|W.E.B. Du BOIS|
Saturday, October 22, 2011
CHARLES JOHNSON AND THE GOOD THING
E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "I've asked you many questions for the last ten months, now comes the big one. What is the good thing?"
Today's question won't take long to answer. In Faith and the Good Thing when the Swamp Woman is asked about the Good Thing, which is based on a popular black phrase in the 1970s and obviously refers to Plato's notion of the Good, she replies, "The Good Thing? You sure you ain't committin' the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, girlie?" Well, of course, Faith Cross is committing that fallacy described by Alfred North Whitehead. The Swamp Woman tries to get her to see that what she desires cannot be---not ever---a thing. Later, at the novel's end, Faith's odyssey comes to rest provisionally and tentatively on her belief that the Good Thing is love.
Ancient Greek philosophy is much concerned with three, grand themes: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. (Even the Swamp Woman conflates goodness and beauty, but playfully elevates them above whatever we mean by "truth.") I have absolutely no desire to rewrite that early novel (for I still believe that the experience of love in its many manifestations underlies those things we judge to be good); but if I were to revise that text 37-years after its publication, I would want to add to the many philosophical explanations of the Good that Faith encounters (2,000 years worth of ethical positions from the Greeks to the existentialists appear in that novel) the voice of W.E.B. Du Bois in 1926 when in his address "Criteria of Negro Art," he imagines with clarity of vision and hard-won wisdom the conditions required for the realization of "a beautiful world":
"...if we had the true spirit; if we had the Seeing Eye, the Cunning Hand, the Feeling Heart; if we had, to be sure, not perfect happiness, but plenty of good hard work, the inevitable suffering that comes with life; sacrifice and waiting, all that---but, nevertheless, lived in a world where men know, where men create, where they realize themselves and where they enjoy life." (Italics mine.)
In other words, my sense in 2011 of the Good Thing is a good life, one lived within the contours so eloquently and realistically described by Du Bois.
Posted by Ethelbert Miller at 7:48 PM