Report on CLR James Book Launch in Toronto

February 4, 2010 at 12:54 am (Uncategorized)

Marty Glaberman once observed that everyone has their own CLR James, an observation echoed by the chair of the meeting to launch a new book of writings by CLR James, You Don’t Play With Revolution.

And at the meeting there were many CLR Jameses: James the teacher, James the writer, James the Trotskyist, James the sponteneist, James the anarchist, James the anti-imperialist , James the cultural critic, and so on. That CLR James could be so many things to so many people suggest one of two things: either he was a political scoundrel trying to appear to be all things to all people, or that he was a genius whose political thoughts and interests were not limited or bound by the dogmas within the traditions he traversed.  

For me, it’s the latter answer, even though my CLR James would be more heavily Johnsonite than some of the others. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be held to all of the political positions I’ve espoused in my political life, some of which (many?) are deeply embarrassing now.   (See the earlier post, The Legacy of CLR James for a bit more of a critique of James. )

The occasion of the meeting was the publication of lectures James delivered in Montreal in 1967. The book contains the three public lectures James gave, on the making of the Caribbean people, the Haitian Revolution, and King Lear, as well as five private lectures he gave on Existentialism and Marxism, Rousseau, The Eighteen Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and the Caribbean, Marx’s Capital, and Lenin on the trade union question. In addition the book contains interviews with James, and some previously unpublished correspondence and supplementary materials. (the book is published by AK Press). 

For those interested in James, it’s a worthwhile investment (a very reasonable $20 for a 300 plus page book), and those those who aren’t it’s worth having just for the range of interests James brings. Read James’ Beyond a Boundary on cricket, a game I dislike. Read James’ book on Moby Dick. And see the insights.

About 25 people came out to hear David Austin, the editor of the collection, give a general overview and read selections of the book. Austin’s task was not an easy one as most of the audience too had their own CLR James Like many who get caught up in their subject, Austin sometimes let his enthusiasm get the better of him. (He announced several times  he was finishing, but , “well, maybe one more little thing…” )

The discussion ranged from James politics at various points in his career and the impact of the lectures of the Montreal Caribbean left , to current political realities in the Caribbean and elsewhere. (Lots of thoughts to follow up on including an article Hegel and Haiti) . I didn’t speak as my had ended up at the  bottom of the list, and it seemed as if here was little for me to add (except sectarian sourness? – Nice to leave it out once in a while).



  1. John Green said,

    Cheers for that. I found James’s book on Moby Dick hard going but really enjoyed Beyond a Boundary, even though I’m another Englishman who can’t stand cricket. I just became a friend of AK Press but I’ll be buying a copy of this anyway. I’ll be very interested to read the essay on Marxism and Existentialism after having just read the new John Gerassi book of interviews with Sartre.

    Thanks again.

  2. Notes on Kipling « Notes from Underground said,

    […] By fischerzed Leave a Comment Categories: Uncategorized After my recent post on CLR James, I decided to re-read James’ book on cricket Beyond a Boundary. I was never a cricket fan as […]

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