response week 3

Reflecting on the course as a whole thus far, I would say my favorite reading was Tolson. I think this is because and not despite it was so difficult. Reading it was very different than reading anything I’ve ever read before. Phrases like “O peoples of the Brinks, come with the hawk’s reserve, the skeptics’ optic nerve, the prophet’s tele verve…” fill this libretto, language none of us are accustomed to understanding, and the libretto also contains a lot of foreign languages and references to African tribes and traditions that I have never heard of. Because of this, I had to do a lot of research: reading footnotes, using google translate, reading reviews and analyses online. I feel like I learned a lot about African history just from reading this poetry, as well as learning a lot about the form of an epic poem ( or Libretto ) and how it conveys stories and weaves them into a complicated, descriptive, whole tale.

My question about this piece that I might propose would be:

  1. Why would Tolson chose this form, a libretto, of writing to convey the African history it contains? It was a deliberate choice, and a difficult form, so what is the significance of it?

6 Replies to “response week 3”

  1. I may be wrong, but I believe he may have chosen the form of the Libretto in order to further exemplify the struggle of the liberation of Liberia?
    Alternatively, perhaps by using this hard to understand language and difficult form, he is making a mockery (for lack of a better word) of the fact that it is such a struggle for black voices to be heard?

  2. I would say that the difficulty is what defines a large part of any minoritized position. Especially for those who want to support minoritized group, the writing is dense. Looking back on it, I also had trouble reading through it.

  3. I had the same question while reading this. Upon investigating, I found a lot of different answers for this, but I read a couple analyses where critics asserted that he chose this form because of “Libretto’s” understanding as a musical word, or as something operatic.

  4. I agree with the point you made about Tolson’s writing being so unique and favorable (despite the difficulties I had reading it myself). I think that he does a wonderful job incorporating so much African history in the piece and I love that you actually took the time to research it!

  5. It never even occurred to me to consider why Tolson chose to use the libretto format, so thank you for proposing that question! If I read the definition of libretto online, it says that it is the text for a musical, typically an opera, and an opera is a drama in multiple acts. Maybe he chose this title/format to capture how truly long and intricate history is; this story is not one easily told, so perhaps characterizing it as a drama that must be told in multiple sections shows that Liberia’s history is detailed or difficult to comprehend.

  6. I love this thread! So glad so many of you are on it.

    You’re also working with partial evidence – not reading the whole of the Libretto – and that limits what you can conclude. But notice how he talks of “liber” at one point, which is Latin for book: he’s playing on Liberia as a name, book as a technology or method, and libretto as a preparation for performance (e.g. opera).

    I’m happy to see that Tolson’s intricate history can give rise to his text becoming a course in African knowledge in its own right; that’s certainly one aim the text seems to have. Difficulty becomes an invitation, if we let it. But it also becomes a reminder: African history is difficult in Tolson’s text in part because we don’t have the basic knowledge we need, whereas we do have that basic knowledge of English culture or European culture….

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