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Anything We Love Can Be Saved. – book reviews

By Alice Walker Random House, 1997 225 pages Hard cover: $23

Alice Walker has been accused of writing well, and of writing
badly. In the case of her most famous work, The Color Purple (1982),
both accusations overlapped dramatically, each bringing its own measure
of adoration and libel. Her admirers and detractors emerged from all
sectors of popular, public, and academic life yielding a range of
responses — from ostensible assessments of her craft, to open
judgement of her political affiliations, to speculative accusations of
ulterior (market-driven) motives. A similar response greeted the novel
Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)

Anything We Love Can Be Saved seems rooted in the emotional soil of
Walker’s literary past — its discoveries, trials, antagonisms, loves,
disappointments, and triumphs. She is telling her own story, with all
of its subtleties and seeming contradictions, rather than leaving it to
be constructed by strangers. In the telling, it is not condemnation
Walker seems to fear, but misunderstanding and dismissal.

Walker’s works are often arguments that extend from text to text.
The Color Purple is unquestionably an outgrowth of the portrait of
violent sharecropping life in The Third Life of Grange Copeland, her
first novel. Possessing the Secret of Joy complicates the story begun
in The Color Purple. Anything We Love Can Be Saved seems to carry for
ward the work begun in The Same River Twice (1996), a narrative that
documents the events of The Color Purple that Walker describes as a
“lingering look backward at a dangerous crossroad…”

However, Anything We Love goes beyond documenting the past,
justifying one’s artistic decisions, or filling the gaps in reader
curiosity. Here, Walker returns to her portrait of an artist as
activist begun in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983). She argues
afresh for the embrace of activism as a natural and necessary risk of
the artist, and defends her work and perhaps herself within the context
of activist-as-lover-of-humankind.

In her introduction, Walker writes, “It has become a common
feeling, I believe, as we have our heroes falling…, that our own
small stone of activism…is a paltry offering toward the building of
an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their
offerings out of shame.”

Walker is insistent about the importance of adding our “small,
imperfect stones to the pile” that might form structures for hope. The
collection, then, is presented as a sampling of small, imperfect
artifacts — marked by the limitations, the prejudices, the
idiosyncrasies of the artist, and her contributions toward the edifice
of human possibility. Each essay, from the first, “The Only Reason You
Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind (Off
Your Land and Out of Your Lover’s Arms),” to the last, “My Mother’s
Blue Bowl,” tries to pry us up out of the ritual soil of received ideas
about ourselves and our world, and offer a different, emotionally
liberating, point of view.

In the provocatively titled first essay, subtitled “Clear Seeing
Inherited Religion and Reclaiming the Pagan Self,” Walker takes up the
issue of religion as a tradition. Tradition is a subject that permeates
her novels. She consistently inquires into the ways that structures of
subject oppression are made into cherished objects, like the broken
relics of petrified bone and crockery we enshrine in museums. Walker
suggests that in its veneration of the past, society has encouraged men
and women to make reliquaries of their lives, to house the shards of
our broken past. But how, she asks, can oppressed people begin to take
control of their lives without losing connection with the spiritual
territories and connection to origins that certain beliefs and
practices represent?

Walker presents the question of religion and inheritance with
particular relevance to Black women whose religious traditions and
training typically insist upon traditional readings of gender. The
essay rambles along, indulging a very long extract from The Color
Purple, to entertain questions that would be considered impertinent, if
not sacrilegious, by many Black inheritors of the faith of our enslaved
fathers and mothers.

Recalling how her mother, like many Black women, worked to keep the
church lively, functional, and beautiful, yet were denied the
opportunity to speak to the congregation, Walker asks, “And what would
the women have said?” The series of querulous questions she poses hint
at masculine fears that might have undergirded the mandate that women
be kept kneeling and silent in the church.

This fairly lengthy opening essay contains the germ of several
ideas that surface in Walker’s recent work, and throughout this
collection: Too much reverence for or anger with something or someone
that we love can stunt our intellectual growth as individuals and as
nations; Blind adherence to tradition is often a cloak for a
destructive anger; Unexamined rituals of speech are as mutilating to
the spirit as unexamined rituals that mutilate the body; We cannot
truly have love for what we fear to examine. Tracing her discoveries of
these “truths,” Walker borrows from her own fiction and poetry to map
her pathways away from trust in the “accepted wisdoms,” and back to her
seven-year-old questioning “pagan” self.

With its focus on women who are both fictional (Shug and Celie) and
real (Walker’s mother), this opening essay hints that Black women must
do some reclaiming of ourselves. Before we can do anything else, we
must revisit and assess how we have been made. In doing so, perhaps we
can reclaim our eyes and our imaginations, and put to better use those
memories particular to Black women’s experiences.

It may be a 1960s idea that art can bring revolution, but if change
must stir from within, perhaps Walker’s recent efforts to document her
spiritual journeys could be useful if Walker’s goal “to free [our
minds] of the fixation of ideology” would invigorate debate among her
popular audience, as the film of Color Purple brought the novel, and
its issues, to the neighborhood.

Opal Moore is a poet and fiction writer, and has recently joined the
faculty at Spelman College in Atlanta, as associate professor of
English/creative writing.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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