Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Bright and Morning Star," by Richard Wright

Richard Wright

It turns out that last month's author, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote in his piece "Why Write?" about this month's author, Richard Wright.

Sartre, writing in 1947, speaks of the alienation of Richard Wright.  What is the nature of Wright's work?  Is Wright a "pampleteer, a blues writer, or the Jeremiah of the Southern Negros"? His audience is not the "white racialists of Virginia or South Carolina, whose minds are made up," nor the "black peasants of the bayous."  Rather, he addresses himself to "the cultivated Negroes of the North and the white Americans of goodwill (intellectuals, democrats of the Left, radicals, CIO workers)."

After the Second World War Richard Wright moved to Paris, and remained an expatriate until his death in 1960 at the age of 52.  Sartre writes, "if he seems to be happy about the reception his books have had in Europe, still it is obvious that at the beginning he had not the slightest idea of writing for the European public.  Europe is far away.  Its indignation is ineffectual and hypocritical."

Sartre asserts that Wright's work is an example of what Baudelaire called the "double simultaneous postulation."  If he had written for whites exclusively, "he might have turned out to be more prolix, more didactic, and more abusive," whereas if he had only written for blacks, his prose would be "more elliptical, more of a confederate, and more elegiac."

If we in the United States have indeed entered a "post-racial" phase, as many believed after the election of Barack Obama as president, we would no longer need to apply the "double simultaneous postulation" to Wright's story.  How do you read Richard Wright?