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 sidesits 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 controland 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 issuesblack middle-class life, the Bernhard Goetz case, black homosexuals, the career of Louis Farrakhanthat 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.