C.L.R. JAMES, MODERNISM, MADNESS

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sat Apr 15 18:23:43 MDT 1995


I'm disappointed, Rakesh.  When I read over my post, my sides
almost split with laughter.  However, you fixated on my use of the
word "identity".  OK, let me remove any possible ambiguities in my
statement.  There is not one iota of identity politics in James,
not one little bit!  I should not even have added that stuff about
British imperialism, because it politicizes James's book in an
improper way not intended by me.  I emphasized both this and the
theme of alienation (without mentioning its overcoming, which is
also an unknown Jamesian theme) with Burford's patient in mind,
but that is not what the book is about.  I really must watch my
words.  There are prominent West Indian intellectuals who have
lied about James's BEYOND A BOUNDARY for some time, and I don't
want to add to the confusion.  James wrote in a genre and in a
mode that did not exist in 1963.  So get identity politics out of
your head, and just read James with no preconceptions in mind.

A note about experience.  People stereotype themselves (eg. the
dishonest identity politics of the rap generation).  My notion is
writing about concrete experience, not stereotyping oneself as a
category.  This is not an advocacy of particularism, localism,
narcissism or subjectivism.  You would not believe how hard the
effort has been at undoing the harm that a certain cabal within
James studies has done.

You are right about these "postcolonial intellectuals".  I don't
read their stuff, but I had to unsubscribe from the SPOONS
postcolonial list after two months, it was so bankrupt.  I have
had to deal with some of these postcolonial intellectuals
personally, and I'm no longer on speaking terms with any of them.
Academia is so corrupt, worst of all literature departments, and I
want to have nothing to do with them.   The cultural studies
people in the USA are picking up James now, so watch out.

I should never have used the word "identity".  Worse, I wrote
"identity as a Trinidadian" without putting a comma after
identity.  No, no, no, the theme I meant (there are others) is the
individual and society and how the individual comes to terms with
finding a place in it even while remaining apart.  I should have
stated that the real reason I recommended the book for Burford's
patient was not so he could think of himself as a black man in
Britain (bor...ing) but so he could deal with his loneliness in
the midst of his fellow workers.  That loneliness is a reality
common to lots and lots of people; in that respect this fellow in
Britain is not at all alone.

James was a thorough internationalist, even defending the German
people in the midst of World War II.  He called himself a West
Indian but not a Trinidadian.  (James was a federationist,
remember.)  He thought the West Indians were something special,
but he identified them as the most modern representatives of
Western civilization, not as Africans (for which he took some
flack from nationalists).  James was also lionized as the "Black
Plato", an appellation he rejected.  James didn't believe in
calling anybody a "black" anything.  My apologies for
inadvertently misleading anybody.  No identity politics, no no no
no no!  I'm so bored with ethnic/national/racial identity I could
spit.  My only interest is individual experience.  Groups bore me
to tears.

And now, dear hearts, here are some words of consolation and
inspiration for the day from my favorite dialectician, Duke
Ellington.  While the tears (which come from the spirit, not from
boredom) roll down my cheeks, read his testament, and mine:

--------------------------------------------------

DUKE ELLINGTON SPEAKS BEYOND CATEGORIES

Excerpt from Program Note for "A Concert of Sacred Music" (1965):

In this world we presume many ambitions.  We make many
observations such as (a) everyone's aloneness (there really are no
categories, you know.  Everyone is so alone -- the basic,
essential state of humankind); (b) the paradox that is
communication -- the built-in answer to that feeling of
aloneness.

Communication itself is what baffles the multitude.  It is both so
difficult and so simple.  Of all men's fears, I think that men are
most afraid of being what they are -- in direct communication with
the world at large.  They fear reprisals, the most personal of
which is that they "won't be understood."

... Yet, every time God's children have thrown away fear in
pursuit of honesty -- trying to communicate themselves, understood
or not -- miracles have happened.


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