Ta-Nehisi Coates: Three Not-So-Easy Pieces

by Corey Robin on August 21, 2015

I’ve spent the past few days reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and posting about it on Facebook. Rather than rewriting those posts as a single piece here, I thought I’d take some screen shots, and share them with some additional commentary. A shout-out to my friend Lizzie Donahue, whose queries to me on our daily walk this morning prompted the last and lengthiest post.

Here’s the first post.

Post 1

And here’s a short addendum to this post, where I comment further on the theme of education and Coates’s discussion of his time at Howard University.

Addendum 1

I say here that breaking with the mytho-poetic view of a heroic African past was the second great trauma of Coates’s life. I should be more precise. I mean disillusionment. But it was a disillusionment that was immensely productive. More than the loss of a specific view of things, the break with black nationalism made Coates suspicious of all master narratives, all collective platforms of totality. As an alternative, he turned to the specificity and concreteness of poetry, “of small hard things,” as he says: “aunts and uncles, smoke breaks after sex, girls on stoops drinking from mason jars.” And in that specificity “I began to see discord, argument, chaos, perhaps even fear, as a kind of power.” The “gnawing discomfort, the chaos, the intellectual vertigo was not an alarm. It was a beacon.” This is a writer for whom the struggle to see what is in front of his nose is a lifelong effort, a hard-won right to see things as they are, without mediation or adornment or chastising authority. So much so that it has made him, as we’ll see, suspicious of all collectivities, all platforms. [click to continue…]

Best Sexism Analogy Ever

by Belle Waring on August 21, 2015

I’ve mentioned before that I was sexually harassed by a prof as an undergrad. (This isn’t even the point of this story, but whatever.) From the perspective of an older person I can see that my professor hadn’t actually been teaching female students for all that long, since Columbia was so late in going co-ed (Columbia was holding out in the hopes of a Harvard-Radcliffe-style full merger between it and its sister women’s college, Barnard, which never happened.) I think Barnard students were already able to take some Columbia classes prior to 1983, and it’s not like I think it’s an excuse, but there you are.

In any case, this caused my boyfriend at the time to question whether I really deserved my A+. Not supportive, dude. It made me a little anxious about the idea, but not so much, because I really was an excellent student in this class, and my GPA was above 4 already that term. In college I had a strategy of studying for exams that was fool-proof. I write quickly, and would take reams of notes for each class. Then when exam time rolled around I would re-write my notes in a condensed form (and re-read the main texts, because I also read fast.) Zoë is dyslexic and finds all this supremely irritating for obvious reasons, but is nonetheless interested. I once helped a friend who had been skipping class half the term pass the final for a Central and South American Art History class with only a single night to study. He was resigned to failure and thought he wouldn’t graduate on time. NOT ON MY WATCH, HOMES. [This is not to say I’m amazing or anything; being good at studying for college exams is a skill with limited utility, and not necessarily a predictor of whether someone can, just pulling an example at random, finish her f$%king PhD dissertation or anything. Further, I must allow I chemically enhanced these abilities in a way that is not recommended for extended periods.]

The notes I made for Roman History were so good that people learned about them [?]. (I did give them to two friends, with whom I actually studied.) Thus a frat bro whom I didn’t know from Adam approached me one day and asked if he could have a copy. What? What?! Who does this? I declined, obviously, but with insufficient scorn, simply because I was so baffled and astonished. Zoë’s response to this is the best: “did he think you were an NPC?!” I think this is exactly right. Dudes like this think lesser beings are actually non-player characters in the video game of life. Like Minecraft villagers with boobs or something.