In my blog about A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, I was able to include a clip of mythologist Joseph Campbell explaining what Joyce meant by "aesthetic arrest." If you listen to the clip or read Joyce and think about your own experience, you will certainly see the truth in it. The last time I experienced this state of heart-stopping rapture was when Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring was on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. You walk into the place knowing you're going to see this painting. And even though you're expecting it, you are blown away when you finally see her. I've had this experience in Chicago with Sunday on la Grande Jatte and also while watching Judith Jamison dance. Even if you've seen a hundred ballets, nothing prepares you for her presence on stage. Notice that I speak in the present tense. Now 70, she has not danced for the Alvin Ailey company in decades. But the experience was such that it feels as if it is still happening in some kind of eternal present. Perhaps that's another aspect of aesthetic arrest - the way it takes you out of time even as it freezes a particular experience within time. Point being that there would have been no "Revelations" for Ms. Jamison to dance had there been no Alvin Ailey. In 2008, CBS put together the following short presentation on his life and extraordinary legacy. Since today marks the 83rd anniversary of his birth, there's no time like the present to watch it again.
A few weeks ago, I drove to Forsyth County, Georgia, to buy some vinyl recordings I saw on Craigslist. Even though it’s been 27 years since Oprah broadcasted an alarmingly vitriolic TV show on racism in that county, I still had qualms about traveling to a place where African-Americans were once so unwelcome you were not allowed to let the sun go down while you were there. If you watch Oprah, then you know she did a follow-up program on Forsyth County some years later, and things had changed dramatically. Nevertheless, I had to fight back the feeling that maybe I didn’t need to buy these old albums after all. Maybe I could find them on eBay and at a better price. This is part of what Faulkner meant when he wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” If you have lived through something, it’s still in you, like the carbon-dating of trees. Sometimes you’re conscious of these memories, as I was that day when I fought back irrational fears and continued north into territory no longer known for its hatred of blacks. But sometimes these past memories are unconscious. They’re inside you driving your behavior in ways you don’t even realize. That’s what the stories in my novel series are about. This unconsciousness, as Jung once pointed out, is sin. I write stories to explore that.
I’m reminded of all this because today marks the 88th birth anniversary of Civil Rights Leader, Rev. Hosea Williams. During the heyday of civil rights in the 1960’s, Williams organized protests in Savannah, GA, and eventually came to the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who sometimes referred to him as his “bull in the china shop.” In the following years, he campaigned tirelessly for justice and equality. In 1987, it was Hosea Williams who led the protest marches into Forsyth County, which eventually brought international attention – and Oprah’s TV show. Williams also sought to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless—sound familiar?—and to this day the annual Hosea Feed the Hungry Program provides meals to thousands of people each Thanksgiving.
What follows is a 10-minute clip of Oprah's post-Forsyth reflections on what happened there in1987. After that, you'll see a radio interview with Hosea’s daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson, about her father’s life and accomplishments. The remaining two clips are from a sort of anti-eulogy, given by Hosea’s friend, Atlanta radio personality Ally Pat, during live coverage of Williams’ funeral. When I was a grad student in creative writing, one of our texts cautioned against writing that sounded like remarks made at a funeral. We want to remember the dead with kindness and respect. In doing so, we sometimes forget that they were once alive—with all the contradictions, trials and weaknesses the soul endures during its time here. A good story should tell the truth, something one never hears at a funeral. Except in this one instance. Years after Hosea’s funeral, people were still talking about the things Ally Pat said that day. We should all be so lucky.
You know her. She was married to Michael Corleone in The Godfather. In 1977, she created a fashion craze and won an Oscar as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Eleven years ago, while in her late 50’s, she appeared nude in Something’s Gotta Give. Diane Keaton, who turns 67 today, just keeps getting more irresistible. Let’s hope Hollywood keeps writing scripts that will put her onscreen for years to come. Here's the trailer for Something's Gotta Give.