Monday, October 26, 2015

Currently Reading 10.26.15

This summer I took an amazing class at the CUNY Graduate Center on surrealism and radical thought; and it was in that class that I was introduced to Freedom Dreams. This book altered my view of the world, and Kelley's prose drifts between the personal and the political creating a beautiful amalgamation of the two. He has a diasporic view of political movements and contextualizes them within the realm of black culture demonstrating that the idea of radicalism, going against the grain of traditional thought, has always been a major part of black identity. In order to change the world that we live in we must not only conceptualize a transformation but we must also seek to become transformed:

 “Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us."   
                                                            -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

 “Césaires (Aimé and Suzanne) were creative innovators of surrealism—that they actually introduced fresh surrealist ideas to Breton and his colleagues. I don’t think it is too much to argue that the Césaires not only embraced surrealism—independently of the Paris Group, I might add—but also expanded it, enlarged its perspectives, and contributed enormously to theorizing the “domain of the Marvelous.” Aimé Césaire, after all, has never denied his surrealist leanings. As he explains: “Surrealism provided me with what I had been confusedly searching for. I have accepted it joyfully because in it I have found more of a confirmation than a revelation.” Surrealism, he explained, helped him to summon up powerful unconscious forces."
                                                               -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"Sometimes I think the conditions of daily life, of everyday oppressions, of survival, not to mention the temporary pleasures accessible to most of us, render much of our imagination inert. We are constantly putting out fires, responding to emergencies, finding temporary refuge, all of which make it difficult to see anything other than the present. As the great poet Keorapetse Kgositsile put it, “When the clouds clear / We shall know the color of the sky.” When movements have been unable to clear the clouds, it has been the poets—no matter the medium—who have succeeded in imagining the color of the sky, in rendering the kinds of dreams and futures social movements are capable of producing. Knowing the color of the sky is far more important than counting clouds. Or to put it another way, the most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling."
                                                              -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

 I had the pleasure of actually meeting Robin D.G. Kelley (well, seeing him actually, from a distance, at the American Studies Conference in Toronto).  I was sitting in the same conference room as we all listened to professors present their research on a panel entitled From Ferguson To Palestine (shout out to Professor Robyn C. Spencer of Lehman College, her paper on anti-blackness in Palestine was incredible).  I saw him and I was too nervous to actually approach him, we looked at each other and then we went our separate ways.  I got home and I decided to contact him, but I never expected him to actually respond.  He is a major figure in history and literature, but then right out of the blue:

Robin D.G. Kelley starts the book discussing his childhood, how he admired his mother and how her perception of the world inspired his own.  By introducing his personal connection to the history of political movements, he shows us that his argument beautifully blurs the lines between the personal and  the political demonstrating how they are perfectly intertwined.  He moves on to argue the personal connection that other major figures have had to their political affiliations such as Malcolm X and Aime Cesaire. Cesaire's relationship between the surrealist movement and the creation of his poetry was an integral part of the struggle for liberation for people of color in the Francophone Caribbean, creating a ripple effect that resonated stateside in the Harlem Renaissance:

Kelley reminds us that our own lives and our personal struggles can inhibit our abilities to dream:

 I was ecstatic yet I was completely surprised by his humility, he said that I made his day, when in fact, it was definitely the other way around.  Freedom Dreams is a beautiful book crafted from the depths of an equally beautiful and imaginative mind.

-Lisa Del Sol

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