First I wanted to say that my brain had a longwinded fart… until today when I realized I completely forgot about the blog for Wednesday. Guess I filed away blogging in my brain’s Sunday storage space. Sorry about that—I'm making a blog now (since we didn’t technically have to for this week) in attempt to make up for my little oopsy.
I really wanted to blog about the little Arac paragraph that I brought up during class. I'm not quite sure what I understand of it and I had trouble verbalizing the mixed feelings it gave me during class. I'm afraid this close reading has broken a brain circuit, so my writing/understanding might be a tad circular—bear with me.
(Page 31 second paragraph)
“The fact that nigger is widely used in the text of Huckleberry Finn has had the effect of encouraging authors, scholars, teachers, and other persons of goodwill to feel that they are doing the right thing when they name Jim in the language of a racism that is less important to locate in the psyche of individuals—as Myrdal did in An American Dilemma—than in the structures of our nation, what since the days of Black Power has been called “institutionalized racism. “ Over forty years ago, Lionel Trilling praised Huckleberry Finn for being a “subversive book,” and Hechinger echoed him in his Times article, but it seems to me that Huckleberry Finn is currently being read and publicly used in support of complacency. “
I was able to break down the first long convoluted sentence. I have come to the conclusion that the “authors, scholars, teachers, and other persons of goodwill,”(basically everyone) are the ones who now believe that racism is not an individual act. They believe that the blame has been lifted and relocated to a structural/institutional issue. However, Arac argues different. Unlike Trilling and Hechinger who both believe Huckleberry Finn is “’subversive’” or “undermining the principals of”(Dictionary.com) the word nigger. In other words: Trilling, Hechinger, the authors, teachers, scholars, and Myrdral believe that Huck saying nigger does not make him racist. However, society has instituted the word and therefore they are to blame…not Huck. Instead, Arac determines that Huckleberry Fin is, “in support of complacency,” or, “a feeling of satisfaction, esp extreme self-satisfaction”(dictionary.com). So, Arac basically believes that it is the individual who is to blame in the name of racism.
This means that since Arac disagrees with how Trilling and Hechinger, and how other authors, scholars, and teachers interpreted the book—which is paralleled to Myrdal’s criticism—Arac then is arguing against institutionalized racism. The framework of the first sentence of the paragraph then becomes just that much more curious. He cites Myrdal as the founder of structural racism in his book An American Dilemma and then follows up with a citation of “Black Power” labeling Myrdal’s theory as “institutionalized racism.” (omg) I have to ask then: is Arac, the emotional low blower, throwing a jab at the black power movement? Is he saying that Black Power is trying to blame the institution in order to take hold of it some how? Because Arac argues that the institution here is not at fault, but the individual. Why then does Arac cite two different people for something he disagrees with? One: Myrdal, whom is from Sweden (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_Dilemma) and then secondly the Black Power movement, who he says in reference to Myrdal’s theory, “what since the days of Black Power has been called “institutionalized racism”. It is understood that throughout Arac’s book, his in-text citations are emotionally charged. Only one of many examples is how he described one scholar he disagreed with, “so the authoritative scholar’s pedagogical guidance required students to perpetuate this wounding error”(27). Not to mention Arac decided to omit the second part of Myrdal’s book title, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. Why did Arac include both references and then neglect to do it in completeness? It seems to me that Arac has an agenda—and in the face of passive aggression, trying to accuse Myrdal, the Black Power movement, and maybe the individual of “goodwill”(31) for having their own agenda.
I found it particularly interesting that in order to make this point he began by saying, “The fact that nigger is widely used in the text of Huckleberry Finn has had the effect of…” Here, Arac places blame ON the book for making people, “feel like they are doing the right thing…” in reference to their relief of personally driven racism. He is arguing that the book makes it seem as if the word nigger has become embedded in society and that using it is not racist because it has been instituted in, and, thus, a normal part of society. He disagrees, as I said earlier, and blames the individual for attempting to find release from his or her own racist tendencies. But this is not a book that the common individual decides to pick up and then comes to such conclusions all alone, is it? Arac even says in his preface, “This book [his book] details and analyzes the emergence of hypercanonization [of Huck. Finn.] in the academy,”(vii) and “early-teenage children are being made to study and admire a text in which the character, hero, and narrator, Huck, uses the term nigger hundreds of times,”(viii). He makes the point that this book is being institutionalized. Forced upon young America—teaching them to only idolize the main character and ignore the possibilities of racism within his dialogue. One preface and 31 pages later, Arac completely combats his own argument, saying it is the book that penetrates the minds of its readers and plants the idea that racism lies on an alternate level than individually. Even though 31 pages and a preface ago he states, “I do not argue that Huckleberry finn is racist or un-American,”(vii).
This passage alone made me take a new perspective on everything that Arac says. I don’t know if I like him too much. In fact, I don’t. He gives me bad vibes and at times like this, seems ill-willed and sneaky…….. #justsayin