Between the World and Me
I've finished Coates' Between the World and Me. Damn. It's a small volume, not much more than an hour's read for a human. It took me three non-consecutive days because I read slowly and intermittently. Total of a week or so. I cried the whole time. Coates claims several times within to be a failed poet, a bad poet, earnest but perhaps overwrought. These claims don't withstand scrutiny. He's a master of language. The book is a story, an evocative, prosaic story about human bondage and realism. He seems to always know the right words to put together to alchemize a feeling from me. He's solidly an existentialist. He sees the ultimate hopelessness of existence, of the human condition, of Black folks position in America and the world. And he refuses to look away from it. Refuses to tell pretty lies about it. He tells the truth as he sees it. I'd love to sit with the man for a few hours or a few years and understand his reasons for that, see if they gel with my reasons for the same philosophy. This book isn't a plea. It isn't a call to arms or action. It's not a diatribe or a complaint. It's what it appears to be: an open letter from Coates to his son about being Black in America. He owns his failings and his history, and shares his wishes for his son, knowing fully his son's life is not Coates' to manage or dream for. I don't know if I'm supposed to get anything from this. To feel inspired or outraged or both; to learn about "the Black experience," to develop empathy. A long time ago, around 1910, Lu Xun sat in a house next to a tree where despairing people sometimes hung themselves. He sat alone in a room, translating Nietzsche and Dostoevsky into Chinese. His friend came by to ask him to write for an activist magazine. The friend said, why are you translating these things? Lu Xun said, for no particular reason. I'd like to think that's why Coates tells the truth. For no particular reason. Because the truth is its own reason, not to be put to a purpose. If we all hear the truth, accede to the truth, and tell the truth, then truth is served.