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Mura's writings recently have been at the center of various debates concerning race and ...
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Mura's writings recently have been at the center of various debates concerning race and literary standards. In this book, he argues the need for a more complicated and diverse set of literary standards than the canon has previously allowed, an opening up to the many voices that are "great within us." He contends that, when placed against a gathering awareness of a world literature, particularly in the so-called Third World, the boundaries of the traditional Anglo-American canon and its present-day proponents like Harold Bloom come to be seen as too narrow and parochial, reenacting the "tribal" label that many throw now at the advocates of multiculturalism.
Beyond its theoretical underpinnings, Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto, and Mr. Moto charts the wayward course of Mura's own development as a poet. In three interviews, Mura provides readings of his own work and discusses various issues of technique and form.
David Mura is a poet, memoirist, essayist, playwright, writer of fiction, performance artist, and literary critic. He is author of The Colors of Desire, After We Lost Our Way, and Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei.
it appears unlikely that literary figures of comparable stature to those minorities like the Jews and Blacks will emerge to articulate the Nisei soul. Japanese-Americans will be forced to borrow the voices of James Michener, Jerome Charyn, and other sympathetic novelists to distill their own experience. Even if a Nisei of Bernard Malumud's or James Baldwin's talent did appear, he would no doubt have little to say that John O'Hara hasn't already said.There is much to comment on here. Obviously, if one takes such an attitude, it's virtually impossible to write. You're defeated before you start. More specifically, I wonder how many Japanese American writers, particularly the Nisei, had similar feelings to Okimoto. It may be that we cannot help but feel this way, given the way people have reacted to the presence of Japanese in America. It's telling that Okimoto mentions some rather mediocre writers here; his sense of the literary possibilities open to the Nisei is incredibly narrow, as if he were already unconsciously lowering his standards. Just as importantly, his sense that the lives of the Nisei were no different from those of middle-class whites in John O'Hara's work would seem absurd and hilarious, were it not for the sad fact that this represents a secret, and sometimes not so secret, wish of certain Nisei, including my father--to be whiter than the whites.
According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.Reading Benjamin, I suddenly began to understand the identification that my parents and I projected between ourselves and the middle-class whites of America, as well as my identification with writers like Lowell and Berryman. We had so come to identify ourselves with the victors, with the rulers, that we had denied our own experience. Drawn to the sources of power in the society, we disassociated ourselves from the powerless people who were put in the internment camps, and from the other colored "minorities" at the bottom of the political and social heap, people whose disadvantages were a direct reflection of the advantages of others. Instead of fighting the people who created this imbalance, we wanted to share in their advantages.
Excerpted from Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto, and Mr. Moto: Poetry and Identity by David Mura Copyright © 2002 by David Mura. Excerpted by permission.
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