Monday, June 3, 2013

Uncensored Eudora Welty

            The Clarion Liar…err…the Clarion Ledger (my bad—old habits die hard.) has printed the uncensored version of Eudora Welty’s “Where Is the Voice Coming From?,” which is Welty’s reaction to the assassination of Medgar Evers, and y’all can read it at the Clarion Ledger.  I’ve been aware of both versions of Welty’s “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” for years.  It’s a good story, but not my favorite by Welty.  My favorite Welty story is “A Worn Path.”  However, “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” excellently captures the rage and neurosis of Byron De La Beckwith, but I have always felt that the story also makes Beckwith’s actions too singular or individual.  So, on the one hand “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” is another example of Welty’s brilliance with language.  (“Why I Live at the PO” is another story that showcases her wonderful use of the vernacular.)  Yet, by focusing so much on Beckwith’s singular or individual rage, Welty seems to pardon institutional racism.  Ultimately, even the title of the story, “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” has an air of what James Baldwin called “selective naiveté” in that it almost completely makes Beckwith’s attack a singular or individual act rather than showing Beckwith’s action as a symbol of the legal and institutionalized racism that gripped Mississippi, the South, and America.  We know that Beckwith’s actions were coordinated, to a degree, with help from information gathered by the White Citizens Council and the Sovereignty Commission and that Beckwith understood, because of the manner that white supremacy permeated every aspect of Mississippi, that there was no jury in 1963 that would convict him.  So while I like the story for Welty’s ability to expose the raw rage and neurosis of Beckwith, especially through her wonderful troping of his language, I’ve always felt that the story also seems to shift the responsibility of the crimes against African Americans from the states and nation to individual loose cannons, which was not the case, unless we agree that the vast majority of white Southerners and white Americans were a collection of loose Jim Crow cannons.  Of course others have countered that Welty is making Beckwith an allegorical figure for the raging flame of Mississippi racism, and while I don’t see/read him being presented entirely that way, I give her credit for being willing to have the conversation in 1963.  And what’s even more ironic or hypocritical is that the New Yorker—the bastion of white liberalism—forced her to change the names of places and people so as not to offend and enflame white southern and white American sensibilities.  Once, again, the truth of white supremacy, even in poetic or fictionalized form, is deemed too radical or too militant to publish.  That’s…just…funny…  If you have never read either version, here is a chance, and feel free to tell me what you think.  Take care.

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