Why do you write?

People write for different reasons, just like we play music for different reasons. Thinking of music, I know some people who play music for the applause, in hope of fame, dreaming of playing to and impressing large, appreciative audiences and being thought of by others as a real musician. In writing it that way, I see I am passing judgment on them, just for doing the normal, natural thing in a competitive society where all we are is what we can prove to others we do better than most. It also suggests there is another way to think about making beautiful sounds, about writing, about doing anything we love. I will explain.

When you play an instrument to produce the best possible sounds you can on it, you are attuned to it, related to it, and you will always play as well as possible. When you pay attention to your intonation, the dynamics of your notes, how you produce different sounds, which sounds most make you love the instrument in your hands, how you bend the note, or slide to the note, or hammer it from a lower note, you are playing in a universe that has nothing to do with others appreciating it. You play for love of what you are doing, love of the sounds your fingers (or breath) and the instrument are making.

I suspect every great instrumentalist plays this way, because they love the sounds they begin to master, love the instrument that produces the sounds, love the way it interacts with other instruments in the mix. When you are in this zone, nothing else really matters to you. When you play out of this kind of love, you naturally get better and better, because it’s not a matter of practicing to attain a goal, it’s always a matter of joyful play. You are absorbed in making a beautiful melody sound as beautiful as you can, laying in a harmony or counterpoint line as perfectly as you can. There really is no better work.

You play a note on the piano. You can bang it hard, stepping on the sustain pedal, and have it ring like a gong. The instrument is called the pianoforte because it is capable of playing pianissimo (quietly) or forte (strong!). A good player can make a piano whisper too, whenever needed. You can sound some notes loudly and others quietly to achieve all kinds of subtle effects. There is a range of things you can do on an instrument capable of this palette of dynamics that were impossible to do on the instruments that preceded the piano, like its direct ancestor the harpsichord. Writing is the same thing, there is a vast range of what you can do with words, lining them up in different ways, loud and soft, for different effects.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and I’m officially an old man now. I often wrote out of a feeling of being unable to understand and make myself understood. Though I always spoke well enough, it was not enough. There were things I struggled to express, things I barely understood myself, and I found early on that writing, and thinking, and editing, clarifying what I felt and what I was actually trying to say about what I was wrestling with, was a very helpful process. Writing led me to understand things that perplexed me and it allowed me to share them, through the writing itself or talking, in light of what I’d worked out on the page.

What struck me more and more as I went along was the incomparable beauty of clarity. The writers I admire most set things out clearly. If you don’t give the reader all the necessary background, set out concisely so as not to waste her time, you are doing nobody any favors. If the solid back story needed to understand a point is missing, ambiguity floods in. There’s enough of that in life, it does not enhance expository writing, in my experience.

My goal when I write is clear expression, and I cut away anything that interferes with clarity. I often have to murder a darling, resist the impulse to make the words dance, or shimmy, or call attention to themselves. My main thought when I’m reviewing and revising my words is to make them as plain and clear as I can. This is particularly important when dealing with a difficult, perplexing subject.

For example, and this example stretches over decades, you are perplexed at an unresolvable contradiction about a parent. In my case my father was very smart, very funny, his politics always favored the underdog, the oppressed, he loved animals and treated them with great tenderness, he was insightful, keenly interested in the world and could be very reassuring when he wanted to be. A wonderful man. At the same time, he was very often irritable, angry, critical and mean. He was an abusive prick to my little sister and a determined enemy to me for most of my life. How do you reconcile these things? How is it possible not to take your father’s seething anger at you personally?

If you internalize this kind of parent’s view of you, it makes no sense, the world makes no sense, your life is a painful jumble. A devoted friend of the underdog, a man who believes deep in his soul in human equality, in a right to be free of tyranny, who teaches you to be kind to others, to treat animals with tenderness, snarling every night that you’re a venomous snake … WTF?

How do you understand this? You take an insight, like George Grosz’s comment that in order to understand how someone can behave brutally you have to study the humiliation they underwent. You read this in a biography of Grosz you are reading as you research how this political artist used his talent as a weapon, how he was forced to flee by the Nazis, who would have happily made a gruesome example of him, how he struggled in the US. You started reading about Grosz because your father once compared your drawings to Grosz’s, a compliment you did not take to heart at the time, but one you cherish in hindsight.

You have to study the humiliation that makes a man act with brutality. How do you do this? You can’t really ask the man. One kind of writer would write a novel, create a character she could interrogate, put in different situations, see how he acted, what made him brutal, fill in the imagined humiliation that made the story make sense. I am not this kind of writer, though I love good fiction I’m not drawn to writing it, my attempts over the years strike me as mostly sketchy. I need actual details to work with directly, to describe as accurately as I am able.

So I spent many, many hours conversing with my father’s beloved seventeen years older first cousin, Eli. The man was mostly estranged from his own three children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the result of his tyrannical insistence on raising them as he saw fit, not as they might have liked to have been raised. He could be very difficult, flew into a rage easily, but also, as with my mother, was very easy for me to placate if I acted the right way, backing off just a bit, like I was easing up on the gas pedal.

As easily as Eli’s face turned purple, spittle formed on his lips and he became savage as a leaping panther, he would calm down and return to being a funny, wonderful story-teller. I suppose it was the same dynamic between him and me as the one between my mother and him. They loved each other and fought constantly.

As often as he was blind to the needs of others, to his own role in making people miserable, he also had frequent moments of great insight. It was fascinating to watch these two contradictory things marching forward side by side in our conversations. If I’d spent 40 hours talking to him, I’d never have learned what I needed to know. It took hundreds of hours, over the course of dozens of drives up the twisting Sawmill River Parkway to visit him, before he thought to reveal the difficult truth I needed to know about how my father was humiliated, from the time he could stand.

It was a crushing revelation and he made it with all appropriate hesitation and regret to have to tell me, but describing it to me was an act of love that turned a light on in the universe and enabled me to start to let go of much of the pain and anger that had been building in me for decades. It allowed my father, a few years later, to have a son standing next to his deathbed who knew exactly why he felt his life was over by the time he was two. In a sense, it is a miracle my father did only as much damage to my sister and me as he did.

I have mused about this, and Eli’s gift, over the course of a thousand page first draft that is sitting on this blahg, needing another pass to start turning it into a book you could read and extract lessons from for your own life. Click on the subject “Book of Irv” to the right of this post and you will see what I’m talking about.

A word about “by Oinsketta” instead of publicizing my name, Eliot Widaen, as any normal writer would do. When I started this blahg it was to get access to a supposed archive of research on Malcolm X compiled by Manning Marable a scholar who died shortly after (or maybe right before) the publication of his biography of Malcolm X, El Hadj Malik el Shabbaz. I’d read the book in fascination, thinking it was a great and insightful work, and then the critical shit hit the fan. People who loved Malcolm (as my father had, as I do) were outraged by some of Marable’s assertions in the book. I’d seen a reference to an online archive of Marable’s research, went looking for it, found it, logged in and found virtually nothing of use there.

I remember feeling quite disgusted at the “archive”, that the sources of the controversial parts of what Marable had written had apparently gone with him to the grave. Before being able to access the Malcolm research archive site, I had to log in to something called WordPress. I logged in as my late, beloved cat, Oinsketta, created a PIN and was given a blog. That was about ten years ago. I don’t think I can change the author’s name at this point, on the other hand, I never really checked it out. On the other hand, I suppose I don’t really care enough to research it. At the same time, the clock is ticking, and I’m trying to get some of the best of my thousands of pages of writing into publishable form.

Why do you write?

Being Invisible Hurts

Making one’s life’s work a project to make the children of the invisible feel visible for a few hours a week:  sheer idiocy.  I realize this, and how developing this project flows naturally from my own childhood experiences.   I was not born invisible, did not slip off until I disappeared during high school and kept out of sight, and the workforce, for a few decades.  I had great potential and was reminded of it often by many as I slipped silently into the night.  

We live in a corporate society, just accept it.  Virtually everyone I know is employed by a corporation, paid by a corporation.   The success or failure of everyone in our society is measured by their prosperity or lack of prosperity.  To dream of an unpaid program that has no measurable path toward prosperity?   Sheer idiocy.  

I do not castigate myself, or seek to belittle what I have managed to achieve so far, even as I mock myself in the voice of the larger society.  A program that allows young public school children, working together, to make all esthetic and technical decisions as they produce group animation?   Priceless, truly.  They master a host of skills and reap huge, unquantifiable benefits from this communal play with its ingenious balance of free imagining and technical demand.   Even just the isolated element of adults witnessing and applauding kids’ creativity and achievement for its own sake is invaluable.  That I lack metrics to prove this?  A fatal flaw in the design of the program, from a corporate funder’s point of view.  

I have felt in my body the pain of being invisible.  It doesn’t come from a lack of fame, or envy of celebrity, or the want of some validation.   It comes from that fundamental human need not to be seen as a fungible widget in a school uniform, a tiny data point, but as an individual containing an entire universe of imagining and potential.  The corporation does not place any value on this fundamental human need– it has no such need itself, being a legally constructed monster, a single-minded, all-consuming predator given all the natural rights of a human being.   “I’ll believe that corporations are people when the state of Texas puts one of them to death,” said Bill Moyers, national treasure.  Me too.  

A thought experiment:  consider your feelings on a subject you care about greatly. Express them as cogently as you can to a close friend.   Hear your close friend express almost zero understanding of why you feel so deeply about the subject.   Experience the existential moment where you weigh all the other good qualities of your close friend against their inability to understand your deep engagement with this subject.  This part is a conversation, largely with yourself.  

Now, experiment part 2:  express the same thing, in written form, and send it to the friend.  Hear nothing in return.   Is a neurotic person the only type who might find this silence troubling?  

The world is just the world and there is a certain wisdom, I suppose, in lowering one’s expectations about what can be done.   The myth of the individual who, by force of intellect, will, talent and determination, changes the way people think about the world?  It is seen now and again, usually in the context of people who achieve great wealth and celebrity along with their influence.  Luck is also a factor, the accident of birth first among these fortunes.  

Then we have someone like Malcolm X, pointing to another path, following one’s beliefs without thought of personal gain like recent world-changers who spring to mind, amoral corporate geniuses like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  Of course, Malcolm’s fame arose while speaking for a large, ignorant movement– he stood for years before a loud megaphone where his genius could be honed and displayed regularly.  He underwent moral transformations during his life, was willing to revisit his deepest beliefs, refine his moral stance.  And he was willing, although not anxious, to die for those beliefs.  The shots that ripped him apart in the Audubon Ballroom that February day fifty years ago this week were earned by telling threatening truths many had an interest in not hearing expressed.   Several parties who hated each other were united in their desire for his death, played essential parts in his murder.   Not exactly a role model for action, perhaps, unless one feels he has no choice.  I suppose I feel that way.


At the risk of seeming obsessed about Lee Harvey Oswald’s marksmanship

This Manning Marable thing, I can see as well as anyone by now, is becoming something of a tic, a bad joke with no punchline, Woody Allen fretting endlessly (while Alison Porchnik sighs) about whether Oswald was marksman enough to have hit a target the size of JFK’s head in a moving car from that distance.

This is the last thing I have to say about the matter, (at least for tonight).  The book still, to my mind, conveys a three dimensional person with convincing motivations, although the research does not seem to be, in many cases, very well-sourced.  In many cases there is no attribution at all for statements Marable makes with great certainty and, also troubling, no sources for direct quotes.  

This is unsettling in an academic book written by a distinguished professor at one of the world’s most respected universities.    The book also poses sensible arguments but seems to back them in a feeble way, particularly when they rely on a single source, or when no source is given.

Take for example Marable’s  easily sensationalized and distracting claim to have “circumstantial but strong evidence, [that] Malcolm was probably describing his own homosexual encounters with Paul Lennon” (66).  Does it make a real difference whether a fictionalized alter-ego for Malcolm in the Autobiography or the actual young hustler Malcolm was the man paid to sprinkle talcum powder on the kinky old naked white man?

Marable presents this purported deception as part of his case that Malcolm, a very private and very public man, brutally candid and also skilled in constructing his public image, exaggerated his criminal exploits in the Autobiography, while hiding other shameful details of his life, to heighten the story of redemptive rebirth he underwent when he converted to Islam in prison.  He presents Malcolm’s arguably misleading account of the paid homosexual encounters as an example of Malcolm concealing and reinventing himself, while at the same time unable to omit the freaky details of a very odd job he once did in service to a wealthy, perverse White Devil.  Surely there were equally good and less problematic examples a careful reading of the Autobiography could have produced to support Marable’s thesis.

The example also provides shaky support for the thesis, since other explanations for why Malcolm would conceal that part of his employment history spring to mind.  For one thing, Malcolm or anyone else, black or white, would not in 1965, nor today, for that matter, be in a hurry to divulge details about a short stint working for a wealthy man who paid good money for his butler to strip, undress him, carry him like a baby to his bed and sprinkle talcum powder on him until he ejaculated.  I can’t think of many people who would advertise this, mention it on their CV or casually reveal it.  What is the relevance of it in an autobiography, a biography?  

I don’t think it’s a question of being tolerant of difference, open-minded, or homophobic, particularly since nothing about Malcolm’s sexual orientation is mentioned anywhere else in Marable’s otherwise detailed biography.  It’s not as though this particular hustle, whether done by “Rudy” or “Detroit Red”, provides insight into anything else about the subject’s life, except that at one point he was desperate enough to take that rather odd employment and that he may have partially concealed it in telling his Autobiography to Alex Haley.  

Marable clearly concluded it was not a big deal, or any kind of character assassination, to include this detail, based on the “circumstantial but strong” evidence he’d found in a Massachusettes prison record and a Boston want ad.  And he may have been right to conclude he was providing nuance, color and texture to the life of his biographical subject.

But, I mean, really, Marable, even if your circumstantial “but strong” evidence for this makes it most probably true, what?  I mean, really, professor, I know you’re dead and all, but WTF?

The Debate Continues — And I see why they’re pissed at Marable

The storm is still raging following the late Manning Marable’s recent Malcolm X biography.  Books are now in print taking aim at it, taking it to pieces, from the looks of it (see below).   I was in the library today, found Marable’s book on the shelf and checked the end notes.  They are indeed surprisingly sparse and almost random, as the critic who called the research amateurishly done by a team of grad students claimed they were.

I checked out two controversial assertions by Marable and went to the end notes.   There was a conspicuous lack of sources for Marable’s statement that “Based on circumstantial but strong evidence, Malcolm was probably describing his own homosexual encounters with Paul Lennon” (66).  The circumstantial evidence was that Malcolm Little’s prison records indicate that he was once employed as a male secretary for the homosexual Lennon.  This one could probably go either way.

The same probably cannot be said for the thread about the 18 year-old mistress Marable says Malcolm carried on an affair with during the last few months of his life.  This woman, in Marable’s account, may have stolen into Malcolm’s 12th floor single room in the Hilton the last night of his life, making her responsible for the ominous wake up call he received in that room early the next morning.  This same woman, interviewed by the NYPD after the murder, had been sitting in the front row at the Audubon as Malcolm was shot.  She had been seated next to a member of the Newark Mosque (the mosque where all the known assassins allegedly came from)  a man she went on to live with for 40 years.  It was this same Sharon 6X Poole, according to Marable, who called to volunteer false information to the cops a few days later that helped implicate, and later convict, two Harlem NOI men who were not involved in the shooting (or even present at the Audubon on the day of the murder).

If Marable’s account is credible, this woman had a direct hand in setting Malcolm up for death and then misleading the police about the identities of his killers in order to protect them.  One looks in vain for a footnote establishing the source of Marable’s belief.  Marable writes of the alleged affair:

Of these [earlier possible affairs or liaisons] no certainty can be had, but after his return from Africa, Malcolm appears to have begun an illicit sexual affair with an eighteen-year-old OAAU secretary named Sharon 6X Poole.  Little is known about her or about their relationship except that it appears to have continued up to Malcolm’s death.  (394)  

No source is given in the notes.

That she “may have joined him” in his room at the Hilton on Feb. 20, 1965, Marable attributes to a 6/18/03 oral history with Malcolm’s second in command James 67X Warden.  A page or two earlier Marable describe’s James 67X’s frustration with not being kept up to date about Malcolm’s whereabouts the last few days of Malcolm’s life, including that last night.

Much as I initially applauded and was moved by Marable’s account of Malcolm’s life, the speculative nature of these kinds of weaselishly worded passages, making, at best, careless, assertions against the veracity (my acquaintance “Rudy” did the  homosexual routine with the perverted rich white guy, not me)  and character (Elijah Muhammad is a hypocrite to commit adultery with young secretaries, I am above that temptation) of a man many of us admire greatly, I may have to join the group who is after the ghost of Manning Marable to push him up against the wall and demand “what?”

cut and pasted:

By Any Means Necessary Malcolm X: Real, Not Reinvented

By Any Means Necessary editors-Herb Boyd, Ron Daniels, Maulana Karenga and Haki Madhubuti-are in unison when stating:

Our purpose here with this collection is to continue, and to expand, the debate arising from Manning Marable’s biography.

Through the collective vision of these four scholars, wordmakers and educators, readers now have a comprehensive view of the Marable text as well as new scholarship and insight on Malcolm X – the man, “Real, Not Reinvented”.  By Any Means Necessary Malcolm X: Real, Not Reinvented and Malcolm X: A Lie of Reinvention are two of the more prominent books being released by Black publishers to push back against Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

My Fellow Americans Ignore Me

The statistics don’t lie, there is only one reader in Poland who continues to click on this blahg occasionally.  I’m not grousing, mind you, we Americans pretty much ignore each other as a matter of national pride.  USA!  USA!

If I have learned one thing from this program I’m trying to launch, the one in which I put all the eggs I will ever have in one basket and balance it at the end of a long, brittle stick held by an extended, shaky arm, it is not to be so damned sensitive.  Sure it’s nice to have feedback, to feel  some appreciation from time to time, but here’s what I’ve realized:  the work is the same, whether it is commented on or not.  Also this: I am the final judge of whether I have succeeded in a given work or not.  I am the expert on my progress or lack of same.

“Oh, you are talking to yourself, trying to be brave,” you will say.  Absolutely right, but there’s more.   I am not dashing face-first into a wall, I am not collecting cobras like the little girl in India who gets bitten by one of her “best friends” 


I am no longer pissed off all the time about friends who can’t bother to lend a few seconds of moral support, even as a tic seems to force me to check the stats on this new blahg several times a day and mutter to myself “some American bastards messed up my perfect downstepping ziggurat on August 5.”  I know it was Americans because of the map.  And I know, pretty much, which Americans those probably are, since only five or six have been sent the secret link to this blahg.

But, who am I fooling?  I know why Americans ignore me, and I would ignore myself too, if it was within my power.  I don’t dream the American dream, for one thing.  A friend and I were discussing that dream the other day.  On its face a dream of “freedom” (like what was on the march in Iraq a few years ago when so many lost their lives) but it is, more precisely, the dream of being rich, of having enough money to buy whatever you want and also, with that money, the ability to tell everyone to go fuck themselves.  As dreams go it may seem a tad materialistic, maybe a little shallow, but who am I to judge a dream as big as the American Dream?

Sure, it’s easy to take potshots at a nation that used the phrase “Manifest Destiny” to commit a deliberate genocide against the people who occupied the territories it was God’s Will Americans could own and exploit.  Easy too to condemn practices carried on for more than a century, under the “inalienable truth” that “all men are created equal” (and for 150 years before that banner was raised).  

The practices of our Peculiar Institution left the once fertile soil of the American south stripped of nutrients and the soul of America stained with the kidnap, murder, subjugation and rape of millions kept in chattel slavery.  You could say that the Divine retribution Jefferson feared, even as financial considerations made it impossible for him to manumit the hundreds of chattel slaves he owned (his sole wealth, after all), is still being visited on America for the way it built its collective wealth on the exploitation of slaves.

Generations later you can see the descendants of these slaves, hardly grateful at all, most of them, for the freedom they have enjoyed since being freed in 1865, and more particularly, since the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 guaranteed these freedoms once again.  Including the freedom to once again seek redress in a federal court, after a ninety year hiatus, if you or your family is lynched by a non-governmental outfit like the Ku Klux Klan.

I know I go on about this all the time, and I’m aware how tedious it is.  I really should take the hundreds of hours of research I did in Law School and write a concise version of that paper “The Day of Blacks as the Special Favorites of the Law is at an End”.   That was the conclusion of the Supreme Court when it decided the unintentionally aptly-named Slaughterhouse cases in 1873.  The reasoning was quintessentially American.

The slaveholding states of the former Confederacy, who, until their secession, held their slaves under inalienable Constitutional right, were devastated by the Civil War.  There was nothing civil about the Civil War, as we all know.  The infrastructure of the South was destroyed, roads, bridges, levees, crops, cities, everything.  In order to qualify for Federal funds to rebuild, the defeated rebel states were forced to ratify the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

I don’t know much about the other amendments, except that the First allows me to write the word “fuck” here if I fucking feel like it, and the Second guarantees the right of private American citizens to have as many guns as they like, including assault weapons designed for spraying up to 100 bullets a minute, and as much ammo as they can afford.

But I know a lot about the 13th, 14th and 15th.  The 13th ends slavery and involuntary servitude.  Under the 13th amendment the only way the state can put you on a chain gang is if you’ve been convicted of a crime.  Private actors may or may not be subject to this restriction, but that would be fought in the courts for more than a century and is still in dispute, hinging as it does on the precise meanings of “involuntary” and “servitude”.

The 14th Amendment is a big one, it guarantees that the rights of U.S. citizenship shall not be denied or abridged by the states.  Since the angry radical Republicans in Congress who drafted and forced these Amendments down the throat of the defeated South knew lawyers and judges down there would look for loopholes, they created an enabling act as part of the Amendment.  Congress can, and did, pass any law necessary to enforce these federally guaranteed rights. 

The 15th Amendment is really not worth talking about.  It guaranteed to Negro men, whatever their previous condition of servitude, the right to vote.  Treated as a bit of dark humor from the beginning, it would wait a century for any sort of enforcement.

But the 14th Amendment was a big one, it created the Department of Justice, for one thing, and the never repealed laws passed under its enabling act virtually shut down the Ku Klux Klan for a short time.  It allowed, for a time, the election of numerous black representatives, seemed to guarantee that the former Confederacy could not continue to exploit its former slaves or, for instance, pass Black Codes that made it a crime, punishable by a lifetime of indentured servitude, to be unemployed.

The 14th Amendment protected freedom until the Slaughterhouse decision and a few others, (like the little known Cruikshank case holding that States had exclusive jurisdiction over adjudicating murder cases, even cases of organized, racially motivated mass murder), made the scope of the 14th Amendment and the law of the land crystal clear.

The Slaughterhouse cases were brought by white businessmen, slaughterers and butchers,  protesting the monopoly the State of Louisiana had granted to other white businessmen.  Their lawyers styled Louisiana’s restraint of free trade as imposing a kind of “involuntary servitude” and sought the protection of the 13th and 14th Amendments.  I don’t remember the dull procedural details, you will forgive me.

But I remember well the holdings and influential dicta of the case.  The Court said, first of all, everybody knows the 14th Amendment was passed to help Negroes, not white businessmen who were never slaves, so you slaughterers are a cynical bunch trying to invoke it.   And, second of all, the rights of Federal citizenship protected by the 14th Amendment are three:  the right to freely migrate from state to state, the right to use navigable interstate waterways and another, equally essential right, that slips my mind now.  Everything else, said the Court, is the province of the individual states as far as granting or taking away rights, inalienable or otherwise.  Law of the land for almost a hundred years after that.  In layman’s terms the Court said: “I’ve got your 14th amendment right here, bitch”.

The Court also took pains to make it clear, less than a decade after the bloody Civil War ended, that the day of former slaves “as the special favorites of the law” was at an end.  “And how!” as my idealistic grandma Yetta would have said.

Oh dear, my fact checker, Google, informs me that I am incorrect.  That last bit was not uttered by the Court until the so-called Civil Rights Cases decided ten years later, by which time former slaves had, arguably, enjoyed their freedom for almost two full decades.  Here’s what the Court wrote:

When a man has emerged from slavery, and, by the aid of beneficent legislation, has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen or a man are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected. There were thousands of free colored people in this country before the abolition of slavery, enjoying all the essential rights of life, liberty and property the same as white citizens, yet no one at that time thought that it was any invasion of his personal status as a freeman because he was not admitted to all the privileges enjoyed by white citizens, or because he was subjected to discriminations in the enjoyment of accommodations in inns, public conveyances and places of amusement. Mere discriminations on account of race or color were not regarded as badges of slavery. If, since that time, the enjoyment of equal rights in all these respects has become established by constitutional enactment, it is not by force of the Thirteenth Amendment (which merely abolishes slavery), but by force of the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. blah blah blah.

I confess, I have no idea why it doesn’t come under the 14th Amendment (Slaughterhouse notwithstanding), as it would come to be almost a century later.  Oh, of course, Slaughterhouse ruled that the 14th Amendment covered virtually no rights a white man was bound to respect.

Anyway, I leave you, Polish guy, with the last part of a review of Manning Marable’s biography of my brother Malcolm X, clipped and sent to my attention by a friend  I sent the link to.  It has some bearing on the earlier part of this exercise in tedium, where I was on about the American Dream.

The real tension exists in one simple fact: Malcolm’s story is one of the great human stories, but it is not one of the great American stories. This is not Horatio Alger, Benjamin Franklin, or even John Galt. His success as a human being is not measured in terms of wealth or prestige. It is measured in moral terms. His was not a life to be evaluated within the basic assumptions of mass capitalism. He cannot be reduced to a postage stamp or a children’s book. In his final days, Malcolm recognized that this is a worldwide struggle of the people versus mass capitalism, which was out of control in 1965 and now out-Orwells Orwell. This marked him for death in our society. It also made him one of the great figures of world history.  If we ever figure out why this is true, we might have a chance at social transformation – a reinvention, as Manning Marable puts it.

full review here:  http://www.ctka.net/reviews/Manning_Marable_Malcolm_X_Green.html

The Continuing Debate over Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

As I was too sticky to sleep last night anyway I found myself researching reactions to the Manning Marable biography of Malcolm X that had recently shaken me.  Whatever its possible deficiencies, the book presents what seems to be a three-dimensional person, flawed and admirable, decisive and contradictory, inspiring and tragic.  The portrait made organic sense to me, troubled me, inspired me.  This was not, apparently, the same reaction all readers had to the book.

There was a video debate on Democracy Now from shortly after the book was published in which Amiri Baraka and a professor named Michael Eric Dyson go at it, sometimes using hammers, other times gently plying tongs, over whether Malcolm or Marable, or the good professor or the genius Baraka, was faithful to Lenin, a Social Democrat, an apologist, a racist, etc.  I could see Malcolm’s skeleton in his grave, shuddering.  The most reasonable-sounding of the three guests did not fight to get too many words in edgewise.  When he did it was mainly to brush away as nonsense the sex-related tidbits Marable received a lot of attention for including.

The New York Times review chimed in predictably, as their editorialist did in sickening fashion immediately after Malcolm was murdered.  I went from a review that concluded the book read like it was written by a committee of grad students who’d thinly sourced it, to one that praised the book as the definitive biography of the great and problematic American icon. 

What is it about American icons that so many of them seem to get executed by shady men with guns?

The most thorough walk-through of the book I found last night was presented on a website, I noticed after reading the review, dedicated to researching and publicizing the truth about the executions of American icons JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X.   I thought it was an excellent review, similar to my own reactions to much of the material, ignoring the sexual suggestions so many had focused their critiques on.   I had to confront my  own knee jerk reaction to noticing the nature and mission of the website, which says a lot about how successful the mainstream media has been in marginalizing “Conspiracy Theorists”.   It is clear to anyone who thinks about Malcolm X’s assassination for more than a moment that several forces, with different agendas, played essential roles in his execution.  The same seems to go for the other assassinations, the same goes for the series of very odd coincidences surrounding and following the catastrophe of 9/11.

It is not surprising that the author of the review for that website (see link below) praised the academic Marable for laying out, in a credible, highly footnoted mainstream book, the interlocking details of certain conspiracy.  Also not surprising that the reviewer was one of the few who did not spend more than a few lines on some of the titillating details other critics had gone ballistic over.

For example, Marable concludes, in a couple of paragraphs among 495 pages of text, that the young Malcolm himself was likely the gay hustler, his “friend” Rudy in the Autobiography, who stripped and sprinkled baby powder on the rich white man who achieved orgasm during this practice.  He supports this assertion by pointing out that the rich white man, Paul Lennon, communicated with Malcolm while Malcolm was in prison, and perhaps also sent money.   Lennon is apparently also mentioned, as a possible benefactor, in at least one letter Malcolm wrote to his family from prison.    

Numerous reviewers were incensed by this suggestion of some possible variant of mercenary homosexuality on Malcolm’s part (it is the only such mention in the book) and also by Marable’s strong suggestions of marital infidelities by Malcolm and his wife Betty in the last year of Malcolm’s life.  Another reviewer, on WordPress, a gay female reverend, from the looks of it, wrote a treatise about homophobia in the black community and offered some even more detailed allegations about young Malcolm’s supposed sexual preferences from a 1991 book.

I am now even sorrier that Marable died two days before his provocative book was published.  I’d like to have heard him defend himself and his research, amplify his call to investigate the assassination and prosecute the real murderers, all of whom he names by name in the final chapters, including the man who wielded the shotgun that ripped the first, seven inch, hole in Malcolm’s chest, one-time Newark NOI member Al-Mustafa Shabazz  (formerly Willie Bradley), still alive and well, 73, and defended by his wife and lawyer in the Newark Star-Ledger as an innocent man.  I’d like to be able to get on to the exhaustive Malcolm X Project website that Marable set up, and which seems to have followed him to the grave.  I’d like to dig deeper into all this, if only for my friend in Gaj.

If nothing else, the undisputed fact that three or four hours after Malcolm’s bloody execution, police photographers and the forensics team left the ballroom, Audubon staff mopped up the dead man’s blood, and guests danced in the regularly scheduled Washington’s Birthday party dance, makes me want to holler.  It really does.

link to the review mentioned above


I Don’t Know

I don’t know if I’ll keep posting things here.  I stumbled on this site the other night trying to download a plug-in so I could see the videotaped interviews of people Manning Marable interviewed for his remarkable and shattering recent biography of Malcolm X:  A Life of Reinvention.  http://mxp.manningmarable.com/

I never succeeded in downloading the plug-in but I was assured by copywriters for WordPress that I could set up a free blahg in a matter of seconds.  It was true.

So, while Manning Marable died literally two days before the book that was his life’s work for decades was published, I was alive and punching in names for this exercise in vanity after learning that some clever, early-to-the-party bastard had grabbed the name “blahg”.  

I don’t mean to sound peevish, living in this moment in time when literally any idiot can wax philosophical over them internets, but I probably am peeved.   I have hard work to do, and I need a bit of luck.   Thomas Jefferson noted that his luck was multiplied many times over by his constant hard work.   I wonder, listlessly, if he really worked harder than most of his 300 slaves on the inherited plantation where the master worked so hard improving his luck, and the cause of human freedom.  It is beyond doubt that his luck was much better than their’s.

Marable’s biography of Malcolm X really shook me up.  I have been aware in recent years of time growing short to become the change I want to see in the world.  The world’s time may be short too.   Malcolm X, with no credentials but intelligence,  talent and a burning need, turned himself into a dynamic agent for change, electrifying packed crowds on the street and at Ivy League schools.  

Tragically, he also entangled himself with murderous fanatics whose self-hatred was never quite alchemized as it was purported to be by the self-worshipping idiot pseudo-scientist who ran the lab.   Reading voraciously and running ahead in a rage to change the things that enrage, perhaps not the most effective way to move ahead, but there is inspiration to be taken from his tragedy too, and less and less time to waste.  

Posting things here among the artists, marketing and branding specialists, curators and so on, reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s passionate correspondence with a woman named Maria Cosway.   In the end she wrote him off as a bastard and a tease (although Wikipedia contradicts my memory, saying they corresponded until Jefferson’s death and each kept the others’ letters until after death) .  A long one about the debate between The Heart and The Head strikes me in particular, the self-involved fretting of an eloquent, preening, sphinxlike narcissist.  Not that he wasn’t capable of taking what he needed in the real world, ask the beautiful, almost white looking teenager the age of his daughter, a young woman he owned who would bear him six children over the years.

I don’t know.  Just writing to say that.   Next to these words, beside handy semiotic icons,  are Write a Post, Post a Quote, Post a Naked Picture of your Mother.

A bad teacher

(Malcolm had been E. Lansing’s Mason Jr. High School class president the previous year, with top grades).

An English teacher, Richard Kaminska, sharply discouraged him from becoming a lawyer. ”You’ve got to be realistic about being a nigger,” Kaminska advised him.  “A lawyer, that’s no realistic goal for a nigger… Why don’t you plan on carpentry?”  Malcolm’s grades plummeted and his truculence increased.  Within several months, he found himself expelled.

Manning Marable,  Malcolm X:  A Life of Reinvention p.38

the actual quote