Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Bluest Eye

I finished this book on the train from one client meeting to another. For many reasons, the book struck me and I hope I was as moved as Toni Morrison wanted her readers to be.

This struck me:-
We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humour. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used - to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only agggressive; we were not free, merely licensced; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.
[p163 of my edition]

There are some books, and films that make me quiet inside. And there are others that have my mind racing. Incomprehensibly, this book did both, at once. As I walked through icy winds from the train station to my workplace, I thought about these words. I thought about being not good, not free, not strong. I thought about how I delude myself into thinking I am these things.

I thought, also, about another passage that struck me in the book. That struck me because it sounded like it could be about me - or at least (or worst?) an eloquent articulation how I am feeling about myself at the moment.

[H]e found misanthropy an excellent means of developing character: when he subdued his revulsion and occasionally touched, helped, counseled, or befriended somebody, he was able to think of his behaviour as generous and his intentions as noble. When he was enraged by some human effort or flaw, he was able to regard himself as discriminating, fastidious, and full of nice scruples.

As in the case of many misanthropes, his disdain for people led him into a profession designed to serve them.
[from page 131 of my addition]

I could keep on in this vein. I could keep typing out passages in some kind of homage to Toni Morrison's ability to hold a mirror to my view of myself, and of the world. I would be doing so mostly to impress upon you the need to experience Toni Morrison's ability to hold a mirror up to yourself. You will probably find different things that hit you where it hurts, that make you confront some ugly truth you don't want to admit about yourself. But you will find them.

The first novel I read of Toni Morrison's was Song of Solomon. Someone gave it to me thinking it was a rendering of the Biblical love story of Solomon. And certainly, it was something like that. (Not that I am overly familiar with Biblical stories, but I suspect Toni Morrison is.) I know, when I read Toni Morrison, that I will be horrified and saddened, and rendered so much more human because of my horror. But I have never before been so discomfited - and not because of the incestuous rape of a character by her father - but by the way she has implicated me - the reader of a piece of fiction - in the act.

I could more succintly say what all the above ramble means: You, too, should read The Bluest Eye.

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1 comment:

Cam said...

Hi, I stumbled across your blog while searching for a recipe for pho ga (haven't found any yet).

That book sounds great - and it bought home a few home truths. A parrallel that springs to mind is the all too common scenario of one person making another person feel bad so the first person can feel good about him or herself.

I have an interesting journey back to my homeland coming up soon. It's not quite as dramatically different as yours, I came with my parents to NZ from Oz when I was 10. I'll be brining my father's ashes back to the family plot in NSW and visiting the town I where I was born for the first time since I left. It will be quite an experience for me to see my roots and history.

Well, that's it for now. I've enjoyed what I've read of your blog. I will pop back for more soon. Hen gap lai!

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