Black art is often spare and primitive yet still quite good, an African mask for example. Whites take art to the ultimate heights – compare the development of Perspective with an African mask – not the same thing, is it?
To Whites, Asians seem so flat and non-creative that even their art seems to Whites to be odd, spare, trite, and even boring. See classical Japanese and Chinese simple landscapes with birds, water, and low light for example. It’s literally Zen art. On the other hand, my artist friends have told me that it’s fantastic for what it is trying to do.
Black literature can be good, but it tends towards the heavily verbal sort that is so loud and musical that it almost demands to be read aloud for affect.
Whites strive for the heights.
Asians can reduce literature to its utter basics – see the haiku for example. Haikus are often beautiful, but Whites find the spareness and simplicity of these forms to be almost unsettling and odd. However, Asians also stretch art to its ultimate limits – see the great Chinese classics with ~2,300 pages. It’s as if they either try for the perfect bare minimum or the ultimate definition of infinity.
Asians strip art down to the utter basics, Zen-like. There’s a logic to that, but Whites think it’s excessively simplistic.
Whites once again go for the heights.
Great Works of Literature by Whites
Great books by Whites? How bout we look at the Top 50? Oh well, call it Top 54. I couldn’t help but toss a few more in there. Tolstoy (Anna Karenina and War and Peace), Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment), Joyce (Ulysses and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man), Melville (Moby Dick), Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow), Nabokov (Lolita), Shakespeare (Hamlet) George Eliot (Middlemarch), Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Anonymous (1001 Nights), Forster (A Passage to India), Cervantes (Don Quixote), the Brontes (Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre), Austen (Pride and Prejudice), T. S. Eliot (The Wasteland), Pound (The Cantos), Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Flaubert (Madame Bovary), Camus (The Stranger), Twain (Huckleberry Flynn), Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom), Dickens (Great Expectations and David Copperfield), Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises), Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey), Stendhal (The Red and the Black), Proust (Remembrance of Things Past), Kafka (The Trial), Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), Milton (Paradise Lost), Voltaire (Candide), Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Sterne (Tristram Shandy), Dante (The Divine Comedy) Chekhov (stories), Heller (Catch-22), Orwell (1984), Borges (Ficciones), Rushdie (Midnight’s Children), Conrad (Heart of Darkness), Virgil (The Aenid), Whitman (The Leaves of Grass), Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), and Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse).
Great Works of Literature by Blacks
Yes, Blacks have written some great works. But not The Color Purple or Beloved, please, or at least let’s wait a while, and yes, I’ve read both. Neither is in the same category as what follows. They only make the great books list because people are trying to be PC and throw some Black authors in. That’s very nice of them, but it’s not solid Lit Crit, if such a thing even exists any more in these mushy, truth-free postmodern times.
Richard Wright (Native Son) and Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) come to mind. Also, try Zora Neale Houston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time), or Jean Rys (Wide Sargasso Sea).
Despite Aphra Behn’s Oronoko – Possibly the first true modern-style novel written in the West! – Blacks got a rather late start at things. Nevertheless, there are some works there that reach for the same skies as the Whites’ works do. Houston’s book in particular nearly matches Eliot’s Middlemarch in the glory of its prose.
Look – I am not saying that Black authors have not done some great work – e.e. cumming’s poetry comes to mind too, but if you notice, this list is a lot shorter than the proceeding one, right? Do check out some of the recent (last 75 years) classics out of Black Africa though. There are some great books in there.
Great Works of Literature by Asians
Where are the comparable great Asian books? From Japan, we have Yukio Mishima (The Sea of Fertility), and of course Murasaki Shikibu (The Tale of the Genji – a very long Chinese-like epic with 1,306 pages). There has definitely been some fine literature coming out of Japan for the last 100 years. Japan also got a fairly late start, only beginning to write Western-style literature ~1900. This work has been greatly accelerating in recent years, but it’s not much read in the West. Haruki Murakami is very good though. When is he going to win the Nobel Prize anyway?
But other than the millennia-old Genji, Mishima is the only one who has seen his work rise to true greatness in the West so far.
China was much later to Western-style literature, only showing up in the last 50 years, if that. Though there are a few stars on the horizon. Previously their works were very different – typically very long epics – Cao Xueqin (The Dream of the Red Chamber – 2,339 pages), Shi Nai’an (Water Margin – 2,304 pages), Wu Cheng’en (Journey to the West – 2,346 pages), and Luo Guanzhong (Romance of the Three Kingdoms – 2,340 pages). Maybe add Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (The Plum in the Golden Vase – 3,334 pages) and Yu Xiangdou (Journey to the North – much shorter at 392 pages) while we are at it. Those are all incredible works.
Are they in the same category as the books by Whites? I’m not sure. It’s sort of like the painting. It’s not that Asian painting is bad – it’s incredibly great for what it’s trying to do in its minimalist way.
Are Japanese haikus as good at the great White literature above? I’m not sure. The Asians, with epics stretching for thousands of pages, their spare naturalistic art, and their compact yet gorgeous haikus – the first towards wild excess and the latter two, like a Bonsai garden, towards extreme minimalism – are instead trying to do something completely different from what the Whites have been doing, so any comparison is between apples and oranges. You can’t really compare them.
Asian art and literature is great and so is Western art and literature, but they are trying to do completely different things. I might say the same thing about an African mask. It’s a wonderful work of art, but is it the same thing as a work by Rembrandt, Bosch, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, or even a Picasso or Dali? Well, no. But maybe once again we can’t compare because the Africans were trying to do something completely different than the Whites with their White reach to the skies paintings.
Comparing lions and tigers. Which is better, a lion or a tiger? Besides neither one if I’m walking in the jungle, I’d say neither one in any case. A lion is great at being a lion. Nothing else comes close. Likewise with a tiger. He wins the gold at being a tiger. They’re both the best at being what they are and at what they are trying to do.