Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Uncle Remus. Tales, His Songs, His Sayings. Joel Chandler Harris

How to read Uncle Remus. Start with the original:  ours dates from 1928, in dialect.  From that, I researched references and idioms, and crafted a rough translation from the dialect into more readily understandable English.  Please go back to the original, once the gist is clear.  That site is Uncle Remus Tales.  This is a work in progress, with intentions to complete the entire book before I die. It presents a community different from Walt Disney and the pablum of diluted retellings.  Remus is wise, smart, canny, manipulative, a man of facets.

How to read Uncle Remus can be approached another way:

Read it not just for the content, the story line, the personalities, life in the Old South and its immediate successive generation. Read it to find how a subjected people communicate in dangerous times: with indirection, tale, jokes, clarity to those who know, and deniability for survival, while real meaning passes over the heads of the dominant ones.

  • Read the Opinion piece by Vanessa M. Gezari, New York Times Sunday August 11, 2013, How To Read Afghanistan.  A thesis is this:  that marginalized people, whether slaves, women, others non-male in male-dominated cultures, push back.  They must do so cautiously, however, in peril if discoverred, a resistance ultimately deniable. 

She continues: Let those inhabitants of the dominated world mingle with each other, however, and the message they share becomes not necessarily more overt, but different in kind: resistance shown through "jokes, metaphors, folk tales, and codes."  Meaning is communicated, but the deniability remains.

People talk subtly, indirectly, when in danger.

Read Uncle Remus that way.

Spot the numerous examples of Uncle Remus getting "back" at Miss Sally, his underappreciated valor in saving the life of John, his use of the child to score points that he dare not rack up overtly.  Uncle Remus.  A person to be reckoned with, and Miss Sally hasn't a clue.  Go ahead, little boy, do what Uncle Remus says. Barge in on your parents very early on Christmas Day, much to their surprise.  Go ahead, Brer Rabbit. Murder and engage in mayhem.  And get away with it. After all, it is only a story, isn't it?

Then try some calamus root.