Sunday, February 12, 2017

Black history month reading: Zora Neale Hurston

For Black History month, I decided it was time to read a lot of Zora Neale Hurston. Good choice! I'm reading her non-fiction - especially Tell My Horse and Mules and Men - before reading Their Eyes were Watching God. Although it may seem an odd comparison, or no, it is an odd comparison, Hurston keeps making me think of two apparently different writers: D.H. Lawrence and Pasolini. Both had a strong sense for the massive change overtaking "pre-modern" society - which was really the majority of society in all countries. One has to remember that the working population of the US, in 1900, was more than half agricultural. In Italy, of coure, it was even more. While Britain was a vanguard country, which had shrunk its agricultural sector in the nineteenth century - while never overcoming a nostalgia for its forms, or a class system still rooted in the prestige of landholding. Hurston was famously a political conservative, a supporter of Taft and Smathers, a sniffer out of communists. But this was a surface politics, for I think her intellectual committment, like Lawrence's and Pasolini's, was to a resistance to the disembodying of culture, the uprooting of the organic ties of culture. Like Lawrence and Pasolini, the erotic element in Hurston is incredibly charged with a total existential stance. By the way, how did Hurston get away with such things as an elaborate description of the ceremony of sexually preparing a Jamaican bride - in Tell My Horse - by masturbating her? I mean, this is the kind of stuff I thought they censored in the 1930s. Perhaps she was "protected" by being a black woman, and thus, invisible to white readers. I don't know. I do know she was a very bold woman.

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