Minnesota author Marlon James on the Sculpture Garden 'Scaffold' controversy

The A Brief History of Seven Killings author touches on progressive in-fighting, and Facebook's corrosive effect on discussion.
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Marlon James' writing credentials aren't in doubt. The Jamaica-born author, who is now Macalester College's first writer-in-residence, won the prestigious 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings.

And James brought that same literary sensibility to the ongoing public drama at the Walker Art Center, writing a series of Facebook posts that dissect the response to the "Scaffold" work, as well as the response to that response.

Like his recent novel, James here stations himself in the gray uncertainty that swirls around the main event – focusing on what it said about race, social labels, art, human behavior, politics, and more.

We've pulled out a few highlights below, but for your own sake, here are links to all his thoughts (and you should read them all): The original on May 27, a follow-up later that day, his take on Facebook's poisonous effect, a clarification, a longer thought on how people are talking to each other, then final posts Tuesdaymorning.

Keep in mind: Sharing James' posts doesn't mean we endorse them. Nor does it mean we are invalidating them. These are just interesting, thought-out takes you won't see anywhere else (warning – it features a couple of swear-words).

A few highlights

James on violence in art

Jame's original post on the Sculpture Garden protest makes a point about violence and art – and how it relates to both "Scaffold," which the artist said is supposed to show the United State's troubling history with criminal justice, as well as this Emmett Till painting in New York, which has drawn controversy because it was done by a white artist.

"What we've been seeing lately, is art focusing on the instruments of damage to people, or the details of damage done to people (or even the ephemera) that somehow manages to totally sidestep the people," James argued. "It's like saying your work is on slavery but the entire exhibit is a series of whipped buttocks, or just whips. Rendering violence as aesthetics is one thing, but there's a thin line between that and just fetishizing (atrocity porn) and too many people cross it. It claims confrontation but is the most unseemly kind of escape."

James on Facebook's effect on discussion

Yes, James is making this point on Facebook, so try to suspend the irony. He calls the social media site "an inept medium for disagreement, a shitty one for argument, a hostile one for any kind of confrontation, and yet a frightfully efficient way to instantly end friendships and alliances."

And in one of his follow-ups, he wrote:

"I know some people think it's fine to jump in on somebody else's page to argue with (or attack) someone, but I just don't, and I never will. Call it snowflakey, but my entire post could have been boiled down to, 'I wish we were nicer to each other online.' Too sappy for you? Suck it."

James on progressives fighting with each other

The author said he himself is a progressive, but outlines what he sees as a serious issue within that political group. Namely, liberals' problems with binary labels ("Everything is us/them") and how it fractures the community.

He argued there have been people "scoring coloured-people-ally points by picking fights with their white friends." And James breaks down a confrontation that bubbled up between a straight white male and a Native American activist – both of whom were fighting for the same thing. Yet the white male was accused of genocide and displacement of colored peoples, James explains, and when he said those labels hurt, was told he needed to be quiet and listen.

"The refrain, that this IS discussion is bullshit," James wrote. "If what you are saying attempts to close discussion instead of open it ... then you have a seriously unsophisticated grasp of what argument means."

This story is part of our Best of the Web section – which is just cool stuff we find online and want to share with you.

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