I am an admirer of those who use words. Those who convey a world Next Door as though I can walk by it and know I just need to reach out and be there
Neil Gaiman is one of those word-smiths.
I don't want to rehash the incident, which you can read about here
, as context is important and should be known, but for the benefit of those who haven't been in the conversation: ( See me rehash )
Now, my thoughts.
The biggest problem, beyond the obvious of Gaiman's Tweets (which is just a ghastly thing to do), is the implication of Gaiman's comment on Reese's blog post
in which he apologised for his response in 2008 and continued to put his foot in his mouth by flippantly saying sorry to the Vikings and Norwegians who he may have misrepresented in the comment.
It is humour politics done very badly.
It is also a very Euro-centric mode of thought, that until the America's were settled by white people there wasn't anything there.
I myself am guilty of such thought, it's a white privilege thing (and not living in the North American continent thing as well, for some).
"A few dead Indians" is a bad turn of phrase. Very, in fact.
I ponder if Gaiman would ever make a Holocaust joke of a similar ilk, but then the only people I've ever heard make Holocaust jokes are Israeli Jews and not other kinds of Jews.
Sorry, derailing. It is however, the power of the joke. The notion that the issue is not important enough for anything other than a laugh. Historical narrative is complicated in what it includes, more so in what it excludes.
When I hear talk of America, my automatic knee-jerk thought is Discovery and not Invasion. This is because I am indoctrinated, period.
When I think of Gaiman and his treatment of America, I think of American Gods
, in which he had a PoC (who I always thought was mixed race black/white, but later realised was native/white) protagonist who uses a name that is descriptive and not literal, in which the bloody history of American "immigration" (From the First Nations who cross the Bering Straight to the kidnapped Tribes from Western Africa to the Impoverished Farmers of Eastern Europe. And of course, his beloved Vikings) is detailed in the "interval" chapters found throughout the book between moments of the main plot.
The book is conceptually problematic in the way Spirit of America (The Buffalo Man IIRC) is framed, but I would argue that it's about the defeat of that spirit by the invading colonialist religions than anything else.
Sorta, a large point of the book is that the land itself is no good for the colonising gods, hence... the whole plot of the book.
It is Eurocentric, it's also self-indulgent in a way that managed to speak to a great many people who like the philosophy that Gaiman presents in his work overall.
Problematic yes, bad in and of itself, I don't think so.
Still, Gaiman uses his privilege as a famous author, as someone known to have a dry sense of humour and as a writer who has been known to write the Other to deflect this necessary criticism.
This is not about his knee-jerk reaction to the aforementioned posts regarding what he said in interviews, but regarding what he said about American history.
Writing this is difficult for me, you see I'm a fan. A huge fan. A fan who *squeed* quite a lot when I met him four years ago
and I still admire his writing. Even when I heard about the premise of The Graveyard Book
which is conceptually based on Kipling's The Jungle Book
, I ate up the critique because I love being informed and thought that what Gaiman did in The Graveyard Book
was truly brilliant - intertextuality is a kink of mine.
I also think it's important to know where authors and creators fall short. And it this instance, it is Gaiman.
It's disappointing and still... I feel a loyalty towards him. His work has inspired me, changed my way of thinking and is one of the reasons I managed to think about religion and faith more critically and in a way that satisfied me both intellectually and emotionally.
Meeting Neil was one of the best moments of my short life.
I always considered Neil Gaiman to be one of those authors who got things right, who wrote the world with a certain Truth. It is a talent that has garnered him great acclaim and fame. It helps that he himself is a pretty funny guy, self-deprecating but arrogant at the same time, a dry sense if humour that belies the notions of superiority he has about himself.
I always liked that kind of humour, it's uniquely British and makes me nostalgic about Black Adder
, French and Saunders
and P.G Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster
(just to name a few, I could go on).
(Dear god, yes I know of the problematic dynamics in these programmes... I'm an Anglophile and everything that suggests. *sigh*).
But this is a fail and as a loyal and adoring fan I have to take this into account. I have to look at the works of this author, his words on and off the page and wonder, how is it that mainstream historical narrative (i.e. racist and elite oriented) is so pervasive that a the notion of genocide that continues to this day is viewed as nothing more than a cavalier utterance? That those deaths continue to haunt America and that the death of a Nation is an absence felt all the time, not only by those who survived the killings but by the cultural and narrative vacuum of that death.
Genocide lingers, either as an traumatic imprint or as the absence that I mention. There is more to this than "a few dead Indians" and European tombstones.
I'll be paying attention to this. I may write some more.