New Jersey Legislature Approves, Gov. to Sign Off On Civil Unions
One of today's biggest bits of news was that the New Jersey Senate, following the state Assembly, had approved a same-sex civil unions bill, which will now go to governor Jon Corzine for his signature, and he has said he'll sign it. (No surprise there!) New Jersey will become the third state, after Vermont and Connecticut, to legalize civil unions. The legislation is the result of an October 25, 2007 directive to the legislature from the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled that same-sex couples were not being treated equally under the New Jersey's constitution. Lawmakers had 90 days to devise a solution, and what they developed comes close to providing near equal rights and benefits under state law, though it does fall short of full equality, as did not use or provide for civil "marriage"; only Massachusetts, among the 50 states, DC, and US territories, allows gay marriage. Today on NPR I heard a representative of the New Jersey legal establishment arguing that because of the legislature's failure to fully provide for equal rights, including in name, the law could be brought, through lawsuits, before the US Supreme Court. According to some polls, 60% of New Jerseyans support same-sex civil unions, while about 50% support or oppose gay marriage equally. I personally think the civil union legislation was a huge step in the right direction, but the state legislature should have gone all the way and approved civil marriage. They certainly could have made the argument about ending all de jure discrimination in the state, but have blown that opportunity for who knows how long....
Black Trove in Los Angeles
In today's New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer writes about the late Mayme Agnew Clayton, a Los Angeles-based former university librarian who over the span of her adult life amassed one of the finest collections of African-American literature and artifacts to be found in the world. Among the rare and remarkable pieces in her collection is one of the few signed first editions of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), a foundational text of African-American literature and the second book published by a woman in the American colonies. Ms. Clayton, who collected the materials on a modest salary, passed away just two months, and now her son, Avery Clayton, is attempting to honor his mother's lifelong effort and showcase her collections by creating a museum and archive in a former court building in nearby Culver City, California. As Steinhauer relates the situation so far, Mr. Clayton has rented the building for a dollar, and has raised about $15,000 of the projected $565,000 necessary to run the museum center properly. (So he needs money!) Once the projected Mayme E. Clayton Library and Cultural Center is functioning, which Mr. Clayton hopes to accomplish by 2008, viewers will be able to examine and view the more than 30,000 materials, which also include a wide array of documents, prints, and posters, ephemera, films and videos, photographs, sound recordings, making it the premier archive of African Americana on the West Coast. I've already put a research visit on my wish list!
Wheatley's signed Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (Marissa Roth/New York Times)
Greenfield Responds to Criticism, Wrongly
After perversely comparing the semi-casual style of Senator Barack Obama, one of the frontrunners for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, to that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and fielding considerable online criticism for it, CNN pundit Jeff Greenfield has responded by attacking...bloggers. That's right. It's the keyboard-tapping rabble who're responsible for mistaking his "joke" for what it evidently was, another mainstream media preemptive attack of slander, innuendo, dissimulation, and disinformation against a leading Democrat--and in this case, not just any Democrat, but the only African-American US Senator, whose middle name happens to be Arabic. Although we've seen such attacks for years, against Bill Clinton (murderer! rapist! thief! draft dodger! pothead!), his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton (shrew! witch! Co-President! Lady Macbeth!), Al Gore (where it was particularly effective--earth tones! Naomi Wolf! Love Story! Internet "inventor"!), John Kerry (those questionably earned medals, that un-American windsurfing!), Howard Dean (screaming nut! leftwinger! blogger tool!), and many more, we are supposed to believe that Greenfield wasn't tossing a few briquets into the fire the right wing has already started and stoked by attempting to make Obama as alien as possible, linking him quite unsubtly to one of the most outrageous, anti-Semitic foes of the current administration. As Audiologo notes in my comment section, it initially seemed that once Senator Odreamy Populist-Appeal-to-All-People had shifted rightwards towards Obama Inc., the media might moderate somewhat on hammering Illinois's junior senator, but conversely, his high poll standings and ability to energize Democratic and independent voters have made him even more of a threat, which the mediocracy and its corporate overlords clearly recognize--and let's not forget, unlike Saint McCain, Obama also was correct on Iraq before the fact, which is sure to improve his appeal as W Bush's Iraq catastrophe continues to spiral out of control. In addition, this is one Negro they haven't figured out how to Rev. Jesse-Rev. Al-Cynthia McKinnney-ize just yet, but they're trying damned hard.
I'll believe Greenfield when he and the hacks at the major newspapers, CNN and other media outlets stop their clowning and start acting like they have good sense. But it's unlikely; their corporate bosses, Obama Inc. or no, like and push such narratives and many of these highly paid pundits believe them. Just look at how they slaver over Republican St. John McCain, an avowedly notorious right-winger who has been repeatedly wrong on every issue, including Iraq. McCain hired a known racist to rev up his ultimately failed 2000 presidential campaign, though he was successfully race-baited and lost in the South Carolina primary; but he's back to his old tricks, hiring the sleazy GOP operative whose racially polarizing TV and radio commercials helped to sink Harold Ford Jr.'s Tennessee Senate campaign and who supervised the person convicted in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race phone-jamming scheme. Have you heard any of these media pundits "joke" about McCain yet, or compare him or his clothing style or mode of speech or anything to some crackpot around the world? What about His Hollowness, Mayor Rudy Giuliani? Or Golly Begeesus Sam Brownback? Keep waiting....
Wilson Harris's Newest Novel
I was under the misstaken impression--and I believe that I read it somewhere, which may have underlined my belief--that one of my literary icons, the Guyanese-British writer Wilson Harris (b. 1912-), had published his self-described "last" novel, The Mask of the Beggar (Faber & Faber, 2003) a few years ago. A ferociously difficult and dense text, that novel, like its immediate predecessor, The Dark Jester (Faber & Faber, 2001), represented the utterly distilled quintessence of a lifetime's explorations and work, so densely compacted and rich with ideas, questions, paradoxes, and rhetorical intricacies, and so pared of plot, drama (in the usual fictional sense) and incident that it functioned, I thought like a fictionalized essay. It was and is a text that, despite its brevity, could inspire a career's worth of study. Of course this is true of nearly all of Harris's fiction and theoretical texts, but The Mask of the Jester, more so than the novels preceding it, like Resurrection at Sorrow Hill, or Jonestown (one of my favorites, a masterpiece by any measure), felt shorn of almost everything except the bones, so to speak, of Harris's art. Yet a few days ago, I received the most recent novel by Harris, The Ghost of Memory (Faber & Faber, 2006), which, based on an admittedly cursory review, has such a comparative lightness of touch and many of the elements of his prior fictions, including the multiplicitous central figure or figures drawn from history (here, it's Columbus), the movement through mimetic temporality and space (here the story manages to involve the passage through paintings in a museum), and the insistently profound, multivalent inquiry into the human condition that he manages in his inimitable way, that it's convinced me he might not be ready to stop just yet. (A friend nevertheless has said that Harris told him this will be his final novel.) I hope he won't, and as I think about the totality of his oeuvre, its innovation and achievement, I return to my conviction that as fine a writer as Orhan Pamuk is, Harris and a host of other authors are more deserving of the Nobel Prize. (Swedish Academy, Wilson Harris is 85....) It's one of several books I'm going to try to complete during my brief winter break, if I can.