Man­ley dis­course back on track

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - Sir Hi­lary Beck­les Con­trib­u­tor Pro­fes­sor Sir Hi­lary Beck­les is the vice chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of the West Indies.

MICHAEL MAN­LEY of the Land of Wood and Wa­ter was no or­di­nary man, ei­ther in his time and space or in any oth­ers. He was bred from a spe­cial species, chis­elled from na­tive hard wood that has stood the test of time. Ja­maican in ev­ery way, he cut through and con­trib­uted to the tur­bu­lence of his coun­try’s tor­tured, tor­mented, and mag­nif­i­cent his­tory like no other then or since. Ju­ries and judges have had their say, and ver­dicts on his value and vi­sion have re­mained in­con­clu­sive.

Now we are treated to God­frey Smith’s bi­og­ra­phy of this his­toric fig­ure, and the con­ver­sa­tion has recom­menced. It isn’t that we re­quired any skill­fully pre­sented nar­ra­tive to re­lit­i­gate the de­bate, but rather that new ev­i­dence and per­spec­tives are brought to light that may tilt the tally in one di­rec­tion or an­other. This is the power of ef­fec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion and good writ­ing. For this we owe Mr Smith a debt of grat­i­tude. He has struck a high mark, and the Man­ley dis­course is back on track.

There are al­ways dif­fer­ent lev­els and di­men­sions of know­ing. Know­ing a man of mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties is not com­pli­cat­ing in it­self, but re­quires a tex­tur­ing and tenac­ity that few writ­ers are ca­pa­ble of ac­quir­ing. I run the risk of say­ing that I ‘knew Michael’, and in­stantly hurry to say ‘but only that part of him that he al­lowed me to know or to per­ceive’. With the wicket rolled, and mea­sured for length and width, I went to work as a reader of this text. I did so with­out re­sis­tance, though not in search of a plea­sure/ leisure ex­pe­ri­ence.

There is a river that runs through the heart­land of Ja­maica. It di­vides the coun­try into four dis­tinct quar­ters; left bank and right bank, up river and down river. These worlds are all drink­ing Michael Man­ley: The Bi­og­ra­phy (Cover ) from the same source, and folks to­gether to live a com­mon recog­nise the com­mon wealth dream and des­tiny. The game is that keeps the com­mu­nity in­te­grated the great in­te­gra­tor of river as one. Many men and civil­i­sa­tion; it has en­abled women in his­tory have drowned move­ment and ac­cess along its seek­ing to cross, nav­i­gate, and banks in a fash­ion that is peace­ful, man­age the tur­bu­lence of this po­lite, and po­lit­i­cally river. All have failed. All have pas­sive. Michael be­came known drowned. All have washed up as the Ja­maican Joshua. But some­where to be claimed as Joshua was a moun­tain man be­long­ing else­where. It is though who wanted to climb over the this prism that I have peeped into other side. Michael, how­ever, the pol­i­tics and per­son­al­ity of

was more a Moses kind of man, Michael. who wanted to part the wa­ter and unite the wor­ship­pers.

Smith has the gift, no doubt, and showed his man as one ded­i­cated to unity, com­mon­al­ity, and higher cause. But he also showed him as flawed on the fact that he did not man­age his doubters and re­sisters with com­pas­sion and sales­man­like


We both loved cricket, but not for the game in it­self, but for what it rep­re­sented and the role it plays in the wider nar­ra­tive of Caribbean art, cul­ture and devel­op­ment. It’s the one so­cial praxis that has suc­cess­fully brought the four groups of river savvy. Rather, he ranted and raved in the face of op­po­si­tion that sought to breach his bold vi­sion for com­mu­nity and hu­man­ity. Force­ful­ness in fight, how­ever, is not the same as lack­ing in grace. Here is a man, charming to the core, but invit­ing the need for cau­tion and care in the de­liv­ery of crit­i­cism. No vi­sion is with­out vex­a­tion. No leader is with­out a coun­ter­ing force.

The key to un­der­stand­ing Man­ley’s man­age­ment of the pub­lic dis­course is to be found in his no­tion of time. For him, it was so­cially scarce, po­lit­i­cally pre­cious and fright­fully fi­nite. For him, it was a loud con­stant tick against which he raced. Too much to be done and too lit­tle time with which to act; and all things are im­por­tant be­cause they are in­tended to save some­thing large and imag­ined.

Re­sis­tance man­age­ment is never a good barom­e­ter with which to eval­u­ate and as­sess an ac­tor upon a na­tional stage. It might tex­ture and tone the soul, but it does not get to the heart of the mat­ter. Yes, Smith shows, that Michael was not with­out the ca­pac­ity to wield his rea­son like a sword. But crit­i­cally, he did so be­cause he be­lieved it was nec­es­sary and in­evitable. His flashes of sin­cer­ity were like a ra­zor. He was blinded by the power of his truth, and no stone could stand in the way of his jus­tice.

He imag­ined him­self a great nav­i­ga­tor, a Colum­bus — like fig­ure who would unite the world. Cross­ing the Ja­maica river, a project un­der­taken by all the na­tional he­roes, cost lives and rep­u­ta­tions. Michael tried, fal­tered, and in the end, failed. He did how­ever leave be­hind a rich and at­trac­tive legacy that says that the cross­ing must and can be done. I re­fer to his dream of sel­f­re­liance in which all river folks would par­tic­i­pate in grow­ing and shar­ing the re­sources of their col­lec­tive her­itage.

Smith has cap­tured the core of the case. Michael came to the crease, bat­ted well, scored a cen­tury, though blem­ished by many chances. He did not go on to make the dou­ble that he wanted. In his judge­ment, the um­pire gave him a bad de­ci­sion when he was get­ting ready to take a new guard to deal with the op­po­si­tion. Like a gen­tle­man crick­eter, he recog­nised that the um­pire’s de­ci­sion is fi­nal. He nod­ded to the incoming bats­man and walked from the field with the grace that he car­ried in abun­dance. Smith is to be thanked.




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