EVERY SO OFTEN, one man writes the kind of book which grasps a thousand little threads of fact and forcefully weaves them together into a pattern so clear, that the reader wonders why he had not seen it all along. Eldridge Cleaver has done just this in Soul on Ice.
Cleaver has a deliberate control of words which he drops on the page like little bits of acid. "The policeman and the soldier will violate your person, smoke you out with various gases. Each will shoot you, beat your head and body with sticks and clubs, with rifle butts, run you through with bayonets, shoot holes in your flesh, kill you."
He describes actions of our society in vivid, dreamlike images. The people of the world must feel "like passengers in a supersonic jet liner who are forced to watch helplessly while a passle of drunks, hypes, freaks, and madmen fight for the controls and the pilot's seat." The 1954 Supreme Court decision was "a major surgical operation performed by nine men in black robes on the racial Maginot Line which is imbedded as deep as sex or the lust for lucre in the schismatic American psyche. This piece of social surgery ... is more marvelous than a successful heart transplant would be, for it was meant to graft the nation's Mind back onto its Body and vice versa."
Cleaver feels the white man in America made the black slaves into superstrong bodies, stripping them of their minds. In the process, according to Cleaver, white men became competent administrators and thinkers, but became alienated from their bodies and burdened with a sense of physical impotence. Such a split between mind and body arises in any class society, but can usually be overcome. In this country, however, the split has been made permanent by racial division. It is this overcoming of the racial division which holds the key to restoring the sanity so desperately needed by both white and black in America.
LATER, the author reminds us of the liberation of American music which occurred around 1954. Elvis Presley started moving his hips, white song writers raided black lyrics to send toned-down versions across the country. Chubby Checker taught the rich how to twist. Today Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin have brought the feeling of soul to white bodies from Boston to Seattle.
The other side of the solution involves the blacks' search to think for themselves. The desire for courses in black history, the political and economic awareness spreading in the ghetto, the black banks, local control of schools--all these, Cleaver would say, are efforts by black people to fight off a feeling of mental impotence which is just as serious as the white alienation from its body.
The main strength of the book is in its tying together of these white and black problems. Inserted between chapters on Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, is a section on the white race and its heroes. "What has suddenly happened is that the white race has lost its heroes. Worse, its heroes have been revealed as villains and its greatest heroes as the arch-villains." Youths "recoil in shame from the spectacle of cowboys and pioneers--their heroic forefathers whose exploits filled earlier generations with pride--galloping across a movie screen shooting down Indians like Coke bottles."
CLEAVER points out that the black man's problems in America are not independent of those of other oppressed pepole. It is no accident that Malcolm X went to Africa, that Martin Luther King was against the Vietnam War, or that the Vietcong have warned black soldiers of impending terrorist activities in Saigon. "The blacks in Watts and all over America could now see the Vietcong's point: both were on the receiving end of what the armed forces were dishing out."
The emphasis in Cleaver's book is on black/white phenomena in the individuals of this country, our society, and the world. He tends to ignore two things. First, he has long passages of bitter criticism of the white race for genocide and brutality. I think the was in Biafra shows that genocide is not an evil committed only by the white race. Secondly, Cleaver has an intricate description of the psychological hangups resulting from our divorce of mind and body. These are crucial to our self-understanding, but I think our psychosexual problems in America are caused by the machine as well as by race. The feeling of impotence comes not only from the lack of independent mind or capable body, but also from a sense of being isloated in a world of synthetic, sterile, mechanized, plastic objects.
Cleaver gathers together the problems of individuals in our society, the conflicts of black and white, and the struggles of nationalism and the status quo. Most important, however, he shows their dependence on each other and shows that we all--black and white, young and old--are tied together in a period of great and serious change.