Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More On Kunin

"In my view, accusing Place of racism is intellectually irresponsible. The idea behind this accusation seems to be that any writing that uses racist language or imagery is itself racist, and, if the writer is white, white supremacist. By that logic, any representation of racism would be racist. The study of racism would become impossible. At best, the study of racism could proceed only by further inflicting or exploiting the pain of what it studies."

I think there's some food for thought here, but also question the opening sentence.  I question this, too--"At best, the study of racism could proceed only by further inflicting or exploiting the pain of what it studies"--but simultaneously think this is precisely where the fodder for more thinking lies.

"From a position of seeming powerlessness, Place’s accusers leveraged the cancellation of most of her appearances in May, June, and July. I call that power. In fact, I call it an abuse of power."

Without more, I'm not clear on why this would qualify as an "abuse of power."

"To be perfectly clear, I am saying that great poetry might not only use racist language and imagery, but also might express racist attitudes."

This, for me, needs a lot of elaboration.  I would argue that, often, impressive works of art/writing which contain racist/white supremacist language and/or content would often be even stronger without it: Path's Ariel would be a star example: "Nigger-eye berries" are not what makes that poem as strong as it is.  I can see, though, how this could apply to Flannery O'Connor, whose A Good Man Is Hard To Find grandmother is disarmingly (for this contemporary reader) casual in her use of the word nigger, but whose use is not obviously horrifyingly racist: she actually uses the word in a moment of social-consciousness, telling her grand-daughter to be mindful that people shouldn't be judged negatively just because they are economically impoverished.  I think a key difference between MCAG and Kunin may be how they conceive of white supremacy. I suspect MCAG uses my definition--that it's a baseline state of whiteness that can safely be assumed and which whiteness can never be innocent of--whereas I am guessing Kunin sees it as a far less total phenomenon, that he does not view it as a foundational state, but rather one which may pertain to discrete acts.  He does, admitedly, acknowledge early on in his essay that this is a way some do understand the term; but even with this acknowledgment it's not clear he does concord.

"Place’s accusers have miscalculated: By attacking her personal liberty, they have given additional power to her writing." 

The conclusion that this scenario grants additional power to the writing in question strikes me as rather pat/to work from a warrant which needs explicit acknowledgment and, more importantly, questioning.  I'm also not wholly on board with the "personal liberty" bit.  By invoking this concept, Kunin seems to be working with the assumption that Place's project is indeed art--and yet it's not clear he thinks this is the case.  As Place acknowledges, and as Kunin seems to agree, she in fact is not within the domain of personal liberty with her project: it violates "fair use"; she supposedly wants her endeavor to be sued, etc.  But more than this, I don't think it's sufficient to seemingly unquestioningly take a stance that personal liberty trumps darn near all other stances.  It is an important concept--yes, I am not disputing that/this--but it's worth thinking about its limits, and the limits already built into its legal definitions/contours.