NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 40

Part 3: The Union of My Confederate Parts. 38 It should be noted here that none of the above critique disregards or dismisses Ms. Parks’ unwavering pursuit of provocative ideas and dramatic structures in her work, a far stretch of the theatrical imagination away from American domestic dramas like Lydia Diamond’s Stick Fly and Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County, which seem more appropriate as television soap operas than stage events. Certainly, she would no doubt receive comfort from a recent appeal to black writers made in The Guardian by Ben Okri — one of the most prominent African poet/novelists in the post-modern and post colonial tradition — to resist the “mental tyranny” of being relegated to write mostly on the subject of “slavery, poverty, or racial injustice.” Okri asserts that most black writers are “blinded by subject because we have lost our sense of the true significance of art,” noting further that the best literature does not come from the “heaviness of the subject,” but rather, the “freedom of thought” which is essential for the fulfillment of greatness in a people, and a “prerequisite for literature.” Okri insists that the “first freedom is mental freedom,” concluding that it is “possible to be free in the world, but un-free in your head.”9 However, freedom is not only the cognitive choice to be or not to be, as inferred in Father Comes Home from the Wars, but also the discipline and maturity to determine how to use freedom for spiritual liberation. Freedom, in my estimation, does not mean liberating the Self from the historical origins of one’s existence to seek sanctuary in the self-fragmentary deconstruction strategies of post-modern literature that encourages an amnesia that inhibits a proactive redress of revisionist appropriations of black history, a submission tantamount to conceding authority of personal history to spurious popular frames of persuasion for artistic vision, such as William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and l Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man, a Civil War drama that high-jacks the Negro spiritual, Go Down Moses, as a universal vector of Jewish values in the process of insinuating a mutual suffering of Africans and Jews during the Civil War (dis-remembering the role Jews played as Slave-owners during the period). Regrettably, there is a recent trend among millennial black stage writers to abnegate a personal authority of their historical origin, the resulting expressive products becoming a hostage in the armpit of the American imaginary, soiled by a narrative tainted with deep memory of black subjugation, servitude, victimization, and self-deprecation, an unending trope that restrains the fullest exposition of black humanity. In the case of Ms. Parks, her historical vision may very well be skewed by not having a fixed sense of place or cultural rootedness, a common malady for those affectionately known as Army Brats who are constantly uprooted in the peripatetic movement of Military families. While exposure to a wide world of cultures has the benefit of inspiring a cosmopolitan curiosity — a prelude to personal hybridity — it becomes a liability when one has merely a random intimacy with the deep social structures and mythos of a place, including African America, that might endow one an indelible sense of identity or connectedness with the culture, thereby, a culturally specific worldview. Not carrying the burden of the angst associated with a specific African American history, Ms. Parks’ characterizations of black life often reveal the ambivalence of someone navigating the world without the rudder of an authentic cultural frame to guide her muddled contrivances — often mistaken as invention — of black experience. It is not surprising, then, that while her work appears to own an oblique-oblige spin toward dominant culture patronage, the intention of her messaging continues to vexingly elude most African American audiences. I have no axe to grind with Ms. Parks whom I’ve always found to be, in my few encounters, spontaneously engaging with a genuine spirit. My concern is the flood of premature accolades from the critical establishment that have inoculated her from serious estimations of her work, thereby stunting her growth as a dramatist and thinker, her development arrested because nobody in the mainstream theatre circuit seems interested in talking to her honestly, directly about her dramaturgical flaws, offering complimentary appraisals that overlook her true “genus” which is ingenuity. I consider Ms. Parks a serious theatre artist who can benefit from serious scrutiny of her work. Thus, I feel consonant with the perspective of Edward Said who noted, “I take criticism so seriously as to believe that, even in the midst of a battle in which one is unmistakably on one side against another, there should be criticism, because there must be critical consciousness if there are to be issues, problems, values, even lives to be fought for.”10