After kicking off the Text and Meaning Series with an article on Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech in August, the latest installment is on Albert Camus’ classic book, The Myth of Sisyphus. The Text and Meaning Series is one reminder that some of the battles we've found ourselves struggling through in 2013–– as if thrashing while asleep and trying to wake from nightmares–– have been fought before. In many cases it was believed victory had already been won.
I started the Text and Meaning Series largely as a way of introducing classic works into conversations on current topics and events. It presently consists of the following:
1) Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech
2) Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
3) Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
4) Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus
Employing MLK’s I Have a Dream speech to launch the series made sense because the year 2013, now drawing rapidly toward its end, marked the 50th anniversary of the speech. Focusing on it also provided a way to help amplify dialogues on multiculturalism and race in America. That such dialogues must not be stifled have been made disturbingly apparent this year by several high-profile events, from the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin to the glaring lack of diversity at the Emmy Awards and subsequent reports in Huffington Post on racial divisions in Hollywood.
The article Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus takes me into somewhat new territory as an author. Outside of my writings on W.E.B. Du Bois for the Philosophical Library Series and my profile on Alain Locke for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, I’ve written very little about philosophy or philosophers. However, with November 7, 2013, marking Camus’ 100th birthday, I had to expand the scope of my focus.
It is well known that Camus generally considered himself more of a novelist than a philosopher. The extraordinary power of The Stranger and The Plague have led many people to agree with him and to think of him more as a serious author whose works in fiction and drama were heavily influenced by his study of, and passion for, philosophy. What I appreciate the most about him is what I tend to appreciate the most about all writers who achieve the levels of mastery and accomplishment that he did. I respect the way he gave such huge chunks of his life to his art. I admire the way he structured his art as a form of service to humanity. And I treasure the enduring excellence of the example that he fought, endured, and labored to provide.
4 November, 2013
“Sometimes the words came like ecstatic utterances, sometimes like songs whispered from another time, like actual angelic possessions, or like mental files that had been downloaded while I slept and then printed via my pen as soon as I got up.”
I was thoroughly convinced a month ago that by the time World Book Day (April 23) rolled around I would have finished selecting material for my proposed book of quotations. That did not happen and I came close to getting frustrated over it. But I consoled myself with the thought that the next best thing to greeting readers and signing books at an event on World Book Day was working to complete a title already in progress.
My chomping-at-the-bit anxiety was also tamed by the kind of special gifts that almost always turn grown writers into overjoyed hand-clapping babies. One was a corresponding website for the book in progress, which has now been given the title Journey through the Power of the Rainbow. The reasons for the switch are noted on the site. The second reason my disquiet took a back seat to humility was an unexpected new book cover.
Yes, it more than likely was presented to encourage me to move a little faster on the job at hand. But even so, a new book cover for a forthcoming book is the kind of thing that helps give visual form and substance to something that is mostly an abstract idea until it rests in some tangible form within your hands. It also provides additional motivation to keep the flow going and serves to help validate the value of all the long hours spent in solitude to finally get the work done.
Who knows, the pages worked on so diligently during World Book Day 2013 may very well turn into the book that gets frequently signed, discussed, and placed on wish lists at World Book Day 2014.
24 April, 2013
Novelist Philip Roth in New York City. (Reuters file photograph)
In his September 7, 2012, “Open Letter to Wikipedia,” acclaimed author Philip Roth made an appeal to the editors of Wikipedia. Posted in his blog for The New Yorker, he asked them to correct a statement he identified as misleading in the site’s article on his novel, The Human Stain. Roth––whose literary honors include a Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and Man Booker International Prize––stated the following:
“The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.”
He noted further that he had attempted through an official interlocutor to address the issue but was informed that site administrators required “secondary sources” to verify the proposed corrections. “Thus was created the occasion for this open letter.” Roth’s predicament created a pain-inducing illustration of a very modern techno-ethical issue: who should exercise the greater authority over individual public profiles on sites frequently referenced for factual information regarding an established literary figure?
Roth’s primary concern was accuracy in regard to a novel he had written. The editors at Wikipedia seemed mostly concerned with objectivity and authenticity in regard to the same. This is likely NOT a case of guerrilla decontextualization as some might surmise but more a matter of one website’s policy in conflict with one celebrated author’s informed preference.
The Challenge and a Possible Solution
Authors have long had to contend with the challenge of laboring first to create literary products and then promote them via public appearances and the maintenance of an accessible public biography. Others in different branches of the creative arts––actors, singers, painters––have had to do the same. That challenge has been magnified in this age of digital media culture because so many are now equipped and licensed to represent or misrepresent an individual at will. Consequently, something which should be an all-around win-win situation can and clearly sometimes does degenerate instead into a tug of war between individual creative artists and administrators of various digital platforms.
If there is a single most important solution to the issue, it may be for authors to make available on legitimate sites––such as your individual author website or other literary profile pages–– as many factually accurate document sources as possible. After all, how accurate can you really expect a reference article to remain if anyone at all is allowed to change it at will?
The apparent alternative is to spend time as Roth did composing a 2,600-word letter spelling out the inaccuracies in question and flexing one’s impressive literary muscles in the process. But how many of us would be able to get such a letter published in The New Yorker?
Image still from the video for NOTES FOR AN ELEGY IN THE KEY OF MICHAEL. The quote here reads: "The black star zooms gold. Wings of white flame torch his throat. His voice as arrived."
It turns out I was right to stop saying I’ve concluded my writings on Michael Jackson. After completing and publishing Looking at the World Through Michael Jackson’s Left Eye in celebration of his birthday last year, it again felt like my keyboard was all typed out where the Great One as a principle subject is concerned. But then that unexpected impulse took over once more a few weeks ago.
Getting up one morning, I meditated, poured a cup of java, and got to work on a project that has nothing at all to do with MJ. Then my pen seemed to zoom off like a bird declining the comforts of its cage and I started scribbling notes for a short essay or editorial. Jotting a few notes didn’t take up too much time and it wasn’t like I was chatting up friends on Twitter or CTI or Facebook. So I forgave myself for the distraction and got back to jobbing. But then…
My pen took off again, more forcefully this time, and before its flight was done I had written the first draft for both an editorial and a poem. All I can say is these spontaneous writings on Michael Jackson seem to occur around the time of the anniversary of his death and just before his birthday. Make of it whatever you wish but the latest piece is scheduled to post on August 20. Those unfamiliar with my previous articles, essays, and poems on Michael Jackson can find them (some of them anyway) at the following links:
1) Work and Soul in Michael Jackson’s This Is It
2) Looking at the World Through Michael Jackson’s Left Eye (Part 1)
3) Looking at the World Through Michael Jackson’s Left Eye (Part 2)
4) Looking at the World Through Michael Jackson’s Left Eye (Part 3)
5) Looking at the World Through Michael Jackson’s Left Eye (Part 4)
6) Notes for an Elegy in the Key of Michael (Jackson) 1 and 2
7) Michael Jackson Legacies of a Globetrotting Moonwalking Philanthropist
8) To Walk a Lifetime in Michael Jackson's Moccasins
9) Michael Jackson and Summertime from This Point On (Part 1)
10) Michael Jackson and Summertime from This Point On (Part 2)
Some actions simply defy sense or sanity. The massacre in Aurora,
Colorado, on July 20, 2012, was one of them. This post is shared in tribute to
the victims and their surviving loved ones.
Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying
As you bury flesh––
honor spirit, savor hope,
as a world-weary stranger
asleep in your heart.
Quote words that affirm
all men and women are your
brothers and sisters.
Pull the child away
from feeding at the mule’s tail.
Give the baby food.
Compassion crowns the soul with its truest victory.
Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.
Souls reconstructed with faith transform agony into peace.
Wisdom applied internally corrects ignorance lived externally.
Dare to love yourself
as if you were a rainbow
with gold at both ends.
Write a soft poem
to one you called bitch, shit head,
nigger, fag, white trash.
Live certain days dressed
in your lover’s smiling soul
while she, he, wears yours.
Imagine your mind
wings intent on expanding
and watch your joy fly.
from The River of Winged Dreams
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.