Saturday, November 18, 2006

B'wana Dave

There's something disconcerting about the title page to his new book-- What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng-- with the subtitle prominently displayed. Right below, the punchline: by Dave Eggers.

The subtitle harks back not just to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but to the autobiography of Frederick Douglass-- the shocking importance of which, in its day, was that ex-slave Douglass was speaking for HIMSELF. Remember the theme of the work-- that what Douglass most embraced was the ability and need to read and write. This revolutionary act gave him equality with anyone. Douglass proved by his writings, his speeches, and his life that he was the equal of any white person.

Empowerment was the message of these two powerful autobiographies. The much-hyped 2006 version gives the opposite message: that the paternalistic rich white man in the person of B'wana Dave Eggers is back in control. "I'm here to help." (The White Man's Burden.) B'wana Dave carts the embodiment of "Victim" from interview to interview as if they were ventriloquist and puppet, while the liberal print media applauds.

Dave Eggers is the darling of boozhie (street slang) lit critics because this ultimate boozhie is an example to them that it's hip to be rich and corporate. Everything he does has an air of unreality about it. He's crafted to be a savior of generosity and benevolence; his image washed in a special glow. The insanity of the man is that he rigorously protects this image from everything resembling a real human being; from hints of anger and flaws; criticism against him consistently steamrolled. Insanity-- or shrewd marketing.


jimmy grace said...

This is a particularly righteous stance in light of all of the genuine African writers you've been trumpeting all over this blog.

Oh, right. We'd rather take potshots at hotshots.

Jimbo said...

Dave Eggers and Michael Jackson oughta get together on some kind of project. A record, a book, sex crimes, gratuitous cosmetic surgery......

King Wenclas said...

I've removed comments relating to a fake poster which have nothing to do with this discussion.
"Grace," can you now see why I'm leery of anonymous posters?
You haven't convinced me that you're for real-- there's no evidence of your existence on-line before your appearance on this blog. You haven't yet said HOW you found this obscure blog-- and why of all the lit-blogs in the world you comment here. It's also a fact that most of your posts are defenses of the McSweeney's crowd.
You also haven't named a single Oakland poet you've claimed has problems with me and the ULA. (I met a west coast poet recently who's very familiar with that scene. He seems to love what the ULA is doing. I'll be discussing his chapbook upcoming.)
Regarding the point you made. You still don't get what I'm talking about.
What have I said? "Clean up your own backyard." It's ridiculous, when America is still itself drowning in enormous problems, that the most affluent of us are suddenly rushing overseas to solve problems there.
Uh, isn't how this country got into its present dilemmas to begin with?
We naively believe we can fix the world-- and in trying to, usually end up making things worse, as witness the fiasco in Iraq.
I applaud the Dave's literacy efforts in San Fran and elsewhere-- but why is everything he does accompanied by a big sign reading "Look at Me!"
Is it allowed to criticize the guy? That's all I'm doing. Free speech. He'd better learn how to deal with it. Thanks.