium
griddle by the ladle. They fluff so light and,
though I warned him, Howard, pronouncing them the
tastiest cakes ever, wolfed seven and had to lie down
’til noon when they hit and lay in his stomach
like swallowed free weights. That’s how this depression
Struck, except without the salt, sugar, baking powder,
Yogurt—none of that. Only a kind of eating, an
Airship crashing, something going down in flames,
The Blaze disguised by meringue—You know, there’s
No Way not to eat, but the recipe serves a dozen.

 

—Richard R. Guzman

Go to more Poems and Poetry Commentary on this site.

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