Monday, January 15, 2018

Twinned Witnesses



For Christmas, our son gave me a brace of books -- carefully boxed together, a kind of electron-positron pair.   He conceived them as forming, not a mere set-theoretic union, but a tensor product of two Hermitian conjugates, intricately linked.  These are:

J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016)
and
Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power:  An American Tragedy (2017).

BLUF:  both excellent, and “better together”.

To comment on their sociopolitical content  would be beyond our brief.  But a literary note on the structure of the former.
An anthology of articles spanning years  is problematic.  At the worst, it can be a gaggle of op-ed pieces  that turn out to be less than the sum of their parts.   Eight Years is notably successful in this respect.  It reprints the original (memorable) pieces of essay-reportage, from The Atlantic (these have aged very well), and embeds them successively in the skeleton of a memoir of those very years.  The personal/reportorial dialectic proves energizing.



Historical footnote:  As most who have even heard of him  know, Mr Coates champions an old idea -- Reparations -- whose current status in the zeitgeist resembles that of a letter-bomb.   Some perspective, from a wide-ranging book of psychosocial history, which begins in Colonial times  and concludes with a chapter called “Native Sons”:

Faced with expanding black claims, resistance and repression may become more bitter, even, than in the past. … A more equalitarian ideology  might itself increase savagery if repression occurs, given the tricks guilt plays in the human mind.
-- Wilson McWilliams, The Idea of Fraternity in America (1973), p. 613

Orthoepic footnote:  Mr Coates’ puzzling prénom put me in mind of Nefertiti; but adepts assure me that it rhymes with Tallahassee.   Thus, it is not exactly “pronounced the way it’s spelled”, but then neither is François.

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