THE UNWITTING MEMOIRIST
July 11, 2021
All is Spirit and Part of Me
A GREATER lover none can be,
And all is spirit and part of me.
I am sway of the rolling hills,
And breath from the great wide plains ;
I am born of a thousand storms,
And grey with the rushing rains ;
I have stood with the age-long rocks,
And flowered with the meadow sweet ;
I have fought with the wind-worn firs,
And bent with the ripening wheat ;
I have watched with the solemn clouds,
And dreamt with the moorland pools ;
I have raced with the water’s whirl,
And lain where their anger cools ;
I have hovered as strong-winged bird,
And swooped as I saw my prey ;
I have risen with cold grey dawn,
And flamed in the dying day ;
For all is spirit and part of me,
And greater lover none can be.
–L. D’O. WALTERS
The Year’s at the Spring: An Anthology of Recent Poetry, 1920
The Unwitting Memoirist
P.S. Read the book here at Internet Archive.
June 2, 2021
The Nigger of the Narcissus: by Joseph Conrad
As I currently watch video after video of blacks non blacks and non American blacks alike mastermind hate crime hoaxes through the rolling verdant hills of these great United States, I think about The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’, a novella written in 1897 by Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad.
It’s so apropos: Call yourself a ‘nigger’ using white face, or hire some big black burly Nigerians to beat you up in the name of whitey like racially ambiguous Jussie Smollett, and you’ve got the recipe for a huge sailing ship that Conrad once sailed as a merchant marine, named the Narcissus.
The story is based on a black sailor who Conrad once knew—in the novella, he’s a black West Indian sailor named James Wait. In this novella, Conrad masterfully centers a white crew around this black sailor, who through exaggerated claims of sickness and dying to avoid work, manages to get waited on hand and foot, ultimately creating a division on the ship between Wait’s supporters and detractors. The Narcissus, the ship of course, is the anger of the grand ego, tossed and turned about on choppy attention-grabbing waters. It’s damn near a mutiny all over Wait.
In the end, well, I won’t spoil it for you—it’s not good for Wait. Ah, what the hell, he ends up dying because it turns out that he was actually much sicker than he feigned not to be.
It’s worth noting that at the time this novella was written, Dodd, Mead and Company were reluctant to publish it, not because of the offensiveness of the word “nigger” or anything but because the publishers believed that a book about a black man wouldn’t sell!
“TO MY READERS IN AMERICA
(a note from the author; The Nigger of the Narcissus: Doubleday, 1914)
From that evening when James Wait joined the ship—late for the muster of the crew—to the moment when he left us in the open sea, shrouded in sailcloth, through the open port, I had much to do with him. He was in my watch. A negro in a British forecastle is a lonely being. He has no chums. Yet James Wait, afraid of death and making her his accomplice was an impostor of some character—mastering our compassion, scornful of our sentimentalism, triumphing over our suspicions.
But in the book he is nothing; he is merely the centre of the ship’s collective psychology and the pivot of the action. Yet he, who in the family circle and amongst my friends is familiarly referred to as the Nigger, remains very precious to me. For the book written round him is not the sort of thing that can be attempted more than once in a life-time. It is the book by which, not as a novelist perhaps, but as an artist striving for the utmost sincerity of expression, I am willing to stand or fall. Its pages are the tribute of my unalterable and profound affection for the ships, the seamen, the winds and the great sea—the moulders of my youth, the companions of the best years of my life.
The Unwitting Memoirist
June 1, 2021
In Defense of Classic Literature
Some time ago when I thought Twitter was a good idea, I came upon an account that deemed Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as “sexist”, “racist” and a whole lotta other liberal buzzwords I might recall if I hadn’t’ve swooned several times. I mean, here I was, up to about 50K in hock for an English degree that I worked like a slave—pause, I’m black—to acquire, by writing stupid papers about hamartia, and paralleling works like Things to a modern-day Greek tragedy, when I could’ve just passed in a paper reducing it to “racist” or “wrong”. Man, where was the yokel dim-witted reverse-racism wisdom of this account then?
What was even more swoon-worthy was that the person behind this account appeared to be a white male with longish girly-like hair, who then went on to identify the very Nigerian Achebe as a “person of color”; and, believe me, til this day, I’m still looking for Person of Color country on a map. TO THIS DAY! (black person freak out voice)
I wrote an article some time ago that cautioned the reader when approaching historical fiction, which, by the very nature of being true, cloaks itself with this kinda unfair untouchability. Well, except when authors lie. But; for the most part, classic literature—works even earlier than Achebe’s—should be approached with the same kind of caution. For, to study classic literature—or really old books if you wanna be funny—is to study history. And what we do when we block our minds in anger to the realities of old realities … well, we run the risk of repeating the anger of the old realities again by being liars and rewriting history in a fantasy of untruth. It was said in Eugenia Kim’s The Calligrapher’s Daughter, that when Japan occupied Korea, they burned the literature and so history of Korea. The conquerors then became just as delusional and disillusioned by their anger as the conquered, that nobody can tell the truth. A Moorish-ruled Spain for over 700 years has historical guides today that cannot explain why much of Spanish architecture is Muslim, at the expense of appearing total victors.
When you read the works of an H.G. Wells or a George MacDonald or an Achebe or a James Joyce, Alice Dunbar-Nelson or Joseph Conrad, you are reading works informed by authors who were living through World War I and II, The American Civil War, Irish Home Rule resistance to the sovereignty of the British Empire; works informed by the stranglehold of the Catholic Church, tuberculosis and typhoid; quasi-Siberian exile for Polish protests against a once and twice times Polish-Lithuanian and Russian-colonized Ukraine. It’s world literature; and if you’re smart, you may be able to see past the spoiled selfishness of your own un-specialness to see the grand God expression of artistry, and the beauty and interconnectedness of world history in classic literature.
The Unwitting Memoirist