Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Review: "June Jordan's Life and Letters" by Valerie Kinloch (Chapters 1-3)
In reading Valerie Kinloch's sort of biography of June Jordan, June Jordan: Her Life and Letters, I get stuck in two thickets. The first is Kinloch's failure of political imagination. She approaches Jordan's life and work from the un-real world of The Academy, as opposed to the lived-in and living world of actual people. Over and over again Kinloch refers to the "alleged violence" in Jordan's early life, calling into question Jordan's own documented experiences. Kinloch has a peevishly liberal, and literal, understanding of violence, evidently. And even so, I'm bewildered as to how a young black woman who sleeps with a knife under her pillow, just in case her father comes for her in the middle of the night, warrents the appellation "alleged" violence. Even the most conservative defintion can't ignore that. It's a weapon! In the hands of a teen aged girl!
Kinloch provides scant evidence to refute any of Jordan's autobiographical work on the matter, which leaves me to question Kincloch's motive and position. This spurious scholarship belies a hopelessly elementary understanding of her "subject," the life and writings of Ms. Jordan.
Maybe my biggest problem is that Kinloch treats June as a subject. A cadaver to be studied. Her wooden prose (to borrow a term from Edward Said) certainly attests to this point. Her writing is dead. There is no passion for June--her life or her letters. Just dull recitations of information that is readily available from June's own work. Kinloch doesn't really come to any meaningful insights or reveal anything of value, which leaves me feeling terribly deflated. June's life was about the connections that words create between truly different peoples. Prose and poetry are not simply words on pages. June always stressed that all words--written, said, thought--must be connected to purposeful action. Kinloch has missed this ethic. She may get it conceptually, but in practice her writing is dead weight.