Saturday, July 29, 2006

Must Toni Morrison Crusade

Dear Toni Morrison,

Somewhere near the end of three hours of interview with Toni Morrison on C-Span's In Depth, I identified your answer to the question I have been asking authors. Must the author crusade?

Ok. That is not exactly how Sam Saleem asked his question, but it was close and followed some other interesting discussion on morality and the necessity of negotiating rather than dictating a moral position.

Sam asked, "How have you been able to balance the role of spokesperson on racial issues on the one hand and an artist on the other."

You said, "Those two go together for me. I don't find them different at all. I think that art should be political, representative, and absolutely and irrevocably beautiful at the same time."

There it is, I said in my mind. Meanwhile, I tucked away my own personal 15 minutes of fame in my file box. My 15 took place today as I basked in the limelight of being on the cover of the Knoxville Voice, along with my Women in Black cohorts under a headline that, well, didn't make any sense at all. This time, though, I wasn't the editor so it wasn't my fault, I was, instead, one of the cover girls (and guys).

We may not be absolutely and irrevocably beautiful, but we are political, representative and speaking for a just peace.

Thanks for your thoughts. I will write to you later about your comments on morality. The discussion was fascinating.



Conversely said...

I'm a little confused. Does your question mean "Are authors required to crusade/be socially active, etc." or "Why must you be so pretentious TM?"

I'm inclined to think you meant the latter, mostly because that's what I would mean, but I happen to think the first might also be true.

brd said...

I definitely meant the former. I'm a total fan of TM. I just found three of her books at McKays this week.

This post is one of my series of posts and ongoing thinking about whether an author/artist can remove themselves form the sphere of social responsibility. It all started with Eudora Welty.

It probably reflects my personal inability to compartmentalize and keep beauty, truth, and justice from tromping all over each other.

At any rate, Morrison's thoughts on the subject are close to my own. (Note: I do understand that this does not mean that either of us are correct, just compatible.)

Conversely said...

I'm a fan of her work, too, for the most part. I just really really dislike seeing her being interviewed. I think I agree with both of you too, actually, but I'm still not sure where you stand. So, where might you stand? I think you mean you want beauty/truth (& Keats?) to be socially responsible, but does do you think the artist has a responsibility to be so in all of his/her work?

brd said...

Excuse me in advance if I say something that in two days I want to recant or at least tweak.

I guess in my mind I am linking responsibility with artistry. That includes both individual responsibility (being true to the inner light and muse) and social responsibility (recognizing the moral social implications of the art in it's intercourse with the public). What I'm trying to say is that the artist is responsible for their perspective. They can't be held responsible for every interpretive view, but they are morally responsible for their perspective.

I know that the term morality is a bit out of favor, but I think it needs to be discussed more in the light of postmodern thought. Here I stand, believing that some things are good and some things are bad. (Am I just clinging to existential ideas of the responsibility of choice?) And the artist is engaging with those things when they engage in the creation of a work of art. Some of that engagement is very subtle but it is always there.

Morrison says, “Being good is more complicated an idea than being or doing evil. Evil gets more play, but evil is a sham, screaming like a petulant child.” I like the fact that she is willing to talk about good and evil.

Conversely said...

First of all, how were you thinking so clearly at 5:48 in the morning? Geez.

And I'm hard pressed to argue anything other than the idea that some things are good and some things are bad; I think morality has been hijacked by people who are often on the wrong side of the debate. For example, war is unequivocally wrong.

As for art, I agree--like I said before, my dislike of Morrison isn't her art, it's her personality. Maybe I should give it another shot. Every time I see her showing up on BookTV I compulsively change the channel to the Hallmark channel...

So, I think we're in agreement--Toni Morrison must crusade, so must every other artist, whether he/she like it or not, eh?

brd said...

I agree about the hijacking of terms. It seems that folks supposedly wanting to claim the moral high ground don't, in fact, want to enter into any debate on morality at all. That is, moral high ground=whatever it is that "I" believe.

I have entered the survey business in order to train myself against such tendencies in my own soul. It's my own personal way of hiring a Kato.

The thing about the morality discussion though is that there are others who refuse to talk about good and bad, like they are words with no meaning at all. I am willing to agree that they are difficult words, but they have stood the test of time. The pretense that they have no meaning at all doesn't seem helpful either. Perhaps another form of hijacking.