At the Very Heart of it
I learned something extremely important today. Or I should say, rather, that something I have always believed in and think is extremely important, but have never expressed in writing, was written eloquently and impactfully, by wouldn’t you know it, an eloquent and impactful writer. In Sherman Alexie’s introduction to Percival Everett’s novel Watershed Alexie discusses the representation of Native American’s by non natives. As a rule Alexie is opposed to non native representation, that is until he reads Everett’s novel. The introduction and novel are more than worth reading in their entirety but the part that motivated me was when Alexie touched on the importance for writers to challenge and examine their subjects in an effort to find some version of authentic ‘truth’. I put truth in quotations here because truth is so often subjective and personal.
“Percival Everett interrogates me. He makes me doubt my most closely held beliefs and forces me to look at the world in new ways, and damn it, at the very heart of it, isn’t that exactly what we want our very best writers to do?”
Not all writing is interrogatory. But when we write and are arguing something aren’t we trying to challenge people to see something in a different way? In fact aren’t we trying to get them to see it our way? In this introduction Alexie asked some questions that I have not previously given any thought:
“Why do we admire the liberal radical who leaves his family to fight for freedom, but denigrate the conservative business man who leaves his family to make money?”
I guess we all feel the need to chose a side sometimes without considering some dualities and hypocrisies. Another tortuously true statement made by Alexie is the moral nature of human beings:
“Percival Everett understands that every individual human is morally ambivalent, that every human action has negative and positive reactions. Everett knows that the worst of us and the best of us are only separated by the thinnest of moral margins.”
This Native American literature class offers endless food for thought. One of the most important lessons so far is to approach talking about people from other cultures in a real or authentic way with humility and respect but also with some challenge and examination.