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The Man

ELDRIDGE CLEAVER: POST-PRISON WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, Random House, $5.95

By Clyde Lindsay

THE TITLE gives the only valid description of the contents, just as it gives the only true description of the author. Nothing can be said about the book that is wholly true. If you want to get at its truths, you have to read it yourself, for yourself, by yourself.

The first thing to get a hold on about this book is that from the standpoint of the academic purist, it's not literature--which is hip because it's not supposed to be literature from the standpoint of the academic purist. What it is is a small portrait of a man, a hell of man who also happens to be a hell of a writer.

Except for the "Stanford Speech," each of the pieces has been printed elsewhere. They range from a review of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth to Eldridge's interview with Playboy, but whatever the subject, the formal topic is always over-shadowed by the man behind the words. Let me drop some clues on you:

I cannot help but say that Huey P. Newton is the baddest mother fucker ever to set foot inside of history. . . .

I don't know what the outcome of all this will be, but I do know that I, for one, will never kiss your ass, will never submit to your demagogic machinations. . . .

I challenged Ronald Reagan to a duel and I reiterate that challenge tonight. . . . And I give him his choice of weapons. He can use a gun, a knife, a baseball bat or a marshmallow. And I'll beat him to death with a marshmallow. . . .

Malcolm talked shit and talking shit is the iron in a young niggers blood. . . .

Eldridge gets down about all sorts of things. Like Bobby Kennedy:

I sat up close and got a good look at his mug. I had seen that face so many times before--hard, bitter, scurvy--all those things. I had seen his face on the bodies of night-time burglars who had been in prison for at least ten years. Robert Kennedy has been in some prison of his character for a long time.

And the basic issues:

We don't need a War on Poverty. What we need is a war on the rich.

And simple reality:

The most obvious cause for the decline of the Black Muslims is that Allah has failed to come.

And the Pigs, immediately after the Oakland Ambush:

"Where are you wounded?" he asked me. I pointed out my wound to him. The Pig of Pigs looked down at my wound, raised his foot and stomped on the wound.

ALL OF WHICH gives a partial and very inaccurate picture of Eldridge Cleaver. His knees may be too tender for the pigs to handle him, but there is not one solitary thing wrong with his intellect. Or his powers of observation. Quotations won't get it for showing Eldridge's Thought. To deal with his intellect and ideas, you have to bring your own, sit yourself down, and lock horns.

And bring your lunch. Whether you agree with him or not, the odds are thirteen-to-five that dealing with him will get so good to you that you won't be able to turn him loose.

There is a degree of surprise and disappointment in this book. Those who read Soul On Ice know that Eldridge Cleaver can write. From the standpoint of style and evocation, however, many of these pieces are clearly not up to his ability, though sufficient to qualify as well-written. A few of the pieces were tossed onto paper (or tape) just in time to meet a deadline; still others simply did not call forth his full abilities. When he wrote of Huey and the Panthers, though, it was most literally something else. Excitement, lucidity, precision of phrase, name it. Then look down and see it staring up at you from the page.

That is impressive. This man is so dedicated to the Movement and his leader, Huey P. Newton, that he cannot release the totality of his talent for any purpose not directly related to The Movement and his leader. The only name for that is real, just plain, flat-out real.

Nothing in this book was written with any intention of enshrining the author or building a mystique about him. But that is precisely what will happen.

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