Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Harold Cruse and The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual

Between editing my book manuscript and redrafting an essay for a colleague, I have spent my downtime re-reading Harold Cruse's 1967 manifesto, "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual." Cruse's book was one of many that sat on my mother's bookshelf when I was a child and that I perused, and eventually read as as an adult, along with Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth" and "Black Skin, White Masks." Because my old edition of Cruse's work is falling apart, I treated myself to the 2005 edition with an introduction by Stanley Crouch.

Now, I don't particularly like Stanley Crouch, but I will read his writings; it's not just that we occupy two very different political spheres and possess divergent world views, it is just that I don't think that he's very intelligent. For me, the introduction that he has written for Cruse's work seals the nail in the coffin of Crouch's intellectual banality. But what is even more disturbing is the fact that the publisher of the 2005 edition of Cruse's work did not seek out or secure a scholar to write the introduction.

Crouch makes such erroneous claims as the following: "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual seemed to assume that there was a substantial intellectual tradition among American Negroes. That was neither true forty years ago nor is it true now." This statement alone evidences why I do not consider Stanley Crouch to be anymore than a conservative, political pundit in the same vein as someone like J.C. Watts. Crouch is dismissing Du Bois's early sociological studies, particularly The Philadelphia Negro, wherein Du Bois went door-to-door to collect the data, or the current work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., especially Gate's attempts at creating a database of the records from the ships involved in the transatlantic slave trade in order to ascertain, among other elements, an accurate enumeration of the number of slaves that were actually involved in the slave trade.

These are just two examples that immediately come to mind. Crouch further writes: "There has never been a substantial body of thought on any Afro-American subject that was formed of deep studies, original theories, probing cultural examination, complex religious assessment, and schools of philosophical concern that raised questions about essences as opposed to superstitions, hearsay, and propaganda." I suggest strongly that Cruse read Cornel West's works from the 1980s, particularly, "Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity," and "Prophetic Fragments." Better still, he needs to go back and read Fanon for starters.

Crouch's introduction to Cruse's seminal work reminds me of how little regard publishers (and even Crouch himself) have for Black intellectual thought. Crouch is the last person who should have written the introduction to Cruse's work. His introduction seems more like he is settling scores with the Black intellectual community rather than providing an introduction that will both contextualize and analyze Cruse's work and its contributions to Black intellectual thought of the twentieth century. But of course if Crouch doesn't believe such a tradition exists, then of course he could not have risen to the occasion and written a substantive introduction.

It is a shame that in 2005 Cruse was so intellectually and physically debilitated (Cruse died in March 2005) that he could not have stopped the publisher from appending his work with Crouch's bad introduction.


E. said...

Again, really appreciate the thoughts and analysis Michele.

I can just see Dr. John Henrik Clarke wiping his forehead in disgust.

Jerry Brown said...

Great observations on "negro" intellectualism...even greater on the cognitive absurdity that is Stanley Crouch!