3.21.2017 Nearly Naked Links

For Sunday’s and Monday’s Files

Rejecting Experts, Proclaiming Democracy



Ireland’s Strike For Reproductive Rights – https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/03/ireland-womens-strike-abortion-illegal-strike4repeal/

Revolution or Not, Bloodbath

Revolutions Are Bloody, But So Is Doing Nothing — Paul Craig Roberts

Considering Lukacz Once More – https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-never-ending-lukacs-debate/

Feminism, Zionism, and Nakba – http://portside.org/2017-03-14/zionism-nakba-and-feminism

Deconstructing Foucault’s Deconstructionism – https://aeon.co/essays/why-foucaults-work-on-power-is-more-important-than-ever

Large Solar Potential – https://blog.google/products/maps/shedding-light-solar-potential-all-50-us-states/

Learning from Freeze’s Predecessors – https://bostonreview.net/politics/andrew-lanham-lessons-nuclear-freeze

Sanctuary Cities’ Rationale – https://bostonreview.net/law-justice/lauren-carasik-who-do-sanctuary-cities-protect

Nazi Speed Habits – http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/hitler-nazis-secret-oxycodone-and-methamphetamine-addiction-w472234

Two Aspects of FOIA



Harvard’s Toxic Coal

The Long Tail of Payback on Harvard’s Investment in Coal Fired Electricity Production

A Counterfeit Periodical Compilation – http://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2017/03/for-the-latest-on-counterfeit-money/

Mockingbird’s Persistence

American Corporate MSM Is Merged With CIA And Has Been Since The 1950s

Vaccinations as Child Endangerment

Vaccinations Are Child Endangerment

Deconstructing Contemporary Web Alliances – https://ar.al/notes/we-didnt-lose-control-it-was-stolen/

Gladio Deep State Crimes – http://www.globalresearch.ca/legitimacy-the-west-and-operation-gladio/5579437

Ukrainian Coup Refugee Consequences – http://www.globalresearch.ca/obamas-ukrainian-coup-triggered-the-influx-of-2-5-million-ukrainian-refugees-into-russia/5579719

The Saker on Empire – http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46658.htm

3.21.2017 Daily Links

                 A Thought for the Day                  

Just as only very rarely, if ever, might one encounter a person who elects to wear the same precise suit of clothes for life, so too will one very seldom indeed meet a human who happily purveys the same exact consciousness day in and day out over the course of a lifetime: one obvious upshot of such an observation, flying fiercely in the face of established ‘management’ practice and political protocols, is that all ‘wars on drugs’ represent blatant assaults on humanity as a whole, inasmuch as the prototypically human addiction to shifting one’s point of view, to tinkering with one’s awareness and frame of reference, is without reasonable question an adaptiveresponse to reality and as such an ineluctable and hard-wired necessity for individual representatives of the species—unfortunately, of course, this sort of discourse has little or no conversational context in the hyper-mediated and constrictingly controlled environs that typify the present pass, where profiteering and plunder at the behest of hidden agendas make irresistible for those in charge pretentious nonsense about protecting innocent and powerless people from erstwhile external forces that are actually inevitable human choices to be criminal in the face of the expert-imposed class warfare that has become the ubiquitous monstrosity of an insidious and invidious imperial machine.

                   Doc of the Day                      
1. H.L. Mencken, 1925.
2. Chinua Achebe, 2000.
3. David Schaich, 2001.

4. Slavoj Zizek, 2001.

Numero Uno“ISuch obscenities as the forthcoming trial of the Tennessee evolutionist, if they serve no other purpose, at least call attention dramatically to the fact that enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed.  It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone — that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized.  This assumption is quite erroneous.  The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and of some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized — though I should not like to be put to giving names — but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history.  They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble.  They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge. MORE HERE

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              TODAY’S HEART, SOUL, &                                  AWARENESS VIDEO                  

INFINITE RICHES, BURSTING BUBBLES, & COMMUNICATING INTELLIGIBLY arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness.  The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof.  The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude.

                     Nearly Naked Links                  

For Sunday’s and Monday’s Files

Ireland’s Strike For Reproductive Rights – https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/03/ireland-womens-strike-abortion-illegal-strike4repeal/

Considering Lukacz Once More – https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-never-ending-lukacs-debate/

Feminism, Zionism, and Nakba – http://portside.org/2017-03-14/zionism-nakba-and-feminism



student writing arm


Dallas Fort-Worth Writers’ Workshop

The 10th annual Dallas Fort-Worth Writers’ Workshop for fiction and nonfiction writers will be held from May 6 to May 7 at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas. The conference features workshops in fiction and creative nonfiction; panels with editors, publishers, and agents; craft lectures; and marketing presentations.


We are a  publisher of romance. We believe our authors are artists and their talent shouldn’t be censored, so our authors present high quality stories full of romance, desire, and sometimes graphic moments that are both entertaining and memorable. We are open to all genres of expression including M/F, M/M, F/F, paranormal, contemporary, historical, urban fantasy, new adult, sweet/closed door romance, and ménage.  

 At this time we are welcoming submissions from all genres of romance from both new, unpublished authors, and those already established in the field.

 We invite all authors wishing to submit work to view our submission guidelines below.

pascal maramis - flickr
pascal maramis – flickr


Writer, Appalachian Trail guidebook

Avalon Travel is seeking a professional writer to author a new guidebook to the Appalachian Trail and the towns and regions that surround it. This is a contract position, not a full-time office job.

The writer should have experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, and should live near the trail and be familiar with the nearby cities, towns, and regional attractions. The writer should also be able to provide strategic planning advice for travelers, and should have previous experience writing about the Appalachian Trail.


A Journalistic Self Help Model

A Poynter article that looks at useful models for journalistic success that highlights the importance of keeping it local:  “Jonathan Alter, a prominent journalist-author and Montclair resident, says, “The first few issues of the new Montclair Times sucked late last year (it’s getting somewhat better).”

But can the town support something new, even better, he wonders? He hopes so.

“We started talking about a local paper,” says Choxi, whose background is not media but robotics and artificial intelligence research. “I then started working on a rough business plan and it seemed doable.””


Stark Contrasts Between Aleppo, Mosul

A Consortium News look at the ongoing explosive situation in the Middle East: “During the Syrian army’s offensive to retake the eastern part of Aleppo from the insurgent opposition, the Western media portrayed the assault as if Russia and Syria were carrying out a campaign primarily aimed at killing and harming civilians. The humanitarian crisis dominated headlines while key facts, such as Al Qaeda’s domination of the opposition forces and the way in which the militants had brutally conquered the city’s civilians, were marginalized or not reported at all.”

GENISSThe 30s As Worst of All

A Guardian look at the darkest time of humanity: Even to mention the 1930s is to evoke the period when human civilisation entered its darkest, bloodiest chapter. No case needs to be argued; just to name the decade is enough. It is a byword for mass poverty, violent extremism and the gathering storm of world war. “The 1930s” is not so much a label for a period of time than it is rhetorical shorthand – a two-word warning from history.”

3.21.2017 Doc of the Day

1. H.L. Mencken, 1925.
2. Chinua Achebe, 2000.
3. David Schaich, 2001.

4. Slavoj Zizek, 2001.

Leonardo da Vinci – The Babe in the Womb, 1511
Leonardo da Vinci – The Babe in the Womb, 1511

Numero Uno“ISuch obscenities as the forthcoming trial of the Tennessee evolutionist, if they serve no other purpose, at least call attention dramatically to the fact that enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed.  It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone — that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized.  This assumption is quite erroneous.  The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and of some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized — though I should not like to be put to giving names — but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history.  They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble.  They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.

Such immortal vermin, true enough, get their share of the fruits of human progress, and so they may be said, in a way, to have their part in it.  The most ignorant man, when he is ill, may enjoy whatever boons and usufructs modern medicine may offer — that is, provided he is too poor to choose his own doctor.  He is free, if he wants to, to take a bath.   The literature of the world is at his disposal in public libraries.  He may look at works of art.  He may hear good music.  He has at hand a thousand devices for making life less wearisome and more tolerable: the telephone, railroads, bichloride tablets, newspapers, sewers, correspondence schools, delicatessen.  But he had no more to do with bringing these things into the world than the horned cattle in the fields, and he does no more to increase them today than the birds of the air.

On the contrary, he is generally against them, and sometimes with immense violence.  Every step in human progress, from the first feeble stirrings in the abyss of time, has been opposed by the great majority of men.  Every valuable thing that has been added to the store of man’s possessions has been derided by them when it was new, and destroyed by them when they had the power.  They have fought every new truth ever heard of, and they have killed every truth-seeker who got into their hands.


The so-called religious organizations which now lead the war against the teaching of evolution are nothing more, at bottom, than conspiracies of the inferior man against his betters. They mirror very accurately his congenital hatred of knowledge, his bitter enmity to the man who knows more than he does, and so gets more out of life. Certainly it cannot have gone unnoticed that their membership is recruited, in the overwhelming main, from the lower orders — that no man of any education or other human dignity belongs to them. What they propose to do, at bottom and in brief, is to make the superior man infamous — by mere abuse if it is sufficient, and if it is not, then by law.

Such organizations, of course, must have leaders; there must be men in them whose ignorance and imbecility are measurably less abject than the ignorance and imbecility of the average. These super-Chandala often attain to a considerable power, especially in democratic states. Their followers trust them and look up to them; sometimes, when the pack is on the loose, it is necessary to conciliate them. But their puissance cannot conceal their incurable inferiority. They belong to the mob as surely as their dupes, and the thing that animates them is precisely the mob’s hatred of superiority. Whatever lies above the level of their comprehension is of the devil. A glass of wine delights civilized men; they themselves, drinking it, would get drunk. Ergo, wine must be prohibited. The hypothesis of evolution is credited by all men of education; they themselves can’t understand it. Ergo, its teaching must be put down.

This simple fact explains such phenomena as the Tennessee buffoonery. Nothing else can. We must think of human progress, not as of something going on in the race in general, but as of something going on in a small minority, perpetually beleaguered in a few walled towns. Now and then the horde of barbarians outside breaks through, and we have an armed effort to halt the process. That is, we have a Reformation, a French Revolution, a war for democracy, a Great Awakening. The minority is decimated and driven to cover. But a few survive — and a few are enough to carry on.


The inferior man’s reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex — because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meager capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. All superstitions are such short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious. So on what seem to be higher levels. No man who has not had a long and arduous education can understand even the most elementary concepts of modern pathology. But even a hind at the plow can grasp the theory of chiropractic in two lessons. Hence the vast popularity of chiropractic among the submerged — and of osteopathy, Christian Science and other such quackeries with it. They are idiotic, but they are simple — and every man prefers what he can understand to what puzzles and dismays him.

The popularity of Fundamentalism among the inferior orders of men is explicable in exactly the same way. The cosmogonies that educated men toy with are all inordinately complex. To comprehend their veriest outlines requires an immense stock of knowledge, and a habit of thought. It would be as vain to try to teach to peasants or to the city proletariat as it would be to try to teach them to streptococci. But the cosmogony of Genesis is so simple that even a yokel can grasp it. It is set forth in a few phrases. It offers, to an ignorant man, the irresistible reasonableness of the nonsensical. So he accepts it with loud hosannas, and has one more excuse for hating his betters.

Politics and the fine arts repeat the story. The issues that the former throw up are often so complex that, in the present state of human knowledge, they must remain impenetrable, even to the most enlightened men. How much easier to follow a mountebank with a shibboleth — a Coolidge, a Wilson or a Roosevelt! The arts, like the sciences, demand special training, often very difficult. But in jazz there are simple rhythms, comprehensible even to savages.


What all this amounts to is that the human race is divided into two sharply differentiated and mutually antagonistic classes, almost two genera — a small minority that plays with ideas and is capable of taking them in, and a vast majority that finds them painful, and is thus arrayed against them, and against all who have traffic with them.  The intellectual heritage of the race belongs to the minority, and to the minority only.  The majority has no more to do with it than it has to do with ecclesiastic politics on Mars.  In so far as that heritage is apprehended, it is viewed with enmity.  But in the main it is not apprehended at all.

That is why Beethoven survives.  Of the 110,000,000 so-called human beings who now live in the United States, flogged and crazed by Coolidge, Rotary, the Ku Klux and the newspapers, it is probable that at least 108,000,000 have never heard of him at all.  To these immortals, made in God’s image, one of the greatest artists the human race has ever produced is not even a name.  So far as they are concerned he might as well have died at birth.  The gorgeous and incomparable beauties that he created are nothing to them.  They get no value out of the fact that he existed.  They are completely unaware of what he did in the world, and would not be interested if they were told.

The fact saves good Ludwig’s bacon.  His music survives because it lies outside the plane of the popular apprehension, like the colors beyond violet or the concept of honor.  If it could be brought within range, it would at once arouse hostility.  Its complexity would challenge; its lace of moral purpose would affright.  Soon there would be a movement to put it down, and Baptist clergymen would range the land denouncing it, and in the end some poor musician, taken in the un-American act of playing it, would be put on trial before a jury of Ku Kluxers, and railroaded to the calaboose. …

Dayton, Tenn., July 9. — On the eve of the great contest Dayton is full of sickening surges and tremors of doubt.  Five or six weeks ago, when the infidel Scopes was first laid by the heels, there was no uncertainty in all this smiling valley.  The town boomers leaped to the assault as one man.  Here was an unexampled, almost a miraculous chance to get Dayton upon the front pages, to make it talked about, to put it upon the map.  But how now?

Today, with the curtain barely rung up and the worst buffooneries to come, it is obvious to even town boomers that getting upon the map, like patriotism, is not enough.  The getting there must be managed discreetly, adroitly, with careful regard to psychological niceties.  The boomers of Dayton, alas, had no skill at such things, and the experts they called in were all quacks.  The result now turns the communal liver to water.  Two months ago the town was obscure and happy.  Today it is a universal joke.

I have been attending the permanent town meeting that goes on in Robinson’s drug store, trying to find out what the town optimists have saved from the wreck. All I can find is a sort of mystical confidence that God will somehow come to the rescue to reward His old and faithful partisans as they deserve — that good will flow eventually out of what now seems to be heavily evil. More specifically, it is believed that settlers will be attracted to the town as to some refuge from the atheism of the great urban Sodoms and Gomorrahs.

But will these refugees bring any money with them? Will they buy lots and build houses, Will they light the fires of the cold and silent blast furnace down the railroad tracks? On these points, I regret to report, optimism has to call in theology to aid it. Prayer can accomplish a lot. It can cure diabetes, find lost pocketbooks and restrain husbands from beating their wives. But is prayer made any more efficacious by giving a circus first? Coming to this thought, Dayton begins to sweat.

The town, I confess, greatly surprised me. I expected to find a squalid Southern village, with darkies snoozing on the horse-blocks, pigs rooting under the houses and the inhabitants full of hookworm and malaria. What I found was a country town full of charm and even beauty — a somewhat smallish but nevertheless very attractive Westminster or Balair.

The houses are surrounded by pretty gardens, with cool green lawns and stately trees. The two chief streets are paved from curb to curb. The stores carry good stocks and have a metropolitan air, especially the drug, book, magazine, sporting goods and soda-water emporium of the estimable Robinson. A few of the town ancients still affect galluses and string ties, but the younger bucks are very nattily turned out. Scopes himself, even in his shirt sleeves, would fit into any college campus in America save that of Harvard alone.

Nor is there any evidence in the town of that poisonous spirit which usually shows itself when Christian men gather to defend the great doctrine of their faith. I have heard absolutely no whisper that Scopes is in the pay of the Jesuits, or that the whisky trust is backing him, or that he is egged on by the Jews who manufacture lascivious moving pictures. On the contrary, the Evolutionists and the Anti-Evolutionists seem to be on the best of terms, and it is hard in a group to distinguish one from another.

The basic issues of the case, indeed, seem to be very little discussed at Dayton. What interests everyone is its mere strategy. By what device, precisely, will Bryan trim old Clarence Darrow? Will he do it gently and with every delicacy of forensics, or will he wade in on high gear and make a swift butchery of it? For no one here seems to doubt that Bryan will win — that is, if the bout goes to a finish. What worries the town is the fear that some diabolical higher power will intervene on Darrow’s side — that is, before Bryan heaves him through the ropes.

The lack of Christian heat that I have mentioned is probably due in part to the fact that the fundamentalists are in overwhelming majority as far as the eye can reach — according to most local statisticians, in a majority of at least nine-tenths. There are, in fact, only two downright infidels in all Rhea county, and one of them is charitably assumed to be a bit balmy. The other, a yokel roosting far back in the hills, is probably simply a poet got into the wrong pew. The town account of him is to the effect that he professes to regard death as a beautiful adventure.

When the local ecclesiastics begin alarming the peasantry with word pictures of the last sad scene, and sulphurous fumes begin to choke even Unitarians, this skeptical rustic comes forward with his argument that it is foolish to be afraid of what one knows so little about — that, after all, there is no more genuine evidence that anyone will ever go to hell than there is that the Volstead act will ever be enforced.

Such blasphemous ideas naturally cause talk in a Baptist community, but both of the infidels are unmolested. Rhea county, in fact, is proud of its tolerance, and apparently with good reason. The klan has never got a foothold here, though it rages everywhere else in Tennessee. When the first kleagles came in they got the cold shoulder, and pretty soon they gave up the county as hopeless. It is run today not by anonymous daredevils in white nightshirts, but by well-heeled Free-masons in decorous white aprons. In Dayton alone there are sixty thirty-second-degree Masons — an immense quota for so small a town. They believe in keeping the peace, and so even the stray Catholics of the town are treated politely, though everyone naturally regrets they are required to report to the Pope once a week.

It is probably this unusual tolerance, and not any extraordinary passion for the integrity of Genesis, that has made Dayton the scene of a celebrated case, and got its name upon the front pages, and caused its forward-looking men to begin to wonder uneasily if all advertising is really good advertising.  The trial of Scopes is possible here simply because it can be carried on here without heat — because no one will lose any sleep even if the devil comes to the aid of Darrow and Malone, and Bryan gets a mauling.  The local intelligentsia venerate Bryan as a Christian, but it was not as a Christian that they called him in, but as one adept at attracting the newspaper boys — in brief, as a showman.  As I have said, they now begin to mistrust the show, but they still believe that he will make a good one, win or lose.

Elsewhere, North or South, the combat would become bitter.  Here it retains the lofty qualities of the duello.  I gather the notion, indeed, that the gentlemen who are most active in promoting it are precisely the most lacking in hot conviction — that it is, in its local aspects, rather a joust between neutrals than a battle between passionate believers.  Is it a mere coincidence that the town clergy have been very carefully kept out of it?  There are several Baptist brothers here of such powerful gifts that when they begin belaboring sinners the very rats of the alleys flee to the hills.  They preach dreadfully.  But they are not heard from today.  By some process to me unknown they have been induced to shut up — a far harder business, I venture, than knocking out a lion with a sandbag.  But the sixty thirty-second degree Masons of Dayton have somehow achieved it.

Thus the battle joins and the good red sun shines down.  Dayton lies in a fat and luxuriant valley.  The bottoms are green with corn, pumpkins and young orchards and the hills are full of reliable moonshiners, all save one of them Christian men.  We are not in the South here, but hanging on to the North.  Very little cotton is grown in the valley.  The people in politics are Republicans and put Coolidge next to Lincoln and John Wesley.  The fences are in good repair.  The roads are smooth and hard.  The scene is set for a high-toned and even somewhat swagger combat.  When it is over all the participants save Bryan will shake hands. …

Dayton, Tenn., July 10. — The trial of the infidel Scopes, beginning here this hot, lovely morning, will greatly resemble, I suspect, the trial of a prohibition agent accused of mayhem in Union Hill, N.J.  That is to say, it will be conducted with the most austere regard for the highest principles of jurisprudence.  Judge and jury will go to extreme lengths to assure the prisoner the last and least of his rights.  He will be protected in his person and feelings by the full military and naval power of the State of Tennessee.  No one will be permitted to pull his nose, to pray publicly for his condemnation or even to make a face at him.  But all the same he will be bumped off inevitably when the time comes, and to the applause of all right-thinking men.The real trial, in truth, will not begin until Scopes is convicted and ordered to the hulks.  Then the prisoner will be the Legislature of Tennessee, and the jury will be that great fair, unimpassioned body of enlightened men which has already decided that a horse hair put into a bottle will turn into a snake and that the Kaiser started the late war.  What goes on here is simply a sort of preliminary hearing, with music by the village choir.  For it will be no more possible in this Christian valley to get a jury unprejudiced against Scopes than would be possible in Wall Street to get a jury unprejudiced against a Bolshevik.

I speak of prejudice in its purely philosophical sense.  As I wrote yesterday, there is an almost complete absence, in these pious hills, of the ordinary and familiar malignancy of Christian men.  If the Rev. Dr. Crabbe ever spoke of bootleggers as humanely and affectionately as the town theologians speak of Scopes, and even Darrow and Malone, his employers would pelt him with their spyglasses and sit on him until the ambulance came from Mount Hope.  There is absolutely no bitterness on tap.  But neither is there any doubt.  It has been decided by acclamation, with only a few infidels dissenting, that the hypothesis of evolution is profane, inhumane and against God, and all that remains is to translate that almost unanimous decision into the jargon of the law and so have done.

The town boomers have banqueted Darrow as well as Bryan, but there is no mistaking which of the two has the crowd, which means the venire of tried and true men. Bryan has been oozing around the country since his first day here, addressing this organization and that, presenting the indubitable Word of God in his caressing, ingratiating way, and so making unanimity doubly unanimous. From the defense yesterday came hints that this was making hay before the sun had legally begun to shine — even that it was a sort of contempt of court. But no Daytonian believes anything of the sort. What Bryan says doesn’t seem to these congenial Baptists and Methodists to be argument; it seems to be a mere graceful statement of the obvious.

Meanwhile, reinforcements continue to come in, some of them from unexpected sources. I had the honor of being present yesterday when Col. Patrick Callahan, of Louisville, marched up at the head of his cohort of 250,000,000 Catholic fundamentalists. The two colonels embraced, exchanged a few military and legal pleasantries and then retired up a steep stairway to the office of the Hicks brothers to discuss strategy. Colonel Callahan’s followers were present, of course, only by a legal fiction; the town of Dayton would not hold so large an army. In the actual flesh there were only the colonel himself and his aide-de-camp. Nevertheless, the 250,000,000 were put down as present and recorded as voting.

Later on I had the misfortune to fall into a dispute with Colonel Callahan on a point of canon law. It was my contention that the position of the Roman Church, on matters of doctrine, is not ordinarily stated by laymen — that such matters are usually left to high ecclesiastical authorities, headed by the Bishop of Rome. I also contended, perhaps somewhat fatuously, that there seemed to be a considerable difference of opinion regarding organic evolution among these authorities — that it was possible to find in their writings both ingenious arguments for it and violent protests against it. All these objections Colonel Callahan waived away with a genial gesture. He was here, he said, to do what he could for the authority of the Sacred Scriptures and the aiding and comforting of his old friend, Bryan, and it was all one to him whether atheists yelled or not. Then he began to talk about prohibition, which he favors, and the germ theory of diseases, which he regards as bilge.

A somewhat more plausible volunteer has turned up in the person of Pastor T.T. Martin, of Blue Mountain, Miss.  He has hired a room and stocked it with pamphlets bearing such titles as ‘Evolution a Menace,’ ‘Hell and the High Schools,’ and ‘God or Gorilla,’ and addresses connoisseurs of scientific fallacy every night on a lot behind the Courthouse.  Pastor Martin, a handsome and amiable old gentleman with a great mop of snow-white hair, was a professor of science in a Baptist college for years, and has given profound study to the biological sections of the Old Testament.

He told me today that he regarded the food regulations in Leviticus as so sagacious that their framing must have been a sort of feat even for divinity.  The flesh of the domestic hog, he said, is a rank poison as ordinarily prepared for the table, though it is probably harmless when smoked and salted, as in bacon.  He said that his investigations had shown that seven and a half out of every thirteen cows are quite free of tuberculosis, but that twelve out of every thirteen hogs have it in an advanced and highly communicable form.  The Jews, protected by their piety against devouring pork, are immune to the disease.  In all history, he said, there is authentic record of but one Jew who died of tuberculosis.

The presence of Pastor Martin and Colonel Callahan has given renewed confidence to the prosecution.  The former offers proof that men of science are, after all, not unanimously atheists, and the latter that there is no division between Christians in the face of the common enemy.  But though such encouragements help, they are certainly not necessary.  All they really supply is another layer of icing on the cake.  Dayton will give Scopes a rigidly fair and impartial trial.  All his Constitutional rights will be jealously safeguarded.  The question whether he voted for or against Coolidge will not be permitted to intrude itself into the deliberations of the jury, or the gallant effort of Colonel Bryan to get at and establish the truth.  He will be treated very politely.  Dayton, indeed, is proud of him, as Sauk Center, Minn., is proud of Sinclair Lewis and Whittingham, Vt., of Brigham Young.  But it is lucky for Scopes that sticking pins into Genesis is still only a misdemeanor in Tennessee, punishable by a simple fine, with no alternative of the knout, the stone pile or exile to the Dry Tortugas.”  H.L. Mencken, “Homo Neanderthalensis,” “Mencken Finds Daytonians Full of Sickening Doubts About the Value of Publicity,” & “Impossibility of Obtaining Fair Jury Insures Scopes’ Conviction, Says Mencken;” all for the Baltimore Evening Sun, June, July, 1925   

Charles Tsevis My African star flickr
Charles Tsevis My African star flickr

Numero DosChinua Achebe’s emergence as ‘the founding father of African literature … in the English language,’ in the words of the Harvard University philosopher K. Anthony Appiah, could very well be traced to his encounter in the early fifties with Joyce Cary’s novel Mister Johnson, set in Achebe’s native Nigeria.  Achebe read it while studying at the University College in Idaban during the last years of British colonial rule, and in a curriculum full of Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, Mister Johnson stood out as one of the few books about Africa.  Time magazine had recently declared Mister Johnson the ‘best book ever written about Africa,’ but Achebe and his classmates had quite a different reaction.  The students saw the Nigerian hero as an ’embarrassing nitwit,’ as Achebe writes in his new book, Home and Exile, and detected in the Irish author’s descriptions of Nigerians ‘an undertow of uncharitableness … a contagion of distaste, hatred, and mockery.’  Mister Johnson, Achebe writes, ‘open[ed] my eyes to the fact that my home was under attack and that my home was not merely a house or a town but, more importantly, an awakening story.’

In 1958, Achebe responded with his own novel about Nigeria, Things Fall Apart, which was one of the first books to tell the story of European colonization from an African perspective.  (It has since become a classic, published in fifty languages around the world.)  Things Fall Apart marked a turning point for African authors, who in the fifties and sixties began to take back the narrative of the so-called ‘dark continent.’

Home and Exile, which grew out of three lectures Achebe gave at Harvard in 1998, describes this transition to a new era in literature.  The book is both a kind of autobiography and a rumination on the power stories have to create a sense of dispossession or to confer strength, depending on who is wielding the pen.  Achebe depicts his gradual realization that Mister Johnsonwas just one in a long line of books written by Westerners that presented Africans to the world in a way that Africans didn’t agree with or recognize, and he examines the ‘process of ‘re-storying’ peoples who had been knocked silent by all kinds of dispossession.’  He ends with a hope for the twenty-first century — that this ‘re-storying’ will continue and will eventually result in a ‘balance of stories among the world’s peoples.’

Achebe encourages writers from the Third World to stay where they are and write about their own countries, as a way to help achieve this balance.  Yet he himself has lived in the United States for the past ten years — a reluctant exile.  In 1990, Achebe was in a car accident in Nigeria, and was paralyzed from the waist down.  While recuperating in a London hospital, he received a call from Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, offering him a teaching job and a house built for his needs.  Achebe thought he would be at Bard, a small school in a quiet corner of the Hudson River Valley, for only a year or two, but the political situation in Nigeria kept worsening.  During the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, who ruled from 1993 to 1998, much of Nigeria’s wealth — the country has extensive oil fields — went into the pocket of its leader, and public infrastructure that had been quite good, like hospitals and roads, withered.  In 1999, Olusegan Obasanjo became Nigeria’s first democratically elected President since 1983, and the situation in Nigeria is improving, albeit slowly and shakily.  Achebe is watching from afar, waiting for his country to rebuild itself enough for him to return.

Achebe, who is sixty-nine, has written five novels, including Arrow of God (1964) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), five books of nonfiction, and several collections of short stories and poems.  Achebe spoke recently with Atlantic Unbound‘s Katie Bacon at his home in Annandale-on-Hudson, in New York.

Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe


You have been called the progenitor of the modern African novel, and Things Fall Apart has maintained its resonance in the decades since it was written.  Have you been surprised by the effect the book has had?

Was I surprised?  Yes, at the beginning.  There was no African literature as we know it today.  And so I had no idea when I was writing Things Fall Apart whether it would even be accepted or published.  All of this was new — there was nothing by which I could gauge how it was going to be received.

But, of course, something doesn’t continue to surprise you every day.  After a while I began to understand why the book had resonance.  I began to understand my history even better.  It wasn’t as if when I wrote it I was an expert in the history of the world.  I was a very young man.  I knew I had a story, but how it fit into the story of the world — I really had no sense of that.  Its meaning for my Igbo people was clear to me, but I didn’t know how other people elsewhere would respond to it.   Did it have any meaning or resonance for them?  I realized that it did when, to give you just one example, the whole class of a girls’ college in South Korea wrote to me, and each one expressed an opinion about the book.  And then I learned something, which was that they had a history that was similar to the story of Things Fall Apart — the history of colonization.  This I didn’t know before.  Their colonizer was Japan.   So these people across the waters were able to relate to the story of dispossession in Africa.  People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story, if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.

It seems that people from places that haven’t experienced colonization in the same way have also responded to the story.

There are different forms of dispossession, many, many ways in which people are deprived or subjected to all kinds of victimization — it doesn’t have to be colonization. Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do — it can make us identify with situations and people far away. If it does that, it’s a miracle. I tell my students, it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.

A character in Things Fall Apart remarks that the white man “has put a knife on the things that held us together, and we have fallen apart.” Are those things still severed, or have the wounds begun to heal?

What I was referring to there, or what the speaker in the novel was thinking about, was the upsetting of a society, the disturbing of a social order. The society of Umuofia, the village in Things Fall Apart, was totally disrupted by the coming of the European government, missionary Christianity, and so on. That was not a temporary disturbance; it was a once and for all alteration of their society. To give you the example of Nigeria, where the novel is set, the Igbo people had organized themselves in small units, in small towns and villages, each self-governed. With the coming of the British, Igbo land as a whole was incorporated into a totally different polity, to be called Nigeria, with a whole lot of other people with whom the Igbo people had not had direct contact before. The result of that was not something from which you could recover, really. You had to learn a totally new reality, and accommodate yourself to the demands of this new reality, which is the state called Nigeria. Various nationalities, each of which had its own independent life, were forced by the British to live with people of different customs and habits and priorities and religions. And then at independence, fifty years later, they were suddenly on their own again. They began all over again to learn the rules of independence. The problems that Nigeria is having today could be seen as resulting from this effort that was initiated by colonial rule to create a new nation. There’s nothing to indicate whether it will fail or succeed. It all depends.

One might hear someone say, How long will it take these people to get their act together? It’s going to take a very, very long time, because it’s really been a whole series of interruptions and disturbances, one step forward and two or three back. It has not been easy. One always wishes it had been easier. We’ve compounded things by our own mistakes, but it doesn’t really help to pretend that we’ve had an easy task.

In Home and Exile, you talk about the negative ways in which British authors such as Joseph Conrad and Joyce Cary portrayed Africans over the centuries. What purpose did that portrayal serve?

It was really a straightforward case of setting us up, as it were. The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery. The cruelties of this trade gradually began to trouble many people in Europe. Some people began to question it. But it was a profitable business, and so those who were engaged in it began to defend it — a lobby of people supporting it, justifying it, and excusing it. It was difficult to excuse and justify, and so the steps that were taken to justify it were rather extreme. You had people saying, for instance, that these people weren’t really human, they’re not like us. Or, that the slave trade was in fact a good thing for them, because the alternative to it was more brutal by far.

And therefore, describing this fate that the Africans would have had back home became the motive for the literature that was created about Africa. Even after the slave trade was abolished, in the nineteenth century, something like this literature continued, to serve the new imperialistic needs of Europe in relation to Africa. This continued until the Africans themselves, in the middle of the twentieth century, took into their own hands the telling of their story.
You write in Home and Exile, “After a short period of dormancy and a little self-doubt about its erstwhile imperial mission, the West may be ready to resume its old domineering monologue in the world.” Are some Western writers backpedaling and trying to tell their own version of African stories again?

This tradition that I’m talking about has been in force for hundreds of years, and many generations have been brought up on it. What was preached in the churches by the missionaries and their agents at home all supported a certain view of Africa. When a tradition gathers enough strength to go on for centuries, you don’t just turn it off one day. When the African response began, I think there was an immediate pause on the European side, as if they were saying, Okay, we’ll stop telling this story, because we see there’s another story. But after a while there’s a certain beginning again, not quite a return but something like a reaction to the African story that cannot, of course, ever go as far as the original tradition that the Africans are responding to. There’s a reaction to a reaction, and there will be a further reaction to that. And I think that’s the way it will go, until what I call a balance of stories is secured. And this is really what I personally wish this century to see — a balance of stories where every people will be able to contribute to a definition of themselves, where we are not victims of other people’s accounts. This is not to say that nobody should write about anybody else — I think they should, but those that have been written about should also participate in the making of these stories.

And that’s what started with Things Fall Apart and other books written by Africans around the 1950s.

Yes, that’s what it turned out to be. It was not actually clear to us at the time what we were doing. We were simply writing our story. But the bigger story of how these various accounts tie in, one with the other, is only now becoming clear. We realize and recognize that it’s not just colonized people whose stories have been suppressed, but a whole range of people across the globe who have not spoken. It’s not because they don’t have something to say, it simply has to do with the division of power, because storytelling has to do with power. Those who win tell the story; those who are defeated are not heard. But that has to change. It’s in the interest of everybody, including the winners, to know that there’s another story. If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all.

You’re talking about a shift in power, so there would be more of a balance of power between cultures than there is now?

Well, not a shift in the structure of power. I’m not thinking simply of political power. The shift in power will create stories, but also stories will create a shift in power. So one feeds the other. And the world will be a richer place for that.

Do you see this balance of stories as likely to emerge in this era of globalization and the exporting of American culture?

That’s a real problem. The mindless absorption of American ideas, culture, and behavior around the world is not going to help this balance of stories, and it’s not going to help the world, either. People are limiting themselves to one view of the world that comes from somewhere else. That’s something that we have to battle with as we go along, both as writers and as citizens, because it’s not just in the literary or artistic arena that this is going to show itself. I think one can say this limiting isn’t going to be very healthy for the societies that abandon themselves.

In Anthills of the Savannah the poet Ikem says, “The prime failure of our government is the … failure of our rulers to reestablish vital inner links with the poor and dispossessed of this country, with the bruised heart that throbs painfully at the core of the nation’s being.” Does this hold true for Nigeria today?

Yes, this is very much the Nigerian situation. The British handed over the reins of government to a small group of educated people who then became the new rulers. What Ikem is talking about is the distance between this new class of rulers and the other Nigerian people. What needs to be done is to link the two together again, so that those who control power will see the direct relationship to the people in whose name this power is wielded. This connection does not happen automatically, and has not happened in many instances. In the case of Nigeria, the government of the military dictator General Abacha is a good example. The story coming out of his rule is of an enormous transfer of the country’s wealth into private bank accounts, a wholesale theft of the national resources needed for all kinds of things — for health, for education, for roads. That’s not the action of someone who sees himself as the servant of the Nigerian people. The nation’s infrastructure was left to disintegrate, because of one man’s selfish need to have billions. Or take what is happening today, now that we have gotten rid of this military dictator and are beginning to practice again the system of democratic rule. You have leaders who see nothing wrong in inciting religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. It’s all simply to retain power. So you find now a different kind of alienation. The leadership does not really care for the welfare of the country and its people.

What’s your opinion about the new President, Olusegan Obasanjo? Are you less optimistic about him now than you were when he was elected, in May of 1999?

When I talk about those who incite religious conflict, I’m not talking about him, though there are things maybe you could leave at his door. But I think he has a very difficult job to do. What has happened to the country in the past twenty years or so is really grave, and I’m reluctant to pass judgment on a leader only one year after he’s assumed this almost impossible task. So the jury is still out, as far as I’m concerned. I think some of the steps he’s taken are good; there are some steps he still needs to take, perhaps with greater speed, but then it’s easier to say this from a distance than when you’re actually doing it. Leading a very dynamic country like Nigeria, which has a hundred million people, is not a picnic.

In an Atlantic Unbound interview this past winter Nadine Gordimer said, “English is used by my fellow writers, blacks, who have been the most extreme victims of colonialism. They use it even though they have African languages to choose from. I think that once you’ve mastered a language it’s your own. It can be used against you, but you can free yourself and use it as black writers do — you can claim it and use it.” Do you agree with her?

Yes, I definitely do. English is something you spend your lifetime acquiring, so it would be foolish not to use it. Also, in the logic of colonization and decolonization it is actually a very powerful weapon in the fight to regain what was yours. English was the language of colonization itself. It is not simply something you use because you have it anyway; it is something which you can actively claim to use as an effective weapon, as a counterargument to colonization.

You write that the Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo is on the “right side, on behalf of the poor and afflicted, the kind of ‘nothing people’ V. S. Naipaul would love to hammer into the ground with his well-crafted mallet of deadly prose.” Do you think a writer from a country like Nigeria has a moral obligation to write about his homeland in a certain way?

No, there’s no moral obligation to write in any particular way. But there is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally yourself with power against the powerless. I think an artist, in my definition of that word, would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects. That’s different from prescribing a way in which a writer should write. But I do think decency and civilization would insist that you take sides with the powerless.

There are those who say that media coverage of Africa is one-sided — that it focuses on the famines, social unrest, and political violence, and leaves out coverage of the organizations and countries that are working. Do you agree? If so, what effect does this skewed coverage have? Is it a continuation of the anti-Africa British literature you talk about in Home and Exile?

Yes, I do agree. I think the result has been to create a fatigue, whether it’s charity fatigue or fatigue toward being good to people who are less fortunate. I think that’s a pity. The reason for this concentration on the failings of Africans is the same as what we’ve been talking about — this tradition of bad news, or portraying Africa as a place that is different from the rest of the world, a place where humanity is really not recognizable. When people hear the word Africa, they have come to expect certain images to follow. If you see a good house in Lagos, Nigeria, it doesn’t quite fit the picture you have in your head, because you are looking for the slum — that is what the world expects journalists covering a city in Africa to come back with.

Now, if you are covering America, you are not focusing on slums every day of your life. You see a slum once in a while, maybe you talk about it, but the rest of the time you are talking about other things. It is that ability to see the complexity of a place that the world doesn’t seem to be able to take to Africa, because of this baggage of centuries of reporting about Africa. The result is the world doesn’t really know Africa. If you are an African or you live in Africa, this stands out very clearly to you, you are constantly being bombarded with bad news, and you know that there is good news in many places. This doesn’t mean that the bad news doesn’t exist, that’s not what I’m saying. But it exists alongside other things. Africa is not simple — people want to simplify it. Africa is very complex. Very bad things go on — they should be covered — but there are also some good things.

This is something that comes with this imbalance of power that we’ve been talking about. The people who consume the news that comes back from the rest of the world are probably not really interested in hearing about something that is working. Those who have the ability to send crews out to bring back the news are in a position to determine what the image of the various places should be, because they have the resources to do it. Now, an African country doesn’t have a television crew coming to America, for instance, and picking up the disastrous news. So America sends out wonderful images of its success, power, energy, and politics, and the world is bombarded in a very partial way by good news about the powerful and bad news about the less powerful.

You mentioned that literature was used to justify slavery and imperialism. What is this negative coverage of Africa being used to justify now?

It’s going to be used to justify inaction, which is what this fatigue is all about. Why bother about Africa? Nothing works there, or nothing ever will work. There is a small minority of people who think that way, and they may be pushing this attitude. But even if nobody was pushing it, it would simply happen by itself. This is a case of sheer inertia, something that has been happening for a long time just goes on happening, unless something stops it. It becomes a habit of mind.
You said in a New York Times interview in 1988, “I would be very, very sad to have to live in Europe or America. The relationship between me and the society I write about is so close and so necessary.” What was it like for you to write this book outside of your own country?

Maybe I make it sound as if it’s impossible for me to write outside of Nigeria. That’s really not true. I think what I mean is that it is nourishing for me to be working from Nigeria, there’s a kind of nourishment you get there that you cannot get elsewhere. But it doesn’t mean you cannot work. You can work, you can always use what’s available to you, whether it’s memory, hearsay, news items, or imagination. I intend to write a novel in America. When I have done it, perhaps we can discuss the effect of writing a novel from abroad. It’s not impossible.

Now a related question, which is not exactly the one you’ve asked, is, Why don’t you write a novel about America? The reason for that is not simply that I don’t want to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, it’s just the practical issue of this balance we’ve been talking about. There’s no lack of writers writing novels in America, about America. Therefore, it seems to me it would be wasteful for me to add to that huge number of people writing here when there are so few people writing about somewhere else. So that’s really my reason, it’s nothing mystical. I have no intention of trying to write about America because it would be using up rare energy that should be used to produce something that has no chance of being produced otherwise.

Has living here changed the way you think about Nigeria?

It must have, but this is not something you can weigh and measure. I’ve been struck, for instance, by the impressive way that political transition is managed in America. Nobody living here can miss that if you come from a place like Nigeria which is unable so far to manage political transitions in peace. I wish Nigeria would learn to do this. There are other things, of course, where you wish Americans would learn from Nigerians: the value of people as people, the almost complete absence of race as a factor in thought, in government. That’s something that I really wish for America, because no day passes here without some racial factor coming up somewhere, which is a major burden on this country.

Could you talk about your visit to Nigeria this past summer? What was it like for you to go back there?

It was a very powerful and emotional experience. Emotional mostly because I had not been there in many years, but the circumstances of my leaving Nigeria were very sad, and many people who were responding to my return had that in their mind, and so it was more than simply someone who had not been home in quite a few years. And then you add to that all the travails that Nigeria had gone through in the rule of General Abacha, the severe hardship and punishment that the country had suffered in those years. And the new experiment in democratic rule was also just a few months old when I went home, so it was a very powerful experience.

Do you hope to be able to go back there to live at some point?

Yes, I do indeed.  Things would have to be better than they are now for me to be able to do that.  Things like hospitals that used to be quite good before have been devastated.  The roads you have to take to get to a hospital if the need arises, not to talk about the security of life — both of those would have to improve.  But we are constantly watching the situation.  It’s not just me, but my family.  My wife and children — many of them would be happier functioning at home, because you tend to have your work cut out for you at home.  Here there are so many things to do, but they are not necessarily the things you’d rather be doing.  Whereas at home it’s different — it’s clear what needs to be done, what’s calling for your special skills or special attachment.

What hopes do you have for Nigeria’s future?

I keep hoping, and that hope really is simply a sense of what Nigeria could be or could do, given the immense resources it has — natural resources, but even more so human resources.  There’s a great diversity of vibrant peoples who are not always on the best of terms, but when they are, they can really make things happen.  And one hopes that we will someday be able to realize that potential.

Could you talk about your dream, expressed in Home and Exile, of a ‘universal civilization’ — a civilization that some believe we’ve achieved and others think we haven’t?

What the universal civilization I dream about would be, I really don’t know, but I know what it is not.  It is not what is being presented today, which is clearly just European and American. A universal civilization is something that we will create.  If we accept the thesis that it is desirable to do, then we will go and work on it and talk about it.  We have not really talked about it.  All those who are saying it’s there are really suggesting that it’s there by default — they are saying to us, let’s stop at this point and call what we have a universal civilization.  I don’t think we want to swindle ourselves in that way; I think if we want a universal civilization, we should work to bring it about.  And when it appears, I think we will know, because it will be different from anything we have now.

There may be cultures that may sadly have to go, because no one is rooting for them, but we should make the effort to prevent this.  We have to hold this conversation, which is a conversation of stories, a conversation of languages, and see what happens.”  Chinua Achebe, Interview; Atlantic Magazine, 2000

October Revolution - public domain
October Revolution – public domain

Numero Tres“‘… Kronstadt was the prototype of later events which would lead disillusioned radicals to break with the [Bolshevik] movement and to search for the original purity of their ideals.  The liquidation of the kulaks, the Great Purge, the Nazi-Soviet pact, Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin—each produced an exodus of Party members and supporters who were convinced that the revolution had been betrayed.  ‘What counts decisively,’ wrote Louis Fischer in 1949, ‘is the Kronstadt.  Until its advent, one may waver emotionally or doubt intellectually or even reject the cause altogether in one’s mind and yet refuse to attack it.  I had no such ‘Kronstadt’ for many years. (Avrich, p. 3)’

In March 1921, the Russian Revolution died.  The failure of the March Action in Germany crushed hopes for a ‘permanent revolution’ throughout Europe.  The New Economic Policy (NEP), a partial restoration of capitalism and the market, was introduced that month.  Treaties and trade agreements were signed with no fewer than five nations—three of which (Britain, Persia and Turkey) were battling communist insurgents (for Britain, in its Asian colonies) who quickly lost their support from Moscow (Carr, p. 47).  More than anything else, however, the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion served to illustrate the betrayal of the October Revolution and the degeneration of the Bolsheviks into tyrants.  ‘With the defeat of Kronstadt … the last effective demand for a toilers’ democracy passed into history.  Thereafter totalitarianism, if not inevitable, was the likely eventuality’ (Avrich, p. 229).

The sailors of Kronstadt had once been described by Leon Trotsky as the ‘pride and glory of the Russian Revolution.’  It was a great spiritual blow when the Red Army stormed the island base after ten days of attacks across the frozen water of the Baltic.  Although the Kronstadt uprising was ‘a modest affair’ militarily (Avrich, p. 218), it was the greatest propaganda battle the Bolsheviks had ever entered.  Somehow the Bolshevik upper circles had to convince the world that they were completely justified in crushing the ‘pride and glory’ of the Revolution they had led.  Otherwise, observers would conclude that the leadership itself had become a counter-revolutionary force and was bent on the creation of a totalitarian dictatorship in Russia.

The first shots of the propaganda war were fired as soon as the revolt began.  Government publications and announcements declared that Kronstadt had been taken over by White (Tsarist) forces.  The French and other foreigners were also blamed for the conflict in other official proclamations.  These groundless claims were enough to isolate Kronstadt from potential supporters until the mutiny was suppressed.  After that point, however, the two stories broke down and new ones had to be invented to justify the Bolsheviks’ actions.  In the years following Kronstadt, the Bolsheviks and their descendants would claim that the mutineers wanted to restore capitalism, or that they wanted to destroy the Communist Party.  They would claim that the population at Kronstadt had fundamentally changed and that the new petty-bourgeois sailors were simply throwing a temper tantrum.  They would even claim that the collapse of strikes in Petrograd during the revolt demonstrated the solidarity of the workers with the Bolsheviks and against the Kronstadters.

The truth is that the Kronstadt uprising was not a threat to Soviet Russia. The mutineers were not anti-Bolshevik revolutionaries; they were only idealistic reformers hoping to perfect the results of the October Revolution. None of the myths used to justify the suppression of Kronstadt are accurate. The Bolshevik attack on Kronstadt was little more than a drastic overreaction in the face of a perceived challenge to Bolshevik authority. It was inspired in large part by the dreadful Civil War, which had only ended in 1920 and had put Russia and the communists under a great deal of pressure. Many continue to cling to the old Bolshevik propaganda about Kronstadt, however, and reject this simple explanation. The purpose of this work is to present and refute the claims of the Bolsheviks, in the hope that the true nature of Kronstadt may eventually be accepted.

The real leaders of the rebellion are General Kozlovsky and his aides, Captain Burkser, Kostromitionov, Shirmanovsky, and other White Guards, who are deceiving you with promises of democracy and freedom. In actuality, they are fighting for a restoration of tsarism. (qtd. in Avrich, p. 145)

One of the ‘classic’ myths about the Kronstadt rebellion is that it was led by a White General, with the aim of restoring the old aristocracy. This was one of the first stories that the Bolsheviks created to justify smashing Kronstadt, and, accordingly, it is one of the most easily disproven. The claim that “The White General Kozlovsky” led and organized the rebellion was created before there was even any rebellion to speak of, and it was just as quickly shown to be a lie. Consider the first-hand account of Victor Serge, a member of the Bolshevik Party who was present in Petrograd during the revolt:

On the night of [1 March] I was awoken by the ringing of a telephone in a room at the Astoria next to my own. An agitated voice told me: ‘Kronstadt is in the hands of the Whites. We are all under orders.’

The man who announced this frightful news (frightful because it meant the fall of Petrograd at any minute) was Ilya Ionov, Zinoviev’s brother-in-law. “What Whites? Where did they come from? It’s incredible!”

“A general Kozlovsky” …

… But even before I went to the District Committee I met comrades, rushing out with their revolvers, who claimed that it was an atrocious lie: the sailors had mutinied, it was a naval revolt led by the Soviet… The worst of it all was that we were paralyzed by official falsehoods. It had never happened before that our own Party should lie to us like this. “It’s necessary for the benefit of the people,” said some, who were nonetheless horror-stricken at it all. The strike was now almost general. (Serge, p. 124)

Even before Victor Serge was able to report to duty, he already knew the official propaganda to be nothing more than lies. He later reported that Mikhail Kalinin, the President of Russia, invented the story of Kozlovsky upon his (Kalinin’s) return from the Anchor Square Meeting at the naval base on March 1 (where the Petropavlovsk Resolution was adopted) (Serge, p. 127).

While it is true that there was a former tsarist general at the base, it is clear from all records that this General Kozlovsky did not have anything to do with leading or guiding the rebellion. He had been appointed to the base by Leon Trotsky as an “artillery specialist,” a position which he would retain throughout the revolt. Kozlovsky did give advice to the leaders of the rebellion, such as they were. He, and the other specialists, recommended an assault on Oranienbaum, a town on the mainland south of Kronstadt, in order to seize supplies and prepare for a march on Petrograd. He also argued that the base’s artillery be used to break up the ice which surrounded the island and free the ice-bound ships so that they could take part in the battle. He even urged the Provisional Revolutionary Committee to build barricades in case of a Bolshevik attack (Avrich, p. 138). None of Kozlovsky’s recommendations were pursued by the Kronstadters, despite the fact that they would all have helped the Kronstadters in the military struggle.

This is in part due to the traditional hatred of officers and the upper classes among the Kronstadt sailors, another reason why the myth of Kozlovsky’s leadership is unbelievable. “Given the sailors’ independent spirit and traditional hatred of officers, it is unlikely that Kozlovsky and his colleagues could have won real influence among them” (Avrich, p. 101). These days one must look long and hard to find any Leninists who still hold that Kozlovsky led the Kronstadt rebellion; this myth has been abandoned even by those who created it. Although the story of Kozlovsky’s leadership has been completely discredited, it was once the cornerstone of official Bolshevik policy. It was the first lie the bureaucrats used to justify the destruction of the Kronstadt rebellion, so it is fitting that it is the first to be refuted.

[The Bolsheviks] denounced the men of Kronstadt as counter-revolutionary mutineers, led by a White general. This denunciation appears to have been groundless. (Deutscher, p. 511)

On March 2, Lenin and Trotsky declared the mutiny to be a plot of “White Guard” generals, behind whom stood the SR:s and “French Counterintelligence.” Later on, Stalin’s propaganda would go further still, claiming that the Kronstadt rising had been financed by Washington. (Pipes, p. 382)

The claim that the uprising at Kronstadt had been arranged by aristocratic émigrés or hostile foreign nations was another groundless conspiracy theory. It appeared in the early days of the mutiny, at nearly the same time as the story about Kozlovsky. Like the first, it is now discredited, but served for a time to convince a skeptical world of the necessity of destroying the Kronstadt insurrection as soon as possible. While it is true that “the Russians is exile rejoiced at the uprising and sought to assist the insurgents by every possible means … it is not true that the émigrés had engineered the rebellion” (Avrich, p. 126). As a matter of fact, until March 13 the Kronstadters actually refused to accept the food and medicine (to say nothing of military aid) that was offered by foreigners (and even the Red Cross), despite a desperate lack of supplies (Avrich, p. 121). Nothing ever reached the island.

As with the rebels’ reluctance to heed Kozlovsky’s advice, their refusal to accept aid can be linked to their hatred of the privileged classes. This is another instance in which the sailors’ pride may have cost them a chance to hold out against the Bolsheviks’ attack, had they been but willing to have anything to do with “the bourgeoisie.” The fact that they let all of these chances slip away helps to illustrate the true nature of the revolt. The Kronstadters were in no way agents of the Whites, of the capitalists, or of the émigrés. Instead, they were simply workers and soldiers, fed up with the dictatorship that had descended upon Russia, and eager to reform it.

Our enemies are trying to deceive you. They say that the Kronstadt rebellion was organized by Mensheviks, SR:s, Entente spies, and tsarist generals. Nonsense! If our revolution was made in Paris, then the moon was made in Berlin. (qtd. in Avrich, p. 98)

The Kronstadt uprising did not attract the Petrograd workers. It repelled them. The stratification proceeded along class lines. The workers immediately felt that the Kronstadt mutineers stood on the opposite side of the barricades—and they supported Soviet power. (Trotsky, p. 6)

After the Kronstadt revolt had already been crushed, the Bolshevik authorities found themselves haunted by its memory. Rational observers soon dismissed the charges that the uprising was arranged by émigrés or White generals, and the bureaucrats needed new excuses for their actions. These later justifications were, without exception, far more sophisticated than those that had been created on the spot. Leon Trotsky in particular spent a good deal of time arguing the Bolshevik case in attempts to recruit leftists to his anti-Stalin opposition. One of Trotsky’s later claims tries to show that the workers of Petrograd opposed the revolt, which was therefore anti-proletarian. He weaves this tale by claiming that the collapse of the widespread strikes in the city demonstrated support for the Bolsheviks and opposition to the Kronstadters. A deeper look shows that this is not necessarily the case.

Striking throughout the whole of Russia had grown steadily throughout the winter of 1920-1921, eventually reaching a climax in February, 1921. The strikes and popular unrest were mainly inspired by opposition to the policies of “War Communism,” which had been adopted by the Bolsheviks during the Civil War. Many Russians accepted ‘War Communism’ as a necessary evil during the Civil War, and tolerated it in order to defeat the Whites. However, once the Civil War ended in 1920, opposition to the unnecessary continuation of ‘War Communism’ quickly grew. Among its most despised elements were forced requisitioning of supplies from the countryside, and the “roadblock detachments,” which kept starving urbanites from leaving the cities to look for food. The “militarization of labor” into armies of workers controlled with iron discipline and an authoritarian command hierarchy was another disliked aspect of War Communism.

In Petrograd, strikes started in January and grew for the next two months. As Victor Serge noted, when news about the Kronstadt mutiny reached Petrograd in March, “The strike was now almost general” (Serge, p. 124). As a matter of fact, the Kronstadt rebellion actually began as an action in solidarity with the strikes. On February 26, the battleship Petropavlovsk sent a “Fact-Finding Mission” to Petrograd to investigate the strikes and the situation in general. The return and report of this mission on February 28 was the basis of the Petropavlovsk Resolution, which was adopted the next day during a mass-meeting in Anchor Square. It is odd, is it not, that the strikers should be “repelled” by an action taken in solidarity with them!

The fact of the matter is that Trotsky’s claim is false, although it is not such a blatant lie as the earlier myths that had been created about Kozlovsky and the émigrés. Paul Avrich analyzes the collapse of the strikes in some detail, and has compiled a list of reasons (unrelated to solidarity with the Bolsheviks) that prompted this collapse. Among the most important factors are the armed occupation of Petrograd, mass arrests of dissidents, skilled propaganda coupled with concessions, and simple exhaustion on the part of the strikers. “Overnight Petrograd became an armed camp” (Avrich, p. 46), while at the same time dragnets of the city by the Cheka (the State’s secret security force) rounded up hundreds of workers and thousands of students, intellectuals, and other non-workers in just a few days (p. 47). All the strikes were denounced as counter-revolutionary plots and extra rations were given to the Petrograd workers. The despised roadblock detachments were removed, and news of the pending introduction of the NEP was circulated (p. 49). Above all else, however, “the workers were simply too exhausted to keep up any sustained political activity… What’s more, they lacked effective leadership and a coherent program of action” (p. 50). For these reasons, the strikers in Petrograd gave up the struggle only a few days after the Kronstadters joined them.

This does not reveal, however, the true reaction of the Petrograd strikers to the revolt at Kronstadt. Although the collapse of the strikes had nothing to do with the Kronstadt rebellion, is it still possible that the strikers really did oppose the revolt? Historical evidence suggests otherwise. Victor Serge related how news of Kronstadt brought the strike “to a nearly general character” (Serge, p. 130) and how “pamphlets distributed in the working-class districts put out the demands of the Kronstadt Soviet” (p. 126). Moreover, the revolt inspired additional strikes in other cities, notably Kazan and Nizhnyi Novgorod (Figes, p. 762). Although Trotsky’s justification is more sophisticated than earlier ones, it is shown to be just as inaccurate. The claim that the collapse of the Petrograd strikes showed proletarian opposition to Kronstadt is nothing more than another attempt to cover up the tyrannical actions of the Bolsheviks with respect to the Kronstadt revolt.

[Trotsky] accused the masses inside and outside the Party of sympathizing with Kronstadt. He admitted therefore that at that time the Petrograd workers and the opposition, although they had not resisted by force of arms, none the less extended their sympathy to Kronstadt. (Ciliga, p. 4)

The insurgents did not have a conscious program and they could not have had one because of the very nature of the petty bourgeoisie. (Trotsky, p. 6)

Although they were unable to form links between the Kronstadt mutineers and well-known counterrevolutionaries, the Bolsheviks still tried to claim that the revolt deserved to be crushed due to its very nature. In one article, “Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt,” Leon Trotsky claimed that the Kronstadt revolt had no conscious program, but was simply a random uprising expressing the frustrations of the petty-bourgeois peasantry (p. 6). Strangely, Trotsky forgets to mention the Petropavlovsk Resolution in his analysis of Kronstadt. This is odd, because this Resolution is generally seen as an outline of the revolt’s program. In full, the Petropavlovsk Resolution reads:

Having heard the report of the representatives sent by the general meeting of ships’ crews to Petrograd to investigate the situation there, we resolve:

1. Seeing that the present soviets do not express the wishes of the workers and peasants, to organize immediately re-elections to the Soviets with Secret vote, and with care to allow free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants.

2. To grant liberty of speech and of press to the workers and peasants, to the anarchists and the left socialist parties.

3. To secure freedom of assembly for labor unions and peasant organizations.

4. To call a non-partisan Conference of the workers, Red Army Soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt, and of Petrograd province, no later than March 10th, 1921.

5. To liberate all political prisoners of Socialist parties as well as all workers, peasants, soldiers and Sailors imprisoned in connection with the labor and peasant movements.

6. To elect a Commission to review the cases of those held in prisons and concentration camps.

7. To abolish all ‘politodeli’ [official propaganda] because no party should be given special privileges in the propagation of its ideas or receive financial support from the government for such purposes. Instead there should be established educational and cultural commissions, locally elected and financed by the government.

8. To abolish immediately all ‘Zagryaditelniye otryadi’ [roadblock detachments].

9. To equalize the rations of all who work with the exception of those employed in trades detrimental to health.

10. To abolish the communist fighting detachments in all branches of the army, as well as the communist guards kept on duty in mills and factories. Should such guards or military detachments be found necessary they are to be appointed in the army from the ranks, and in the factories according to the judgment of the workers.

11. To give the peasants full freedom of action in regard to their land and also the right to keep cattle on condition that the peasants manage with their own means; that is, without employing hired labor.

12. To request all branches of the Army, as well as our comrades the military ‘kursanti’ [cadets] to endorse our resolutions.

13. To demand that the press give the fullest publicity to our resolutions.

14. To appoint an itinerant bureau of control.

15. To permit free handicraft production which does not employ hired labor. (Ciliga, p. 2)

The Petropavlovsk Resolution is clearly a program, although Trotsky seems to have forgotten about it. While several of the points deal only with specific grievances, one can find in the others (notably points 1 through 4) seeds of a free socialist society. The progressive program of the Kronstadt rebellion did indeed exist, despite Trotsky’s claim. Again, one finds the Bolsheviks creating their own reality in an effort to justify their inappropriate actions.

These [demands] are primitive formulations, insufficient no doubt, but all of them impregnated with the spirit of October; and no calumny in the world can cast doubt upon the intimate connection existing between this program and the sentiments which guided the expropriations of 1917. (Ciliga, p. 3)

That there were actual counter-revolutionary elements among the sailors was shown by the slogan “Soviets without Bolsheviks.” (Grant, p. 58)

Unable to brush aside the Kronstadt revolt as an White émigré conspiracy and forced to admit that it had a conscious program, modern-day Trotskyists have retreated to the claim that the revolt was counterrevolutionary and therefore had to be crushed. Arch-Trotskyist Ted Grant describes how the revolt was committed to the destruction of the Bolshevik Party, and called for “Soviets without Bolsheviks” (Grant, p. 58). This is in fact not true: ” ‘Soviets without Bolsheviks’ was not … a Kronstadt slogan” (Avrich, p. 181). A close look at the rebellion shows that the Bolsheviks were threatened in no way—the only target was the increasingly totalitarian nature of the single-Party dictatorship.

There were, of course, a large number of Bolshevik Party members at Kronstadt, which had a reputation as a center of revolutionary activity. At the end of the Civil War, the Bolshevik Party had over 4,000 members at Kronstadt a large number for such a small location. However, the end of the Civil War was followed by “a great wave of defections which reduced party membership from 4,000 to 2,000 between September 1920 and March 1921” (Avrich, p. 183). Nearly all of the Bolshevik rank and file at the base backed the uprising when it began in March—only 300 were arrested (and by all accounts treated well) by the Kronstadters during the revolt. While this may seem like a large figure (it was at that point about a fifth of the total membership), it should be kept in mind that the Bolsheviks were under orders to sabotage and undermine the rebellion (Avrich, p. 185). This is all the more impressive when one considers the fact that the relatives of the Kronstadters in Petrograd had been taken hostage by the Bolsheviks, who were also executing other soldiers of questionable loyalty (Avrich, p. 187).

Also worth noting in any discussion about the attitude of the mutineers toward the Bolsheviks are the results of the elections for a new Soviet that occurred a few days into the revolt. Although this Soviet was now open to all parties (not just the Bolsheviks, as had been the case), Bolshevik party members made up a sizable minority—roughly 30%—of the delegates (Avrich, p. 80). This makes it clear that the mutineers did not oppose the Bolsheviks—a good number of them were Bolsheviks themselves! “They were even prepared to accept the Bolsheviks in [the non-Party Soviets] provided they accepted the principals of Soviet democracy and renounced their dictatorship” (Figes, p. 761). Nor was Bolshevik sympathy for the revolt confined to the Kronstadt Party branch. Several Red Army units that attacked the fortress nearly joined the rebellion, despite the placement of special security troops (loyal Bolsheviks with orders to shoot soldiers who wavered) among the ranks and Cheka machine-guns behind their backs. Even high officials including “Gorky, … like many socialists had supported the rebellion from the start” (Figes, p. 767).

Even when two senior Bolsheviks traveled to the base, the rebels showed no signs of aggression or violence. M. I. Kalinin, the President of the People’s Executive, and N. N. Kuzmin, a commissar of the Baltic Fleet, attended the Anchor Square Meeting where the Petropavlovsk Resolution was presented to the base.

When [they] arrived, [they] were met by music, banners, and a military guard of honor, a hopeful sign that serious trouble might soon be averted. Moreover, the Anchor Square meeting opened in a friendly spirit, with the Bolshevik chairman of the Kronstadt Soviet, P. D. Vasiliev, himself presiding. (Avrich, p. 77)

Things started to go downhill, however, when the Bolsheviks addressed the crowd of more than 15,000. The popular Kalinin was heckled by the sailors after he denounced them as traitors and threatened them with “merciless reprisals;” Kuzmin, speaking after him, warned that the base’s “treason would be smashed by the iron hand of the proletariat” and was literally booed off the stage (although both were allowed to leave the fortress peacefully) (Serge, p. 127). Victor Serge claimed that Kalinin and Kuzmin’s “brutal bungling provoked the rebellion … [demonstrating that] right from the first moment, at a time when it was easy to mitigate the conflict, the Bolshevik leaders had no intention of using anything but forceful methods” (p. 127).

The issue of negotiations and a peaceful resolution to the crisis is a delicate one to the Bolsheviks, since it contrasts most clearly the belligerence of the Bolsheviks and the peaceful nature of the revolt. After the Anchor Square debacle, the Bolsheviks made clear their intention to avoid negotiations by arresting over 200 delegates from Kronstadt who had been sent to Petrograd and neighboring areas to explain the position of the mutineers. The next step was the issue of an ultimatum on 5 March by Trotsky, who, in words that “could have been issued by a nineteenth-century provincial governor to the rebellious peasants … warned that the rebels would ‘be shot like partridges’ if they did not give themselves up in twenty-four hours” (Figes, p. 762). Visiting American anarchists offered to serve as mediators in the crisis. They were rebuffed by the Bolshevik leadership and sent on a tour of Russia by train; Russians who offered to mediate were thrown into jail (Serge, p. 128). A parley after the first day of the attack was nothing more than a trap: when members of Kronstadt’s Provisional Revolutionary Committee came out to negotiate, they were taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks (Avrich, p. 155). No real attempt was made by the Bolsheviks to resolve the crisis peacefully, although “the chances were good that the insurgents would have responded to [such an] approach” (Avrich, p. 136).

The non-aggressive nature of the revolt can be seen clearly both in the publications of the Kronstadters and in their actions. The entire Petropavlovsk Resolution was written in a non-threatening tone—note Point 12, which asks for endorsement of the Resolution by other military units. Simply put, the mutineers had no interest in destroying the Soviet State; they simply wanted some of its aspects reformed such as the single party dictatorship and the excesses of ‘War Communism’. Their actions matched their words—recall that none of the common-sense recommendations of General Kozlovsky were pursued at all. While many historians argue that had Kozlovsky’s advice been followed the rebellion might have triumphed, the Kronstadters had no interest in invading the mainland, freeing the battleships from the ice, or even erecting barricades in the town (Avrich, p. 219). The revolt was not founded to attack the Bolsheviks. Rather the rebels naively expected the rest of Russia to rally to their cause and peacefully create a truly free Soviet state: “Comrades, the Kronstadters have raised the banner, and they are confident that tens of millions of workers and peasants will respond to their call” (qtd. in Avrich, p. 199).

The Kronstadt insurrection had shed not a single drop of blood, and merely arrested a few Communist officials, who were treated absolutely correctly; the great majority of Communists … had rallied to the uprising. (Serge, p. 127)

Far from representing the interests of the working class, the Kronstadters were reflecting the pressures of the peasantry, who were becoming increasingly disaffected… After [the introduction of the NEP], there were no more Kronstadts… The peasants had gotten what they wanted. (Grant, p. 59)

Nowadays, the Bolsheviks also attack the Kronstadt revolt for being in the interests of capitalism and the counter-revolution. They claim that the program of the revolt was inspired by the petty-bourgeois peasants and sought the recreation of the free market. The fact of the matter is that the Kronstadt’s economic demands (which can be found in the Petropavlovsk Resolution) are not extreme. The New Economic Policy (NEP) of Lenin and Trotsky actually went considerably further than the Kronstadt demands towards a restoration of capitalism (Avrich, p. 74). The NEP had been drawn up well before the Kronstadt revolt, and was generally seen as a necessary and proper retreat. One did not find many Bolsheviks accusing Lenin of counterrevolutionary conspiracy! Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Kronstadt.

The political demands of the Petropavlovsk Resolution were also the furthest thing from counter-revolutionary as can be imagined. They tend to echo the promises made by the Bolsheviks during 1917—one of the main slogans of the Kronstadt rebellion was actually a take-off of one of the main slogans of the October Revolution: “All Power To The Soviets, But Not To Parties!” The Kronstadt rebellion fought for equality and basic freedoms. It fought for an end to fear and repression, and for democratic government by representative Soviets. These goals can clearly be seen in the list of demands of the Petropavlovsk Resolution, which many modern-day Leninists seem to have misplaced. The actions of the Kronstadters during their 18 days of self-rule were also committed to these goals; the Resolution was not simply literary posturing (Figes, p. 763).

In its ideology, the mutiny was a return to 1917. (Figes, p. 762)

The first lie is to identify the Kronstadt mutineers of 1921 with the heroic Red sailors of 1917. They had nothing in common. The Kronstadt sailors of 1917 were workers and Bolsheviks. (Grant, p. 56)

The last resort of the Trotskyists is to try to claim that the Kronstadters of 1921 were not the Kronstadters of 1917. If this were true, it can be concluded that the Kronstadters really were counter-revolutionaries, not the “pride and glory of the Russian Revolution,” and therefore deserved to be destroyed. Unfortunately for the Bolsheviks, it is not true. “[Kronstadt] was in fact a case of the Bolsheviks being abandoned by their own most favored sons” (Figes, p. 762). Israel Getzler, in his book Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy, has provided hard statistics to support these claims. According to his research, over 94% of the sailors of the battleships Petropavlovsk and the Sevastopol (the leaders of the mutiny) had been sailors in the Baltic Fleet before 1917. He estimates that 75% of the entire Kronstadt garrison were veterans from before the October Revolution (qtd. in Figes, p. 762). It would be superficial to use only these statistics to refute the Bolshevik claim, of course. An in-depth analysis of this critical issue is necessary.

Leon Trotsky claims that all the sailors and soldiers at Kronstadt in 1917 had been sent off to different fronts during the desperate years of the Civil War: “The Baltic Fleet and the Kronstadt garrison were denuded of all revolutionary forces” (p. 3). This occurred “beginning as early as 1918, and in any case not later than 1919” (Trotsky, p. 3). While this would seem to make a good deal of sense, there are a couple of issues that must be kept in mind. First of all, let us not forget that Kronstadt was “the most important base in Russia… whoever controlled Kronstadt controlled Petrograd” (Grant, p. 58). Victor Serge described news of the White occupation of Kronstadt to be “frightful because it meant the fall of Petrograd at any minute” (p. 124). It is unlikely that the Bolsheviks would be shortsighted enough to leave Petrograd open to assault by denuding Kronstadt of all its revolutionary elements. Additionally, one can analyze the British assault on Kronstadt near the end of 1919 (after the time given for the original population to have departed). By all accounts, the Kronstadters performed admirably in this battle, which helped to keep Petrograd from falling into the hands of General Yudenich (Stewart, p. 235). This all demonstrates that Trotsky is at least exaggerating Kronstadt’s loss of personnel during the Civil War, and is possibly involved in outright falsification.

Ted Grant claims that “the Kronstadt garrison of 1921 was composed mainly of raw peasant levies from the Black Sea region. A cursory glance at the surnames of the mutineers immediately shows that they were almost all Ukrainians” (p. 56). Very well—Mr. Grant’s bluff is called. Paul Avrich analyzed hundreds of surnames of those involved with the rebellion, including the Provision Revolutionary Committee; these are his results:

So far as one can judge from these surnames alone—admittedly an uncertain procedure—Great Russians are in the overwhelming majority.  There is no unusual proportion of Ukrainian, Germanic, Baltic, or other names.  Yet the picture is somewhat different when one looks at the membership of the Provision Revolutionary Committee, the general staff of the insurrection.

1. Arkhipov 5. Oreshin 9. Perepelkin 13. Valk
2. Baikov 6. Ososov 10. Petrichenko 14. Vershinin
3. Kilgast 7. Patrushev 11. Romanenko 15. Yakovenko
4. Kupolov 8. Pavlov 12. Tukin

Of the 15 committee members, three (Petrichenko, Yakovenko, and Romanenko) bore patently Ukrainian names and two others (Valk and Kilgast) Germanic names. (p. 92)

The vast majority of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee is ethnic Russian, and the proportion is even larger among the rank and file of the rebels! Mr. Grant’s statement is that the Kronstadters of 1917 had all been replaced with raw Ukrainian peasant levies is obviously incorrect—there was not really any population change at all.

Nor did there need to be a drastic change in population for the Kronstadters to revolt against the Bolsheviks. After all, “the seamen [of Kronstadt] were a traditionally unruly group” (Meijer, p. 848). While in 1917 the extreme radicalism of the Kronstadt sailors served the Bolsheviks, it worked against them in 1921—with no fundamental change necessary. Indeed, throughout the Civil War, there were signs that the Kronstadters only tolerated the Bolshevik dictatorship because it was seen as the lesser of two evils:

Although [the sailors] fought for the Reds during the defense of Petrograd, in October 1919, they only did so to defeat the Whites, whom they saw as an even greater evil than the Bolsheviks. Once the Civil War was over, the sailors turned their anger on the Reds. (Figes, p. 761)

In fact, friction had been growing between the Bolshevik dictatorship and the Kronstadters for years. The first signs came immediately after the October Revolution, when Lenin created a cabinet composed completely of Bolsheviks—against the wishes of the Kronstadt Soviet (Avrich, p. 62). The actions taken by the Bolsheviks during the Civil War—although they were tolerated by the Kronstadters—only increased this tension. Kronstadt had a history of revolutionary maximalism dating back before the October Revolution, and had always been discontent under Bolshevik rule (Avrich, p. 65). No change in population was needed to make this base oppose those it suspected of betraying the revolution.

The Kronstadt rebels of 1921 were essentially the same as those of 1917. The majority of their leaders were veterans of the Kronstadt Fleet… In its personnel, as in its ideology, the mutiny was a return to the revolutionary days of 1917. (Figes, p. 762)

Kronstadt fell in the early morning hours of March 18, 1921. No mercy was shown to the mutineers, while the Bolsheviks celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Paris Commune.

Later that night, some 500 rebels were shot without trial on Zinoviev’s orders: the regular executioner refused to do it, so a brigade of teenage Komsomols was ordered to shoot the sailors instead… During the following months 2,000 more rebels were executed, nearly all of them without trial, while hundreds of others were sent on Lenin’s orders to Solovki, the first big Soviet concentration camp on an island in the White Sea, where they died a slower death… About 8,000 rebels escaped across the ice to Finland, where they were interned and put to public works. Some of them were later lured back to Russia by the promise of an amnesty—only to be shot or sent to concentration camps on their return. (Figes, p. 767)

The Kronstadt Soviet was disbanded, never to reform. Absolute power was given to Pavel Dybenko, who was appointed commander of the fortress by the government. Throughout the rest of the world, horrified radicals were shattered by the fall of Kronstadt. To their eyes, “there could not be a more conclusive proof that the Bolsheviks had turned into tyrants” (Figes, p. 768).

The political fallout of Kronstadt would come back to haunt the victors of the day.  A secret ban on factions within the Bolshevik Party, which was prompted by the Kronstadt revolt, would be used to expel Trotsky from the Party in 1927.  In the 1930s, Trotsky’s struggle to create his own opposition to Stalin’s Soviet Union was hindered by ‘the ghost of Kronstadt, [which] was raised against him by libertarian socialists who recalled his role in the crushing of the rebellion’ (Avrich, p. 229).  To combat this ghost, Trotsky invented a number of stories which he tried to use to justify attacking Kronstadt.  Among them are the claims that the revolt had no program, that there had been a fundamental change in the population at the base, that the rebellion was anti-Bolshevik, and that the rebellion sought the restoration of capitalism, all of which have been refuted.  ‘Moreover, as Dwight MacDonald pointed out, Trotsky never answered the charge that the Bolsheviks handled the revolt with unnecessary intransigence and brutality’ (Avrich, p. 230).  In the end, Trotsky proved unsuccessful in his bid to create a powerful ‘Fourth International,’ and Trotskyist parties remain small, sectarian and disunited to this day.

From the beginning, the Bolsheviks sought only to crush Kronstadt.  There was no legitimate reason for the bureaucracy to turn on the base—the myths of the White General and émigré plots were invented to justify the suppression.  It is true that a sense of paranoia probably motivated Bolshevik actions, but this does not excuse them, especially because new lies were created years after the end of Kronstadt.  Even long after it was clear that the Bolsheviks had been mistaken in their attack on Kronstadt, they created new stories to justify their actions, instead of offering the necessary factual analyses.

Kronstadt was not opposed to Bolshevism; Kronstadt was not a threat to the Soviet State.  It is quite likely that the ‘Kronstadt Plan for a Free Russian Government’ was the only possible alternative to the horrors of Stalinism.  The end of Kronstadt was the end of the Russian Revolution, and the justifications offered by unrepentant Bolsheviks have served only to retard progress and hinder the development of a truly free world.’  David Schaich, “Kronstadt, 1921: An Analysis of Bolshevik Propaganda;” 2001   

Numero Cuatro“How, then, do things stand with freedom?  Here is how Lenin stated his position in a polemic against the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionaries’ critique of Bolshevik power in 1922:

‘Indeed, the sermons which … the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries preach express their true nature: ‘The revolution has gone too far.  What you are saying now we have been saying at[ the time, permit us to say it again.’  But we say in reply: ‘Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that.  Either you refrain from expressing your views, or, if you insist on expressing your political views publicly in the present circumstances, when our position is far more difficult than it was when the white guards were directly attacking us, then you will have only yourselves to blame if we treat you as the worst and most pernicious white guard elements.’

This Leninist freedom of choice — not ‘Life or money!’ but ‘Life or critique!’ — combined with Lenin’s dismissive attitude towards the ‘liberal’ notion of freedom, accounts for his bad reputation among liberals.  Their case largely rests upon their rejection of the standard Marxist-Leninist opposition of ‘formal’ and ‘actual’ freedom: as even Leftist liberals like Claude Lefort emphasize again and again, freedom is in its very notion ‘formal,’ so that ‘actual freedom’ equals the lack of freedom.  That is to say, with regard to freedom, Lenin is best remembered for his famous retort ‘Freedom yes, but for WHOM?  To do WHAT?’ — for him, in the case of the Mensheviks quoted above, their ‘freedom’ to criticize the Bolshevik government effectively amounted to ‘freedom’ to undermine the workers’ and peasants’ government on behalf of the counter-revolution … Today, is it not obvious after the terrifying experience of Really Existing Socialism, where the fault of this reasoning resides?  First, it reduces a historical constellation to a closed, fully contextualized, situation in which the ‘objective’ consequences of one’s acts are fully determined (‘independently of your intentions, what you are doing now objectively serves . . . ‘); second, the position of enunciation of such statements usurps the right to decide what your acts ‘objectively mean,’ so that their apparent ‘objectivism’ (the focus on ‘objective meaning’) is the form of appearance of its opposite, the thorough subjectivism: I decide what your acts objectively mean, since I define the context of a situation (say, if I conceive of my power as the immediate equivalent/expression of the power of the working class, then everyone who opposes me is ‘objectively’ an enemy of the working class).  Against this full contextualization, one should emphasize that freedom is ‘actual’ precisely and only as the capacity to ‘transcend’ the coordinates of a given situation, to ‘posit the presuppositions’ of one’s activity (as Hegel would have put it), i.e. to redefine the very situation within which one is active.  Furthermore, as many a critic pointed out, the very term ‘Really Existing Socialism,’ although it was coined in order to assert Socialism’s success, is in itself a proof of Socialism’s utter failure, i.e. of the failure of the attempt to legitimize Socialist regimes — the term ‘Really Existing Socialism’ popped up at the historical moment when the only legitimizing reason for Socialism was a ‘ mere fact that it exists . . . ‘

Is this, however, the whole story?  How does freedom effectively function in liberal democracies themselves?  Although Clinton’s presidency epitomizes the Third Way of today’s (ex-)Left succumbing to the Rightist ideological blackmail, his health-care reform program would nonetheless amount to a kind of act, at least in today’s conditions, since it would have been based on the rejection of the hegemonic notions of the need to curtail Big State expenditure and administration — in a way, it would ‘do the impossible.’  No wonder, then, that it failed: its failure — perhaps the only significant, although negative, event of Clinton’s presidency bears witness to the material force of the ideological notion of ‘free choice.’  That is to say, although the large majority of the so-called ‘ordinary people’ were not properly acquainted with the reform program, the medical lobby (twice as strong as the infamous defense lobby!) succeeded in imposing on the public the fundamental idea that, with universal health-care free choice (in matters concerning medicine) will be somehow threatened — against this purely fictional reference to ‘free choice,’ all enumeration of ‘hard facts’ (in Canada, health-care is less expensive and more effective, with no less free choice, etc.) proved ineffective.

Here we are at the very nerve center of the liberal ideology: freedom of choice, grounded in the notion of the ‘psychological’ subject endowed with propensities he or she strives to realize.  This especially holds today, in the era of what sociologists like Ulrich Beck call ‘risk society,’ when the ruling ideology endeavors to sell us the insecurity caused by the dismantling of the Welfare State as the opportunity for new freedoms: you have to change jobs every year, relying on short-term contracts instead of a long-term stable appointment.  Why not see it as the liberation from the constraints of a fixed job, as the chance to reinvent yourself again and again, to become aware of and realize hidden potentials of your personality?  You can no longer rely on the standard health insurance and retirement plan, so that you have to opt for additional coverage for which you have to pay.  Why not perceive it as an additional opportunity to choose: either better life now or long-term security?  And if this predicament causes you anxiety, the postmodern or ‘second modernity’ ideologist will immediately accuse you of being unable to assume full freedom, of the ‘escape from freedom,’ of the immature sticking to old stable forms … Even better, when this is inscribed into the ideology of the subject as the psychological individual pregnant with natural abilities and tendencies, then I as it were automatically interpret all these changes as the results of my personality, not as the result of me being thrown around by market forces.

Phenomena like these make it all the more necessary today to REASSERT the opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom in a new, more precise, sense. What we need today, in the era of liberal hegemony, is a “Leninist” traité de la servitude libérale, a new version of la Boétie’s Traiti de la servitude volontaire that would fully justify the apparent oxymoron “liberal totalitarianism.” In experimental psychology, Jean-Léon Beauvois took the first step in this direction with his precise exploration of the paradoxes of conferring on the subject the freedom to choose. Repeated experiments established the following paradox: if, AFTER getting from two groups of volunteers the agreement to participate in an experiment, one informs them that the experiment will involve something unpleasant, against their ethics even, and if, at this point, one reminds the first group that they have the free choice to say no, and says nothing to the other group, in BOTH groups, the SAME (very high) percentage will agree to continue their participation in the experiment.

What this means is that conferring the formal freedom of choice does not make any difference: those given the freedom will do the same thing as those (implicitly) denied it. This, however, does not mean that the reminder/bestowal of the freedom of choice does not make any difference: those given the freedom to choose will not only tend to choose the same as those denied it; they will tend to “rationalize” their “free” decision to continue to participate in the experiment — unable to endure the so-called cognitive dissonance (their awareness that they FREELY acted against their interests, propensities, tastes or norms), they will tend to change their opinion about the act they were asked to accomplish.

Let us say that an individual is first asked to participate in an experiment that concerns changing eating habits in order to fight against famine; then, after agreeing to do it, at the first encounter in the laboratory, he will be asked to swallow a living worm, with the explicit reminder that, if he finds this act repulsive, he can, of course, say no, since he has the complete freedom to choose. In most cases, he will do it, and then rationalize it by way of saying to himself something like: “What I am asked to do IS disgusting, but I am not a coward, 1 should display some courage and self-control, otherwise scientists will perceive me as a weak person who pulls out at the first minor obstacle! Furthermore, a worm does have a lot of proteins and it could effectively be used to feed the poor who am 1 to hinder such an important experiment because of my petty sensitivity? And, finally, maybe my disgust of worms is just a prejudice, maybe a worm is not so bad — and would tasting it not be a new and daring experience? What if it will enable me to discover an unexpected, slightly perverse, dimension of myself that 1 was hitherto unaware of?”

Beauvois enumerates three modes of what brings people to accomplish such an act which runs against their perceived propensities and/or interests: authoritarian (the pure command “You should do it because I say so, without questioning it!”, sustained by the reward if the subject does it and the punishment if he does not do it), totalitarian (the reference to some higher Cause or common Good which is larger than the subject’s perceived interest: “You should do it because, even if it is unpleasant, it serves our Nation, Party, Humanity!”), and liberal (the reference to the subject’s inner nature itself. “What is asked of you may appear repulsive, but look deep into yourself and you will discover that it’s in your true nature to do it, you will find it attractive, you will become aware of new, unexpected, dimensions of your personality!”).

At this point, Beauvois should be corrected: a direct authoritarianism is practically nonexistent — even the most oppressive regime publicly legitimizes its reign with the reference to some Higher Good, and the fact that, ultimately, “you have to obey because I say so” reverberates only as its obscene supplement discernible between the lines. It is rather the specificity of the standard authoritarianism to refer to some higher Good (“whatever your inclinations are, you have to follow my order for the sake of the higher Good!”), while totalitarianism, like liberalism, interpellates the subject on behalf of HIS OWN good (“what may appear to you as an external pressure, is really the expression of your objective interests, of what you REALLY WANT without being aware of it! “). The difference between the two resides elsewhere: totalitarianism” imposes on the subject his or her own good, even if it is against his or her will — recall King Charles’ (in)famous statement: “If any shall be so foolishly unnatural s to oppose their king, their country and their own good, we will make them happy, by God’s blessing — even against their wills. “ (Charles I to the Earl of Essex, 6 August 1 644. ) Here we encounter the later Jacobin theme of happiness as a political factor, as well as the Saint-Justian idea of forcing people to be happy … Liberalism tries to avoid (or, rather, cover up) this paradox by way of clinging to the end to the fiction of the subject’s immediate free self-perception (“I don’t claim to know better than you what you want — just look deep into yourself and decide freely what you want!”).

The reason for this fault in Beauvois’s line of argumentation is that he fails to recognize how the abyssal tautological authority (“It is so because 1 say so!” of the Master) does not work only because of the sanctions (punishment/reward) it implicitly or explicitly evokes. That is to say, what, effectively, makes a subject freely choose what is imposed on him against his interests and/or propensities? Here, the empirical inquiry into “pathological” (in the Kantian sense of the term) motivations is not sufficient: the enunciation of an injunction that imposes on its addressee a symbolic engagement/ commitment evinces an inherent force of its own, so that what seduces us into obeying it is the very feature that may appear to be an obstacle — the absence of a “why.” Here, Lacan can be of some help: the Lacanian “Master-Signifier” designates precisely this hypnotic force of the symbolic injunction which relies only on its own act of enunciation — it is here that we encounter “symbolic efficiency” at its purest. The three ways of legitimizing the exercise of authority (“authoritarian,” “totalitarian,” “liberal”) are nothing but three ways of covering up, of blinding us to the seductive power of the abyss of this empty call. In a way, liberalism is here even the worst of the three, since it NATURALIZES the reasons for obedience into the subject’s internal psychological structure. So the paradox is that “liberal” subjects are in a way those least free: they change the very opinion/perception of themselves, accepting what was IMPOSED on them as originating in their “nature” — they are even no longer AWARE of their subordination.

Let us take the situation in the Eastern European countries around 1990, when Really Existing Socialism was falling apart: all of a sudden, people were thrown into a situation of the “freedom of political choice” — however, were they REALLY at any point asked the fundamental question of what kind of new order they actually wanted? Is it not that they found themselves in the exact situation of the subject-victim of a Beauvois experiment? They were first told that they were entering the promised land of political freedom; then, soon afterwards, they were informed that this freedom involved wild privatization, the dismantling of the system of social security, etc. etc. — they still have the freedom to choose, so if they want, they can step out; but, no, our heroic Eastern Europeans didn’t want to disappoint their Western mentors, they stoically persisted in the choice they never made, convincing themselves that they should behave as mature subjects who are aware that freedom has its price … This is why the notion of the psychological subject endowed with natural propensities, who has to realize its true Self and its potentials, and who is, consequently, ultimately responsible for his failure or success, is the key ingredient of liberal freedom. And here one should risk reintroducing the Leninist opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom: in an act of actual freedom, one dares precisely to BREAK the seductive power of symbolic efficiency. Therein resides the moment of truth of Lenin’s acerbic retort to his Menshevik critics: the truly free choice is a choice in which I do not merely choose between two or more options WITHIN a pre-given set of coordinates, but I choose to change this set of coordinates itself The catch of the “transition” from Really Existing Socialism to capitalism was that people never had the chance to choose the ad quem of this transition — all of a sudden, they were (almost literally) “thrown” into a new situation in which they were presented with a new set of given choices (pure liberalism, nationalist conservatism … ). What this means is that the “actual freedom” as the act of consciously changing this set occurs only when, in the situation of a forced choice, one ACTS AS IF THE CHOICE IS NOT FORCED and “chooses the impossible.”

This is what Lenin’s obsessive tirades against “formal” freedom are about, therein resides their “rational kernel” which is worth saving today: when he emphasizes that there is no “pure” democracy, that we should always ask who does a freedom under consideration serve, which is its role in the class struggle, his point is precisely to maintain the possibility of the TRUE radical choice. This is what the distinction between “formal” and “actual” freedom ultimately amounts to: “formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates. In short, Lenin’s point is not to limit freedom of choice, but to maintain the fundamental Choice — when Lenin asks about the role of a freedom within the class struggle, what he is asking is precisely: “Does this freedom contribute to or constrain the fundamental revolutionary Choice?”

The most popular TV show of the fall of 2000 in France, with the viewer rating two times higher than that of the notorious ‘Big Brother’ reality soaps, was ‘C’est mon choix‘ (‘It is my choice’) on France 3, the talk show whose guest is an ordinary (or, exceptionally, a well-known) person who made a peculiar choice which determined his or her entire life-style: one of them decided never to wear underwear, another tries to find a more appropriate sexual partner for his father and mother — extravagance is allowed, solicited even, but with the explicit exclusion of the choices which may disturb the public (for example, a person whose choice is to be and act as a racist, is a priori excluded).  Can one imagine a better predicament of what the ‘freedom of choice’ effectively amounts to in our liberal societies?  We can go on making our small choices, ‘reinvesting ourselves’ thoroughly, on condition that these choices do not seriously disturb the social and ideological balance.  For ‘C’est mon choix,’ the truly radical thing would have been to focus precisely on the ‘disturbing’ choices: to invite as guests people like dedicated racists, i.e. people whose choice (whose difference) DOES make a difference.  This, also, is the reason why, today, ‘democracy’ is more and more a false issue, a notion so discredited by its predominant use that, perhaps, one should take the risk of abandoning it to the enemy.  Where, how, by whom are the key decisions concerning global social issues made?  Are they made in the public space, through the engaged participation of the majority?  If the answer is yes, it is of secondary importance if the state has a one-party system, etc.  If the answer is no, it is of secondary importance if we have parliamentary democracy and freedom of individual choice.

Did something homologous to the invention of the liberal psychological individual not take place in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s?  The Russian avant-garde art of the early 1920s (futurism, constructivism) not only zealously endorsed industrialization, it even endeavored to reinvent a new industrial man — no longer the old man of sentimental passions and roots in traditions, but the new man who gladly accepts his role as a bolt or screw in the gigantic coordinated industrial Machine.  As such, it was subversive in its very ‘ultra-orthodoxy,’ i.e. in its over-identification with the core of the official ideology: the image of man that we get in Eisenstein, Meyerhold, constructivist paintings, etc., emphasizes the beauty of his/her mechanical movements, his/her thorough depsychologization.  What was perceived in the West as the ultimate nightmare of liberal individualism, as the ideological counterpoint to ‘Taylorization,’ to Fordist ribbon-work, was in Russia hailed as the utopian prospect of liberation: recall how Meyerhold violently asserted the ‘behaviorist’ approach to acting — no longer emphatic familiarization with the person the actor is playing, but ruthless bodily training aimed at cold bodily discipline, at the ability of the actor to perform a series of mechanized movements . . .’  THIS is what was unbearable to AND IN the official Stalinist ideology, so that the Stalinist ‘socialist realism’ effectively WAS an attempt to reassert a ‘Socialism with a human face,’ i.e. to reinscribe the process of industrialization within the constraints of the traditional psychological individual: in the Socialist Realist texts, paintings and films, individuals are no longer rendered as parts of the global Machine, but as warm, passionate persons.

The obvious reproach that imposes itself here is, of course: is the basic characteristic of today’s ‘postmodern’ subject not the exact opposite of the free subject who experienced himself as ultimately responsible for his fate, namely the subject who grounds the authority of his speech on his status of a victim of circumstances beyond his control?  Every contact with another human being is experienced as a potential threat — if the other smokes, if he casts a covetous glance at me, he already hurts me; this logic of victimization is today universalized, reaching well beyond the standard cases of sexual or racist harassment — recall the growing financial industry of paying damage claims, from the tobacco industry deal in the USA and the financial claims of the Holocaust victims and forced laborers in Nazi Germany, and the idea that the USA should pay the African-Americans hundreds of billions of dollars for all they were deprived of due to their past slavery … This notion of the subject as an irresponsible victim involves the extreme Narcissistic perspective from which every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject’s precarious imaginary balance; as such, it is not the opposite, but, rather, the inherent supplement of the liberal free subject: in today’s predominant form of individuality, the self-centered assertion of the psychological subject paradoxically overlaps with the perception of oneself as a victim of circumstances.”  Slavoj Zizek, “The Leninist Freedom;” from Beyond Belief, 2001

3.20.2017 Day in History

main_solstices_equinoxesThis year, today is one of the four important marking points that occur every year, in the Northern Hemisphere the Vernal Equinox, not surprisingly a font of dozens of other celebrations, such as World Sparrow Day, International Day of Happiness, World Storytelling Day, and World Astrology Day, among others; in Rome two thousand sixty years ahead of the present moment, possibly to the day, a baby boy was born who would become the great poet, Ovid; also on the Italian Peninsula, seventeen hundred eighty-two years ago, the first non-Roman took the imperial throne in a period when the empire’s adherents were all on the verge of cannibalizing each other and their plots to plunder the Earth; four hundred fifteen years before the here-and-now, merchants in Holland formed the Dutch East India Company; fourteen years further on, only a year less than four centuries before now, in 1616, Sir Walter Raleigh gained his liberty after thirteen years imprisonment in the Tower of London; eleven decades more proximate to today, in 1726, Isaac Newton spent his last day alive; two and a half centuries and half a decade and two years before this day, Boston lost hundreds of buildings in a “Great Fire;” half a century and half a decade beyond that point, in 1815, across the Atlantic, Napoleon followed up his escape from Elba with his entry into Paris at the head of a plus-or-minus three hundred fifty thousand man military force; thirteen years closer to today, at 1828, the baby who would grow up to become seminal writer Henrik Ibsen uttered his first cry; a hundred sixty-nine years ahead of the current day, revolutionary uprisings in German cities and principalities led Bavaria’s King Ludwig to abdicate; four years exactly after that point, across the Atlantic in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabintwo years hence, in a related development in Wisconsin in 1854, the U.S. Republican Party came into existence;  a century and a year prior to the present pass, Albert Einstein released his general theory of relativity in print; seven years subsequently, in 1923,Chicago’s Arts 463px-Les_Demoiselles_d'AvignonClub hosted the first United States showing of the works of Pablo Picasso; a decade thereafter precisely, in 1933, across the Atlantic, Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of a ‘Concentration Camp’ at Dachau; sixty-five years ago, the U.S. Senate ratified a final treaty to end the war against Japan; four years hence, in 1956, across the Atlantic, Tunisia became independent of French Rule; three hundred sixty-five days later, back on the American side of the Atlantic in 1957, a male infant gave his first cry on his way to a life as filmmaker and thinker, Spike Lee; half a century and three years back, the European Space Research Organization came to be, a predecessor to today’s European Space Agency; one year later, in 1965, Lyndon Johnson sent Federal troops to Alabama during a critical moment of the civil rights movement; twenty-two years before today’s conjunction, twenty riders on Tokyo’s subway system died and well over a thousand suffered injuries in a terrorist application of Sarin nerve gas; seven hundred thirty-one days later, in 1997, acclaimed biographer, essayist, and critic V.S. Pritchett breathed his last; three years subsequent to that occurrence, across the Atlantic in Georgia in 2000, police apprehended Jamil Al Amin—the former writer and revolutionary thinker, H. Rap Brown—for killing one policeman and wounding another, leading to a sensational and controversial trial and the former Black Panther’s life imprisonment.

3.20.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Ovid, circa 18 BCE.
2. Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852.
3. V. S. Pritchett, 1947.

4. H. Rap Brown, 1969.

Numero Uno“WHO is it that can tell me why my bed seems so is hard and why the bedclothes will not stay upon it?  Wherefore has this night–and oh, how long it was!–dragged on, bringing no sleep to my eyes?  Why are my weary limbs visited with restlessness and pain?  If it were Love that had come to make me suffer, surely I should know it.  Or stay, what if he slips in like a thief, what if he comes, without a word of warning, to wound me with his cruel arts?  Yes, ’tis he!  His slender arrows have pierced my heart, and fell Love holds it like a conquered land.   Shall I yield me to him?  Or shall I strive against him, and so add fuel to this sudden flame?  Well, I will yield; burdens willingly borne do lighter weigh.  I know that the flames will leap from the shaken torch and die away in the one you leave alone.  The young oxen which rebel against the yoke are more often beaten than those which willingly submit.  And if a horse be fiery, harsh is the bit that tames him.  When he takes to the fray with a will, he feels the curb less galling.   And so it is with Love; for hearts that struggle and rebel against him, he is more implacable and stern than for such as willingly confess his sway.

Ah well, be it so, Cupid; thy prey am I.  I am a poor captive kneeling with suppliant hands before my conqueror.  What is the use of fighting?  Pardon and peace is what I ask.  And little, I trow, would it redound to your glory, armed as you are, to strike down a defenceless man.  Crown thy brows with myrtle and thy mother’s doves yoke to thy car.  Thy step-father will give thee the chariot that befits thee, and upon that chariot, amid the acclamations of the throng, thou shalt stand a conqueror, guiding with skill thy harnessed birds.  Captives in thy train, youths and maidens shall follow, and splendid shall be thy triumph.  And I, thy latest victim, shall be there with my fresh wound, and with submissive mien I will bear my new-wrought fetters.  Prudence shall be led captive with hands bound behind her back, and Modesty, and whatsoever else is an obstacle to Love.  All things shall be in awe of thee, and stretching forth their arms towards thee the throng with mighty voice shall thunder ‘Io Triumphe!’  Caresses shall be thy escort, and Illusion and Madness, a troop that ever follows in thy train.  With these fighting on thy side, nor men nor gods shall stand against thee; but if their aid be lacking, naked shalt thou be.  Proud to behold thy triumph, thy mother will applaud thee from High Olympus and scatter roses on thy upturned face.  Thy wings and thy locks shall be adorned with precious stones, and all with gold resplendent shalt thou drive thy golden car.  Then too, if I know thee well, thou wilt set countless other hearts on fire, and many a wound shalt deal as thou passest on thy way.  Repose, even when thou art fain to rest, cometh not to thine arrows.  Thy ardent flame turns water itself to vapour.  Such was Bacchus when he triumphed over the land of the Ganges.  Thou art drawn along by doves; his car was drawn by tigers.  Since, then, I am to have a part in thy godlike triumph, lose not the rights which thy victory gives thee over me.  Bethink thee of the victories of thy kinsman Cæsar; he shields the conquered with the very hand that conquers them. …

My prayer is just: let the fair one who has so lately captivated my heart love me ever, or so act that I shall love her ever.  Nay, but ’tis too much I ask!  Only let her suffer herself to be loved.  May Cytherea incline her ear to all my prayers.  Vouchsafe thy favours to a lover who swears that he will serve thee through the years, who knows how to love with pure and lasting fidelity.  If I have no long line of famous ancestors to recommend me, if the founder of our family is but a simple Knight; if innumerable ploughs be not required to till my fields; if my father and mother are constrained to husband our resources, at least let Apollo and his choir the Nine, and the discoverer of the vine, plead with thee in my behalf and Love who gives me unto thee, and faith that shall fail not, irreproachable morals, guileless sincerity and modesty that knows how to blush.  I am none of those who love a hundred women at a time; I am no fickle philanderer.  Thou and only thou, believe me, wilt ever be beloved by me.  Whatsoever the tale of years the fates may spin for me, I will pass them at thy side, and, dying, be lamented by thee.

Vouchsafe to be the joyful subject of my song, and my songs shall be worthy their theme.  ’Twas poesy that gave renown to the nymph Io, affrighted at her horns, and to the fair Leda whom the divine adulterer seduced by taking on the semblance of a swan, and to Europa who, carried off by a fictitious bull, traversed the sea, grasping in her virgin hands the wide horns of her captor.  We too shall be sung throughout the world, and ever my name shall be united with thine own. …

THY lover is a soldier, and Cupid hath his camp.  Aye, believe me, Atticus, every lover is a soldier.  The age which suiteth war is also favourable to Venus.  A fig for an elderly soldier!  A fig for an elderly lover!  The age which generals demand in a brave soldier is the age which a fair young woman demands in the possessor of her charms.  Soldier and lover have, each, their vigil to keep; both couch upon the hard ground; both have their watch to keep, the one at the door of his mistress, the other at the door of his general.  What a weary way the soldier hath to march!  And the lover, when his mistress is exiled, will follow her, with a stout heart, to the uttermost limits of the world.  He will fare over the loftiest mountains and over rivers swollen with rains; he will cleave his way through the snowdrifts.  Is he compelled to cross the seas?  He will not plead that the tempests are let loose; nor will he wait till the weather be propitious for setting sail.  Who but a soldier or a lover will brave the chill nights and the torrents of mingled snow and rain?  The one is sent forward as a scout towards the enemy; the other keepeth watch upon his rival as upon a foe.  The one lays siege to warlike cities, the other to the dwelling of his inexorable mistress.  One beats down gates, the other doors.

Oftentimes it hath brought victory to catch the foe asleep, and to slaughter, sword in hand, an unarmed host.  Thus did the fierce battalions of Thracian Rhesus fall and you, ye captured steeds, forsook your lord.  So, too, a lover oft is able to profit by the husband’s slumbers and to turn his arms against the sleeping foe.  To elude the vigilance of watchmen and sentinels is ever the perilous task alike of the soldier and the lover.

Mars is uncertain and in Venus there is nothing sure.  The conquered rise up again, and those you would deem could never be o’erthrown, fall in their turn.  No longer then let love be held a little thing.  Love demandeth a resourceful mind.   Achilles burns for Briseis torn from his embraces.  Trojans, while his grief allows, smite ye the Grecian host.  Fresh from Andromache’s embraces, Hector went forth to battle.  ’Twas his spouse who placed his helmet on his head.  When he beheld the daughter of Priam, her tresses floating in the wind, the son of Atreus, the first of all the Grecian chiefs, stood, they say, lost in admiration.  Mars himself was caught in the chains which Vulcan had forged.   No tale made a greater stir in heaven than this.  I myself was slothful and not born for work.  My bed and sleep had softened my spirit.  But love for a comely young woman set a term to my indolence.  She enjoined me to make my first campaign in her service.  Since then, thou seest. me ever active and always busy with some nocturnal adventure.  Thou wouldst not be a sluggard?  Well then, love a woman.”  Ovid, The Love Books of Ovid; translated by William H. May, 1930–Elegy II, III, & IX 

fantasy book story tale


In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity

Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P——, in Kentucky.  There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.

For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen.  One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species.  He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world.  He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man.  His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it,—which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction.  His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray’s Grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe. …

His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman; and the arrangements of the house, and the general air of the housekeeping, indicated easy, and even opulent circumstances.  As we before stated, the two were in the midst of an earnest conversation.

‘That is the way I should arrange the matter,’ said Mr. Shelby.

‘I can’t make trade that way—I positively can’t, Mr. Shelby,’ said the other, holding up a glass of wine between his eye and the light.

‘Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere,—steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock.’

‘You mean honest, as niggers go,’ said Haley, helping himself to a glass of brandy.

‘No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow.  He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago; and I believe he really did get it.  I’ve trusted him, since then, with everything I have,—money, house, horses,—and let him come and go round the country; and I always found him true and square in everything.’

‘Some folks don’t believe there is pious niggers Shelby,’ said Haley, with a candid flourish of his hand, ‘but I do.  I had a fellow, now, in this yer last lot I took to Orleans—‘t was as good as a meetin, now, really, to hear that critter pray; and he was quite gentle and quiet like.  He fetched me a good sum, too, for I bought him cheap of a man that was ‘bliged to sell out; so I realized six hundred on him.  Yes, I consider religion a valeyable thing in a nigger, when it’s the genuine article, and no mistake.’

‘Well, Tom’s got the real article, if ever a fellow had,’ rejoined the other.  ‘Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars.  ‘Tom,’ says I to him, ‘I trust you, because I think you’re a Christian—I know you wouldn’t cheat.’  Tom comes back, sure enough; I knew he would.  Some low fellows, they say, said to him—Tom, why don’t you make tracks for Canada?’   ‘Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn’t,’—they told me about it.  I am sorry to part with Tom, I must say.  You ought to let him cover the whole balance of the debt; and you would, Haley, if you had any conscience.’

“Well, I’ve got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep,—just a little, you know, to swear by, as ‘t were,” said the trader, jocularly; “and, then, I’m ready to do anything in reason to ‘blige friends; but this yer, you see, is a leetle too hard on a fellow—a leetle too hard.” The trader sighed contemplatively, and poured out some more brandy.

“Well, then, Haley, how will you trade?” said Mr. Shelby, after an uneasy interval of silence.

“Well, haven’t you a boy or gal that you could throw in with Tom?”

“Hum!—none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it’s only hard necessity makes me willing to sell at all. I don’t like parting with any of my hands, that’s a fact.”

Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room. There was something in his appearance remarkably beautiful and engaging. His black hair, fine as floss silk, hung in glossy curls about his round, dimpled face, while a pair of large dark eyes, full of fire and softness, looked out from beneath the rich, long lashes, as he peered curiously into the apartment. A gay robe of scarlet and yellow plaid, carefully made and neatly fitted, set off to advantage the dark and rich style of his beauty; and a certain comic air of assurance, blended with bashfulness, showed that he had been not unused to being petted and noticed by his master.

“Hulloa, Jim Crow!” said Mr. Shelby, whistling, and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, “pick that up, now!”

The child scampered, with all his little strength, after the prize, while his master laughed.

“Come here, Jim Crow,” said he. The child came up, and the master patted the curly head, and chucked him under the chin.

“Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing.” The boy commenced one of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, in a rich, clear voice, accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body, all in perfect time to the music.

“Bravo!” said Haley, throwing him a quarter of an orange.

“Now, Jim, walk like old Uncle Cudjoe, when he has the rheumatism,” said his master.

Instantly the flexible limbs of the child assumed the appearance of deformity and distortion, as, with his back humped up, and his master’s stick in his hand, he hobbled about the room, his childish face drawn into a doleful pucker, and spitting from right to left, in imitation of an old man.

Both gentlemen laughed uproariously.

“Now, Jim,” said his master, “show us how old Elder Robbins leads the psalm.” The boy drew his chubby face down to a formidable length, and commenced toning a psalm tune through his nose, with imperturbable gravity.

“Hurrah! bravo! what a young ‘un!” said Haley; “that chap’s a case, I’ll promise. Tell you what,” said he, suddenly clapping his hand on Mr. Shelby’s shoulder, “fling in that chap, and I’ll settle the business—I will. Come, now, if that ain’t doing the thing up about the rightest!”

At this moment, the door was pushed gently open, and a young quadroon woman, apparently about twenty-five, entered the room.

There needed only a glance from the child to her, to identify her as its mother. There was the same rich, full, dark eye, with its long lashes; the same ripples of silky black hair. The brown of her complexion gave way on the cheek to a perceptible flush, which deepened as she saw the gaze of the strange man fixed upon her in bold and undisguised admiration. Her dress was of the neatest possible fit, and set off to advantage her finely moulded shape;—a delicately formed hand and a trim foot and ankle were items of appearance that did not escape the quick eye of the trader, well used to run up at a glance the points of a fine female article.

“Well, Eliza?” said her master, as she stopped and looked hesitatingly at him.

“I was looking for Harry, please, sir;” and the boy bounded toward her, showing his spoils, which he had gathered in the skirt of his robe.

“Well, take him away then,” said Mr. Shelby; and hastily she withdrew, carrying the child on her arm.

“By Jupiter,” said the trader, turning to him in admiration, “there’s an article, now! You might make your fortune on that ar gal in Orleans, any day. I’ve seen over a thousand, in my day, paid down for gals not a bit handsomer.”

“I don’t want to make my fortune on her,” said Mr. Shelby, dryly; and, seeking to turn the conversation, he uncorked a bottle of fresh wine, and asked his companion’s opinion of it.

“Capital, sir,—first chop!” said the trader; then turning, and slapping his hand familiarly on Shelby’s shoulder, he added—

“Come, how will you trade about the gal?—what shall I say for her—what’ll you take?”

“Mr. Haley, she is not to be sold,” said Shelby. “My wife would not part with her for her weight in gold.”

“Ay, ay! women always say such things, cause they ha’nt no sort of calculation. Just show ‘em how many watches, feathers, and trinkets, one’s weight in gold would buy, and that alters the case, I reckon.”

“I tell you, Haley, this must not be spoken of; I say no, and I mean no,” said Shelby, decidedly.

“Well, you’ll let me have the boy, though,” said the trader; “you must own I’ve come down pretty handsomely for him.”

“What on earth can you want with the child?” said Shelby.

“Why, I’ve got a friend that’s going into this yer branch of the business—wants to buy up handsome boys to raise for the market. Fancy articles entirely—sell for waiters, and so on, to rich ‘uns, that can pay for handsome ‘uns. It sets off one of yer great places—a real handsome boy to open door, wait, and tend. They fetch a good sum; and this little devil is such a comical, musical concern, he’s just the article!’

“I would rather not sell him,” said Mr. Shelby, thoughtfully; “the fact is, sir, I’m a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir.”

“O, you do?—La! yes—something of that ar natur. I understand, perfectly. It is mighty onpleasant getting on with women, sometimes, I al’ays hates these yer screechin,’ screamin’ times. They are mighty onpleasant; but, as I manages business, I generally avoids ‘em, sir. Now, what if you get the girl off for a day, or a week, or so; then the thing’s done quietly,—all over before she comes home. Your wife might get her some ear-rings, or a new gown, or some such truck, to make up with her.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Lor bless ye, yes! These critters ain’t like white folks, you know; they gets over things, only manage right. Now, they say,” said Haley, assuming a candid and confidential air, “that this kind o’ trade is hardening to the feelings; but I never found it so. Fact is, I never could do things up the way some fellers manage the business. I’ve seen ‘em as would pull a woman’s child out of her arms, and set him up to sell, and she screechin’ like mad all the time;—very bad policy—damages the article—makes ‘em quite unfit for service sometimes. I knew a real handsome gal once, in Orleans, as was entirely ruined by this sort o’ handling. The fellow that was trading for her didn’t want her baby; and she was one of your real high sort, when her blood was up. I tell you, she squeezed up her child in her arms, and talked, and went on real awful. It kinder makes my blood run cold to think of ‘t; and when they carried off the child, and locked her up, she jest went ravin’ mad, and died in a week. Clear waste, sir, of a thousand dollars, just for want of management,—there’s where ‘t is. It’s always best to do the humane thing, sir; that’s been my experience.” And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arm, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce.

The subject appeared to interest the gentleman deeply; for while Mr. Shelby was thoughtfully peeling an orange, Haley broke out afresh, with becoming diffidence, but as if actually driven by the force of truth to say a few words more.

“It don’t look well, now, for a feller to be praisin’ himself; but I say it jest because it’s the truth. I believe I’m reckoned to bring in about the finest droves of niggers that is brought in,—at least, I’ve been told so; if I have once, I reckon I have a hundred times,—all in good case,—fat and likely, and I lose as few as any man in the business. And I lays it all to my management, sir; and humanity, sir, I may say, is the great pillar of mymanagement.”

Mr. Shelby did not know what to say, and so he said, “Indeed!”

“Now, I’ve been laughed at for my notions, sir, and I’ve been talked to. They an’t pop’lar, and they an’t common; but I stuck to ‘em, sir; I’ve stuck to ‘em, and realized well on ‘em; yes, sir, they have paid their passage, I may say,” and the trader laughed at his joke.

There was something so piquant and original in these elucidations of humanity, that Mr. Shelby could not help laughing in company. Perhaps you laugh too, dear reader; but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.

Mr. Shelby’s laugh encouraged the trader to proceed.

“It’s strange, now, but I never could beat this into people’s heads. Now, there was Tom Loker, my old partner, down in Natchez; he was a clever fellow, Tom was, only the very devil with niggers,—on principle ‘t was, you see, for a better hearted feller never broke bread; ‘t was his system, sir. I used to talk to Tom. ‘Why, Tom,’ I used to say, ‘when your gals takes on and cry, what’s the use o’ crackin on’ em over the head, and knockin’ on ‘em round? It’s ridiculous,’ says I, ‘and don’t do no sort o’ good. Why, I don’t see no harm in their cryin’,’ says I; ‘it’s natur,’ says I, ‘and if natur can’t blow off one way, it will another. Besides, Tom,’ says I, ‘it jest spiles your gals; they get sickly, and down in the mouth; and sometimes they gets ugly,—particular yallow gals do,—and it’s the devil and all gettin’ on ‘em broke in. Now,’ says I, ‘why can’t you kinder coax ‘em up, and speak ‘em fair? Depend on it, Tom, a little humanity, thrown in along, goes a heap further than all your jawin’ and crackin’; and it pays better,’ says I, ‘depend on ‘t.’ But Tom couldn’t get the hang on ‘t; and he spiled so many for me, that I had to break off with him, though he was a good-hearted fellow, and as fair a business hand as is goin’.”

“And do you find your ways of managing do the business better than Tom’s?” said Mr. Shelby.

“Why, yes, sir, I may say so. You see, when I any ways can, I takes a leetle care about the onpleasant parts, like selling young uns and that,—get the gals out of the way—out of sight, out of mind, you know,—and when it’s clean done, and can’t be helped, they naturally gets used to it. ‘Tan’t, you know, as if it was white folks, that’s brought up in the way of ‘spectin’ to keep their children and wives, and all that. Niggers, you know, that’s fetched up properly, ha’n’t no kind of ‘spectations of no kind; so all these things comes easier.”

“I’m afraid mine are not properly brought up, then,” said Mr. Shelby.

“S’pose not; you Kentucky folks spile your niggers. You mean well by ‘em, but ‘tan’t no real kindness, arter all. Now, a nigger, you see, what’s got to be hacked and tumbled round the world, and sold to Tom, and Dick, and the Lord knows who, ‘tan’t no kindness to be givin’ on him notions and expectations, and bringin’ on him up too well, for the rough and tumble comes all the harder on him arter. Now, I venture to say, your niggers would be quite chop-fallen in a place where some of your plantation niggers would be singing and whooping like all possessed. Every man, you know, Mr. Shelby, naturally thinks well of his own ways; and I think I treat niggers just about as well as it’s ever worth while to treat ‘em.”

“It’s a happy thing to be satisfied,” said Mr. Shelby, with a slight shrug, and some perceptible feelings of a disagreeable nature.

“Well,” said Haley, after they had both silently picked their nuts for a season, “what do you say?”

“I’ll think the matter over, and talk with my wife,” said Mr. Shelby. “Meantime, Haley, if you want the matter carried on in the quiet way you speak of, you’d best not let your business in this neighborhood be known. It will get out among my boys, and it will not be a particularly quiet business getting away any of my fellows, if they know it, I’ll promise you.”

“O! certainly, by all means, mum! of course. But I’ll tell you. I’m in a devil of a hurry, and shall want to know, as soon as possible, what I may depend on,” said he, rising and putting on his overcoat.

“Well, call up this evening, between six and seven, and you shall have my answer,” said Mr. Shelby, and the trader bowed himself out of the apartment.

“I’d like to have been able to kick the fellow down the steps,” said he to himself, as he saw the door fairly closed, “with his impudent assurance; but he knows how much he has me at advantage. If anybody had ever said to me that I should sell Tom down south to one of those rascally traders, I should have said, ‘Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?’ And now it must come, for aught I see. And Eliza’s child, too! I know that I shall have some fuss with wife about that; and, for that matter, about Tom, too. So much for being in debt,—heigho! The fellow sees his advantage, and means to push it.”

Perhaps the mildest form of the system of slavery is to be seen in the State of Kentucky. The general prevalence of agricultural pursuits of a quiet and gradual nature, not requiring those periodic seasons of hurry and pressure that are called for in the business of more southern districts, makes the task of the negro a more healthful and reasonable one; while the master, content with a more gradual style of acquisition, has not those temptations to hardheartedness which always overcome frail human nature when the prospect of sudden and rapid gain is weighed in the balance, with no heavier counterpoise than the interests of the helpless and unprotected.

Whoever visits some estates there, and witnesses the good-humored indulgence of some masters and mistresses, and the affectionate loyalty of some slaves, might be tempted to dream the oft-fabled poetic legend of a patriarchal institution, and all that; but over and above the scene there broods a portentous shadow—the shadow of law. So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections, only as so many things belonging to a master,—so long as the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kindest owner, may cause them any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil,—so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best regulated administration of slavery.

Mr. Shelby was a fair average kind of man, good-natured and kindly, and disposed to easy indulgence of those around him, and there had never been a lack of anything which might contribute to the physical comfort of the negroes on his estate. He had, however, speculated largely and quite loosely; had involved himself deeply, and his notes to a large amount had come into the hands of Haley; and this small piece of information is the key to the preceding conversation.

Now, it had so happened that, in approaching the door, Eliza had caught enough of the conversation to know that a trader was making offers to her master for somebody.

She would gladly have stopped at the door to listen, as she came out; but her mistress just then calling, she was obliged to hasten away.

Still she thought she heard the trader make an offer for her boy;—could she be mistaken? Her heart swelled and throbbed, and she involuntarily strained him so tight that the little fellow looked up into her face in astonishment.

“Eliza, girl, what ails you today?” said her mistress, when Eliza had upset the wash-pitcher, knocked down the workstand, and finally was abstractedly offering her mistress a long nightgown in place of the silk dress she had ordered her to bring from the wardrobe.

Eliza started. “O, missis!” she said, raising her eyes; then, bursting into tears, she sat down in a chair, and began sobbing.

“Why, Eliza child, what ails you?” said her mistress.

“O! missis, missis,” said Eliza, “there’s been a trader talking with master in the parlor! I heard him.”

“Well, silly child, suppose there has.”

“O, missis, do you suppose mas’r would sell my Harry?” And the poor creature threw herself into a chair, and sobbed convulsively.

“Sell him! No, you foolish girl! You know your master never deals with those southern traders, and never means to sell any of his servants, as long as they behave well. Why, you silly child, who do you think would want to buy your Harry? Do you think all the world are set on him as you are, you goosie? Come, cheer up, and hook my dress. There now, put my back hair up in that pretty braid you learnt the other day, and don’t go listening at doors any more.”

“Well, but, missis, you never would give your consent—to—to—”

“Nonsense, child! to be sure, I shouldn’t. What do you talk so for? I would as soon have one of my own children sold. But really, Eliza, you are getting altogether too proud of that little fellow. A man can’t put his nose into the door, but you think he must be coming to buy him.”

Reassured by her mistress’ confident tone, Eliza proceeded nimbly and adroitly with her toilet, laughing at her own fears, as she proceeded.

Mrs. Shelby was a woman of high class, both intellectually and morally. To that natural magnanimity and generosity of mind which one often marks as characteristic of the women of Kentucky, she added high moral and religious sensibility and principle, carried out with great energy and ability into practical results. Her husband, who made no professions to any particular religious character, nevertheless reverenced and respected the consistency of hers, and stood, perhaps, a little in awe of her opinion. Certain it was that he gave her unlimited scope in all her benevolent efforts for the comfort, instruction, and improvement of her servants, though he never took any decided part in them himself. In fact, if not exactly a believer in the doctrine of the efficiency of the extra good works of saints, he really seemed somehow or other to fancy that his wife had piety and benevolence enough for two—to indulge a shadowy expectation of getting into heaven through her superabundance of qualities to which he made no particular pretension.

The heaviest load on his mind, after his conversation with the trader, lay in the foreseen necessity of breaking to his wife the arrangement contemplated,—meeting the importunities and opposition which he knew he should have reason to encounter.

Mrs. Shelby, being entirely ignorant of her husband’s embarrassments, and knowing only the general kindliness of his temper, had been quite sincere in the entire incredulity with which she had met Eliza’s suspicions. In fact, she dismissed the matter from her mind, without a second thought; and being occupied in preparations for an evening visit, it passed out of her thoughts entirely.


The Mother

Eliza had been brought up by her mistress, from girlhood, as a petted and indulged favorite.

The traveller in the south must often have remarked that peculiar air of refinement, that softness of voice and manner, which seems in many cases to be a particular gift to the quadroon and mulatto women. These natural graces in the quadroon are often united with beauty of the most dazzling kind, and in almost every case with a personal appearance prepossessing and agreeable. Eliza, such as we have described her, is not a fancy sketch, but taken from remembrance, as we saw her, years ago, in Kentucky. Safe under the protecting care of her mistress, Eliza had reached maturity without those temptations which make beauty so fatal an inheritance to a slave. She had been married to a bright and talented young mulatto man, who was a slave on a neighboring estate, and bore the name of George Harris.

This young man had been hired out by his master to work in a bagging factory, where his adroitness and ingenuity caused him to be considered the first hand in the place. He had invented a machine for the cleaning of the hemp, which, considering the education and circumstances of the inventor, displayed quite as much mechanical genius as Whitney’s cotton-gin.*

     *  A machine of this description was really the invention of
     a young colored man in Kentucky. [Mrs. Stowe’s note.]

He was possessed of a handsome person and pleasing manners, and was a general favorite in the factory. Nevertheless, as this young man was in the eye of the law not a man, but a thing, all these superior qualifications were subject to the control of a vulgar, narrow-minded, tyrannical master. This same gentleman, having heard of the fame of George’s invention, took a ride over to the factory, to see what this intelligent chattel had been about. He was received with great enthusiasm by the employer, who congratulated him on possessing so valuable a slave.

He was waited upon over the factory, shown the machinery by George, who, in high spirits, talked so fluently, held himself so erect, looked so handsome and manly, that his master began to feel an uneasy consciousness of inferiority. What business had his slave to be marching round the country, inventing machines, and holding up his head among gentlemen? He’d soon put a stop to it. He’d take him back, and put him to hoeing and digging, and “see if he’d step about so smart.” Accordingly, the manufacturer and all hands concerned were astounded when he suddenly demanded George’s wages, and announced his intention of taking him home.

“But, Mr. Harris,” remonstrated the manufacturer, “isn’t this rather sudden?”

“What if it is?—isn’t the man mine?”

“We would be willing, sir, to increase the rate of compensation.”

“No object at all, sir. I don’t need to hire any of my hands out, unless I’ve a mind to.”

“But, sir, he seems peculiarly adapted to this business.”

“Dare say he may be; never was much adapted to anything that I set him about, I’ll be bound.”

“But only think of his inventing this machine,” interposed one of the workmen, rather unluckily.

“O yes! a machine for saving work, is it? He’d invent that, I’ll be bound; let a nigger alone for that, any time. They are all labor-saving machines themselves, every one of ‘em. No, he shall tramp!”

George had stood like one transfixed, at hearing his doom thus suddenly pronounced by a power that he knew was irresistible. He folded his arms, tightly pressed in his lips, but a whole volcano of bitter feelings burned in his bosom, and sent streams of fire through his veins. He breathed short, and his large dark eyes flashed like live coals; and he might have broken out into some dangerous ebullition, had not the kindly manufacturer touched him on the arm, and said, in a low tone,

“Give way, George; go with him for the present. We’ll try to help you, yet.”

The tyrant observed the whisper, and conjectured its import, though he could not hear what was said; and he inwardly strengthened himself in his determination to keep the power he possessed over his victim.

George was taken home, and put to the meanest drudgery of the farm. He had been able to repress every disrespectful word; but the flashing eye, the gloomy and troubled brow, were part of a natural language that could not be repressed,—indubitable signs, which showed too plainly that the man could not become a thing.

It was during the happy period of his employment in the factory that George had seen and married his wife. During that period,—being much trusted and favored by his employer,—he had free liberty to come and go at discretion. The marriage was highly approved of by Mrs. Shelby, who, with a little womanly complacency in match-making, felt pleased to unite her handsome favorite with one of her own class who seemed in every way suited to her; and so they were married in her mistress’ great parlor, and her mistress herself adorned the bride’s beautiful hair with orange-blossoms, and threw over it the bridal veil, which certainly could scarce have rested on a fairer head; and there was no lack of white gloves, and cake and wine,—of admiring guests to praise the bride’s beauty, and her mistress’ indulgence and liberality. For a year or two Eliza saw her husband frequently, and there was nothing to interrupt their happiness, except the loss of two infant children, to whom she was passionately attached, and whom she mourned with a grief so intense as to call for gentle remonstrance from her mistress, who sought, with maternal anxiety, to direct her naturally passionate feelings within the bounds of reason and religion.

After the birth of little Harry, however, she had gradually become tranquillized and settled; and every bleeding tie and throbbing nerve, once more entwined with that little life, seemed to become sound and healthful, and Eliza was a happy woman up to the time that her husband was rudely torn from his kind employer, and brought under the iron sway of his legal owner.

The manufacturer, true to his word, visited Mr. Harris a week or two after George had been taken away, when, as he hoped, the heat of the occasion had passed away, and tried every possible inducement to lead him to restore him to his former employment.

“You needn’t trouble yourself to talk any longer,” said he, doggedly; “I know my own business, sir.”

“I did not presume to interfere with it, sir. I only thought that you might think it for your interest to let your man to us on the terms proposed.”

“O, I understand the matter well enough. I saw your winking and whispering, the day I took him out of the factory; but you don’t come it over me that way. It’s a free country, sir; the man’s mine, and I do what I please with him,—that’s it!”

And so fell George’s last hope;—nothing before him but a life of toil and drudgery, rendered more bitter by every little smarting vexation and indignity which tyrannical ingenuity could devise.

A very humane jurist once said, The worst use you can put a man to is to hang him. No; there is another use that a man can be put to that is WORSE!


The Husband and Father

Mrs. Shelby had gone on her visit, and Eliza stood in the verandah, rather dejectedly looking after the retreating carriage, when a hand was laid on her shoulder. She turned, and a bright smile lighted up her fine eyes.

“George, is it you? How you frightened me! Well; I am so glad you ‘s come! Missis is gone to spend the afternoon; so come into my little room, and we’ll have the time all to ourselves.”

Saying this, she drew him into a neat little apartment opening on the verandah, where she generally sat at her sewing, within call of her mistress.

“How glad I am!—why don’t you smile?—and look at Harry—how he grows.” The boy stood shyly regarding his father through his curls, holding close to the skirts of his mother’s dress. “Isn’t he beautiful?” said Eliza, lifting his long curls and kissing him.

“I wish he’d never been born!” said George, bitterly. “I wish I’d never been born myself!”

Surprised and frightened, Eliza sat down, leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder, and burst into tears.

“There now, Eliza, it’s too bad for me to make you feel so, poor girl!” said he, fondly; “it’s too bad: O, how I wish you never had seen me—you might have been happy!”

“George! George! how can you talk so? What dreadful thing has happened, or is going to happen? I’m sure we’ve been very happy, till lately.”

“So we have, dear,” said George. Then drawing his child on his knee, he gazed intently on his glorious dark eyes, and passed his hands through his long curls.

“Just like you, Eliza; and you are the handsomest woman I ever saw, and the best one I ever wish to see; but, oh, I wish I’d never seen you, nor you me!”

“O, George, how can you!”

“Yes, Eliza, it’s all misery, misery, misery! My life is bitter as wormwood; the very life is burning out of me. I’m a poor, miserable, forlorn drudge; I shall only drag you down with me, that’s all. What’s the use of our trying to do anything, trying to know anything, trying to be anything? What’s the use of living? I wish I was dead!”

“O, now, dear George, that is really wicked! I know how you feel about losing your place in the factory, and you have a hard master; but pray be patient, and perhaps something—”

“Patient!” said he, interrupting her; “haven’t I been patient? Did I say a word when he came and took me away, for no earthly reason, from the place where everybody was kind to me? I’d paid him truly every cent of my earnings,—and they all say I worked well.”

“Well, it is dreadful,” said Eliza; “but, after all, he is your master, you know.”

“My master! and who made him my master? That’s what I think of—what right has he to me? I’m a man as much as he is. I’m a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand,—and I’ve learned it all myself, and no thanks to him,—I’ve learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me?—to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it; he says he’ll bring me down and humble me, and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest and dirtiest work, on purpose!”

“O, George! George! you frighten me! Why, I never heard you talk so; I’m afraid you’ll do something dreadful. I don’t wonder at your feelings, at all; but oh, do be careful—do, do—for my sake—for Harry’s!”

“I have been careful, and I have been patient, but it’s growing worse and worse; flesh and blood can’t bear it any longer;—every chance he can get to insult and torment me, he takes. I thought I could do my work well, and keep on quiet, and have some time to read and learn out of work hours; but the more he sees I can do, the more he loads on. He says that though I don’t say anything, he sees I’ve got the devil in me, and he means to bring it out; and one of these days it will come out in a way that he won’t like, or I’m mistaken!”

“O dear! what shall we do?” said Eliza, mournfully.

“It was only yesterday,” said George, “as I was busy loading stones into a cart, that young Mas’r Tom stood there, slashing his whip so near the horse that the creature was frightened. I asked him to stop, as pleasant as I could,—he just kept right on. I begged him again, and then he turned on me, and began striking me. I held his hand, and then he screamed and kicked and ran to his father, and told him that I was fighting him. He came in a rage, and said he’d teach me who was my master; and he tied me to a tree, and cut switches for young master, and told him that he might whip me till he was tired;—and he did do it! If I don’t make him remember it, some time!” and the brow of the young man grew dark, and his eyes burned with an expression that made his young wife tremble. “Who made this man my master? That’s what I want to know!” he said.

“Well,” said Eliza, mournfully, “I always thought that I must obey my master and mistress, or I couldn’t be a Christian.”

“There is some sense in it, in your case; they have brought you up like a child, fed you, clothed you, indulged you, and taught you, so that you have a good education; that is some reason why they should claim you. But I have been kicked and cuffed and sworn at, and at the best only let alone; and what do I owe? I’ve paid for all my keeping a hundred times over. I won’t bear it. No, I won’t!” he said, clenching his hand with a fierce frown.

Eliza trembled, and was silent. She had never seen her husband in this mood before; and her gentle system of ethics seemed to bend like a reed in the surges of such passions.

“You know poor little Carlo, that you gave me,” added George; “the creature has been about all the comfort that I’ve had. He has slept with me nights, and followed me around days, and kind o’ looked at me as if he understood how I felt. Well, the other day I was just feeding him with a few old scraps I picked up by the kitchen door, and Mas’r came along, and said I was feeding him up at his expense, and that he couldn’t afford to have every nigger keeping his dog, and ordered me to tie a stone to his neck and throw him in the pond.”

“O, George, you didn’t do it!”

“Do it? not I!—but he did. Mas’r and Tom pelted the poor drowning creature with stones. Poor thing! he looked at me so mournful, as if he wondered why I didn’t save him. I had to take a flogging because I wouldn’t do it myself. I don’t care. Mas’r will find out that I’m one that whipping won’t tame. My day will come yet, if he don’t look out.”

“What are you going to do? O, George, don’t do anything wicked; if you only trust in God, and try to do right, he’ll deliver you.”

“I an’t a Christian like you, Eliza; my heart’s full of bitterness; I can’t trust in God. Why does he let things be so?”

“O, George, we must have faith. Mistress says that when all things go wrong to us, we must believe that God is doing the very best.”

“That’s easy to say for people that are sitting on their sofas and riding in their carriages; but let ‘em be where I am, I guess it would come some harder. I wish I could be good; but my heart burns, and can’t be reconciled, anyhow. You couldn’t in my place,—you can’t now, if I tell you all I’ve got to say. You don’t know the whole yet.”

“What can be coming now?”

“Well, lately Mas’r has been saying that he was a fool to let me marry off the place; that he hates Mr. Shelby and all his tribe, because they are proud, and hold their heads up above him, and that I’ve got proud notions from you; and he says he won’t let me come here any more, and that I shall take a wife and settle down on his place. At first he only scolded and grumbled these things; but yesterday he told me that I should take Mina for a wife, and settle down in a cabin with her, or he would sell me down river.”

“Why—but you were married to me, by the minister, as much as if you’d been a white man!” said Eliza, simply.

“Don’t you know a slave can’t be married? There is no law in this country for that; I can’t hold you for my wife, if he chooses to part us. That’s why I wish I’d never seen you,—why I wish I’d never been born; it would have been better for us both,—it would have been better for this poor child if he had never been born. All this may happen to him yet!”

“O, but master is so kind!”

“Yes, but who knows?—he may die—and then he may be sold to nobody knows who. What pleasure is it that he is handsome, and smart, and bright? I tell you, Eliza, that a sword will pierce through your soul for every good and pleasant thing your child is or has; it will make him worth too much for you to keep.”

The words smote heavily on Eliza’s heart; the vision of the trader came before her eyes, and, as if some one had struck her a deadly blow, she turned pale and gasped for breath. She looked nervously out on the verandah, where the boy, tired of the grave conversation, had retired, and where he was riding triumphantly up and down on Mr. Shelby’s walking-stick. She would have spoken to tell her husband her fears, but checked herself.

“No, no,—he has enough to bear, poor fellow!” she thought. “No, I won’t tell him; besides, it an’t true; Missis never deceives us.”

“So, Eliza, my girl,” said the husband, mournfully, “bear up, now; and good-by, for I’m going.”

“Going, George! Going where?”

“To Canada,” said he, straightening himself up; “and when I’m there, I’ll buy you; that’s all the hope that’s left us. You have a kind master, that won’t refuse to sell you. I’ll buy you and the boy;—God helping me, I will!”

“O, dreadful! if you should be taken?”

“I won’t be taken, Eliza; I’ll die first! I’ll be free, or I’ll die!”

“You won’t kill yourself!”

“No need of that. They will kill me, fast enough; they never will get me down the river alive!”

“O, George, for my sake, do be careful! Don’t do anything wicked; don’t lay hands on yourself, or anybody else! You are tempted too much—too much; but don’t—go you must—but go carefully, prudently; pray God to help you.”

“Well, then, Eliza, hear my plan. Mas’r took it into his head to send me right by here, with a note to Mr. Symmes, that lives a mile past. I believe he expected I should come here to tell you what I have. It would please him, if he thought it would aggravate ‘Shelby’s folks,’ as he calls ‘em. I’m going home quite resigned, you understand, as if all was over. I’ve got some preparations made,—and there are those that will help me; and, in the course of a week or so, I shall be among the missing, some day. Pray for me, Eliza; perhaps the good Lord will hear you.”

“O, pray yourself, George, and go trusting in him; then you won’t do anything wicked.”

“Well, now, good-by,” said George, holding Eliza’s hands, and gazing into her eyes, without moving. They stood silent; then there were last words, and sobs, and bitter weeping,—such parting as those may make whose hope to meet again is as the spider’s web,—and the husband and wife were parted.


An Evening in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The cabin of Uncle Tom was a small log building, close adjoining to “the house,” as the negro par excellence designates his master’s dwelling. In front it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors, and were the delight and pride of Aunt Chloe’s heart.

Let us enter the dwelling. The evening meal at the house is over, and Aunt Chloe, who presided over its preparation as head cook, has left to inferior officers in the kitchen the business of clearing away and washing dishes, and come out into her own snug territories, to “get her ole man’s supper”; therefore, doubt not that it is her you see by the fire, presiding with anxious interest over certain frizzling items in a stew-pan, and anon with grave consideration lifting the cover of a bake-kettle, from whence steam forth indubitable intimations of “something good.” A round, black, shining face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the idea that she might have been washed over with white of eggs, like one of her own tea rusks. Her whole plump countenance beams with satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched checked turban, bearing on it, however, if we must confess it, a little of that tinge of self-consciousness which becomes the first cook of the neighborhood, as Aunt Chloe was universally held and acknowledged to be.

A cook she certainly was, in the very bone and centre of her soul. Not a chicken or turkey or duck in the barn-yard but looked grave when they saw her approaching, and seemed evidently to be reflecting on their latter end; and certain it was that she was always meditating on trussing, stuffing and roasting, to a degree that was calculated to inspire terror in any reflecting fowl living. Her corn-cake, in all its varieties of hoe-cake, dodgers, muffins, and other species too numerous to mention, was a sublime mystery to all less practised compounders; and she would shake her fat sides with honest pride and merriment, as she would narrate the fruitless efforts that one and another of her compeers had made to attain to her elevation.

The arrival of company at the house, the arranging of dinners and suppers “in style,” awoke all the energies of her soul; and no sight was more welcome to her than a pile of travelling trunks launched on the verandah, for then she foresaw fresh efforts and fresh triumphs.

Just at present, however, Aunt Chloe is looking into the bake-pan; in which congenial operation we shall leave her till we finish our picture of the cottage.

In one corner of it stood a bed, covered neatly with a snowy spread; and by the side of it was a piece of carpeting, of some considerable size. On this piece of carpeting Aunt Chloe took her stand, as being decidedly in the upper walks of life; and it and the bed by which it lay, and the whole corner, in fact, were treated with distinguished consideration, and made, so far as possible, sacred from the marauding inroads and desecrations of little folks. In fact, that corner was the drawing-room of the establishment. In the other corner was a bed of much humbler pretensions, and evidently designed for use. The wall over the fireplace was adorned with some very brilliant scriptural prints, and a portrait of General Washington, drawn and colored in a manner which would certainly have astonished that hero, if ever he happened to meet with its like.

On a rough bench in the corner, a couple of woolly-headed boys, with glistening black eyes and fat shining cheeks, were busy in superintending the first walking operations of the baby, which, as is usually the case, consisted in getting up on its feet, balancing a moment, and then tumbling down,—each successive failure being violently cheered, as something decidedly clever.

A table, somewhat rheumatic in its limbs, was drawn out in front of the fire, and covered with a cloth, displaying cups and saucers of a decidedly brilliant pattern, with other symptoms of an approaching meal. At this table was seated Uncle Tom, Mr. Shelby’s best hand, who, as he is to be the hero of our story, we must daguerreotype for our readers. He was a large, broad-chested, powerfully-made man, of a full glossy black, and a face whose truly African features were characterized by an expression of grave and steady good sense, united with much kindliness and benevolence. There was something about his whole air self-respecting and dignified, yet united with a confiding and humble simplicity.

He was very busily intent at this moment on a slate lying before him, on which he was carefully and slowly endeavoring to accomplish a copy of some letters, in which operation he was overlooked by young Mas’r George, a smart, bright boy of thirteen, who appeared fully to realize the dignity of his position as instructor.

“Not that way, Uncle Tom,—not that way,” said he, briskly, as Uncle Tom laboriously brought up the tail of his g the wrong side out; “that makes a q, you see.”

“La sakes, now, does it?” said Uncle Tom, looking with a respectful, admiring air, as his young teacher flourishingly scrawled q’s and g’s innumerable for his edification; and then, taking the pencil in his big, heavy fingers, he patiently recommenced.

“How easy white folks al’us does things!” said Aunt Chloe, pausing while she was greasing a griddle with a scrap of bacon on her fork, and regarding young Master George with pride. “The way he can write, now! and read, too! and then to come out here evenings and read his lessons to us,—it’s mighty interestin’!”

“But, Aunt Chloe, I’m getting mighty hungry,” said George. “Isn’t that cake in the skillet almost done?”

“Mose done, Mas’r George,” said Aunt Chloe, lifting the lid and peeping in,—“browning beautiful—a real lovely brown. Ah! let me alone for dat. Missis let Sally try to make some cake, t’ other day, jes to larn her, she said. ‘O, go way, Missis,’ said I; ‘it really hurts my feelin’s, now, to see good vittles spilt dat ar way! Cake ris all to one side—no shape at all; no more than my shoe; go way!”

And with this final expression of contempt for Sally’s greenness, Aunt Chloe whipped the cover off the bake-kettle, and disclosed to view a neatly-baked pound-cake, of which no city confectioner need to have been ashamed. This being evidently the central point of the entertainment, Aunt Chloe began now to bustle about earnestly in the supper department.

“Here you, Mose and Pete! get out de way, you niggers! Get away, Polly, honey,—mammy’ll give her baby some fin, by and by. Now, Mas’r George, you jest take off dem books, and set down now with my old man, and I’ll take up de sausages, and have de first griddle full of cakes on your plates in less dan no time.”

“They wanted me to come to supper in the house,” said George; “but I knew what was what too well for that, Aunt Chloe.”

“So you did—so you did, honey,” said Aunt Chloe, heaping the smoking batter-cakes on his plate; “you know’d your old aunty’d keep the best for you. O, let you alone for dat! Go way!” And, with that, aunty gave George a nudge with her finger, designed to be immensely facetious, and turned again to her griddle with great briskness.

“Now for the cake,” said Mas’r George, when the activity of the griddle department had somewhat subsided; and, with that, the youngster flourished a large knife over the article in question.

“La bless you, Mas’r George!” said Aunt Chloe, with earnestness, catching his arm, “you wouldn’t be for cuttin’ it wid dat ar great heavy knife! Smash all down—spile all de pretty rise of it. Here, I’ve got a thin old knife, I keeps sharp a purpose. Dar now, see! comes apart light as a feather! Now eat away—you won’t get anything to beat dat ar.”

“Tom Lincon says,” said George, speaking with his mouth full, “that their Jinny is a better cook than you.”

“Dem Lincons an’t much count, no way!” said Aunt Chloe, contemptuously; “I mean, set along side our folks. They ‘s ‘spectable folks enough in a kinder plain way; but, as to gettin’ up anything in style, they don’t begin to have a notion on ‘t. Set Mas’r Lincon, now, alongside Mas’r Shelby! Good Lor! and Missis Lincon,—can she kinder sweep it into a room like my missis,—so kinder splendid, yer know! O, go way! don’t tell me nothin’ of dem Lincons!”—and Aunt Chloe tossed her head as one who hoped she did know something of the world.

“Well, though, I’ve heard you say,” said George, “that Jinny was a pretty fair cook.”

“So I did,” said Aunt Chloe,—“I may say dat. Good, plain, common cookin’, Jinny’ll do;—make a good pone o’ bread,—bile her taters far,—her corn cakes isn’t extra, not extra now, Jinny’s corn cakes isn’t, but then they’s far,—but, Lor, come to de higher branches, and what can she do? Why, she makes pies—sartin she does; but what kinder crust? Can she make your real flecky paste, as melts in your mouth, and lies all up like a puff? Now, I went over thar when Miss Mary was gwine to be married, and Jinny she jest showed me de weddin’ pies. Jinny and I is good friends, ye know. I never said nothin’; but go ‘long, Mas’r George! Why, I shouldn’t sleep a wink for a week, if I had a batch of pies like dem ar. Why, dey wan’t no ‘count ‘t all.”

“I suppose Jinny thought they were ever so nice,” said George.

“Thought so!—didn’t she? Thar she was, showing em, as innocent—ye see, it’s jest here, Jinny don’t know. Lor, the family an’t nothing! She can’t be spected to know! ‘Ta’nt no fault o’ hem. Ah, Mas’r George, you doesn’t know half ‘your privileges in yer family and bringin’ up!” Here Aunt Chloe sighed, and rolled up her eyes with emotion.

“I’m sure, Aunt Chloe, I understand my pie and pudding privileges,” said George. “Ask Tom Lincon if I don’t crow over him, every time I meet him.”

Aunt Chloe sat back in her chair, and indulged in a hearty guffaw of laughter, at this witticism of young Mas’r’s, laughing till the tears rolled down her black, shining cheeks, and varying the exercise with playfully slapping and poking Mas’r Georgey, and telling him to go way, and that he was a case—that he was fit to kill her, and that he sartin would kill her, one of these days; and, between each of these sanguinary predictions, going off into a laugh, each longer and stronger than the other, till George really began to think that he was a very dangerously witty fellow, and that it became him to be careful how he talked “as funny as he could.”

“And so ye telled Tom, did ye? O, Lor! what young uns will be up ter! Ye crowed over Tom? O, Lor! Mas’r George, if ye wouldn’t make a hornbug laugh!”

“Yes,” said George, “I says to him, ‘Tom, you ought to see some of Aunt Chloe’s pies; they’re the right sort,’ says I.”

“Pity, now, Tom couldn’t,” said Aunt Chloe, on whose benevolent heart the idea of Tom’s benighted condition seemed to make a strong impression. “Ye oughter just ask him here to dinner, some o’ these times, Mas’r George,” she added; “it would look quite pretty of ye. Ye know, Mas’r George, ye oughtenter feel ‘bove nobody, on ‘count yer privileges, ‘cause all our privileges is gi’n to us; we ought al’ays to ‘member that,” said Aunt Chloe, looking quite serious.

“Well, I mean to ask Tom here, some day next week,” said George; “and you do your prettiest, Aunt Chloe, and we’ll make him stare. Won’t we make him eat so he won’t get over it for a fortnight?”

“Yes, yes—sartin,” said Aunt Chloe, delighted; “you’ll see. Lor! to think of some of our dinners! Yer mind dat ar great chicken pie I made when we guv de dinner to General Knox? I and Missis, we come pretty near quarrelling about dat ar crust. What does get into ladies sometimes, I don’t know; but, sometimes, when a body has de heaviest kind o’ ‘sponsibility on ‘em, as ye may say, and is all kinder ”seris’ and taken up, dey takes dat ar time to be hangin’ round and kinder interferin’! Now, Missis, she wanted me to do dis way, and she wanted me to do dat way; and, finally, I got kinder sarcy, and, says I, ‘Now, Missis, do jist look at dem beautiful white hands o’ yourn with long fingers, and all a sparkling with rings, like my white lilies when de dew ‘s on ‘em; and look at my great black stumpin hands. Now, don’t ye think dat de Lord must have meant me to make de pie-crust, and you to stay in de parlor? Dar! I was jist so sarcy, Mas’r George.”

“And what did mother say?” said George.

“Say?—why, she kinder larfed in her eyes—dem great handsome eyes o’ hern; and, says she, ‘Well, Aunt Chloe, I think you are about in the right on ‘t,’ says she; and she went off in de parlor. She oughter cracked me over de head for bein’ so sarcy; but dar’s whar ‘t is—I can’t do nothin’ with ladies in de kitchen!”

“Well, you made out well with that dinner,—I remember everybody said so,” said George.

“Didn’t I? And wan’t I behind de dinin’-room door dat bery day? and didn’t I see de General pass his plate three times for some more dat bery pie?—and, says he, ‘You must have an uncommon cook, Mrs. Shelby.’ Lor! I was fit to split myself.

“And de Gineral, he knows what cookin’ is,” said Aunt Chloe, drawing herself up with an air. “Bery nice man, de Gineral! He comes of one of de bery fustest families in Old Virginny! He knows what’s what, now, as well as I do—de Gineral. Ye see, there’s pints in all pies, Mas’r George; but tan’t everybody knows what they is, or as orter be. But the Gineral, he knows; I knew by his ‘marks he made. Yes, he knows what de pints is!”

By this time, Master George had arrived at that pass to which even a boy can come (under uncommon circumstances, when he really could not eat another morsel), and, therefore, he was at leisure to notice the pile of woolly heads and glistening eyes which were regarding their operations hungrily from the opposite corner.

“Here, you Mose, Pete,” he said, breaking off liberal bits, and throwing it at them; “you want some, don’t you? Come, Aunt Chloe, bake them some cakes.”

And George and Tom moved to a comfortable seat in the chimney-corner, while Aunte Chloe, after baking a goodly pile of cakes, took her baby on her lap, and began alternately filling its mouth and her own, and distributing to Mose and Pete, who seemed rather to prefer eating theirs as they rolled about on the floor under the table, tickling each other, and occasionally pulling the baby’s toes.

“O! go long, will ye?” said the mother, giving now and then a kick, in a kind of general way, under the table, when the movement became too obstreperous. “Can’t ye be decent when white folks comes to see ye? Stop dat ar, now, will ye? Better mind yerselves, or I’ll take ye down a button-hole lower, when Mas’r George is gone!”

What meaning was couched under this terrible threat, it is difficult to say; but certain it is that its awful indistinctness seemed to produce very little impression on the young sinners addressed.

“La, now!” said Uncle Tom, “they are so full of tickle all the while, they can’t behave theirselves.”

Here the boys emerged from under the table, and, with hands and faces well plastered with molasses, began a vigorous kissing of the baby.

“Get along wid ye!” said the mother, pushing away their woolly heads. “Ye’ll all stick together, and never get clar, if ye do dat fashion. Go long to de spring and wash yerselves!” she said, seconding her exhortations by a slap, which resounded very formidably, but which seemed only to knock out so much more laugh from the young ones, as they tumbled precipitately over each other out of doors, where they fairly screamed with merriment.

“Did ye ever see such aggravating young uns?” said Aunt Chloe, rather complacently, as, producing an old towel, kept for such emergencies, she poured a little water out of the cracked tea-pot on it, and began rubbing off the molasses from the baby’s face and hands; and, having polished her till she shone, she set her down in Tom’s lap, while she busied herself in clearing away supper. The baby employed the intervals in pulling Tom’s nose, scratching his face, and burying her fat hands in his woolly hair, which last operation seemed to afford her special content.

“Aint she a peart young un?” said Tom, holding her from him to take a full-length view; then, getting up, he set her on his broad shoulder, and began capering and dancing with her, while Mas’r George snapped at her with his pocket-handkerchief, and Mose and Pete, now returned again, roared after her like bears, till Aunt Chloe declared that they “fairly took her head off” with their noise. As, according to her own statement, this surgical operation was a matter of daily occurrence in the cabin, the declaration no whit abated the merriment, till every one had roared and tumbled and danced themselves down to a state of composure.

“Well, now, I hopes you’re done,” said Aunt Chloe, who had been busy in pulling out a rude box of a trundle-bed; “and now, you Mose and you Pete, get into thar; for we’s goin’ to have the meetin’.”

“O mother, we don’t wanter. We wants to sit up to meetin’,—meetin’s is so curis. We likes ‘em.”

“La, Aunt Chloe, shove it under, and let ‘em sit up,” said Mas’r George, decisively, giving a push to the rude machine.

Aunt Chloe, having thus saved appearances, seemed highly delighted to push the thing under, saying, as she did so, “Well, mebbe ‘t will do ‘em some good.”

The house now resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to consider the accommodations and arrangements for the meeting.

“What we’s to do for cheers, now, I declar I don’t know,” said Aunt Chloe. As the meeting had been held at Uncle Tom’s weekly, for an indefinite length of time, without any more “cheers,” there seemed some encouragement to hope that a way would be discovered at present.

“Old Uncle Peter sung both de legs out of dat oldest cheer, last week,” suggested Mose.

“You go long! I’ll boun’ you pulled ‘em out; some o’ your shines,” said Aunt Chloe.

“Well, it’ll stand, if it only keeps jam up agin de wall!” said Mose.

“Den Uncle Peter mus’n’t sit in it, cause he al’ays hitches when he gets a singing. He hitched pretty nigh across de room, t’ other night,” said Pete.

“Good Lor! get him in it, then,” said Mose, “and den he’d begin, ‘Come saints—and sinners, hear me tell,’ and den down he’d go,”—and Mose imitated precisely the nasal tones of the old man, tumbling on the floor, to illustrate the supposed catastrophe.

“Come now, be decent, can’t ye?” said Aunt Chloe; “an’t yer shamed?”

Mas’r George, however, joined the offender in the laugh, and declared decidedly that Mose was a “buster.” So the maternal admonition seemed rather to fail of effect.

“Well, ole man,” said Aunt Chloe, “you’ll have to tote in them ar bar’ls.”

“Mother’s bar’ls is like dat ar widder’s, Mas’r George was reading ‘bout, in de good book,—dey never fails,” said Mose, aside to Peter.

“I’m sure one on ‘em caved in last week,” said Pete, “and let ‘em all down in de middle of de singin’; dat ar was failin’, warnt it?”

During this aside between Mose and Pete, two empty casks had been rolled into the cabin, and being secured from rolling, by stones on each side, boards were laid across them, which arrangement, together with the turning down of certain tubs and pails, and the disposing of the rickety chairs, at last completed the preparation.

“Mas’r George is such a beautiful reader, now, I know he’ll stay to read for us,” said Aunt Chloe; “‘pears like ‘t will be so much more interestin’.”

George very readily consented, for your boy is always ready for anything that makes him of importance.

The room was soon filled with a motley assemblage, from the old gray-headed patriarch of eighty, to the young girl and lad of fifteen. A little harmless gossip ensued on various themes, such as where old Aunt Sally got her new red headkerchief, and how “Missis was a going to give Lizzy that spotted muslin gown, when she’d got her new berage made up;” and how Mas’r Shelby was thinking of buying a new sorrel colt, that was going to prove an addition to the glories of the place. A few of the worshippers belonged to families hard by, who had got permission to attend, and who brought in various choice scraps of information, about the sayings and doings at the house and on the place, which circulated as freely as the same sort of small change does in higher circles.

After a while the singing commenced, to the evident delight of all present. Not even all the disadvantage of nasal intonation could prevent the effect of the naturally fine voices, in airs at once wild and spirited. The words were sometimes the well-known and common hymns sung in the churches about, and sometimes of a wilder, more indefinite character, picked up at camp-meetings.

The chorus of one of them, which ran as follows, was sung with great energy and unction:

“Die on the field of battle,
     Die on the field of battle,
     Glory in my soul.”

Another special favorite had oft repeated the words—

“O, I’m going to glory,—won’t you come along with me?
     Don’t you see the angels beck’ning, and a calling me away?
     Don’t you see the golden city and the everlasting day?”

There were others, which made incessant mention of “Jordan’s banks,” and “Canaan’s fields,” and the “New Jerusalem;” for the negro mind, impassioned and imaginative, always attaches itself to hymns and expressions of a vivid and pictorial nature; and, as they sung, some laughed, and some cried, and some clapped hands, or shook hands rejoicingly with each other, as if they had fairly gained the other side of the river.

Various exhortations, or relations of experience, followed, and intermingled with the singing. One old gray-headed woman, long past work, but much revered as a sort of chronicle of the past, rose, and leaning on her staff, said—“Well, chil’en! Well, I’m mighty glad to hear ye all and see ye all once more, ‘cause I don’t know when I’ll be gone to glory; but I’ve done got ready, chil’en; ‘pears like I’d got my little bundle all tied up, and my bonnet on, jest a waitin’ for the stage to come along and take me home; sometimes, in the night, I think I hear the wheels a rattlin’, and I’m lookin’ out all the time; now, you jest be ready too, for I tell ye all, chil’en,” she said striking her staff hard on the floor, “dat ar glory is a mighty thing! It’s a mighty thing, chil’en,—you don’no nothing about it,—it’s wonderful.” And the old creature sat down, with streaming tears, as wholly overcome, while the whole circle struck up—

“O Canaan, bright Canaan
     I’m bound for the land of Canaan.”

Mas’r George, by request, read the last chapters of Revelation, often interrupted by such exclamations as “The sakes now!” “Only hear that!” “Jest think on ‘t!” “Is all that a comin’ sure enough?”

George, who was a bright boy, and well trained in religious things by his mother, finding himself an object of general admiration, threw in expositions of his own, from time to time, with a commendable seriousness and gravity, for which he was admired by the young and blessed by the old; and it was agreed, on all hands, that “a minister couldn’t lay it off better than he did; that ‘t was reely ‘mazin’!”

Uncle Tom was a sort of patriarch in religious matters, in the neighborhood. Having, naturally, an organization in which the morale was strongly predominant, together with a greater breadth and cultivation of mind than obtained among his companions, he was looked up to with great respect, as a sort of minister among them; and the simple, hearty, sincere style of his exhortations might have edified even better educated persons. But it was in prayer that he especially excelled. Nothing could exceed the touching simplicity, the childlike earnestness, of his prayer, enriched with the language of Scripture, which seemed so entirely to have wrought itself into his being, as to have become a part of himself, and to drop from his lips unconsciously; in the language of a pious old negro, he “prayed right up.” And so much did his prayer always work on the devotional feelings of his audiences, that there seemed often a danger that it would be lost altogether in the abundance of the responses which broke out everywhere around him.

While this scene was passing in the cabin of the man, one quite otherwise passed in the halls of the master.

The trader and Mr. Shelby were seated together in the dining room afore-named, at a table covered with papers and writing utensils.

Mr. Shelby was busy in counting some bundles of bills, which, as they were counted, he pushed over to the trader, who counted them likewise.

“All fair,” said the trader; “and now for signing these yer.”

Mr. Shelby hastily drew the bills of sale towards him, and signed them, like a man that hurries over some disagreeable business, and then pushed them over with the money. Haley produced, from a well-worn valise, a parchment, which, after looking over it a moment, he handed to Mr. Shelby, who took it with a gesture of suppressed eagerness.

“Wal, now, the thing’s done!” said the trader, getting up.

“It’s done!” said Mr. Shelby, in a musing tone; and, fetching a long breath, he repeated, “It’s done!”

“Yer don’t seem to feel much pleased with it, ‘pears to me,” said the trader.

“Haley,” said Mr. Shelby, “I hope you’ll remember that you promised, on your honor, you wouldn’t sell Tom, without knowing what sort of hands he’s going into.”

“Why, you’ve just done it sir,” said the trader.

“Circumstances, you well know, obliged me,” said Shelby, haughtily.

“Wal, you know, they may ‘blige me, too,” said the trader. “Howsomever, I’ll do the very best I can in gettin’ Tom a good berth; as to my treatin’ on him bad, you needn’t be a grain afeard. If there’s anything that I thank the Lord for, it is that I’m never noways cruel.”

After the expositions which the trader had previously given of his humane principles, Mr. Shelby did not feel particularly reassured by these declarations; but, as they were the best comfort the case admitted of, he allowed the trader to depart in silence, and betook himself to a solitary cigar.


Showing the Feelings of Living Property on Changing Owners

Mr. and Mrs. Shelby had retired to their apartment for the night. He was lounging in a large easy-chair, looking over some letters that had come in the afternoon mail, and she was standing before her mirror, brushing out the complicated braids and curls in which Eliza had arranged her hair; for, noticing her pale cheeks and haggard eyes, she had excused her attendance that night, and ordered her to bed. The employment, naturally enough, suggested her conversation with the girl in the morning; and turning to her husband, she said, carelessly,

“By the by, Arthur, who was that low-bred fellow that you lugged in to our dinner-table today?”

“Haley is his name,” said Shelby, turning himself rather uneasily in his chair, and continuing with his eyes fixed on a letter.

“Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?”

“Well, he’s a man that I transacted some business with, last time I was at Natchez,” said Mr. Shelby.

“And he presumed on it to make himself quite at home, and call and dine here, ay?”

“Why, I invited him; I had some accounts with him,” said Shelby.

“Is he a negro-trader?” said Mrs. Shelby, noticing a certain embarrassment in her husband’s manner.

“Why, my dear, what put that into your head?” said Shelby, looking up.

“Nothing,—only Eliza came in here, after dinner, in a great worry, crying and taking on, and said you were talking with a trader, and that she heard him make an offer for her boy—the ridiculous little goose!”

“She did, hey?” said Mr. Shelby, returning to his paper, which he seemed for a few moments quite intent upon, not perceiving that he was holding it bottom upwards.

“It will have to come out,” said he, mentally; “as well now as ever.”

“I told Eliza,” said Mrs. Shelby, as she continued brushing her hair, “that she was a little fool for her pains, and that you never had anything to do with that sort of persons. Of course, I knew you never meant to sell any of our people,—least of all, to such a fellow.”

“Well, Emily,” said her husband, “so I have always felt and said; but the fact is that my business lies so that I cannot get on without. I shall have to sell some of my hands.”

“To that creature? Impossible! Mr. Shelby, you cannot be serious.”

“I’m sorry to say that I am,” said Mr. Shelby. “I’ve agreed to sell Tom.”

“What! our Tom?—that good, faithful creature!—been your faithful servant from a boy! O, Mr. Shelby!—and you have promised him his freedom, too,—you and I have spoken to him a hundred times of it. Well, I can believe anything now,—I can believe now that you could sell little Harry, poor Eliza’s only child!” said Mrs. Shelby, in a tone between grief and indignation.

“Well, since you must know all, it is so. I have agreed to sell Tom and Harry both; and I don’t know why I am to be rated, as if I were a monster, for doing what every one does every day.”

“But why, of all others, choose these?” said Mrs. Shelby. “Why sell them, of all on the place, if you must sell at all?”

“Because they will bring the highest sum of any,—that’s why. I could choose another, if you say so. The fellow made me a high bid on Eliza, if that would suit you any better,” said Mr. Shelby.

“The wretch!” said Mrs. Shelby, vehemently.

“Well, I didn’t listen to it, a moment,—out of regard to your feelings, I wouldn’t;—so give me some credit.”

“My dear,” said Mrs. Shelby, recollecting herself, “forgive me. I have been hasty. I was surprised, and entirely unprepared for this;—but surely you will allow me to intercede for these poor creatures. Tom is a noble-hearted, faithful fellow, if he is black. I do believe, Mr. Shelby, that if he were put to it, he would lay down his life for you.”

“I know it,—I dare say;—but what’s the use of all this?—I can’t help myself.”

“Why not make a pecuniary sacrifice? I’m willing to bear my part of the inconvenience. O, Mr. Shelby, I have tried—tried most faithfully, as a Christian woman should—to do my duty to these poor, simple, dependent creatures. I have cared for them, instructed them, watched over them, and know all their little cares and joys, for years; and how can I ever hold up my head again among them, if, for the sake of a little paltry gain, we sell such a faithful, excellent, confiding creature as poor Tom, and tear from him in a moment all we have taught him to love and value? I have taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife; and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money? I have talked with Eliza about her boy—her duty to him as a Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him, and bring him up in a Christian way; and now what can I say, if you tear him away, and sell him, soul and body, to a profane, unprincipled man, just to save a little money? I have told her that one soul is worth more than all the money in the world; and how will she believe me when she sees us turn round and sell her child?—sell him, perhaps, to certain ruin of body and soul!”

“I’m sorry you feel so about it,—indeed I am,” said Mr. Shelby; “and I respect your feelings, too, though I don’t pretend to share them to their full extent; but I tell you now, solemnly, it’s of no use—I can’t help myself. I didn’t mean to tell you this Emily; but, in plain words, there is no choice between selling these two and selling everything. Either they must go, or all must. Haley has come into possession of a mortgage, which, if I don’t clear off with him directly, will take everything before it. I’ve raked, and scraped, and borrowed, and all but begged,—and the price of these two was needed to make up the balance, and I had to give them up. Haley fancied the child; he agreed to settle the matter that way, and no other. I was in his power, and had to do it. If you feel so to have them sold, would it be any better to have all sold?”

Mrs. Shelby stood like one stricken. Finally, turning to her toilet, she rested her face in her hands, and gave a sort of groan.

“This is God’s curse on slavery!—a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!—a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours,—I always felt it was,—I always thought so when I was a girl,—I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over,—I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom—fool that I was!”

“Why, wife, you are getting to be an abolitionist, quite.”

“Abolitionist! if they knew all I know about slavery, they might talk! We don’t need them to tell us; you know I never thought that slavery was right—never felt willing to own slaves.”

“Well, therein you differ from many wise and pious men,” said Mr. Shelby. “You remember Mr. B.‘s sermon, the other Sunday?”

“I don’t want to hear such sermons; I never wish to hear Mr. B. in our church again. Ministers can’t help the evil, perhaps,—can’t cure it, any more than we can,—but defend it!—it always went against my common sense. And I think you didn’t think much of that sermon, either.”

“Well,” said Shelby, “I must say these ministers sometimes carry matters further than we poor sinners would exactly dare to do. We men of the world must wink pretty hard at various things, and get used to a deal that isn’t the exact thing. But we don’t quite fancy, when women and ministers come out broad and square, and go beyond us in matters of either modesty or morals, that’s a fact. But now, my dear, I trust you see the necessity of the thing, and you see that I have done the very best that circumstances would allow.”

“O yes, yes!” said Mrs. Shelby, hurriedly and abstractedly fingering her gold watch,—“I haven’t any jewelry of any amount,” she added, thoughtfully; “but would not this watch do something?—it was an expensive one, when it was bought. If I could only at least save Eliza’s child, I would sacrifice anything I have.”

“I’m sorry, very sorry, Emily,” said Mr. Shelby, “I’m sorry this takes hold of you so; but it will do no good. The fact is, Emily, the thing’s done; the bills of sale are already signed, and in Haley’s hands; and you must be thankful it is no worse. That man has had it in his power to ruin us all,—and now he is fairly off. If you knew the man as I do, you’d think that we had had a narrow escape.”

“Is he so hard, then?”

“Why, not a cruel man, exactly, but a man of leather,—a man alive to nothing but trade and profit,—cool, and unhesitating, and unrelenting, as death and the grave. He’d sell his own mother at a good percentage—not wishing the old woman any harm, either.”

“And this wretch owns that good, faithful Tom, and Eliza’s child!”

“Well, my dear, the fact is that this goes rather hard with me; it’s a thing I hate to think of. Haley wants to drive matters, and take possession tomorrow. I’m going to get out my horse bright and early, and be off. I can’t see Tom, that’s a fact; and you had better arrange a drive somewhere, and carry Eliza off. Let the thing be done when she is out of sight.”

“No, no,” said Mrs. Shelby; “I’ll be in no sense accomplice or help in this cruel business. I’ll go and see poor old Tom, God help him, in his distress! They shall see, at any rate, that their mistress can feel for and with them. As to Eliza, I dare not think about it. The Lord forgive us! What have we done, that this cruel necessity should come on us?”

There was one listener to this conversation whom Mr. and Mrs. Shelby little suspected.

Communicating with their apartment was a large closet, opening by a door into the outer passage. When Mrs. Shelby had dismissed Eliza for the night, her feverish and excited mind had suggested the idea of this closet; and she had hidden herself there, and, with her ear pressed close against the crack of the door, had lost not a word of the conversation.

When the voices died into silence, she rose and crept stealthily away. Pale, shivering, with rigid features and compressed lips, she looked an entirely altered being from the soft and timid creature she had been hitherto. She moved cautiously along the entry, paused one moment at her mistress’ door, and raised her hands in mute appeal to Heaven, and then turned and glided into her own room. It was a quiet, neat apartment, on the same floor with her mistress. There was a pleasant sunny window, where she had often sat singing at her sewing; there a little case of books, and various little fancy articles, ranged by them, the gifts of Christmas holidays; there was her simple wardrobe in the closet and in the drawers:—here was, in short, her home; and, on the whole, a happy one it had been to her. But there, on the bed, lay her slumbering boy, his long curls falling negligently around his unconscious face, his rosy mouth half open, his little fat hands thrown out over the bedclothes, and a smile spread like a sunbeam over his whole face.

“Poor boy! poor fellow!” said Eliza; “they have sold you! but your mother will save you yet!”

No tear dropped over that pillow; in such straits as these, the heart has no tears to give,—it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence. She took a piece of paper and a pencil, and wrote, hastily,

“O, Missis! dear Missis! don’t think me ungrateful,—don’t think hard of me, any way,—I heard all you and master said tonight. I am going to try to save my boy—you will not blame me! God bless and reward you for all your kindness!”

Hastily folding and directing this, she went to a drawer and made up a little package of clothing for her boy, which she tied with a handkerchief firmly round her waist; and, so fond is a mother’s remembrance, that, even in the terrors of that hour, she did not forget to put in the little package one or two of his favorite toys, reserving a gayly painted parrot to amuse him, when she should be called on to awaken him. It was some trouble to arouse the little sleeper; but, after some effort, he sat up, and was playing with his bird, while his mother was putting on her bonnet and shawl.

“Where are you going, mother?” said he, as she drew near the bed, with his little coat and cap.

His mother drew near, and looked so earnestly into his eyes, that he at once divined that something unusual was the matter.

“Hush, Harry,” she said; “mustn’t speak loud, or they will hear us. A wicked man was coming to take little Harry away from his mother, and carry him ‘way off in the dark; but mother won’t let him—she’s going to put on her little boy’s cap and coat, and run off with him, so the ugly man can’t catch him.”

Saying these words, she had tied and buttoned on the child’s simple outfit, and, taking him in her arms, she whispered to him to be very still; and, opening a door in her room which led into the outer verandah, she glided noiselessly out.

It was a sparkling, frosty, starlight night, and the mother wrapped the shawl close round her child, as, perfectly quiet with vague terror, he clung round her neck.

Old Bruno, a great Newfoundland, who slept at the end of the porch, rose, with a low growl, as she came near. She gently spoke his name, and the animal, an old pet and playmate of hers, instantly, wagging his tail, prepared to follow her, though apparently revolving much, in this simple dog’s head, what such an indiscreet midnight promenade might mean. Some dim ideas of imprudence or impropriety in the measure seemed to embarrass him considerably; for he often stopped, as Eliza glided forward, and looked wistfully, first at her and then at the house, and then, as if reassured by reflection, he pattered along after her again. A few minutes brought them to the window of Uncle Tom’s cottage, and Eliza stopping, tapped lightly on the window-pane.

The prayer-meeting at Uncle Tom’s had, in the order of hymn-singing, been protracted to a very late hour; and, as Uncle Tom had indulged himself in a few lengthy solos afterwards, the consequence was, that, although it was now between twelve and one o’clock, he and his worthy helpmeet were not yet asleep.

“Good Lord! what’s that?” said Aunt Chloe, starting up and hastily drawing the curtain. “My sakes alive, if it an’t Lizy! Get on your clothes, old man, quick!—there’s old Bruno, too, a pawin round; what on airth! I’m gwine to open the door.”

And suiting the action to the word, the door flew open, and the light of the tallow candle, which Tom had hastily lighted, fell on the haggard face and dark, wild eyes of the fugitive.

“Lord bless you!—I’m skeered to look at ye, Lizy! Are ye tuck sick, or what’s come over ye?”

“I’m running away—Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe—carrying off my child—Master sold him!”

“Sold him?” echoed both, lifting up their hands in dismay.

“Yes, sold him!” said Eliza, firmly; “I crept into the closet by Mistress’ door tonight, and I heard Master tell Missis that he had sold my Harry, and you, Uncle Tom, both, to a trader; and that he was going off this morning on his horse, and that the man was to take possession today.”

Tom had stood, during this speech, with his hands raised, and his eyes dilated, like a man in a dream. Slowly and gradually, as its meaning came over him, he collapsed, rather than seated himself, on his old chair, and sunk his head down upon his knees.

“The good Lord have pity on us!” said Aunt Chloe. “O! it don’t seem as if it was true! What has he done, that Mas’r should sell him?”

“He hasn’t done anything,—it isn’t for that. Master don’t want to sell, and Missis she’s always good. I heard her plead and beg for us; but he told her ‘t was no use; that he was in this man’s debt, and that this man had got the power over him; and that if he didn’t pay him off clear, it would end in his having to sell the place and all the people, and move off. Yes, I heard him say there was no choice between selling these two and selling all, the man was driving him so hard. Master said he was sorry; but oh, Missis—you ought to have heard her talk! If she an’t a Christian and an angel, there never was one. I’m a wicked girl to leave her so; but, then, I can’t help it. She said, herself, one soul was worth more than the world; and this boy has a soul, and if I let him be carried off, who knows what’ll become of it? It must be right: but, if it an’t right, the Lord forgive me, for I can’t help doing it!”

“Well, old man!” said Aunt Chloe, “why don’t you go, too? Will you wait to be toted down river, where they kill niggers with hard work and starving? I’d a heap rather die than go there, any day! There’s time for ye,—be off with Lizy,—you’ve got a pass to come and go any time. Come, bustle up, and I’ll get your things together.”

Tom slowly raised his head, and looked sorrowfully but quietly around, and said,

‘No, no—I an’t going.  Let Eliza go—it’s her right!  I wouldn’t be the one to say no—‘tan’t in natur for her to stay; but you heard what she said!  If I must be sold, or all the people on the place, and everything go to rack, why, let me be sold.  I s’pose I can bar it as well as any on ‘em,’ he added, while something like a sob and a sigh shook his broad, rough chest convulsively.  ‘Mas’r always found me on the spot—he always will.  I never have broke trust, nor used my pass no ways contrary to my word, and I never will.  It’s better for me alone to go, than to break up the place and sell all.  Mas’r an’t to blame, Chloe, and he’ll take care of you and the poor—’

Here he turned to the rough trundle bed full of little woolly heads, and broke fairly down.  He leaned over the back of the chair, and covered his face with his large hands.  Sobs, heavy, hoarse and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his fingers on the floor; just such tears, sir, as you dropped into the coffin where lay your first-born son; such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe.  For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man.  And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life’s great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!

‘And now,’ said Eliza, as she stood in the door, ‘I saw my husband only this afternoon, and I little knew then what was to come.  They have pushed him to the very last standing place, and he told me, today, that he was going to run away.  Do try, if you can, to get word to him.  Tell him how I went, and why I went; and tell him I’m going to try and find Canada.  You must give my love to him, and tell him, if I never see him again,’ she turned away, and stood with her back to them for a moment, and then added, in a husky voice, ‘tell him to be as good as he can, and try and meet me in the kingdom of heaven.’

‘Call Bruno in there,’ she added.  ‘Shut the door on him, poor beast!  He mustn’t go with me!’

A few last words and tears, a few simple adieus and blessings, and clasping her wondering and affrighted child in her arms, she glided noiselessly away.”  Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Or, Life Among the Lowly;” Chapters I-V, 1852  

antioch bible illuminated manuscript art medieval

Numero Tres“When I was seventeen years old, I lost my religious faith.  It had been unsteady for some time and then, very suddenly, it went as the result of an incident in a punt on the river outside the town where we lived.  My uncle, with whom I was obliged to stay for long periods of my life, had started a small furniture-making business in the town.  He was always in difficulties about money, but he was convinced that in some way God would help him.
And this happened.  An investor arrived who belonged to a sect called the Church of the Last Purification, of Toronto, Canada.  Could we imagine, this man asked, a good and omnipotent God allowing his children to be short of money?
We had to admit we could not imagine this.  The man paid some capital into my uncle’s business and we were converted.  Our family were the first Purifiers — as they were called — in the town.  Soon a congregation of fifty or more was meeting every Sunday in a room at the Corn Exchange.
At once we found ourselves isolated and hated people.  Everyone made jokes about us.  We had to stand together because we were sometimes dragged into the courts.  What the unconverted could not forgive in us was, first, that we believed in successful prayer and, secondly, that our revelation came from Toronto.
The success of our prayers had a simple foundation.  We regarded it as ‘Error’ — our name for Evil — to believe the evidence of our senses and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things.   We said that since God could not have made them, they therefore did not exist.  It was exhilarating to look at our congregation and to know that what the vulgar would call miracles were performed among us, almost as a matter of routine, every day.  Not very big miracles, perhaps; but up in London and out in Toronto, we knew that deafness and blindness, cancer and insanity, the great scourges, were constantly vanishing before the prayers of the more advanced Purifiers.
‘What?’ said my schoolmaster, an Irishman who had eyes like broken glass and a sniff of irritability in the bristles of his nose.  ‘What!  Do you have the impudence to tell me that if you fell off the top floor of this building and smashed your head in, you would say you hadn’t fallen and were not injured?’
I was a small boy and very afraid of everybody, but not when it was a question of my religion.  I was used to the kind of conundrum the Irishman had set.  It was useless to argue, though our religion had already developed an interesting casuistry.
‘I would say so,’ I replied with coldness and some vanity.  ‘And my head would not be smashed.’
‘You would not say so,’ answered the Irishman.  ‘You would not say so.’  His eyes sparkled with pure pleasure.  ‘You’d be dead.’
The boys laughed, but they looked at me with admiration.
Then — I do not know how or why — I began to see a difficulty. Without warning and as if I had gone into my bedroom at night and had found a gross ape seated in my bed and thereafter following me about with his grunts and his fleas and a look, relentless and ancient, scored on his brown face, I was faced with the problem which prowls at the centre of all religious faith. I was faced by the difficulty of the origin of evil. Evil was an illusion, we were taught. But even illusions have an origin. The Purifiers denied this.
I consulted my uncle. Trade was bad at the time and this made his faith abrupt. He frowned as I spoke.
“When did you brush your coat last?” he said. “You’re getting slovenly about your appearance. If you spent more time studying books” — that is to say, the Purification literature — “and less with your hands in your pockets and playing about with boats on the river, you wouldn’t be letting Error in.”
All dogmas have their jargon; my uncle as a business man loved the trade terms of the Purification. “Don’t let Error in,” was a favorite one. The whole point about the Purification, he said, was that it was scientific and therefore exact; in consequence it was sheer weakness to admit discussion. Indeed, betrayal. He unpinched his pince-nez, stirred his tea and indicated I must submit or change the subject. Preferably the latter. I saw, to my alarm, that my arguments had defeated my uncle. Faith and doubt pulled like strings round my throat.
“You don’t mean to say you don’t believe that what our Lord said was true?” my aunt asked nervously, following me out of the room. “Your uncle does, dear.”
I could not answer. I went out of the house and down the main street to the river where the punts were stuck like insects in the summery flash of the reach. Life was a dream, I thought; no, a nightmare, for the ape was beside me.
To top of page     I was still in this state, half sulking and half exalted, when Mr. Hubert Timberlake came to the town. He was one of the important people from the headquarters of our Church and he had come to give an address on the Purification at the Coin Exchange. Posters announcing this were everywhere. Mr. Timberlake was to spend Sunday afternoon with us. It was unbelievable that a man so eminent would actually sit in our dining room, use our knives and forks, and eat our food. Every imperfection in our home and our characters would jump out at him. The Truth had been revealed to man with scientific accuracy — an accuracy we could all test by experiment — and the future course of human development on earth was laid down, finally. And here in Mr. Timberlake was a man who had not merely performed many miracles — even, it was said with proper reserve, having twice raised the dead — but who had actually been to Toronto, our headquarters, where this great and revolutionary revelation had first been given.
“This is my nephew,” my uncle said, introducing me. “He lives with us. He thinks he thinks, Mr. Timberlake, but I tell him he only thinks he does. Ha, ha.” My uncle was a humorous man when he was with the great. “He’s always on the river,” my uncle continued. “I tell him he’s got water on the brain. I’ve been telling Mr. Timberlake about you, my boy.”
A hand as soft as the best quality chamois leather took mine. I saw a wide upright man in a double-breasted navy blue suit. He had a pink square head with very small ears and one of those torpid, enameled smiles which were said by our enemies to be too common in our sect.
“Why, isn’t that just fine?” said Mr. Timberlake who, owing to his contacts with Toronto, spoke with an American accent. “What say we tell your uncle it’s funny he thinks he’s funny.”
The eyes of Mr. Timberlake were direct and colorless. He had the look of a retired merchant captain who had become decontaminated from the sea and had reformed and made money. His defense of me had made me his at once. My doubts vanished. Whatever Mr. Timberlake believed must be true and as I listened to him at lunch, I thought there could be no finer life than his.
“I expect Mr. Timberlake’s tired after his address,” said my aunt.
“Tired?” exclaimed my uncle, brilliant with indignation. “How can Mr. Timberlake be tired? Don’t let Error in!”
For in our faith, the merely inconvenient was just as illusory as a great catastrophe would have been, if you wished to be strict, and Mr. Timberlake’s presence made us very strict.
I noticed then that, after their broad smiles, Mr. Timberlake’s lips had the habit of setting into a long depressed sarcastic curve.
“I guess,” he drawled, “I guess the Almighty must have been tired sometimes, for it says He relaxed on the seventh day. Say, do you know what I’d like to do this afternoon,” he said, turning to me. “While your uncle and aunt are sleeping off this meal, let’s you and me go on the river and get water on the brain. I’ll show you how to punt.”
Mr. Timberlake, I saw to my disappointment, was out to show he understood the young. I saw he was planning a “quiet talk” with me about my problems.
“There are too many people on the river on Sundays,” said my uncle uneasily.
“Oh, I like a crowd,” said Mr. Timberlake, giving my uncle a tough look: “This is the day of rest, you know.” He had had my uncle gobbling up every bit of gossip from the sacred city of Toronto all the morning.
My uncle and aunt were incredulous that a man like Mr. Timberlake should go out among the blazers and gramophones of the river on a Sunday afternoon. In any other member of our church, they would have thought this sinful.
“Waal, what say?” said Mr. Timberlake. I could only murmur.
“That’s fixed,” said Mr. Timberlake. And on came the smile as simple, vivid and unanswerable as the smile on an advertisement. “Isn’t that just fine?”
Mr. Timberlake went upstairs to wash his hands. My uncle was deeply offended and shocked, but he could say nothing. He unpinched his glasses.
“A very wonderful man,” he said. “So human,” he apologized.
To top of page     “My boy,” my uncle said. “This is going to be an experience for you. Hubert Timberlake was making a thousand a year in the insurance business ten years ago. Then he heard of the purification. He threw everything up, just like that. He gave up his job and took up the work. It was a struggle, he told me so himself this morning. Many’s the time,’ he said to me this morning, when I wondered where my next meal was coming from.’ But the way was shown. He came down from Worcester to London and in two years he was making fifteen hundred a year out of his practice.”
To heal the sick by prayer according to the tenets of the Church of the Last Purification was Mr. Timberlake’s profession.
My uncle lowered his eyes. With his glasses off, the lids were small and uneasy. He lowered his voice too.
“I have told him about your little trouble,” my uncle said quietly, with emotion. I was burned with shame. My uncle looked up and stuck out his chin confidently.
“He just smiled,” my uncle said. “That’s all.”
Then we waited for Mr. Timberlake to come down.
I put on white flannels and soon I was walking down to the river with Mr. Timberlake. I felt that I was going with him under false pretenses. He would begin explaining to me the origin of evil and I would have to pretend politely that he was converting me when, already, at the first sight of him, I had believed. A stone bridge, whose two arches were like an owlish pair of eyes gazing up the reach, was close to the landing-stage. I thought what a pity it was the flanneled men and the sunburned girls there did not know I was getting a ticket for the Mr. Timberlake who had been speaking in the town that very morning. I looked round for him and when I saw him, I was a little startled. He was standing at the edge of the water looking at it with an expression of empty incomprehension. Among the white crowds, his air of brisk efficiency had dulled. He looked middle-aged, out of place and insignificant. But when he saw me, the smile switched back on.
“Ready?” he called. “Fine!”
I had the feeling that inside him there must be a gramophone record going round and round, stopping at that word.
He stepped into the punt and took charge.
“Now I just want you to paddle us over to the far bank,” he said, “and then I’ll show you how to punt.”
Everything Mr. Timberlake said still seemed unreal to me. The fact that he was sitting in a punt — of all commonplace material things — was incredible. That he should propose to pole us up the river was terrifying. Suppose he fell into the river? At once I checked that thought. A leader of our Church under the direct guidance of God could not possibly fall into a river.
To top of page     The stream is wide and deep in this reach, but on the southern bank there is a manageable depth and a hard bottom. Over the clay banks the willows hang, making their basket-work print of sun and shadow on the water, while under the gliding boats lie cloudy, chloride caverns. The hoop-like branches of the trees bend down until their tips touch the water like fingers making musical sounds. Ahead in midstream, on a day sunny as this one was, there is a path of strong light which is hard to look at unless you half close your eyes. Down this path on the crowded Sundays, go the launches with their parasols and their pennants; and also the rowing boats with their beetle-leg oars, which seem to dig the sunlight out of the water as they rise. Upstream one goes, on and on between the gardens and then between fields kept for grazing. On the afternoon when Mr. Timberlake and I went out to settle the question of the origin of evil, the meadows were packed densely with buttercups.
“Now,” said Mr. Timberlake decisively when I had paddled to the other side. “Now I’ll take her.”
He got over the seat into the well at the stern.
“I’ll just get you clear of the trees,” I said.
“Give me the pole,” said Mr. Timberlake, standing up on the little platform and making a squeak with his boots as he did so. “Thank you, sir. I haven’t done this for eighteen years, but I can tell you, brother, in those days I was considered some poler.”
He looked around and let the pole slide down through his hands. Then he gave the first difficult push. The punt rocked pleasantly and we moved forward. I sat facing him, paddle in hand, to check any inward drift of the punt.
“How’s that, you guys?” said Mr. Timberlake, looking round at our eddies and drawing in the pole. The delightful water swished down it.
“Fine,” I said. Deferentially I had caught the word.
He went on to his second and his third strokes, taking too much water on his sleeve, perhaps, and uncertain in his steering, which I corrected, but he was doing well.
“It comes back to me,” he said. “How am I doing?”
“Just keep her out from the trees,” I said.
“The trees?” he said.
“The willows,” I said.
“I’ll do it now,” he said. “How’s that? Not quite enough? Well, how’s this?”
“Another one,” I said. “The current runs strong this side.”
“What? More trees?” he said. He was getting hot.
“We can shoot out past them,” I said. “I’ll ease over with the paddle.”
Mr. Timberlake did not like this suggestion.
“No, don’t do that. I can manage it,” he said. I did not want to offend one of the leaders of our Church. So I put the paddle down, although I felt I ought to have taken him farther along away from the irritation of the trees.
“Of course,” I said. “We could go under them. It might be nice.”
“I think,” said Mr. Timberlake, “that would be a very good idea.”
To top of page     He lunged hard on the pole and took us toward the next archway of willow branches.
“We may have to duck a bit, that’s all,” I said.
“Oh, I can push the branches up,” said Mr. Timberlake.
“It is better to duck,” I said.
We were gliding now quickly toward the arch, in fact I was already under it.
“I think I should duck,” I said. “Just bend down for this one”
“What makes the trees lean over the water like this?” asked Mr. Timberlake. “Weeping willows? I’ll give you a thought there. Now Error likes to make us dwell on sorrow. Why not call, ahem, laughing willows?” discoursed Mr. Timberlake as the branch passed over my head.
“Duck,” I said.
“Where? I don’t see them,” said Mr. Timberlake turning round.
“No, your head,” I said. “The branch,” I called.
“Oh, the branch. This one?” said Mr. Timberlake, finding a branch just against his chest, and he put out a hand to lift it. It is not easy to lift a willow branch and Mr. Timberlake was surprised. He stepped back as it gently and firmly leaned against him. He leaned back and pushed from his feet. He pushed too far, and the boat went on. I saw Mr. Timberlake’s boots leave the stern as he took an unthoughtful step backward. He made a last-minute grasp at a stronger and higher branch, and then, there he hung a yard above the water, round as a blue damson that is ripe and ready, waiting only for a touch to make it fall. Too late with the paddle and shot ahead by the force of his thrust, I could not save him.
For a full minute I did not believe what I saw. Indeed, our religion taught us never to believe what we saw. Unbelieving, I could not move. I gaped. The impossible had happened. Only a miracle, I found myself thinking, could save him.
What was the most striking was the silence of Mr. Timberlake as he hung from the tree. I was lost between gazing at him and trying to get the punt out of the small branches of the tree. By the time I had got the punt out, there were several yards of water between us and the soles of his boots were very near the water as the branch bent under his weight. Boats were passing at the time, but no one seemed to notice us. I was glad about that. This was a private agony.
A double chin had appeared on the face of Mr. Timberlake and his head was squeezed between his shoulders and his hanging arms. I saw him blink and look up at the sky. His eyelids were pale like a chicken’s. He was tidy and dignified as he hung there. The hat was not displaced and the top button of his coat was done up. He had a blue silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. So unperturbed and genteel he seemed that, as the tips of his shoes came nearer and nearer to the water, I became alarmed. He could perform what are called miracles. He would be thinking at this moment that only in an erroneous and illusory sense was he hanging from the branch of the tree over six feet of water. He was probably praying one of the closely reasoned prayers of our faith which were more like conversations with Euclid than appeals to God. The calm of his face suggested this.
Was he, I asked myself, within sight of the main road, the town Recreation Ground and the landingstage crowded with people? Was he about to re-enact a well-known miracle? I hoped that he was not. I prayed that he was not. I prayed with all my will that Mr. Timberlake would not walk upon the water. It was my prayer and not his that was answered.
To top of page     I saw the shoes dip, water rise above his ankles and up his socks. He tried to move his grip now to a yet higher branch. He did not succeed, and in making this effort, his coat and waist-coat rose and parted from his trousers. One seam of shirt with its pant-loops and brace-tabs broke like a crack across the middle of Mr. Timberlake. It was like a fatal flaw in a statue, an earthquake crack which made the monumental mortal. The last Greeks must have felt as I felt then, when they saw a crack across the middle of some statue of Apollo. It was at this moment I realized that the final revelation about man and society on earth had come to nobody and that Mr. Timberlake knew nothing at all about the origin of evil.
All this takes long to describe, but it happened in a few seconds as I paddled toward him. I was too late to get his feet on the boat and the only thing to do was to let him sink until his hands were nearer the level of the punt and then to get him to change hand-holds. Then I would paddle him ashore. I did this. Amputated by the water, first a torso, then a bust, then a mere head and shoulders, Mr. Timberlake, I noticed, looked sad and lonely as he sank. He was a declining dogma.
As the water lapped his collar — for he hesitated to let go of the branch to hold the punt — I saw a small triangle of deprecation and pathos between his nose and the corners of his mouth. The head resting on the platter of water had the sneer of calamity on it, such as one sees in the pictures of a beheaded saint.
“Hold on to the punt, Mr. Timberlake,” I said urgently. “Hold on to the punt.”
He did so.
“Push from behind,” he directed in a dry businesslike voice.
They were his first words. I obeyed him. Carefully I paddled him toward the bank. He turned and, with a splash, climbed ashore. There he stood, raising his arms and looking at the water running down his swollen suit and making a puddle at his feet.
“Say,” said Mr. Timberlake coldly, “we let some Error in that time.”
How much he must have hated our family.
“I am sorry, Mr. Timberlake,” I said. “I am most awfully sorry. I should have paddled. It was my fault. I’ll get you home at once. Let me wring out your coat and waist-coat. You’ll catch your death . . .”
To top of page     I stopped. I had nearly blasphemed. I had nearly suggested that Mr. Timberlake had fallen into the water and that to a man of his age that might be dangerous.
Mr. Timberlake corrected me. His voice was impersonal, addressing the laws of human existence, rather than myself.
“If God made water, it would be ridiculous to suggest He made it capable of harming His creatures. Wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” I murmured hypocritically.
“OK,” said Mr. Timberlake. “Let’s go.”
“I’ll soon get you across,” I said.
“No,” he said. “I mean let’s go on. We’re not going to let a little thing like this spoil a beautiful afternoon. Where were we going? You spoke of a pretty landing-place farther on. Let’s go there.”
“But I must take you home. You can’t sit there soaked to the skin. It will spoil your clothes.”
“Now, now,” said Mr. Timberlake. “Do as I say. Go on.”
There was nothing to be done with him. I held the punt into the bank and he stepped in. He sat like a bursting and sodden bolster in front of me while I paddled. We had lost the pole of course.
For a long time I could hardly look at Mr. Timberlake. He was taking the line that nothing had happened and this put me at a disadvantage. I knew something considerable had happened. That glaze — which so many of the members of our sect had on their faces and persons, their minds and manners — had been washed off. There was no gleam for me from Mr. Timberlake.
“What’s the house over there?” he asked. He was making conversation. I had steered into the middle of the river to get him into the strong sun. I saw steam rise from him.
I took courage and studied him. He was a man, I realized, in poor physical condition, unexercised and sedentary. Now that the gleam had left him, one saw the veined, empurpled skin of the stoutish man with a poor heart.      I remember he had said at lunch: “A young woman I know said, `Isn’t it wonderful. I can walk thirty miles in a day without being in the least tired.’ I said, ‘I don’t see that bodily indulgence is anything a member of the Church of the Last Purification should boast about.’
Yes, there was something flaccid, passive and slack about Mr. Timberlake. Bunched in swollen clothes, he refused to take them off. It occurred to me, as he looked with boredom at the water, the passing boats and the country, that he had not been in the country before. It was something he had agreed to do but wanted to get over quickly. He was totally uninterested. By his questions — What is that church? Are there any fish in this river? Is that a wireless or a gramophone? — I understood that Mr. Timberlake was formally acknowledging a world he did not live in. It was too interesting, too eventful a world. His spirit, inert and preoccupied, was elsewhere in an eventless and immaterial habitation. He was a dull man, duller than any man I have ever known; but his dullness was a sort of earthly deposit left by a being whose diluted mind was far away in the effervescence of metaphysical matters. There was a slightly pettish look on his face as (to himself, of course) he declared he was not wet and that he would not have a heart attack or catch pneumonia.
To top of page     Mr. Timberlake spoke little. Sometimes he squeezed water out of his sleeve. He shivered a little. He watched his steam. I had planned when we set out to go up as far as the lock but now the thought of another two miles of this responsibility was too much. I pretended I wanted to go only as far as the bend which we were approaching, where one of the richest buttercup meadows was. I mentioned this to him. He turned and looked with boredom at the field. Slowly we came to the bank.
We tied up the punt and we landed.
“Fine,” said Mr. Timberlake. He stood at the edge of the meadow, just as he had stood at the landing-stage — lost, stupefied, uncomprehending.
“Nice to stretch our legs,” I said. I led the way into the deep flowers. So dense were the buttercups there was hardly any green. Presently I sat down. Mr. Timberlake looked at me and sat down also. Then I turned to him with a last try at persuasion. Respectability, I was sure, was his trouble.
“No one will see us,” I said. “This is out of sight of the river. Take off your coat and trousers and wring them out.”
Mr. Timberlake replied firmly: “I am satisfied to remain as I am.”
“What is this flower?” he asked to change the subject.
“Buttercup,” I said.
“Of course,” he replied.
I could do nothing with him. I lay down full length in the sun; and, observing this and thinking to please me, Mr. Timberlake did the same. He must have supposed that this was what I had come out in the boat to do. It was only human. He had come out with me, I saw, to show me that he was only human.
But as we lay there I saw the steam still rising. I had had enough.
“A bit hot,” I said getting up.
He got up at once.
“Do you want to sit in the shade?” he asked politely.
“No,” I said. “Would you like to?”
“No,” he said. “I was thinking of you.”
“Let’s go back,” I said. We both stood up and I let him pass in front of me. When I looked at him again I stopped dead. Mr. Timberlake was no longer a man in a navy blue suit. He was blue no longer. He was transfigured. He was yellow. He was covered with buttercup pollen, a fine yellow paste of it made by the damp, from head to foot.
‘Your suit,’ I said.
He looked at it.  He raised his thin eyebrows a little, but he did not smile or make any comment.
The man is a saint, I thought.  As saintly as any of those gold-leaf figures in the churches of Sicily.  Golden, he sat in the punt.  Golden, he sat for the next hour as I paddled him down the river.  Golden and bored.  Golden as we landed at the town and as we walked up the street back to my uncle’s house.  There he refused to change his clothes or to sit by a fire.  He kept an eye on the time for his train back to London.   By no word did he acknowledge the disasters or the beauties of the world.  If they were printed upon him, they were printed upon a husk.
Sixteen years have passed since I dropped Mr. Timberlake in the river and since the sight of his pant-loops destroyed my faith.  I have not seen him since, and today I heard that he was dead.  He was fifty-seven.  His mother, a very old lady with whom he had lived all his life, went into his bedroom when he was getting ready for church and found him lying on the floor in his shirt-sleeves.  A stiff collar with the tie half inserted was in one hand.  Five minutes before, she told the doctor, she had been speaking to him.
To top of page     The doctor who looked at the heavy body lying on the single bed saw a middle-aged man, wide rather than stout and with an extraordinary box-like thick-jawed face.  He had got fat, my uncle told me, in later years.  The heavy, liver-colored cheeks were like the chaps of a hound.  Heart disease, it was plain, was the cause of the death of Mr. Timberlake.  In death, the face was lax, even coarse and degenerate.  It was a miracle, the doctor said, that he had lived so long.  Any time during the last twenty years the smallest shock might have killed him.
I thought of our afternoon on the river.  I thought of him hanging from the tree.  I thought of him, indifferent and golden in the meadow.  I understood why he had made for himself a protective, sedentary blandness, an automatic smile, a collection of phrases.  He kept them on like the coat after his ducking.  And I understood why — though I had feared it all the time we were on the river — I understood why he did not talk to me about the origin of evil.  He was honest.  The ape was with us.  The ape that merely followed me was already inside Mr. Timberlake eating out his heart.”  V.S. Pritchett, “The Saint;” reprinted with permission from Harper’s Magazine, 1947

Numero Cuatro“My first contact with white america was marked by her violence, for when a white doctor pulled me from between my mother’s legs and slapped my wet ass, I, as every other negro in america, reacted to this man-inflicted pain with a cry.  A cry that america has never allowed to cease; a cry that gets louder and more intense with age; a cry that can only be heard and understood by others who live behind the color curtain.  A cry?  Or was it a scream?  Whatever it was, we accepted it.

I had been born in ‘america, the land of the free.’  To insure my country’s freedom, my father was somewhere fighting, for this was a year of the second war to end all wars — World War II.  This was October 4, 1943, and victory was in the air.  The world would now be safe for democracy.

But who would insure my freedom?  Who would make democracy safe for Black people?  America recognized long ago what negroes now examine in disbelief: every Black birth in america is political.  With each new birth comes a potential challenge to the existing order.  Each new generation brings forth untested militancy.  America’s ruling class now experiences what Herod must have at the birth of ‘Christ:’ ‘Go and search . . . and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.’  America doesn’t know which Black birth is going to be the birth that will overthrow this country.

The threat to america, however, does not exist in negro america, but rather as a result of negro america.  If one examines the structure of this country closely he will note that there are three basic categories: they are white america, negro america, and Black america.  The threat to the existing structure comes from Black america, which exists in contradiction to both white and negro america.  It is the evolution of these contradictions that has given rise to the present revolutionary conditions.  Revolution is indeed inevitable, and, as the cycle of change closes around america’s racist environment, the issue of color becomes more pertinent.

Color is the first thing Black people in america become aware of. You are born into a world that has given color meaning and color becomes the single most determining factor of your existence. Color determines where you live, how you live and, under certain circumstances, if you will live. Color determines your friends, your education, your mother’s and father’s jobs, where you play, what you play and, more importantly, what you think of yourself.

In and of itself, color has no meaning. But the white world has given it meaning — political, social, economic, historical, physiological and philosophical. Once color has been given meaning, an order is thereby established. If you are born Black in america, you are the last of that order. As kids we learned the formula for the structure of american society:

If you’re white,
You’re all right.
If you’re brown,
Stick around.
But if you’re black,
Get back, get back.

Because of the importance assigned to color, negroes choose only to legitimatize two americas: white and negro. When one examines the way in which these two americas are structured, it is obvious that the similarities between them are greater than the differences. The differences exist only in the external control of each and their internal order, which, in turn, create value contradictions. In other words, whites control both white america and negro america for the benefit of whites. And because of this kind of external control by whites in their own self-interest, negroes who structure their communities after those of whites are forced to enforce values of whites. They attempt to explain away their lack of control by saying that they are just members of the larger community of “americans.”

A monologue is perpetually expounded by white america which is echoed by negroes afflicted with white patriotism.

white america:
Think white or I’ll kill you.
And if you think too white, I’ll kill you.

negro america:

Think white or I’ll kill you.
And if you think too white “the man” will kill you.
So think colored.
Imitate the white man,
but not to perfection in front of him.

As Julian Moreau says in his novel, Black Commandos:

Attitudes necessary for survival were vigorously pounded into the wooly heads of black boys and girls by their loving mothers. The boys were reared to be Negroes, not men. A Negro might survive a while, but a black “man” didn’t live very long. . . . A black boy aiming to reach “manhood” rather than “Negro-hood” rarely lived that long.

For 400 years the internal contradictions and inconsistencies of white america have been dealt with through its institutions. In regard to race or color, these contradictions have always been on a national, never a local or individual level. Whites as individuals have always loved to be thought of as superior. They have always known that if they could justify and make their actions legal, either through their religion, their courts or their history (educational system), then it would be unnecessary to actually rectify them because the negro would accept their interpretation. White america’s most difficult problem thus becomes how to justify and not rectify national inconsistencies. If white nationalism is disguised as history or religion, then it is irrefutable. White nationalism divides history into two parts, B.C. and A.D. — before the white man’s religion and after it. And “progress,” of course, is considered to have taken place only after the white man’s religion came into being. The implication is evident: God is on the white man’s side, for white Jesus was the “son” of God.

White america has used religion and history to its advantage. Thus, the North never really differed from the South for they both taught the same history. Catholics never differed from other religions for they taught from the same text. Republicans are no different from Democrats, as Democrats are no different from Dixiecrats. As for liberals, Fanon says they are “as much the enemy of oppressed people and Freedom as the self-avowed enemy, because it is impossible to be both a member of the oppressor class and a friend of the oppressed.” So we can see that for white america the only real contradictions are those that arise from the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of her Constitution. These contradictions give rise to negro america.

Most Black persons of my time were born into negro america. The first thing you learn is that you are different from whites. The next thing you learn is that you are different from each other. You are born into a world of double standards where color is of paramount importance. In your community a color pattern exists which is closely akin to the white man’s, and likewise reinforced from both ends of the spectrum. Light-skinned negroes believe they are superior and darker negroes allow them to operate on that belief. Because of the wide color range which exists in negro america, an internal color colony has been created. Dark negroes are taught that they are inferior not only to whites but to lighter-skinned negroes. And lighter-skinned negroes assume a superior attitude.

Negro america is set up the same as white america. The lighter skinned a negro, the more significant a role he can play. (It has always been the one who looked white who made it in negro america. This was the man with the position, the influence, this was the man who usually got the white man’s best job.) In between light negro america and Black negro america (in terms of color), there is a special category of people, who are assigned the name of red niggers. These are the people who are light enough to go into light negro america, but do not have caucasian characteristics. They don’t have straight hair or white features. So they can go either way, depending on them. They can operate in Black negro america or at the outer fringes of light negro america. Race prejudice in america becomes color prejudice in negro america. That which is cultural prejudice by whites against Blacks becomes class prejudice in negro america. To distinguish themselves, negroes assign class distinctions. Here we find the instituting and substituting of parallel values. Negroes assume that what is good for white america is good for negro america.

Negroes are always confined to what can be called the “shit regiment.” I first became acquainted with the shit regiment in the cub scouts. In every parade, we always marched behind the horses, which meant that we always had to march in horseshit. All the way through life there are shit regiments in the negro community and negroes adhere to them. As a matter of fact, negroes will protect these regiments. The debate was never whether or not we had to march, but whether or not the whites were going to put machines down there to wash the horseshit away before we marched in it. There was never any discussion as to whether or not we should march behind the horses. Uh-uh. Everybody accepted that. They just wanted the horseshit washed out of the way before we came through. White america’s largest shit regiment is negro america.

Given that negroes are a colonized people, the most important phase of colonization is the sub-cultural phase. In negro america, negroes relate only to negroes of the same educational background. Dr. So-and-So talks only to Dr. So-and-So and the brother on the block better not act like he thinks he can go up to Dr. So-and-So and talk to him man-to-man. To Dr. So-and-So, the brother on the block is nothing but a nigger who’s holding the race back. Dr. So-and-So goes to the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian or the Catholic Church. The brother on the block goes to the Baptist Church, the Holy Rollers or the Sanctified Church. And the Methodist Church is in between the two. It ain’t as niggerish as the Baptist Church, but it’s not as high class as the Episcopal Church. As negroes become more “white-educated,” the transition in religion begins. All of a sudden, it’s beneath them to go to church and shout and get happy. That’s not dignified. As they get more “educated,” their religion gets more like the white man’s religion as if their heaven will be segregated too. “Education” even extends down to the naming of the children. The more “educated” the negro becomes, the more European names he picks for his children. Michele, Simone, Hubert, Whitney. All of a sudden, Sam and Bertha Lee ain’t good enough anymore. In other words, values are assigned to names. Names must now be more than functional.

The poor negro doesn’t aspire to be white, he just wants to make it into negro america. So he works hard all his life and finally rents a little house and puts some furniture in it which he keeps covered with plastic so it won’t get dirty. And he gets mad if anybody sits on it, because he’s trying to imitate negro america. Once he gets into negro america, he learns of so-called middle-class values, white values. Then he wants to get into white america.

When he tries to enter white america, he is rejected. The doors are shut. Even if he has a big job in some white firm, if he’s one of those “only” negroes, he still finds out that he’s Black when it’s quitting time. The white workers go their way and leave him to go his. They’re nice and friendly on the job and all buddy-buddy, but that doesn’t go outside the office. They don’t want their friends thinking that they’re nigger lovers. So this sets up a reaction in the negro. He gets frustrated and tries to live a contradiction and that’s why when the rebellions start, he’s all for them. He doesn’t have the courage to admit it to the white man. When the white folks he works with ask him what he thinks about “the riot,” he says it’s hurting the cause and all sorts of bull like that. But that night after work, he breaks records getting home to watch it on t.v., cheering like a muthafucka the whole time. Take the Washington, D.C., rebellion, for instance. They arrested something like 3,000 people and when they booked ’em, they found out that the great majority of them worked for the government. Had jobs, making money, still these were the dudes who were out in the street. In Detroit it was the same thing. It wasn’t only the unemployed brother. It was the one who was bringing home $110 every Friday. It was the one who had a Thunderbird, and some clean vines. He was the one who had tried to enter white america and had found that no matter what he did, he was still a nigger to the white man.

Those Black people who remain in the Black community, however, remain a viable force. They don’t have the frustrations that exist in negro america. In Black america the bonds are tighter. The fight is for freedom, not whiteness.

Negroes have always been treated like wild, caged animals by the white man, and have always felt the passions of caged animals (because they were living in cages), but they would always act civilized with whites, that is, what white people told them was civilized. But inside this “civilized” negro was an undying hate. This hate, however, could only be released in negro america. If it was ever released in white america, it would prove to white people that negroes were savages. That hate became a self-hate. So to preserve their sanity, their humanity and their white civilization, negroes had to hate themselves. And when they hated, they distinguished between those who were most like white people and those who were Black. And they hated Black people and poor negroes. (Poor negroes are those Black people with the values of negro america, but not the means.)

It is clear that the revolution will not come from negro america but from Black america, and Black america is growing. Black america is important because it is here that you will find the self-imposed exiles from both white and negro america. Black america has always offered Blacks human freedoms — a humanism uncommon to white and negro america. Some enter Black america because negro america rejects darker-skinned negroes, and, of course, if a person is rejected by negro america, he is automatically rejected by white america. Other people enter Black america because of some experience they had in their childhood. Still others, because of something they may have read that was written by someone in Black america. Black america has existed ever since the first slave despised the injustice that was done to him and did not seek to accommodate himself to that injustice. Thus, there have always been people who could articulate these injustices and could discuss what the response to these injustices should be. It is self-evident that people always rebel against oppression and there has been one continuous rebellion in Black america since the first slave got here.



I was born into a family of dark-skinned negroes, but I’m what many consider a red nigger. My mother, my father, my brother Ed and my sister are all darker than I am. Because I was lighter, it meant that I was supposed to get ahead. So my mother gave me what I would call preferential treatment. Because of this there was a lot of rivalry between my brother Ed and myself. He and I weren’t “tight” when we were young. He thought that our mother treated me better than she did him. In negro america the more you look like buttermilk, the prettier you’re supposed to be. This is color prejudice. I don’t think that my mother was conscious of all this, but it happened a lot of times. So Ed and I used to have a lot of conflicts. I didn’t want it that way. Ed was my older brother and I looked up to him. But he didn’t want me hanging around him.

Ed and I are very close now and that color thing doesn’t come between us anymore. But it’s a thing which could really damage the Black community if people don’t begin to understand it. There are nationalist groups that won’t accept light-complexioned Blacks. What they’re doing is helping the white man, because they’re creating the potential for a divisive fight inside the Black community. And it’s totally unnecessary and damaging. The government is doing enough to try and divide the Black community. We shouldn’t be helping them. We must learn that Black is not a color but the way you think.

If we are to succeed in the struggle we must eliminate the significance that we have assigned to color in our community. The range of Black runs from the brother who is Black enough to poot smoke, to the blood who is pale with the rape of Mothers. Among Black people color can have no value, no significance. Commitment will determine the value of individuals. If I had identified with the attitudes of white-minded negroes and then come home to my dark-skinned brother and family, I wouldn’t have been able to accept them. But that wasn’t a problem for me, because I knew who I wanted to identify with. It was the bloods in my neighborhood, the guys who hung out down on the corner. The Black community, in other words. I always hung out with cats who had made hanging out a profession. I found that it took special skills to hang out 14 hours just laying and playing.

My first institutionalized schooling came in an orphanage — Blundon Orphanage Home. It was operated by white missionaries whose role was similar to that of whites in Africa. Civilize the savage through Christianity. Savages in this case being Black kids from families too poor to support them. The school had the look of a huge plantation with two big shabby old buildings located near the bottom of the hill and a relatively well-kept building at the top. The grounds around the building at the top of the hill were also well-kept with trees and shrubs and Keep-Off signs. More attention, in fact, was paid to the grounds on the “hill” than was paid to the two buildings in the “Bottom.” Each of the “Big Houses,” as they were called, had classrooms on the bottom floors and living quarters above. All of the teachers and students in the school were Black. The Black residents were of all ages and basically responsible for each other. The older children attended to the needs of the smaller children. Children of all ages were expected to work and were assigned jobs.

This was my first real contact with a world bigger and badder than that of my street. You had to excel in either fighting, running or tomming; I integrated the three. In this world, the heroes were bloods who will never be remembered outside our Black community. Cats like Pie-man, Ig, Yank, Smokey, Hawk, Lil Nel — all bad muthafuckas. Young bloods wanted to be like these brothers. They were the men in our community. They had all the women and had made their way to the top through sports and knowing the streets. So to us, the most important thing was to excel in athletics. Recess was the most essential part of the school day, for we could practice our skills. One play could make or break you. We all lived for the big play. For many it never came.

Once I’d established my reputation, cats respected it. “You don’t mess with Rap, cause he’s our man.” If I went out of my neighborhood, though, it was another story. I’d be on somebody else’s turf and would have to make it or take it over there. So there was always a lot of fighting and competition among the young brothers.

It really gets bad when you get to high school. In high school there’s always rivalry between the football teams of the two high schools in town or something like that. But it’s more than athletic rivalry. It may start on the football field, but it’s carried to the street. In Baton Rouge there was a rivalry between McKinley High and Capitol High. You’d think the students were two totally different races. People were perpetually at war. I mean they were really at war. Gangs from South Baton Rouge would be expected to fight dudes from the Park. Dudes from the Park couldn’t come to South Baton Rouge and vice-versa unless they were bad muthafuckas. And if they were caught, being bad didn’t make no difference.

That type of rivalry still exists. It’s perpetuated by the schools, by the negroes in authority who pretend they’re handling it, but don’t. The whole fever pitch which builds up in those gangs is transferred from the people who are being “educated” to the cats who hang around the streets.

But when most of us rivals went on to college, then college made a kind of bond between us. The athletes who had scholarships and the cats who worked during the summer to get that tuition came to college and then they became allies against dudes from other cities. Like, “you my homeboy, and the dude who ain’t from around here, he ain’t one of us.” Yeah, well that’s part of that whole primitive thing and it’s very dangerous. Given the destruction by slavery of both tribe and culture, negroes created a new kind of american tribalism. A tribalism based on the exclusion of certain types. A deliberate attempt to make race a secondary consideration. There are tribes and tribes of negroes. The A.K.A. tribe, Kappa tribe, Doctor tribe, Teacher tribe, Entertainer tribe, High School tribe, College tribe, etc. This tribalism has extended into what is called the “Movement.” “Militant” tribes compete against other “militant” tribes and “moderate” tribes, to promote tribal interests and not the interests of the race or the masses. We treat revolution as if it is an historic process rather than an evolutionary movement. In other words, we all got a monopoly on truth. Whites who consider themselves allies add to this by deciding which tribe is “correct” and which is “incorrect.” In other words, the one which best fits their needs. As a result of this kind of external control, tribes engage in fratricide (unknowingly in most cases) to gain the favor of the white “ally.” Tribe is placed above race. It is not uncommon to hear negroes say, “My loyalty is to my Frat., God, and my country, in that order.”

When a race of people is oppressed within a system that fosters the idea of competitive individualism, the political polarization around individual interests prevents group interests. Each negro prides himself on his ability to reason or think as an individual. Therefore, any gains are to the individual and not to the group. So individuals join tribes or groups to further their own personal ambitions. It’s one of the things that keeps us fighting ourselves instead of the enemy. Black people have always been ready to shoot and cut each other up. The weekend is always wartime in the Black community. Every week when Friday rolls around, you know that somebody is gon’ get killed before church time Sunday morning. But let one white man come down the street acting bad and all he got in his pocket is a toothpick, all of them bad niggers, niggers ready to kill in a minute, be hiding in the alleys or be grinning and bowing. “Yassuh, Mr. White Man.” White bleeds just as red as Black does, but you can only prove it by hearsay. And the press has done a job on negroes and whites, because it makes you think that Black people are killing 14 white folks a day. But even J. Edgar Hoover, with his faggot ass, admits that more Black folks kill Black folks than Blacks kill whites. But everybody thinks that we’re killing white folks. Uh-uh. We’re still killing off each other. Even a lot of these so-called “militants” go around pulling their 22’s on Black people and “tomming” when the white man comes around. And they supposed to be so muthafucking bad. Yeah, we are bad when it comes to us. And the white man sits back and laughs ’cause niggers ain’t got no better sense than to be fighting one another.

However, we must understand the many ways in which the white man brainwashes people into acting and thinking like he wants them to so he can continue to control them.

You grow up in Black america and it’s like living in a pressure cooker. Babies become men without going through childhood. And when you become a man, you got nothing to look forward to and nothing to look back on. So what do you make it on? The wine bottle, the reefer or Jesus. A taste of grape, the weed or the cross. These are our painkillers.

I knew dudes who were old men by the time they were seven. That’s the age when little white kids are dreaming about fairy princesses and Cinderella and playing in tree houses and wondering whether they want two cars or four cars when they grow up. We didn’t have time for all that. Didn’t even have time for childhood. If you acted like a child, you didn’t survive and that’s all there was to it. Hell, you be walking home from school and up come some high school dudes who’d jack you up and take the little dime your mama had given you to buy some candy with. So what’d you do? Jump some dude who was younger and littler than you and take his dime. And pretty soon you started carrying a razor blade, a switch blade or just a pocketful of rocks so you could protect yourself as a man. You had to if you were going to survive.

White folks get all righteous and wonder why Black people steal and gamble. Same reason white folks do. We need money, because the society says you must have it to keep from starving. If you got it, you eat. If you don’t, tough. But white people are able to make their stealing and gambling legitimate. White man’ll sell you a $20 suit for $50 and call it good business. What he actually did was steal $30. White man’ll buy a watch for $5.00 sell it for $49.95 and call the difference, profit. Profit is a nice word for stealing which the society has legitimatized. Catholics go to church every week and gamble, but they call it Bingo. The Pope blesses ’em, so it’s all right. The state of Nevada is built on a deck of cards and a roulette wheel, but that’s okay, ’cause it’s white folks that passed the law saying it was okay. But you let us get over in the corner of the alley with some dice and try to make a little profit and here come the police, the judge, the jailer and the sociology student. We get thrown into jail for gambling or stealing. White folks go to Congress for stealing and they call that democracy.

America is a country that makes you want things, but doesn’t give you the means to get those things. Little Black children sit in front of the t.v. set and all they see are fine cars, perfumes, clothes and everything else they ain’t got. They sit there and watch it, telling the rats to sit down and stop blocking their view. Ain’t nobody told them, though, that they don’t have any way of getting any of that stuff. They couldn’t even get full at supper, but that don’t matter. They want an Oldsmobile. So next day during recess, they go off in a corner of the schoolyard and pitch pennies, play Odd Man Wins, Heads-up Basketball for a quarter, Pitty-Pat for a nickel, Old Maid for a penny. Once they become pros at that, they move on up to Tonk, Black Jack and Craps. After school, there’s the pinball machines. Some of them little dudes could barely see the game board, but they would be there, jim, shoving nickels in the machine, trying to manipulate the lights into a straight line. You could win 50 cents or a dollar and if you were lucky, $5.00. Once you graduated from the pinball machine, you entered the poolroom.

America’s a bitch. Being Black in this country is like somebody asking you to play white Russian roulette and giving you a gun with bullets in all the chambers. Any way you go, jim, that’s your ass. America says you got to have money to live and to get money you got to have a job. To get a job, you got to have an education. So along comes a Black man and he gets a worse than inferior education so he can’t qualify for a job he couldn’t get because he was Black to begin with and still he’s supposed to eat, keep his family together, pay the rent and buy an Oldsmobile. And white folks wonder why niggers steel and gamble. I only wish we would stop this petty stealing and take care of Chase Manhattan Bank, Fort Knox or some armories.

There was this blood I grew up with named J.S. He was a smart dude, particularly in math. Dude would have given a computer competition. He lived with his aunt, who worked as a maid, and three sisters. Cause his aunt was a maid, she didn’t make hardly nothing. White folks love to pay their niggers in old clothes and leftovers. So he couldn’t dress like some of the other students whose parents were making it in negro america. The teachers were all trying to make it in negro america too. They took a bath once a day and wiped under their arms and between their legs twice a day and always tried to smell like they lived in perfume bottles. Well, I know how my man must’ve felt sitting in class in front of some bitch like this. He felt like a piece of shit, particularly when the teacher would stand up in front of the class and talk about him ’cause his clothes were dirty. You damned right his clothes were dirty! His aunt worked from can to can’t, and by the time she got home at night she was too tired to bend over the scrub board to wash out some clothes for J.S. to wear every day. She did the best she could.

J.S. was as smart as anybody in school and he showed it, too, but in negro america if you didn’t have the right color, the right clothes, and the right manners, sorry for you. Them teachers were slick, though, when it came to telling a kid he wasn’t shit. They were always going out of the room to stand in the hall and gossip with the other teachers. When they did, they’d leave a student in charge to sit behind the desk and take the names of the students who talked or cut up. And always, the one left in charge was light, bright and almost white. If a light-skinned student was reciting in class, the teacher had the patience of Job, the understanding of Solomon and the expectations of God Almighty himself. But you let a sho-nuf blood just pause when he was reciting and the teacher told him to sit down in a voice filled with hatred. “I didn’t expect you to know it anyway,” the teacher would sometimes say, meaning, you’re black. You’re black! You’re black!

The teachers had to tell J.S. he was smart, ’cause it was so obvious. But they made a point of letting him know that being smart wasn’t enough if your hair was uncombed, your clothes a little dirty, your skin a little ashy and your manners not the best. In other words, you may be smart, but you black! So J.S. learned pretty quick that there wasn’t no reward in being smart and that it didn’t have a damned thing to do with surviving.

But this is the kind of education we were subjected to. Education ain’t just what comes out of the books, but it’s everything that goes on in the school. And if you leave school hating yourself, then it doesn’t matter how much you know. Education in america has to be viewed as propaganda machinery. All educational systems are propaganda machines, but for Black people, the american educational system is a propaganda machine we don’t need. It propagandizes against us. It makes us hate ourselves.

I began realizing this when I was in high school. I saw no sense in reading Shakespeare. After I read Othello, it was obvious that Shakespeare was a racist. From reading his poetry, I gathered that he was a faggot. But we never discussed the racist attitude expressed in his works. This was when I really began to raise questions. I was in constant conflict with my teachers in high school. I would interpret the thing one way and they would say it’s wrong. Well, how could they tell me what Shakespeare was thinking. I knew then that something was wrong, unless the teachers had a monopoly on truth or were communicating with the dead.

Part of my mother’s whole attempt to make us a part of negro america was that she took us out of McKinley High and sent us to Southern High. Anybody who could pay $12 a year could go and that was for the activities card. So, you see how jive the thing was. It was connected with the negro college in Baton Rouge, Southern University, and it was really set up so the teachers at Southern wouldn’t have to send their children to school with Black kids. It was a crock of shit, but it had an air of “respectability.” This was where all the bourgeois negroes were supposed to go.

It could’ve created problems for me, because if I had identified with most of the white-minded negroes at school, I wouldn’t have been able to relate to brothers on the block. Worse than that, I would’ve thought that I was better than them. It’s like the whole school busing thing now. Busing Black children to schools outside the Black community is nothing but a move to divide the community. If integration is what’s wanted, then bus the whole community. But to take individuals out of the community is a very dangerous and immoral thing. The “brightest” students are taken, students who can fit into the white man’s program best, and they’re bused out of the community so they can come back and articulate the white man’s program. That splits the community. Parents who sent their children to white schools in the South made a mistake. They injured those students mentally for life. To send a Black kid to a school full of howling maniacs. Madmen! Wildmen! Animals! And those Black kids got their minds messed up. You send a student to a white school and he has to come home to a Black family and a Black community. It messes him up and it messes the community up. This is a deliberate part of “the man’s” game.

I could’ve gotten messed up like that at Southern High if I hadn’t known where it was at and what was happening. But I didn’t change myself to fit that phony-ass atmosphere and try to be respectable and all that shit. Me and Southern High had quite a few conflicts. One time I got put out of school for wearing my shirt out of my pants. Another time I got put out for cursing out a teacher.

Ed and my sister, who’re both older than I, went to the same school. So when I came along, I had to go through the same teachers they’d gone through. The teachers said I should be just like them. I should open doors for them and shit like that. Just like my family had always said I should do things like Ed. So when I wouldn’t do all these things and started raising hell, my homeroom teacher started criticizing me. One day I got sick of that shit and I cussed her out. I got put out of school for that.

I was always at odds with teachers. There are certain things in negro institutions that you have to do if you expect to make good grades and certain things you don’t do. One of those things is you don’t talk back. You don’t challenge the existing order. Well, I challenge anything that doesn’t make good sense.

Another time in high school they called my mother in about me because I got into it with one of the dudes teaching shop. I knew he was screwing my homeroom teacher, so I didn’t have no respect for him, especially since I knew his wife. Us young dudes in the Black community directed our aggression against negroes who had these positions because there was a failure on their part to take out their aggression against white people. But, these negroes in position would always direct their grievances toward Black students. They got mad at us ’cause the white man was mistreating them, and we got mad at them ’cause they let the white man mistreat ’em and then turned around and mistreated us, on top of the white man mistreating all of us.

But I stayed in school, ’cause I wasn’t willing to get caught in another trick that eventually led to long sentences in jail or ending up in the gutter one night with a knife in your back. A lot of bloods, though, couldn’t cut school. When they came, it was to practice the education they’d been getting out in the street. While we were still in elementary school, J.S. would wait for recess to get out to the playground where he’d sneak a deck of cards out of his pocket, get way off in a corner and start gambling. After school, we’d go home and J.S. would go on down to the pool hall. By the time he was fourteen, he was dealing in a gambling club in West Baton Rouge. After a while he quit school. Working at the club like he was, he was ready to go to bed when the rest of us were getting up to go to classes. We used to see him in the afternoon, though. He’d drop by the school and be vined down. He was clean, jim. Had him a conk then and he knew he was ready.

After a while the state police started cracking down on gambling and J.S. cut out of Baton Rouge and started following the action from Biloxi, Mississippi, over to Houston, Texas, and back again. He was sixteen.

It was a couple of years later when I saw him again. I’d just entered college. I was thumbing my way to school when who should I see hanging out on the corner but J.S., looking clean. I went up to him. We greeted each other like we were ol’ cut-buddies, but after all the greeting and slapping hands, we found it hard to talk to each other. Too many different kinds of experience had come between us. He was my nigger, but J.S. had made a way of life on the block which I just figured had aged him. It was a rough life. Drinking, fighting, dodging the police, gambling — it can wear a man down fast. I looked at J.S. and it was beginning to show on him. His eyes once used to shine, but they’d gotten dull and red. His face was getting tight and there were wrinkles starting to crawl across his forehead. He told me that he’d just gotten out of the joint on a concealed weapons charge. Plus he told me that when gambling and living off women wasn’t enough to survive, he’d become a cat burglar and a fence on the side. But he definitely wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. Only thing he was unhappy about was that his luck in gambling was off. We went and got some “pluck” (wine) and I told him I was in college. He asked what I wanted to be. I told him rich. He looked up at the ceiling and paused for a minute before he said, “You know, I’ve never given any thought to what I want to become.” I told him he should think about it, but I knew I was shuckin’ and jivin’. Hell, hardly any of us had ever thought about what we wanted to become. What was the future? That was something white folks had. We just lived from day to day, expecting whatever life put on us and dealing with it the best way we knew how when it came. I had accepted the big lie of a Black man succeeding.

I remembered that J.S. was always good with math. I knew how to count money and always figured I didn’t need to know no more about numbers, but I had to take math in college. So I showed J.S. some of the math problems I had been having trouble with and he looked ’em over for a short while and knocked ’em out in no time. He said he’d tutor me in math. I told him that was cool. But that was the last time I saw him. A couple of weeks later he shot and killed some dude and the judge gave him life. He was eighteen.

That’s the way the deal goes down for a lot of bloods. Wiped out by the time they’re eighteen and don’t ever really know why. He was rebelling against the way the cards were stacked against him and even his rebellion was a stacked deck. He lived his life the way he saw it, made his own laws, but what was legal in our world wasn’t “legal” in the white world and eventually he went down.

My ol’ lady wanted to keep all that away from me. Didn’t want me to know anything about it. I guess she called it protecting me, but I had to be out there where the action was. She thought I should be in the house reading books like Ed so I could make my way in negro america, but I wasn’t hearing that. I never was one for too much reading anyway. Too, how was I supposed to stay on top of what was going down if I was sitting up in the house with a book. If you were going to stay in control, you had to be in the street.

The street is where young bloods get their education. I learned how to talk in the street, not from reading about Dick and Jane going to the zoo and all that simple shit. The teacher would test our vocabulary each week, but we knew the vocabulary we needed. They’d give us arithmetic to exercise our minds. Hell, we exercised our minds by playing the Dozens.

I fucked your mama
Till she went blind.
Her breath smells bad,
But she sure can grind.
I fucked your mama
For a solid hour.
Baby came out
Screaming, Black Power.
Elephant and the Baboon
Learning to screw.
Baby came out looking
Like Spiro Agnew.

And the teacher expected me to sit up in class and study poetry after I could run down shit like that. If anybody needed to study poetry, she needed to study mine. We played the Dozens for recreation, like white folks play Scrabble.

In many ways, though, the Dozens is a mean game because what you try to do is totally destroy somebody else with words. It’s that whole competition thing again, fighting each other. There’d be sometimes 40 or 50 dudes standing around and the winner was determined by the way they responded to what was said. If you fell all over each other laughing, then you knew you’d scored. It was a bad scene for the dude that was getting humiliated. I seldom was. That’s why they call me Rap, ’cause I could rap. (The name stuck because Ed would always say, “That my nigger Rap,” “Rap my nigger.”) But for dudes who couldn’t, it was like they were humiliated because they were born Black and then they turned around and got humiliated by their own people, which was really all they had left. But that’s the way it is. Those that feel most humiliated humiliate others. The real aim of the Dozens was to get a dude so mad that he’d cry or get mad enough to fight. You’d say shit like, “Man, tell your mama to stop coming around my house all the time. I’m tired of fucking her and I think you should know that it ain’t no accident you look like me.” And it could go on for hours sometimes. Some of the best Dozens players were girls.

Signifying is more humane. Instead of coming down on somebody’s mother, you come down on them. But, before you can signify you got to be able to rap. A session would start maybe by a brother saying, “Man, before you mess with me you’d rather run rabbits, eat shit and bark at the moon.” Then, if he was talking to me, I’d tell him:

Man, you must don’t know who I am.
I’m sweet peeter jeeter the womb beater
The baby maker the cradle shaker
The deerslayer the buckbinder the women finder
Known from the Gold Coast to the rocky shores of Maine
Rap is my name and love is my game.
I’m the bed tucker the cock plucker the motherfucker
The milkshaker the record breaker the population maker
The gun-slinger the baby bringer
The hum-dinger the pussy ringer
The man with the terrible middle finger.
The hard hitter the bullshitter the poly-nussy getter
The beast from the East the Judge the sludge
The women’s pet the men’s fret and the punks’ pin-up boy.
They call me Rap the dicker the ass kicker
The cherry picker the city slicker the titty licker
And I ain’t giving up nothing but bubble gum and hard times and I’m fresh out of bubble gum.
I’m giving up wooden nickels ’cause I know they won’t spend
And I got a pocketful of splinter change.
I’m a member of the bathtub club: I’m seeing a whole lot of ass but I ain’t taking no shit.
I’m the man who walked the water and tied the whale’s tail in a knot
Taught the little fishes how to swim
Crossed the burning sands and shook the devil’s hand
Rode round the world on the back of a snail carrying a sack saying AIR MAIL.
Walked 49 miles of barbwire and used a Cobra snake for a necktie
And got a brand new house on the roadside made from a cracker’s hide,
Got a brand new chimney setting on top made from the cracker’s skull
Took a hammer and nail and built the world and calls it “THE BUCKET OF BLOOD.”
Yes, I’m hemp the demp the women’s pimp
Women fight for my delight.
I’m a bad motherfucker. Rap the rip-saw the devil’s brother ‘n law.
I roam the world I’m known to wander and this .45 is where I get my thunder.
I’m the only man in the world who knows why white milk makes yellow butter.
I know where the lights go when you cut the switch off.
I might not be the best in the world, but I’m in the top two and my brother’s getting old.
And ain’t nothing bad ’bout you but your breath.

Now, if the brother couldn’t come back behind that, I usually cut him some slack (depending on time, place and his attitude). We learned what the white folks call verbal skills. We learned how to throw them words together. America, however, has Black folk in a serious game of the Dozens. (The dirty muthafucka.) Signifying allowed you a choice — you could either make a cat feel good or bad. If you had just destroyed someone or if they were just down already, signifying could help them over. Signifying was also a way of expressing your own feelings:

Man, I can’t win for losing.
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.
I been having buzzard luck
Can’t kill nothing and won’t nothing die
I’m living on the welfare and things is stormy
They borrowing their shit from the Salvation Army
But things bound to get better ’cause they can’t get no worse
I’m just like the blind man, standing by a broken window
I don’t feel no pain.
But it’s your world
You the man I pay rent to
If I had your hands I’d give ‘way both my arms.
Cause I could do without them
I’m the man but you the main man
I read the books you write
You set the pace in the race I run
Why, you always in good form
You got more foam than Alka Seltzer. . .

Signifying at its best can be heard when brothers are exchanging tales.  I used to hang out in the bars just to hear the old men ‘talking shit.’  By the time I was nine, I could talk Shine and the Titanic, Signifying Monkey, three different ways, and Piss-Pot-Peet, for two hours without stopping.

Sometimes I wonder why I even bothered to go to school.  Practically everything I know I learned on the corner.  Today they’re talking about teaching sex in school.  But that’s white folks for you.  They got to be taught to screw.  They got to intellectualize everything.  Now how you gon’ intellectualize screwing?  At the age when little white kids were finding out that there was something down there to play with, we knew where it went and what to do with it after it got there.  You weren’t a man if you hadn’t gotten yourself a little piece by the time you were seven.  When the white kids were out playing Hide and Go Seek, we were playing Hide and Go Get It.  One dude would count to a hundred while the girls hid.  Once the girls were hidden, you went and found one and you got it.  That was the game.  Hide and Go Get It.  None of that ol’ simple tagging a tree and yelling, ‘I got in free.’  Yeah, we got in free.

Some of the dudes started pimping early for their sisters and, sometimes, even their mama.  Survival’ll make you do anything, jim.  Anything!  You’d be walking down the street one night and some white dude in a car would pull up next to you and say, ‘Hey, boy, you got a sister?’ or, ‘You know any nice colored girls?’  So whitey would get him a little taste of black gold for $10 or $15 and Black people helped him.  It shows you just how low you can get when you sell your own women to a white man — or any man for that matter.  But it’s particularly bad when they’re sold to white men.  To this day, you can find the snakes in the Black community on the weekends trying to buy some Black pussy.  And Black men see ’em, know what they’re there for and don’t run ’em out.  Not even the so-called big, bad militants.”  H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin), Die, Nigger, Die: a Political Autobiography; 1969

3.20.2017 Daily Links

              A Thought for the Day               

The utter absurdity of conformist, prudish thinking about human sexuality appears in starkest contrast when one considers human origins, when for plus or minus ninety thousand years of humanity’s plus or minus hundred thousand years of eking out existence in Africa and beyond, our common ancestors more or less universally practiced group marriage, only to cast aside such lavish licentiousness for castration, slavery, and mass concubinage among the rulers of the ‘civilizations’ that agriculture permitted, an environment in which even the eunuchs were wanton and fiery, and almost all freeborn women or men sought encounters with each other because of how nature had made us, in thrall to pleasure and available for sex contracts of various sorts, so much so that the notion of chastity much past the menarche or a young man’s first spill made no more sense than would voluntary fasting in rich pastures by cattle or a forbearing mercy toward the slower sheep among the wolves and lions: to deny such bestial bounty inevitably guarantees mental sickness and physical distress among the well-endowed for luscious love who constitute the overwhelmingly vast majority of Homo Sapiens.

                    This Day in History                  

This year, today is one of the four important marking points that occur every year, in the Northern Hemisphere the Vernal Equinox, not surprisingly a font of dozens of other celebrations, such as World Sparrow Day, International Day of Happiness, World Storytelling Day, and World Astrology Day, among others; in Rome two thousand sixty years ahead of the present moment, possibly to the day, a baby boy was born who would become the great poet, Ovid; also on the Italian Peninsula, seventeen hundred eighty-two years ago, the first non-Roman took the imperial throne in a period when the empire’s adherents were all on the verge of cannibalizing each other and their plots to plunder the Earth; four hundred fifteen years before the here-and-now, merchants in Holland formed the Dutch East India Company; fourteen years further on, only a year less than four centuries before now, in 1616, Sir Walter Raleigh gained his liberty after thirteen years imprisonment in the Tower of London; MORE HERE


                  Quote of the Day                       
“A lot of times we censor ourselves before the censor even gets there. …I ain’t Martin Luther King. I don’t need a dream. I’ve got a plan.”  Spike Lee
                   Doc of the Day                      
1. Ovid, circa 18 BCE.
2. Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852.
3. V. S. Pritchett, 1947.
4. H. Rap Brown, 1969.

Numero Uno“WHO is it that can tell me why my bed seems so is hard and why the bedclothes will not stay upon it?  Wherefore has this night–and oh, how long it was!–dragged on, bringing no sleep to my eyes?  Why are my weary limbs visited with restlessness and pain?  If it were Love that had come to make me suffer, surely I should know it.  Or stay, what if he slips in like a thief, what if he comes, without a word of warning, to wound me with his cruel arts?  Yes, ’tis he!  His slender arrows have pierced my heart, and fell Love holds it like a conquered land.   Shall I yield me to him?  Or shall I strive against him, and so add fuel to this sudden flame?  Well, I will yield; burdens willingly borne do lighter weigh.  I know that the flames will leap from the shaken torch and die away in the one you leave alone.  The young oxen which rebel against the yoke are more often beaten than those which willingly submit.  And if a horse be fiery, harsh is the bit that tames him.  When he takes to the fray with a will, he feels the curb less galling.   And so it is with Love; for hearts that struggle and rebel against him, he is more implacable and stern than for such as willingly confess his sway. MORE HERE

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                     Nearly Naked Links                  

From Friday’s and Saturday’s Files

Naked Capitalism on Vault Seven – http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/gaius-publius-explosive-wikileaks-release-exposes-massive-aggressive-cia-cyber-spying-hacking-capability.html

Berlin’s Film Festival & Contemporary Life – http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/09/berl-m09.html

Deconstructing Russian Devil Bullshit

The United States and the Russian Devil: 1917-2017



student writing arm


Lansing, MI, United States
Event Date: April 8, 2017
Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions
E-mail address: arallyofwriters@att.net

The 30th annual Rally of Writers Conference will be held on April 8 on the West Campus of Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. The conference features workshops, craft and publishing talks, and author readings in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Participating writers and publishing professionals include poet Terry Wooten; fiction writers Landis Lain, Steven Piziks, and Jess Wells; nonfiction writer Andrea King Collier; and agent Alice Speilburg (Speilburg Literary). Fiction writer Lori Nelson Spielman will deliver the keynote. The cost of the conference is $85 ($60 for students) in advance, and $100 ($70 for students) on-site. Visit the website for more information.


March 20, 2017
Entry Fee: $20
Cash Prize: $10,000

A prize of $10,000 is given occasionally for an essay. Two $2,500 runner-up prizes will also be awarded. The winning essays will be published in Creative Nonfiction. The theme for the Winter 2018 issue is “Dangerous Creations: Real-life Frankenstein Stories.” Submit an essay of up to 4,000 words with a $20 entry fee (waived for current subscribers), or $25 for a subscription to Creative Nonfiction, by March 20. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

pascal maramis - flickr
pascal maramis – flickr


Wide Open Country is looking for Contributors – remote

We’re looking for writers who can consistently create articles on country music and lifestyle topics with an engaging, but informative tone to be published on Wide Open Country…

Company: Wide Open Country
Payment: TBD
Skills: Writing
Source: company website


WRISSHuxley on Propaganda’s Allure

A Reason to Stand view of why propaganda is so endlessly appealing:  “So I suppose the question for those of us who recognize our society’s noticeable and definite shift towards being almost exclusively controlled by propaganda (mostly through means of entertainment) is this; How far are we willing to go to persuade our fellow countrymen to step back from the precipice and prevent a “Brave New World” from occurring here in America?”



LOC’s New Copyright Blog

A new Library of Congress blog that informs readers to the inner workings of the copyright office: “With roughly 400 employees across eight divisions, the Copyright Office represents myriad perspectives, backgrounds, and interests. We are current and former musicians, writers, and software developers; we’ve performed in children’s theater, at Carnegie Hall, and at the Vatican. We have acted in popular TV shows, played on a nationally ranked rugby team, and crafted anti-terrorism training for developing countries. We have worked in the public and private sectors, in academia and at nonprofits, for content companies and technology companies. Altogether we have worked in at least fifteen different federal agencies and speak languages as varied as Swahili, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, Marathi, and ancient Greek.”


A Possible CIA Journalistic Murder

A Mint Press News article that contextualizes a recent violent murder: “The untimely and violent death of award-winning journalist Michael Hastings sparked rumors for years that the CIA was somehow involved in the car crash that claimed his life. Now, Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” revelations have shown that the CIA has long had the ability to remotely hijack vehicles in order to conduct “undetectable assassinations.””

GENISSNuclear War Victory Fantasies

A Consortium News view of some of the dangerous games we’re playing with nukes: “Official Washington’s anti-Russian hysteria has distorted U.S. politics while also escalating risks of a nuclear war as U.S. war planners dream of “winning” a first-strike attack on Russia, reports Jonathan Marshall.”

3.20.2017 Nearly Naked Links

Berlin’s Film Festival & Contemporary Life – http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/09/berl-m09.html

Okaying Forfeiture Fascism – http://us4.campaign-archive2.com/?u=f6eb78f457b7b82887b643445&id=fee132a746&e=798f08cf09

Cremating Journalism in CIA Crucible

Wikileaks Vault 7 Release Paints A Grim Picture For Journalism

Spying, Lying, & History

Spying Is Lying, Spies Tell Lies

Ongoing ReDEMOPUBLICRATICAN Attack on Greens

Democrats’ McCarthyism Hits Greens’ Stein

Bourgeois Petty Tyrants in Charge

GREAT BRITAIN? The Bourgeois Petty Tyrants, Buffoons and Criminals Strutting the World Stage

Objectivity’s Eliciting Conformity – http://www.globalresearch.ca/deadly-facts-how-so-called-objectivity-created-a-culture-of-conformity/5578623

Escobar on ‘WikiTrump’ ‘Treachery’ – http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46624.htm

Bernays’ Persistent Impact

22 Years Ago Today, Edward Bernays Died And His Propaganda Is Still Used to Control You

Nuclear Fool Cycle’s Navajo Toxicity

Contamination from decades of uranium mining lingers on Navajo land

Amplifying Europe’s Vast Crisis – http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/10/eusu-m10.html

Monopoly Media’s Close ‘Intelligence’ Ties – http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/10/hayd-m10.html

More Jobs Anomalies

Why Are There Still So Many Jobs?

De Beauvoir’s Contemporary Resonance – https://aeon.co/ideas/simone-de-beauvoirs-political-philosophy-resonates-today

Roberts Reviews Lapham

Our Age Of Folly — Paul Craig Roberts

Gutting Access to Legal Remedies – http://wallstreetonparade.com/2017/03/republicans-plan-a-coup-today-in-the-house-gutting-established-class-action-law/

FBI’s Police State Impulses

Modern FBI Is An Outgrowth of the Gestapo

A Lima Cloud Pitch – https://meetlima.com/whats-the-cloud.php

3.17.2017 Nearly Naked Links

From Thursday’s Files

Pixabay Image 1888209

Orwell’s Review of We – http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/zamyatin/english/e_zamy

A Pair of Views About a White Supremacist Text



A Double Amistad-Case Dip – https://www.law.cornell.edu/background/amistad/summary.html

Socioeconomic Devolution Resplendent –  http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176253/tomgram%3A_john_feffer%2C_next_stop%3A_the_deconstruction_zone/#more

Psychedelia’s Efficient Treatment Options

Report: LSD Can Replace Years of Depression & Addiction Therapy — In Mere Hours

Dangerous ReDemoPubliCratiCan Diversion

The Democrats’ Dangerous Diversion

Factual Conspiracy Theories

7 conspiracy theories that aren’t actually conspiracy theories

A Likely Pop-Culture Spy

ClandesTime 102 – Was Richard Whiteley a Spy?

Herman Hesse’s Advice

Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence

A Third-Party Bernie Draft – http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/03/campaign-calls-bernie-sanders-lead-new-party.html

Bizarre Gun Laws – http://fortunascorner.com/2017/03/11/after-wikileaks-cia-report-judge-must-expand-mass-surveillance-cases/

Mississippi Workers Fight for All – http://laborsouth.blogspot.com/2017/03/bernie-sanders-to-nissan-workers-in.html

Considering Bukowski and Barfly – http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/mickey-rourke-plays-a-tough-barfly

CIA’s Memory Loss, Re Spying – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/03/cia-art-spying-espionage-spies-military-terrorism-214875

U.N. Investigatory Flaws on Syria

A Flawed UN Investigation on Syria

Fukushima’s Continuing Horror – http://www.ecowatch.com/fukushima-radiation-greenpeace-2309259239.html

Deep State Internal Conflicts, Meltdown – http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46630.htm


3.17.2017 Day in History

ireland tower fortress eyreToday, anywhere that boasts a tinge of Irish, is St. Patrick’s Day, of course, allegedly fifteen hundred fifty-seven years after his martyrdom; thirteen hundred and ninety-three years ago, forces under the leadership of Muhammad defeated the rulers of Medina in the continuing expansion of Mohammedism and Islam; three hundred and seventy-seven years subsequent to that event, in 1001, a different imperial negotiation occurred when representatives of Filipino rulers visited the Song Dynasty leaders of China to establish trade and cultural ties; just beyond four and a half centuries later, in 1452, on the Iberian peninsula, Christian forces at the Battle of Los Alporchones further consolidated the stranglehold that would soon oust the Emirate of Granada; a hundred and fifty-eight years subsequently, in 1560,  further internecine rivalry occurred when Portuguese forces successfully attacked a French fortress at Villegagnon island in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;  one hundred seventeen corcovado_rio_twilight_2years in the future from that point, in 1677, in all-too-common inter-European rivalry, France captured the city of Valenciennes in the Franco Dutch War; two hundred seventy-five years back, the playwright and critic and satirist Jean-Baptiste Rousseau breathed his last; thirty-four down the pike, in 1776, a new sort of inter-European rivalry led to the withdrawal of British forces from the siege of Boston, as a result of George Washington’s tactical intelligence with artillery; exactly four years after, in 1780, Washington granted his troops a holiday in solidarity with Irish St Patrick’s celebrants; seven hundred thirty days thereafter, in 1782, across the Atlantic in Switzerland, one of the brilliant Bernoulli mathematicians, Daniel, lived out his final theorem; two hundred twelve years in advance of today’s events,  Napoleon assumed the regal leadership of Italy as a kingdom; a half-century and six years still further on, in 1861, the modern kingdom of Italy came into existence as an independent national entity; a hundred and twenty-seven years before the here and now, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters led the struggle in the United States for an eight hour

CC BY-NC by State Library Victoria Collections
CC BY-NC by State Library Victoria Collections

day; fourteen hundred and thirty-one days past that conjunction, in 1894, the United States and China ‘agreed’ to exclude Chinese labor from U.S. production; eighteen years even closer to now, in 1912,  a baby boys opened his eyes who would rise as the civil rights activist and leader Bayard Rustin; five years hence, in 1917, German philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano’s life came to an end; a dozen years past that conjunction, in 1929, a baby girl came squalling into the world en route to a life as prominent publisher, feminist, and humanist Florence Howe, founder of the Feminist Press; a decade nearer to now, in 1939, Japan sought to continue its dominance of Chinese nationalist forces at the Battle of Nanchang; two years precisely after that, in 1941, President Roosevelt inaugurated the National Gallery of Art in the District of Columbia; seven years past that moment in time, in 1948, the Benelux countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), France, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Brussels, a predecessor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and a male infant uttered his first cry on his way to an evocative body of science fiction and commentary under the moniker of William Gibson; two years subsequently, in 1950, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory workers at Berkeley continued their Modern Nuclear Project investigations with the discovery of the 98th element in the periodic table, Californium; half a decade beyond that conjunction, in 1955, a female child entered the world in Atlanta who would grow up as gadfly and political stalwart of the people, Cynthia McKinney; three years more proximate still to the present pass, in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space planets space saturn cosmosAdministration launched the first in its series of Vanguard satellites, and the baby boy came along who would become prominent Hispanic journalist and news anchor, Jorge Ramos; seven hundred and thirty days after that precise point, in 1960, President Eisenhower signed the National Security directive that targeted Cuba’s revolutionary process for extermination; in one of the least intentional developments of the Modern Nuclear Project, six years later, in 1966, a U.S submarine discovered a hydrogen bomb that was missing after a B-52 crash, and Cesar Chavez led a farm workers’ march that began in Delano on St Patrick’s Day, headed for the state capital; two years down the road from that, in 1968, across the Atlantic and most of the North American continent, other defense department killing-technology-research resulted in the deaths of thousands of sheep in Utah from nerve gas, and still further West, in the Bay Area, radio station KPMX received notice from multiple popular Rock and Roll acts to stop playing their songs because the station was using strikebreakers; two years still further along, in 1970,  the United States Army responded to the atrocities and crimes against humanity in Vietnam by charging 14 junior officers with crimes in relation to the slaughter at My Lai; eighteen years even closer to today, in 1988, in a proxy conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Eritrean rebels attacked national troops in the opening of the battle at Afabet; four years thereafter, in 1992, Southwest across the African continent and the Atlantic, terrorists exploded a devastating bomb at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and directly across the South Atlantic from there, South African voters overwhelmingly approved dismantling apartheid; eight years burning man hippiestoward today from that, in 2000, Boeing workers successfully concluded their strike against the aircraft company; three years hence, in 2003,  across North America and the Atlantic, British foreign secretary Robin Cook resigned in protest at the imperial depredation of making war on Iraq; another seven hundred and thirty-one days onward, in 2005, iconic Cold War theorist and political philosopher George Kennan completed his century-long journey; seven years still closer to the present, in 2012, important progressive historian Paul Boyer took his last breath; two years later on, in 2014, dramatist and theater director Gene Feist played out his final scene.

3.17.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Paul Boyer, 2010.
2. William Gibson, 2011.
3. Wolfgang Huemer, 2014.
4. Cynthia McKinney, 2016.
Numero Uno“Garry Wills is a national treasure.  His 40-odd books range from Saint Augustine to John Wayne, but the heart of his work lies with American politics, from the Founding Fathers, the Federalist Papers, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to the brilliant Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1970); The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power (1982); and Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home (1987).  The product of a rigorous Catholic edu­cation, and a one-time conservative protégé of William F. Buck­­ley, Wills over a long career has evolved into a public intellectual.  In all his work, he brings to bear his graduate training in the classics, a profound knowledge of U.S. history and constitutional thought, and, above all, a humane yet rigorous moral sensibility.

Now, at 75, Wills in his latest book explores the vast and, in his view, deplorable expansion of the executive branch since World War II.  He examines the emergence of powerful and shadowy bureaucracies such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and the National Security Agency.  He probes the obsession with secrecy by which successive administra­tions have hidden their illegal and maladroit actions.  He looks at the inflation of the president’s status from the limited function as commander-in-chief of the military prescribed by the Constitution to ‘Commander in Chief’ of the entire nation, granted sycophantic deference by legislators, the media, and the public.

In the tradition of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s The Imperial Presidency (1973), Wills measures today’s bloated presidency against the closely circumscribed office intended by the Founders. James Madison’s assertion in Federalist 51 that “In republican government the legislative authority, necessarily, predominates” becomes for Wills the standard by which the contemporary executive branch must be judged.

Wills recognizes that the process he documents long predates 1945. He notes Thomas Jefferson’s breathtaking purchase of the Louisiana Territory without congressional authorization, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and abrogation of habeas corpus as military measures, and Teddy Roosevelt’s fondness for policy-setting “executive orders.” (He might have added Andrew Jackson’s arrogant defiance of the Supreme Court in the 1832 Indian-removal case Worcester v. Georgia [“John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”]; the Wilson Administration’s constitutional violations during and after World War I; and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s expansive presidency. Boasted FDR to an aide in 1936: “There is one issue in this campaign. It is myself.”)

For Wills, however, these earlier assertions of presidential power pale in comparison to recent times when, in the name of national security, the presidency has inexorably expanded at the expense of (indeed, often enabled by) the legislative and judicial branches. While noting periodic congressional and judicial efforts to rein in executive power, such as the constraints imposed on the CIA in the 1947 National Security Act, the 1973 War Powers Act, and the Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States, he also shows that just as routinely the executive branch ignored or bypassed such attempts.

Wills cites many aggrandizing actions by Republican administrations, including Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia, overthrow of Chile’s elected government, and Watergate crimes, and Reagan’s Iran-contra illegalities. Citing Peter Irons’s War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution (2005) and Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (2008), he devastatingly critiques the “crescendo of presidential arrogance” in the Bush-Cheney years, including John Yoo’s now familiar but still chilling “torture memos” and Bush’s incessant use of “signing statements” to put his own spin on a law’s meaning and to define how (or whether) he chose to enforce it.

But as Wills documents the roots of the National Security State in the Truman years and the Obama Administration’s depressing echoing of the secrecy and executive-privilege claims of the Bush-Cheney years, he concludes that the long-term expansion of executive power transcends party and is so deeply entrenched that hopes of reversing it are slight. As he writes in his afterword, summing up the book’s argument:

The momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked, or even slowed. It was not created by the Bush administration. The whole history of America since World War II caused an inertial rolling of power toward the executive branch. The monopoly on [the] use of nuclear weaponry, the cult of the Commander in Chief, the worldwide web of military bases to maintain nuclear alert and supremacy, the secret intelligence agencies, the whole National Security State, the classification and clearance systems, the expansion of state secrets, the withholding of evidence and information, the permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the Cold War and the Cold War with the war on terror—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to efforts at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers . . . have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order.

As this passage—and the book’s title, Bomb Power—suggests, Wills sees the advent of nuclear weapons, and the president’s power to order a nuclear attack, as crucial to the emergence of the National Security State and the ensuing burgeoning of executive power. The super-secret Manhattan Project he calls “the seed of all the growing powers that followed.” Ever since, he contends, the Bomb has driven the steady expansion of presidential power. After all, if a president has the Zeus-like capacity to destroy entire nations and snuff out millions of lives instantaneously, all other powers are trivialized in comparison. When the 1946 Atomic Energy Act granted this cosmic authority solely to the president, Wills writes, “the nature of the presidency was irrevocably altered,” leading to a vast expansion of executive power in all directions, including a sprawling security apparatus to protect nuclear secrets. This consequence was foreseen by such early post-Hiroshima commentators as Dwight Macdonald, Lewis Mumford, and the constitutional scholar Edward S. Corwin (Total War and the Constitution, 1947), and Wills powerfully confirms and updates their warnings.

Not all extensions of executive power can be so clearly tied to the Bomb, however. The plots to assassinate foreign leaders and overthrow governments seem more linked to the imperatives of U.S. global economic interests and hegemony. Even more problematic for Wills’s argument is the expansion of federal regulatory powers through executive-branch agencies—some dating to the Progressive or New Deal eras, and others to more recent times: the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, etc. These more “benign” enlargements of executive power reflect domestic political dynamics unrelated to the Bomb.

Wills might have explored more fully how growing executive power relates to the larger pattern of corporate power in Cold War America, memorably described by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 as “the military-industrial complex.” More attention to this interconnection, examined in such now-distant works as C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite (1956), Fred J. Cook’s The Warfare State (1962), and Seymour Melman’s The Permanent War Economy (1974), would have enabled Wills to link the process he examines to broader social and economic developments in postwar America.

With this book, Wills joins a considerable company of writers who over the years have issued similar warnings, ranging from Raoul Berger’s Executive Privilege: A Constitutional Myth (1974) to such recent works as Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic (2004) and In Democracy’s Shadow: The Secret World of National Security (2005), edited by Marcus G. Raskin and A. Carl LeVan.  This polemical tradition cuts across ideological lines.  New Left radicals of the 1960s denounced LBJ’s Gulf of Tonkin deception and the nexus of government and corporate power they called ‘the Establishment.’  At the same time, denunciations of expanding executive power (particularly regulatory power) have been a staple of the libertarian strand of conservative ideology pioneered by the economist and political theorist Ludwig von Mises, who as early as 1944 published Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War. Mises’ antigovernment animus, including executive-branch usurpations, lives on in such works as Murray Rothbard’s coauthored New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State (1972) and John Denson’s Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom (2001), published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

In his conclusion, Wills again concedes that the process he describes seems nearly irresistible.  Nevertheless, he insists, Arthur Miller– fashion, attention must be paid.  If citizens only realized the danger of such power, he seems to suggest, the republican system of checks and balances envisioned by the Founders, with a strictly limited executive branch, might yet be restored.  But as Wills’s classical training, including an awareness of the collapse of Athenian democracy and of the Roman Republic alike, surely reminds him, the hope is slim.  This is a bleak and pessimistic work from a major American public intellectual.” Paul Boyer, “The Imbalance of Power: How the Manhattan Project Gave Birth to the Imperial Presidency;” an American Scholar book review, 2010

Numero Dos“Vancouver, British Columbia, sits just on the far side of the American border, a green-glass model city set in the dish of the North Shore Mountains, which enclose the city and support, most days, a thick canopy of fog.  There are periods in the year when it’ll rain for forty days, William Gibson tells me one mucky day there this winter, and when visibility drops so low you can’t see what’s coming at you from the nearest street corner.  But large parts of Vancouver are traversed by trolley cars, and on clear nights you can gaze up at the wide expanse of Pacific sky through the haphazard grid of their electric wires.Gibson came to Vancouver in 1972, a twenty-four-year-old orphan who’d spent the past half-­decade trawling the counterculture in Toronto on his wandering way from small-town southern Virginia.  He had never been to the Far East, which would yield so much of the junk-heap casino texture of his early fiction.  He hadn’t been to college and didn’t yet intend to go.  He hadn’t yet heard of the Internet, or even its predecessors arpanet and Telenet.  He thought he might become a film-cell animator.  He hadn’t yet written any science fiction—he hadn’t read any science fiction since adolescence, having discarded the stuff more or less completely at fourteen, just, he says, as its publishers intended.

Today, Gibson is lanky and somewhat shy, avuncular and slow to speak—more what you would expect from the lapsed science-fiction enthusiast he was in 1972 than the genre-vanquishing hero he has become since the publication of his first novel, the hallucinatory hacker thriller Neuromancer, in 1984.  Gibson resists being called a visionary, yet his nine novels constitute as subtle and clarifying a meditation on the transformation of culture by technology as has been written since the beginning of what we now know to call the information age.  Neuromancer, famously, gave us the term ­cyberspace and the vision of the Internet as a lawless, spellbinding realm.  And, with its two sequels, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), it helped establish the cultural figure of the computer hacker as cowboy hero.  In his Bridge series—Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999), each of which unfolds in a Bay Bridge shantytown improvised ­after a devastating Pacific earthquake transforms much of San Francisco—he planted potted futures of celebrity journalism, reality television, and nanotechnology, each prescient and persuasive and altogether weird.

Neuromancer and its two sequels were set in distant decades and contrived to dazzle the reader with strangeness, but the Bridge novels are set in the near future—so near they read like alternate history, Gibson says, with evident pride.  With his next books, he began to write about the present-day, or more precisely, the recent past: each of the three novels in the series is set in the year before it was written.  He started with September 11, 2001.

Pattern Recognition was the first of that series.  It has been called ‘an eerie vision of our time’ by The New Yorker, ‘one of the first authentic and vital novels of the twenty-first century,’ by The Washington Post Book World, and, by The Economist, ‘probably the best exploration yet of the function and power of product branding and advertising in the age of globalization.’  The Pattern Recognition books are also the first since Mona Lisa Overdrive in which Gibson’s characters speak of cyberspace, and they speak of it elegiacally.  ‘I saw it go from the yellow legal pad to the Oxford English Dictionary,’ he tells me.  ‘But cyberspace is everywhere now, having everted and colonized the world.  It starts to sound kind of ridiculous to speak of cyberspace as being somewhere else.’

You can tell the term still holds some magic for him, perhaps even more so now that it is passing into obsolescence.  The opposite is true for ­cyberpunk, a neologism that haunts him to this day.  On a short walk to lunch one afternoon, from the two-story mock-Tudor house where he lives with his wife, Deborah, he complained about a recent visit from a British journalist, who came to Vancouver searching for ‘Mr. Cyberpunk’ and was disappointed to find him ensconced in a pleasantly quiet suburban patch of central Vancouver.  Mr. Cyberpunk seemed wounded by having his work ­pigeonholed, but equally so by the insult to his home, which is quite ­comfortable, and his neighborhood, which is, too.  ‘We like it quiet,’ he explained.

—David Wallace-Wells


What’s wrong with cyberpunk?


A snappy label and a manifesto would have been two of the very last things on my own career want list.  That label enabled mainstream science fiction to safely assimilate our dissident influence, such as it was.  Cyberpunk could then be embraced and given prizes and patted on the head, and genre science fiction could continue unchanged.


What was that dissident influence? What were you trying to do?


I didn’t have a manifesto. I had some discontent. It seemed to me that midcentury mainstream American science fiction had often been triumphalist and militaristic, a sort of folk propaganda for American exceptionalism. I was tired of America-as-the-future, the world as a white monoculture, the protagonist as a good guy from the middle class or above. I wanted there to be more elbow room. I wanted to make room for antiheroes.

I also wanted science fiction to be more naturalistic. There had been a poverty of description in much of it. The technology depicted was so slick and clean that it was practically invisible. What would any given SF favorite look like if we could crank up the resolution? As it was then, much of it was like video games before the invention of fractal dirt. I wanted to see dirt in the corners.


How do you begin a novel?


I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.


You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?


No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.

E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m in the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why the story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.


Do you take notes?


I take the position that if I can forget it, it couldn’t have been very good.

But in the course of a given book, I sometimes get to a point where the ­narrative flow overwhelms the speed at which I can compose. So I’ll sometimes stop and make cryptic notes that are useless by the time I get back to them. Underlined three times, with no context—“Have they been too big a deal?”


What is your writing schedule like?


When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.


And your schedule is steady the whole way through?


As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.

Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.


Do you revise?


Every day, when I sit down with the manuscript, I start at page one and go through the whole thing, revising freely.


You revise the whole manuscript every day?


I do, though that might consist of only a few small changes. I’ve done that since my earliest attempts at short stories. It would be really frustrating for me not to be able to do that. I would feel as though I were flying blind.

The beginnings of my books are rewritten many times. The endings are only a draft or three, and then they’re done. But I can scan the manuscript very quickly, much more quickly than I could ever read anyone else’s prose.


Does your assessment of the work change, day by day?


If it were absolutely steady I don’t think it could be really good judgment. I think revision is hugely underrated. It is very seldom recognized as a place where the higher creativity can live, or where it can manifest. I think it was Yeats who said that literary revision was the only place in life where a man could truly improve himself.


How much do you write in a typical day?


I don’t know. I used to make printouts at every stage, just to be comforted by the physical fact of the pile of manuscript. It was seldom more than five manuscript pages. I was still doing that with Pattern Recognition, out of nervousness that all the computers would die and take my book with them. I was printing it out and sending it to first readers by fax, usually beginning with the first page. I’m still sending my output to readers every day. But I’ve learned to just let it live in the hard drive, and once I’d quit printing out the daily output, I lost track.


For a while it was often reported, erroneously, that you typed all your books on a typewriter.


I wrote Neuromancer on a manual portable typewriter and about half of Count Zero on the same machine. Then it broke, in a way that was more or less irreparable. Bruce Sterling called me shortly thereafter and said, “This changes everything!” I said, “What?” He said, “My Dad gave me his Apple II. You have to get one of these things!” I said, “Why?” He said, “Automation—it automates the process of writing!” I’ve never gone back.

But I had only been using a typewriter because I’d gotten one for free and I was poor. In 1981, most people were still writing on typewriters. There were five large businesses in Vancouver that did nothing but repair and sell typewriters. Soon there were computers, too, and it was a case of the past and the future mutually coexisting. And then the past just goes away.


For someone who so often writes about the future of technology, you seem to have a real romance for artifacts of earlier eras.


It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.

My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted.


Was television a big deal in your childhood?


I can remember my father bringing home our first set—this ornate wooden cabinet that was the size of a small refrigerator, with a round cathode-ray picture tube and wooden speaker grilles over elaborate fabric. Like a piece of archaic furniture, even then. Everybody would gather around at a particular time for a broadcast—a baseball game or a variety show or something. And then it would go back to a mandala that was called a test pattern, or nothing—static.

We know that something happened then. We know that broadcast television did something—did everything—to us, and that now we aren’t the same, though broadcast television, in that sense, is already almost over. I can remember seeing the emergence of broadcast television, but I can’t tell what it did to us because I became that which watched broadcast television.

The strongest impacts of an emergent technology are always unanticipated. You can’t know what people are going to do until they get their hands on it and start using it on a daily basis, using it to make a buck and u­sing it for criminal purposes and all the different things that people do. The people who invented pagers, for instance, never imagined that they would change the shape of urban drug dealing all over the world. But pagers so completely changed drug dealing that they ultimately resulted in pay phones being removed from cities as part of a strategy to prevent them from becoming illicit drug markets. We’re increasingly aware that our society is driven by these unpredictable uses we find for the products of our imagination.


What was it like growing up in Wytheville, Virginia?


Wytheville was a small town. I wasn’t a very happy kid, but there were ­aspects of the town that delighted me. It was rather short on books, though. There was a rotating wire rack of paperbacks at the Greyhound station on Main Street, another one at a soda fountain, and another one at a drugstore. That was all the book retail anywhere in my hometown.

My parents were both from Wytheville. They eventually got together, though rather late for each of them. My father had been married previously, and my mother was probably regarded as a spinster. My mother’s family had been in Wytheville forever and was quite well-off and established, in a very small-town sort of way. My father’s father had moved down from Pennsylvania to start a lumber company. Once the railroads had gotten far enough back into the mountains, after the Civil War, there were a lot of fortunes being made extracting resources.

My mother had had some college, which was unusual for a young woman in that part of the world, but she hadn’t married, which was basically all a woman of her class was supposed to do. When she did eventually marry my father, he was the breadwinner. He had had some college, too, had studied engineering, which enabled him to wind up working postwar for a big construction company. My earliest memories are of moving from project to project, every year or so, as this company built Levittown-like suburbs in Tennessee and North Carolina.


And as these projects were being built you would live in one of the houses?


We did, in these rather sadly aspirational ranch-style houses within brand-new, often unoccupied suburbs. It was right at the beginning of broadcast television, and the world on television was very much the world of that sort of house, and of the suburb. It was a vision of modernity, and I felt part of that.

But my father was often away—he traveled constantly on business trips. When I was about six, he left on one business trip and died. Within a week, my mother and I were back in Wytheville.


How did he die?


It’s odd the way families try to help people grieve—it doesn’t always work out. I was told at the time that he had died of a heart attack. Then later, I began to think, You know, he was young—that’s pretty scary! Twenty years later somebody said to me, Actually, he choked on something in a restaurant. It was a Heimlich maneuver death prior to the Heimlich maneuver.

It was a hugely traumatic loss, and not just because I’d lost my father. In Wytheville, I felt I wasn’t in that modern world anymore. I had been living in a vision of the future, and then suddenly I was living in a vision of the past. There was television, but the world outside the window could have been the 1940s or the 1930s or even the 1900s, depending on which direction you looked. It was a very old-fashioned place.

Towns like that in the South were virtually tribal in those days. Everything was about who your kin were. I was this weird alienated little critter who wasn’t even that into his own kin. I was shy and withdrawn. I just wanted to stay in my room and read books and watch television, or go to the movies.


What drew you to that stuff?


It was a window into strangeness. Any kind of foreign material got my interest, anything that wasn’t from the United States I would walk around the block to see. Most of what you could see on television or at the movies was very controlled, but sometimes you could just turn on your television and see some fabulous random thing, because the local channels had space they couldn’t afford to fill with network material. They might show old films more or less at random, and they wouldn’t necessarily have been screened for content. So there were occasionally coincidences of this kind of odd, other universe—some dark, British crime film from the 1940s, say.

My mother got me an omnibus Sherlock Holmes for a tenth-birthday present and I loved it. I remember casting one particular brick building that I walked by every day as a building in Sherlock Holmes’s London. That could be in London, that building, I thought. I developed this special relationship with the facade of this building, and when I was in front of it I could imagine that there was an infinite number of similar buildings in every direction and I was in Sherlock Holmes’s London.

Part of my method for writing fiction grew out of that fundamental small-town lack of novelty. It caused me to develop an inference mechanism for imagining distant places. I would see, perhaps, a picture of a Sunbeam Alpine sports car and infer a life in England. I always held on to that, and

it migrated into my early fiction, particularly where I would create an ­imaginary artifact in the course of writing and infer the culture that had produced it.


Do you think fiction should be predictive?


No, I don’t. Or not particularly. The record of futurism in science fiction is actually quite shabby, it seems to me. Used bookstores are full of visionary texts we’ve never heard of, usually for perfectly good reasons.


You’ve written that science fiction is never about the future, that it is always instead a treatment of the present.


There are dedicated futurists who feel very seriously that they are extrapolating a future history. My position is that you can’t do that without having the present to stand on. Nobody can know the real future. And novels set in imaginary futures are necessarily about the moment in which they are written. As soon as a work is complete, it will begin to acquire a patina of anachronism. I know that from the moment I add the final period, the text is moving steadily forward into the real future.

There was an effort in the seventies to lose the usage science fiction and champion speculative fiction. Of course, all fiction is speculative, and all history, too—endlessly subject to revision. Particularly given all of the emerging technology today, in a hundred years the long span of human history will look fabulously different from the version we have now. If things go on the way they’re going, and technology keeps emerging, we’ll eventually have a near-total sorting of humanity’s attic.

In my lifetime I’ve been able to watch completely different narratives of history emerge. The history now of what World War II was about and how it actually took place is radically different from the history I was taught in elementary school. If you read the Victorians writing about themselves, they’re describing something that never existed. The Victorians didn’t think of themselves as sexually repressed, and they didn’t think of themselves as racist. They didn’t think of themselves as colonialists. They thought of themselves as the crown of creation.

Of course, we might be Victorians, too.


The Victorians invented science fiction.


I think the popular perception that we’re a lot like the Victorians is in large part correct. One way is that we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing t­echnoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness. We’ve gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven’t had one in a while.

But if you read the accounts of people who rode steam trains for the first time, for instance, they went a little crazy. They’d traveled fifteen miles an hour, and when they were writing the accounts afterward they struggled to describe that unthinkable speed and what this linear velocity does to a perspective as you’re looking forward. There was even a Victorian medical complaint called “railway spine.”

Emergent technologies were irreversibly altering their landscape. Bleak House is a quintessential Victorian text, but it is also probably the best steam­punk landscape that will ever be. Dickens really nailed it, especially in those proto-Ballardian passages in which everything in nature has been damaged by heavy industry. But there were relatively few voices like Dickens then. Most people thought the progress of industry was all very exciting. Only a few were saying, Hang on, we think the birds are dying.


Were you hunting around for books as a kid?


I knew what day of the month the truck would come and put new books on those wire racks around town, but sometimes I would just go anyway, on the off chance that I had missed something during the last visit. In those days you could have bought all of the paperback science fiction that was being published in the United States, monthly, and it probably wouldn’t have cost you five dollars. There was just very little stuff coming out, and it was never enough for me.

A couple of times I found big moldering piles of old science fiction in junk shops and bought it all for a dollar and carted it home. These magazines were probably eight or ten years old, but to me they were ancient—it felt like they were from the nineteenth century. That there could be something in one of these magazines that was completely mind blowing was an amazing thing.


What was so affecting about it?


It gave me an uncensored window into very foreign modes of thought. There was a lot of inherent cultural relativism in the science fiction I discovered then. It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!

That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.

And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.


Who were the writers that were most important to you?


Alfred Bester was among the first dozen science-fiction writers I read when I was twelve years old, and I remember being amazed, doing my own science-fiction-writer reconnaissance work a decade or two later, that someone I had discovered that young still seemed to me to be so amazing.

Bester had been doing it in the fifties—a Madison Avenue hepcat who had come into science fiction with a bunch of Joyce under his belt. He built his space-opera future out of what it felt like to be young and happening in New York, in the creative end of the business world in 1955. The plotlines were pulp and gothic and baroque, but what I loved most was the way it seemed to be built out of something real and complex and sophisticated. I hadn’t found that in a lot of other science fiction.


What other writing interested you then?


Fritz Leiber was another culturally sophisticated American science-fiction writer—unusually sophisticated. Samuel Delany, too. I was a teenager, just thirteen or fourteen, reading novels Delany had written as a teenager—that was incredible to me.

I started reading so-called adult science fiction when I was eleven or twelve, and by the time I was fourteen or fifteen I had already moved on, into other kinds of fiction, but somewhere in that very short period I discovered British science fiction and what was at that time called British New Wave science fiction, led, it seemed to me, by J. G. Ballard.

There was a kind of literary war underway between the British New Wave people and the very conservative American science-fiction writers—who probably wouldn’t even have thought of themselves as very conservative—saying, That’s no good, you can’t do that, you don’t know how to tell a story, and besides you’re a communist. I remember being frightened by that rhetoric. It was the first time I ever saw an art movement, I suppose.

When I decided to try to write myself, in my late twenties, I went out and bought a bunch of newer science fiction—I hadn’t been reading the stuff for a long while. It was incredibly disappointing. That window to strangeness just didn’t seem to be there anymore. It was like, when I was twelve there was country blues, and when I’m twenty-six there’s plastic Nashville country—it was that kind of change. My intent, when I began to write, was to be a one-man science-fiction roots movement. I remember ­being horrified that critics who were taken quite seriously, at least within the genre, habitually referred to the category of all writing that was not science fiction or fantasy as “the mundane.” It didn’t make any sense to me. If there was mundane literature, then certainly a lot of it was science fiction. You know, if James Joyce is mundane but Edgar Rice Burroughs isn’t—I’m out of here.


When did you encounter the Beats?


More or less the same time I found science fiction, because I found the Beats when the idea of them had been made sufficiently mainstream that there were paperback anthologies on the same wire rack at the bus station. I remember being totally baffled by one Beat paperback, an anthology of short bits and excerpts from novels. I sort of understood what little bits of Kerouac were in this thing—I could read him—but then there was William S. Burroughs and excerpts from Naked Lunch I thought, What the heck is that? I could tell that there was science fiction, somehow, in Naked Lunch. Burroughs had cut up a lot of pulp-noir detective fiction, and he got part of his tonality from science fiction of the forties and the fifties. I could tell it was kind of like science fiction, but that I didn’t understand it.


Was Dick important to you?


I was never much of a Dick fan. He wrote an awful lot of novels, and I don’t think his output was very even. I loved The Man in the High Castle, which was the first really beautifully realized alternate history I read, but by the time I was thinking about writing myself, he’d started publishing novels that were ostensibly autobiographical, and which, it seems to me, he probably didn’t think were fiction.

Pynchon worked much better for me than Dick for epic paranoia, and  he hasn’t yet written a book in which he represents himself as being in direct contact with God. I was never much of a Raymond Chandler fan, either.


Why not?


When science fiction finally got literary naturalism, it got it via the noir detective novel, which is an often decadent offspring of nineteenth-century naturalism. Noir is one of the places that the investigative, analytic, literary impulse went in America. The Goncourt brothers set out to investigate sex and money and power, and many years later, in America, you wind up with Chandler doing something very similar, though highly stylized and with a very different agenda. I always had a feeling that Chandler’s puritanism got in the way, and I was never quite as taken with the language as true Chandler fans seem to be. I distrusted Marlow as a narrator. He wasn’t someone I wanted to meet, and I didn’t find him sympathetic—in large part because Chandler, whom I didn’t trust either, evidently did find him sympathetic.

But I trusted Dashiell Hammett. It felt to me that Hammett was Chandler’s ancestor, even though they were really contemporaries. Chandler civilized it, but Hammett invented it. With Hammett I felt that the author was open to the world in a way Chandler never seems to me to be.

But I don’t think that writers are very reliable witnesses when it comes to influences, because if one of your sources seems woefully unhip you are not going to cite it. When I was just starting out people would say, Well, who are your influences? And I would say, William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon. Those are true, to some extent, but I would never have said Len Deighton, and I suspect I actually learned more for my basic craft reading Deighton’s early spy novels than I did from Burroughs or Ballard or Pynchon.

I don’t know if it was Deighton or John le Carré who, when someone asked them about Ian Fleming, said, I love him, I have been living on his reverse market for years. I was really interested in that idea. Here’s Fleming, with this classist, late–British Empire pulp fantasy about a guy who wears fancy clothes and beats the shit out of bad guys who generally aren’t white, while driving expensive, fast cars, and he’s a spy, supposedly, and this is selling like hotcakes. Deighton and Le Carré come along and completely reverse it, in their different ways, and get a really powerful charge out of not offering James Bond. You’ve got Harry Palmer and George Smiley, neither of whom are James Bond, and people are willing to pay good money for them not to be James Bond.


Were you happy in Wytheville?


I was miserable, but I probably would have been anywhere. I spent a year or two being increasingly weird and depressed. I was just starting to get counter­cultural signals. It’s almost comical, in retrospect—1966 in this small Southern town, and I’m like a Smiths fan or something, this mopey guy who likes to look at fashion magazines but isn’t gay. I was completely out of place, out of time. None of it was particularly dramatic, but I’m sure it was driving my mother crazy. Pretty soon I had become so difficult and hard to get out of bed that I let myself be packed off to a boys’ boarding school in Tucson.


Were you close with your mother?


She was difficult. She was literate—she was actually a compulsive reader, and really respected the idea of writing—and she was very encouraging of any artistic impulses I might have had. Writers were her heroes, and that made her kind of a closeted freak in that town. She was one of maybe ten people who had a subscription to the Sunday New York Times.

But she was also an incredibly anxious, fearful, neurotic person, and I would imagine she was pretty much constantly depressed, except that depression didn’t exist in those days, people were just “down” or “difficult.” But she was a chronically depressed, anxiety-ridden single parent who wanted nothing more than to read novels, chain-smoke Camels, and drink bad coffee all day long. There are worse things a parent can do, but it was still hard.


Were you in Arizona when she died?


I was still in school, but not for much longer. I was sufficiently upset, after she died, that they wound up sending me home after a couple of months. But I didn’t get along with my relatives, so my mother’s best friend and her husband finally took me in. This was a woman who’d been my mother’s literary buddy all her life. She was the only other person in town who cared about modern literature, as far as I knew. It was lifesaving for me, because it gave me somewhere I could be where the people I was with weren’t trying to figure out how to get me into the army.


Had you already decided to avoid the draft?


I’m not sure what would have happened if I had been drafted. I was not the most tightly wrapped package at that time, and I think it would have depended on the day I got the draft notice. I suspect I would have been equally capable of saying, Fuck it, I’m going to Vietnam.

I never did get drafted, but I went off to Canada on a kind of exploratory journey to figure out what I might do if I ever was drafted. I got to Toronto early in 1967 and it was the first time I had been in a big city that was pedestrian friendly, not to mention foreign, so I just stayed there. I figured if they drafted me I was already there. But I found that I couldn’t hang out with the guys who’d been drafted.


Why not?


I didn’t belong. I hadn’t made their decision. And I found them too sad, too angry. Some of their families had disowned them. They could feel, I guessed, that they’d brought dishonor on their families by resisting the draft. Some of these were people who had no intention of ever leaving the United States. There were suicides, there was a lot of drug abuse. Nobody knew that a few years down the road it would all be over and that all would be forgiven. And that wasn’t my situation. I was there because I liked it there.

It was 1967, and the world was in the middle of some sort of secular millenarian convulsion. Young people thought everything would change in some Rapture-like way. Nobody knew what it was going to be like, but ­everybody knew that pretty soon everything would be different.


Did you?


I do remember thinking that the world I was seeing around me probably was going to be very different in relatively short order. But I didn’t assume that it would necessarily be better.

I had become interested at some point, before I got to Toronto, in popular delusions and the madness of crowds. Science-fiction writers had long accessed popular delusions as a source of material—intentional communities where people all believe something nobody else in the world believes, groups of people under some sort of great emotional stress who decide that something is about to happen, people who commit suicide en masse, people who invest in Ponzi schemes. When the sixties cranked up, I felt already familiar with what was happening. Moving to the woods always creeped me out so I just stayed in cities and watched the whole thing congeal.




Like bacon fat in the bottom of the pan. It was ghastly—the nuked psychic ruins of 1967.


And how were you passing the time?


I was one of those annoying people who know they are going to do something in the arts, but never do anything about it. But then, in 1967 and 1968, if you were a part of the secular millenarian movement, even on the fringes, you basically didn’t do anything, you just got up in the morning and walked around, and figured out what you had to do to make that happen again the next day—where you were going to sleep and what could be done to pay the rent. Soon, the hippie rapture would happen and it would all be okay. In the meantime you just hung out. While I suspected that wasn’t really sustainable, I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

I had been hugely fond of Toronto as I first found it in 1967, but by 1972 I had lost that fondness. Montreal had always been the business capital of Canada, and when the Quebecois separatist movement got problematic enough for the country to be placed under martial law, all of the big companies fled to Toronto—the stock market even moved there—and the mood of the place changed very quickly.


You met your wife in Toronto, didn’t you?


I took her coffee one morning. I was staying at my friend’s place, and he had spent the night with some woman and didn’t want to get out of bed, so he called to me and asked me to make them some coffee. I said sure, I made them some coffee, brought it up on a tray, and there was my wife.

After we had been together for a while, I began complaining about the weather in Toronto. I told her, I can’t do this winter, I forgot how bad this is. She said, I know an easier way—come with me to Vancouver. We’ve been here ever since.


That’s when you went back to school.


Those days it was fantastically easy to get a degree at UBC. I discovered very quickly that they were in effect paying me for studying things I was already interested in. I could cool it for four years, and I wouldn’t have to worry about what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

But my wife started to talk about having a child. She already had a job, a real job at the university. Everyone I had known during that four-year period was also trying to get a job. It startled me. They hadn’t really been talking about getting jobs before. But some part of me I had never heard from before sat me down and said, You’ve been bullshitting about this art thing since you were fifteen years old, you’ve never done anything about any of it, you’re about to be shoved into the adult world, so if you’re going to do anything about the art thing, you’ve got to do it right now, or shut up and get a job.

That was really the beginning of my career. My wife continued to have a job after she had the baby, so I became the caregiver guy, the house husband guy, and simultaneously I found that it actually provided ample time to write. When he was asleep, I could write, I knew that was the only time I would have to write. Most of the short fiction I wrote at the beginning was written when our son was asleep.


You wrote your first story for a class, didn’t you?


A woman named Susan Wood had come to UBC as an assistant professor. We were the same age, and I met her while reconnoitering the local science-fiction culture. In my final year she was teaching a science-fiction course. I had become really lazy and thought, I won’t have to read anything if I take her course. No matter what she assigns, I’ve read all the stuff. I’ll just turn up and bullshit brilliantly, and she’ll give me a mark just for doing that. But when I said, “Well, you know, we know one another. Do I really have to write you a paper for this class?” She said, “No, but I think you should write a short story and give me that instead.” I think she probably saw through whatever cover I had erected over my secret plan to become a science-fiction writer.

I went ahead and did it, but it was incredibly painful. It was the hardest thing I did in my senior year, writing this little short story. She said, “That’s good. You should sell it now.” And I said, “No.” And she said, “Yeah, you should sell it.” I went and found the most obscure magazine that paid the least amount of money. It was called Unearth. I submitted it to them, and they bought it and gave me twenty-seven dollars. I felt an enormous sense of relief. At least nobody will ever see it, I thought. That was “Fragments of a Hologram Rose.”


How did you meet John Shirley?


Shirley was the only one of us who was seriously punk. I’d gone to a science-fiction convention in Vancouver, and there I encountered this eccentrically dressed young man my age who seemed to be wearing prison pajamas. He was an extremely outgoing person, and he introduced himself to me: “I’m a singer in a punk band, but my day job is writing science fiction.” I said, “You know, I write a little science fiction myself.” And he said, “Published anything?” And I said, “Oh, not really. This one story in this utterly obscure magazine.” He said, “Well, send me some of your stuff, I’ll give you a critique.”

As soon as he got home he sent me a draft of a short story he had written perhaps an hour beforehand: “This is my new genius short story.” I read it—it was about someone who discovers there are things that live in bars, things that look like drunks and prostitutes but are actually something else—and I saw, as I thought at the time, its flaws. I sat down to write him a critique, but it would have been so much work to critique it that instead I took his story and rewrote it. It was really quick and painless. I sent it back to him, saying, “I hope this won’t piss you off, but it was actually much easier for me to rewrite this than to do a critique.” The next thing I get back is a note—“I sold it!” He had sold it to this hardcover horror anthology. I was like, Oh, shit. Now my name is on this weird story.

People kept doing that to me, and it’s really good that they did. I’d give various friends stuff to read, and they’d say, “What are you going to do with this?” And I’d say, “Nothing, it’s not nearly there yet.” Then they’d Xerox it and submit it on my behalf, to places I would have been terrified to submit to. It seemed unseemly to me to force this unfinished stuff on the world at large.


Do you still consider that work unfinished?


I had a very limited tool kit when I began writing. I didn’t know how to ­handle transitions, so I used abrupt breaks, the literary equivalent of jump cuts. I didn’t have any sense of how to pace anything. But I had read and admired Ballard and Burroughs, and I thought of them as very powerful effect pedals. You get to a certain place in the story and you just step on the Ballard.


What was the effect?


A more genuine kind of future shock. I wanted the reader to feel con­stantly somewhat disoriented and in a foreign place, because I assumed that to be the highest pleasure in reading stories set in imaginary futures. But I’d also read novels where the future-weirdness quotient overwhelmed me and ­simply became boring, so I tried to make sure my early fiction worked as relatively solid genre pieces. Which I still believe is harder to do. When I started Neuromancer, for instance, I wanted to have an absolutely familiar, utterly well-worn armature of pulp plot running throughout the whole thing. It’s the caper plot that carries the reader through.


What do you think of Neuromancer today?


When I look at Neuromancer I see a Soap Box Derby car. I felt, writing it, like I had two-by-fours and an old bicycle wheel and I’m supposed to build something that will catch a Ferrari. This is not going to fly, I thought. But I tried to do it anyway, and I produced this garage artifact, which, amazingly, is still running to this day.

Even so, I got to the end of it, and I didn’t care what it meant, I didn’t even know if it made any sense as a narrative. I didn’t have this huge feeling of, Wow, I just wrote a novel! I didn’t think it might win an award. I just thought, Phew! Now I can figure out how to write an actual novel.


How did you come up with the title?


Coming up with a word like neuromancer is something that would earn you a really fine vacation if you worked in an ad agency. It was a kind of booby-trapped portmanteau that contained considerable potential for cognitive dissonance, that pleasurable buzz of feeling slightly unsettled.

I believed that this could be induced at a number of levels in a text—at the microlevel with neologisms and portmanteaus, or using a familiar word in completely unfamiliar ways. There are a number of well-known techniques for doing this—all of the classic surrealist techniques, for instance, especially the game called exquisite corpse, where you pass a folded piece of paper around the room and write a line of poetry or a single word and fold it again and then the next person blindly adds to it. Sometimes it produces total gibberish, but it can be spookily apt. A lot of what I had to learn to do was play a game of exquisite-corpse solitaire.


Where did cyberspace come from?


I was painfully aware that I lacked an arena for my science fiction. The spaceship had been where science fiction had happened for a very long time, even in the writing of much hipper practitioners like Samuel Delany. The spaceship didn’t work for me, viscerally. I know from some interviews of Ballard’s that it didn’t work for him either. His solution was to treat Earth as the alien planet and perhaps to treat one’s fellow humans as though they were aliens. But that didn’t work for me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to function in a purely Ballardian universe. So I needed something to replace outer space and the spaceship.

I was walking around Vancouver, aware of that need, and I remember walking past a video arcade, which was a new sort of business at that time, and seeing kids playing those old-fashioned console-style plywood video games. The games had a very primitive graphic representation of space and perspective. Some of them didn’t even have perspective but were yearning toward perspective and dimensionality. Even in this very primitive form, the kids who were playing them were so physically involved, it seemed to me that what they wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine. The real world had disappeared for them—it had completely lost its importance. They were in that notional space, and the machine in front of them was the brave new world.

The only computers I’d ever seen in those days were things the size of the side of a barn. And then one day, I walked by a bus stop and there was an Apple poster. The poster was a photograph of a businessman’s jacketed, neatly cuffed arm holding a life-size representation of a real-life computer that was not much bigger than a laptop is today. Everyone is going to have one of these, I thought, and everyone is going to want to live inside them. And somehow I knew that the notional space behind all of the computer screens would be one single universe.


And you knew at that point you had your arena?


I sensed that it would more than meet my requirements, and I knew that there were all sorts of things I could do there that I hadn’t even been able to imagine yet. But what was more important at that point, in terms of my practical needs, was to name it something cool, because it was never going to work unless it had a really good name. So the first thing I did was sit down with a yellow pad and a Sharpie and start scribbling—infospace, dataspace. I think I got cyberspace on the third try, and I thought, Oh, that’s a really weird word. I liked the way it felt in the mouth—I thought it sounded like it meant something while still being essentially hollow.

What I had was a sticky neologism and a very vague chain of associations between the bus-stop Apple IIc advertisement, the posture of the kids playing arcade games, and something I’d heard about from these hobbyist characters from Seattle called the Internet. It was more tedious and more technical than anything I’d ever heard anybody talk about. It made ham ­radio sound really exciting. But I understood that, sometimes, you could send messages through it, like a telegraph. I also knew that it had begun as a project to explore how we might communicate during a really shit-hot nuclear war.

I took my neologism and that vague chain of associations to a piece of prose fiction just to see what they could do. But I didn’t have a concept of what it was to begin with. I still think the neologism and the vague general idea were the important things. I made up a whole bunch of things that happened in cyberspace, or what you could call cyberspace, and so I filled in my empty neologism. But because the world came along with its real cyberspace, very little of that stuff lasted. What lasted was the neologism.


Where did you get the prefix cyber?


It came from the word cybernetics, which was coined around the year I was born by a scientist named Norbert Wiener. It was the science of feedback and control systems. I was familiar with the word through science fiction more than anything else.

Science fiction had long offered treatments of the notional space inside the computer. Harlan Ellison had written a story called “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” which was set in what we would call a virtual world within a computer. You could even go back to Ray Bradbury’s story “The Veldt,” which was one of his mordantly cautionary fables about broadcast television. So I didn’t think it was terribly original, my concept of cyberspace. My anxiety, rather, was that if I had thought of it, twenty or thirty other science-fiction writers had thought of it at exactly the same time and were probably busy writing stories about it, too.

There’s an idea in the science-fiction community called steam-engine time, which is what people call it when suddenly twenty or thirty different writers produce stories about the same idea. It’s called steam-engine time ­because nobody knows why the steam engine happened when it did. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors. It just never occurred to them to do it. When I came up with my cyberspace idea, I thought, I bet it’s steam-engine time for this one, because I can’t be the only person noticing these various things. And I wasn’t. I was just the first person who put it together in that particular way, and I had a logo for it, I had my neologism.


Were you hoping to make cyberspace feel unfamiliar when you were first writing about it?


It wasn’t merely unfamiliar. It was something no one had experienced yet. I wanted the reader’s experience to be psychedelic, hyperintense. But I also knew that a more rigorous and colder and truer extrapolation would be to simply present it as something the character scarcely even notices. If I make a phone call to London right now, there’s absolutely no excitement in that—there’s nothing special about it. But in a nineteenth-century science-fiction story, for someone in Vancouver to phone someone in London would have been the biggest thing in the story. People in the far-flung reaches of the British Empire will all phone London one day!

Giving in to this conflict, I inserted an odd little edutainment show running on television in the background at one point in Neuromancer—“Cyberspace, a consensual realm.” Partly it was for the slower reader who hadn’t yet figured it out, but also it was to get me off the hook with my conscience, because I knew I was going to hit the pulp buttons really big-time and do my best to blow people out of the water with this psychedelic cyberspace effect.

Of course, for the characters themselves, cyberspace is nothing special—they use it for everything. But you don’t hear them say, Well, I’ve got to go into cyberspace to speak to my mother, or I’ve got to go to cyberspace to get the blueberry-pie recipe. That’s what it really is today—there are vicious thieves and artificial intelligence sharks and everything else out there, swimming in it, but we’re still talking to our mothers and exchanging blueberry-pie recipes and looking at porn and tweeting all the stuff we’re doing. Today I could write a version of Neuromancer where you’d see the quotidian naturalistic side, but it wouldn’t be science fiction. With the fairly limited tool kit I had in 1981, I wouldn’t have been able to do that, and, of course, I didn’t know what it would be like.


What was needed that you were missing?


I didn’t have the emotional range. I could only create characters who have ­really, really super highs and super lows—no middle. It’s taken me eight books to get to a point where the characters can have recognizably complex or ambiguous relationships with other characters. In Neuromancer, the whole range of social possibility when they meet is, Shall we have sex, or shall I kill you? Or you know, Let’s go rob a Chinese corporation—cool!

I knew that cyberspace was exciting, but none of the people I knew who were actually involved in the nascent digital industry were exciting. I wondered what it would be like if they were exciting, stylish, and sexy. I found the answer not so much in punk rock as in Bruce Springsteen, in particular Darkness on the Edge of Town, which was the album Springsteen wrote as a response to punk—a very noir, very American, very literary album. And I thought, What if the protagonist of Darkness on the Edge of Town was a computer hacker? What if he’s still got Springsteen’s character’s emotionality and utterly beat-down hopelessness, this very American hopelessness? And what if the mechanic, who’s out there with him, lost in this empty nightmare of America, is actually, like, a robot or a brain in a bottle that nevertheless has the same manifest emotionality? I had the feeling, then, that I was actually crossing some wires of the main circuit board of popular culture and that nobody had ever crossed them this way before.


How did the Sprawl, a megalopolis stretching from Atlanta to Boston, originate?


I had come to Vancouver in 1972, and I wasn’t really trying to write science fiction until 1982. There was a decade gap where I’d been here and scarcely anywhere else—to Seattle for the odd weekend, and that was it. I was painfully aware of not having enough firsthand experience of the contemporary world to extrapolate from. So the Sprawl is there to free me from the obligation to authentic detail.

It had always felt to me as though Washington, D.C., to Boston was one span of stuff. You never really leave Springsteenland, you’re just in this unbroken highway and strip-mall landscape. I knew that would resonate with some readers, and I just tacked on Atlanta out of sci-fi bravura, to see how far we could push this thing. Sometimes in science fiction you can do that. The reader really likes it if you add Atlanta, because they’re going, Shit, could you do that? Could that be possible? If you’re visiting the future, you really want to have a few of the “shit, could they do that?” moments.


Do readers often ask you to explain things about your books you yourself don’t understand?


The most common complaint I received about Neuromancer, from com­puter people, was that there will never be enough bandwidth for any of this to be possible. I didn’t want to argue with them because I scarcely knew what bandwidth was, but I assumed it was just a measure of something, and so I thought, How can they know? It’s like saying there’ll never be enough engines, there’ll never be enough hours for this to happen. And they were wrong.


Why did you set the novel in the aftermath of a war?


In 1981, it was pretty much every intelligent person’s assumption that on any given day the world could end horribly and pretty well permanently. There was this vast, all-consuming, taken-for-granted, even boring end-of-the-world anxiety that had been around since I was a little kid. So one of the things I wanted to do with Neuromancer was to write a novel in which the world didn’t end in a nuclear war. In Neuromancer, the war starts, they lose a few cities, then it stops when multinational corporations essentially take the United States apart so that can never happen again. There’s deliberately no textual evidence that the United States exists as a political entity in Neuromancer. On the evidence of the text America seems to be a sort of federation of city-states connected to a military-industrial complex that may not have any government controlling it. That was my wanting to get away from the future-is-America thing. The irony, of course, is how the world a­ctually went. If somebody had been able to sit me down in 1981 and say, You know how you wrote that the United States is gone and the Soviet Union is looming in the background like a huge piece of immobile slag? Well, you got it kind of backward.

That war was really a conscious act of imaginative optimism. I didn’t quite believe we could be so lucky. But I didn’t want to write one of those science-fiction novels where the United States and the Soviet Union nuke themselves to death. I wanted to write a novel where multinational capital took over, straightened that shit out, but the world was still problematic.


The world of the Sprawl is often called dystopian.


Well, maybe if you’re some middle-class person from the Midwest. But if you’re living in most places in Africa, you’d jump on a plane to the Sprawl in two seconds. Many people in Rio have worse lives than the inhabitants of the Sprawl.

I’ve always been taken aback by the assumption that my vision is fundamentally dystopian. I suspect that the people who say I’m dystopian must be living completely sheltered and fortunate lives. The world is filled with much nastier places than my inventions, places that the denizens of the Sprawl would find it punishment to be relocated to, and a lot of those places seem to be steadily getting worse.


There’s a famous story about your being unable to sit through Blade Runner while writing Neuromancer.


I was afraid to watch Blade Runner in the theater because I was afraid the movie would be better than what I myself had been able to imagine. In a way, I was right to be afraid, because even the first few minutes were better. Later, I noticed that it was a total box-office flop, in first theatrical release. That worried me, too. I thought, Uh-oh. He got it right and ­nobody cares! Over a few years, though, I started to see that in some weird way it was the most influential film of my lifetime, up to that point. It affected the way people dressed, it affected the way people decorated nightclubs. Architects started building office buildings that you could tell they had seen in Blade Runner. It had had an astonishingly broad aesthetic impact on the world.

I met Ridley Scott years later, maybe a decade or more after Blade Runner was released. I told him what Neuromancer was made of, and he had basically the same list of ingredients for Blade Runner. One of the most powerful ingredients was French adult comic books and their particular brand of Orientalia—the sort of thing that Heavy Metal magazine began translating in the United States.

But the simplest and most radical thing that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner was to put urban archaeology in every frame. It hadn’t been obvious to mainstream American science fiction that cities are like compost heaps—just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent. In Europe, that’s just life—it’s not science fiction, it’s not fantasy. But in American science fiction, the city in the future was always brand-new, every square inch of it.


Cities seem very important to you.


Cities look to me to be our most characteristic technology. We didn’t really get interesting as a species until we became able to do cities—that’s when it all got really diverse, because you can’t do cities without a substrate of other technologies. There’s a mathematics to it—a city can’t get over a certain size unless you can grow, gather, and store a certain amount of food in the vicinity. Then you can’t get any bigger unless you understand how to do sewage. If you don’t have efficient sewage technology the city gets to a certain size and everybody gets cholera.


It seems like most if not all of your protagonists are loners, orphans, and nomads, detached from families and social networks.


We write what we know, and we write what we think we can write. I think so many of my characters have been as you just described because it would be too much of a stretch for me to model characters who have more rounded emotional lives.

Before we moved to Vancouver, my wife and I went to Europe. And I ­realized that I didn’t travel very well. I was too tense for it. I was delighted that I was there, and I had a sense of storing up the sort of experiences I imagined artists had to store up in order to be artists. But it was all a bit ­extreme for me—Franco’s Spain is still the only place I’ve ever had a gun pointed at my head. I always felt that everybody else had parents somewhere who would come and get their ass out of trouble. But nobody was going to come get me out of trouble. Nobody was going to take care of me. The ­hedonic risk taking that so many of my peers were into just made me anxious. A lot of people got into serious trouble taking those risks. I never wanted to get into serious trouble.


The protagonist of Count Zero, Bobby Newmark, has a comparatively mundane life—he lives with his mother.


One of the very first so-called adult science-fiction novels I ever read was Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. I’d gone away on a trip with my ­mother and I had nothing to read, and the only thing for sale was this rather adult-looking paperback. I was barely up to the reading skill required for Starship Troopers, but I can remember figuring out the first couple of pages, and it blew the top off my head. Later, when I managed to read it all the way through, I got the feeling that I was more like the juvenile delinquents who got beat up by the Starship Troopers than I was like the Starship Troopers themselves. And I remember wondering, Where did the juvenile delinquents go after they got beaten up by the Starship Troopers? What happened to them? Where did they live? Bobby is sort of the answer. They lived with their mothers and they were computer hackers!


In Mona Lisa Overdrive, your third novel, Bobby ends up in a peculiar contraption called the “Aleph.”


I think I was starting to realize that the only image I had for total artificial intelligence or total artificial reality was Borges’s Aleph, a point in space that contains all other points. In his story “The Aleph,” which may be his greatest, Borges managed to envision this Aleph without computers or anything like them. He skips the issue of what it is and how it works. It just sits there under the stairs in the basement of some old house in Buenos Aires, and nobody says why, but you have to go down the stairs, lie on your back, look at this thing, and if you get your head at the right angle, then you can see everything there is, or ever was, anywhere, at any time.

I think I was probably twelve years old when I read that, and I never got over the wonder of that story, and how Borges in this very limited number of words could make you feel that he’s seen every last thing in the universe, just by sonorously listing a number of very peculiar and mismatched items and events. If Bobby was going to go somewhere, that was probably going to be it.


What interested you about Joseph Cornell?


Beginning with Count Zero I had the impulse to use the text to honor works of art that I particularly loved or admired. With Mona Lisa Overdrive, it’s heavily Joseph Cornell, especially his extraordinary talent to turn literal garbage into these achingly superb, over-the-top, poetic, cryptic statements.

Gradually, Cornell became a model of creativity for me. I’ve always had a degree of impostor syndrome about being or calling myself an artist, but I’m pretty sure that there’s some way in which I’m an outsider, and what I’m doing has to be outsider art. I felt that I’ve worked with found objects at times in a similar way because I valued bits of the real world differently than I valued the bits I created myself.

When I was going to start writing All Tomorrow’s Parties, John Clute suggested to me that all of my books had become Cornell boxes. The Bridge in Virtual Light, he said, was my biggest Cornell box. It really spooked me. I think that’s why I wound up burning the Bridge.


Tell me about the Bridge.


The Bridge is a fable about counterculture, the kind of counterculture that may no longer be possible. There are no backwaters where things can breed—our connectivity is so high and so global that there are no more Seattles and no more Haight-Ashburys. We’ve arrived at a level of commodification that may have negated the concept of counterculture. I wanted to create a s­cenario in which I could depict something like that happening in the recognizably near future.

I woke up one morning in San Francisco and looked out the window and had this great archetypal San Francisco experience—there was nothing but fog. Nothing but fog except this perfectly clear diorama window up in the air, brilliantly lit by the sun, containing the very top of the nearest ­support tower of the Bay Bridge. I couldn’t see anything else in the city, just this little glowing world. I thought, Wow, if you had a bunch of plywood, two-by-fours, you could build yourself a little house on top of that thing and live there.

The Bridge novels were set just a few years into the future, which is now a few years in the past, and so they read almost like alternate-history ­novels—the present in flamboyant cyberpunk drag. And the Bridge itself, a shantytown culture improvised in the wake of a devastating Bay Area earthquake, is a piece of emergent technology.


Many readers have argued that the Bridge books offer a theory of technology.


More like a rubbing—like rubbing brass in a cathedral or a tombstone in a graveyard. I’m not a didactic storyteller. I don’t formulate theories about how the world works and then create stories to illustrate my theories. What I have in the end is an artifact and not a theory.

But I take it for granted that social change is driven primarily by emergent technologies, and probably always has been. No one legislates techno­logies into emergence—it actually seems to be quite a random thing. That’s a vision of technology that’s diametrically opposed to the one I received from science fiction and the popular culture of science when I was twelve years old.

In the postwar era, aside from anxiety over nuclear war, we assumed that we were steering technology. Today, we’re more likely to feel that technology is driving us, driving change, and that it’s out of control. Technology was previously seen as linear and progressive—evolutionary in that way our culture has always preferred to misunderstand Darwin.


You don’t see technology evolving that way?


What I mainly see is the distribution of it. The poorer you are, the poorer your culture is, the less cutting-edge technology you’re liable to encounter, aside from the Internet, the stuff you can access on your cell phone.

In that way, I think we’re past the computer age. You can be living in a third-world village with no sewage, but if you’ve got the right apps then you can actually have some kind of participation in a world that otherwise looks like a distant Star Trek future where people have plenty of everything. And from the point of view of the guy in the village, information is getting beamed in from a world where people don’t have to earn a living. They certainly don’t have to do the stuff he has to do everyday to make sure he’s got enough food to be alive in three days.

On that side of things, Americans might be forgiven for thinking the pace of change has slowed, in part because the United States government hasn’t been able to do heroic nonmilitary infrastructure for quite a while. Before and after World War II there was a huge amount of infrastructure building in the United States that gave us the spiritual shape of the American century. Rural electrification, the highway system, the freeways of Los Angeles—those were some of the biggest things anybody had ever built in the world at the time, but the United States really has fallen far behind with that.


Is computer technology not heroic?


I do think it’s a really big deal, although the infrastructure is not physical. There’s hardware supporting the stuff, but the digital infrastructure is a bunch of zeros and ones—something that amounts to a kind of language.

It looks to me as though that prosthetic-memory project is going to be what we are about, as a species, because our prosthetic memory now actually stands a pretty good chance of surviving humanity. We could conceivably go extinct and our creations would live on. One day, in the sort of science-fiction novel I’m unlikely ever to write, intelligent aliens might encounter something descended from our creations. That something would introduce itself by saying, Hey, we wish our human ancestors could have been around to meet you guys because they were totally fascinated by this moment, but at least we’ve got this PowerPoint we’d like to show you about them. They don’t look anything like us, but that is where we came from, and they were actually made out of meat, as weird as that seems.


When did you decide to write about the contemporary world?


For years, I’d found myself telling interviewers and readers that I believed it was possible to write a novel set in the present that would have an effect very similar to the effect of novels I had set in imaginary futures. I think I said it so many times, and probably with such a pissy tone of exasperation, that I finally decided I had to call myself on it.

A friend knew a woman who was having old-fashioned electroshock therapy for depression. He’d pick her up at the clinic after the session and drive her not home but to a fish market. He’d lead her to the ice tables where the day’s catch was spread out, and he’d just stand there with her, and she’d look at the ice tables for a really long time with a blank, searching expression. Finally, she’d turn to him and say, “Wow, they’re fish, aren’t they!” After electro­shock, she had this experience of unutterable, indescribable wonderment at seeing these things completely removed from all context of memory, and gradually her brain would come back together and say, Damn, they’re fish. That’s kind of what I do.


What is “pattern recognition”?


It is the thing we do that other species on the planet are largely incapable of doing. It’s how we infer everything. If you’re in the woods and a rock comes flying from somewhere in your direction, you assume that someone has thrown a rock at you. Other animals don’t seem capable of that. The fear leverage in the game of terrorism depends on faulty pattern recognition. After all, terrorist acts are rare and tend to kill fewer people than, say, automobile accidents or drugs and alcohol.


Had you already begun to write Pattern Recognition before 9/11?


I had but as soon as that happened just about everything else in the manuscript dried up and blew away.


Why did the September 11 attacks have such an effect on you?


Because I had had this career as a novelist, Manhattan was the place in the United States that I visited most regularly. I wound up having more friends in New York than I have anywhere else in the United States. It has that quality of being huge and small at the same time—and noble. So without even realizing it, I had come to know it, I had come to know lower Manhattan better than any place other than Vancouver. When 9/11 happened it affected me with a directness I would never have imagined possible.

In a strange sort of way that particular relationship with New York ­ended with 9/11 because the post–9/11 New York doesn’t feel to me to be the same place.


Are you glad you wrote a book that had so much 9/11 in it?


I’m really glad. I felt this immense gratitude when I finished, and I was sitting there looking at the last page, thinking, I’m glad I got a shot at this thing now, because for sure there are dozens of writers all around the world right this minute, thinking, I have to write about 9/11. And I thought, I’m already done, I won’t have to revisit this material, and it’s largely out of my system.


Alongside that public narrative runs a very private one, with Cayce chasing through the maze of the Internet after the source of some mesmerizing film material she calls “the footage.”


Having assumed that there were no longer physical backwaters in which new bohemias could spawn and be nurtured, I was intrigued by the idea and the very evident possibility that in the post-geographic Internet simply having a topic of sufficient obscurity and sufficient obsessive interest to a number of geographically diverse people could replicate the birth of a bohemia.

When I started writing about the footage, I don’t think I had ever seen a novel in which anybody had had a real emotional life unfolding on a l­istserv, but I knew that millions of people around the world were living parts of their emotional lives in those places—and moreover that the Internet was basically built by those people! They were meeting one another and having affairs and getting married and doing everything in odd special-interest communities on the Internet. Part of my interest in the footage was simply trying to rise to the challenge of naturalism.


You’ve called science fiction your native literary culture. Do you still feel that way, having written three books that are set in the present?


Yes, but native in the sense of place of birth. Science fiction was the first literary culture I acquired, but since then I’ve acquired a number of other literary cultures, and the bunch of them have long since supplanted science fiction.


Do you think of your last three books as being science fiction?


No, I think of them as attempts to disprove the distinction or attempts to dissolve the boundary. They are set in a world that meets virtually every criteria of being science fiction, but it happens to be our world, and it’s barely tweaked by the author to make the technology just fractionally imaginary or fantastic. It has, to my mind, the effect of science fiction.

If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. Granted, you have half a dozen powerful and really excellent plot drivers for that many science-fiction n­ovels, but you can’t have them all in one novel.


What are those major plot drivers?


Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences.  There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa.  New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.


And you haven’t even gotten to the technology.


You haven’t even gotten to the Internet.  By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door.  It’s just too much science fiction.”  William Gibson, “The Art of Fiction, 211;” Paris Review Interview, 2011

brain head mental psychology creativity inquiy

Numero Tres“Franz Clemens Brentano (1838–1917) is mainly known for his work in philosophy of psychology, especially for having introduced the notion of intentionality to contemporary philosophy.  He made important contributions to many fields in philosophy, especially to metaphysics and ontology, ethics, logic, the history of philosophy, and philosophical theology.  Brentano was strongly influenced by Aristotle and the Scholastics as well as by the empiricist and positivist movements of the early nineteenth century.  Due to his introspectionist approach of describing consciousness from a first person point of view, on one hand, and his rigorous style as well as his contention that philosophy should be done with exact methods like the natural sciences, on the other, Brentano is often considered a forerunner of both the phenomenological movement and the tradition of analytic philosophy.  A charismatic teacher, Brentano exerted a strong influence on the work of Edmund Husserl, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels, Kasimir Twardowski, Carl Stumpf, and Anton Marty, among others, and thereby played a central role in the philosophical development of central Europe in the early twentieth century.

1. Life and Work

Franz Brentano was born on January 16, 1838 in Marienberg am Rhein, Germany, a descendent of a strongly religious German-Italian family of intellectuals (his uncle Clemens Brentano and his aunt Bettina von Arnim were among the most important writers of German Romanticism and his brother Lujo Brentano became a leading expert in social economics). He studied mathematics, poetry, philosophy, and theology in Munich, Würzburg, and Berlin. Already at high school he became acquainted with Scholasticism; at university he studied Aristotle with Trendelenburg in Berlin, and read Comte as well as the British Empiricists (mainly John Stuart Mill), all of whom had a great influence on his work. Brentano received his Ph.D. in 1862, with his thesis On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle.

After graduation Brentano prepared to take his vows; he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1864. Nevertheless he continued his academic career at the University of Würzburg, where he presented his Habilitationsschrift on The Psychology of Aristotle in 1867. Despite reservations in the faculty about his priesthood he eventually became full professor in 1873. During this period, however, Brentano struggled more and more with the official doctrine of the Catholic Church, especially with the dogma of papal infallibility, promulgated at the first Vatican Council in 1870. Shortly after his promotion at the University of Würzburg, Brentano withdrew from the priesthood and from his position as professor.

After his Habilitation, Brentano had started to work on a large scale work on the foundations of psychology, which he entitled Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. The first volume was published in 1874, a second volume (The Classification of Mental Phenomena) followed in 1911, and fragments of the third volume (Sensory and Noetic Consciousness) were published posthumously by Oskar Kraus in 1928.

Shortly after the publication of the first volume, Brentano took a job as a full professor at the University of Vienna, where he continued a successful teaching career. During his tenure in Vienna, Brentano, who was very critical towards his own writing, no longer wrote books but turned instead to publishing various lectures. The topics range from aesthetics (Das Genie [The Genius], Das Schlechte als Gegenstand dichterischer Darstellung[Evil as Object of Poetic Representation]) and issues in historiography to The Origin of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong, in which Brentano laid out his views on ethics. The latter was Brentano’s first book to be translated into English in 1902.

When in 1880 Brentano and Ida von Lieben decided to wed, they had to confront the fact that the prevailing law in the Austro-Hungarian Empire denied matrimony to persons who had been ordained priests – even if they later had resigned from priesthood. They surmounted this obstacle by temporarily moving to and becoming citizens of Saxony, where they finally got married. This was possible only by temporarily giving up the Austrian citizenship and, in consequence, the job as full professor at the University. When Brentano came back to Vienna a few months later, the Austrian authorities did not reassign him his position. Brentano became Privatdozent, a status that allowed him to go on teaching – but did not entitle him to receive a salary or to supervise theses. For several years he tried in vain to get his position back. In 1895, after the death of his wife, he left Austria disappointed; at this occasion, he published a series of three articles in the Viennese newspaper Die neue freie Presse entitled Meine letzen Wünsche für Österreich [My Last Wishes for Austria] (which soon afterwards appeared as a self-standing book), in which he outlines his philosophical position as well as his approach to psychology, but also harshly criticized the legal situation of former priests in Austria. In 1896 he settled down in Florence where he got married to Emilie Ruprecht in 1897.

Brentano has often been described as an extraordinarily charismatic teacher. Throughout his life he influenced a great number of students, many of who became important philosophers and psychologists in their own rights, such as Edmund Husserl, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels, Anton Marty, Carl Stumpf, Kasimir Twardowski, as well as Sigmund Freud. Many of his students became professors all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Marty and Ehrenfels in Prague, Meinong in Graz, and Twardowski in Lvov, and so spread Brentanianism over the whole Austro-Hungarian Empire, which explains the central role of Brentano in the philosophical development in central Europe, especially in what was later called the Austrian Tradition in philosophy.

Brentano always emphasized that he meant to teach his students to think critically and in a scientific manner, without holding prejudices and paying undue respect to philosophical schools or traditions. When former students of his took a critical approach to his own work, however, when they criticized some of his doctrines and modified others to adapt them for their own goals, Brentano reacted bitterly. He often refused to discuss criticism, ignored improvements, and thus became more and more isolated, a development that was reinforced by his increasing blindness.

Due to these eye-problems Brentano could not read or write any longer, but had his wife read to him and dictated his work to her. Nonetheless, he produced a number of books in his years in Florence. In 1907 he published Untersuchungen zur Sinnespsychologie, a collection of shorter texts on psychology. In 1911 he presented not only the second volume of his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, but also two books on Aristotle: in Aristotle and his World View he provides an outline and interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy. In Aristoteles Lehre vom Ursprung des menschlichen Geistes Brentano continues a debate with Zeller. This debate had started already in the 1860s, when Brentano criticized Zeller’s interpretation of Aristotle in his Psychology of Aristotle and became quite intense and aggressive in the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century.

When Italy entered war against Germany and Austria during World War I, Brentano, who felt himself a citizen of all three countries, moved from Florence to neutral Switzerland. He passed away in Zurich on March 17, 1917.

Brentano left a huge number of unpublished manuscripts and letters on a wide range of philosophical topics in his last domicile in Zürich and in his summer-residence in Schönbühel bei Melk; some manuscripts were probably left behind in Florence. After his death, Alred Kastil and Oskar Kraus, who were students of Brentano’s former student Anton Marty in Prague, worked on the Nachlass. Their attempt to set up a Brentano-archive in Prague was supported by Tomas Masaryk, a former student of Brentano who had become founder and first President (from 1918 to 1935) of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Alas, due to the political turbulences that were to came over central Europe the project was doomed to fail. Substantial parts of the Nachlass were transferred to different places in the United States, some of it has later been brought back to Europe, especially to the Brentano-Forschungsstelle at the University of Graz, Austria, and the Brentano family archive in Blonay, Switzerland. (For a detailed history of Brentano’s Nachlass, cf. Binder (2013)).

Kastil and Kraus did succeed, however, to begin to publish posthumously some of the lecture notes, letters, and drafts he had left. They tried to present Brentano’s work as best as they could, putting together various texts to what they thought were rounded, convincing works, sometimes following questionable editorial criteria. Their work was continued by other, more careful editors, but has by far not yet been completed: a much needed critical edition of his complete œuvre is still to be waited for.

2. Philosophy as a Rigorous Science and the Rise of Scientific Psychology

One of Brentano’s main principles was that philosophy should be done with methods that are as rigorous and exact as the methods of the natural sciences. This standpoint is clearly mirrored in his empirical approach to psychology. It is noteworthy here that Brentano’s use of the word “empirical” deviates substantially from what has become its standard meaning in psychology today. He emphasized that all our knowledge should be based on direct experience. He did not hold, however, that this experience needs to be made from a third-person point of view, and thus opposes what has become a standard of empirical science nowadays. Brentano rather argued a form of introspectionism: doing psychology from an empirical standpoint means for him to describe what one directly experiences in inner perception, from a first-person point of view.

Brentano’s approach, like that of other introspectionist psychologists of the late nineteenth century, was harshly criticized with the rise of scientific psychology in the tradition of logical positivism, especially by the behaviorists. This should not obscure the fact that Brentano did play a crucial role in the process of psychology becoming an independent science. He distinguished between genetic and empirical or, as he later called it, descriptive psychology, a distinction that is most explicitly drawn in his Descriptive Psychology. Genetic psychology studies psychological phenomena from a third-person point of view. It involves the use of empirical experiments and thus satisfies the scientific standards we nowadays expect of an empirical science. Even though Brentano never practiced experimental psychology himself, he very actively supported the installation of the first laboratories for experimental psychology in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a development that was continued by his student Alexius Meinong in Graz. Descriptive psychology (to which Brentano sometimes also referred as “phenomenology”) aims at describing consciousness from a first-person point of view. Its goal is to list “fully the basic components out of which everything internally perceived by humans is composed, and … [to enumerate] the ways in which these components can be connected” (Descriptive Psychology , 4). Brentano’s distinction between genetic and descriptive psychology strongly influenced Husserl’s development of the phenomenological method, especially in its early phases, a development of which Brentano could not approve for it involved the intuition of abstract essences, the existence of which Brentano denied.

3. Brentano’s Theory of Mind

Brentano’s main goal was to lay the basis for a scientific psychology, which he defines as “the science of mental phenomena” (Psychology, p. 18). In order to give flesh to this definition of the discipline, he provides a more detailed characterization of mental phenomena. He proposes six criteria to distinguish mental from physical phenomena, the most important of which are: (i) mental phenomena are the exclusive object of inner perception, (ii) they always appear as a unity, and (iii) they are always intentionally directed towards an object. I will discuss the first two criteria in this section, and the third in a separate section below.

All mental phenomena have in common, Brentano argues, “that they are only perceived in inner consciousness, while in the case of physical phenomena only external perception is possible” (Psychology, 91). According to Brentano, the former of these two forms of perception provides an unmistakable evidence for what is true. Since the German word for perception (Wahrnehmung), literally translated, means “taking-true”, Brentano says that it is the only kind of perception in a strict sense. He points out that inner perception must not be mixed up with inner observation, i.e., it must not be conceived as a full-fledged act that accompanies another mental act towards which it is directed. It is rather interwoven with the latter: in addition to being primarily directed towards an object, each act is incidentally directed towards itself as a secondary object. As a consequence, Brentano denies the idea that there could be unconscious mental acts: since every mental act is incidentally directed towards itself as a secondary object, we are automatically aware of every occurring mental act. He admits, however, that we can have mental acts of various degrees of intensity. In addition, he holds that the degree of intensity with which the object is presented is equal to the degree of intensity in which the secondary object, i.e., the act itself, is presented. Consequently, if we have a mental act of a very low intensity, our secondary consciousness of this act also will have a very low intensity. From this Brentano concludes that sometimes we are inclined to say that we had an unconscious mental phenomenon when actually we only had a conscious mental phenomenon of very low intensity.

Consciousness, Brentano argues, always forms a unity. While we can perceive a number of physical phenomena at one and the same time, we can only perceive one mental phenomenon at a specific point in time. When we seem to have more than one mental act at a time, like when we hear a melody while tasting a sip of red wine and enjoying the beautiful view from the window, all these mental phenomena melt into one, they become moments or, to stick with Brentano’s terminology, divisives of a collective. If one of the divisives ends in the course of time, e.g., when I swallow the wine and close my eyes, but continue to listen to the music, the collective goes on to exist. Brentano’s views on the unity of consciousness entail that inner observation, as explained above, is strictly impossible, i.e., that we cannot have a second act which is directed towards another mental act which it accompanies. One can remember another mental act one had a moment earlier, or expect future mental acts, but due to the unity of consciousness one cannot have two mental acts, one of which being directed towards the other, at the same time.

Brentano points out that we can be directed towards one and the same object in different ways and he accordingly distinguishes three kinds of mental phenomena: presentations, judgments, and phenomena of love and hate. These are not three distinct classes, though. Presentations are the most basic kind of acts; we have a presentation each time when we are directed towards an object, be it that we are imagining, seeing, remembering, or expecting it, etc. In his Psychology Brentano held that two presentations can differ only in the object, towards which they are directed. Later he modified his position, though, and argued that they can also differ in various modes, such as temporal modes. The two other categories, judgments and phenomena of love and hate, are based on presentations. In a judgment we accept or deny the existence of the presented object. A judgment, thus, is a presentation plus a qualitative mode of acceptance or denial. The third category, which Brentano names “phenomena of love and hate,” comprises emotions, feelings, desires and acts of will. In these acts we have positive or negative feelings towards an object.

4. Intentionality

Brentano is probably best known for having introduced the notion of intentionality to contemporary philosophy. He first characterizes this notion with the following words, which have become the classical, albeit not completely unambiguous formulation of the intentionality thesis:

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself… (Brentano, Psychology, 88)

[Jedes psychische Phänomen ist durch das charakterisiert, was die Scholastiker des Mittelalters die intentionale (auch wohl mentale) Inexistenz eines Gegenstandes genannt haben, und was wir, obwohl mit nicht ganz unzweideutigen Ausdrücken, die Beziehung auf einen Inhalt, die Richtung auf ein Objekt (worunter hier nicht eine Realität zu verstehen ist), oder die immanente Gegenständlichkeit nennen würden. Jedes enthält etwas als Objekt in sich… (Brentano, Psychologie, 124f)]

This quotation must be understood in context: in this passage, Brentano aims at providing one (of six) criteria to distinguish mental from physical phenomena with the aim to define the subjekt matter of scientific psychology – and not to develop a systematic account of intentionality. The passage clearly suggests, however, that the intentional object towards which we are directed is part of the psychological act. It is something mental rather than physical. Brentano, thus, seems to advocate a form of immanentism, according to which the intentional object is “in the head,” as it were. Some Brentano scholars have recently argued that this immanent reading of the intentionality thesis is too strong. In the light of other texts by Brentano from the same period they argue that he distinguishes between intentional correlate and object, and that the existence of the latter does not depend on our being directed towards it.

When Brentano’s students took up his notion of intentionality to develop more systematic accounts, they often criticized it for its unclarity regarding the ontological status of the intentional object: if the intentional object is part of the act, it was argued, we are faced with a duplication of the object. Next to the real, physical object, which is perceived, remembered, thought of, etc., we have a mental, intentional object, towards which the act is actually directed. Thus, when I think about the city of Paris, I am actually thinking of a mental object that is part of my act of thinking, and not about the actual city. This view leads to obvious difficulties, the most disastrous of which is that two persons can never be directed towards one and the same object.If we try to resolve the problem by taking the intentional object to be identical with the real object, on the other hand, we face the difficulty of explaining how we can have mental phenomena that are directed towards non-existing objects such as Hamlet, the golden mountain, or a round square. Like my thinking about the city of Paris, all these acts are intentionally directed towards an object, with the difference, however, that their objects do not really exist.

Brentano’s initial formulation of the intentionality-thesis does not address these problems concerning the ontological status of the intentional object. The first attempt of Brentano’s students to overcome these difficulties was made by Twardowski, who distinguished between content and object of the act, the former of which is immanent to the act, the latter not. This distinction strongly influenced other members of the Brentano School, mainly the two students for who the notion of intentionality had the most central place, Meinong and Husserl.

Meinong’s theory of objects can best be understood as a reaction to the ontological difficulties in Brentano’s account. Rather than accepting the notion of an immanent content, Meinong argues that the intentional relation is always a relation between the mental act and an object. In some cases the intentional object does not exist, but even in these cases there is an object external to the mental act towards which we are directed. According to Meinong, even non-existent objects are in some sense real. Since we can be intentionally directed towards them, they must subsist (bestehen). Not all subsisting objects exist; some of them cannot even exist for they are logically impossible, such as round squares. The notion of intentionality played a central role also in Husserlian phenomenology. Applying his method of the phenomenological reduction, however, Husserl addresses the problem of directedness by introducing the notion of ‘noema.’

Brentano was not very fond of his students’ attempts to resolve these difficulties, mainly because he rejected their underlying ontological assumptions. He was quick to point out that he never intended the intentional object to be immanent to the act. Brentano thought that this interpretation of his position was obviously absurd, for it would be “paradoxical to the extreme to say that a man promises to marry an ens rationisand fulfills his promise by marrying a real person” (Psychology, 385). In later texts, he therefore suggested to see intentionality as an exceptional form of relation. A mental act does not stand in an ordinary relation to an object, but in a quasi-relation (Relativliches). For a relation to exist, both relata have to exist. A person a is taller than another person b, for example, only if both a and b exist (and a is, in fact, taller than b). This does not hold for the intentional quasi-relation, Brentano suggests. A mental phenomenon can stand in a quasi-relation to an object independent of whether it exists or not. Mental acts, thus, can stand in a quasi-relation to existing objects like the city of Paris as well as non-existing objects like the Golden Mountain. Brentano’s later account, which is closely related to his later metaphysics, especially to his turn towards reism, i.e., the view that only individual objects exist, can hardly be considered a solution of the problem of the ontological status of the intentional object. He rather introduces a new term to reformulate the difficulties.

5. Time-Consciousness

According to Brentano’s theory, mental acts cannot have duration. This brings up the question of how we can perceive temporally extended objects like melodies. Brentano accounts for these cases by arguing that an object towards which we are directed does not immediately vanish from consciousness once the mental act is over. It rather remains present in altered form, modified from ‘present’ to ‘past.’ Every mental phenomenon triggers an ‘original association’ or ‘proteraesthesis,’ as he calls it later, a kind of memory which is not a full-fledged act of remembering, but rather a part of the act that keeps lively what was experienced a moment ago. When I listen to a melody, for example, I first hear the first tone. In the next moment I hear the second tone, but am still directed towards the first one, which is modified as past, though. Then I hear the third tone, now the second tone is modified as past, the first is pushed back even further into the past. In this way Brentano can explain how we can perceive temporally extended objects and events. The details of Brentano’s account of time-consciousness changed over the time, owing to changes in his overall position. At one point he thought that the temporal modification was part of the object, later he thought that they belonged to judgments, and even later he argued that they were modes of presentations.

Brentano’s account of time consciousness greatly influenced his students, especially Edmund Husserl, whose notion of ‘retention’ bears close resemblances to Brentano’s notion of ‘original association.’

6. Logic, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Historiography

According to Brentano, psychology plays a central role in the sciences; he considers especially logics, ethics, and aesthetics as practical disciplines that depend on psychology as their theoretical foundation. Brentano’s conception of these three disciplines is closely related to his distinction between the three kinds of mental phenomenon: presentations, judgments, and phenomena of love and hate, i.e., emotions.

Logic, according to Brentano, is the practical discipline that is concerned with judgments; i.e. with the class of mental phenomena in which we take a positive or a negative stance towards the (existence of the) object by affirming or denying it. In addition, judgments are correct or incorrect; they have a truth-value. According to Brentano, a judgment is true when it is evident, i.e., when one perceives (in inner perception that is directed towards the judgment) that one judges with evidence. Brentano, thus, rejects the correspondence theory of truth, suggesting that “a person judges truly, if and only if, his judgment agrees with the judgment he would make if we were to judge with evidence” (Chisholm 1986, 38). Notwithstanding this dependence on the notion of judgment, however, truth, for Brentano, is not a subjective notion: if one person affirms an object and another person denies the same object, only one of them judges correctly. (For a more detailed discussion of Brentano’s contributions to logic, cf. the entryBrentano’s Theory of Judgement.)

Ethics, on the other hand, is concerned with phenomena of love and hate. When experiencing a phenomenon of this class, we take an emotional stance towards an object, i.e., a stance that can be positive or negative. Moreover, phenomena of this class can be correct or incorrect. In these two aspects we have a formal analogy between judgments and emotions. An emotion is correct, according to Brentano, “when one’s feelings are adequate to their object — adequate in the sense of being appropriate, suitable, or fitting” (Brentano, Origins, 70). If it is correct to love an object, we can say that it is good; if it is correct to hate it, it is bad. The question of whether or not it is correct to have a positive emotion towards an object is not a subjective one; according to Brentano it is impossible that one person correctly loves an object and another person correctly hates it.

Aesthetics, finally, is based on the most basic class of mental phenomena: on presentations. According to Brentano, every presentation is in itself of value; this holds even for those that become the basis of a correct, negative judgment or a correct negative emotion. Thus, while judgments and emotions consist in taking either a positive or a negative stance, the value of a presentation is always positive, but comes in degrees: some presentations are of higher value than others. Not every presentations is of particular aesthetic value, though; in order to be so, it has to become the object of an emotion in which one correctly takes a positive stance towards it. In short, according to Brentano, an object is beautiful if a presentation that is directed at it arouses a correct, positive emotion, i.e., a form of pleasure; it is ugly, on the other hand, if a presentation that is directed at it arouses a correct, negative emotion, a form of displeasure.

This discussion shows that Brentano’s philosophy has strong psychologistic tendencies. Whether or not one is to conclude that he does adopt a form of psychologism depends on the exact definition of the latter term: Brentano vehemently rejects the charge of psychologism, which he takes to stand for a subjectivist and anthropocentric position. At the same time, however, he explicitely defends the claim that psychology is the theoretical science on which practical disciplines of logic, ethics, and aesthetics are based. Hence, he does adopt the form of psychologism Husserl seems to have had in mind in the Prolegomena to his Logical Investigations, where he defines logical psychologism as a position according to which:

… [T]he essential theoretical foundations of logic lie in psychology, in whose field those propositions belong — as far as their theoretical content is concerned — which give logic its characteristic pattern. … Often people talk as if psychology provided the sole, sufficient, theoretical foundation for logical psychology (Husserl 2001, 40).

Die wesentlichen theoretischen Fundamente liegen in der Psychologie; in deren Gebiet gehören ihrem theoretischen Gehalt nach die Sätze, die der Logik ihr charakteristisches Gepräge geben. … Ja nicht selten spricht man so, als gäbe die Psychologie das alleinige und ausreichende theoretische Fundament für die logische Kunstlehre. (Husserl, 1900, 51)

Brentano’s interest in the history of philosophy is not only reflected by his extensive work on Aristotle, but also by his historiographical considerations – and also in this context psychology is to play a fundamental role. In his text The Four Phases of Philosophy and Its Current State(1998) he defended the metaphilosophical thesis that progress in philosophy can be explained according to principles of cultural psychology. In philosophy progress takes place in circles: each philosophical period, Brentano holds, can be subdivided in four phases. The first is a creative phase of renewal and ascending development; the other three are phases of decline, dominated by a turn towards practical interests, by scepticism, and finally by mysticism. After the fourth phase, a new period begins with a creative phase of renewal. With this scheme Brentano succeeds in giving his philosophical preferences an intellectual justification; it allows him to explain his fascination for Aristotle, the Scholastics, and Descartes as well as his dislike of Kant and the German idealists.

7. Brentano’s Metaphysics

Even though Brentano worked on problems in metaphysics and ontology throughout his life, he hardly published on these topics during his lifetime. The impact of his views is due to the fact that from his early lectures at the University of Würzburg on he discussed them with his students, both in class and (especially in later years) in correspondence.

Even though Brentano’s views have underwent considerable changes over the years, his general attitude can be characterized as sober, parsimonious, and (in the current use of the term) nominalistic; at no point did he admit the existence of universals, he rather relied on mereological principles to account for classical problems in ontology.

Brentano’s early metaphysics, which is the result of his critical reading of Aristotle, is a form of conceptualism. He does distinguish between substance and accidents, but argues that both are but fictions cum fundamentum in re. With this, he wants to suggest that they do not have actual existence, but that we can make judgments about real things that are correct and contain references to substances and accidents. This view is closely connected to his epistemic notion of truth, according to which the question of whether a judgment is true does not depend on its corresponding to reality, but rather on whether it can be judged with evidence. Brentano elucidates the relation between a thing and its properties on the basis of the mereological notions of “logical part” and “metaphysical part,” the former of which account for abstract, repeatable properties, the latter for the concrete properties of a thing. Both are not considered to be denizens of reality in a narrow sense, but rather fictions that have a foundation in reality. (For a reconstruction and discussion of the details of Brentano’s early ontology, cf. Chrudzimski 2004).

After the introduction of the notion of intentionality in his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), Brentano struggled to account for the ontological status of the intentional object. When he first introduces the notion, suggesting, as we have seen above, that “[e]very mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself” (Brentano, Psychology, 88), he seems to be interested primarily in presenting a psychological thesis and does not seem to be overly worried with its ontological implications; at this point, the talk of an “immanent object” might have been a mere façon de parler(cf. Chrudzimski and Smith, 2003, 205). Soon Brentano finds himself in the need, however, to address this question and, as a result, to enrich the domain of objects in his ontology. He seems to admit that next to concrete things there are irrealia, that is, objects that to not really exist but have the status of thought-objects or, as he puts it, entia rationis, that do not have an essence and do not stand in causal relations. Brentano does not systematically elaborate his ontological position in this period, we rather find a bundle of ideas of which he did not seem to be fully convinced. This underlines that the formulation of these views was not made with the intention to make a contribution to ontology, but rather to reply to concerns that have emerged from his introduction of the notion of intentionality.

In his late philosophy, from 1904 on, Brentano rediscovers the virtue of ontological parsimony and takes up the main insights of his conceptualist period, developing (and radicalizing) them to a form of reism, according to which the only items that exist are individual things (res). “While young Brentano tried to ontologically play down certain ways of speaking, late Brentano tried to eliminate them from philosophical discourse” [“Der junge Brentano versuchte gewisse Redeweisen ontologisch zu bagatellisieren, der späte Brentano versuchte sie aus dem philosophischen Diskurs zu eliminieren”] (Chrudzimski 2004, 177). He abandons the notion of irrealia, which he now regards as linguistic fictions, and continues to deny the existence of universals or abstract entities. Instead, he conceives both substances and accidents as real things that are related to one another by a particular mereological relation: an accident does not only ontologically depend on the substance, it also contains the substance as a part without, however, containing any supplementary part. A white table, accordingly, is an accident that contains the table as a part. If we were to paint it red, the white table would cease to exist and the red table would come into existence – the continuity between the two being guaranteed by the table, which was part of the white table and is now part of the green table.

Brentano’s ontology is known to a broader audience only through posthumously published works that were edited by his late students Oskar Kraus and Alfred Kastil, who considered his late position most important and accordingly put less emphasis on Brentano’s earlier phases. Only recently the development of Brentano’s views on ontology has gained more attention, mainly through the work of scholars who were able to study unpublished manuscripts in the archives (cf., for example, Chrudzimski 2004). This underlines once more the need of a critical edition of Brentano’s entire Nachlass, which would make it possible for a broader audience to critically assess the development of Brentano’s views in ontology.

8. The Impact of Brentano’s Philosophy

Brentano’s contributions to philosophy were widely discussed among philosophers and psychologists at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. After some time his influence was eclipsed by the work of his students, some of who founded philosophical traditions on their own: Husserl started the phenomenological movement, Meinong the Graz school, Twardovski the Lvov-Warsaw School. As a result, in the second half of the twentieth century Brentano was often mentioned as the philosopher who had (re-)introduced the notion of intentionality, as “grandfather” of the phenomenological movement, or for his influence on early analytic philosophy, but his philosophical views and arguments were hardly discussed.

There are notable exceptions to this tendency, though. Roderick Chisholm, for example, made a continuous effort to show Brentano’s significance to contemporary philosophy by adopting his results in his own contributions to the philosophy of mind, but also in presentations of various aspects of Brentano’s thought (cf. Chisholm 1966, 1982, and 1986). Moreover, in recent decades the tradition that is often referred to as “Austrian philosophy” has gained increasing interest in a broader philosophical audience, which is due mainly to the work of Rudolf Haller, Barry Smith, Peter Simons, and Kevin Mulligan, among others. By showing the systematic relevance of Brentano’s (and other Austrian philosophers’) contributions to problems discussed in ontology, logic, the theory of emotions, or consciousness, they could counteract the tendency to reduce Brentano’s contributions to philosophy to the notion of intentionality.

In recent years an increasing number of philosophers from different fields have rediscovered and elaborated on different themes from Brentano’s philosophy. Brentano’s views on ethics, for example, (which have gained more attention in English-speaking countries than in central Europe, probably because of the early English translation of Brentano’s lecture on ethics (1902)), have been taken up in fitting attitude theories of value, which analyze ethical value in terms of correct or incorrect forms of approval or disapproval. His theory of mind has inspired neo-Brentanian accounts of consciousness that aim to do justice to the systematic nature of Brentano’s theory of mind, where the notion of intentionality is closely intertwined with the conception of secondary consciousness and the thesis of the unity of consciousness.

In particular, it has been suggested that Brentano’s notion of secondary consciousness (i.e., the thesis that every mental phenomenon is incidentally directed also towards itself as a secondary object) can provide the means to overcome higher-order theories of consciousness that have been widely discussed in the late twentieth century. Brentano, who argued that every mental phenomenon is object of inner perception, has sometimes been regarded as an early proponent of a higher-order perception theory of consciousness (cf., for example, Güzeldere 1997, 789). This interpretation, however, does not pay due attention to the fact that according to Brentano, inner perception is not a self-standing mental phenomenon of a higher level, but rather a structural moment of every mental phenomenon. Moreover, Brentano explicitly rejects the basic assumption of all higher-order perception theories of consciousness, i.e., the idea that we can have two mental phenomena (of distinct levels) at the same time, one of them being directed towards the other: higher-order perception theories postulate what Brentano calls ‘inner observation’ (as opposed to inner perception), which he retains impossible, as we have seen above.

Accordingly, a number of recent interpreters have suggested that Brentano was an advocate of a one-level account of consciousness: ‘Since the features that make an act conscious are firmly located within the act itself rather than bestowed on it by a second act, this locates Brentano’s view as a one-level view of consciousness’ (Thomasson, 2000, 192).  This reading has given place to neo-Brentanian theories such as Thomasson’s adverbial account (cf. Thomasson 2000) or self-representational approaches (cf., for example, Krigel 2003a,b) that build on the thesis that ‘every conscious state has a dual representational content.  Its main content is the normal content commonly attributed to mental representations.  But it also has a (rather peripheral) special content, namely, its own occurrence’ (Kriegel 2003a, 480), which they take as Brentano’s central thesis.  Moreover, Kriegel suggests that for Brentano this self-representational aspect is a necessary condition for having a presentation (Kriegel 2013).

Other interprets have taken more cautious lines.  Mark Textor (2006), for example, has relied on Brentano’s thesis of the unity of consciousness to account for the relation between primary and secondary consciousness.  A mental phenomenon, according to Textor’s interpretaion of Brentano’s theory, does not become conscious by representing itself, but rather by its being unified or fused with an immediately evident cognition of it.  Also Dan Zahavi has insisted that Brentano does distinguish two levels of perception, which sheds doubts on the one-level interpretation: ‘It could be argued that Brentano’s claim that every conscious intentional state takes two objects, a primary (external) object and secondary (internal) object, remains committed to a higher-order account of consciousness; it simply postulates it as being implicitly contained in every conscious state’ (Zahavi, 2006, 5).  In short, Brentano’s distinction between primary and secondary consciousness ‘introduces some kind of level-distinction into the structure of experience’ (Brandl 2013, 61) but does not conceive of higher-perception as a full-fledged mental phenomenon at its own, which is why Brandl has recently proposed to regard it a ‘one-and-a-half-level theory’ (Brandl 2013, 61f).”  Wolfgang Huemer, “Franz Brentano;” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014

news washington post media newspaper moon landing space

Numero Cuatro“Either by omission or by commission, the US media actively misinforms the public on crucial issues that matter.  The reason they do this is because they legally can.

My mentor and dissertation committee member, Dr. Peter Dale Scott, recently wrote on his Facebook page: ‘Inadequate decently priced housing is one of America’s most urgent domestic problems, with developers vacating neighborhoods to build third and fourth homes for the one percent.  It is a symptom of what’s wrong that Cynthia McKinney, one of the relatively few former members of Congress with a Ph.D., has to go to RT to discuss a crisis that is so under-reported in the US media.’

And therein lies the problem with US media: The news is so filtered and in some cases propagandized that it bears little resemblance to the day-to-day intellectual needs of the average US citizen. It fails to provide solutions, let alone information that allows US citizens to cast informed votes. Either by omission or by commission, the US media actively under-, ill-, or misinforms the public on crucial issues that matter! The reason they do this is because they legally can. Media in the US has at least one court ruling that allows them to knowingly lie to the public.

Let’s start with the First Amendment to the US Constitution that protects freedom of speech. Courts in the US have ruled on many occasions that freedom of speech also includes the freedom to lie. The rationale is that such rulings give space for unpopular statements of fact. For example, in 2012, the US Supreme Court voted 6-3 to affirm a lower court decision to overturn a conviction for lying about one’s credentials.

The lower court judge in that case wrote, “How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option?”

Washington State Supreme Court even ruled that lying to get votes, distinguishing between fact and opinion, was not something that the state should negotiate. It wrote that people and not the government should be the final arbiter of truth in a political debate.

Now, the First Amendment does not protect some types of lying: like, for instance, lying while under oath, lying to a government official, lying to sell a product. Even in defamation cases, the plaintiff has a firm threshold to overcome, especially if the person targeted is a “public person.” However, the Supreme Court has emphatically ruled that individuals have a right to lie: what about corporations and media outlets? In 2012, the Supreme Court extended First Amendment rights to organizations and corporations in its Citizens United decision.

My local newspaper, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (AJC), ran a headline against me just days before my election that read: “McKinney Indicted.” One had to pore over the article to learn that the McKinney referred to was neither me nor my father, nor anyone related to me. But the AJC never stated that fact. It was a dirty trick carried out by the US press. And sadly, it happens all the time. I filed a lawsuit against the AJC, but had to withdraw it because of a lack of money to finance the lawsuit and, worse, the hostile environment regarding the media and anybody’s efforts to make them tell the truth. I remained powerless before the media monolith and wondered why and how they could get away with such blatant and outright lies.

Then, in 2010, ‘Project Censored’ ran a story that caught my eye: “The Media Can Legally Lie.” After having had my series of run-ins with my local media as they always failed to report the truth about me, I was drawn to this story. Project Censored is a media watchdog based at Sonoma State University in California. Its goal is to end the junk food news diet of misinformation and disinformation fed to the US public by the corporate media. It is a project of students and faculty to shine a light on underreported or unreported stories that should be of great interest to the public. The Project Censored movie tells a part of its important story.

The 2010 story centers on two journalists, hired by FOX News as investigative journalists, who became whistleblowers when they were instructed to report “news” that they knew was not true.

According to Project Censored, in February 2003, FOX News argued that there was no prohibition on media outlets distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.  And skipping ahead, FOX News won on that claim!  But to backtrack to provide some context, the issue was the placement of Bovine Growth Hormone, BGH, manufactured by Monsanto, into the milk stream without labeling it.

A husband and wife reporting team produced a four-part series revealing the health risks for humans in drinking milk from cows treated with BGH to boost milk production.  FOX News wanted the reporters to add statements from Monsanto that the couple knew were not factual.  When they refused to make the suggested edits, the couple was fired.  They sued and a Florida jury decided the couple was wrongfully fired.  FOX Newsappealed the case.  Basically, the Florida Appeals Court ruled that there is no law, rule, or even regulation against distorting the news and that the decision to report honestly resides with the news outlet.

FOX News was joined in its court action by other news outlets, notably Cox Television, Inc., a sister organization to the Cox-owned Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  In an incredible and chilling turnabout, the two truth-telling journalists were ordered to pay FOX News millions of dollars to cover the company’s attorney fees.  The reporters were told by FOX News executives, The news is what we say it is.’

And there we have it.  Now, this Court action immediately affected the right of people in the US to know what is in the food they buy.  Media consolidation in the US is such that six corporations control 90 percent of the junk food news and entertainment fed to the people of the US and around the world.  And US Courts not only say that this is OK, but also decided that it’s OK for them to knowingly lie to the public.  That, in a nutshell, is why the US media lie: Because they can.  And that, in a nutshell, is why the people of the US are increasingly turning to RT and alternative news outlets for information: Because they must.”  Cynthia McKinney, “Why Does the U.S. Media Lie So Much;” RT, March, 2016