Monday, November 16, 2009

Fear of Misrepresentation

After reading all three of these essays the connecting theme that I found within them is the fear of misrepresentation and the inability of the artist to present truth. In Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s essay, "The Black Person in Art: How Should S/He Be Portrayed?" I was most stricken by Eugenia Collier’s response to W.E.B DuBois’ seven questions. She writes, “I believe the longer we give one damn about how the whites see us and portray us, the longer we will remain mentally enslaved.” (pg.3) Not only does she believe that a white artist cannot possibly portray a truly black character in literature but it seems to me that she fears that the white artist’s portrayal will stunt black readers visions of themselves. Collier has a strong opinion about what constitutes as the truth, and I was surprised to see that she had such an issue with Walker’s The Color Purple.
An argument that I agreed with was that she had a problem with the portrayals of the relationships between men and women. She believed that these portrayals of twisted, abusive, and highly sexual relationships do not attempt to heal the problem but exacerbate it. This idea reminds me of the conversation we had about the use of the word “gay” as an insult in class. Although the word takes on a new meaning and sometimes has nothing to do with homosexuality, its constant use does nothing but further the problem that the word is still used in such a context.
Collier tends to be negative in her idea of progress for the truth being portrayed in literature. She puts forth the idea that writers should make use of a “built-in shit detector”, which would be nice but let’s face it every person’s perception of the truth is different. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe was a white woman living in the northeast who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is hard to accept everything she says as pure fact but at the same time she does base much of her novel off of fact. Therefore, it is quite impossible for one author’s idea of the truth to be better or worse than another’s.

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