Walter Mosely and China Miéville and Karl Marx
Marx. Capitalism. Racism. Cockroaches. All were fair game when Walter Mosley, the beloved and versatile American master of fiction, and China Miéville, one of Britain’s leading writers of “New Weird” fiction, shared the podium at the recent Distinguished Writers Series event at Wellesley College. While they come from different generations, countries, and literary approaches, both are literary “bad boys.” Their shared radical attitude towards society provided a firm common ground for the event.
Mosley read from his new book Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery in which Easy is resurrected from the almost-certain death readers had found at the end of Blonde Faith (2007), assumed to have been the last in this series. While he’s tackled redemption many times, Mosley told us, this is his first work of resurrection. Wearing red glasses and red socks, his signature hat pushed slightly back on his forehead, Mosley was a familiar and captivating presence.
Miéville read an as-yet untitled, unpublished short story full of scary fantasy images reflecting his horror at Cameron’s Britain, where “tradition” is used to explain away all sorts of political and cultural nastiness. “As soon as something is justified as traditional,” he observed while talking about an annual “Darkie Day” that is held by Cotswolds residents in black face, “alarms must go off.” Miéville’s complicated tattoo covering his muscular right arm and shoulder was balanced by what I swear were tattoos of huge cockroaches crawling up his strong left arm. This would not be out of character as there is not only a Cockroach Tree in one of his books, but he actually, in a speech last year, said of the novel that it is “tenacious as a cockroach.”
A Q&A followed the readings. In response to questions about genre, Mosley pointed towards capitalism in the creation – for marketing purposes – of the concept of narrow genres. While there are some formulaic genre books, he said, capitalism “grabs on to that and erases differences.” By constructing simplified categories that ignore the subtleties, the profit-seekers can more easily make their sales pitches. Both writers regularly trample across genre lines – Mosley writes detective novels, literary fiction, erotica, and political essays; Miéville’s books are a mix of fantasy, horror, suspense, and steampunk.
Like the concept of genre, Mosely said, race is also a social construct, especially the very American notion of the white race. Having been raised by a Jewish mother and African-American father, Mosley is used to dealing with the often-ignored complexities of race. In a recent interview in the Buffalo News, he said: “I understand racism, but understanding racism is like understanding a rabid dog. I mean, it’s a rabid dog ¬– it’s going to bite you. But to make that a major part of your philosophy would be defining yourself down. It would let the rabid dog that bit you to define who you are. Yes, race is a part of my life, but it does not run my life. I have a really good life.”
I asked both writers about Marxism, for China Miéville’s PhD was on Marxism and International Law, and, as I pointed out to Walter Mosley, I had not as yet found a single one of his novels that did not mention Marx at some point, although I admitted that I was far from having read every one of his more than 40 books. It was a way, he said, of “keeping his finger on that place” – a way of keeping social commentary front and center, even when it was not an explicit part of the story. He does, however, write political essays, and is working on one about the environment now. Miéville identified himself as a “red” and referenced the spectrum of left affiliations from communism to anarcho-syndicalism, but also said that he saves explicit politics for the podium. He did talk about the painful cuts to social services being made in the UK, calling them a kind of bitter, mean class revenge by the privileged on poor and working class people.
The mutual admiration of the two writers, so different in presentation and on the page, was a reminder that a shared perspective and a devotion to the same craft are enough to draw together two authors and their enthusiastic audience.
The Newhouse Distinguished Writers Series is a key element in the calendar of programming and performances given at Wellesley’s Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities. Readings are free and open to the public. The next Distinguished Writers event takes place on Tuesday, April 09, 2013, 4:30pm and will present Marilyn Nelson, the award-winning a poet, translator and children's book author, and Anis Mojgani, a two time National Poetry Slam Champion.
Sue Katz, an author, journalist, blogger and rebel, used to be most proud of her martial arts career and her world travel, but now it’s all about her edgy blog Consenting Adult. Sue is a regular contributor to Open Media Boston.
This article was simultaneously published at Sue's blog.