Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Marxist Spirituality of C.L.R. James

I found occasion once before to post something on the “cricketing Marxist,” C.L.R. James, and now I’d like to draw your attention to a piece by Kenan Malik on “the 50th anniversary of C.L.R.  James’ wonderful, groundbreaking work Beyond a Boundary.” James exemplifies what I can only describe as a Marxist spirituality, the adjective qualifying something like the following:

“[A]t the richer end of the spectrum [of spirituality], we find the term used in connection with activities and attitudes which command widespread appeal, irrespective of metaphysical commitment or doctrinal allegiance. Even the most convinced atheist may be prepared to avow an interest in the ‘spiritual’ dimension of human existence, if that dimension is taken to cover forms of life that put a premium on certain kinds of intensely focused moral and aesthetic response, or on the search for deeper reflective awareness of the meaning of our lives and of our relationship to others and to the natural world.”—John Cottingham in The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy, and Human Value (2005)

In Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World (2009) the Indian psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar, reminds us that

“Spirituality, like culture, has many definitions and yet manages to give a sense of familiarity to most of us. For me, the spiritual occupies a continuum from moments of self-transcendence marked by loving connection to an object—nature, art, visions of philosophy or science, the beloved in sexual embrace—to the mystical union of saints where the sense of the self completely disappears. The spiritual, then, incorporates the transformative possibilities of the human psyche: total love without a trace of hate, selflessness carved out of the psyche’s normal self-centeredness, a fearlessness that is not a counter-phobic reaction to the fear that is an innate part of the human psyche.”

Finally, a neurosurgeon, professor of medical ethics, and a philosopher, Grant Gillett, completes our generous conception of a spirituality that embraces a Marxist like James:

“Spirituality lifts our eyes from the possibilities defined by the everyday and economic. The divine wind recalls the breath that gives us life and the cleansing water that allows healing and refreshment in the arid wastes of suffering is a figure with meaning that goes beyond the material. In the most unlikely places we find loving and transformative touches, that are the things of the spirit in that they are ways not only of understanding but also beatifying what we do, however bloody, messy and unromantic it is. We are beset by directives and discourses that reduce, demean, and obscure our humanity, that are not noble, uplifting, inspiring, and fulfilling. We can render life in operational (or narrowly functional) terms and make it tolerable through escapism and pleasure but there is another way. We live and love in a world where real tragedies happen, real joy is found, and real connections are forged through time and across barriers of culture and position. In those things we discover the resonance in ourselves of inscriptions, utterances, and works that deepen our understanding.” From Gillett’s book, Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics (2008)

Our conception of spirituality thus clarified, here are the first two paragraphs from Malik’s post on James:

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of CLR James’ wonderful, groundbreaking work Beyond a Boundary.  To call it a book about cricket is a bit like calling cricket a ‘game.’ Beyond a Boundary blends politics and memoir, history and journalism, biography and reportage, in a manner that transcends literary, sporting and political boundaries. V S Naipaul, not a man given to offering easy praise, described it as ‘one of the finest and most finished books to come out of the West Indies.’ John Arlott, that most wonderful of cricket commentators, wrote of Beyond the Boundary, that it was ‘a book so outstanding as to compel any reviewer to check his adjectives several times before he describes it and, since he is likely to be dealing in superlatives, to measure them carefully to avoid over-praise – which this book does not need.’

Beyond a Boundary was a book that CLR James had to write, and that only he could write. Novelist and orator, philosopher and cricketer, historian and revolutionary, Trotskyist and Pan-Africanist – there are few modern figures who can match the intellectual depth, cultural breadth or sheer political contrariness of Cyril Lionel Robert James. He was a lifelong Marxist, yet one with an uncommonly fierce independence of mind that expressed itself both in his rejection of conventional Marxist arguments and in his refusal to repent of his politics even when it became fashionable to do so. He was an icon of black liberation struggles, and yet someone whose politics was steeped in a love of Western literature and Western civilization. He was a man whose affection for cricket was matched only by his love for Shakespeare. The book is in the image of the man himself. Brilliant, complex, contradictory, beautifully observed, deeply insightful, but sometimes also romantic and naïve. And, of course, boundary-crossing.” [….]

The rest is here.


Blogger WORLDwrite said...

Hi,Thought you may be interested in this – WORLDbytes is producing a documentary ‘Every Cook Can Govern: Documenting the life, impact & works of CLR James’. The launch will be on Saturday 23rd November 2013 at the Kia Oval Surrey County Cricket Club, London. The launch will feature a debate Should CLR James be fodder for a new 21st Century canon? For more details check the following link Please feel free to share this info to friends who may be interested.

10/17/2013 1:38 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home