Okay, I’m back, Aura.
David Moser
122

I had a friend from Nigeria, Olu, a visiting student on exchange and she signed up, unawares, for a course in African literature as an elective literature course, back when I was an undergrad. She was very disappointed- Heart of Darkness and the like. She was looking for something more like Wole Soyinka (only not him, since she was very familiar with his plays and was interested in exploring new, to her, work) and her advisor instead suggested a world lit course (which was really mostly British) or else something in women’s studies.

The point was, one cannot conflate the African with the African American experience; nor with that of a person of color. And yet I don’t think we, how do you define we, I don’t think I expect anyone, a PoC, an Irish-American male like myself, a Persian atheist, a Somali Muslim girl, anyone, to confine themselves to only writing things from their own point of view.

It probably increases your empathy and capacity for understanding to try and see things from another’s point of view. But, historically, not just with cultural appropriation but with cultural domination- did Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments edit, mistranslate, misinterpret the underlying text, for instance? Was this for his own profit? Did it exploit the text while at the same time reinforcing stereotypes which fed a self-fulfilling prophecy which aligned with a certain narrative about the 'mystery of the Orient’ which suited a need and quenched a thirst in his readers?

Proust associates this 'mystery of the Orient' (a term out of favor now for being eurocentric which 'orients' itself in terms of relationship to Europe- and a white, male hegemony) with the Hasidim, with Bloch (a character in Remembrance of Things Past) and anti-Semitism around the Dreyfus Affair in turn of the century Paris.

I don’t know if we can appreciate having a tin ear towards cultural appropriation of anyone else’s culture, outside of the context of our own culture which can blind us to the theft. Until time passes, things change, other voices are heard, and the context changes.

Black Like Me and the Confessions of Nat Turner were celebrated at the time they were written, as examples of writers who 'got it’ and weren’t merely exploiting the black experience like Elvis did with Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

But Tolstoy writes some great female characters, Zora Neale Hurston gets you inside the head of men, Toni Morrison channels ghosts. I don’t have any answers myself but I might recommend some books which have helped me: In Miserable Slavery Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, Native Son by Richard Wright, Kabloona by Gontran De Poncins, The Arabian Nights Entertainments translated by Sir Richard Burton and The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night translated by Hussein Haddawy.

If this comment was off-topic, unsolicited or inappropriate or on the other hand inadvertently (and ironically) insulting to those readers whom might find the original post exploitative, the irony is most definitely not intended and I apologize, in advance, for any offence taken.

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