December 02, 2006

I have been asked by Grand Piano vol 1 authors to withdraw the comment I made in my last entry about how “black people show up around sexuality only.”

I’m tempted to just erase the comment because I didn’t mean to offend anyone or start a fight. And it would certainly be easier.

But I don’t feel like it would be right to do that. When I say stupid things it doesn’t do any good to try to erase them. The only advantage to saying stupid things is the moment when someone says "you said something stupid," and you have to figure out what you meant. I like this part of life, even though it sometimes wears me out. I find I learn things from it.

But did feel I should elaborate a little...

I see this blog as more a form of personal note-taking than anything else--a sort of record of what I was reading when, and also a convenient and accessible place to store reading lists that I can access from a library. I know I sometimes I say things too easily and don’t really explain where I’m going with them, as is common when one takes notes. I often don't even bother to check my spelling.

So here is a clarification, which is also an apology of sorts. I realize now I said something that could be read as an accusation of racism, which it wasn’t. It was an attempt at textual observation, but I admit it wasn’t very well-developed or clear. And if I saw this more as a "public" forum, I would have been more careful.

When I said that black people only show up in Grand Piano vol 1 in sexualized situations, what I should have said was that the only time I noticed people's race explicitly identified, it was somehow in a sexual context. I was thinking of two specific moments: 1) Silliman’s story of seeing his father have sex with a woman who is identified as “African American,” and 2) Robinson’s passing mention of being in a love triangle where one of the participants is an “African American Marxist intellectual” and the other participant is unidentified.

I reread the Grand Piano today to double-check this. I didn't find any examples to contradict my observation, but I did find two other moments where characters have identity markers. In the Mandel piece, what I assume is a quotation, a character is marked as “North African French” with “tiny breasts” and a “tiny penis.” (Although I am unsure of the race of this person; are they African or French colonial in Africa?) And in Silliman’s piece again, he mentions that his mother dated mainly “men of color.”

Other than that, no one else in the book is textually marked as having a race. Cecil Taylor does show up in Ted Pearson’s piece but without reference to his racial identity. And there is a reference in Barrett Watten’s piece to the Black Panthers.

Of course, the majority of the people mentioned in the book are not racially marked at all and I have no idea how any of them identify. So, what I need to say, but failed to originally...

My comments referred simply to coding/marking, not to any author's personal beliefs. I was not making an accusation of racism. Silliman, for instance, talks about race frankly and with care in his discussion of the men his mother dates. He is talking about racism, not in any way indulging in it. While I still find the discussion of his father and the African American woman disturbing, I actually assume that this is its purpose--even if I don't understand why he puts this image at the beginning of his piece.

I remain interested in where race gets marked and what races get marked in literature. I think noticing this matters--which is one more reason I don’t want to retract my original, admittedly awkward, observation. I am especially interested in how it shows up in this work because there are pointed other moments in this book where the writing these people are doing is presented as a critique of identity. So who gets a race and who does not feels relevant to me. Race is a hard and interesting discussion. At a certain point, this has a lot to do with dealing with Hawai'i which has complicated race politics, I just figured I couldn't learn anything about it if I didn't just dive in and try and figure it out.

This is not my autobiography, but when I was writing this response, I kept wondering if the issue of race and sexuality stood out so prominently for me because Robinson tells an innocent story about moving out of a triangulated relationship and into a coupled one and I am hypersensitive to moments in literature and other arts when triangulated relationships fail. Would I have noticed how race shows up in this book if it hadn’t been part of the triangle? I’m not sure. But, ultimately, it isn’t fair to Robinson to bring my baggage to his autobiography. And if I want to talk about sexuality in the Grand Piano, I should talk about sexuality in the Grand Piano. But right now, I don't want to say anything more about the Grand Piano.


Once again, rereading this book today, still interested in it. Despite feeling a little beseiged and called out by 10 people all at once (10 at once! I'm not strong enough.). It holds up under the second reading. I was struck by Harryman’s reading of Creeley’s “The Door.” Creeley is so hard to write about. And I think she has got all the complication around that poem in really great detail. I'm looking forward to future volumes.

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