The Good: Lorde's excellent writing and debate style. Excellent examples of structural debate form.
The Bad: Some incredibly weak premises driven by deep-seated paranoia
The Basics: Moments of reasoning are well argued in A Burst Of Light, but the bulk of essays are paranoid, accusatory and divisive.
Audre Lorde, poet and author of the rare perfect novel (check out my review of Zami by clicking here!), also wrote essays and five are collected here. Being a fan of her poetry and novel did not help me read this collection. That was probably one of the biggest disappointments of my reading "career" that even as a fan of Lorde's work, I could not recommend this piece. In truth, it's just a bad work in an otherwise exemplary career.
The plus side is the title essay. A Burst Of Light is the non-poetic narration of Audre Lorde's struggle with cancer. In several of Lorde's poetry collections (see my review on The Complete Poems of Audre Lorde), Lorde deals with her cancers in poetry form. Often they are illusive and confusing. Here we get a straightforward narrative on her battle with her cancers. It is often graphic, occasionally tired and ultimately real. Her writing there is honed and excellent.
Similarly, "Apartheid U.S.A." is well written. The diction is high and the style is tight. However, it ekes into the seeping paranoia that is prevalent in this work. Reading some of these essays becomes almost physically painful from the sheer number of times the reader winces. Why? Lorde attributes all cultural phenomenon and problems within the Negro community to the white, heterosexual society (primarily the media). Large sections of the book come out sounding like a pamphlet one might get on the street by some strange radical.
The problem is, Lorde is a respected voice and so this level of degeneration in meaningful dialog between ethnicities is especially disappointing.
I'm a liberal, I have no problem admitting that because I'm a liberal with a spine. In Lorde's essay on "Sadomasochism" she blames everything on white society, up to and including the direct statement that somehow that sect of the population benefits from lesbian culture engaging in sadomasochistic routines. It is a paranoid argument that we ought to be far beyond by now. These arguments are built on specious reasoning and arguments lacking in foundation.
While some of her observations are accurate (i.e. that media attention to the s/m fringe of the lesbian sub-culture was used to distract the populace from larger Civil Rights issues), the motivations she attributes to them are often far more sinister than they actually are. As well, her declaration of where the blame lies is unfounded or at least unproven in her essay.
In fact, it's troublesome how someone so into the human community, as viewed in her essay "I am your sister," could write and publish "Apartheid U.S.A." and "Sadomasochism." In short, Lorde's essays aren't inviting a greater dialog here, these are divisive elements that have a mindset of Us Vs. Them and set all corners of society apart.
Indeed, she's right that I am her sister, but we all are and she seems remarkably more concerned with uniting factions that she's a part of than uniting society into a peaceful whole.
For other books of essays, please check out my reviews of:
The Souls Of Black Folk – W.E.B. DuBois
Keeping Faith – Jimmy Carter
Dude, Where’s My Country? – Michael Moore
For other book reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.