Tag Archives: review

White Girls, by Hilton Als

First, some housekeeping:

First post in almost exactly (neato) two years; see revamped About page for info.

Basically: A collection of super-smart essays exploring often unconventionally-defined “white girls,” analyzing their respective emotional landscapes & cultural significance, all from a queer/black/critical perspective.

More: Well, this book educated me in ways i didn’t even know i wanted to be educated. Like, take this:

Our recourse in reinventing the love affair with no love, or a surfeit of it, the memory misremembered or tossed altogether, is learning how to write our name—in blood or whatever—on that clean and wide and high wall which only learning to admit oneself to one’s home, recumbent with memory, can destroy.

Or, like, this:

“But aren’t we born of her? Didn’t we queer her body being born?”

Not to mention in terms of the premise itself! Als selects fascinating, complicated figures from both his own life and American culture at large and weaves them into rich critiques which engage pop culture, history, critical analyses of race/gender/sexuality, his personal perspectives & history, & etc. In the cast of his examined, of particular interest to me were Flannery O’Connor, Eminem, Richard Pryor (as well as Pryor’s fictional older sister, in a brilliant re-take of Woolf’s Judith Shakespeare), Michael Jackson, Vivian Leigh, Louise Little (mother of Malcolm X) & the one and only Truman (too perfect!).

The book is smart, and sexy because it’s smart, and also too-smart-for-me-feeling at times because it is relentlessly inventive and intensely intertextual. But moments of lostness didn’t really bother me because i was otherwise so trusting of Als’ wisdom and design—that is, willing to surrender the need for immediate and total comprehension. Usually that gamble paid off by the end of each piece. Parts will probably offend some people. You will have to read some parts 2-3 times to understand them (which is i guess what you make of it).

I was continually impressed by the dual complication and humanity Als lent his figures of inquiry, whether he was writing about them or as them—and the incredible fluidity of perspective demonstrated in that process.

Take aways: General cultural literacy has skyrocketed! As has interest in Richard Pryor and essay-writing. Leaves me with contemplations of twinship, desire as raced and as we learn it from our parent(s), the negative space of the (colored) mother, distinction between “emotional” and “actual” truth—and an exciting, gendered reading of Truman’s career: In Cold Blood as Tru’s first attempt to write not as a “white girl,” but as a (white) Man? Answered Prayers (his last, unfinished, destruction-inducing book) as his first and sadly only attempt at writing as himself?? Tell me more!

Cool quote from Salon’s interview with Als:

Life is short and art is long.

And i love that Als is critiquing both lives and art, past and present, from his particular and at times intimidatingly well-considered perspective.


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