[By: Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]
The death of Senator John McCain quickens our interest in how to deal with contemporary narratives of life history. McCain’s touchstone story pertains to American conservative values, the consequences of trauma, military and public service, violence, and a sense of honor. Barack Obama’s differently remarkable narratives direct attention to the absence of military service, class and caste violence, the audacity of hope, centralist values, and diversity in the history of “race.” Narratives about McCain and Obama stand in noteworthy contrast to future narratives about Donald Trump, stories that may place ego in the foreground as they unfold tales of sexism, constipated values, inadvertent racism, the violence of capitalism, sleight of mouth, and avoidance of military service. Ego, self-fashioning, and boldness are apparent in the three sets of narrative, but excess lynches the Trump set. Violence is a common denominator in recuperating, analyzing, and interpreting the biographies of these public figures. Degrees of pathology are also powerful factors for which we ought to account. As we —all of us who deal with the mind and its expressions —- venture into dealing with these history-drenched narratives, we must bring to our work an admission regarding the limits of knowing. Perhaps the most we can say about “reality” is that we habitually refute and revise one iteration in order to establish the hegemony of another iteration.
What we champion as knowledge is quite more subjective than the intellectual commerce of criticism is willing to admit, unless our premises of purpose, our ideologies and methodologies, and our time-bound historiographies become the objects of scrutiny. We seem to be more predisposed to use rhetorical deflection than to risk plain talk about uncertainty. Thus, a tantalizing question arises. Do we need to become slightly more honest by using a combination of traditional methods of scholarship and close reading, psychoanalysis, and the findings of neuroscience/ neuroforensics to locate fictive and non-fiction narratives in literary and cultural histories? Access newspaper articles on violence at The Washington Post and The Advocate.
Make a response to the question.
If we choose to limit our inquiries to the matter of African American male life histories and the genres of autobiography, memoir, and biography, we must prepare to deal ruthlessly with the systemic nature of American violence, trauma, and domesticated terrorism. We can find no sanctuary from the grotesque aspects and affects/effects of implacable violence, and we need not fool ourselves into thinking that the interventions of critical cultural study will yield consensus or anything more than “symbolic” resolutions.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of English at Dillard University, Honorary Professor at Central China Normal University, and HBW Board Member (Emeritus).