Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989

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Stanley Crouch, the rarely acknowledged but epic nature of the Afro-American experience offers one of the most revealing paths through the spiritual and intellectual thickets of our time, exposing us to ourselves as often through art as through politics. In Notes of a Hanging Judge, Crouch portrays this century as an "Age of Redefinition" for the United States and identifies the Civil Rights Movement as one of its richest metaphors. Crouch explores the movement from all sides--its epochal triumphs and the forces...
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Overview


Stanley Crouch, the rarely acknowledged but epic nature of the Afro-American experience offers one of the most revealing paths through the spiritual and intellectual thickets of our time, exposing us to ourselves as often through art as through politics. In Notes of a Hanging Judge, Crouch portrays this century as an "Age of Redefinition" for the United States and identifies the Civil Rights Movement as one of its richest metaphors. Crouch explores the movement from all sides--its epochal triumphs and the forces that have nearly destroyed it, its great political and artistic success stories and the crime culture it has been powerless to prevent or to control--and traces its complex and ambivalent interactions with the feminist and gay dissent that followed its example.
Balancing the passionate involvement of an insider with a reporter's open-minded rigor, and using a virtuosic prose style, Crouch offers uniquely insightful accounts of familiar public issues--black middle-class life, the Bernhard Goetz case, black homosexuals, the career of Louis Farrakhan--that throw fresh light on the position of Afro-Americans in the contemporary world. Even more revealing are Crouch's accounts of his travels, focusing on his perceptions as a black man, that put places as diverse as Atlanta and Africa, or Mississippi and Italy, in unique new perspectives. Perhaps most powerful of all are Crouch's profiles of black leaders ranging from Maynard, to Michael, to Jesse Jackson. Crouch's stern evaluations are sure to be controversial, especially his vision of the Civil Rights Movement as a noble cause "gone loco," mired in self-defeating ethnic nationalism and condescending self-regard, and conspicuously lacking in the spiritual majesty that ensured its great political victories. His discussions of artistic figures, including extended critiques of Toni Morrison and Spike Lee, will also incite much debate.
Taken together, these essays represent a major reinterpretation of black, and therefore American, culture in our time, and should be read by anyone who is serious about either.

These essays represent a major reinterpretation of black American culture in our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Succeeds in sharing much of the richness and intensity of the life of a contemporary black intellectual."--The New York Times Book Review

"He is not only provocative but perceptive and, on on more than one occasion, wise. In the end it must be said that this is the kind of book you want not merely to read, but to ponder."--The Washington Post Book World

"Crouch is a provocative social analyst."--Time

"One of the wisest, best-informed, most honest, and most reasonable commentators on black American culture." --Booklist

"There is much that provokes thought in this collection." --Library Journal

Sacred Fire
Provocative is the word most frequently attached to the writings of Stanley Crouch, one of America's finest cultural critics. Crouch's essays are written with cool assurance and precision, but they always pack a punch for his favorite targets, from "racial hustlers" and cheap media products to knee-jerk identity politicians and historic revisionists. No matter what the topic—jazz, media, literature, film, history, politics—Crouch's biting, iconoclastic essays land with metronomic regularity on the same fundamental issue: the importance of black people taking their rightful and hard-earned place at the table of American culture and democracy, instead of insisting on a contrived outsider pose and wallowing in unnecessary martyrdom.

The essays in Notes of a Hanging Judge were written between 1979 and 1988—years when many of the gains of the civil rights era were being overturned by the Reagan administration and the so-called Culture Wars were just starting to heat up. Crouch's essays capture the intellectual ferment of the era, offering trenchant criticism on emerging cultural trends and milestone moments in film, literature, and politics. One of his most memorable essays, "Nationalism of Fools," is a biting profile of a 1985 Nation of Islam rally led by Minister Louis Farrakhan at Madison Square Garden. Typical of Crouch's approach, he mocks what he considers Farrakhan and the Nation's "muddled" ideology and senseless anti-Semitism, but also thoughtfully considers why such a message and messenger could attract 25,000 people at that historical juncture.

Other essays attach other black cultural totems of the 1980s: "Aunt Medea" argues that Toni Morrison's much-praised Beloved "explains black behavior in terms of social conditioning, as if listing atrocities solves the mystery of human motive and behavior." In "Do the Race Thing," he derides Spike Lee's film Do the Right Thing as "the convention of a new black exploitation film." And in "Man in the Mirror," he takes the unusual stance of defending Michael Jackson's extensive plastic surgery by placing it within the context of the American and African American tradition of improvisation: "The American dream is actually the idea that an identity can be improvised and can function socially if it doesn't intrude upon the freedom of anyone else."

It will be hard to find many people who agree with Crouch on every point; his ideas can raise the hackles of conservatives and liberals alike. And his essays can sometimes seem unnecessarily curmudgeonly—sometimes almost mean-spirited. Nevertheless, his often surprising essays, argued in lively and enjoyably rich prose in this collection, are essential to anyone who values serious ideas.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195055917
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/15/1990
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Stanley Crouch was for ten years a jazz critic and staff writer at the Village Voice. His work has also appeared in The New Republic and Esquire.

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