More Than One Demon

I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates on Kanye West.  It was a very good piece, but not because it said much about Kanye.  The good stuff was mostly about Coates.  An early theme is Michael Jackson, and the terrible disappointment of concluding that Jackson desperately wanted to be white.  The trouble with Kanye, says Coates, is just the same.  That's why, he thinks, that Kanye says stupid stuff about liking and identifying with Trump, and slavery being "a choice."

Of course, he also realizes that Kanye doesn't know a whole heck of a lot about history, or politics, or other things precious to intellectuals like himself.

I think Mr. Coates is locked into a demonology that really only has room for white people, and while I can't fault him for being fixated on oppression of black people and other minorities, it may limit his insight into the psychology on Kanye, many of whose demons seem to be those common to all of the human race.  That might well be the case for Jackson too.

The very best part of his essay, I think, is where he discusses what happened to him when he achieved what he called "a small literary fame."
It was the oddest thing. I felt myself to be the same as I had always been, but everything around me was warping. My sense of myself as part of a community of black writers disintegrated before me. Writers, whom I loved, who had been mentors, claimed tokenism and betrayal. Writers, whom I knew personally, whom I felt to be comrades in struggle, took to Facebook and Twitter to announce my latest heresy. No one enjoys criticism, but by then I had taken my share. What was new was criticism that I felt to originate as much in what I had written, as how it had been received. One of my best friends, who worked in radio, came up with the idea of a funny self-deprecating segment about me and my weird snobbery. But when it aired, the piece was mostly concerned with this newfound fame, how it had changed me, and how it all left him feeling a type of way. I was unprepared. The work of writing had always been, for me, the work of enduring failure. It had never occurred to me that one would, too, have to work to endure success.
I wanted him to extrapolate from this to Jackson and West,  but he didn't, really.  Of course that sort of strategic ambiguity might be why he is a famous writer and I'm not.


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