Black Poet, White Critic

June 10, 2008

Black Poet, White Critic

A critic advises
not to write on controversial subjects
like freedom or murder,
but to treat universal themes
and timeless symbols
like the white unicorn.

A white unicorn?

Dudley Randall

This poem forces us to re-inquire into the underlying support for both the writing and the appreciating of literature. It demands that we see art as stuck in an endless tussle between purists, opportunists, cynics, and oppressors on the one side and innovators, aggravators, questioners, and liberators on the other. The roles are interpreted as neatly as the line is drawn between these two parties.

The “white unicorn” is a symbol of so many sets of opposition here. It is an image of pure aesthetic beauty to one side and an image of self-abstracting nonsense to the other. It attests to the human imagination’s ability to create a realm for its own enjoyment as much as this incriminates its denial of real-world sufferings and evils.

By itself, the “white unicorn” is also a powerful image of art’s complicity in racial oppression. The whiteness of the unicorn is the purity of literature and critical theory thought of or sought via the exclusion of coloured presence and sensibilities. Yet, a unicorn’s whiteness is already proof of the baseless fiction and even utter unnaturalness of such an ideal. It shows the unthinking social disengagement grounding concepts that involve art for art’s sake, the quest for beauty and great writing, etc. to propagate self-deluding lies. The “white unicorn”, then, essentialises the basic cluelessness of art per se in its orientation towards life.

Gwee Li Sui

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3 Responses to “Black Poet, White Critic”

  1. Rose Bentley Says:

    If only more people could read about this.

  2. Marisa Says:

    And if the unicorn is black?


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