Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Imaginary Friend Named Irony

Until a few minutes ago I had four books on the burner, so to speak, but then I finished Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong (Minnesota, 2009), a collection of essays by the Comanche museum curator and cultural critic Paul Chaat ("rhymes with hot") Smith, so it's down to three.  For now, anyway.

I really enjoyed Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong, and once I started it I didn't want to stop until I got to the end.  For one thing, Smith is not only anti-essentialist but manages to avoid essentialism most of the time.  There aren't many writers who can bring that off, so I'm glad to add him to my list of good thinker/writers (aka "public intellectuals").

He's also a lot of fun to read, often quite funny.  His essay on irony is a fine achievement, reminiscent of Max Beerbohm at his best.  But try this bit about Bob Dylan from his essay on the Canadian artist Baco Ohama, who he learned was a fellow fan.
She had enjoyed watching him on the Academy Awards a few days earlier, though she observed, with characteristic generosity and tact, that "there were some strange camera angles on him."  (Actually, he looked dreadful, not only ancient but inexplicably wearing an absurd, thin mustache.  The next day's Letterman show, not nearly as generous or tactful, listed one of the top ten things overheard at the Academy Awards as "I didn't even know Vincent Price played guitar") [115].
I'm glad I'm not the only person who finds Dylan's mustache absurd.  And I appreciate Smith's pieces on contemporary Indian artists, especially the one on James Luna, and the one about Life magazine's bizarre but inspirational 1967 special issue on "The Return of the Red Man."  This, I think, will be one of my favorite books this year.