ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes

   

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The act of salvation is connected with the acts of reading and writing

 

 

Books by Eldridge Cleaver

 

Soul on Ice Post-Prison Writings and Speeches  / Target Zero; A Life in Writing  / Conversation with Eldridge Cleaver

Being Black / Education and Revolution / Eldridge Cleaver  / Eldridge Cleaver Is Free

 

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 Books By Daniel Berrigan

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine: A Play  (1973)  / Night Flight to Hanoi (1971)   / We Die before We Live (1980)

Come Alive (2007)  / Ten Commandments for the Long Haul  (1981) / The Raft Is Not the Shore (2000)  /  Love in Action (1993)

Uncommon Prayer: A Book of Psalms  (1998)  /  Testimony: The Word Made Flesh  (2004)

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This Man is Armed

The Cleaver of Eldridge

By Daniel Berrigan

 

Soul on Ice is an extraordinary book, by all agreement. It is as though the parched soul of the white nation, intent upon self-destruction, had come upon a spring in the desert, stooped over in a paroxysm of disbelief and thirst, and been restored. Consult the best-seller lists.

But this is not the whole story. It does not explain the burning appeal of such a document for young white liberals and radicals. what they discern here is not merely a savage attack, descending with a thump, dividing membrane from bone of the organism they know so well and hate so heartily. Savage attacks, as a matter of fact, are a dime a dozen. What one needs, at this stage of the history of light skins and bleached bones, is precisely an act of faith in the strange and very nearly unbearable experience of being born into a race of post-colonials and present marauders.

All act of faith indeed. If one has a sense of the traditional and honored sense of the word "faith," he understands that its genuine character, as embodied in men like Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul, is very nearly lost. That is, the sense of the act of faith has something to do with the geography of the act of faith. And it is disturbingly constant throughout the history of what we call faith, that its geography has usually been, from the point of view of whatever establishment, that of an antiworld.

An act of faith indeed. If one wants to study his society, from the stance of one who can imagine no other society, he goes through the old, weary performance dictated by the Ford Foundation, preordained to failure. That is to say, he wins a grant, and begins to apply the crude, mesmeric instruments of whatever discipline supports his prejudice or his ignorance. Usually, he is pleased, as a kind of voyeur, to turn his sights in the direction of the victims of the society. To study them, to poke and peer into the corners where one has in effect condemned them, has all the charm and titillation of a night on the loose, indulged in by a postcard salesman for Huntington Hartford.

But suppose the end in view is not an academic tour de force, but, quite simply, love. In such a case, a man might well find that his antiworld is a jail cell. And comparing himself to those who make peace with almost any "lesser evil," he may find that he is not antiman at all, but the first man of all. A man so new as almost to be unrecognizable by the old, sorry, savage men who claim the planet and its plunder for themselves and who keep the keys of the jail where imprisoned men are building them-selves new, cell upon cell and bone upon bone, in the manner of the old prophet's parable.

If that the man in question is a new man, it is quite possible he invents a new language. And this is the achievement of Cleaver and others. There is no point, if one is going to write in jail, in investing his years in learning or peddling the old recap language of the jailers and pirates outside. Could we then take a look at the vocabulary of Cleaver as a way of getting to the man?

That is why I started to write. To save myself. An interesting clue at the start. The act of salvation is connected with the acts of reading and writing. That is to say, a man is saved when he is literate. He has come to prison as an act of salvation; indeed, his captors may well be his saviors. And in the twentieth century, the first act they have induced in their victim is a purification from all the ways of human speech and language outside. He is now inside. And he must be saved. And being twentieth-century and secular and newly delivered from illiteracy, he realizes that he can be saved by no god; he is required to save himself. He will save himself by becoming conscious--that is to say, by becoming literate. He would like to learn from his antiworld, to read the text of the universe, in its large and small and even its invisible print.

Does this mean merely that up to now he could not read the Coke signs in the neon jungle he had been plucked from? Obviously, something a little deeper than that. What Cleaver means, I take it, is that he shared, as a matter of social, inevitable inheritance, in the illiteracy of Americans today. As far as reading the text of human life, or of being able to turn within himself, in an act of integral recognition of his own spirit, he found himself as helpless as you or I. Or very nearly so. The difference being that he had broken the law, and might therefore be educable.

The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less. Indeed, yes. It is a sentence whose spirit rules his book, and helps us to gain a sense of the difference between the hatred that shuts men in cages, and the prophetic hatred that responds to keepers and executioners. We have every reason to believe that Cleaver learned to love and to accept himself in prison. And through that terrible crystal of his own existence, he came to read the text of the bestial lives of those who created the prisons of the world and then populated them with their victims. And whose major activity in the world was invariably one or another analogue to this. Cleaver learned, as the book bears witness, that such major activities are a clue to men's major interior activities; the automurder of Western man, the radical inability of this schizoid to put himself together into one man.

Those whose conscience allows them no better way of living with themselves than the way they live with others, might well take this sentence as a motif for a book of revelations, the book of Cleaver. Such men expect that their victims will proceed to save themselves, according to the same rules and methods by which their executioners have proceeded to destroy themselves. That is to say, by the outrageous method those in power are pleased to call "civilized discourse." A nice principle indeed, drawn from unimpeachable Greek sources, and adopted almost universally by the little gray men in glasses who make the decisions about the many who shall die and the few who shall live, from Harlem to Hanoi. Rational discourse, indeed; rational discourse gone to seed, sprung up again as gobbledygook.

When the brain of man has rotted in its case, it is not to be rationally thought that he will be capable of rational discourse. So men who are trying to grow in the mind as a crop grows, or a child, try another method. The method has something to do with the soil in which the mind of man grows. The soil today is stony indeed, a combination of prison rock, macadam, ennui, unreason, enclosure, the stifling threat of violence, mindlessness. No matter. What we are talking about is prophetic discourse, fury in the face of repression, a kind of hatred that has nothing to do with the sodden, institutional hatred of the functionary faced with the resistance of real men.

Once l was a Catholic. It is a little like saying, "Once I was a moonchild," or a beanstalk, or a Jack the Ripper. Most of us, in doing something so simple as recalling where we came from, are forced to refer over a period of perhaps twenty years to kinds of former incarnations. Change has been so violent and speedy, our equipment so unready, so unable to catch up and cope, that we hardly can say who we are or where we have come from. The terms are the same: "I was a Catholic"; but the sense of them, the world in which the words are uttered, has changed. "A terrible beauty is born." What has died is by no means so clear.

But you say you were once a Catholic, Cleaver. Then what would you say you are now? A man, perhaps. This it seems to me is exactly the transmigration that the man is trying to speak of. He has gone out of a religious crysalis into a secular world and inhabited that world, a man. He has equated his having been a Catholic with his childhood, and with the temptation to stop there; in spite of the stretching of his own limbs, to remam a child. And so he became a man; this kind of man, who has come from this nest and is no longer within it.

From the point of view of religion, one might ask what sort of faith, what sort of friendships, might have run with the long-distance runner.

All the gods are dead except the god of war. The judgment is so accurate, and comes from such an experience of death, that one is almost silenced in the reading. The context of the statement is Cleaver's discussion of Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, his autobiography. Cleaver was seeking at the time what he calls a world view free of Merton's theism. And he could not find it. It is one of the impossible tragedies of modern life that these two men, so alike in the structure of their souls and the turns of their minds, never met, especially in view of the late development of each. For Cleaver to have judged Merton on the basis of The Seven Storey Mountain would be a little like judging Thomas Aquinas by his playpen graffiti.

The first thing I do is make up my bed. The context is his description of a typical day in Folsom Prison. If you make your bed in such a way, you are going to lie in it. Or again, "Take up your bed and walk." We have in the book a tension between inevitability, the killing routine of the prison, which is a kind of bastard Greek sense of the universe; "Nothing can change because nothing ever has changed." And yet, a hint of healing. A man can make something within his skull of such a routine, can close out of his skull all the horrors and harpies wheeling around him, can enter into his spirit as into a forbidden garden. Indeed, he takes up his bed and walks; indeed, since he has made such a bed he must lie in it. But in the resolution of those two, the routine that kills and the discipline that frees, the man becomes a free man.

Books that one wants to read; he won't let you have. The warden says, "No sex," his perpetual squelch. When everything is going downhill in a society, everyone tends to act like everyone else. It is the biggest sign of universal panic. Everyone loses a sense of the life he is living, whether that of censor, secular warden, priest, fireman, Indian chief. The whole careening baggage is running downhill, concentrated in one huge squeal of fear and h6rror. Something like the sentence here. I am reminded also of the scene when priests invaded the cathedral in Cleveland recently, to protest the Church's silence on the war question. They were surrounded by cops, and those people who were in the church had the delicious experience of hearing a cop move up and down the aisles calling out: "You can leave now, your Sunday obligation has been fulfilled."

When everything is going to hell, cardinals tend to talk like generals, generals give homilies, cops patrol churches. And a few men get liberated; a very few.

I felt I could endure anything, everything, even the test of being broken on the rack. A man's assessment of his life comes out of the life he is leading, if the assessment is to have any value at all. It would be rewarding to dig into the mix of exhilaration, rock will, and boiling resentment that makes a man ready to put his soul on ice, for years, for others. You have to be in a certain skin, you have to be in a certain skull. And the best way to tell where you are is to be where you are: really be there, a man; not a cooped animal, but a man in his own skull and skin. Thank you, Eldridge, wherever you are; the cleaver hurts.

"I guess you heard about Malcolm?" "Yeah," I said. "They say he got wasted." Wasted seed, wasted blood, wasted passionate insight, foresight, hindsight, wasted new' untranslatable (by most) love, wasted prophecy, wasted steely hell cat glances, wasted surgical (free) operations on the wasted minds of the mentally ill racist millions. Wasted guts, wasted nurture of the poor. 0 man we miss you, a big gap in the ecology; polluted air, polluted Water-pollution of heroes. Waste of war, the best downed first. "How long, how many years, to make a man; how brief, how easy, how quick to destroy him!" (Peguy, Passion of Joan.)

I find that a rebirth does not follow automatically, of its own accord. So, indeed, do most of us find; the biology of that deed, the making of a man, does not follow upon the induced spasm in the organism of a mother, much less upon the intricate meshing and tripping of a machine. . . . The analogy with other processes, in the case of the spirit, is always from the lesser to the greater. As we love to say. What we love to act on is something else again. A simple test might be (instance): Who of us risks his life for his brother? or, Whose umbilical is connected to anyone, except to the bodies of his kids or his mother? And yet the umbilical is an analogy. And so do animals connect with their mothers and their young. . . . And if this is still the ruling limit of love (care of the young, the call of the blood), why not organize society along the model of the zoo, and have done with it (a fairly efficient system, with controls, imperatives, seasonal sex, territories, feeding, discipline, strictly utilitarian violence-all built in by a vigilant, lynx-eyed nature)?

What has suddenly happened is that the white race has lost its heroes. A statement of immeasurable import. The sentence is dumped in our laps; take it from there. That is to say, in the haunted house where the illegitimate white heroes have ruled (shotguns from the windows, the mad, inbred squire), something else may be going on too. A white hero may be getting born. . . . But first, let the old heroes die; they have marauded long enough. And let us think in the meantime, and draw in the meantime, formulas for new heroes, from the nonwhite world around. 

For example: Could we have imagined H. C. Minh (holding equivalent power with the Russians or Americans) sending the marines into some nearby Cuba, some nearby Czechoslovakia? I could not. Can you imagine S. Carmichael (holding equivalent power to R. Nixon) prolonging the Vietnam war for a single day? I cannot. Can you imagine Dom Helder Camara (holding equivalent power to Paul VI) publishing a letter like Of Human Life? (Bondage?) I cannot. Can you imagine, for that matter, any conceivable coalition of the poor throughout the world, any political arrangement fostered by the developing peoples, tolerating the American military budget for a single hour? Nor can I.

It is the struggle that makes the heroes. Cleaver is right, his impatience is right; there are not enough years left to make a hero in the old way. In the press, under the millstones, it can be done in a single hour. Black struggle makes black heroes; white struggle makes white heroes. The whites are called to struggle for liberation from bankrupt forms of power (name one of them that is not bankrupt) in state and church, economics and family and foreign policy and education and the military. 

All  the ways (very nearly all) of being a man that we inherited and were born into and baptized under are finished. We call it alienation: correct. Liberation from tired heroes, clairvoyance to see and cast off-F. D. Roosevelt, Pius XII, W. Churchlll, E. Hemmgway, P. Picasso, C. de Gaulle. And reaching back farther in your history (which we had considered unassailable and pure, the creation of good men), freedom from Minute Men and frontiersmen and slave traders and gold rushers and tycoons and railroad builders and ward bosses and bishops and ambassadors and the Rockefellers and Harrimans (the latest H. said in Paris to Tom Hayden: now I see that we are morally superior to the North Vietnamese) and the Fords (watch them go by-for good). 

Ten years, five years have brought down the heroic statuary that some 150 years of national history had built. The scaffolding was scarcely removed, and the statue is down in a single night; brought down by that time bomb that we name time itself, or more properly, human conscious-ness. The king is naked, the fool is savior.

There is, of course, no shortcut for this new form of consciousness. Young white men and women learned at the Pentagon in autumn of '67, at Columbia in the following May, and again on the streets of Chicago. In the meantime, the struggle continues. The young whites, the young draft resisters, the young SDS activists, students, priests, nuns are winning the respect of their black opposite numbers, even from a distance, the distance that separates the descendants of slaves from the descendants of slave masters. Distance with respect. And I suspect that the distance will diminish as the respect grows.

I saw recently in a black newspaper in Boston a cartoon; three accused men stand before a single white judge: Rap Brown, Huey Newton, and Philip Berrigan. The ground of the struggle becomes clear and common. It is a no-man's-land rendered uninhabitable by napalm, defoliants, blockbusters, antipersonnel bombs, slums, Daley's cops, military proving grounds, Humphrey's tom-fooling, Nixon's tricks, Bikini experiments, Johnson's jungle. A no-man's-land created by inhuman men. 

This is the common ground we seek to claim and clear-for one another with one another. To know that the world belongs neither to the beasts nor the war-makers nor the colonialists nor the Russians nor the Americans nor the first families nor the slave masters nor the corporations. It belongs to the people. "And on the sixth day God created man. To His own image He created him. And He said, 'Multiply and prosper and fill the earth.' And so it was done. And the Lord saw that it was good." How much travail ahead?

I think of the white man's plight. We are being thrust in white skins into the bullcage of black suffering; and this is the world: prison, defamation, illegal overkill, kangaroo courts. Before the war hotted up, the federal prison at Allenwood (one among many) was predominantly black. In the space of one year, with the same number of blacks, it is predominantly white. It is filled with the young draft resisters and Jehovah's Witnesses. No privacy, overloaded facilities, white Jehovah's Witnesses and white Christians. What a change of scene! What a change of consciousness! The black percentage is shifting. The center of gravity is shifting. The cost of being man is marked upon both skins-at least by way of first installment.

The moral equivalent of being a man has not been realized by white men. We are only just beginning to discover it. And our discovery amounts to being accounted as felons in a white society-destroyers of idols, iconoclasts, burners of war records. How could I be a man when I was condemned to be a white man? I could only seek out, as best I might, a way of being a just man. I could refuse to kill, refuse to pay taxes, refuse to be institutionalized, refuse to be obedient, refuse to be silent, refuse to die where I have been born. I could refuse to accept all those claims on me that kept me white-white-washed, a white sepulcher, white and therefore powerful, white and therefore right. I had to get where the action is; or to borrow a biblical term, I had to get where the passion is.

All of this, of course, is hard. We have lived and died so long without heroes. We are asked to create them, but there is virtually no example of white twentieth-century man living 411 the world, becoming conscious in a white skull, enduring the humiliation of ersatz freedom, refusing the benefits of inherited colonialism, speaking the truth to corrupt power, urging the facts of life upon the deluded.

"It is not a time for building justice," wrote my brother from prison, "it's a time for confronting injustice." Say no! The "No" makes the hero.

Source: No Bars to Manhood  (1970) by Daniel Berrigan

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At the time in which No Bars to Manhood was published (1970), Daniel Berrigan, an American Jesuit priest, was Chaplain at Cornell University, and was currently serving a three-year jail sentence for burning draft records in a protest against the war in Southeast Asia.

No Bars to Manhood  explores Father Berrigan's commitment to radicalism; traces the influences which brought him to the position he has taken as a man of action as well as a man of the cloth. he tells us frankly and fully of the events which turned him into an outlaw and a convict, including the Catonsville Nine episode and the upheaval at Cornell in 1969.

"Daniel Berrigan is the sort of priest who causes the lights of the Vatican to burn through the night" -- Newsweek

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Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, formed in the aftermath of the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, remains one of the most controversial movements of the 20th-century. Founded by the charismatic Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, the party sounded a defiant cry for an end to the institutionalized subjugation of African Americans. The Black Panther newspaper was founded to articulate the party's message and artist Emory Douglas became the paper's art director and later the party's Minister of Culture. Douglas's artistic talents and experience proved a powerful combination: his striking collages of photographs and his own drawings combined to create some of the era's most iconic images, like that of Newton with his signature beret and large gun set against a background of a blood-red star, which could be found blanketing neighborhoods during the 12 years the paper existed. This landmark book brings together a remarkable lineup of party insiders who detail the crafting of the party's visual identity. Publisher Rizzoli

Douglas was the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed. Departing from the WPA/social realist style of portraying poor people, which can be perceived as voyeuristic and patronizing, Douglas’s energetic drawings showed respect and action. He maintained poor people’s dignity while graphically illustrating harsh situations.Wikipedia

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Ratification

The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 25 February 2008

 

 

 

Home   Eldridge Cleaver Table

Related files: Cleaver Bio   Retrospective on Soul on Ice By Sharif   Cleaver Speaks to Skip Gates   Tearing the Goats Flesh  F  ire Last Time James Baldwin   Notes of a Native Son  

 Sermons & Blues  Fire Last Time   Ishmael Reed's Preface Maxwell Geismar's "Introduction"    Black Panther Platform & Program   Daniel Berrigan on Cleaver   The Du Bois-Malcolm-King