Arts Is Brendan Kiley a Bigot? An Investigation.
OK. Read this.
Did you understand it? Did you gather from it—a piece by Brendan Kiley about Gary Shteyngart’s book Absurdistan, included in last week’s Bumbershoot guide, because Shteynhart was part of an event at Bumbershoot—that Shteyngart is an author who deploys racial stereotypes only to shame us with their familiarity? You might have gotten that from the sentence: “His novels… deploy stereotypes only to shame us with their familiarity.” If you were still unclear, you would gather as much from the rest of the piece (as Brendan notes, there’s a character in the book who keeps saying, “Where the niggaz at?”), but just in case, just to make it extra clear, Brendan’s second-to-last sentence is: “Gary’s stereotypes are stealth missiles—you think they’re pointed toward your funny bone, but at the last second they turn and hit you right in the conscience.”
Then there’s the last sentence. Kiley’s now-famous last sentence, the purpose of which was just to say that, by the way, Shteyngart is not doing this event alone, there’s another author too, but there isn’t enough room here to give equal treatment to her book. (Absurdistan is a big-deal book, was on cover of the NYTBR, but we hadn’t yet covered it in The Stranger.) Kiley’s last sentence reads: “Shteyngart is scheduled to appear with some Arab chick.”
Now, multiple choice. Taking Brendan’s whole article into account, how would you characterize this last sentence?
(A) It’s absolutely sincere, and shocking, incontrovertible proof that Brendan Kiley is a racist and a misogynist and probably a white male.
(B) Uh, I’m not an idiot, that was a Shteyngart-esque way to address the fact that Shteyngart was not doing the event alone, that there was another author involved, and anyone who takes that literally as Brendan Kiley’s estimation of the other author—Laila Lalami—needs to brush up on their reading comprehension skills.
On Sunday at Bumbershoot, Mark White, from Scala House Press, who was the moderator of the discussion between Shteyngart and Lalami, got all sanctimonious about how Lalami had been dismissed as “some Arab chick” in The Stranger and in the course of getting all sanctimonious and asking her how she felt at this published injustice against her and Arabs and women in general never bothered to mention the context. The audience, deprived of the context, audibly gasped. White asked Lalami how she felt about it, and Lalami (who is a smart woman who obviously understands irony [“the use of words to express something other than and esp. the opposite of the literal meaning”—Webster’s Collegiate 10th Edition]) pointed out that she was neither Arab (she’s Moroccan) nor a chick (uh, she looked like a chick to me) but that the only thing that bothered her was that she wished The Stranger had reviewed her book too. It would have been cool if she’d explained the context to the crowd, because Mark White was just playing everyone, but she didn’t.
I don’t know much about Scala House Press except that on their website, Salman Rushdie’s first name is spelled “Salmon.” Like the fish. Did you do that cuz he’s Indian, Mark? Is that a dig? You know he’s not American Indian, right? And it’s the American Indians who loved the salmon…
By the way, Mark White is not alone in his inability to comphrend Brendan Kiley’s obvious bigotry. A selection of sentiments from the shitstorm of letters we’ve gotten:
not bad: racist, sexist, and dismissiveÂ in only three words. you must be exhausted.
What a disrespectful thing to print.
Very nicely written review of Gary Shteyngart’s work except for the very last part…