Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rediscovered play by C.L.R. James published


  
With black history on the British school curriculum now under threat from the Tories as never before, the appearance of a critical edition of the great Trinidadian writer and historian C. L. R. James’s play about the Haitian Revolution Toussaint Louverture: The story of the only successful slave revolt in history (out now with Duke University Press) is most timely. The remarkable play, written by James in 1934, was performed at London’s Westminster Theatre in 1936 with Paul Robeson in the title role - and stands as not only possibly the finest anti-imperialist play to make it onto the British stage in the inter-war period but the first time black professional actors starred on the British stage in a play by a black playwright. Toussaint Louverture represents a piece of revolutionary literature in its own right, indeed it is the lost literary companion volume to The Black Jacobins, James's classic 1938 history of the Haitian Revolution. The original playscript has never before been published, as it was widely presumed lost, and and so this is the last major piece of James's writing never before published. This special edition includes the programme, photographs, and reviews from the 1936 production, a contextual introduction and editorial notes on the play, and selected essays and letters by James and others, and launches the new C.L.R. James Archives series with Duke University Press.


Endorsements / Reviews

 "The text of this nearly forgotten drama, succinctly introduced to today's readers with a valuable set of accompanying essays, is an invaluable contribution to Pan-African studies and our understanding of 'the Black Plato' as a remarkably talented playwright. C. L. R. James readers, and not only those of The Black Jacobins, will rejoice."
Paul Buhle, authorized biographer, author of C. L. R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary

"Long legendary throughout the diaspora, the first version of C. L. R. James's play about Toussaint Louverture finally emerges from the archives. This play is the production that united James with his friend Paul Robeson on the London stage. It was an extraordinary event at the time—witness the contemporary reviews added to this publication—and it is no less extraordinary today. In addition to reviews, this edition also reprints valuable early statements from James and Robeson. It is a singular, one might even say Olympian, volume with much to teach us all."
Aldon Lynn Nielsen, author of C. L. R. James: A Critical Introduction and Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation

"The most famous account of the Haitian Revolution is, of course, CLR James’s 1938 history The Black Jacobins. But before he composed his dramatic history of revolution, James rendered the revolution as historical drama. His play was written in 1934, staged in 1936 at London’s Westminister Theatre – with Paul Robeson starring – and lost until a draft was rediscovered in 2005..."
 The Public Archive,'Radical Black Reading / Reading Haiti 2012'

''[T]horoughly researched and intelligently prepared....Toussaint Louverture is easily one of the two or three most important publications of C.L.R. James’s work in decades... now that the playscript is in print, it seems time for someone to rise to the challenge of putting it on the boards, or on the screen"
Scott McLemee, 'Revolution on Stage', Inside Higher Ed

''One need only read the table of contents to see that you have much more than a play here. It includes reviews and other critical information that deepens your appreciation of the play. This is an example how a chance discovery of a lost manuscript can be turned into something that opens the door to a relevant world. This play is a must-read for anyone who has read and loved The Black Jacobins as you can see much of the lyricism of that great work prefigured in its lines ... As long as the world wilts with oppression, is awash with crisis, and punctuated by resistance this play, its subject matter, and now this book, will have to be read, watched and pondered on over and over again.''
Gaverne Bennett, London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter


"James manages to tell the whole story of the struggle in all its twists and turns as Louverture steps his way through all the imperial trip wires until the fatal error where he trusts too much in French civilisation.  It focuses on dialogue between a small number of people on stage. As a play, the offstage revolutionary upheaval has to be described, not witnessed. Reading the script, the possibility of it being the bedrock of a screen adaptation is enticing.  Louverture’s story on the big screen, showing the heroism of the Haitian masses, would be a brilliant corrective to the Barack Obama-driven, post-racism narrative."
The play was only performed on a handful of occasions, but met with critical applause. James manages to tell the whole story of the struggle in all its twists and turns as Louverture steps his way through all the imperial trip wires until the fatal error where he trusts too much in French civilisation.
It focuses on dialogue between a small number of people on stage. As a play, the offstage revolutionary upheaval has to be described, not witnessed. Reading the script, the possibility of it being the bedrock of a screen adaptation is enticing.
Louverture’s story on the big screen, showing the heroism of the Haitian masses, would be a brilliant corrective to the Barack Obama-driven, post-racism narrative.
- See more at: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/54593#sthash.Zck4Dh7r.3qo9rfix.dpuf
The play was only performed on a handful of occasions, but met with critical applause. James manages to tell the whole story of the struggle in all its twists and turns as Louverture steps his way through all the imperial trip wires until the fatal error where he trusts too much in French civilisation.
It focuses on dialogue between a small number of people on stage. As a play, the offstage revolutionary upheaval has to be described, not witnessed. Reading the script, the possibility of it being the bedrock of a screen adaptation is enticing.
Louverture’s story on the big screen, showing the heroism of the Haitian masses, would be a brilliant corrective to the Barack Obama-driven, post-racism narrative.
- See more at: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/54593#sthash.Zck4Dh7r.3qo9rfix.dpuf
Barry Miles, 'Toussaint Louverture brought to life in play, book', Green Left Weekly

Edited to add: See this discussion of the play in sx salon 16 (May 2014)
Toussaint Louverture brought to life in play

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1 Comments:

At 1:11 am, Anonymous Evan said...

Congrats on the publication Christian!

 

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