Recently, Toni Morrison’s Beloved was selected as the best American novel of the last 25 years by a large panel of writers and critics. When it won the Pulitzer earlier, cries of “p.c.? were raised. It was hard for the Pulitzer to defend itself.
Now, we have, years later, a panel of about 125 figures who loom large in the field of American letters selecting this Black woman’s novel about the effects of slavery on a family as the best novel.
Even if it won only second or third place, even if it were only mentioned, it would remain in august company.
So who is now twisting the arms of all those literary figures to force them to select a Black and a woman as a great author? What might they have to gain? What prevents them from putting forth the sort of objections I’ve heard e.g. James Baldwin was influenced by Henry James, so why should we recognize Baldwin as a fine writer?
Could it be that a woman and a Black could actually write a great novel? Would that bring down the carefully constructed edifice of superiority in which some of our colleagues hide their discomfort with an intrusion by “the other? on the sacred precincts of belles-lettres?
What I think the real problem is finds expression in earlier writings by conservatives found in such books as The Portable Conservative Reader, written at a time of less self-consciousness or, as conservatives are wont to say, less p.c. There the attitudes toward class and race are on full display, though even then tempered by the breeze of freedom blowing through the land. Once in a while, as with Trent Lott’s comments at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, the true feelings pop out, but people are usually pretty guarded.
So the upholders of civilization will gnash their teeth and attack the list of best books as reflecting a “general decline? in standards, sort of the way schools blame their poor performance on “changing demographics? aka more Mexicans and Blacks.