All posts tagged: artistic vision

‘American Fiction’ and the ‘Just Literature’ Problem

‘American Fiction’ and the ‘Just Literature’ Problem

“Why are these books here?” asks Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, the writer protagonist of the film American Fiction, as he points to four novels stacked neatly on the shelf of a chain bookstore. The name Ellison sticks out from their spines. Monk wants to know why his Greek-tragedy-inspired novels are housed not in “Mythology” but in the “African American Studies” section. A bookstore employee offers the obvious explanation: “I would imagine that this author, Ellison, is … Black.” He has the decency to stammer the response, but this does little to alleviate Monk’s fury. “That’s me, Ellison. He is me, and he and I are Black,” the writer fumes. “These books have nothing to do with African American studies.” He taps one of his titles with an impatient finger. “They’re just literature.” “He is me, and he and I are Black” is something like a thesis statement for American Fiction. Like the 2001 novel on which it’s based—Erasure, by Percival Everett—the film trades on the gap between this he and I, between how Monk is seen …