The Origin of Others

マスクをしない僕を見る目は
非難に満ち溢れている
非国民といって
ののしっている

みんなでマスクをつけて
もう一度
敗戦国になってしまえ

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5 Responses to The Origin of Others

  1. shinichi says:

    (sk)

    第5作

    竹中治堅
    http://www.kushima.org/is/?p=61907
    にインスパイアされて。

  2. shinichi says:

    猫と杓子について

    by 織田作之助

    https://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000040/files/46358_26691.html

    「エロチシズムと文学」というテエマが僕に与えられた課題であります。しかし、僕は「エロチシズムと文学」などというけちくさい取るに足らぬ問題について、口角泡を飛ばして喋るほど閑人でもなければ、物好きでもありません。ほかにもっと考えなければならぬ文学の本質的問題が沢山ありますし、だいいち、日本にはエロチシズムの文学などありません。エロ文学なんて、いやらしい言葉ですが、そういうものは誰も書いておりません。エロチシズムとかエロ文学なんて言葉は、ただ文学を公式的にしか考えられない一部の批評家の文章の中に出ているだけであります。そういう言葉を流行させたのは実は彼等の評論なのです。彼等はいわゆるエロチシズムの文学を攻撃する文章を極めて真面目な表情で書いておりますが、しかし、彼等の文章を読んでおりますと、彼等の使っているエロ文学だとか性の欲求だとか性生活だとかいう言葉がどぎつい感じで迫って来て、妙な逆効果を現わします。逆説的にいえば、彼等の評論こそエロチシズム評論ではないか――などという揚足取りを、まさか僕はしたくありませんが、大体に於て、公式的にものを考え、公式的な文章を書く人の言葉づかいは、科学的か医学的か政治的か何だか知りませんが、随分生硬でどぎついような気がしますね。そうでしょう……?
     言葉といえば、「猫も杓子も」云々という言葉があります。いつ頃出来た言葉か知りませんが、日本人がこしらえた言葉の中では、なかなか独創性に富んだいい言葉であります。表現――つまり言い現わし方そのものが独創性に富んでいるばかりでなく、「猫も杓子」云々という言葉の内容自身が、人間というものは独創的でなくっちゃいかん、不和雷同するな、人の言ったことや、したことの真似をすると嗤われるぞ――という、いわば独創の宣伝みたいな意味を含んでおります。ところがですね、「猫も杓子」も云々というような、こんな独創的な言葉を発明した日本ほど、実は猫になりたがり、杓子になりたがる人間の多い国はないのですから、全く皮肉極まる話で、いや、実にお話になりません。
     みなさんは、日本を敗戦国にしたのは、軍閥と官僚だとお思いになっていらっしゃるかも知れませんが、実は猫と杓子が日本をこんなことにしてしまったのです。猫と杓子が寄ってたかって、戦争だ、玉砕だ、そうだそうだ、賛成だ賛成だ、非国民だなどと、わいわい言っているうちに、日本は負け、そして亡びかけたのです。
     猫であり、杓子であるということは、つまり自分の頭でものを考えないということであります。これは日本人の持っている悪癖――つまり悪い癖でありまして、すぐ他人の頭でものを考えたがる。俗に「鰯の頭も信心から」といいますが、あんまり他人の頭ばかり借りてものを考えたり、喋ったり、書いたりしておりますと、しまいには鰯の頭まで借りるようになってしまいます。いや、僕は冗談に言っているのではない。真面目に言っているのです。
     他人の頭でものを考えるというのは、つまり他人の着物を借りてまるで自分の着物のような顔をするということで、いいかえれば思想の借着であります。人類はじまって以来、多くの天才は僕らが借りるべき多くの着物を残してくれました。僕らは借着にことを欠きません。それに、借着をすれば、手間がはぶけて損料を払うだけでモーニングだとか紋附だとか[#「紋附だとか」は底本では「絞附だとか」]一応もっともらしく立派に見えます。苦心惨澹して、手織りのみすぼらしい[#「みすぼらしい」は底本では「みすぼらいし」]貧弱な着物を着ているよりは、どうも昔の着物の方が立派にはちがいありません。だいいち天才が残してくれたものですからね。しかしいくら敗戦して焼け出されたとしても、せめて思想の借着だけはしたくないものです。自分で考えたことを、自分の言葉で語りたいものです。すくなくとも文学者というものは猫でも杓子でもないのですから、世間の常識とか定説、オイソドックス、最大公約数的な意見、公式、規格品、標準、権威――そういったものを、よしんばそれが世の風潮に乗っている思想であっても、自分の頭で自分が納得できるまで疑うべきであります。そういうものじゃないでしょうか。
     例えば、今日、古い日本は亡びて、天皇をはじめあらゆる過去の権威に対する挑戦――といいますか、つまり疑問の提出が活発に行われましたが、しかし、文学の上では権威への挑戦が殆んど忘れられています。明治以後いまだ百年もたっていないのに、多くの大家が文豪と称せられ、古典の仲間入りをして、文学の祭壇にまつりあげられ、この人たちの片言隻句はまるで文学の神様のような権威を与えられて、大正昭和の文学を指導して来ました。が、果してこれらの大家たちの作品が最高のものでしょうか。例えば藤村先生の文学、徳田秋声先生の文学、志賀直哉さんの文学などは、日本的な小説伝統の限りでは、立派なものであり、最高のものでありましょうが、しかし、われわれ近代小説への道に苦労している若い作家にとって、これらの文学伝統は、いったいいかなるプラス的影響を与えてくれるでしょうか。僕はことさらに奇嬌な言を弄して、先輩大家の文学を否定しようとするつもりはありません。ただ僕のいいたいのは、これらの文学、つまり、末期の眼を最高の眼とする、いわゆる年輪的な心境の完成を目指した文学を、最高の文学的権威とする文壇の定説が、変な言い方ですが、いわば文壇進歩党の旗印みたいになって、古い日本のものの考え方や伝統や権威を疑ってみて、新しい近代を打ち樹てようとする今日もなお、多くの心酔者を得、模倣者や亜流を作ってはびこっていることが、果して幸福な現象か不幸な現象かということを、言いたいのです。この人たちの文学はそれぞれ出現当時は新しいものでした。立派なものでした。今日も立派です。作家としても尊敬に値する人たちです。しかし、この人たちの辿りついた道から出発して、第二の藤村、第二の秋声、第二の志賀直哉を作ることは、もはや今日無必要な努力であります。日本は敗戦しました。過去の日本は亡びました。すべては新しい近代に向って進もうとしております。しかし、日本の文章は少しも変っておりません。文壇の権威も昔のままです。文章の句読点の切り方すら変っておりません。これはおかしいことです。
     正倉院の御物の公開があると、何十万という人間が猫も杓子も満員の汽車や電車に乗り、死に物ぐるいで、奈良に到着して、息も絶えだえになって、御物を拝見したということですが、まことにそれも結構なことでありますけれど、僕は死に物ぐるいの眼に会うことも猫になることも杓子になることも嫌いですから、ジャン・ポール・サルトルというフランスの新しい作家の小説を読んでおりました。「世界文学」という翻訳専門の雑誌の十月号にのった「水いらず」という小説でありまして、この小説は日本文壇にとっての新しい戦慄といっても過言ではないと僕はまァ思いました。日本の文学は結局生活の総決算の文学であり、人間を描いても、結局心境のありのままを描くだけですが、ジャン・ポール・サルトルのこの「水いらず」という小説は人間の可能性を描いております。しかも、サルトルの提唱しているエグジスタンシアリスム[#「エグジスタンシアリスム」は底本では「エグスジタンシアリスム」]――つまり実存主義は、戦後の混乱と不安の中にあるフランスの一つの思想的必然であります。このような文学こそ、新しい近代小説への道に努力せんとしている僕らのジェネレーションを刺戟するもので、よしんば僕らがもっている日本的な文学教養は志賀さんや秋声の文学の方をサルトルよりも気品高しとするにせよ、僕はやはりサルトルをみなさんにすすめたい。
     そして、僕は近代小説は結局日本の伝統小説からは生まれないという考えの下に、よしんば二流三流五流に終るとも、猫でも杓子でもない独自の小説を書いて行きたいと、日夜考えておりますので、エロだとかマルクスだとか、眼を向いてキョロキョロしている暇はないのであります。以上「エロチシズムと文学について」という課題で僕は言いたい山ほどの中で、一番いいたいことです。

  3. shinichi says:

    The Origin of Others

    by Toni Morrison

    America’s foremost novelist reflects on the themes that preoccupy her work and increasingly dominate national and world politics: race, fear, borders, the mass movement of peoples, the desire for belonging. What is race and why does it matter? What motivates the human tendency to construct Others? Why does the presence of Others make us so afraid?

    Drawing on her Norton Lectures, Toni Morrison takes up these and other vital questions bearing on identity in The Origin of Others. In her search for answers, the novelist considers her own memories as well as history, politics, and especially literature. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Camara Laye are among the authors she examines. Readers of Morrison’s fiction will welcome her discussions of some of her most celebrated books—Beloved, Paradise, and A Mercy.

    If we learn racism by example, then literature plays an important part in the history of race in America, both negatively and positively. Morrison writes about nineteenth-century literary efforts to romance slavery, contrasting them with the scientific racism of Samuel Cartwright and the banal diaries of the plantation overseer and slaveholder Thomas Thistlewood. She looks at configurations of blackness, notions of racial purity, and the ways in which literature employs skin color to reveal character or drive narrative. Expanding the scope of her concern, she also addresses globalization and the mass movement of peoples in this century. National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates provides a foreword to Morrison’s most personal work of nonfiction to date.

  4. shinichi says:

    At Prospect (from Chapter 1, “Romancing Slavery”)

    Toni Morrison, 1931-2019: On the origins of prejudice

    We aren’t born prejudiced in the womb but learn to treat strangers differently by example

    by Toni Morrison

    https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/the-origins-of-prejudice


    We still played on the floor, my sister and I, so it must have been 1932 or 1933 when we heard she was coming. Millicent MacTeer, our great-grandmother. An often quoted legend, she was scheduled to visit all of the relatives’ houses in the neighbourhood. She lived in Michigan, a much-sought-after midwife. Her visit to Ohio had been long anticipated because she was regarded as the wise, unquestionable, majestic head of our family. The majesty was clear when something I had never witnessed before happened as she entered a room: without urging, all the males stood up.

    Finally, after a round of visits with other relatives, she entered our living room, tall, straight-backed, leaning on a cane she obviously did not need, and greeted my mother. Then, staring at my sister and me, playing or simply sitting on the floor, she frowned, pointed her cane at us, and said, “These children have been tampered with.” My mother objected (strenuously), but the damage was done. My great-grandmother was tar black, and my mother knew precisely what she meant: we, her children, and therefore our immediate family, were sullied, not pure.

    Learning so early (or being taught when one doesn’t know better) the ingredients of being lesser because Other didn’t impress me then, probably because I was preternaturally arrogant and overwhelmed with devotion to myself. “Tampered with” sounded exotic at first—like something desirable. When my mother defied her own grandmother, it became clear that “tampered with” meant lesser, if not completely Other.

    Descriptions of cultural, racial, and physical differences that note “Otherness” but remain free of categories of worth or rank are difficult to come by. Many, if not most, textual/literary descriptions of race range from the sly, the nuanced, to the pseudo-scientifically “proven.” And all have justifications and claims of accuracy in order to sustain dominance. We are aware of strategies for survival in the natural world: distraction/sacrifice to protect the nest; pack hunting/chasing food on the hoof.

    But for humans as an advanced species, our tendency to separate and judge those not in our clan as the enemy, as the vulnerable and the deficient needing control, has a long history not limited to the animal world or prehistoric man. Race has been a constant arbiter of difference, as have wealth, class, and gender—each of which is about power and the necessity of control.

    One has only to read the eugenics of the Southern physician and slaveholder Samuel Cartwright to understand the lengths to which science, if not politics, can go in documenting the need for control of the Other.

    “According to unalterable physiological laws,” he writes in his “Report on the Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race” (1851), “negroes, as a general rule, to which there are but few exceptions, can only have their intellectual faculties awakened in a sufficient degree to receive moral culture, and to profit by religious or other instruction, when under the compulsatory authority of the white man… From their natural indolence, unless under the stimulus of compulsion, they doze away their lives with the capacity of their lungs for atmospheric air only half expanded, from the want of exercise… The black blood distributed to the brain chains the mind to ignorance, superstition and barbarism, and bolts the door against civilisation, moral culture and religious truth.”

    Cartwright pointed to two illnesses, one of which he labelled “drapetomania, or the disease causing slaves to run away.” The other illness he diagnosed as “dysaesthesia aethiopica”—a kind of mental lethargy that caused the negro “to be like a person half asleep” (what slaveholders more commonly identified as “rascality”). One wonders why, if these slaves were such a burden and threat, they were so eagerly bought, sold. We learn at last their benefit: the forced “exercise, so beneficial to the negro, is expended in cultivating… cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco, which, but for his labour… go uncultivated, and their products lost to the world. Both parties are benefited—the negro as well as his master.”

    These observations were not casual opinions. They were printed in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. The point being that blacks are useful, not quite like cattle, yet not recognisably human. Similar diatribes have been employed by virtually every group on earth—with or without power—to enforce their beliefs by constructing an Other.

    ***

    One purpose of scientific racism is to identify an outsider in order to define one’s self. Another possibility is to maintain (even enjoy) one’s own difference without contempt for the categorised difference of the Othered. Literature is especially and obviously revelatory in exposing/contemplating the definition of self whether it condemns or supports the means by which it is acquired.

    How does one become a racist, a sexist? Since no one is born a racist and there is no fetal predisposition to sexism, one learns Othering not by lecture or instruction but by example.

    It was probably universally clear—to sellers as well as the sold—that slavery was an inhuman, though profitable, condition. The sellers certainly didn’t want to be enslaved; the purchased often committed suicide to avoid it. So how did it work? One of the ways nations could accommodate slavery’s degradation was by brute force; another was to romance it.

    In 1750, a young upper-class Englishman—a second son who probably could not inherit under the laws of primogeniture—set out to make his fortune first as an overseer and then as an owner of slaves and his own sugar plantation in Jamaica. His name was Thomas Thistlewood, and his life, exploits, and thoughts are carefully researched and recorded by Douglas Hall as one of a series of scholarly texts, in Macmillan’s Warwick University Caribbean Studies Series. This particular volume contains excerpts of Thistlewood’s papers along with Douglas Hall’s comments and was published in 1987 as In Miserable Slavery.

    Like Samuel Pepys, Thistlewood kept a minutely detailed diary—a diary minus reflection or sustained judgment, just the facts. Events, encounters with other people, weather, negotiations, prices, losses, all of which either interested him or he felt required notation. He had no plans to publish or share the information he recorded. A reading of his diaries reveals that, like most of his countrymen, he had a seamless commitment to the status quo. He did not wonder about slavery’s morality or his place in its scheme. He merely existed in the world as he found it and recorded it. It is this, his divorce from moral judgment, not at all atypical, that sheds light on slavery’s acceptance. Among the intimate marks of his exhaustive note-taking are details of his sexual life on the plantation (not different from his youthful and primarily casual British exploits).

    He noted the time of the encounter, its level of satisfaction, the frequency of the act, and, especially, where it took place. Other than the obvious pleasure were the ease and comfort of control. There was no need for seduction or even conversation—just a mere notation, among others about the price of sugarcane or a successful negotiation for flour. Unlike Thistlewood’s business notations, his carnal record was written in Latin: Sup Lect for “on the bed”; Sup Terr for “on the ground”; In Silva for “in the woods”; In Mag or Parv Dom for “in the great” or “small room”; and, when not satisfied, Sed non bene. These days, I suppose, we would call it rape; those days it was called droit du seigneur, right of the lord. Sliced in between his sexual activities are his notes on farming, chores, visitors, illnesses, etc.

    An entry from 10th September 1751, reads in part: “about 1/2 past 10am Cum Flora, a congo, Super Terram among the canes, above the wall head, right hand of the river, toward the Negro ground. She had been for water cress. Gave her 4 bitts.” The next day, in the early hours of the morning, he writes: “About 2am Cum Negroe girl, super floor, at north bed foot, in the east parlor, ‘unknown.’” And an entry from 2nd June 1760, reads in part: “Cleaned about the works, threw up the wood hoops, carrying out pond earth, &c PM Cum L Mimber, Sup Me Lect.”

    ***

    Different, but no less revelatory, are the literary attempts to “romance” slavery, to render it acceptable, even preferable, by humanising, even cherishing, it. Control, benign or rapacious, may ultimately not be necessary. See? Says Harriet Beecher Stowe to her (white) readers. Calm down, she says. Slaves control themselves. Don’t be afraid. Negroes only want to serve. The slave’s natural instinct, she implies, is toward kindness—an instinct that is disrupted only by vicious whites who, like Simon Legree (significantly, a Northerner by birth), threaten and abuse them. The sense of fear and disdain that white people may have, one that encourages brutality, is, she implies, unwarranted. Almost. Almost.



    Yet there are in Uncle Tom’s Cabin signs of Stowe’s own fear, literary protection, as it were. Or perhaps she is simply sensitive to the reader’s apprehension. How, for example, do you make it safe in the 19th century to enter Black Space? Do you simply knock and enter? If unarmed, do you enter at all? Well, even if you are an innocent young boy, such as Master George, going to visit Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe, you need excessive, benign signs of welcome, of safety. Tom’s house is a humble shack, small and right next to the master’s home. Yet for Stowe the white boy’s entrance needs obvious signs of safe passage. Therefore Stowe describes the entrance as outrageously inviting:

    In front [the cabin] had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front… was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multi-flora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors…

    The natural beauty Stowe is at pains to describe is cultivated, welcoming, seductive, and excessive.

    Once inside this tiny log cabin where Aunt Chloe is cooking and managing everyone, following some gossip and compliments, they all sit down to eat. Except the children, Mose and Pete. They are fed under the table, on the floor. With chunks of food thrown toward them, and for which they scramble:

    [Master] George and Tom moved to a comfortable seat in the chimney-corner, while Aunt Chloe, after baking a goodly pile of cakes, took her baby on her lap, and began alternately filling its mouth and her own, and distributing to Mose and Pete, who seemed rather to prefer eating theirs as they rolled about on the floor under the table, tickling each other, and occasionally pulling the baby’s toes.

    “O! go long, will ye?” said the mother, giving now and then a kick, in a kind of general way, under the table, when the movement became too obstreperous. “Can’t ye be decent when white folks comes to see ye? Stop dat ar, now, will ye? Better mind yerselves, or I’ll take ye down a button-hole lower, when Mas’r George is gone!”

    That, to me, is an extraordinary scene: the young master has declared himself full, and you—a slave mother—hold your infant in your arms and feed him and yourself while your “husband” eats also, but you throw food on a dirt floor for your two other children to scramble for? An odd scene designed to amuse, I think, and reassure the reader that everything in this atmosphere is safe, even amusing and especially kind, generous, and subservient. These are carefully demarcated passages intended to quiet the fearful white reader.

    Harriet Beecher Stowe did not write Uncle Tom’s Cabin for Tom, Aunt Chloe, or any black people to read. Her contemporary readership was white people, those who needed, wanted, or could relish the romance.

    For Thistlewood, rape is the ownership romance of droit du seigneur. For Stowe, slavery is sexually and romantically sanitised and perfumed. The relationship of little Eva and Topsy—in which Topsy, an unruly, simple-minded black child, is redeemed, civilised by a loving white child—is so profoundly sentimentalised that it becomes another prime example of the romance of slavery.

    ***

    In a profound way, I owe a debt to my great-grandmother. Although she had no intentions of being helpful—she had no remedy for our deficiency—she nevertheless awakened in me an inquiry that has influenced much of my writing. The Bluest Eye was my initial exploration of the harm of racial self-loathing. Later I examined the concept of its opposite, racial superiority, in Paradise. Again in God Help the Child I looked at the triumphalism and deception that colourism fosters. I wrote about its flaws, arrogance, and ultimately its self-destruction.

    Now (in my current novel-in-progress) I am excited to explore the education of a racist—how does one move from a non-racial womb to the womb of racism, to belonging to a specific loved or despised yet race-inflected existence? What is race (other than genetic imagination) and why does it matter? Once its parameters are known, defined (if at all possible), what behaviour does it demand/encourage? Race is the classification of a species, and we are the human race, period. Then what is this other thing—the hostility, the social racism, the Othering?

    What is the nature of Othering’s comfort, its allure, its power (social, psychological, or economical)? Is it the thrill of belonging—which implies being part of something bigger than one’s solo self, and therefore stronger? My initial view leans toward the social/psychological need for a “stranger,” an Other in order to define the estranged self (the crowd seeker is always the lonely one).

    Lastly, let me quote from The Romance of Race, Jolie A Sheffer’s excellent rendition of the means by which “belonging,” that is, creating a coherent nation out of immigrants, took place during the great immigration from southern and eastern Europe:

    [S]ome 23m immigrants, mostly from eastern and southern Europe, and overwhelmingly Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox, arrived in the United States in the period between 1890 and 1920, challenging the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Wasp) majority. Such “infusions of alien blood,” in turn-of-the-20th-century parlance, transformed US national identity, but… did not fundamentally challenge white hegemony; rather, European ethnics soon became, at least nominally, part of the “white” majority.

    The scholarship on this subject is deep and wide. These immigrants to the United States understood that if they wanted to become “real” Americans they must sever or at least greatly downplay their ties to their native country, in order to embrace their whiteness. The definition of “Americanness” (sadly) remains colour for many people.

  5. shinichi says:

    At the New Yorker (from Chapter 3, “The Color Fetish”)

    The Color Fetish

    by Toni Morrison

    https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-color-fetish

    Of constant fascination for me are the ways in which literature employs skin color to reveal character or drive narrative—especially if the fictional main character is white (which is almost always the case). Whether it is the horror of one drop of the mystical “black” blood, or signs of innate white superiority, or of deranged and excessive sexual power, the framing and the meaning of color are often the deciding factors. For the horror that the “one-drop” rule excites, there is no better guide than William Faulkner. What else haunts “The Sound and the Fury” or “Absalom, Absalom!”? Between the marital outrages incest and miscegenation, the latter (an old but useful term for “the mixing of races”) is obviously the more abhorrent. In much American literature, when plot requires a family crisis, nothing is more disgusting than mutual sexual congress between the races. It is the mutual aspect of these encounters that is rendered shocking, illegal, and repulsive. Unlike the rape of slaves, human choice or, God forbid, love receives wholesale condemnation. And for Faulkner they lead to murder.

    In Chapter 4 of “Absalom, Absalom!,” Mr. Compson explains to Quentin what drove Henry Sutpen to kill his half-brother Charles Bon:

    And yet, four years later, Henry had to kill Bon to keep them from marrying. . . .

    Yes, granted that, even to the unworldly Henry, let alone the more traveled father, the existence of the eighth part negro mistress and the sixteenth part negro son, granted even the morganatic ceremony . . . was reason enough. . . .

    Much later in the novel Quentin imagines this exchange between Henry and Charles:

    —So it’s the miscegenation, not the incest which you can’t bear. . . .

    Henry doesn’t answer.

    —And he sent me no word? . . . He did not have to do this, Henry. He didn’t need to tell you I am a nigger to stop me. . . .

    —You are my brother.

    —No I’m not. I’m the nigger that’s going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry.

    Equally, if not more, fascinating is Ernest Hemingway’s employment of colorism. His use of this wholly available device moves through several modes of colorism—from despicable blacks, to sad but sympathetic ones, to extreme black-fuelled eroticism. None of these categories is outside the writer’s world or his or her imaginative prowess, but how that world is articulated is what interests me. Colorism is so very available—it is the ultimate narrative shortcut.

    Note Hemingway’s employment of colorism in “To Have and Have Not” (“The Tradesman’s Return”). When Harry Morgan, a rum smuggler and the novel’s main character, speaks directly to the only black character in the boat, he calls him by his name, Wesley. But when Hemingway’s narrator addresses the reader he says (writes) “nigger.” Here, the two men, who are in Morgan’s boat, have both been shot up after a run-in with Cuban officials:

    . . . and he said to the nigger, “Where the hell are we?”

    The nigger raised himself up to look. . . . “I’m going to make you comfortable, Wesley,” he said. . . .

    “I can’t even move,” the nigger said. . . . He gave the Negro a cup of water. . . . The nigger tried to move to reach a sack, then groaned and lay back.

    “Do you hurt that bad, Wesley?” “Oh, God,” the nigger said.

    Why the actual name of his companion isn’t enough to drive, explain, or describe their venture is not clear—unless the author intends to pinpoint the narrator’s compassion for a black man, a compassion that might endear this bootlegger to readers.

    Now compare that rendering of a black man as constantly complaining, weak, and in need of his (more seriously injured) white boss’s help with another of Hemingway’s manipulations of racial tropes—this time for erotic, highly desirable effect.

    In “The Garden of Eden,” the male character, called “the young man” first and David later, is on an extended honeymoon on the Côte d’Azur with his new bride, called alternately “the girl” and Catherine. They lounge, swim, eat, and make love over and over. Their conversation is mostly inconsequential chatter or confessions, but running through it is a dominating theme of physical blackness as profoundly beautiful, exciting, and sexually compelling:

    “. . . you’re my good lovely husband and my brother too . . . when we go to Africa I’ll be your African girl too.”

    “It’s too early to go to Africa now. It’s the big rains and afterwards the grass is too high and it’s very cold.”

    “Then where should we go?”

    “We can go to Spain but . . . It’s too early for the Basque coast. It’s still cold and rainy. It rains everywhere there now.”

    “Isn’t there a hot part where we could swim the way we do here?”

    “You can’t swim in Spain the way we do here. You’d get arrested.”

    “What a bore. Let’s wait to go there then because I want us to get darker.”

    “Why do you want to be so dark?”

    “. . . Doesn’t it make you excited to have me getting so dark?”

    “Uh-huh. I love it.”

    This strange brew of incest, black skin, and sexuality is so unlike Hemingway’s separation of “Cubans” from “niggers” in “To Have and Have Not.” Although in that novel both in fact refer to Cubans (people born in Cuba), the latter is deprived of nationality and a home.

    There is a perfectly good reason for the part colorism plays in literature. It was the law. Even a casual examination of the “so-called” color laws makes the case for the emphasis on color as indicator of what is legal and what is not. The legislative acts of Virginia to enforce slavery and to control blacks (collected by June Purcell Guild as “Black Laws of Virginia”) are, as the foreword notes, representative of laws that “permeated the life of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Negro, whether slave or free; and by implication, the fabric of life for the white majority.” For example, a statute of 1705 stated that “Popish recusants, convicts, Negroes, mulattoes, and Indian servants, and others not being Christians, shall be incapable to be witnesses in any cases whatsoever.”

    According to a criminal code of 1847, “Any white person assembling with slaves or free Negroes for purpose of instructing them to read or write . . . shall be confined in jail not exceeding six months and fined not exceeding $100.00.”

    Much later, under Jim Crow, the General Code of the City of Birmingham of 1944 prohibited any negro and white, in any public space, from playing together in “any game with cards, dice, dominoes or checkers.”

    Those laws are archaic and, in a way, silly. And while they are no longer enforced or enforceable, they have laid the carpet on which many writers have danced to great effect.

    The cultural mechanics of becoming American are clearly understood. A citizen of Italy or Russia immigrates to the United States. She keeps much or some of the language and customs of her home country. But if she wishes to be American—to be known as such and to actually belong—she must become a thing unimaginable in her home country: she must become white. It may be comfortable for her or uncomfortable, but it lasts and has advantages, as well as certain freedoms.

    Africans and their descendants never had that choice, as so much literature illustrates. I became interested in the portrayal of blacks by culture rather than skin color: when color alone was their bête noire, when it was incidental, and when it was unknowable, or deliberately withheld. The latter offered me an interesting opportunity to ignore the fetish of color, as well as a certain freedom accompanied by some very careful writing. In some novels, I theatricalized the point by not only refusing to rest on racial signs but also alerting the reader to my strategy. In “Paradise,” the opening sentences launch the ploy: “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.” This is meant to be an explosion of racial identification, which is subsequently withheld throughout descriptions of the community of women in the convent where the attack takes place. Does the reader search for her, the white girl? Or does he or she lose interest in the search? Abandon it to concentrate on the substance of the novel? Some readers have told me of their guess, but only one of them was ever correct. Her focus was on behavior—something she identified as a gesture or assumption no black girl would make or have—no matter where she came from or whatever her past. This raceless community neighbors one with exactly the opposite priority—race purity is everything to its members. Anyone who isn’t “eight rock,” the deepest level of a coal mine, is excluded from his or her town. In other works, such as “The Bluest Eye,” the consequences of the color fetish are the theme: its severely destructive force.

    I tried again in “Home” to create a work in which color was erased but could be easily assumed if the reader paid close attention to the codes, the restrictions black people routinely suffered: where one sits on a bus, where one urinates, and so on. But I was so very successful in forcing the reader to ignore color that it made my editor nervous. So, reluctantly, I layered in references that verified the race of Frank Money, the main character. I believe it was a mistake that defied my purpose.

    In “God Help the Child,” color is both a curse and a blessing, a hammer and a golden ring. Although neither, the hammer nor the ring, helped make the character a sympathetic human being. Only caring unselfishly for somebody else would accomplish true maturity.

    There are so many opportunities to reveal race in literature—whether one is conscious of it or not. But writing non-colorist literature about black people is a task I have found both liberating and hard.

    How much tension or interest would Ernest Hemingway have lost if he had simply used Wesley’s given name? How much fascination and shock would be dampened if Faulkner had limited the book’s central concern to incest rather than the theatrical “one-drop” curse?

    Some readers coming for the first time to “A Mercy,” which takes place two years before the Salem witch trials, may assume that only blacks were slaves. But so too might be a Native American, or a white homosexual couple, like the characters in my novel. The white mistress in “A Mercy,” though not enslaved, was purchased in an arranged marriage.

    I first tried this technique of racial erasure in a short story titled “Recitatif.” It began as a screenplay that I was asked to write for two actresses—one black, one white. But since in the writing I didn’t know which actress would play which part, I eliminated color altogether, using social class as the marker. The actresses didn’t like my play at all. Later, I converted the material into a short story—which, by the way, does exactly the opposite of my plan. (The characters are divided by race, but all racial codes have been deliberately removed.) Instead of relating to plot and character development, most readers insist on searching for what I have refused them. My effort may not be admired by, or interesting to, other black authors. After decades of struggle to write powerful narratives portraying decidedly black characters, they may wonder if I am engaged in literary whitewashing. I am not. And I am not asking to be joined in this endeavor. But I am determined to defang cheap racism, annihilate and discredit the routine, easy, available color fetish, which is reminiscent of slavery itself.

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