Book Review

The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda by Ishmael Reed

during a brief solo trip to Montreal, scott reads a blistering take-down of the musical Hamilton and makes a personal announcement

March 12th, 2022, Montréal

By the time this gets posted on my blog, I imagine I will have gained the confidence to tell my friends and relatives the following: due to my lover being offered a dream job in a city I “permanently” – and gladly – left forever four years ago, I will be “permanently” – and reluctantly – moving back to the city styled as “that London” in a couple of months. (Note from May: I’ve told basically two people lol.)

This week I handed in my resignation for the job I have found interminable for months, which is a bit of a relief (though I have seven or eight weeks left), and I think continuing to be working a job I was quoted in the New Yorker (no I won’t shut up about that) as basically saying was more depressing than A Little Life has made things tougher, psychologically, and I’ve basically just withdrawn ever deeper. I’ve even been ghosting my sister, which is a particularly bad sign as she is probably the lowest stress person I know.

All in, it’s good that I’ve finally had an excuse/a reason to leave my job, but I wish it was to go and do something I wanted to do somewhere I wanted to be, rather than going somewhere I thought I was done with, with no clear plan or expectation of what I will do there.

Yes, I suppose I have missed my friends (the sandwiches in Pret A Manger) and the proximity of Europe, and, yes, I want to be able to take planet-crushing budget airlines while such a thing still exists, but… I’m not thrilled.

I’ve like, done London. London is a game and I know that I lost: I don’t see how a return is a wise gamble. If you’ve never lived in London but have seen the movie Jumanji, then they’re basically the same. If you carry on playing, things are probably going to get worse, but the only way to make things “good” again is to play the game through to the end and win it. Maybe my next roll of the dice will give me a challenge I can handle, like being turned into a monkey, rather than one I can’t, like having an office job.


I am in Montreal right now, definitely for the last time this year and probably – possibly – for the last time in my life?

It feels melancholic.

It is colder than Toronto rn, with lots of snow about, but just getting the subway from the main station to my scuzzy hotel made me feel more alive than I have for months.

I’m sat, now, in a hipster vegan fast food joint drinking a “gluten free wheat beer” (it was the only non-IPA and I will no longer pretend IPAs aren’t disgusting) after having eaten a strange – but tasty – BBQ tempeh sandwich. 

I will spend the afternoon wandering around a city I know a little, knowing that though I know it less, I prefer it infinitely more to the city I’ve spent the last three years (whoops) living in.

Buildings are closer together.

There aren’t corporatised cannabis retailers in every second shopfront.

The architecture is better, more interesting, more varied, more designed.

I flew here (not literally, I travelled by train) after three hours sleep after another dull night at work, knowing that this window would be my last opportunity.

Will I think fondly of Montreal when Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux, Reims, Strasbourg, wherever, are practical options for a hasty Francophone getaway again? I don’t know.

Between dozing and watching the first 20 minutes of David Lynch’s Dune (it was not compelling), I spent the train ride reading a play, Ishmael Reed’s The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Reed’s text is a two act play that functions more as didactic dramatic essay rather than as drama per se. I don’t think that its heavy-handed (direct?) politics is necessarily a fault, as it is very much trying to be a counterpoint and counterweight to the nasty, liberal propagandistic and historical white-washing mess that is Lin Manuel Miranda’s atrocious musical, Hamilton.

Reed has – understandably, as a professor, playwright and cultural historian – a lot of problems with Miranda’s literal shitshow (in that it is a show that is shit, rather than that it is a show about shit), and it takes aim at the hypocrisies, lies, bullshit and cringe of Hamilton all at once, through a play that is, mostly, a series of monologues delivered by historical and archetypal figures to an Ambien-addled Miranda. It is very much like the ghosts in Muppets Christmas Carol and its Charles Dickens-penned novelisation.

These figures talk to Miranda about the documented cruelties, abuses and literal slave trading(!) committed by and legislated by the “heroes” of his play. The genocide of indigenous peoples, the ratified and formalised long-term legalisation of chattel slavery is documented, as too is the reality of the interests served by this revisionism of “founding father” mythologies that seek to elevate genocidal slavers as principled “good guys” in contrast to the e.g. “corrupt politicians” of the day. 

Miranda wrestles with his own ignorance and the huge wealth he has been afforded by creating a show so widely lauded by the bedrock of American institutions. Hamilton, of course, is loved by bankers, corporations, and politicians: these are not revolutionary people, these groups have no interest in developing honest appraisals and understandings of history, as learning about the structural inequities that underpin society massively affect the power of the status quo, which bankers and corporations and politicians very much want kept in place.

It’s a great read, though I don’t know how many people who watched and – somehow? – enjoyed Hamilton (how can something be so earnest yet so fundamentally corrupt?) will be willing to give Reed the time to be deprogrammed, or if this will just remain a script and a performance that is mostly consumed by smug progressives like myself who want to see a respected and lauded intellectual agreeing with our gut reaction to that show. This play is great, in stark opposition to Hamilton which is not only “bad” in terms of quality, but is also “bad” as in morally evil.

Order direct from Archway Editions via this link is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

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