Alan's Reviews > Soul on Ice

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
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Jul 07, 2008

it was amazing
Recommended to Alan by: White people.
Recommended for: White people.
Read in July, 2008

Eldridge Cleaver, aside from being Minister of Information for the Black Panthers, was one of the world's true fucking freaks. A serial rapist and homophobe--"homosexuality is a disease, like baby rape or the deisire to be president of General Motors"--he also happens to be freakishly brilliant. He also seems to be one of those rare few who, forced by some explosive admixture of clarity, feeling, and a bizarre kind of honor, live out in their bodies the physical logic of their ideas.

If the 60s utopianism of the middle passages give you pause, the last three or four pieces in this book will make you gag on what you thought you knew about blackness in America. He is in love with his (white?) lawyer and possibly Norman Mailer and the Beatles. He glorifies black masculinity while excoriating the "epicene" whites who have forced its creation through slavery and the relinquishment of their own. He theoretically conflates (American) blackness, Masculinity, heterosexuality, the (fecund, potent) body, and menial work. He dichotomizes these in constellation, against whiteness, femininity, homosexuality, the (sterile, impotent) mind, and administration.

He expostulates on the twist (the dance) as a revolutionary movement reconnecting white people ("Omnipotent Administrators" and "Ultrafeminines") to the bodies they have been alienated from by delegating their masculinity to the black "Supermasculine Menials beneath them."

The book is made of actual love letters, allegory, high crystalline theory, slang, rantings, epithets, enumerations, and memoir.

His several styles and odd statements may be contradictory. He makes no attempt to reconcile them and even though this isn't an autobiography (as billed), it becomes a self-portrait of incredible clarity for that simple fact.

But one of the most interesting things about this book is that Cleaver's blackness has inspired in him a sort of Cartesian project--the rejection of all received (white) truth, beauty, and goodness, and a fundamental reevaluation of the world and its lies. (The difference here being that there is no Cartesian boot-licking.) The outcome is startling and incredibly strange, because unlike Descartes, Cleaver doesn't mince lucidly back to the given world to certify its corruptions. This because he's actually rejected it. Cogito Ergo I'm gonna fuckshitup.

This is truly an outsider work, in the art-world sense of the designation. As with all such artists (Henry Darger for instance) appreciation of Cleaver is deeply complicated. It doesn't do to simply exoticize the incredible otherness of his worldview and tour it as a sort of bizarro psychic theme park; neither does it do to simply agree with it. With these disbarred, it's hard to see what is left for a reader. But something happens to a person when reading this stuff. Its alien extremity knocks the crap and dust, the unnecessary, from our ideas with a beating of contrasts, a battery of possible obscene alternatives.

Furthermore his neuroses correspond to the counter-reading Keith McNeal has given the term. They are psychic reaction-formations to stressors which may enable a management of those stressors. That is say, they have content. This content illuminates the black struggle and the struggles of robbed and used people for personhood more than anything else I've ever read. (I haven't read a lot of this stuff). I also think it is sometimes beautiful in its necessity.

"All the gods are dead save the god of war."

"We shall have our manhood. We shall have it or the earth will be leveled by our attempts to gain it"

-Eldridge Cleaver
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