18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating synthesis of cultural analysis,
This review is from: The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Paperback)
Long an admirer of Kevin Young's sly lyrical poetry, I approached "The Grey Album" with some trepidation. What could this poet want to convey to readers that pushed him to prose? As it turns out, Young has a great deal to say, all said with the sharp eye, good humor, and honesty found in his earlier works. To say that Young here demonstrates himself to be "more than a poet" would be to denigrate the gift he has long brought to that form. Instead, I would say that he here proves himself to be a renaissance man capable of synthesizing a vast corpus of varied material.
Young has large fish to fry locating the origins modernism. This requires striking a careful balance. On the one side, Young must defend modernism from those who brand it as cultural imperialism in new clothes. On the other, he wants to forcefully assert the centrality of the African American contribution at the origins modernist movement. He locates this contribution in music and poetry. From Dunbar to Kaufman, and Armstrong to Jay-Z, Young marshals an eclectic range of material in the service of his argument.
The glue in these essays is the idea of "storying." Young sees this art of verbal dissimulation as central to African American survival under slavery and the oppression which followed emancipation. The evolution of storying fascinates, particularly as it fuels literature, music, and popular culture. A part of me was disappointed that Young didn't follow his arc to storying's ethically challenging moments, such as with Robeson. Yet this does not detracts from Young's central thesis, that African American culture is American culture, no limb of the trunk, but a root which nourishes the whole.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 24, 2012 9:54:35 PM PDT
a reader says:
can you give an example of storying's ethically challenging moment with robeson? or any other example whose significance we agree on? thanks.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2012 4:13:52 AM PDT
J. A Magill says:
The obvious case would be Robeson returning from the Soviet Union and lying about the fate of those writers, many his friends, who are being murdered in Stalin's purges. Of course, this is central to the tragedy of Robeson's life: a renaissance genius, beaten and abused by his own society seeing hope in an unknown promised land, unable to betray the truth to a homeland that had long ago betrayed him with its broken promises.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2012 6:29:58 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 25, 2012 6:38:19 AM PDT
a reader says:
ah. of course robeson was not the only american or indeed european who failed to stand up to stalin's purges.
african-american communism (including j. edgar hoover and mlk jr.) has a long and gnarly history....just spelunking here on ama came up with this interesting bio and many intriguing recommendations.
Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist
even wiki has an interesting entry:
thank you for thoughtful commentary.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2012 6:38:26 AM PDT
J. A Magill says:
Thank you for the compliment. I've had a long fascination with Robeson and just wished that Young had considered it in his fine book.
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