There are many ways to read Huey Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide. It is, above all, a signature text of its moment: peaking Black radicalism, splinters in that radicalism (the critiques of Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael aren’t just polemical, they cut to the heart of the meanings of nationalism and revolutionary politics), and autobiography as a kind of revolutionary practice. It is also a programme for self-liberation that, in Newton’s telling, becomes the liberation of a people. Self-liberation is inseparable from the encounter with books and ideas – or, perhaps better, from the encounter with what makes books and ideas possible. This last bit is what interests me.
Re-reading Revolutionary Suicide for my course this semester, I’m also struck by the fragmented and quirky intellectual lineage Newton evokes, from Plato and Descartes to Mao and Fanon to Coleridge to Ho Chi Minh. There is a lot to tease out in those connections, and in general I think Newton needs to be read closely and appreciated as an intellectual in both the bookish sense and the organic, politically mobilizing sense of what Grant Farred calls “the vernacular intellectual” (see his What’s My Name?). Continue reading “Huey Newton’s primal scenes”