PW: In what sense do you write about authenticity in The Artificial White Man?
Stanley Crouch: Authenticity as it's used in The Artificial White Man is a response to the balkanizing nature of social evaluation that has evolved since the segregating politics of black power emerged in 1966. The obsession with authenticity, with being a "real" person is everywhere, from the Democratic political convention to barbaric popular entertainment like rap, where actually being a knucklehead criminal elevates what is now known as street credibility.
You bash the New York intellectual elite in an essay on Alfred Appel's book Jazz Modernism. But aren't you a member of that elite?
To me that's like being critical of some kind of American policy and being asked are you or are you not an American? The problem I'm raising is that New York intellectuals in my experience haven't attempted to learn anything about jazz. They are willing to endure the boredom that comes from trying to make sense of the latest theories from France—which are often far less aesthetically or intellectually interesting than what is to be found in the best jazz performance. They'll spend time sitting through European, Asian and even African films. But when it comes to the American Negro they show no interest. The first person to notice it was Ralph Ellison in 1965. The problem has not changed.
You frequently refer to William Faulkner's ability to write about race. Isn't that being anachronistic?
No. Faulkner is still a great giant. He wrote better novels and had a much greater sense of the depth of American life than anyone who has come in his wake. He's still the champ. I refer to what I call the Faulknerian challenge in the book, which is the brave attempt to make something of this various, protean society.
Did any other critic react the way you did to David Shields's book Black Planet?
If they did, I didn't hear about it. I think the reason why the book wasn't looked at more critically is because very few things involving Afro-American subjects are ever looked at critically. Part of it has to do with the fact that Negroes are almost always outside of any kind of human frame. They are used to either prove some theory—Marxism, or whatever—or to underline somebody else's bigotry. Part of my intention in this book is to explode these imposed and constricting visions of life that make it difficult for us to see each other's humanity. Humanity is always the issue.
Have your views on Tarantino changed since you wrote about him last in The All American Skin Game?
I found myself reexamining Tarantino's films and seeing so much more than I had seen in them before. With very few exceptions no one else has revealed the complexity of white male/black female, white female/black male relationships like he has. He works in a universe of criminals, but, to his credit, he's been able to make these very narrow worlds primarily of murderers and stick-up men much, much bigger. In a sense, for this era, he's become the Ernest Hemingway of film. He's far, far, far smarter than he's ever thought to be because the people who talk about him are far dumber than him, no matter how enthusiastically they talk about his talent.
How do you think your book will be received?
I'm very optimistic about the book and I think there's plenty of stuff that people who are interested in ideas about American life will gravitate toward. As they usually do.