Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Being Haunted by Carson McCullers/ The Black Experience as the Origin of Southern Gothic

"Lou'siana, Lou'siana
Mama's got the low down blues
Lou'siana, Lou'siana
Moma's going on a cruise"

-Bessie Smith
Lou'siana Low Down Blues

I keep trying to figure out, some clever way to explain how I stumbled upon Carson McCullers, a mostly obscure southern female blues writer born into the world with a rapidly deteriorating body and a May Fly's life span, but with a fire raging inside her.

But there is no literary flourish to make a wanna be writer sound profound. The simple fact is, it's been less than three months since I've learned of her work and I can't recall how.

The only straw I can grasps at, is that she came through the doorway created long ago when an ex lover dragged me to New Orleans, kicking and screaming.  I returned permanently altered. Yet I isolated New Orleans/Louisiana completely outside the south because I was uncomfortable feeling so at home in the south.

Of course this was immature. New Orleans/Louisiana exist in dual worlds, one physical, out of which the name "The Big Easy" arises. The other, is darker more ethereal with porous boarders between past, present, and future, sensed only by those with developed "antennae".  The American South is are far more in New Orleans/ Louisiana's gravitational pull than the midwest, especially for Black people. 

Creole Gumbo on my kitchen table                                                                                                                                              Note the authentic Cajun  Gumbo Spoon  made  from  an
Oyster shell

I cook and eat gumbo, chitlins, and greens, not just because of my connections to Nola, but because of my connections to the whole south including Mississippi. I can no longer ignore, the south's history, because like an insane mad scientist, it made me.  For most of America's history, It kidnapped, in-slaved beat, chiseled, carved, raped, murdered, hung, burned, garroted, drowned, etc., the flesh of the African  painfully reconstructing it into the Black race. And here I am. 

Mr. Rubin Stacy

Ms. Laura Nelson. wife and mother of two 

There is also no place in the south where the soil was not completely drench by the juice of the Strange Fruit who are my ancestors, which is the foundation of Southern Gothic. 

The doorway that now connects me with Nola also connects me- as my ancestors did- with all parts and spirits of the south, good and bad.  This is a haunting

I'm working my way through four of Carson McCuller's novels and just finished her biographical novel "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter".  

Below is my from Goodreads review, which is the FaceBook for readers.

In this southern town, a deep and toxic main of desperation, regret, and terror, runs through it.  
Most have succumbed under it’s putrid influence.  But brief glimmers of innocents, hope, and, dreams, still exists, and though often mislaid, there is love. 

A small band of social and cultural outcasts sense the darkness, but know not enough to identify it.  

They're only three who can.

 Jake Blount, a wandering itinerant worker, angry drunk, and communist sympathizer, trying to figure out the secret to getting the masses to rise up against oppression.  

Antonapoulos, an obese mute, thought dimwitted, for years lived placidly and seemingly content, with his best friend John Singer. One day he rebels, going from kind and gentle, to brazen acts of petty thievery and minor public violence, that get him committed -by his uncle- to an insane asylum, in a far away town.   

Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, a Black doctor who allows  (to borrow the term from Samuel Beckett) “the mess”, to pull his family apart.  Years later he rebels by simple acts of personal dignity and humanity as a Black man, and professionalism as a doctor, to educate the Black community.

At the center of “the mess” connecting and fortifying these renegades, which includes, Mick Kelly, (who a character Carson McCullers based off herself), is John Singers.  Singer is a gentle and deeply empathetic mute who keeps the door of his boarding house rental room, always open even when he leaves (in which case he leaves a note on the table) to visit Antonapoulos, who’s well being is connected with Singer’s ability to sustain the outcasts and himself. 

McCullers, does what many white writers attempt, to give real and original voice to Black characters. While most fail miserably, she connects.  In fact, her use of Black southern vernacular actually give their words more power, as opposed to sacrificing their dignity, which is the problem with Zorna Neal Hurston’s work, including “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “Mules and Men”. 
Zora Neal Hurston

Charlotte Osgood Mason
 Hurston, unlike the rest of the Harlem Renaissance writers, wrote primarily for her white patron, Charlotte Osgood Mason, who called those she assisted financially, her "God Children", and demanded that they at all times call her “Godmother”.  Their God Mother also shackled their artistic freedom, demanding they fixate their artistic work in the primitive speak and child like behavior that represented one of the common Black stereotypes of the time. 
Mason also demanded to approve all work before it was published and made "corrections".
This caused Langston Hughes to leave the financial comfort Osgood provided and strike out on his own during, The Great Depression.

Chole Ardelia Wofford aka "Toni Morrison"

McCullers doesn’t stop there, treading further into the darkness, she takes the reader into Chole Ardelia Wofford aka Toni Morrison territory where few writers cross. I sensed the coming onslaught of literary cataclysmic violence that Wofford uses to painfully baptize the reader into her faith such as her
brilliant and classic tragi-comic novel, "The Bluest Eye" when Soaphead Church drives the sad and already traumatized, fragile child, Pecola Breedlove, insane 

At twenty-three-years of age, McCullers, was far more clumsily than Wofford, which induces a far more painfully and raw shock in the novel, such that my first visceral response was anger at this dead white southern women.  How dare she mutilate him that way!? Why did she do this!? What right did she have!?  Indignantly I thought , she only got away with this racist bullshit because she wrote this novel in 1940. 

And she's wasn't even finished with her trespass. 

McCullers brings "him" home from the hospital to haunt us with his unchanged simplicity and the simplicity of his yearnings.  His family and friends gather in the southern winter darkness, around the fire to welcome him home, passing around jars of fruit flavored moonshine that sympathetic neighbors leave at the front door in sympathy.  He, "feels the stumps of his legs with his strong dark hands" and says "I just wish I knowed where my f-f-feets be. That the main thing worries me. The doctor never give em back to me after what them men done did. I sure do wish I knowed where they at. I certainly will be glade to taste some of that boogie –woogie. To have something good to drink on, is the only thing m-make forget this misery. If I just wish I knowed where my f-feets are”

 When I got over the shock of the brutality, I knew why,  Carson McCullers “went there”. The same reason why "the caged bird sings" cause it has to.  The problem is more people can’t and don’t want too. And the fact that she did so in the 1940's in North Carolina is simply amazing. 

Gospel singer Ethel Waters and Carson McCullers

My favorite Bokowski poems is his ode to Carson McCullers below. Due note along with alcoholism she had numerous illnesses including various strokes starting in her early twenties. If any one deserved a good drink it was her.

she died of alcoholism

wrapped in a blanket 
on a deck chair

on an ocean 
all her books of
 terrified loneliness
all her books about

the cruelty 
of loveless love
were all that was left 
of her
as the strolling vacationer

discovered her body
notified the captain
and she was quickly dispatched

to somewhere else
 on the ship
as everything


she had written it"


beks said...

great post!

Invisible Man said...

Dear Beks,

Why thank you kindly, yo!

And your praise is extra special cause it's coming from BROOKLYN!. Like Talib Kweli rapped in that song "Definition" "Brooklyn New York city where they paint murals of Biggie"

So please check back cause like the Joker said( in Batman The Dark Night) " our operation is small but we're expanding aggressively !"

Happy New Year to you and all yo Brooklyn Crew! Buck Buck Buck!!!



Anonymous said...

Ahoy Invisible Man, Sir.

I love the pictures you used for this so harsh and then so sweet with Carson and Ethel Waters. It made my day


Anonymous said...

Hi, I'd like to thank you because I was looking for some good readings on Southern Gothic, and here I discover about Carson McCullers.
I'm Italian and I have become very interested in the local folklore, music and imagery of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia coastal zones, after watching HBO True Detective.
America has an amazing variety of traditions and cultures, and Southern Gothic was something I had never heard of.
Now that I have, I think I will further explore...