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Necessary Distance: Essays & Criticism.

Necessary Distance: Essays & Criticism by Clarence Major Coffee House Press, April 2001, $15.95 ISBN 1-566-89109-4

Clarence Major began writing professionally and living as a young bohemian during the Civil Rights Movement. At the time of the Black Arts Movements of the sixties and seventies, he rejected the idea of a "black aesthetic" believing it stifled the creative freedom of the black artist. Major also rejected formal language. He published the Dictionary of Afro-American Slang in 1970.

Major wrote Necessary Distance to tell his life story; however, it is as much about his creative process. This fascinating collection, including the candid "Afterthoughts on Becoming a Writer," recounts his narcissistic boyhood, the importance of dreaming, and his early museum art training. Major's mature fiction style playfully captures the distances between flowing moments, as dreams do. Major's characters combine language comprised of pictures and rhythms, and offer themselves without specifying or representing any singular theme.

Major, now a college professor, has now become the subject of Clarence Major and his Art, edited by Bernard Bell. It contains 13 of Major's poems including "The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage" (1998), seven examples of his prose, with an excerpt from Reflex and Bone Structure (Mercury House, 1976), 16 of his paintings, and ten essays on Major's writings and paintings. It is an excellent academic study of cultural criticism, especially postmodernism. According to Bell, Major defines his post modernist style without traditional protagonists or plots. Two of the essays find that his paintings clearly illustrate a confrontation with modernism and its masters--Degas, Munch, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso. It seems then, that Major's mostly male characters' fragmented voices and psycho-sexual stereotypical views of women, reveal the total inverse of the cherished status of modernism.

Upsetting tradition and finding relevance in everything but black middle-class reality leaves Major's writing open to attack. However, for this critic and the artist himself, his ultimate defense is his own craft--a self-liberating experiment for his own positive development as a black person and as a writer.

Stacey Williams is currently a doctoral student conducting research in African American art history in New York City.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Williams, Stacey
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Clarence Major and His Art: Portrait of an African American Postmodernist.
Next Article:The Black Experience in the 20th Century: An Autobiography and Meditation.

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