Critical multiculturalism
Harbans Singh

Multicultural America: Conversations with Contemporary Authors
by Nibir K. Ghosh. Unistar.
Pages 208. Rs 395

Multicultural America: Conversations with Contemporary AuthorsEVEN a casual student of American literature finds what Morris Dickstein terms as "the ever shifting margins of American society" in Multicultural America as something very close to the Indian experience. It is this aspect of the American literature that Nibir K. Ghosh has tried to explore in his illuminating conversations with contemporary authors in America.

Those included in the interviews are representatives of the different strands that go in the making of America. If there are authors like Ethelbert Miller who has no hesitation in identifying himself as a political writer and a literary activist, then there is also an author like Stanley Crouch who, though a provocative and iconoclastic social critic, believes that colour is never a problem. The latter finds considerable support from David Guterson who unhesitatingly declares that it is not necessary to be black to write about them.

These also provide insight to the reader in the making of the literature through conflict and creativity in a society that finds spirit of Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Ginsberg fighting for space in its life. There is little doubt that the changes that have emerged in America since the 60s owe much to these three personalities. If the newly found equality tempted the blacks of the agrarian South to migrate to the industrial North in search of the rainbows, then August Wilson delved into that migration and the failing of the transplant.

The literature of this period has also confronted the emergence of new equations with the rise of Islam among the black communities. One is not surprised that there are voices that lament the fact that this conversion cast an unfortunate shadow on the relationship between the blacks and the Jews, who had combined to hasten the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.There are also voices that are understandably concerned at the fact that racism becomes vicious at times, and the fact that the dominant culture of America often finds it expedient to exploit and exclude a visible minority. Not surprisingly, Angelyn Mitchell, while lamenting the fact that race, apart from creating artificial boundaries that alienates the individual, brings out the fact that the same percentage of black children live in poverty today as in 1968! For those readers who are fascinated by the liberal aspect of America, the interview with Jonah Raskin is both revealing and educative. There is little doubt that the strand of conservatism in general and the belief that if USA is a melting pot, then it is only for the immigrants from Europe in particular who are fairly strong in its polity. But there is no dearth of intellectuals who did not share the American Dream and have stood against the misuse of power by the State authority. For such people, America belongs to the immigrants, the workers and the free thinkers who have refused to think like the herd. America owes much to these people for the non-conformist tradition that alone is the hallmark of free societies.

The men of letters interviewed by Ghosh have confronted the theme of alienation in their own way but refreshingly the undercurrent remains that of optimism which is best expressed by David Guterson who believes that "it is an illusion for any writer to think that he cannot have an impact on the world". He cites the example of Orwell whose 1984 has permanently senstised humanity to totalitarianism and has made it difficult for totalitarian regimes to overwhelm it.

The interviews also explore the process of creativity in each of the authors and their views on literary criticism and contemporary authors. Put together they give a fair view of the society and the literature of multicultural America.