|Fred Moten (photo from the Poetry Foundation site)|
As I write all this, though, I am also aware that Moten isn’t quibbling about any of it (e.g. “I like some poetry that Marjorie Perloff likes. At the same time, we don’t like one another, even though we don’t know one another; at the same time, even though I don’t know her, I know a lot about her. As a matter of fact, I know a lot more about her than she knows about either me or herself. That’s a function of our education. I had to learn about her and many of the things that have gone and continue to go into the making of her. She has never been so obligated, a condition that induces not only ignorance but also cold-heartedness”), and so neither can I fault him for that. I suppose I am prone to ambivalence over (possibly) hurt feelings. I used to be so much more of a harsh critic, but I guess I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years? Perhaps I should just say that Perloff and Goldsmith have made their own beds.
In any case, I, like many, have been disgusted by things that have been said in defense of Goldsmith, and Perloff’s comments reported by Jen Hofer are quite revealing. (Read them here.) In a subsequent Facebook statement on the Moten piece (possibly deleted, but making the rounds as a screen capture), Perloff claimed her comments were taken out of context, but it seems pretty clear what she means when she says, “And so, I think the romanticization, where everybody kept calling him the poor child Michael Brown, and they constantly showed photographs of him in the media when he had been about 12 years old. That’s what they do. Many of the pictures you saw, he looks like a little kid; he was a 300-pound huge man. Scary. He was scary, I’m just saying, that way.”
The real point, which apparently needs to be made over and over, is not whether Brown was a “scary” guy, or that it was obviously wrong to steal cigars from a convenience store, but that NONE OF THESE THINGS WHATSOEVER MEAN THAT HE DESERVED TO BE SUMMARILY EXECUTED. And so Perloff’s pleas about how “complicated” the situation supposedly was, or her assertion that “the reaction to [the Goldsmith piece] is even much worse” than the piece itself, understandably leave most of her audience skeptical, to say the least. That Perloff completely misses these points is what, it seems to me, rightly angers Moten.
Of course I believe in having a civil discourse and that we should avoid the temptation, all too common on social media, to vilify others (which, I guess, I have been guilty of). And of course things are complicated; they always are. But people have a right to be angry — about what is happening in American society today, and about the thoughtless responses to it by certain critics and performance artists. Perloff, however, seems more concerned with internet etiquette and with being piqued about the supposed “romanticization” of police murder victim Michael Brown, than she is with the wider pattern of injustice that underlies this whole conversation. And that is why I posted the link to Moten’s article.