Eating my book review

step 4 — fearless moral inventory

Ben Lerner — The Guardian

Being white and privileged too, my anger comes from hating myself. I had a feeling I was kicking the dog (I typed god twice before I nailed that dog). Turns out I was also shooting the messenger. Cool! I love it when I discover something like this. Blogs happen.

The first thing I want to say is that I’m glad I let myself rage yesterday in writing against poor Ben, guilded Ben, Ben the gifted, Ben of the complicated and well-educated mind, Ben the regular guy, even though he is also white and privileged, white like me, even though he’s Jewish, because I always wanted to be Jewish, and there is a bit of it in my ancestry, but not enough to suit me.

Yesterday I wrote a story about a book review I wrote the day before, about a novel Ben wrote, which was pubished in 2014, entitled 10:04. In this novel Ben wrote, he likes to repeat verbs. Maybe that’s because he is a poet first. He also likes to put one thing inside another, or beside another. That’s what writers do. But he does it so flagrantly — you’re supposed to be more subtle about that, aren’t you?

I’m glad I let myself rage. Ben is not sitting here next to me. He’s not on the phone. I don’t know Ben, except through that book of his I just read, and the interview I found today in The Guardian. Ben has served a scapegoat function for me, and I hope he didn’t get his feelings hurt. I know that some authors do read the reviews of their books on goodreads. Con Lehane, who taught the short story classes I participated in over the summer, bewailed his experience with goodreads. I hope Ben will wait a week before he reads my review — I think my opinion might change. But letting yourself rage is so important. It’s also important to pick a scapegoat who is remote enough to not be injured. Dogs should never be kicked in person, or in dog.

Ben is imaginary for me. He is remote. You can kick someone you live with if you do it in your journal, or in your therapist’s office. Try not to kick in real time. If you’re like me, when anger first congeals to the point of catching my attention, it is never rational, and never ever about the real issue. The real issue is always concealed under layers of other issues. Maybe that’s why writers like so much to muck around with layers. Byron Katie has a worksheet for judging your neighbor, or husband, or dog, in the privacy of your notebook. The point is, “judge not,” is an impossible commandment for us mortals. Of course we’re going to judge! We do it all day long.

So instead of doing it unconsciously, or in shamed secrecy, or self-righteously, it’s possible to lay it out, writing helps I’ve found, and then look at it, feel it, meditate on it. What’s going on here? Why do I hate this guy? Why did his book produce such a reaction in me?

You know, it’s rough being a white person these days. I could get a lot of kickback for saying that. But shit, my ancestors murdered, enslaved, and profited off of legions of people they deemed “lesser.” They stole, polluted, destroyed, and invested their profits in companies that did the same. And here I am, not having to go to a job every day (yet), because trickle down economics does actually work in families. Everything I have was stolen. But I’m not giving it back. I’m not trying to save the world, or make things right. I’m sitting in my kitchen using up my good fortune, spending it on myself.

At least Ben has a job! If you’re Jewish, you get to be the persecuted. That’s a way to be a white person, with white advantages, and not so much guilt. Today in Brooklyn at least. That’s my fantasy anyway. What you have then instead of so much guilt maybe, is fear. Yes, it appears “it” could happen even in America. Genocide has already happened here, more than once. Yikes! Maybe I’ll stick with my guilt. We each get the life we’re dealt. It could take 70–90 years just to play your hand, but it could also be over much sooner.

The character Ben in 10:04, who is also an author in the story, very similar to, but not identical with, Ben Lerner, the author of 10:04, is “characterized above all by his anxiety regarding the disconnect between his internal experience and his social self-presentation, [and so] the more intensely the author [character] worried about distinguishing himself from the narrator [fictional too], the more he felt he had become him.” You feel free to count the layers in that. I’m too exhausted. You do see how one could hate this book, right?

But look at me, making up inner characters who carry feelings and viewpoints not my own, but still mine. It’s called an identity disorder! Ok to laugh. Who is the author of all this? Who is the narrator? Who’s the dog?

There’s so much more to say, but I’m winding down. An expectation I have about a novel is that it is to be read once, that everything should be clear after one reading. But think about songs. Only after hearing a song maybe 50 times, do you own it, does it live inside of you, every nuance caught and appreciated. When I finished Mrs. Dalloway, after 9 weeks of entertaining it on my coffee table, I already liked that convocation of interiority better than when I took my first dip. I did say I was going to read it again. But so far I haven’t. I think I owe Ben a second read too.

Maybe the critics are smarter than I am. OK? Fearless moral admission. Maybe the emperor has no clothes. But then again, it could be that the emperor does wear clothes, and I’m the lesser being who can’t see them because of the beam in my own eye.

Take Obama, for instance. Some could see the robe and crown, and some couldn’t. Same with Trump, right? Don’t take that any further. This is not about politics! It’s about what we see, and why we see the way we see, and how that can change. OK?

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I’m probably just making it up

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