An Essay on Uneven Ribs: a Prelude

by Taban Lo Liyong

[from Frantz Fanon’s Uneven Ribs ]

1 Bill Shakespeare
2 Did create a character called Caliban,
3 The unwilling servant of Prospero,
4 And this Caliban would have had Miranda
5 —She who is a marvel to behold—a girl
6 So much in need of love and for whom
7 Ferdinand was a wonder from a brave new world,
8 And who would have helped Caliban populate the island
9 With little Calibans smelling like fish
10 Had Prospero not fouled their plan.
11 One thing about Caliban: he was taught language
12 And what a potful of curses he contained!
13 —The parrot reared by brothers of Long John Silver
14 Would have died in envy.
15 Caliban said: You taught me language
16 And what do I do with it
17 But to curse you?
18 (By the way,
19 I am also called Taban
20 Very near to Caliban
21 And was taught language
22 And what do I do with it
23 But to curse, in my own way?)
24 It serves mankind right
25 To teach men words
26 Without prior screening
27 Of those who would make
28 A human use of it
29 And those who would just stand
30 And tilt the world
31 And move it out of joint
32 By the mere power of words.
33 I intend to follow Voltaire,
34 And Rousseau, too,
35 And Byron—the Lord of Sex,
36 And Nijinski and Clay, the Champ.
37 If you hold a view long enough
38 The world goes through the full revolution
39 Of being startled, doubting and wondering,
40 Seeing sense in your pose
41 And finally advocating it
42 With the zeal of Crusaders
43 Or fanaticism of party files.
44 Clay—I will begin with him—
45 Says he is the greatest,
46 And acts it to all:
47 Lovers and haters, doubters and believers;
48 That he is the greatest
49 In boxing.
50 Nijinski, he was the greatest dancer;
51 He danced to the level when he became God,
52 The full embodiment of the dancer and the dance.
53 (I create on paper
54 And regard myself
55 A God, and believe in myself, the best thing to do,
56 Especially for those who believe in nothing.)
57 For in believing in myself,
58 I have substituted a personal God,
59 More meaningful to me,
60 Because he caters to my desires, in obvious ways,
61 And I have escaped being troubled by the world,
62 Which is too much with us.
63 Meaning our neighbours who mean well,
64 (Misguided, all the same),
65 Advertising men, priests, witchdoctors,
66 Psychiatrists, teachers, and demagogues
67 With the silver spoon on one face
68 And a gangster’s axe on the other—
69 Janus reincarnated.
70 I’d rather be bright mad
71 Than dull and well
72 Vegetating in a life of ease.
73 My complications do me excite.
74 And contradictions give me breadth and depth
75 (You can’t conceive of the whole
76 If you impose arbitrary limitations).
77 All are weaknesses which are strength.
78 Amputate them and I revolve no more:
79 A eunuch in an Eastern harem,
80 A blind man in the dome of beauty.
81 Confidence in ourselves
82 Makes us responsible
83 For our own actions
84 Since the world’s Gods and Satans
85 Are conveniences for shifting blame
86 Or covering modesty—
87 In short, Scapegoats.

88 From Byron I derive an attitude of jest
89 Towards life.
90 His sexual proficiency
91 I leave to him
92 Or take up when I return to Italy,
93 Where in Florence a lady also seduced me.
94 Well, I am romanticist and a romantic
95 (To a certain degree). But more,
96 I am a producer of thoughts romantic
97 According to the academicians.
98 But Rousseau and Voltaire
99 I take as the foundations
100 Of thoughts unsympathetic
101 Towards that chap called God.
102 (Ecrase l’infamie.)
103 Ridicule this idea called God
104 And all the trappings that go with it,
105 It withers, and
106 All that fertile manure
107 Which had sustained it
108 Will be diverted
109 To feed something else.
110 (The whole is pliable and pliant,
111 Plastic and ductile,
112 And malleable.
113 Emphasize one part or aspect
114 And you starve the other side.)
115 You know we created him, God, I mean
116 And therefore we can kill him.
117 And that is what I am proceeding to do.
118 Unfortunately, when I am done with hitting him,
119 I might discover I was beating a dead horse.
120 For, had Nietzsche not proclaimed: God is dead?
121 The death of an idea, unfortunately, takes a long time,
122 Like conspirators singing a tedious antiphony,
123 Or frogs by the stream
124 Who cease their croaking
125 When they hear your footsteps
126 But resume their disturbance
127 When your back is turned,
128 Or like night darkness
129 Which pushes the car impatiently on
130 Angry at the disturbance
131 Caused by the headlights.

132 What I intend to kill is an idea
133 —A much more difficult foe, for it has the tendency
134 To remain alive in the minds of people
135 And stay there for years and years and generations
136 Till perhaps somebody brings forward another idea
137 Which can fascinate, engross, stimulate, intimidate
138 Man, the son of chimpanzee, in all his ways.
139 That is what I want to do—to sing song—
140 As Walt Whitman would say—to the glory
141 Of the flesh, man, the superlative enjoyment one gets
142 In a spirited contest with rules followed
143 Or forgotten, or disobeyed outright. To overcome,
144 Not nature, but artificialities
145 Created by man, by those who thought others need
146 Be controlled through ideas as foolish as religions,
147 Governments, and the Joneses next door.
148 This leviathan we created in our childhood
149 Is a straight jacket into which man has always tried
150 As hard as he can, to fit in, when the best
151 He should have done
152 Would have been to tear it apart
153 And build afresh, with each season.
154 For that matter
155 I admire
156 The United States Constitution;
157 The Constitution which declares boldly
158 That man is created equal
159 Though a Negro counts as fourfifths
160 And the natural Indian no man at all
161 Since we exist in law.
162 It says the rights of the individual
163 Will always be respected
164 So that you may talk all you want,
165 Write all in your head,
166 Gather where you please …
167 Why tire you out with a list,
168 A page stolen from French romanticism?
169 Yet this individual, poor creature,
170 Is so glorified—perhaps rightly so.
171 But
172 What in reality is the individual?
173 He whose choices are to be respected?
174 (Never mind the New York Times ),
175 Who is to choose the senator?
176 (Leave the posters alone),
177 Who knows who should be President?
178 (The T.V. does not matter),
179 Who really knows the virtues
180 That lie in democracy
181 (Schooling and the draft don’t matter),
182 Who knows the rights of the individual?
183 (Don’t doubt the judges—or those who manipulate them),
184 Who is so sure
185 Of his laissez faire
186 (Oblivious of Ford, Rocky, et al .,
187 Holding all in fee)—
188 Well,
189 Perhaps they know these facts
190 But prefer the sweet lie
191 To the bitter truth
192 And are content
193 To pass through life
194 Acting a monstrous lie.
195 I really admire the American
196 Of the executive species
197 Who slaves to keep his position
198 In society like a Babbit.
199 In him you have the individual pure
200 The staunch defender of democracy,
201 The slave of doddering willing aunts,
202 The papers, radios, T.V.’s, and nosy neighbours.
203 That was a by the way.
204 The defiance of God is the best;
205 The defiance of other authorities, second best;
206 And of the self (meaning the accumulation of teachings
207 Of others which the self has absorbed) is third best.
208 These are the things we must do
209 If we want to see the old tyrant dead
210 And Satan installed in his rightful throne
211 (For God and Satan are two aspects of the same thing
212 Recognised by Manicheus but wasted when made religion;
213 God and Satan were names the ruler priests gave
214 For ideas and actions and wishes favourable to the state,
215 Approved by the ruling aristocracy, through the priests;
216 And ideas radical, liberal, and opposed to the state.
217 A heavy shield was placed
218 Between the grumblers
219 And the haves
220 Called God Satan).
221 Zeus should be enchained, as he is the villain
222 And Prometheus the saviour of mankind, the one after
223 Progress, new experiences, enlightenment, and human activity
224 Should get the crown and reside in the Olympus
225 Of our minds.
226 The more we popularize
227 The ways of Satan
228 The nearer we are
229 To the progressive minds
230 Existing in the time
231 When religions were born.
232 The man who saved man did it by bringing us fire;
233 The creature which saved man did it by teaching us to eat;
234 Let Prometheus be blessed! Praise be to Satan!
235 You should agree with me
236 Unless you have much
237 To lose.

238 Unfortunately,
239 The weeping willow grows high
240 In order to draw our compassion
241 When we later see it bending so low
242 Submitting to gravitational pull
243 Which is mundane:
244 Read the autobiography of Jesu,
245 Or better, that of Socrates.

246 I bring you light.
247 I am the writer of pop philosophy.
248 I shall present my thoughts so simply
249 The professors who have lost the art of conceiving
250 Truths so simply told, or teaching anything
251 Not couched in language elevated
252 Abounding in figures of speech,
253 Or their various journalese—
254 They who no longer know earthly language
255 Wordsworth’s for ordinary men—
256 Are no threats to my teachings, they will not
257 Understand it. (Though they can write dissertations
258 Upon dissertations, and get teaching jobs,
259 On what I might have meant.) Intellectuals be damned.
260 Yes sir, the undercurrent flows at a different speed
261 And dictates the speed and direction of everything above it.
262 Never mind the professors, they are an anomaly.
263 Read my stuff
264 Or go to Omar Khayyam

265 For a diversion.
266 We want to justify the ways of man to man.
267 Too long have we tried to justify the ways of God to man
268 Becoming blind in the process and expecting to get a reward
269 When Nothing cares whether you wrote of Paradise
270 With Satan more favourably cast than nothing.
271 God is dead!
272 Nietzsche shouted it, I take it up.
273 Nietzsche is dead, Taban will die.
274 Meanwhile, exercise your muscles
275 And mind.
276 Samson said his strength was in his hair.
277 He was wrong. David thought the Lord was his shepherd.
278 He was wrong. Hemingway said since the Lord was his shepherd,
279 He would not need him for long. And he did cheat the shepherd!
280 David’s strength lay in women.
281 Didn’t he rob Uriah of his wife?
282 So long as Samson had his hair
283 So that he could get stimulation through them,
284 He was strong. But to pieces he went
285 The moment his hair was shaved.
286 That restlessness you have when you want sex
287 Controlled and converted into other endeavours
288 Makes the difference between a prostitute
289 And the man of greatness.

290 Our strength
291 Lies in sex.
292 Hitler found it so.
293 Keep dogs reined and they increase in ferocity;
294 Keep sailors in the sea for long
295 And they leave issues in every port;
296 Tell priests not to copulate,
297 And they either cheat or sublimate.
298 Some wise people in our past (I always insist
299 Our forefathers were wiser than we:
300 They gave us the social institutions we use
301 We may therefore say: Man descended from wise ancestors)
302 Did know the power of sex,
303 And decided that it was not to be played with,

304 Not to be touched or even mentioned:
305 The whole thing was surrounded with taboos.
306 Ask Freud and Oedipus.

307 Taban is exposing himself, you might say,
308 And I plead guilty to the charge.
309 That’s what I am doing: exposing myself.
310 My sister
311 Is the stripteaser.
312 She who comes on the stage
313 Dressed so regally you’d think she’s Lady Somebody,
314 But as the music progresses,
315 The bulk of her dress is depleted,
316 More and more, barer and barer.
317 At the end you see a wriggling worm
318 With a little pad on her breast
319 And a little triangle across her vagina.
320 But in her nakedness,
321 The teaser shows you the human form supreme.
322 That public display (others call it debasement)
323 Before you and others,
324 Is what all the artists do
325 In their different ways.
326 Those who open their hearts
327 And have them pierced
328 With thorns self held
329 And emit genuine cries
330 Of desirable pain
331 Create best
332 When suffering most.

333 And believe you me (by now you should),
334 That is what I am doing—
335 Exposing myself, subjugating a part of me,
336 Raising another to prominence
337 Leaving the greater mass untouched.
338 But in exposing myself, I also expose you,
339 For what I have you have, what you have I have.
340 Mine is a language you understand
341 Because it speaks of you and me.

342 If I have reduced one or two things
343 It is part of you I have reduced.
344 If I have said something strange
345 It is a face of you I have held for examination.
346 When I say let’s kill God
347 I mean let’s throw to the background
348 What has been in the foreground unreasonably long
349 Given us by our ancestors
350 Who could not know better.
351 Let’s reduce the prominence
352 We have laid to an obedience classical
353 And let’s leave the mind to wander free
354 To worlds unheard of.
355 If we still let their system rule us,
356 It testifies to our weaknesses,
357 Our inability
358 To grow out of a cocoon.

359 What mankind needs
360 Is the breakup of society;
361 A forgetting of languages.
362 Let each individual go his own way
363 And fend for himself, protect himself, wage his own wars
364 On his direct enemies and not the bogus bloodfeuds,
365 An eye for an eye, so long as it is the eye of the antagonist,
366 Is a better philosophy, than leaving all judgement,
367 To this insincere social machine;
368 Man should live life like that of his fellow animals.
369 In short, let’s return to nature
370 And use language just for the propagation of that idea
371 After which we bury it
372 Like Prospero’s magic.
373 We have lived in society so long
374 Things are getting worse.
375 Our salvation may lie in return to animality.
376 If we die like the dinosaurs
377 We shall have left the stage in time
378 For insects (perhaps)
379 To inherit the earth

380 But we shall not have destroyed the stage
381 And the other actors on it
382 Just because we are small-minded.

383 Let’s go back
384 To pre-society days.

© Taban lo Liyong 1971

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