My view is that there has been far too much emphasis on accessibility when it comes to writers from socially marginalized groups. This has resulted in shallow, simplistic readings that belabor the most obvious aspects of the writer’s work and situation, readings that go something like this: “So-and-so is a black writer. Black people are victims of racism. So-and-so’s writing speaks out against racism.” It has yet to be shown that such simplifications have had any positive political effect, if, indeed, they have had any political effect at all. As I argue in the last essay in this book, “Other: From Noun to Verb,” the ascription of only the most obvious orders of statement to the work of black writers, the confinement of the work to racial readings that tell us only what we already know, is a symptom of the social othering such readings presumably oppose.
Failures or refusals to acknowledge complexity among writers from socially marginalized groups, no matter how “well-intentioned,” condescend to the work and to the writers and thus, hardly the solution they purport to be, are a part of the problem. Allied with such simplistic readings is the tendency to overlook variance and divergent approaches in the writing from such groups, especially to overlook writing that defies canons of accessibility. The clear, polemical, sloganeering Baraka is better known and more widely validated, despite the controversies his work has aroused, than the obscure, introspective LeRoi Jones, just as Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool” is thought to be more genuine than “The Anniad.” The poetry of Melvin Tolson, the poetry and plays of Jay Wright and such work as William Melvin Kelley’s Dunfords Travels Everywheres and N.J. Loftis’s Black Anima tend to become margins within the margins, receiving much less attention and validation than they deserve. It thus becomes easy and potentially self-fulfilling to characterize writing from socially marginalized groups in the most sweeping, totalizing terms, to posit a homogeneity of approach and inclination. Ron Silliman, for example, writes:There are, however, writers from socially marginalized groups who do both—tell their stories while calling such conventions into question, tell their stories by calling such conventions into question. The distinction between a formally experimental center and a formally conventional periphery distorts and grossly oversimplifies matters. Just as there are writers from “groups that have been the subject of history” who adhere to convention, there are writers from groups that have been its object who do not. The essays that follow will have the salutary consequence, I hope, of reminding us that experimental writing, the aesthetic margin, is not the domain solely of those from socially nonmarginalized groups.Progressive poets who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history—many white male heterosexuals, for example—are apt to challenge all that is supposedly “natural” about the formation of their own subjectivity. That their writing today is apt to call into question, if not actually explode, such conventions as narrative, persona and even reference can hardly be surprising. At the other end of this spectrum are poets who do not identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history, for they instead have been its objects. The narrative of history has led not to their self-actualization, but to their exclusion and domination. These writers and readers—women, people of color, sexual minorities, the entire spectrum of the “marginal”—have a manifest political need to have their stories told. That their writing should often appear much more conventional, with the notable difference as to whom is the subject of those conventions, illuminates the relationship between form and audience.