[OPE] Fwd: Save CLR James Library

From: Paul Zarembka <zarembka@buffalo.edu>
Date: Wed Sep 22 2010 - 10:54:06 EDT

This is definitely a worthwhile step to take! Paul Zarembka

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Save CLR James Library
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2010 09:42:46 -0500
From: Phil Gasper <phil.gasper@GMAIL.COM>
Reply-To: Society for the Philosophical Study of Marxism Listserve

Sign the petition here:
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/saveclrjameslibrary/. --PG


  At the Rendezvous of Victory

September 22, 2010
By Scott McLemee <mailto:scott.mclemee@insidehighered.com>

One of the turning points in my life came in 1988, upon discovery of the
writings of C.L.R. James. The word “discovery” applies for a couple of
reasons. Much of his work was difficult to find, for one thing. But more
than that, it felt like exploring a new continent.

James was born in Trinidad in 1901, and he died in England in 1989. (I
had barely worked up the nerve to consider writing him a letter.) He had
started out as a man of letters, publishing short stories and a novel
about life among the poorest West Indians. He went on to write what
still stands as the definitive history of the Haitian slave revolt, /The
Black Jacobins/ (1938). His play based on research for that book starred
Paul Robeson as Toussaint Louverture. In 1939, he went to Mexico to
discuss politics with Leon Trotsky. A few years later -- and in part
because of certain disagreements he'd had with Trotsky -- James and his
associates in the United States brought out the first English
translation of Karl Marx’s /Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of
1844. /(By the early 1960s, there would be a sort of cottage industry in
commentary on these texts, but James planted his flag in 1947.)

He was close friends with Richard Wright and spoke at Martin Luther
King, Jr.’s church. At one point, the United States government
imprisoned James on Ellis Island as a dangerous subversive. While so
detained, he drafted a book about Herman Melville as prophet of 20th
century totalitarianism -- with the clear implication that the U.S. was
not immune to it.

Settled in Britain, he wrote a book on the history and meaning of
cricket called /Beyond a Boundary/ (1963). By all accounts it is one of
the classics of sports writing. Being both strenuously unathletic and an
American, I was prepared to take this on faith. But having read some of
it out of curiosity, I found the book fascinating, even if the game
itself remained incomprehensible.

This is, of course, an extremely abbreviated survey of his life and
work. The man was a multitude. A few years ago, I tried to present a
more comprehensive sketch in this short magazine article
<http://www.mclemee.com/id84.html>, and edited a selection
<http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/125> of his hard-to-find writings
for the University Press of Mississippi.

In the meantime, it has been good to see his name becoming much more
widely known than it was at the time of his death more than two decades
ago. This is particularly true among young people. They take much for
granted that a literary or political figure can be, as James was,
transnational in the strongest sense -- thinking and writing and acting
"beyond the boundary" of any given national context. He lived and worked
in the 20th century, of course, but James is among the authors the 21st
century will make its own.

*So it is appalling* to learn that the C.L.R. James Library
<http://www.hackney.gov.uk/cl-clr-james-main.htm> in Hackney (a borough
of London) is going to be renamed the Dalston Library and Archives,
after the neighborhood in which it is located. James was there when the
library was christened in his honor in 1985. The authorities insist
that, in spite of the proposed change, they will continue to honor
James. But this seems half-hearted and unsatisfying. There is a petition
against the name change, which I hope readers of this column will sign
and help to circulate

Some have denounced the name change as an insult, not just to James's
memory, but to the community in which the library is located, since
Hackney has a large black population. I don't know enough to judge
whether any offense was intended. But the renaming has a significance
going well beyond local politics in North London.

C.L.R. James was a revolutionary; that he ended up imprisoned for a
while seems, all in all, par for the course. But he was also very much
the product of the cultural tradition he liked to call Western
Civilization. He used this expression without evident sarcasm -- a
remarkable thing, given that he was a tireless anti-imperialist. Given
his studies in the history of Africa and the Caribbean, he might well
have responded as Gandhi did when asked what he thought of Western
Civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

As a child, James reread Thackeray's satirical novel /Vanity Fair/ until
he had it almost memorized; this was, perhaps, his introduction to
social criticism. He traced his ideas about politics back to ancient
Greece. James treated the funeral oration
<http://www.wsu.edu/%7Edee/GREECE/PERICLES.HTM> of Pericles as a key to
understanding Lenin’s /State and Revolution/. And there is a film clip
that shows him speaking to an audience of British students on
Shakespeare -- saying that he wrote "some of the finest plays I know
about the impossibility of being a king.” As with James's interpretation
of Captain Ahab as a prototype of Stalin, this is a case of criticism as
transformative reading. It’s eccentric, but it sticks with you.

Harold Bloom might not approve of what James did with the canon. And
Allan Bloom would have been horrified, no doubt about it. But it helps
explain some of James's discomfort about the emergence of
African-American studies as an academic discipline. He taught the
subject for some time as a professor at Federal City College, now called
the University of the District of Columbia -- but not without misgivings.

“For myself,” he said in a lecture in 1969, “I do not believe that there
is any such thing as black studies. There are studies in which black
people and black history, so long neglected, can now get some of the
attention they deserve. ... I do not know, as a Marxist, black studies
as such. I only know the struggle of people against tyranny and
oppression in a certain political setting, and, particularly, during the
past two hundred years. It’s impossible for me to separate black studies
from white studies in any theoretical point of view.”

*James’s argument here* is perhaps too subtle for the Internet to
propagate. (I type his words with mild dread at the likely
consequences.) But the implications are important -- and they apply with
particular force to the circumstance at hand, the move to rename the
C.L.R. James Library in London.

People of Afro-Caribbean descent in England have every right to want
James to be honored. But no less outspoken, were he still alive, would
be Martin Glaberman -- a white factory worker in Detroit who later
became a professor of social science at Wayne State University. (I think
of him now because it was Marty who was keeping many of James's books in
print when I first became interested in them.) James was the nexus
between activists and intellectuals in Europe, Africa, and the Americas,
and his cosmopolitanism included a tireless effort to connect cultural
tradition to modern politics.To quote from the translation he made of a
poem by Aimé Cesaire: “No race holds the monopoly of beauty, of
intelligence, of strength, and there is a place for all at the
rendezvous of victory.”

Having C.L.R. James’s name on the library is an honor -- to the library.
To remove it is an act of vandalism. Please sign the petition

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Received on Wed Sep 22 10:56:32 2010

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