John Woman by Walter Moseley. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2018. 320 pp.
“Knowledge has been colonized by the university but a college degree has no claim on information much less understanding” (367)
I couldn’t agree more.
Having taught in college, I fully understand the risks involved, and here in Arkansas, where most students receive scholarships from a State Lottery, the whole enterprise is infected by charlatan chicanery from the very start. Whoever cuts you a check, according the main character in this novel, has to be your savior.
The main character calls himself John Woman. No, he is not transgendered, nor would his behavior as a History Professor endear him to the #ME2 generation. He has murdered to stay alive and he is in hiding. His concept of History he learned from his autodidact, long years of struggle and labor, his father. There are three pillars for Historical Research:  Sex; [2—3] Technology and Economics. History is a refuse of arbitrary discoveries that John Woman deconstructs from a local trash can.
He sounds just like a new historicist in contemporary Academia. Or like Ta-Nehisi Coates exposing American exceptionalism as a colonial dream of white supremacy. Or like the Texas State Board of Education that voted recently to eliminate any reference to Hillary Clinton or Helen Keller from Social Studies Class, while keeping the heroic defenders of the Alamo as well as Moses’ influence on the Declaration of Independence.
Walter Moseley has devastated higher education in this moral fable for grown-ups. His writing is in top form and his sardonic critiques of historical consciousness are stunning. All the lectures are required reading.
Here is John Woman’s final course proposal:
“The class was titled The School of Suspicion: The Interpretation of the Formation of the Modern World, Created by Force Unknown and Undeniable.
The application form consisted of just one request: In one page please write, type, or word process a thumbnail biographical statement of your life as it pertains to your desire to take this course” (350).
Anybody what to take that class? I personally would not, because I’m still paranoid from having grown up in the 60’s, and the world we now live in, given Edward Snowden’s revelations, has no privacy, let alone silence enough to be able to think.
John Woman is Moseley at his highest skills. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs from late in the novel:
“John dreamt about the desert. He was a coyote that died at twilight; his soul left at that shadowy time to wander the endless wasteland. Heart and body, blood and senses were canine but his mind was still that of a historian. The barren land, even in semidarkness, revealed striations in rock, bones jutting from the ground and out from the walls of great canyons. History was all that remained, measured by discrete moments rendered in stone – each one bearing the same weight, drained of passion, purpose and personality. The coyote, John Woman, with a rolling gait, moved along the edge of eternal dusk, never to see the sunrise and never to sleep” (315).
Now that cat is about to disappear. To be there without being there.
September 16, 2018