Monday, August 24, 2015

Reviews: Lee's Go Set a Watchman & Miranda's Hamilton: An American Musical

Harper Lee and her novel cover for Go Set
a Watchman
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/
Getty Images. Courtesy of VICE & HarperCollins)
As I wrote yesterday, during my quiet stretch here I have been writing for other publications, and just before my last July blog entry, the double obit for E. L. Doctorow and Ornette Coleman, I posted a review of Harper Lee's new (old) novel at VICE, "Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman Reveals the Limits of the Liberal Imagination." Two paragraphs:
As a counterpoint and complement to the compelling fantasy of MockingbirdGo Set a Watchman possesses real value. What was often latent in the later novel is on full display here, ranging from the middle-class whites' classism, self-absorption, and entitlement to a racial-epithet-packed screed that would not appear out of place on a forum like Stormfront. Reading Go Set a Watchman also made me wonder how it might have been received by critics and the public if it had appeared in the late 50s, and whether there exists another work of fiction from these years by a young white Southern writer that so baldly lays bare the complicity of the mass of white Southerners, particularly the social elites and middle class, in maintaining white supremacy.

In its focus on liberalism's limitations, and its conclusion in Jean Louise's sentimental emotional accommodation with her father's and family's views—"I can't beat him, and I can't join him"—the book also feels very contemporary, since we still encounter unironic invocations of America as a "post-racial" society in the public discourse, despite constant  indications to the contrary.
There's more at the link above. Oh--and I definitely recommend reading Lee's new (old) book.


Ensemble and Lin-Manuel Miranda (at right)
in Hamilton (photo by Joan Marcus)
Recently I had the excellent fortune to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece, Hamilton: An American Musical, which has made a smooth transition from the Public Theater, where it debuted to acclaim, to Broadway, at the Richard Rogers Theater. I could rhapsodize about Miranda's artistry at length, but VICE fortunately has word limits and editors, so you can read my distilled thoughts about this work at "The Best Musical of the Year Is a Hip-Hop Show About Alexander Hamilton."

Not only do I talk about all the kinds of hip hop (from freestyle to chopper) Miranda manages to incorporate, but I also devote a few paragraphs to the multiple political implications of this work. It's not a long review so please do check it out.

One quote:
Hamilton also offers one of the best and most compelling counternarratives to the increasingly extreme conservative rhetoric around immigration. Alexander Hamilton, Miranda never lets the audience forget, was an immigrant from a small island, with a sketchy education, no money, and few prospects, and became the target of constant social and political antagonism. Even factoring in the neoliberal undercurrent of the hardworking, self-made man the musical espouses, Hamilton artfully hammers away at the idea that power should be concentrated in the hands of an elite, or that opportunity should not be extended as widely as possible, repeatedly connecting this thread to larger ideas about race and class. Many of the musical's catchphrases, including "We are a movement," "Rise up," and "The world turned upside down," would sound as fitting at a protest as they do on Broadway.
Above all, GO SEE HAMILTON! It just may rock your bells, and your world.

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