Yay Team! Or You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore . . .

I’ve been having this fascinating (at least to me) conversation with Carl Dyke about a trend I noticed in the “Influential Authors” meme that would make the likes of William Chace proud. Or would it? Since after all, what the similarities are showing us is also that many of us can and do teach multiculturalism and/or intersectionality while still being quite well versed in the “great books” which actually contradicts the Chace vs UC controversy of way back when.  I digress . . .

In that conversation, Carl said the following in response to my noting Baldwin was also showing up with much regularity:

As a game, the meme invites us to choose up sides, which is perhaps Baldwin’s chief iconic appeal. He’s like a uniform, instantly identifying, friend or foe. So we read these lists, see some fraction of ourselves reflected back, and have that ‘Yay, team!’ reaction.

If Baldwin is credentialing, and as I admit at Dead Voles (Carl’s blog) I think it is in exactly the way he describes, then what does it mean for the revolutionary message(s) of Baldwin’s text? Have they been co-opted as mere intellectual cred with no substance underneath or are there more radicals among us than we think? . . .

I return to Carl’s quote not just b/c of these questions which typified our discussion there (at least in my head) but b/c it explains this nagging sense of disallusionment or possibly loss I have been feeling lately. It started with things I cannot pinpoint and with players perhaps not implicated in the concrete example that made that quote light up in my head this morning . . . The lights came on b/c 2 days ago John Hope Franklin died. Moments later, my email was flooded by black academics (of all genders) lamenting his loss and telling stories of having been inspired by the most fleeting encounters with him or reading his books. As morning broke on the first full day after his passing, universities and national newspapers alike wrote 1-3 page obituaries mourning his loss and celebrating his immense contribution. I looked at all the historians’ blogs that I read expecting to see the types of stories that, having now grown to include artists, high school teachers, and activists, threatened to max my uni allotted email bandwith. Instead, there was silence or pithy posts about other things. This morning, as I saw the loss of this great scholar compared to the decision of UMN to go digital (and yes one could argue that digitizing books is akin to losing the voices of many great scholars), Carl Dyke’s words came back to me. As I surfed across the historian specific internet highway, I was waiting for the “Yay team!” moment. I expected it. I needed it. And 2 days later, with the exception of the post just mentioned, it still has not come.

Though it will likely get me “in trouble,” I can’t help but say it reminds me of the stories Franklin told about the contradictions of being a black scholar that I mention in the post about his passing. Lately, I have been in a truly pissy place and I think it does boil down to all of the small moments in which I expected that “team spirit” and instead found myself on the wrong end of the alleyway . . .

Excuse me while I go crank the Annie Lennox and David Bowie duet again b/c I’m starting to believe that I’m runnin’ out of ways “to give love one more chance”


14 thoughts on “Yay Team! Or You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore . . .

  1. Susurro, I’ve enjoyed that conversation too. Thanks for using me to think with.

    About John Hope Franklin I have only good thoughts; about memorializing his death I have more complicated ones, and after trying to sum them up here I realized I needed to do a post of my own inspired by this, so I’ll get on that.

  2. If CoG is a “history” blog, it hasn’t memorialized John Hope Franklin; but it’s not out disrespect or a lack of awareness of either his life accomplishments or his passing. It’s just not the right venue for such things in my mind. Obituaries coupled with campy Wonder Woman comics just doesn’t seem right to me.

    • @ Gayprof – Honestly, I hadn’t thought of your blog in this post as I have never seen you write an obituary in the time I’ve been reading. I wasn’t actually looking for obits either which seems to be unclear from the reaction to the post elsewhere . . . In truth it is hard to describe what I expected from anyone as I didn’t realize I expected it until it wasn’t there.

  3. Pingback: Death « Dead Voles

  4. All those small moments, yes.

    I can’t help but think the recurrence of Baldwin on those lists is something other than coopting, though. I think Baldwin keeps coming up because he really is like Cervantes or Shakespeare.

    Cervantes keeps coming up on those lists of 100 key authors made up by various famous writers and it isn’t because they are in a position (as one is when making up M.A. reading lists, for instance) to feel they *must* include him – it’s because they feel it, for a whole range of reasons, some of which would represent “my side” of things and some not. But they mean it.

    It’s: read Baldwin and change. I first read Baldwin in seventh grade because he was a classic. I expected just another very good book, i.e., I had every reason to expect it to be interesting. But it was breathtaking because of the writing and the emotional depth, so precise, all depth, no histrionics.

    I guess I expected good story, good politics, good style, interesting content, i.e. good “niche” writer. That was when there were “writers” and “Black writers” and I had not learned to question that division or even heard one might do so and I expected to read another book by a talented Black writer (I was working on a project, I had already read various books) but it was more like cliff diving at Acapulco. I came out saying I had finally seen writing, and nothing I had read before had really attained that.

    • just a little context for the discussion about Baldwin, the issue was that many of the authors that are on everyone’s list are considered “Great Books” and that there is a definite trend toward those over any other “counter-canonization” or subversion of canon. Baldwin seemed to be the glaring exception, so I wondered was it “counter canonization” ie that he was “great black literature” as your comment says you were expecting or was it subversion, ie that Baldwin was someone we all came to in various ways on our own or through coursework of our own choosing and that, as your last paragraph implies, his words came alive in ways that never quite left us as readers/thinkers. They aren’t mutually exclusive ideas from the reception point of the discussion but certainly from the transmission point.

      It’s just one of those things that makes me curious about hegemony-counter-hegemony-and residuals . . .

  5. I think it’s more subversion than counter canonization.

    I think it’s originality + universality which Walter Benjamin said go together. “Universal” as we know often really means “white / male / first world” but Benjamin says the most personal / idiosyncratic and the most universal ultimately merge. I think Baldwin’s a classic because he actually is universal, and that what paradoxically makes him so, makes his words so alive to so many (for so many different reasons) is that he’s able to be so precise and articulate about the particular / the local / the personal. I was young when I first read Baldwin, so I have read more now, but what struck me that first time was how everything else I’d ever read seemed so provincial in comparison to him.

  6. Great site this likeawhisper.wordpress.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  7. I too miss Franklin & wonder why there was such a difference in public response. Even in the public response to people asking why the disparity seems a little off. I’m still getting emails about him.

    • welcome to the blog Berry. I am also still getting emails and links to articles and it is still largely from a single group. I’m wondering at this point if it is the segregation of labor in academe that often links race to type of intellectual contribution (ie black people do black history, gay people do gay history, women do women’s history, & even if you don’t you are expected to enough that ultimately you end up doing your identity) more than a recognition issue.

    • yes. please do not quote mroe than three lines of text and link back (preferably with the blog name as part of your link)

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