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
What’s In a Name?: All Hail The Nom de Plume
As I’ve gotten older and come into God, I’ve developed a deep reverence for The Pseudonym, the good ol’ Nom de Plume; or, for the less erudite, lé fake name.
Back in my early 20s when I was a horrible writer who thought that I was great, this would’ve been unheard of to me; because—*gasp—how will anyone know to praise me if they don’t know who I am?
Now I’ll take any alias I can get: Sandra Moonies—who’s that? … Say, you got an Italian name with two initials? Or how ’bout somebody from Zimbabwe, I’ve never been to Zimbabwe. My first book, a workplace memoir, is under my first ever pseudonym ‘Sistah Gurl’ because I didn’t want to out the workplace that I was whistleblowing on … you know, so obviously—
But it’s so interesting, especially since I’m now working on a collection of classic literature: apparently I’m a lightweight. I’ve heard of authors with about 45 fake names credited to them, 25 … 252525canIget25. Sold! Mary Ann Evans as George Eliot to perhaps slightly distance herself from the janky affair she was having with a married man that apparently neither cared to hide amidst Victorian England, or, perhaps, to be taken more seriously as a female writer at a time when they weren’t; but then … fancy reading Eliot’s anonymous essay “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” Gender-bending men like William Sharp under the name Fiona Macleod, who took great pains to have his sister dictate correspondence in her, apparently, girly handwriting as a fake author that didn’t exist but apparently wrote great fiction, even greater fiction than William Sharp. I was like 35 when I found out Anne Rice’s real name is Howard even though she’s still a woman because her father wanted a boy. Murray Leinster, the prolific sci-fi writer: and that’s not even his real name, had about 6-7, where he wasn’t only different men and women, but also a Major; the reasoning here was to keep one name for the more intellectual national magazines, and another for the, you know, more proletariat “inferior” ones.
Genre-crossing, just a plain ol’ ugly name … fanciful imaginations; you want to be a slut in erotica but don’t want to embarrass yourself or your parents or out yourself as a sex freak while working as a college professor, I get it. There’s so many reasons to use the ole fake name. And you don’t even need to be arrested or committing credit card fraud to do it. I wish I would’ve known this back when I was a horrible writer who thought I was great; it wouldn’t have been so painful to have to call up the ole lit magazine every several months later after I was published to renege my story because, well, I’m a different person now, you see,
The Unwitting Memoirist
P.S. I’ve since heard that writers have claimed pseudonyms allowing them to live carefree while the janky novel they wrote under a fake name was actually someone’s real name in real life, and now this regular person is being credited with a janky novel.