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recommending you a book and then getting a whole poast of thoughts is the most satisfying thing I can imagine

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Okay, fixed! Now: thank you so much for this recommendation!!! Really had a blast reading this and then getting to know Beatty through interviews; now embarking on a whole Beatty tour, I think!

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Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

Down to read something else simultaneously, this is his only book I’ve read

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Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

lol having this happen w/ maggie nelson is how i ended up proposing the "Pay your favorite writer to write about topic of your choosing".... I would pay for this anytime

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Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

I think β€œhumor renders ambiguous everything it touches” is one of the most profound quotes I’ve read about β€œcomedy”. To me, it’s like the respite between sprints. A comedian and a politician can comment on the same topic and, effectively, make the same points - yet it be received completely differently. And I suppose this has to do, in part, with the arena in which said comments are made. Some arenas are designated, by society, for fighting; while others are designated for truces (i.e., sporting events, music halls, and (used to be) comedy shows). There are books and journals written about the societal implications of β€œrace” and ethnicity so I won’t minimize those topics but to Beatty’s point - I was always amused when rich and powerful black people would condemn young black men for saying a word; and completely ignore structural impediments, and avoid making an effort to instruct them how to get in the positions they held.. and then you drill down and you realize that the steps many of these individuals took are complex, and at points, contradict the public persona or story they tell their set demographic. Which brings me to the point that culture is in large part about the stories we tell ourselves. There’s an African proverb which says β€œuntil the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”. Sometimes the hunter has a different color than you and sometime they’re the same color... and sometimes we like telling ourselves fairy tales because they pacify us or others; and avoid the elephant in the room. So I think part of the genius of people like this is that they eject themselves from the hunter x hunted dynamic and act as an observer. The comic creates his own space, outside of the gladiators arena, and points out the absurdities taking place within it - giving the combatants a respite from battle and an opportunity, as Beatty says, to β€œrehumanize ourselves” and β€œassert your intellectual equality”.

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I adore the framing of β€œI’m not a hunter, I’m an observer”; I think observers will always be weirdos to people engaged in the life-or-death dynamism of the hunt: strange, present but absent, frustrating and even annoying in their seeming preference for attention and comment over engagement and action. I get why hunters hate observers, in other words, but I love them and think we can always use more of them!

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Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

Yeah, well said. I think the act of observation is extremely important and needed in society; but at some point you gotta get in the game! That’s how I feel anyway.

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Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

Does nominative determinism work on books? If so "The Sellout" might be the greatest title

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Feb 12, 2023Β·edited Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

"That’s the difference between most oppressed peoples of the world and American blacks. They vow never to forget, and we want everything expunged from our record, sealed and filed away for eternity."

I understand this desire to forget.

Pain, trauma, injusticeβ€”including that which was justified and weaponized by the stateβ€”will never be easy to hold space for. As an individual, I don't want to live in the suffocating shadow of certain pains and humiliations that I've experienced. And those are just single episodes lobbed at me by hurting people, not centuries of sanctioned abuse, often justified by identity-driven lies.

There's also a grave danger in forgetting. In forgetting the historical acts and facts of injustice, we miss that wide angle view showing a steady march toward justice. In forgetting, we risk repeating the same sinsβ€”though perhaps with different actors in their next iteration. We also miss out on old stories of hope and grit. A forgetful people doesn't need to remember the perseverance of Tubman or courage of Douglass.

--

There's so much treasure in this essay it is hard to know where to comment.

I hadn't heard of The Sellout before this, thank you! Just put it on hold at my local library.

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I’ve been slammed all weekend since burning hours on this piece and another, but wanted to thank you for these really wonderful and additive comments! They could be posts in their own right and I think you make a great point about trauma and remembering / forgetting. Thank you!!!

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Jul 16, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

I like BEATTY. Ever since his Nuyorican Poetry Cafe days/poetry books from the 90s. Brilliant writer. No doubt bout that. Loves standup comedy like I do. The only thang I DONT like is that Beatty never shouts out CHARLES WRIGHT, the 60s author whose stile he, uh, BORROWED. Nevertheless, his voice in THIS genre is sorely needed. I still like WHITE BOY SHUFFLE and TUFF better than SELLOUT. In the meantime: how U broke alla this down is next level. Truly THORO.

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Hell yeah, thank you!!! I once read this line: β€œOnly great [people] can have great flaws.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I think that a lot of talented people have some secret shame / darkness / guilt somewhere in them, or some other conflict that works itself out in part by driving them to create.

A few years back, there was a rumor Kundera was an informant for the secret police before he turned against the state. I don’t know (or care) whether it’s true, but it if is, I’m sure a lot of his wisdom and insight came from the torture of wrestling with that, and most of us wrestle with something!

All that’s to say: one form I sometimes see of this is artists keeping their influences a secret, maybe ashamed of how much they owe them / worried they’ll be thought less β€œoriginal” or whatever. It’s so weird; there’s another instance of this I think about that I’ve momentarily forgotten which really shocked me when I noticed it. It’s like everyone has to have at least one scandal tied into their art (or themselves)!

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Jul 16, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

...." artists keeping their influences a secret, maybe ashamed of how much they owe them / worried they’ll be thought less β€œoriginal” or whatever. It’s so weird..."

VERY WEIRD. Butt at da end of the day, I digg BEATTY. No one is writing like dat. Its pure standup comedy on da page. U nailed it.

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Feb 14, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

Man, Kundera linking humour to the invention of the novel is classic Kundera. It describes the power of the novel so well, but I also think about the shape of Irish conversation, old as the hills, sly and effacing and also rendering ambiguous everything it touches. And, I’m sure, most other ancient cultures with which I am less familiar.

I think I read _The Sellout_ in a new-parent fugue, and I’m thinking it’s probably time for a reread. I remember enjoying it a lot but I didn’t retain enough.

In recent years I’ve become more guilty of trying to ascribe "authorial intent" to novels I read. Not sure if this is a sign of worse novels (frequently), or a worsening reader (almost certainly). β€œWhat is she saying, with this? Why did she do that to that character? Does she think this?”

In my youth I read almost exclusively blackly comic novels where the humour spread a kind of filament barrier between the author and the text. Martin Amis, etc. As you observe above, the impossibility of separating the author’s opinion from what might simply be funny gives a protection to the author, but also to the text. So many of the novels I’ve read from the last fews years have very clear moral points to make, products of the concerns of online culture. Then you read something truly good (like Rachel Cusk), and those questions of intent just kind of melt away. And yet something enters you by osmosis.

As I grew older I read fewer of these kinds of novels. Maybe I thought I was outgrowing them, maybe there are fewer of them around. I think a lot of people saw/see these novels as products of comfortable, white, first-world perspective. So _The Sellout_ is an excellent example of the freedoms of humour outside of the dominant perspective.

A few weeks ago I read _O Caledonia_ by Elspeth Barker, published in the early β€˜90s. A Scottish Highlands account of a girl’s sad and lonely childhood. Her family hates her. She suffers an endless series of small and large misfortunes. In the end she is pointlessly murdered (foretold on the first page), then buried and forgotten by her awful parents. It was an exhilarating and deeply moving and very funny read. So beautifully written, and very nostalgic, a true late-20th C novel. Why did the author do these things to this kid? Why make so much of it funny? Novels of often bad people doing often bad things informed my moral development to a ridiculous degree. It’s difficult to explain this clearly. You find your humanity in the reason that you laugh, in awareness of absurdity, in feeling for imperfect people.

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The entire Kundera passage actually β€”if you can believe itβ€” builds to an even greater claim, something along the lines of "democracy and the rule of law are only possible thanks to Cervantes." He attempts to distinguish between "comedy" and "humor," probably to head off objections like yours (and mine), but I find the distinction unpersuasive; you mention the Irish, and I think the phenomenon of "the character" β€”that person who makes others lol and smh at the same timeβ€” is one of humor, not comedy, so I'm still not ready to thank my local novelists for the existence of human rights.

I do agree that there's something of a gap between a Cusk and a Beatty (or, since I've only read this novel, between "Outline" and "The Sellout"); I really enjoyed this book, but it was just as you say: it felt like in part I was enjoying Beatty, whereas I have no fucking clue who Rachel Cusk is or what she thinks or feels about things (or don't think I do from reading her).

It's hard not to think about authorial intent; I try hard, but I'm soooo judgmental and petty and weird in how I think of these things that it's all-but-impossible. Now I want to check out "O Caledonia"!

Love reading your writing, as always man.

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Feb 12, 2023Β·edited Feb 12, 2023Liked by Mills, 𝔄𝔯𝔠π”₯𝔒𝔱𝔯𝔬𝔫𝔒𝔰𝔰 𝔬𝔣 π”’π”Ÿπ”©π”žπ”©π”¦π”ž

Respect to Paul Beatty for resisting the label of "satirist." In accepting that label, he would have made it far easier for many folks to categorize, shelve, and dismiss his work.

It's wonderful to read about (I haven't read the book yet) the amount of humor in The Sellout. Humor is honest. You either laughed or you didn't.

Just the other day our dog ran headfirst into the door. I laughed. My daughter said, "Dad, that's not funny." To which I replied, "It's hard to make the case that it wasn't funny when someone is laughing."

Some of the best jokes or comedic situations push the boundary of truth in one direction or the other. Maybe they are laced with a thread of reality that is generally hard to talk about, and that joke provides a unifying release valveβ€”we're glad someone finally said it. (Dave Chappelle) Orβ€”pressing hard in the other directionβ€”they are so patently devoid of truth that we are tickled by the absurdity. (Seinfeld) But my favorite jokes do both at the same time: a thread of truth, but then laced with absurdity or awkwardness. (Tig Nataro's famous cancer stand up set.)

"But I am desperate to know how most readers β€”and again, especially white readersβ€” took this passage..."

I thought the passage was funny. Why? Because I've misused plethora. And heard other people do the same. El Guapo in The Three Amigos said it wrong too. Skillfully highlighting the misuse of words can be funny thing. The fact that the black protagonist narrator approached it through a hyper-racialized lens doesn't change that universally funny truth.

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