The Press of Freedom: An Ofay’s Indirect Address to LeRoi Jones – Vivian Gornick (1965)


“Four men — each a well-known practitioner of one of the arts — appeared on a recent Monday night in the small basement room of the Village Vanguard to address an overflowing crowd on the grandly entitled subject ‘Art vs. Politics.’ The men were Larry Rivers, painter; Archie Shepp, musician; Jonas Mekas, film-maker; LeRoi Jones, play­wright. The audience was predominantly — predictably — white, liberal, middle-class. They had come to be entertained and instructed. They stayed to be­come serious or delighted. They left in a roar of confused frus­tration, feeling as though they had, with unexpected stunning, been dealt a kick in the stomach and a few swift blows to the side of the head. For LeRoi Jones and Archie Shepp, whose evening it was, had told them repeatedly, ‘Die baby. The only thing you can do for me is die.’ It is almost impossible for me to train total recall on a con­versation which developed with the bewildering speed of a bar­room brawl. But here’s the gist of it: Larry Rivers led off, reading from a prepared statement. Speaking of the artist’s relation to his audience, Mr. Rivers traced that changing phenomenon through Courbet, the Im­pressionists, the Futurists, the Surrealists, coming at last to the present time, in which, he concluded, the artist is his own audience; this not merely in the sense that a painter works for himself, but in the broader sense that in our time the art­ist’s greatest urge is to emphasize the similarity between his own fundamental desires and those of every other member of society. He put it something like this: I want to eat good, fuck good, work good … just like everybody else. Archie Shepp, the next speaker, gaped for a moment at Ri­vers, seemed a bit nonplussed, muttered something about ‘Art, art. What the hell is all this talk about art?’ and, with a shrug of the shoulders, launched into a comparatively mild ram­ble about a book he’d been reading the other night which described the first passage of slaves to this continent, a passage in which two-thirds of those slaves had died in the hold — and if this (Shepp’s) life and work didn’t represent an attempt to pay the homage of eternal remembrance to those two-thirds, well then … He ended by looking out at the au­dience and telling them that while he didn’t particularly want to put them down for the ofays they obviously were, still they couldn’t hope to understand what he was talking about. …”
Voice, Jack Kerouac: ‘The Night And What It Does to You’ (1969), On the Progress of Feminism (1970), Toward a Definition of the Female Sensibility (May 31, 1973)
Vivian Gornick on the Solace and Revelation of Natalia Ginzburg
NYBooks: The Love We Don’t Know
W – Vivian Gornick

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Books, Civil Rights Mov., Feminist, Happenings, Jack Kerouac, Jazz, Movie and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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