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Racefail and Revision

0. I had started to write some notes for a blog post about the political and art a few weeks ago, but after slowly catching up on Racefail09, it seems depressingly abstract.

So here’s for something a little more concrete.

1. I’ve found a lot of the dismissal of the racefail discussion itself, in some quarters, to be pretty profoundly distressing. The attitude among some seems to be, “Well, we can find a more appropriate time/space for this discussion down the road…” Sure, the Livejournal-networked nature of the discussion hasn’t been easy to follow at times, but the important point is, it’s happening now. There’s never a “good” time-nor an idyllic place where these issues about race are going to find a lot of resolution. I have to respect the shape it has taken, in part because the issues themselves are so unfailingly knotted, complex, difficult…

2. In regards to the things that I write and I’ll continue to write…When I send my work out into the larger world, I don’t have any claims on its future interpretation. None. One of my favorite quotes is from Jean Cocteau, who once said (paraphrasing!), “If I build a table, it’s up to you whether you eat from it or use it to build a fire.” It’s the responsibility of the writer to let his or her work go.

3. With that said, it can be bracing to receive criticism. And suck. Of course. I’ve pretty much inured myself from the archetypal “bad review” (of which I’ve received many!). That my work is too difficult, pedantic, whatever. I’ve developed armor about THOSE kinds of things. But my upcoming novel does deal with multiple apocalyptic culture clashes, smack dab in the Midwest; it does have a middle class white family finding themselves confronted by an Other (multiple Others, actually). The novel flat-out deals with race. Perhaps obliquely, at a measure of distance because of the fantastical elements, but it’s there.

Right, so what? As Dave said, “I think that it is the responsibility of creators to thoroughly interrogate their own work.” I do my best and perhaps it’s far from perfection. I push myself to make no cardboard cut-outs. And even then I can concoct moments of epic fail-such as when, in (late) research for the book, I started delving into the Dakota War of 1862, right here in Minnesota: the mass execution in Mankato, the treaty violations, the carnage and-oh yeah-the mass internment on Pike Island, which killed hundreds.

It also happens to be the same island where my 16-year-old narrator and her family find herself, in a refugee camp.

Fuuuuuck. I mean, come on Alan, really? Macy is oblivious to this. But that is because: My narrator’s ignorance was my ignorance. She can’t know what I didn’t know. And now that I do know, the novel has to speak to that. In some imperfect way, but I can’t be honest with myself and my readers unless I try.

I still haven’t written that scene (and yes, close circuit to you-know-who-you-are, I really am almost done with revisions!). I want someone to talk to her about it, to call her on it. e.g., “Did you know this? What does it say about your upbringing that you didn’t know this?” The same can be asked of me. Macy goes through a lot of painful growth in the novel. She is up for it. I am, too, in whatever imperfect way I’m capable of.

4. In other words, it’s the revision, stupid (speaking to myself), both in the page and real life. Re-vision. Looking at the world again and trying to dig deeper. I will keep at it, and keep listening. And transform that into action however I can.

Wed, March 11 2009 » Fiction, Polis

One Response

  1. Haddayr March 11 2009 @ 11:17 am

    1. Thank you for this post.
    2. Do we get to look at the revision, or do you have Urgent Deadlines and such?

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