The praise given to William Styron’s current prize-winning, best-selling novel, The Confession of Nat Turner, has been followed by strong dissent and hostility from many members of the black intelligentsia. Black writers have denounced the novel in essays and public statements; black actors have threatened to boycott the film version. William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond presents the essential points of the attack. It is a book that demands attention not so much because of the questions it raises about Styron’s novel as for what it reveals about the thinking of intellectuals in the Black Power movement.
That the novel lends itself to historical or other criticism is true but irrelevant to this collection. What is at issue here is the ferocity and hysteria of the attack, which claims Styron to be a racist, a liar, an apologist for slavery, and a man who displays “moral cowardice” and “moral senility.” A few of the writers dissociate themselves from these slanders and argue that his book is “objectively” racist and ahistorical—an argument that at least makes discussion possible—but the editor, John Henrik Clarke, editor of Freedomways magazine and a member of the staff of HARYOU, is right in claiming that the authors as a group insist on the “deliberate” quality of Styron’s alleged crimes. The writers insist on most points as a group, and the essays themselves repeat one another; thus most of the criticism may properly be discussed as a collective effort.
Except for occasional entertainment, we need deal only with the essays of two young and gifted writers, Mike Thelwell, who teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, and Vincent Harding, who teaches history at Spelman College. Virtually all the serious points made in the book may be found, skillfully presented, in Thelwell’s essay, but for some suggestive material on slave religion we must turn to Harding’s. Of the rest, the less said the better.
Clarke’s Introduction begins with a quote from Herbert Aptheker: “History’s potency is mighty. The oppressed need it for identity and inspiration; oppressors for justification, rationalization, and legitimacy.” This nonsense sets the tone for the book. I should respectfully suggest that although the oppressed may need history for identity and inspiration, they need it above all for the truth of what the world has made of them and of what they have helped make of the world. This knowledge alone can produce that sense of identity which ought to be sufficient for inspiration; and those who look to history to provide glorious moments and heroes invariably are betrayed into making catastrophic errors of political judgment. Specifically, revolutionaries do not need Nat Turner as a saint; they do need the historical truth of the Nat Turner revolt, its strength and its weakness.
One might have thought that black and white Americans who are committed to racial equality would approve of the fact that William Styron, a white Southerner, has rescued the great rebel slave leader, Nat Turner, from obscurity. Instead, the claim is made throughout these essays that black America has always known of and admired the historical Nat Turner. This is pretense. When Vincent Harding, for example, writes of a Nat Turner who exists “in the living traditions of black America,” he is deceiving himself and, inadvertently, the rest of us. Certain great slave revolts in Brazil and the Caribbean have been celebrated in tales and in songs and have contributed to subsequent uprisings; but we have yet to be shown evidence that slaves and postslavery blacks kept alive a politically relevant legend of Nat Turner or of any other Southern slave leader. If Nat Turner is now a name widely known to black and white America, and if the existence of armed resistance to slavery is now generally appreciated, William Styron deserves as much credit as any other writer.
THE BURDEN of the attack on Styron’s book is the charge of historical falsification. These writers claim that he transforms Turner, the revolutionary general, into a man of indecision and even cowardice; presents slavery as a benign system and reduces the causes of the revolt to trivial personal complaints; denies the influence on Turner of the slave quarters, and makes his virtues the result of his having been a pampered “house nigger”; fails to understand the hold that Turner had on his people as a preacher; and—greatest offense of all—ignores evidence that Turner had a black wife and assigns a central role to his relationship with a lily-white Southern belle. For the most part the criticisms are historical and ideological, and only rarely aesthetic. Some critics praise Styron’s writing and see it as enhancing the ideological threat; others deride it, more or less in passing. Thelwell’s sarcastic discussion of Styron’s handling of Turner’s preaching style is a brilliant set piece on black language and deserves to be read quite apart from either Styron or Nat Turner. The social content, not the artistic performance, is, however, the issue and therefore will be my concern here.
The novel is historically sound. Styron takes liberties with fact, as every novelist does, but he does not do violence to the historical record. The same cannot be said for his critics. Thelwell criticizes Styron for denying that Virginia masters deliberately bred slaves, and refers to the incontrovertible evidence of huge slave sales to the lower South. Certainly every historian knows of those sales, and so does Styron. But had Thelwell read the historical literature carefully, he would have found there a distinction between a system of deliberate breeding and the process of transferring surplus-populations. Styron understands the distinction, which is of great importance to the moral question of slavery, but Thelwell misses it completely. There is no disagreement on this matter among historians, black and white, radical, liberal, or conservative.
William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond contains a useful appendix with the original confessions of Nat Turner as told to T. R. Gray. For clarity, since Styron’s novel has the same title as that Gray gave to the original, I shall refer to the latter as Turner’s Testimony. This historical data, Lerone Bennett, the editor of Ebony Magazine, tells us, reveal the real Nat Turner as commanding, virile, and courageous, whereas Styron makes him impotent and cowardly. The historical data reveal no such thing; in fact, they do not reveal much at all about Nat Turner’s qualities. In his Testimony, Turner naturally makes himself appear as if he always knew what he was doing, but his words merely suggest a human being who had respect for himself and no wish to bare his innermost thoughts to the enemy. The historical Turner had resourcefulness and courage as his conduct shows, but surely nothing in the novel suggests anything else. What Styron does is to give him a human complexity, attributing to Turner doubts and self-doubts, and thereby make his action the outcome of intelligent and sensitive consideration.
To this extent Styron may well exaggerate Turner’s virtues, for it is possible to read the Testimony as the reflections of one of those religious fanatics whose single-minded madness carried him to the leadership of a popular cause. Instead, Styron sees enough in the Testimony and in the events of the time to suggest that Turner may well have had a more impressive character, including a humanity and sensitivity that could sharpen his resolve to liberate his people and, at the same time, fill him with doubt and foreboding about the means. When Styron sees Turner as racked by self-doubts and unable to kill anyone except Margaret Whitehead, he does not convict him of cowardice. When it could no longer be avoided, he killed. The inner conflict and pain can be interpreted as cowardice and irresolution by those who wish to do so, but this interpretation seems to me more revealing of its authors than of either Styron or the historical Turner.
The historical record is clear enough: Turner hit a defenseless man on the head with a hatchet and could not kill him; he hit a woman on the head with a sword and could not kill her. He explains: it was dark, the hatchet glanced, the sword was dull and light. But neither darkness nor inferior weapons kept his associates from doing better. Surely a serious novelist might be moved to meditate on the reasons why this was so. And that Turner did kill only Margaret Whitehead—and then only with considerable difficulty—raises questions about human character that are appropriate to a serious novel. Yet the description of the ambivalent relationship between Turner and Margaret, which is of course fictional, has infuriated Styron’s critics perhaps more than anything else in his novel.
WHAT OF “General Nat,” about whom we hear so much? According to the Testimony, Turner met with his associates the night before the insurrection to devise a plan. Although he had brooded over his revolutionary calling for a long time, he had as yet no plan at all. Nat Turner led a slave revolt under extremely difficult conditions and deserves an honored place in our history, but there is a limit to what may be claimed for a general who on the day before he marches does not know where he is marching to. In fact, Turner had no place to go. These facts do not make Turner a fool or a madman or less than a hero; they do suggest the desperate circumstances in which he and other Southern slave rebels had to operate. If Styron’s presentation of a white-influenced, doubt-ridden Turner insults the hero, what shall we do with the historical figure of the greatest of black revolutionaries. Toussaint L’Ouverture, who enjoyed a privileged position in slavery; who played it safe while his fellow slaves sent the whole North Plain of Saint-Domingue up in flames; who, when in command, offered to deliver masses of blacks back into slavery in return for amnesty and freedom for his own officers; and who took care to lead his master’s family to safety before doing anything at all? Toussaint stands as one of the greatest revolutionary leaders in world history, but not being a statue, he had all the frailties and contradictions common even to the greatest of men.
Styron draws especially heavy fire for showing loyal slaves helping to shoot down the insurgent blacks. Relying on the authority of Aptheker, the black writers tell us that it did not happen and could never have happened. This is nonsense. Many planters claimed that it did happen, but we may dismiss their testimony for a moment. During the War for Southern Independence some loyal slaves defended their masters’ families with guns in hand, but we may put that fact aside also. When we turn from the United States, which had only small and scattered slave revolts, to Brazil and the Caribbean, where large black slave revolts were frequent, we find all the evidence we need. Armed, loyal slaves often fought against insurgents, as every historian of those regions knows. It is pardonable for Styron to take liberties with the particular history of the Nat Turner revolt, so long as he does no violence to the history of the slave revolts generally. Here, as in his handling of the rape episode, he has proved himself a better student of history than his critics.
Styron apparently knows, as his critics do not, that a ruling class incapable of applying the rule of divide and conquer could not last a year. Turner’s Testimony itself tells of loyal slaves who protected their masters. Of special relevance is Turner’s own account of his last days in hiding, wherein he tells us of being discovered by two Negroes to whom he revealed his identity; he adds that they immediately fled and that he knew they would betray him.
Styron’s critics miss his irony. In the novel, Gray reveals to Turner the slave-holder’s conventional wisdom on slave loyalty when he announces, with all the sensitivity and genius for miscalculation characteristic of his class, that this is why “nigger slavery will last a thousand years.” Styron invokes here the image of the Thousand-Year Reich, which lasted twelve years; by linking the two systems he is ironically demonstrating the stupidity of those who think that divisions among the lower classes may forever be counted upon to maintain systems of oppression. For this he is accused of being a “white Southern racist.” It is not surprising that the White Citizens Councils cannot recognize Styron as one of their own, and have denounced him as a traitor to his race and class; but it is surprising that Styron’s black critics have insisted on reading the incident with the eyes of a T. R. Gray.
In the novel, Turner winces when Gray tells him that his revolt has been crushed with black help; and throughout Styron’s book, Turner expresses contempt, even hatred, for his fellow blacks. The critics of Styron’s book insist that love, not hatred, must have driven Turner forward. Such love for his people is also in the novel. Had he not loved them, he would not have protested so much against their weakness in the face of oppression; he could not even have perceived them as victims of oppression. No revolutionary could be free of such feelings of hatred, which is essentially a hatred for the oppression rather than for the oppressed.
John Oliver Killens cites David Walker’s magnificent call for slave insurrection (1829), The Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. But Walker never feared to mix his professions of love for his people with the harshest condemnation:
Why is it that those few, weak, good for nothing whites are able to keep so many able men, one of whom can put to flight a dozen whites, in wretchedness and misery? It shows at once what the blacks are, we are ignorant, abject, servile and mean—and the whites know it, they know that we are too servile to assert our rights as men—or they would not fool with us as they do…. Why do they not bring the inhabitants of Asia to be body servants to them? They know they would get their bodies rent and torn asunder from head to foot.
This, the language of a genuine revolutionary, is what Styron gives Nat Turner; both display the humanity of men capable of doubt and anguish.
THE CRITICS claim that Styron’s Turner and his followers revolted for trivial personal reasons, and that Styron pictures slavery as a benign and reasonably humane system. None of this is true. By giving Turner a kind master, Styron shows, as Mrs. Stowe did long ago, that the kindest masters could not offset the inhumanity and injustice of the system. Styron’s Turner chooses insurrection because a series of betrayals, which his old master could not help, awakens him to the injustice of his general, not specific, condition. Will, the slave, makes the same choice because the exceptional brutality to which he is subjected produces the same effect. Hark, one of the most attractive and interesting of the rebels, has to be urged by Turner to transform his own personal misery into political consciousness.
All this is simple and sound both as history and as psychology. One of the essential qualities of a great revolutionary leader (or, for that matter, of a great counter-revolutionary demagogue like Hitler) is the ability to raise the consciousness of his people from the personal to the social. People, especially simple people, normally experience an oppressive social system in a thousand seemingly meaningless and disconnected ways: it is the leader’s task to make them see their oppression as flowing from a common social source and to help them to identify the oppressor. The “personal” suffering Styron describes flows from the slave condition; he is correct to dwell on this as the basis for revolutionary consciousness and to make Turner’s religious preaching the vehicle for the transformation. Styron does not, as some charge, make Turner’s feeling for Margaret Whitehead the spring of his action. Nothing in the novel suggests anything so absurd.
The critics accuse Styron of presenting Turner as a pampered house nigger and denying the influence of the slave quarters on him. Styron’s Turner allegedly does not adequately reflect the influence of his own mother and father and the friendship of his fellow slaves; the positive influences on his life seem to have been white. Historians, black and white, have done little work on house slaves, drivers, preachers, and especially field slaves, so that if Styron underestimates the influence of the slave quarters on the personality and character of its inhabitants, so does virtually everyone else who has written on the subject. Nat Turner, in his Testimony, does say a few words about a grandmother, about his parents who taught him to read, and about some relations with other slaves. Because Turner is taught to read by the white family in the novel, Styron is accused of falsifying history, of denying a vital culture among the blacks, and of seeing slave life from the view of the Big House.
How much can we make of Turner’s having been taught to read by his parents? Who, after all, probably taught them? Turner himself says that he used white children’s books. Styron did not invent white paternalism. That attitude was part of the history of slavery and, as Styron shows in many ways, in no way could compensate for the injustice of the system.
Thelwell condemns Styron because Turner aspires to white culture, speaks a white language, and thinks and dreams like a white man, although Frantz Fanon, whose work Thelwell must know, provides adequate theoretical justification for this. Thelwell cites sections of the Testimony which suggest Turner’s early alienation from the system and a distinctly religious and political opposition to it. It is hard to believe that so sophisticated a man as Thelwell should take Turner’s claims to lifelong dedication at face value. Every revolutionary can give the social reasons for his conduct, but we must still explain how the same circumstances make one man a revolutionary and his brother the opposite. It is impossible to expect the Testimony to yield more than unconscious hints. Out of these Styron created a believable Nat Turner, although by no means the only possible one. But then, nothing prevents (or has ever prevented) black intellectuals, who claim to have the living traditions of black America at their disposal, from creating their own version.
Turner’s aspiration to white culture is not the same as hatred for things black. Slaves of any race normally reach out for the culture of the class above them. So do colonials, as Fanon shows. So do industrial workers, for all their freedom and leisure, unless they are organized in a struggle to develop a larger view. Again, consider the example of Toussaint and the other black leaders who were, at one bad moment, prepared to betray their army back into slavery. Their excuse was that the newly imported African Coast Niggers “cannot even speak two words of French”!
Styron’s black critics, especially Harding and Thelwell, insist that there was a special kind of subterranean life in the slave quarters which might have proven far more powerful than we now appreciate. Since we know so little and can say so little, the anger and hostility toward Styron, who has created something out of what we do know, seems absurd. One is tempted to say, especially to such a talented and eloquent young historian as Harding: If you say that black folk life can be unearthed and made relevant, then do it; if white historians—for whatever reasons—have been blind to whole areas of black sensibility, culture, and tradition, then show us. We can learn much from your work, but nothing from your fury.
THE MOST IMPORTANT and damaging criticism by Thelwell and Harding concerns religion. They argue that Styron pays insufficient attention to Turner’s role as a Preacher and misses the central role of black religion. It is true that all black slave revolts in the Americas had a religious side, which provided ideological and often organizational cohesion. But Styron’s critics claim more than an artistic failure to convey the full power of Turner’s preaching. According to Harding, Styron shows Turner as a man abandoned by God until he repents, not for the dead white children but for the young white woman who opened him to love. Such a God ostensibly belongs neither to the black man nor to the white, but only to the private world of William Styron. Harding is entitled to his reading, but I fail to see much in it. The young woman in question was the one person Turner did kill—in the novel and in fact—and guilt tends to be an intensely personal matter. In saying that he would have spared her, Styron’s Turner acknowledges the love that accompanied his hatred; he repents not for having led his slaves in revolt—he affirms his cause decisively—but for having allowed the justice of his cause to generate personal hatred. He thereby reaffirms his Christianity and his humanity: he sees his own tragedy in his inability to wage uncompromising class war without personalizing the hatred it engenders.
Of all the criticisms, the most violent are directed at Turner’s relationship with Margaret Whitehead. The objections are primarily these: that the historical Nat Turner had a black wife whom Styron ignores; that Styron-Turner’s romance with Margaret goes hand in hand with Styron’s portrayal of Will as a lunatic, hell-bent on raping white women; that Styron gives Turner homosexual and asexual tendencies and thereby denies his manhood; and that the interracial love affair arises from a white man’s fantasy life, has racist overtones, and has nothing to do with Nat Turner and the slave experience.
The evidence for Turner’s alleged black wife comes from an account written thirty years after his death. The black critics make much of Turner’s references to his grandmother and his parents in the Testimony. How incredible, then, that he failed to mention his wife? Perhaps she existed, perhaps not; perhaps she had some importance in his life, perhaps not. We do not know. Given the slim thread of evidence—or gossip—Styron has not falsified history by ignoring her. The discussion, therefore, must focus on whom and what he puts in her place.
A similar attack is aimed at the characterization of Will as a man obsessed with the idea of rape. We know little or nothing of the historical Will. One historical account, without evidence to support it, presents a different man from that in the Testimony. Styron had nothing to work from, and was free to invent him as bloodthirsty, nihilistic, consumed by hate, a type who has appeared in the noblest of uprisings and revolutions throughout history. It is ridiculous to infer an insult to black people from this characterization. We are told that, in fact, there was not a single episode of rape during the revolt and that the issue is, therefore, viciously injected. No rape did occur, but so far as I can recall, no one bothered to note the absence until Styron himself commented on it in an essay published several years ago. In any case, there are no instances of rape in Styron’s book. If Styron’s Will is hungry for white women, his Nat Turner is a man who will stand for none of it and who is strong enough to prevail.
What, then, is the complaint? The rape question is supposed to be Styron’s invention and the creation of his racist mind. But Styron knows, as his black critics ought to know, that evidence of rape appears frequently in the histories of slave revolts. It would be astounding if it did not. Evidence from the United States is ample, but we can also turn to Saint-Domingue’s great revolution. The radical and black (by United States classification) historian of the revolution, C. L. R. James, in his superb book, Black Jacobins, refers without fuss to the raping of white women and says all that needs to be said: Those whose women had for so long been objects of white violence settled old scores. To deny these common occurrences during social struggle is to betray an ignorance not only of history, but of life:
Styron’s Turner has a homosexual experience and afterwards remains continent; accordingly, we are told that Styron has deprived him of his manhood. Twenty years ago the Kinsey Report reported that the majority of white males had homosexual experiences during pre- and early adolescence. By assuming that black men follow similar lines of development, Styron merely gives Nat Turner something of a normal early life. Perhaps black men do not share with decadent whites these delightful early encounters. Che peccato!
The second matter is more serious. Why does Turner abstain from sexual relations? The answer seems to me clear throughout the novel. Styron has, in this way, dramatized Turner’s single-mindedness, his devotion, even to the point of monomania, to his revolutionary calling. This characteristic, in its general if not necessarily specific form, may be found in many great revolutionaries. As a literary device it may or may not be successful; it is clearly meant not to denigrate, but to link Turner with a great historical tradition of revolutionary heroes. And those who think that sexual abstinence deprives a man of his manhood have a few questions to answer themselves.
FINALLY, we come to Margaret Whitehead, whose place in the novel has drawn the heaviest fire. The charges are by now familiar: Styron insults black men by suggesting that they hanker after white chicks; he insults black women by denying them the charms to lure their men away from these white chicks; and he is immersed in a white-racist sexual fantasy. To begin with, we may recall what his detractors never mention: Margaret Whitehead displays a feeling for Turner parallel to his feeling for her. She unconsciously tries to seduce him several times; Turner is, after all, the only sympathetic, different, and unobtainable man in her life. Perhaps the complaint should be reversed: Styron insults white women and attributes to them an irresistible fascination for that celebrated black penis. This is, in fact, exactly what white racists, especially in the South, are saying.
The attack on Styron’s handling of the sexual aspect of race relations comes at a strange time, for in recent years various black writers have been exploring the issue in a similar way—e.g., Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, Earl E. Thorpe’s Eros and Freedom in Southern Life and Thought, and especially Calvin C. Hernton’s indispensable Sex and Racism in America. With creditable research, professional integrity, and considerable good humor, Hernton argues that the racial problem in America does have a sexual aspect and that the sooner we face its implications the better. American life throws whites and blacks together under circumstances in which they constantly affect one another and yet they remain apart. As one result, the sexual fantasies common to both sexes and races tend to be translated into racial terms. For example, whites often regard blacks as sexually uninhibited and more desirable, and blacks regard whites in exactly the same way. If the racial translation of sexual fantasy proves so strong in modern America; what must it have been like in the slave South?
By focusing on this side of the black-white confrontation, Styron does expose one of the most tragic features of the slave regime. On the one hand, slavery threw whites and blacks together intimately in relations often harsh and brutal, and sometimes affectionate and loving, sometimes all at once. On the other hand, it forbade those feelings of love which its intimacy engendered from coming to fruition. The tension was at once a matter of race and class. In Styron’s novel, Margaret and Turner are drawn together because they glimpse a special sensitivity in each other. Each is drawn to the other by the attraction of the forbidden; but each is so remote from the other that neither can even know what he or she is feeling. The novel describes a social system that brought people together in intimate relationships, negated that intimacy, relentlessly suppressed any awareness of the feelings created, and necessarily turned that love into hatred and fear. Here Styron sees how slavery crushed the feelings of those who faced each other from different sides of the line.
Styron’s Turner is impressed by the fine white ladies, with their polish and elegance, and it would have been perfectly natural for Turner to focus his feelings on a lovely girl who seemed to embody everything in life that was desirable and unattainable. One wonders it Styron was thinking of the great Toussaint L’Ouverture, who, as our black critics surely know, steadily plowed his way through those aristocratic French ladies of Le Cap who sought his favors. If Styron’s critics find some racial insult here, then they fail to see that the issue transcends race and is a question of class and status as well. The Margaret White-heads of the WASP bourgeoisie have long fluttered before working-class boys of other ethnic groups quite as much as they must have fluttered before black slaves.
The power of Styron’s performance lies in his having carried this confrontation further. In establishing genuine love he also establishes genuine understanding, for to some extent Turner does come to see Margaret as a particular human being, rather than as a social type. That, I should suggest to Harding, is the reason he must repent of her murder before he can reestablish a relationship with his God. In repenting, he does not repudiate his revolt; he repudiates that hatred which led him to deny the love he felt for a human being who was as trapped as he. This may or may not be convincing artistically, but the charge that this part of the novel stamps Styron as a racist is outrageous. If anything, it may stamp him as an integrationist—which for some may well be his ultimate crime. Certainly, it stamps him as a man who has the courage to confront the depths of America’s racial tragedy.
OF OTHER COMPLAINTS, great and small, little need be said, for they are, at best, more of the same and generally a good deal worse. I will only mention the complaint of Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a psychiatrist. After telling us that Styron, as a white Southerner, must be the victim of racist ideology, Poussaint notes that Styron calls Turner “Nat” and then asks if this is an attempt by a white Southerner to keep Turner in his place. Perhaps. But what shall we say of Vincent Harding, the title of whose essay is “You’ve Taken My Nat and Gone”? Or of Aptheker, who also calls Turner “Nat” and who is cited throughout this book as a solid authority? And what of Genovese—I hold my breath!—who calls Turner “Turner,” for surely Poussaint knows that Turner was the name of the master’s family.
William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond shows the extent to which the American intelligentsia is splitting along racial, rather than ideological, lines. As such, the book needs to be taken with alarmed seriousness, no matter how absurd most of the contributions are. It is enough that Vincent Harding and Mike Thelwell appear here with no less passion than the others, although with considerably more grace and intellectual power. Certainly, we need not probe the motives of these ten writers as they try to probe Styron’s. But it is clear that the black intelligentsia faces a serious crisis. Its political affinities lie with the black-power movement, which increasingly demands conformity, myth-making, and historical fabrication. No one need believe that any of these writers would resort to deliberate falsification—which they so readily accuse Styron of—but the intellectual history of popular and revolutionary movements has overflowed with just such crises, in which dedicated, politically committed intellectuals have talked themselves into believing many things they later have had to gag on. The black intellectuals seem to be going through what Marxist intellectuals went through in the 1930s and 1940s. Let us hope that they come out a good deal better.
One thing remains certain: If they follow the line laid down by Aptheker with which they open the book, and if they proceed, in a hysterical way, to demand new myths in order to serve current ends, they will find the same moral, political, and intellectual debacle at the end as did most of the Marxists of those days. Their political movement, being a genuine popular force, can only be served by the truth. The history of every people exhibits glory and shame, heroism and cowardice, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and doubt, and more often than not these antagonistic qualities appear at the same moment and in the same men. The revolutionary task of intellectuals is, accordingly, not to invent myths, but to teach each people its own particular contradictory truth. This historian has never been sure which lessons can be drawn from the past to serve the future. Except perhaps one: Until a people can and will face its own past, it has no future.
September 12, 1968