Monday, July 10, 2006

Must Richard Wright Crusade

Dear Richard Wright,

I have written Eudora Welty about her position expressed in the essay, Must the Novelist Crusade. I contradicted her, for though she doesn’t wear a banner across her gingham, I believe her to be a crusader for truth as she sees it. I guess I see all artists as crusaders for meaning, and though Eudora doesn’t like the word crusade, for it smacks of something blatant and lacking in the artistry of the subtle, I think she crusades too.

On the other hand, you, Richard, talk about the underpinnings of truth in Blueprint for Negro Writing, “Here are those vital beginnings of a recognition of value in life as it is lived, a recognition that marks the emergence of a new culture in the shell of the old. And at the moment this process starts, at the moment when a people begin to realize a meaning in their suffering, the civilization that engenders that suffering is doomed.” The operative word here is “meaning.” Truth, whatever it is actually, is approached through the shadow of meaning. Writing artists live in that shadow whether they admit it or not. They do not own truth any more than painters own beauty, but they live in its shadow.

In the section of your essay called The Problem of Perspective, you say, “they feel with some measure of justification that another commitment means only another disillusionment. But anyone destitute of a theory about the meaning, structure and direction of modern society is a lost victim in a world he cannot understand or control.” In embracing the strength that is found in each of our unique and powerful perspectives, we can engage existentially in the “crusade” for the cultural emergence of something new, something that seeks to achieve a life that is more just, more true, more beautiful.

If Welty doesn’t like the word “crusade,” you don’t like the word “preach.” You don’t want to be a “salesman” or a “prostitute.” These concerns are quite similar. It seems that you don’t deny the danger and the fearful nature of what the writer is doing. You embrace it. “This is the moment,” you say, “. . . When Negro writers think they have arrived at something which smacks of truth. . .”

I have finished reading Native Son. It is one of those books of which I wouldn’t say, “I like that,” but I would say, “I’m glad I read that.” It is a book that reveals a perspective, and one that I need. I am neither black nor poor. I have been poor, but I have never been black. I have been poor, but I have never lived in poverty. There is such a difference. Being poor certainly gives one an appreciation for poverty that is less available to the wealthy, but poverty is so much broader than just being poor, that saying you understand poverty because you’ve been poor would be like saying you understand the problems of Africa because you went on a safari in Kenya.

I feel like I am more ready for your work than I ever have been. I know that if I am to understand the world and culture of the United States, I must try to come to an understanding of the cultures that make it up, especially the black culture. I guess I am ready to some degree because I’ve made an effort to at least desensitize myself to the elements present in your novels that my na├»ve self, which is still very present in me, revolts against.

Yet, as much as I agree with you and the need for the crusade, I was put off, as I read the last third of Native Son, for it seemed that it became a sermon. The lawyer for the Bigger’s defense, Boris Max, climbed upon the soapbox and preached. He preached about important things, but it was preaching and that, I would think, is a prostitution of the craft. In my reaction to the book, I come to understand Welty’s concern that we not become mere clerics presenting the doctrines of whatever isms we ascribe to.

Perhaps you can tell me where you think the artist must draw his/her lines? Perhaps I draw mine somewhere between yours and Eudora’s.

Hoping to learn more.



Prof Fury said...

Yeah, that long final section of lawyer Max opining is a real snooze. But consider: if Max's view is alleged to be congruent with Wright's view--then why have Bigger reject Max's view of things at the end? Is Bigger's rejection of Max's mechanistic model of humanity Wright's own rejection of Max's philosophy, or at least the most extreme version of that philosophy?

brd said...

Hm.m.m. Good point. But does Wright identify with Bigger, or does Wright see Bigger as the logical product of a society that rejects Max's view.