CE Morgan on beauty, evil, lack, and not asking permission

Saturday, June 11, 2016

In 2009, CE Morgan's All the Living showed up on my doorstep for review. I didn't know who this writer was. I had no expectations. But, as I wrote then, I was very quickly awed:

But here was a first novel so self-assured and unto itself, so unswerving in its purpose, so strummed through with a peculiar, particular, electrifying sound, that I found myself reading in a state of highest perplexion, and also gratitude and awe.  Maybe the gratitude came first, for All the Living is a novel about the hardest things—about grief and lonesomeness, about desiring much and staying true, about loving through and forgiveness.  It’s a novel that makes you think on all of that newly, and that spares nothing and no one in the process.  

Recently Morgan published her second novel, The Sport of Kings, and it is getting the kind of attention a writer of this caliber should. I plan to read it. I have not yet. The purpose of this post is to share an interview CE Morgan conducted with Commonweal magazine. She's not one to talk too much about her process. This interview provides a rare glimpse. I highly recommend that the interview be read in its entirety, here. But for now, I share some of the fragments of the conversation that have me thinking on this day—and will keep me thinking for a very long time.

On moral beauty and evil: "I think of moral beauty as what is the good and the just—terms perhaps best defined by their opposite: evil. Evil is the willingness to do damage to the other; its maximal expression is murder, but it includes a great deal of subtle and not-so-subtle injuries as it advances to that extreme. Evil acts reduce the other to an object, a being to its component parts, and obliterate subjectivity. Evil’s breeding ground is a lack of empathy. So I locate moral beauty in an other-regarding ethic. Or perhaps it’s better to say it’s not located anywhere, because it’s not a static entity. It’s love, and love is not a feeling but an action."

On the power of lack:  "I often think there are three primary responses to suffering—rage, intoxication, or growth. We either want revenge for our pain, or we numb ourselves with the endless array of intoxicants available to us, from drugs to overwork, or we grow in empathy. Emptiness can transform into spaciousness; lack can become an agent of social action. But I think many of us struggle to remain on that third path without backsliding into the other two. I do."

On writing the other: "The injunction to justify race-writing, while ostensibly considerate of marginalized groups, actually stifles transracial imagination and is inextricable from those codes of silence and repression, now normalized, which have contributed to the rise of the racist right in our country. When you leave good people afraid to speak on behalf of justice, however awkwardly or insensitively, those unafraid to speak will rise to power."


Cleo from Jersey said...

Wow, what an interview! I had to read most sentences three or more times, thinking "hard" in the process. So much to think about, and so much to say. One line sticks with me when she refers to "The Sport of Kings", and says (paraphrasing here), Though "The Sport of Kings" is not perfect, it is complete.....
That paragraph, alone, is the ultimate guide/focus for writing. Thank you, Beth, your posts enlighten and enrich. Angela Muller

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