June 17, 2002
It's been a long time in coming and I've waited years to finally read and reread an article where line after line, paragraph after paragraph, I kept saying yes, yes again, and again, yes, yes, yes.* There, in front of my eyes, was a vision! At last, a vision!
I've been preaching for years now about the daring want to imagine, the obligation to dream beyond the daily mores, and the absolute necessity to invent -- yes, invent -- the future. I've advocated the power of nonviolence, the names of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, even Jesus, the political man (I always qualify)... to no avail.
I'm told, "You are naïve; you are a utopian; you are... a dreamer... a radical" (I've been called worse!).
"It's always been thus, always will be. There is no other way." How often have I heard the same litany? Here are the good guys and here are the bad guys; there's the right way and there's the wrong way... And don't even think of pointing out that "it" did not work, whatever "ism" you wish to associate with "it." If it did not work it's because "they" (the other side) did not let it happen. But if you point out some specifics, you are slapped with a peremptory "mistakes were made." And, of course, the whine follows. "We are not being heard because "they" don't give us a forum." The nefarious "they," the legendary fig leaf behind which one hides when one is so ossified that future generations will use Carbon 14 to analyze the remains. (Has any one ever heard of fossils besides fuels?)
A few months back, I was asking an amicable and most respectable fellow, one of the pillars of the Chomsky community, about his "latest take on the health of the 'Left'." His answer: "What left? It is in such disarray and shrunken that there is a question of whether it exists. Admittedly there is a lot of discomfort and action among the young, and many others, but this is inchoate and lacking organizational or philosophic or programmatic focus and at this moment in history can be virtually ignored by the rulers. I don't recall a political environment in the US worse than this, based on the balance of forces and prospects for repression and war, and resistance."
Youth needs a vision of hope to organize and imagine...
Enters Robin D.G. Kelley.
Kelley asks: "How do we produce a vision that enables us to see beyond our immediate ordeals? How do we transcend bitterness and cynicism, and embrace love, hope, and an all-encompassing dream of freedom, especially in these rough times?"
Love, hope, dream of freedom, all sissy sentiments for the armchair revolutionaries who denounce the proponents for being romantic, or worse, "bourgeois liberals" and all the same forget that people like Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Gramsci, among many other revolutionaries, strongly advocated love, for it is a more powerful motor of human creativity than hate or fear. Che Guevara was another passionate proponent. But what made King and Gandhi, for instance, so different was their aptitude to entwine love and nonviolence to achieve extraordinary social changes. As Kelley writes, "The civil-rights movement demanded freedom for all and believed that it had to win through love and moral suasion."
He also adds, "There are very few contemporary political spaces where the energies of love and imagination are understood and respected as powerful social forces." A sad and correct observation, but that makes his article all the more encompassing and important for it brings hope in an otherwise conformist and parochial socio-political and intellectual space.
Honestly, to articulate a vision is no easy task. I often talk about it, in an instinctive way, but I certainly have not come up with any compelling map... Then again, I am not gifted with Robin Kelley's wide-ranging intellect! His faculty to weave surrealism with the Afro-diasporic culture, radical feminism, gay and lesbian freedom movements, nonviolence and Black radicalism, among others, is impressive and tantalizing.
While touching on our culture of cynicism and materialistic apathy and referring to the rough times that enmesh humanity the article does not broach the multi-facetted challenges and their gargantuan complexities that we are facing. Neither does it address the atomization of progressive movements in America and in the world. But this is an article made up of excerpts from his latest book, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, to be available in the next few days at Beacon Press (I can't wait to see it land on the shelves of my local library!). So, I can easily imagine that Kelley has more to say on what he calls "poetic knowledge" -- that is, the "effort to see the future in the present."
Imagination, dream, love... From where I stand, I deeply hope that his vision will help foster and channel the creative forces of youth into a new social movement. I am not sure that the seeds he is planting will take root in the once fertile soil of the institutions of higher learning (universities are increasingly dominated by commercial interests and students burdened with high levels of debt) or the "working class" whose representatives (Unions) are by and large part of the power structure. He may want to look more closely at other alternatives, for instance the suburban radicals.
But I sure hope the seeds grow into a wide movement and I could not care less what it's called. Whatever label, whatever "ism," will do so long as it keeps the flame going. After all, new words are coined everyday. So, why not Kelleyism? Robin Kelley would undoubtedly object but it would be a sweet turn of events, some kind of poetic justice, were an eminent Black thinker to bring us all forward, to dream and imagine for generations to come.
Finding The Strength To Love And Dream - by Robin D.G. Kelley
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* There is always the exception that confirms the rule... like the use of the word "enemies" when referring to opponents, in the essay that I am introducing. (back)
[Note - Give credit where credit is due: I found a short excerpt of Dr. Kelley's article on a Web site I visit regularly, the Marxism Mailing List located on the Web at Marxmail.org, a site moderated by Louis Proyect. An unorthodox holder of the flame of whatever fractured branch he belongs to, Proyect is a man of integrity. He always cites his sources. The origin, in this case, was the June 7, 2002 issue of The Chronicle Review, the weekly publication of The Chronicle of Higher Education. I went there and read; and I read again... That's when I began mumbling to myself, yes, yes, and yes... I contacted the permission department of The Chronicle of Higher Education and Anne Wiebe was kind enough to respond promptly that they did not hold the copyright and that I should contact the author directly. It took me a few minutes to find Dr. Kelley's e-mail address and, within hours, I received his gracious, fee-waived permission to publish his article.]
Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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Finding The Strength To Love And Dream - by Robin D.G. Kelley
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