Junot Díaz’s breakout 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a brilliant illustration of “misprision,” the act of misreading or misunderstanding that, in Harold Bloom’s estimation, precipitates new literary creation. In Díaz’s novel, the experiences of a young immigrant—a sci-fi nerd and gamer interacting with culture high and low—brings forth a vibrant, playful polyglot born from misunderstanding and desire.
So far, this reading is the standard fare of critical appraisals of the book. Now, however, we have it on authority—from the author himself, who has provided his own annotations for an excerpt of Oscar Wao via “Poetry Genius,” a section of the popular site “Rap Genius,” that allows authors to annotate their own work. The portion of the novel Díaz chooses to annotate is packed with allusions to science fiction classics, including Frank Herbert’s Dune, Planet of the Apes, and, of course, Star Wars. In the selection below on Star Wars’ fictional planet Tatooine, Díaz makes a humorous and insightful comment on nerd culture, race and nationality, and the yearning every fanboy or girl has to see him or herself in the works they love.
Depending on your fanboy orientation either the first or second most famous desert planet in nerdom. Again when I saw those landscapes in Star Wars I felt surge of kinship. Shit, on first viewing I also thought my man’s name was Juan Kenobi. But that’s what happens when you’re an immigrant kid of color in a culture that erases your community completely. You start inventing filiations.
As publisher Melville House’s blog notes, Díaz’s annotation often reads like a “line-by-line author talk.” Per usual, the author is as comfortable in an off-the-cuff vernacular as he is in an erudite literary-critical voice, as when he cites David Foster Wallace, Jorge Luis Borges, Patrick Chamoiseau, and William Vollmann as inspirations. The Poetry Genius site also includes the fascinating interview with Díaz above. Fans of Díaz and the novel won’t want to miss it.