Dance the Eagle to Sleep
Troubling Images: 1.) Professor Theodor W. Adorno, at the University of Frankfurt, was, not long before his death, the audience for—or the object of—a striking bit of symbolic action. Adorno, a distinguished philosopher and the teacher of many leftist students, had come to be worried about student zeal for immediate action, about spontaneity, random rebellion, and, of course, the possibility of repressive actions by the government. And how was the sacred old father rebuked? A girl got up in the classroom and took off all her clothes.
A bit of The Blue Angel here? No, perhaps the key is found in the famous scene in Swann’s Way. Mlle. Vinteuil, making love to her girl friend, puts the photograph of her doting, gifted father on the table next to the sofa so that the girl can spit on it. Proust says about the scene: “When we find in real life a desire for melodramatic effect, it is generally the ‘sadic’ instinct that is responsible for it.”
“Sexuality”—the word has become a sort of unfleshed abstraction as it trails along with liberty, fraternity, and equality in the youth revolution—is suddenly political. The body, the young one at least, is a class moving into the forefront of history.
In Gimme Shelter, a brilliant documentary film about the Rolling Stones and their concert outside San Francisco that ended in murder, several accidental deaths, and an outburst of desolation, anger, and danger that is thought to have signaled the end of something in the rock and roll scene—in this film a number of people, mostly girls, take off their clothes. Each has an expression both blank and yet sure that something is being done, accomplished, signified. They stand there in the crowd, enclosed in their sad flesh, as lonely as scarecrows among the angry, milling thousands. The gestures did not cause a head to turn and all one could feel was that the body, the feet, the breasts were foolishly vulnerable, not because of any attractions they might have for the crowd, but merely due to the lack of protecting clothing. The nude bodies were no match in dramatic interest to the fabulously dressed performers, whose tight pants, scarves, snakeskin boots, spangled boleros, red silk ruffled shirts, represented what is meant in the entertainment world by a “personal statement.”
2.) Huey Newton in New Haven, visiting Bobby Seale in jail. “If Ericka and Bobby are not set free, if the people can’t set them free, then we’ll hold back the night, there won’t be day—there’ll be no light.” The eschatological mode has in modern times wearied the Christian world, but it served them well enough for centuries and so perhaps militant leaders sensibly feel there is some life left in this style. At the Black Panther convention recently—a small and dispirited gathering according to journalists—Huey Newton outlined the program: “First, focus on closing down Howard University, second on liberating Washington, and third …
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