Saturday, May 19, 2007

"The Artificial White Man" - Stanley Crouch

"The Artificial White Man" is Stanley Crouch's most recent collection of essays on all things American, artistic and political. Crouch is a curmudgeonly New York writer that I first encountered twenty years ago in his arts writing for the Village Voice. I'd never read anyone who combined indignation, rage and what seemed like a heavy dose of common sense before. My own views were only starting to coalesce into traditional conservatism I tend to favor these days and finding a liberal who wasn't simply vomiting up the standard liberal lines on the arts and culture was enlightening.

I admit I also loved his thick style awash in seemingly endless trains of adjectives. Again, I'd never read a style like Crouch's up till then. I even got a subscription to the New Republic because he was listed as an associate editor at the time. Unfortunately he never wrote a piece for it during the years I got it.

Over the years as my reading scope widened I saw the verbal bloat that Crouch suffers from. I also realized that too often his essays are limited by his pugnacity and strong prejudices. I still enojyed his newspaper columns but I didn't buy his novel when it came out.

So why did I buy "The Artificial White Man"? I've come to the conclusion that I love essays. I like their succinctness and tight focus. Too much non-fiction I encounter is crushed down with minutiae that I don't care about and I can barely imagine the authors even have regards for.

I started reading the Atlantic Monthly because it features some of the best non-fiction writing I'm aware of. People like Christopher Hitchens and Sandra Tsing Loh are regular contributors. Robert Kaplan, Mark Bowden and all sorts of amazing authors regularly write great dispatches on the wars.

That's a long way of saying I'll always grab a book of essays that looks interesting when I'm in need of something new to read. Crouch's book seemed to fit the bill.

The book is a mishmash of determinedly provacative essays on white justifications and fetishizations of black social patholgies, the unwillingness of American writers to confront race (as well as anything outside of their immediate social zone) and paeans to some artists who happen to do all the things Crouch wants them to.

Can you tell I thought the book was a little too much? I mean it only cost me about $13 (thank you little beige Barnes&Noble member card - absolutely worth the $25 per annum if you buy more than three of four books a year) and he does have an interesting take on things. Race is still the monster underpinning and undermining so much of what goes on in this country these days and we don't really discuss it.

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