The city - as the theater of experience, the refuge, the hiding place - has, in turn, been replaced by an abstraction, the fast lane. In the fast lane, the passive observer reduces everything - streets, people, rock lyrics, headlines - to landscape. Every night holds magical promises of renewal. But burnout is inevitable, like some law of physics.
History is a sly boots, and for a generation of blacks that cannot identify with the frustrations of Jim Crow, and for whites who cannot understand the hard deal that faces working-class blacks, it is difficult to reconcile Hughes's reputation as a poet-hero with his topical verse and uncomplicated prose.
The nameless loser in Jay McInerney's 'Bright Lights, Big City' is going to the dogs like a gentleman. He is too smart to blame anyone for the impasse he has come to, hip enough to know he does not know enough, too sophisticated to masquerade as an anti-hero.
Novels set in distant places give us expectations not unlike those we have of travel writing, and often the distinctions are blurred, as in, say, the way the low life of Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward is depicted in John David Morley's recent 'Pictures from the Water Trade.'
That slave narratives existed at all implied a satisfactory conclusion to the journey - the attainment of literacy, the escape to the place where one could reflect on the experience of bondage and the flight to freedom, and, in the early days of the slave trade, the conversion to Christianity.
Toomer is a phantom of the Harlem Renaissance. Pick up any general study of the literature written by Afro-Americans, and there is the name of Jean Toomer. In biographies and memoirs of Harlem Renaissance figures, his name is invoked as if he had been one of the sights along Lenox Avenue.
I know black kids who don't even know any other black kids except their cousins. And that's enough. You wouldn't look at these kids and say that they are Uncle Toms or self-hating or fleeing or trying to be white, given the culture in which they live, which is very natural to them as kids.