One might argue that blackface performances of the thirties and forties (and earlier) are so far in the past and such a product of their time as to be beyond judgment, but I’d disagree. I’d rather assessments of artists be made with knowledge of their warts and all.
History is now. And then now. It’s still happening now. And it appears it’s all about me.
Do you hear the engines beneath the model of the city giving out?
One or more pictures stand out as the book’s primal raison d’etre; that is, there is at least one picture which activates a “flashbulb memory” from the creator’s childhood and which the story explains in an ambiguous way. The manifest storybook explanation for this primal scene is benign and reassuring while the latent and historical interpretation is traumatic and unbearable.
A few years ago, a woman in Spain attempted to restore a nineteenth-century church fresco, but in doing so ruined it completely. The result is less Savior than surreal simian, the delicate portrait painted over with a crude, monstrous “face.” Since the election it has been hard to shake the feeling that reality has been made worse, unrecognizable, in precisely this way.
“You’d find certain archetypes that would appear no matter what. For instance, the haunted merchant’s house in New York plays off the mythology of the unmarried woman, the spinster, as does the Winchester House. Things like this would crop up unexpectedly across the country, despite their radically different places and stories and cultures.”