Roderic L. Mullen
The Expansion of Christianity:
A Gazeteer of Its First Three Centuries
Reviewed by Carl L. Beckwith
Magnifying and applying come I,
Outbidding at the start the old cautious hucksters,
Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah,
Lithographing Kronos, Zeus his son, and Hercules his grandson,
Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Buddha,
In my portfolio placing Manito loose, Allah on a leaf, the crucifix
With Odin and the hideous-faced Mexitli and every idol and image,
Taking them all for what they are worth and not a cent more,
Admitting they were alive and did the work of their days,
(They bore mites as for unfledg'd birds who have now to rise and fly
and sing for themselves,)
Accepting the rough deific sketches to fill out better in myself,
bestowing them freely on each man and woman I see,
Discovering as much or more in a framer framing a house,
Putting higher claims for him there with his roll'd-up sleeves
driving the mallet and chisel,
Not objecting to special revelations, considering a curl of smoke or
a hair on the back of my hand just as curious as any revelation,
Lads ahold of fire-engines and hook-and-ladder ropes no less to me
than the gods of the antique wars,
Minding their voices peal through the crash of destruction,
Their brawny limbs passing safe over charr'd laths, their white
foreheads whole and unhurt out of the flames;
By the mechanic's wife with her babe at her nipple interceding for
every person born,
Three scythes at harvest whizzing in a row from three lusty angels
with shirts bagg'd out at their waists,
The snag-tooth'd hostler with red hair redeeming sins past and to come,
Selling all he possesses, traveling on foot to fee lawyers for his
brother and sit by him while he is tried for forgery;
What was strewn in the amplest strewing the square rod about me, and
not filling the square rod then,
The bull and the bug never worshipp'd half enough,
Dung and dirt more admirable than was dream'd,
The supernatural of no account, myself waiting my time to be one of
The day getting ready for me when I shall do as much good as the
best, and be as prodigious;
By my life-lumps!
9. Gilroy veers towards postmodern language of "excess" or slippage to describe race, nationalism and culture as figures of indefinite "difference" which cannot be "defined" or contained and are always already in movement, motion, multiplicity. Yet black identity, citizenship and even "culture" do cohere in one significant way for Gilroy: in their rejection of "work" as an experience. Black subjectivity, the diaspora, modernity, double consciousness, in other words, are at bottom while Marxism itself comes to represent something like white essentialism This explains in a new way what Gilroy calls his own "anti-essentialist-essentialism." Gilroy comes full circle, diasporically, to a reductive and redactive variation on Robinson's theme of a Black Radical Tradition as an alternative to Marxism. The circumlocutionary logic of both texts--each of which claims to be, to differing degrees, Marxist, or Marxist-influenced, is evidence of what I called at the beginning of this essay ambivalent executions. Like Easy Rawlins, Robinson and Gilroy stare in the face of capitalist history and, in very different but similar ways, seek to liberate black people by alleviating its "red menace."
10. In 1983, the same year as Cedric Robinson's book appeared, Manning Marable published: . The book was dedicated to Walter Rodney, author of . Marable used Rodney's underdevelopment thesis in service not of a "black " Marxist methodology, but a Marxist analysis of black economic development. Marable generally succeeds in preserving a dialectical and historical materialist analysis of not just black workers as part of the American working-class but racism and racial formation, including white supremacy, under capitalism. Here is to me the most significant and compelling passage from the book on this question:
4. In his stupor Rawlins confuses attacked and the attacker: he is simultaneously killing "red" ants to save black children, "liberating" them from red menace, while engaging in a holocaust against those he is learning and already knows are most vulnerable to fascist poison: "red" ants (Communists, blacks and Jews). He is at war with himself, ideologically, racially, ethnically, ethically. The passage puts Rawlins between fascism and communism and, psychologically at least, makes him go both ways. Later in the novel Wenzler is murdered. The "mystery" of is revealed when FBI Agent Craxton is found out as the killer. Other murdered black victims of federal power litter the scene. The fascism is, as we suspected all along, domestic in . Wenzler thus becomes a martyr to the road not taken. Readers both black and white, meanwhile, are left feeling, like Rawlins, badly hungover.
5. Mosley's is thus an anti-Cold War novel with a reluctant resignation about the fate of Cold War Communism at its center. But the most lasting image of the novel for me is of revolutionary manque Rawlins as ambivalent executioner, an image that should resonate with those familiar with African American literary representations of Communism. The question of whether the turn to Communism represents freedom from white racist oppression at the expense of racial unity or "authenticity" is, after all, fundamental to struggles between black and other variety nationalisms and Communism. The vituperative hostility with which ex-Communists or Communist-sympathizers like Harold Cruse and Ralph Ellison, for example, have "killed off" their Communist pasts as a cathartic statement of racial (or in Ellison's case integrationist ) solidarity also reminds us of a larger problem about racial formation and Marxism generally in the United States. That is, just as putatively "white" Marxist critics and labor historians have in recent years made what Greg Meyerson has diagnosed as the psychoanalytic turn to attempt to explain white supremacy as a racial reflex to blackness within the American working-class, so black Marxists have often hunted out the psychic space of black racial betrayal--race traitorhood from the other side of the color line--as the target for their disavowals of historical materialism. Easy Rawlins's drunken confusion is Mosley's fruitful if simple metaphor for Communism and Communist sympathy as a point of psychic racial excess that can spill over in highly toxic forms when black goes "red": a red death, as it were.
6. Indeed variations on this critical problematic have informed several of the most interesting books published in recent years by black radical intellectuals. In his often brilliant and important book , for example, Cedric Robinson presents a historical narrative in which the "black radical tradition" emancipates itself from a historiography of Eurocentric radicalism, purging it of what Robinson attempts to describe as a white racist epistemology. The book opens with this statement about class formation and relations of production:
Stacy Peralta and George Powell founded skate company Powell Peralta 1976. To publicize the brand, they formed a team of young skaters who would go on to revolutionize the sport: Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero and Mike McGill. Stacy commented that he never wanted to call them a "team," a label that invited all kinds of jock baggage. Craig shrugged and simply said, "Bones Brigade." At the time, skating needed all the help it could get. The 1970s "fad" that swept the country after the invention of the urethane wheel had deflated embarrassingly by 1981. Remaining participants' social status ranked below the chess club. Powell Peralta averaged an anemic 500 monthly board sales and Tony Hawk once received a royalty check for 85¢. To increase brand awareness and grow skateboarding, Stacy produced and created a new Bones Brigade video every year, showcasing his crew's varied personalities and invented maneuvers. The videos routinely featured riders crawling out of sewers, skating abandoned pools and back alleys, bombing desolate hills—essentially shredded an apocalyptic world hidden to most non-skaters.
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