A Novel Ahead of Time

[By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

The gatekeepers of American culture who
think American literature is dying as their worlds hip hop to a start can find
consolation in Mat Johnson’s Pym: A Novel (New York: Spiegel & Grau,
2010).  The book extends the olive branch
of hope.  It is evidence of things not
seen.  If the gatekeepers have not been
convinced to stop playing at being Melchizedek by Garry Will’s Why Priests? : A
Failed Tradition (New York: Viking, 2013), Pym will teach them the errors of
their ways.
Pym restores the centrality of Edgar
Allan Poe’s only novel, Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), in American
Studies.  It confirms that white cannot
possess “the perfect whiteness of snow” without a drop of black.  “Whatever twentieth-century ‘whites’ think
about ‘blacks,’ according to Joseph R. Urgo’s Novel Frames: Literature as Guide
to Race, Sex, and History in American Culture
(Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi, 1991), “they owe their existence —politically and culturally,
and in many cases, genetically — to those same black drops”(19).

American gatekeepers, especially the
neoconservative ones, thrive in the sugar ditch of binary thinking.

From time to time, however, a few of them
recognize society has more than two dimensions. Literature does sometimes
manage to make an effective wake-up call. 
Consider Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage.  That novel appropriated segments of Herman
Melville’s classic “Benito Cereno” to create a new, post-whatever African
American narrative and to give “double consciousness” a proper burial.  Mat Johnson goes a step further.  He creates a smart American narrative that
guarantees the kind of immortality evoked in William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 81:
When all the breathers of this world are dead/ You still shall live – such
virtue hath my pen –/Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.
By resurrecting and blackening Edgar
Allan Poe, Mat Johnson precludes the death of American literature and the
obliteration of “whiteness.”  We now have
666 dimensions of consciousness.
hieroglyphics live.