Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why William D. Cohan left Brodhead's Chesnutt in the Shell, Confusing a Reviewer of THE PRICE OF SILENCE

In Amazon John Dinger, a one-star reviewer of THE PRICE OF SILENCE, writes: "If Cohan learned it, he put it in this book. An extreme, but telling example is the better part of two pages he devotes to the academic interest of the President of Duke, Richard Brodhead, in a 19th century American author named Charles Chestnutt."

Well! Cohan was padding his book and did not have any idea what to make of THE JOURNALS OF CHARLES W. CHESNUTT as edited by Richard H. Brodhead (1993). After some still-mysterious challenge to his THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE (1986) for dealing only with Dead White Men, a just-at-the-last-minute-before-publication challenge, clearly, Brodhead composed a thickly veiled argument in his Preface acknowledging that we should "extend the range of our literary attentions out beyond canonical boundaries" (viii) but, it seems, he did not rethink his manuscript. Nevertheless, the challenge to his Dead White Men view of literature terrified Brodhead, who did not dare to be left behind in matters of gender, race, and class. Very interestingly, years later he cannily pre-dated his own fascination with multiculturalism, making it earlier than THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE, not later. What you see in the Acknowledgments to the Chesnutt book is a critic desperately trying to sound like a real scholarly researcher but not being able to do the job, even for a selection of the meager journals: :"Kevis Goodman gave expert aid in transcribing parts of the second and third journals. Jeffrey and Christa Sammons deciphered Chesnutt's old-style German script with cheerful efficiency. LaJean P. Carruth brought her skills to bear on journal passages kept in Pittman shorthand. . . . Daisy Maxwell's extraordinary command of local archival materials made it possible to identify many otherwise inscrutable figures and episodes from Chesnutt's Fayetteville years. . . ." And so on! Scholars are supposed to be the experts, not local librarians and local historians! And no scholar strews his pages with "illegible" and "indecipherable." Almost every scholar will throw up his or her hands sometimes, but then he or she declares that a word is still undeciphered. Your dim-witted second cousin can come along and say, "Oh, that line reads so-and-so, what was the word that bothered you?" The importance of the trivial edition of Chesnutt's journals is that Brodhead needed to have serious street creds with multiculturalism, but could not undertake and complete successfully a serious job. Cohan did not have a clue what to make of the Chesnutt volume! And no wonder Mr. Dinger is bewildered!

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