Monday, November 16, 2009

Truth is in the eye of the beholder

The critical readings for this week left me with more questions than points. I interpreted Harris’s essay as an accusation towards Walker and those readers who praise her work The Color Purple and duCille’s essay as a defense for black women writers and the stories they choose to tell. In addition, Harris’s essay seemed to be a kind of self-defense of the thirty-three page paper she alludes to a few times throughout her essay. Her concerns are valid, but I believe her conclusions are oversimplified and over generalized. She makes a big claim- that “[t]he novel gives validity to all the white racist’s notions of pathology in black communities” (157). Really? It seems to me that a work of fiction can only validate racial stereotypes if the reader is looking to validate racial stereotypes. Just as Harris finds problematic Celie’s “reaction to the situation” (157), I find problematic the notion that the behavior or life of one defines the behavior or life of any group of people in general. I also find the idea that every abused woman, black or white, enslaved or free, should react a certain way to her abuse, and that she is to blame for not reacting a certain way problematic. Characters are, after all, supposed to be as human-like as possible, and every woman deals with it in her own way- even if that means staying in an abusive relationship without the “traditional reason for enduring abuse” (158).

I liked duCille’s essay more because it took into account the human characteristic literature and readings will always have. On what I have labeled as page 5, she claims that “Hogue actually wants black women novelists to write Ernest Gaines’s stories rather than their own,” and I would assert that Harris has a similar point of view. duCille points out that sometimes in literary criticism, “the beholder exceeds his authority as a reader” (my page 12), and I agree with this assertion as well. I don’t think that Harris’s essay necessarily exceeds its authority, but I do think that her criticism is just as destructive as she perceives the novel itself to be, in its assumption that no reader will take it for what it is- a story about one woman, one family, one particular story that doesn’t necessarily represent anyone more specific than humans in general and how they can possibly be. Perhaps most interesting to me in duCille’s essay was her idea of “truth.” She says that since “art is invention, ‘truth’ is generally held to be a false standard by which to evaluate a writer’s work” (my 2), that “[t]ruth however, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder” (my 3). I was initially surprised by this, but I came to agree with her by the end of the article. Her example of Gayl Jones and the fact that she felt like the had to change her writing because of the heavy criticism she received exposes a sad truth about literary criticism in the wrong hands, and the importance of understanding that everyone is biased- that, as Nietzsche might say, there is no such things as complete objectivity. The best we can do is gather as many perspectives as possible.

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