I was thinking a little bit about lies after our class on Monday. I wonder if, rather than having a negative connotation, which I think we agreed wasn’t the exact way it was utilized, if calling their stories lies was more a statement of agency over the tale. Calling it a lie gives the teller ownership and creative liberty to take and change another tale or embellish for your crowd without incurring overt questions of accuracy. As a lie, it doesn’t need to be true, in fact you are directly claiming it isn’t, and it opens up a new realm of creative endeavor and ingroup cultural performance, and maybe even a higher degree of underlying truth and authenticity because of the pressure taken off the storyteller. You are at liberty to pit God against the Devil and have still have Man win for once, and the only one who can tell you otherwise is someone with a better lie. It creates or maybe was born out of a particular type of exchange, and Hurston’s interactions and lies on the porch stoop seem to have a very different tenor than Synge’s collection of folk tales in The Aran Islands, and play into the community building lying seems to suggest.
Community, or what it means to leave your community, seemed to be a large part of our readings for the week, but that aspect wasn’t clear to me upon my initial readings. I was more focused on thinking further about these gestures between Hurston and Synge. This community focus, however, and its implications in the Atlantic world, feels like the most direct connection between the two. Briefly setting aside Synge’s complicated place in the community he observes, both he and Hurston are engaged in attempts at cultural preservation in the face of impending loss. Atlantic travel irreparably altered both the Irish and the native Africans who were taken in the slave trade and the alterations of both were reflections of pain and trauma (though admittedly distinct and different traumas). As we have established in many class sessions, the Irish faced economically mandated migration and deep hunger and the resulting threats to culture and language are what Synge seeks to combat. Hurston seeks to preserve the stories of her community and their cultural value brought out of the collective trauma of slavery from the changes that Northern migration and modernity were bringing to the American south. The importance of these stories can be read in the tragedy both writers write into their loss. In Riders to the Sea we saw the devastation of a whole family – losing all of their men to the power and pathos of the ocean – and as Synge saw men as the cultural repository for Western Ireland, this significant and hyperbolic loss is particularly tragic. Similarly in Hurston’s John Redding Goes to Sea there is a man lost to the sea in the wake of a foregone blessing that results in female lamentation and an immense sense of loss. Beyond the ostensible loss of life in these stories, there is a sense of something larger lost or missing or perhaps misplaced, like a sense of unfulfilled promise or legacy, gone in the swell of the ocean. Not all is dark and tragic however, because in the loss of the storytellers highlighted in these works, there is gained, this new literature of preservation, that of Synge and Hurston themselves, and a creative endeavor towards conceptualizing peoples and traditions. Forgive my probable rambling throughout this post, but this is my best way of coming to understand these moments of renaissance as moments of recapturing and piecing together a wholeness through both preservation and new creation rather than an actual rebirth.
As a final thought, if Renaissance, or rebirth, is an inadequate term to encompass the true spirit and accomplishments of these complementary movements of preservation in Ireland and Black America, is revival a better way to gesture towards the sense of recapturing? Or is there some other term that would truly characterize these eras?