Monday, October 27, 2008

Writing Ourselves Into the World

At the beginning of each semester, I challenge young writers to reconsider their more as a billboard about themselves than a paper about something else: "You are writing yourself into the world," I tell them, "... how you see the world, what you believe to be important, who you are ... you are writing yourself every time you write."

This bit of affirmation comes alongside my thinking from Dreams From My Father (Obama 2004):

He held up a copy of Heart of Darkness, evidence for the court. I reached over to snatch it out of his hands. "See there," Marcus said. "Makes you embarrassed, don't it - just being seen with a book like this. I'm telling you, man, this stuff will poison your mind." ....

Regina smiled and shook her head .... I tossed the book into my backpack. "Actually, he's right," I said. "It is a racist book. The way Conrad sees it, Africa's the cesspool of the world, black folks are savages, and any contact with them breeds infection."

Regina blew on her coffee. "So why are you reading it?"

"Because it's assigned." I paused, not sure if I should go on. "And because .... because the book teaches me things, "I said. "About white people, I mean. See, the book's not really about Africa. Or black people. It's about the man who wrote it. The European. The American. A particular way of looking at the world. If you can keep your distance, it's all there, in what's said and what's left unsaid" (103).

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