Utopia Depends on a U-turn: Intertextuality, New Writing and Educating for Diversity

This paper explores the question: when we bring literature to life through acts of reading, are we merely imagining that connections exist between the two domains: life and reading? Existentialists have ascribed human life to be a swirling state of incoherence, a mash-up of fragments, random and raw, scratchings on stone and occasional flashes of fire in the deadwind of existence.

There are writers, artists and filmmakers who have made this ontological emptiness their subject. Some have made retellings of these stories their subject: Lucino Visconti’s film of Camus’ The Stranger and (more recently) Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation come to mind. Others have organised the raw material of everyday life into narratives to generate sense and meaning in the service of their work. They have made a literary ‘place’, rich with meaning take shape out of the utterly messy resource of lived experience. Perhaps it is this lack of purity in the relationship between life and literature that has prompted N. K. Jemisin to refer to ‘mere tolerance’ and ‘that grudging pittance of respect that is diversity’ in her recent collection of stories, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? In Jemisin’s short story The Ones Who Stay and Fight (her response to Ursula LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas), the citizens of Um-Helat ‘are not naïve believers in good intentions as the solution to all ills.’ Words, written words, are not enough. To fight is to create a society that consciously faces, ‘without flinching’ as author Toni Morrison puts it, its own poisons; its tribalism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, greed, cruelty, anger and the excuse that any of these is natural.

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