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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Hill, Herbert
The negro writer and the creative imagination,   pp. [244 and 245]-255 PDF (11.0 MB)

Page 247

famous play, Six Characters in Search
of an Author. This novel is peppered
with headlines from newspaper clippings
that Demby juxtaposes for dramatic
effects and as a vehicle for his
commentary. The headlines demonstrate
the meaninglessness of what goes on in the
"real" world, in contrast to the fictional
world of the novel. But in either
territory - fictional or non-fictional-
absurdity runs rampant. Which
absurdity is real and which has meaning
is the question the author keeps asking.
Demby, like others of his generation,
is influenced by existentialism, by an
awareness of modern man's estrangement
from an absurd world and in
The Catacombs Demby gives further
proof of the rich literary imagination
indicated in his first novel, Beetlecreek,
published in 1950. William Demby was in
that book, possessed with a powerful
idea. The theme and material of
Beetlecreek is the subject matter of
great literature. However, the achievement
of Beetlecreek lacks, finally, the full
resonance of its subject. The material
in the work of a mature writer
reverberates back through
experience so that what is evoked in
the reader is more than the
dimensions of what is written. What
one could call, I suppose, the novel's
fourth dimension, the commentary
that is always greater than that which
is described. Demby, for all of his
achievement here, lacks the development
to sound out the full potential of his
sources. Both the writer and the book
remain too close to youth, to promise, to
beginning. But, Beetlecreek, although
ignored by most critics, remains a
significant contribution to contemporary
American letters (and was recently
republished in an Avon Library
paperback edition).
The obsession with race and violence
and the brutality within American society
have long been a major subject
for some of America's most important
writers, among them William Faulkner.
Now young Negro writers, such as
LeRoi Jones, in essays and fiction,
are exploring these themes. In a short
span of years, LeRoi Jones has
written poetry, fiction, p'ays, essays,
reviews, a full length study of jazz called
Blues People (1963), followed by
Black Music (1967), a series of essays
on jazz music.
His autobiographical novel,
The System of Dante's Hell (1965),
together with his collection of random
essays collected in the volume entitled
Home (1966) are perhaps most valuable in
revealing his development not only as
as writer but also as a spokesman
for a generation of Negro youth who
are not only bitterly angry at the racism
of American society, but have chosen
to disaffiliate from it and have also
promised to destroy it.
The essays in Home written during a
five year period from 1960-65 are wide
ranging, and although concerned with
such disparate subjects as "The Dempsey-
Liston Fight," the "Legacy of Malcolm
X," "Soul Food" and "Street Protests"
they are all bound together by two
assumptions: first, that America remains
basically a racist society in which little
has changed for the great majority
of black people, and secondly, that
the victims of American racism, the
22 million people of color, have within
themselves the potential to change not
only their own lives, but also the
power to change the whole American
civilization. Repeatedly, in these essays,
he warns us, however, that if these
changes do not take place, and fast,
too, there is very likely the possibility of a
holocaust. The essays in Home
demonstrate how the author has moved
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