Always in Pursuit

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When one boils down Stanley Crouch’s ALWAYS IN PURSUIT: FRESH AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, 1995-1997 to its bare essence, it turns out to be saying that race essentialism, founded on a discredited, biological discourse of race, has to be abandoned in America’s courts, schools, businesses, and university departments of African American studies. However, the Negro culture (he chafes at the term “African American”) has to be respected and developed.

This is a rich position, well worth exploring. Unfortunately, Stanley Crouch is so in love with the sound of his own voice that he sometimes drowns out his own best insights. Much of ALWAYS IN PURSUIT was first published in Crouch’s newspaper columns, and though he tries to fuse these columns together in interesting ways, the simple fact is that very few newspaper columns deserve to be preserved for posterity between the covers of a book. A crime bill that passed two years before ALWAYS IN PURSUIT was published demands, if anything, a thorough, retrospective analysis, and not a simple recycling of an old opinion piece. No writer less enamored of himself could convince himself that such intellectual flotsam and jetsam retains its value long after the facts have changed.

In his pieces on Duke Ellington, Albert Murray, and John Ford, Crouch shows himself to have a keen critical eye (and ear), one quite capable of distinguishing good from mediocre, and great from good. When it comes to evaluating people, though, Crouch seems to have one criterion: success counts. The late Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, is presented in glowing terms; Christopher Darden, however, is a whiner for wanting to tell his side of the story about why the O. J. Simpson prosecution failed. Johnny Cochran, by contrast, proves to be a genius for beating the apparently incapable Mr. Darden.

As a showcase for Crouch’s ability to opine on the wealth and poverty of American culture, this collection of essays is a success. As a forum for serious discussion on serious issues, the best that can be said for it is that it is not empty of merit.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, December 1, 1997, p. 586.

Emerge. IX, April, 1998, p. 68.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, December 1, 1997, p. 1749.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, February 8, 1998, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, November 24, 1997, p. 58.

The Village Voice. March 17, 1998, p. 124.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXXIV, Summer, 1998, p. 426.