One day I was watching C-Span's Book TV. Toni Morrison was speaking to a room of librarians. She read from the first pages of her then-new novel, Love. When she finished, she closed her portfolio and said: "This is from the new novel, Love, which--as you can tell--is perfect."
The combination of audacious pride and irony tickles me to this day. But if I like pride and audacity, why was I so repulsed by Punk'd and then, again, by Timberfake's and Fallon's History of Hip-Hop (the topic of last week's thoughts on the Timberlake phenomenon) ? Why do I find it ok for the senior black diva to show this arrogance and not the junior white boy?
Well, to start, I'd have to say I consider the artist's back story. I know that Morrison didn't just waltz into her position in national (not to mention global) arts and letters. Her success came relatively late in life -- she was nearly 40 when her first novel was published. The acclaim for her work was not immediate and universal. She paid dues. And, to this day, some cultural critics take it as a badge of honor to despise her writing.† So, I like her for the same reason I like the way Navratilova and Boris Becker played tennis. (Schiavone has the mantle now). I admire people for whom it doesn't come easily, but who persist and excel nonetheless. I admire people who take a risk and leave it all on the court (or on the stage). Conversely, I also admire those--like Morrison and Roger Federer--who can produce magic, seemingly at will, yet have a humility about it, even if slyly expressed.*
But the obligation to work hard and the freedom to express self-satisfaction often get distributed unevenly in a race-and-gender matrix--especially in an economy that sells us fantasies of race- and gender-specific properties (see: the Jersey Shore, or, actually, nearly any reality show where there is no task at hand). So, in the interest of taking a risk of my own, I am going to step down from my academic pedestal and try to explore the roots of my contradictory distaste for white braggadocio and admiration of the diva mode... but through autobiographical rather than sociological means. Of course, I don't think that social and historical forces can be taken out of the picture, but those can be delivered via pronouncement or implied in a narrative. I'm going to try the latter as an experiment.