CLR James ..a birthday post.

3 Jan

The 4th of January marks the birthday of CLR James. For me James is one of the most readable, thought provoking writers of all time. He had the turn of phrase of a good journalist, the depth of a philosopher and the insight of a historian. He was great at all of these and when he brought them together he fizzed off the page.
Phrases like beyond a boundary and any cook can govern have joined our language , his book on the Haiti revolution a must for anyone wanting to understand the modern world. His writing on this period was even turned into a musical with Paul Robeson , imagine being in the room with those two!

I point to three pieces of writing which for me are classic James. There are hundreds but I pick just three. Writing on the 1981 riots James in a short piece breaks down all the thoughts and romanticism of revolution and the riots. I thought of this piece during the riots in 2012 and the way far too many people get carried away with what the “meaning ” of the actions were.James writes from the bottom up at all times.

A second key text for me is mariners , renegades and castaways. It shows James as someone steeped in the classic novels and he uses Moby Dick as a metaphor for modern America. Oh how this book seems to be even more relevant in the age of fiscal cliffs , banking crises and sanity in the pursuit of the insane.

Finally a piece on Barnes vs Constantine. I can’t help creating the most amazing visual images when I read this. A Lancashire league encounter turns into a battle of worlds. the cunning guile of Barnes even at 59 vs the explosive youth and pace of Constantine. Don’t get one dimensional and look for the best just be grateful you saw it , or for us we read about it.


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