Thursday, January 30, 2014


Impossible not to understand the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome


This book is essential to understand a recurrent and persistent ideology among African Americans till today: their exclusively racial way of thinking. We are going to examine the vastly positive points first and that will lead us to the critical approach we have to develop in front of assumptions that distort the hypotheses and conclusions.

But first of all let me regret the fact the author assumes we know the dates of all the characters and events he speaks of, from Prince Henry the Navigator to all African leaders and emperors or kings. The book is extremely deficient on dates and that leads him into asserting absurdities. For instance about Henry VIII, page 31, “the Queen [name not mentioned: Anne Boleyn] whose head he cut off [two of his six wives were beheaded] was the only one that gave him a child that survived.” Three surviving children of Henry VIII actually reigned after their father: Edward VI the son of Jane Seymour (natural death), Mary I the daughter of Catherine of Aragon (divorced) and then wife of Philip II of Spain, and Elizabeth I the daughter of Anne Boleyn (beheaded for treason, Henry VIII refusing witchcraft as a motive). In the same way page 33 he places the decline of the Roman Empire in the 7th century and page 58 in the 8th century. Both dates are wrong. The Western Roman Empire ended in 476, whereas the Eastern Byzantine Empire ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople which had become the capital of the whole empire in 330 after its partition in 293 finally achieved only in 395.

These are details but yet they are slightly irritating. We expect dates to be given and to be true. For a last instance, when he says page 26 “The main thing Prince Henry [dates not given: 1394-1460] did was to introduce Europe to maritime information. . . coming out of China (then the leading maritime nation of the world). . .” he is wrong because the great Chinese Admiral Zheng He was the last Chinese admiral and he died in 1433. Then China closed herself up and decided to ban any sea-travel and sea-commerce. He is all the wronger since he knows that the Portuguese only started moving towards the west coast of Africa either in 1434 (page 59) or in 1438 (page 97) bringing back the first slaves in 1442 (page 97). When the Portuguese started moving towards West Africa the Chinese were no longer the great navigators he asserts them to be. The Chinese fleet had been burnt and sunk by the Chinese themselves on the order from the Confucians who took over after Zheng He’s death. That’s probably why Vasco da Gama found it so easy to reach India in 1498 (page 54).


The data given by the author is both inescapable and too limited. His merit is all the greater because he did not have in 1993-1998 the data we have today. He speaks of 20 million Africans enslaved and 80 million Africans dying because of this slave trade: he specifies page 48 that these victims, collateral or not, died because of “slave raids, exposure, disease, grief and suicide,” without speaking of what he says in other places: the high proportion of casualties on the ships of this Middle Passage due to overcrowding, lack of exercise, bad food and water, lack of ventilation and hygiene of any sort, various diseases, and he insists on the debate between two theories: pack too many slaves in the ships and a high proportion of them die, or pack a reasonable number of slaves and only a small proportion of them die. He does not push his argument into proving the fundament of it: the profit on such a trip is in the state and number of the slaves that can be sold at arrival. If you pack three hundred slaves and 50% die you end up with 150 slaves that you can clean up, feed and rest some in a slave fort or base (a prison in other words) for them to look good when sold. If you only pack a hundred and fifty slaves and even only 10% die, you still end up with only 135 slaves in slightly better condition. It is not that obvious which solution is more profitable. But the author does not consider the detail of the debate that he mentions twice.

He considers Christopher Columbus who “as man and boy. . . sailed up and down the Guinea Coast for twenty-three years” as he writes in his own diary, had practiced the early slave trade with the Portuguese who brought the first slaves back to Portugal in 1442, who built the biggest slave trade fort in Elmina, Elmina Castle, in 1482. The author considers Christopher Columbus was motivated by gold and slaves from the very start and he quotes his diary again: (page 66) “yesterday a canoe came along side the ship, with six youths in it. Five came on board and I ordered them to be detained. They are now here. I afterwards sent to a house on the western side of the river, and seized seven women, old and young, and three children. I did this because the men would behave better in Spain if they had women of their own land, than without them.” Or again (page 30) “I wonder why they’re bringing such small amounts of gold? I wonder where the mines are? They will be easier to conquer than I thought they would be. . . From this area I can send you as many slaves as you can accommodate.” True enough, he is speaking of the Native Americans he found on the islands, but the objective is clear: gold and slaves.

The author then can easily quote Father de Las Casas who wrote in a book of his that (page 68) “from 12 to 25 million Indigenous Americans were killed on the islands in the Caribbean.” Later on “Father de Las Casas said that it was wrong to enslave the African as well as the Indian. That was 35 years later. The Indians were dead, and some of the Africans were dead.” (page 98) Or in the words of David R. Stiddem in 1990, page 68, “In a short 40 years, the entire race of people in Haiti, a half million native Americans, were wiped off the face of the earth by Columbus and the Spaniards that followed him.”


You cannot question such facts. And the author attaches them entirely to the Catholic Church. Page 65 he gives basic historical data about the responsibility of the Catholic Church. “. . . a papal bull of 1455 authorizing her [Portugal] to reduce to servitude all infidel peoples. . . The Pope issued in 1493 a series of papal bulls which established a line of demarcation between the colonial possessions of the two states: the east went to Portugal and the West to Spain. . . the treaty of Tordesillas [date not given: 1494] . . . rectified the papal judgment to permit Portuguese ownership of Brazil.” The author is very thorough on this issue. He quotes Dr ben-Jochannan: “Religion is the deification of a people’s culture” and “By extension I [the author] have also added religion is the deification of a people’s politics and power intent.” (page 18-19) Without entering a long discussion of such an assertion the author takes a strong anti-clerical stance against slavery. He even goes slightly further only once: “They [Europeans] did all of this [colonized the whole world] in the name of a God that they said was merciful and kind. All of them, including the Arabs, used western-oriented religions. . . which made their God ungodly.” (page 22) Note he uses the term “Arabs” to mean Muslims which is slightly biased. In fact page 43 he is slightly clearer when he brings together “the Arabs, Berbers and Tuaregs” as enemies against Timbuktu and the Mali Empire. But he does not specify that Timbuktu and the Mali Empire were Islamic in religion at the time which makes the raiding of Timbuktu by the Tuaregs in 1433 and 1591-1593 slightly more complex.

You may understand now his religious argument is slightly weak, all the weaker when we know the English started their first colony in Virginia in 1607-08 and brought the first African slaves, provided to them by Dutch slave dealers in 1619, and that the English did not in any way depend on the Pope and the Catholic Church they had rejected a long time before, both on the Anglican side and on the Puritan side. We’ll see in a minute that the English were by far worse than any other Catholic colonists as for slavery.

If we go back to the systematic massacre (war, torture, plain violence, diseases, alcohol, and other causes) of the Indians and today we consider for example that by the end of the 16th century 95% of the native population of Mexico (what the Spaniards called New Spain) had been wiped out (which is at least as severe as a holocaust as the Afrikan Holocaust, though this time the Spaniards in Mexico or the Islands were more drastic than any other national colonizing power, even the English as for that who did a pretty good job at submitting to genocide American Natives), then we can wonder how the plantations they started in a way or another could work. They needed some slave labor and that is the logic that will make the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the English and the French set up the slave trade, the Middle Passage. It is purely economic and the religion in that business is like the red nose of a clown or a reindeer: it makes the clown for sure but it is not quite enough.

John Henrik Clarke has it right: the only option was African slaves and the Middle Passage slave trade could not really be started (it started quite some time before) but multiplied into industrial size. And that’s where we find the second great aspect of the book. The author saw that there were two different slaveries in the Americas.



Page 83-84-85 first and then again page 101-103 he describes the slavery instated in South America, the West Indies and New Orleans or Louisiana where the slaves were bought by the shipload or half the shipload and these groups were kept together, they could keep their drum playing or whatever music they liked, their African ornamentation, their African religions, their common languages and their basic culture. That was then in the Spanish zone at first and the French zone later. The author would have been inspired if he had scrutinized the religious practices under the authority of the Spanish Catholic Church or the French Catholic Church: the Christian sacraments were encouraged (and started hardly ten years after the French settled in Louisiana): the christening of children and of parents, proper marriages and family ties, proper attendance of church services and proper burying practices, with special Christian cemeteries for the slaves. The symbol of this Christian treatment is the Code Noir on the French side and this Code insists on the right for slaves to benefit from manumission: either they can buy themselves out of slavery, or be bought out of slavery by a free person, or granted their freedom by their masters or the wills of their masters. This gave rise to a three-tiered society in which a middle social group developed comprising poor whites and free persons of color, which will explain why Louisiana only remained on the Confederate side during the American Civil War for one year before moving back to the Union side. The great difference is that in all these zones where the Catholic Church was dominant the one-drop-of-blood theory never worked.

So what about the non-Catholic English and then US side? They dispatched the slaves one by one and separated the families, children and parents systematically. They tried to destroy every single sign or symbol or element of African culture. They were cruel, to the point of treating African women as female child makers that any white man could take as he pleased and make pregnant and the child will be a slave and will be sold as soon as possible, that is to say when under ten for sure. The author says they outlawed drums, music, languages, religions, and they broke the loyalty system based on the family unit in Africa. He did not mention the practice of systematic violence under the instigation of Willie Lynch. He remained too abstract, but once again that had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. He says that the slave could only enjoy “mental recall.” (page 101) That is absolutely right but he does not exploit it.


So page 52 he can say: “The tragic and distinguishing feature of the slave trade that was introduced by the Europeans was that it totally dehumanized the slave.” But this is ambiguous because we do not know if it is a dehumanization that takes place in the minds of the slaves themselves. But page 77 he is clear about what he means: “To set the process [of slavery and deportation] the African was totally dehumanized in the minds of the Europeans.” He means that the slave, in the minds of the Europeans, was no longer a human being but chattel as is said in many treatises today, just above pigs and cows, and just under horses, in other words equal to mules. But that is by far too short on the African side. The attempt was to dehumanize the slaves in their own minds by the Willie Lynch method so that the children were absolutely traumatized by the pulling apart of one black male – after long and horrible tortures and amputations of body parts – by four horses tied up to his arms and legs, and so that the mothers would be traumatized too into teaching the children how to become slaves that accept being whipped everyday with total resignation. But at the same time he does not see how even the black man who is used as the guinea pig for that lesson remains a man in his mind and retains in him and in his mind a lot of his original culture: the physical resilience, the rhythmic dimension, and even the polyrhythmic dimension, the humming and singing ability which means the music of his heritage and many other elements too.

And that is what has become today crucial. The trauma has been so deep and so long among African Americans who suffered three centuries of extreme slavery and then one more century of segregation and systematic lynching that the minds are forever marked by a post traumatic slavery syndrome (PTSS) that can only be alleviated if each individual, within a collective process, researches and remembers as far as he can remember, definitely up to slavery times and even as far as possible in that slavery heritage and history; if he can reconcile himself with these ancestors and see how they resisted and how they existed in  spite of the dehumanization; then reconcile with society as a whole but to reconcile you need to be two at least and there the whites have to do the same effort and then recommit themselves to human and humane values that have nothing to do with race because race is only an accident in the history of humanity and racism has not been really proved as a social attitude beyond 500 years ago or so. Even in the darkest illustrations of the Devil in the Middle Ages the Dark Lord, the Black Lord, who is also Lucifer, the Lord of Light, is never identified to a black man, to an African. It is only the colonial era and the Middle Passage slavery era that transferred dark and black like the devil to black like an African.


But we come there to the most superficial element of the book, an element that is repeated over and over again. The Middle Ages are the Dark Ages only in the minds of the people who have no historical knowledge.

The Religious reform of the 9th century, the Agricultural reform in the 10th century (with the invention of the horse collar and the return to the Celtic iron plough), then the proto-industrial revolution with the development of water mills to provide society with mechanical energy to improve all kinds of activities, agricultural work, food, crafts and the pioneering activities that will produce the real industrial revolution five centuries later, in the 12th century, all that is the Middle ages and was only possible by the introduction of feudalism that unified the property of the land and the relation of land workers and the land itself. And it introduced 52 Sundays free of work, three major religious festivities (the three weeks of nativity, Passion and Assumption) also free of work, plus some smaller religious celebrations, the equivalent of 75 days free of any type of work: we understand why they needed the water mills (brought out of old Roman archives by the Benedictines). It was so successful that at the end of the 13th century it produced a galloping demography that could not be coped with by the economy and then the rest was the phenomenal Black Death arriving in Europe from the east around 1350 and reducing the European population by at least one third which means killing at least 50% of the population if its growth had not been stopped. He does not understand that Oxford University was opened in 1096, Cambridge University in 1209, Paris University in 1200 and Montpellier University in 1289. When he says that in the 15th century there were only two universities in the world; Salamanca and Timbuktu (page 96), he is slightly extreme.


The 15th century is a time a tremendous progress because of the population that has gone down and must be restored; because of the education of new generations that is urgent; because inventions are piling up like printing, be they real inventions or techniques brought back from the east after the Crusades or from China by Marco Polo.

It is also true that tremendous long war conflicts come to an end and some new conflicts are going to develop after the Reformation and the best way to keep western society rather peaceful is to shift the rowdy and the violent onto some project that could be economically viable, like the Crusades were for the military class that was kept unused in Europe because of the Peace of God Movement launched at the end of the 10th century in Aurillac, France, by French prelates and the Catholic Church.

That’s why so many colonists were either indentured people or semi-indentured people. You can’t expect from such people manipulated by the greediest corporations or guilds or companies you can imagine to be much ethical. The Virginia Company had a ten year charter with the King of England and in ten years it had to be profitable or the charter would not be renewed. So the Indians were exploited to the utmost, Pocahontas, a priestess and princess, was abducted more or less forced to convert, be christened, marry John Rolfe and provide her husband with the land given by her “father” who was probably not her real father, and the knowledge of how to grow and cure tobacco that only priests and priestesses knew how to do (the seeds were stolen from Barbados by John Rolfe) and in two years it was successful and in 1616 John Rolfe could present to the King and Queen of England the Virginia tobacco we know and then the first African slaves were introduced in 1619, provided by a Dutch slave dealer, to work on the plantations. The Indians of course refused to work in such conditions and I am afraid that the colonists would have refused for them to work at all if what John Smith wrote about them is the true state of mind of these colonists. The colonists could only get something if both sides were able to detain two or three children hostages for a couple of years, less or more, as the proof of their trust and honesty.


The book is in total line with Marcus Garvey’s panafricanism, though he is never named or mentioned.

Race is the only basic concept that is the fundamental foundation of this book. Race is the African race and it is numbered in the Americas, in Asia, and in Africa. The African race is the only race in the world that possesses a whole continent just for themselves. We saw that the Muslims, the Arabs, the Berbers, the Tuaregs are not exactly loved and yet the whole Semitic northern and Saharan Africa is considered as part of the Black race, forgetting that most Blacks speak languages that are NOT Semitic.

He considers this race is also a nation and he speaks of the “national responsibility” of the African race, which means that the continent of Africa should be the nation of all Africans. It is obviously unrealistic with the Semitic people in the north and the whites in South Africa.

He even goes one step further.

“Upon the onset of the evening, the women would be assembled in the wourtyard so that the captains could pick out the one they wanted to violate [my emphasis] that night, and these Africans had not even left Africa yet [we are still in Goree, the French slave fort used as the starting point of the Middle Passage for the French]. We see the beginning of a process which we have not dealt with as a people: bastardization when they not only bastardized the body, they bastardized the mind [my emphasis].” (Page 99)

And we can go back to the beginning.

“The greatest achievement of the Europeans was the conquest of the mind of their victims through a series of myths that could bear re-examining in order to understand the deeper meaning of the Christopher Columbus Era and its reverberations for today.
1- The myth of people waiting in darkness for another people to bring them the light. . .
2- The myth of a people without a legitimate God. . .
3- The myth of the primitive and the aborigine. . .
4- The myth of the invader and conqueror as civilizer. . .“ (page 34-35)

Those sure are myths but today we have to consider the triple motto developed in Northern America, primarily by the Catholic Church of the USA, “Remember, Reconcile, Recommit,” is a lot more pregnant and effective to achieve progress for everyone than “not to forgive and not to forget.”


Sunday, January 26, 2014


Another busy day: Robert H. Asher, Judith Forest, and Alexia Zuberer


A great ophthalmologist surgeon who dedicated his life to improving the sight of people and who when a cancer appears finds the energy to write down his credo about life. As he says life is all the more valuable when death approaches.

His very Christian vision is summarized in chapter twenty-five with ten final thoughts or lessons from life itself.

1- “Prioritize.” I could not agree more. Success in life is the result of a good perspective created by such prioritization of objectives week after week, day after day and year after year. Everything has to be set in a timeline of your immediate future: what has to be done today, tomorrow, at the end of the week, at the end of next week, at the end of the month, etc. And you have to stick to this schedule, provided you always keep some leeway to accommodate an emergency or something that had not been foreseen or planned like an urgent order from some new horizon.

2- “Don’t procrastinate.” In other words do right now what has to be done right now and don’t postpone to tomorrow what you can do today. No need to wait if you can do something. Only wait if you can’t do it. I don’t say if you do not feel like doing it. Not to be able to do something is a material obstacle and not a mental weakness. You need to be strong in your determination, and yet not blind to obstacles and difficulties. But that must not negate your planned schedule, though it may modify it.

3- “Prepare to success by successful preparation.” The first preparation is your timeline of your coming work. The second preparation is your determination to reach out and do what you have to do to achieve your goal.

4- “Relish your work.” Without being a workaholic you have to enjoy work as such and your work in particular. Success cannot come if you do things reluctantly because you do not find any pleasure, motivation and reward in the work you are doing or supposed to be doing. If you do not enjoy swimming, just don’t swim and look for another sport knowing that sports are essential for your success and health, but only sports you like, even if it is difficult. You have to like the difficulties of the sports your practice because you love that sport.

5- “Establish balance in your life.” No matter what the various parts or segments or vectors you consider in your life, all of them must be balanced, which means have equal value and power. Do not do something that is bringing to you no reward or satisfaction. You can very well enjoy some relaxed DVD watching that also provides you with some good experience. If you like music, listen to music for relaxation as much as you listen to music for your own work, be it musician, reviewer, critic, scholar or whatever, even plain audience. Balance means that in your life you have to have diversity and a subtle and stable equilibrium between the various shades of your experience.

6- “Be ready to bounce back as life is full of lumps and bumps.” To bounce back is the only solution when something you do does not meet with success or acceptation; No obstinacy or stubbornness against obstacles, but negotiation around them or just a change of direction or method. The best way to bounce back is to keep open to compromise: take into account what others have to say and always try to find a common point, a common ground, a way out of a jam without losing partners or your own faith.

7- “Cherish friends and family.” To cherish them is essential because like is empathy and because empathy is mirror neurons and because mirror neurons is sharing emotions with other people in both directions. At the same time you must not ossify such friends or family ties. That’s where things get tricky. When love is at stake, real love will be able to step over and beyond a conflict, a confrontation, and real friends, real loving partners of any kind will find the proper terms to solve the division and negotiate the divide.

8- “Take advantage of nature and God’s incredible playground.” Nature is our nest and we are a clean species. We thus have to keep that nature alive and unsoiled. We have to make a great effort right now to be in line with our oldest ancestors, Homo Sapiens when it appeared in Africa: never waste, never spoil, never destroy. Always use without devastating nor exhausting nor endangering. As for God, that’s up to you. The cosmos is there to dictate the future too and no one has said that the present phase of the Earth’s geological and cosmic history is to last forever. Be ready to change along with it and try not to cause a negative change, but change it will and change it must. The cosmos is not so much a playground as an enormously complex system of millions of balanced and evolving factors and parameters “managing” or “determining” the outcome of any moment. Who or what is behind this enormous machine is not here the main question.

9- “Redefine and strengthen your own value system.” And make sure that the first value of that personal value system is the basically human and humane principle that there is no final truth, no final value except the fact that diversity is our destiny, fate, future. To refuse an open personal value system is a form of fundamentalism. No one can be absolutely true and there is some truth in the values of all human beings, civilizations and cultures. This principle is far from being accepted universally in the world, in our countries, in our cities and in our neighborhoods. Let that diversity within human values be our first cardinal point.

10- “Tell those close to you that you love them.” But be careful with some people, with some languages, with some cultures, particularly those who or which have only one word for love and sex because these find it very difficult to imagine love without carnal intercourse. Love is an emotion, a mental emotion that can find some carnal realization but has in no way the obligation to do so, just as sex has in no way the obligation to develop into love or to presuppose love.

I can only encourage you to read the twenty-five chapters and see all the rich perspectives each one of them opens to a human mind that can think and wants to feel empathy and experience human and humane emotions.



Ne vous y trompez pas. Ce n’est pas une autobiographie, ni même un récit autobiographique, mais bien un roman mis en images bicolores. Ce n’est pas non plus une BD, du moins si on considère que le texte de la BD est à l’intérieur du dessin. Ici rien de cela. Le texte est toujours sur le côté, extérieur comme une voix off dans un film.

Le personnage est une jeune fille qui, de Paris à Bruxelles et plusieurs aller-retour et voyage dont un à Angoulème, nous raconte son histoire De l’étudiante aux Beaux Arts de Paris à son projet de livre d’images ou carnet de notes racontant son périple qui l’amène à zoner à Bruxelles et à descendre au plus profond de la drogue et de la prostitution quasiment mondaine. C’est pathétique, touchant, troublant un peu et surtout totalement artificiel pour nous raconter le monde tel que certains jeunes de la génération dite Mitterrand bien que presque post-Mitterrand vivent dans ce monde qui leur échappe.

Il ne s’agit pas d’une marge sociale à l’ancienne, mais d’une marge mentale avec soi-même. Le personnage est dans la marge de sa propre existence, de sa propre conscience, de sa propre surface simulacre d’une absence de profondeur. Il ne reste plus alors que de se raconter des histoires sur le monde et la sorte de fétu de paille que l’individu est dans ce flot plus ou moins agité.

Dans la tradition ancienne fortement marxisée on croyait que l’homme faisait l’histoire, ou que les masses faisaient l’histoire. On sait aujourd’hui que c’est une gageure et un mensonge. Alors on vous invente une théorie pour couvrir le fait que rien cependant n’est vraiment accidentel et que tout cependant semble bien suivre une trajectoire. C’est la théorie du complot. Personne n’est capable de dire qui est le comploteur, mais ce complot-là marche tout seul.

Aux Beaux Arts de Paris on vous ajoute même que l’artiste est un tel comploteur et que sa resucée répétée et bien sûr simulacre est en fait la force qui permet à l’histoire d’être et d’avancer. L’artiste fait l’histoire. Pourquoi pas ? C’est plus matériel que Dieu, même si c’est encore plus illusoire. Un brin de Baudrillard et de sa théorie des simulacres pour cimenter cette alliance que je considère contre nature entre l’art et l’histoire, et le tour de passe-passe du magicien du cirque Fol-Amour est un immédiat succès. C’est que tout ce qui est simulacre plait.

Il suffira d’un pas de chat pour atteindre une esthétique du complot et vous aurez alors découvert la Terre Promise.

Ceci mis à part, le dessin bichromique est ce qui tient le récit en lui donnant du corps car autrement le texte lui-même n’est qu’un manège décentré. C’est un peu dommage car cette histoire aurait pu sortir des canons de la banalité d’une mère pleurnichante, d’un père fuyant et voyageant le plus loin possible, d’une fille qui s’obstine à regarder les garçons d’un œil concupiscent et ensuite fait tout ce qui est en son pouvoir – pas grand-chose d’ailleurs – pour les repousser, ce qui mène page après page à des viols mutuellement consensuels. La drogue dans l’affaire n’est que le sel de la soupe et le sucre du dessert.



Le livre vous donnera froid dans le dos par ses images pourtant chaudes de courage et d’humanité. Les longs récits des deux ascensions doivent vous laisser admiratifs mais en même temps frigorifiés de peur et d’anxiété. La recherche de l’extrême fascine mais une personne sur un million s’y soumettra.

Pourtant l’essentiel est le goût de l’exploit des participants, l’odeur de l’impossible qui s’échappe d’entre les lignes, le plaisir de l’accompli qui remugle entre les paragraphes, car en plus ces gens-là réussissent à faire ce qu’ils entreprennent. Il est vrai que s’ils n’avaient pas réussi il n’auraient rien dit.

Alors pourquoi avez-vous peur comme quand un sherpa manque à l’appel ? Mais si vous voulez vraiment savoir ce que c’est que manquer d’oxygène à ces altitudes et souffrir du froid dans ces glaces il vous faudra y aller. Aucun mot et aucune image ne peuvent remplacer l’expérience réelle. Cela est vrai de toutes les aventures.

Cela devrait agiter Baudrillard dans son tombeau mental car ce livre n’est, c’est sûr, qu’un simulacre de la véritable ascension, comme Baudrillard d’ailleurs est un simulacre de la véritable sagesse humaine, celle qui souffre ou qui s’enthousiasme.



Sick, sane and sorry all over


It went smoothly with the two SNAC meetings in Paris and then the working session with Paula in Trinité. I had finished reading the book 12 Years A Slave and I could proceed to further stations on the line.

But it all started to get crooked with a fall in Paris and a dumb backpack that dislocated my shoulder and then put it back in place all by itself. A miracle of pain and a prodigy of luck.

Then coming back from Paris and asking six times for people to help me put that backpack on my back. I had some time to type my review of 12 Years 1 Slave, and to read and writes notes on the Homovox project, in spite of the pain in the shoulder.

Then the eye doctor prescribed new glasses after my two surgeries on the eyes and the two brand new implants. I worked on two books, one small from OUP and another one enormous from Editions de la Montmarie.

Then the general practitioner wanted to put my right arm in a straight jacket, our of the question, and told me I had overdone it taking a triple dose of one anti-inflammatory drug for three days. I just told him I was finished with it after three days and will now work with balms and other pomades.

Then the musician who is working with me starting flying to the moon and doing what I had told him not to do. Hard to reform the un-reformable! But it is only a question of time wasted on sidelines instead of on the main road.

And finally a mythic film that is far under what we could have expected, and a couple of average books, and I can go on with the translation, of the autobiographical novel “Sell the Pig” by Tottie Limejuice.


A surprising film indeed. What is it about?

First of all it is about 45 minutes too long. The sex scenes and the orgies could have been cut short to a simple ellipse instead of a graphic depiction. That is one easy shortening that should have been used. Same thing with the drug scenes that are by far too numerous and too long. We got the message very fast that to succeed in Wall Street you have to be a sex addict, a drug-cocktail addict, an alcohol addict, a money addict, a money-lifting addict, a thief, a liar and a few other little things like that. We know that, we knew that and we have known it since at least American Psycho.

So, what is the original message?

It is simple. Anyone can succeed like that wolf in the USA in the most ruthless way possible with the most illegal and unethical means possible because the system is a filter-less abyss. There is no real filter to prevent these crimes and other offenses. There is no protection of any kind to prevent criminal minds to get into the business. The American system after 1987, date of the beginning of the wolf’s career, is absolutely deregulated and it will be so till a very recent period, till a couple of years after the 2009 crisis. What’s more most of those who are supposed to look after the various crimes committed in the financial field can be bought for a pittance, at times a little bit more, be they American, or Swiss, or whatever affiliation they have as for financial paradise.

Yet the FBI cannot be bought up. They are incorruptible, which I doubt very much. But well we can always think there is an Eliot Ness in every FBI special agent.

The worst part is that these people when they are caught will become, in their own interest, the most talkative monsters you can imagine. They will accept a deal at once. The principle is simple: “In Wall Street there is NO friend!” Partners, associates, colleagues, collaborators are ALL, all of them, nothing but competitors, enemies. As long as they can work as a pack they will, but as soon as the pack is under a real menace each one will go alone against the pack if necessary. A starving pack in the Rocky Mountains may die though if it comes to that the outcome will be ONE survivor and ONE survivor only. Wolves are cannibals in situations where survival is at stake.

As for a meaning that is very light and very naïve. “Lupus est homo homini, non homo, non quom qualis sit novit” (wolf is man to man, no man when he does not know who the other is). Erasmus (15th-16th centuries) quoted it from Plautus (3rd-2nd centuries BCE), the original author, and then Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century made it a central concept of his vision of humanity in his work Leviathan. Nothing new under the sun. This phrase “Man is wolf to man” has become a catch phrase with the Industrial Revolution and Marxism. Though capitalism, and any form of it, did not invent it. Gladiators were Romans. The Celts burnt their criminals. And the modern times invented a lot of such cruel treatment of human beings as slaves or as playthings for sadistic or didactic practices, even calling it the death sentence. A woman was recently raped in public by more than fifteen men in a village in eastern India on the order of the village elders because she refused to break off with a man, her lover, who was from another village that was sexually off limits for these elders. Maybe the saying does not apply to women?

When we thus look at the film and wonder what makes it in anyway different, original, new, we have to say it is a brilliant cinematographic illustration of a common place idea and situation. The catch phrase of the film is that New Zealand has become the haven, paradise, refuge and shelter of all those criminals, financial, copyright or data all together and the same, where they can go on striving without any menace from the FBI. Australia is a second haven of the type and then Russia too is trying to set her feet in that juicy field. The juice is not only money, it is also a lot of blood.

That last remark, the catch phrase, the final scene of the film is the most powerful argument for a shorter film, a film that could have been a lot shorter. “Sell me that pen” becomes very shallow and trite after three hours of ranting, raving, partying, raping, raging, and so many other off-normalcy attitudes, actions and principles.  The film is in itself an orgy of ever and endlessly repeating sequences: we are framed in a million images of exactly the same value and tinge and color and hue. What a shame! Scorsese could do better.


Il y a à la fois très peu et beaucoup de choses à dire sur ce film. Je choisirai le peu.

Le film est trop long. Il n’aurait pas du dépasser deux heures. Toutes les orgies de drogue, d’alcool et de femmes pour ce monde de phallocrates financiers auraient du être traitées en ellipses et non en temps réel du début à la fin.

Les manigances financières de ce loup qui résultent de la totale dérégulation des marchés financiers par Reagan dans les années 1980, produisant la crise de 1987 n’ont rien de neuf et le timide retour de régulations depuis la crise de 2009 ne change rien au problème. Le monde de la fiance est un monde pourri, mais le film ne montre pas jusqu’où.

Que tous les acteurs de cette filière financière soient des loups pour les loups que sont les autres acteurs n’est rien de neuf. Que ceux qui ne tombent pas enfoncent ceux qui tombent n’est rien de neuf. Que ceux qui tombent enfoncent ceux qui ne tombent pas, ne serait-ce que par un accord avec les tribunaux – « Je balance, et vous m’épargnez ! » – n’est  rien de neuf.  Ce discours depuis Plaute (2ème siècle avant JC) et Hobbes (17ème siècle), sans compter l’immense amplification après la révolution industrielle, est devenu un cache misère politique où les plus pourris accusent les autres de l’être encore plus qu’eux. Ils sont tous une meute de loups et si la survie de la meute est en jeu, il n’en survivra qu’un seul. On ne mange plus de curé en France, c’est bien connue, mais on se goinfre à la curée des loups gagnants qui dévorent les loups perdants, sans compter les victimes collatérales.

En fait le film prétend que le FBI est encore incorruptible alors que les Suisses sont les premiers à bouffer les spéculateurs suffisamment naïfs pour leur faire confiance. Ces spéculateurs là sont d’ailleurs petits : vingt millions de dollars, c’est ce que les vrais riches donnent tous les dimanches aux pauvres de leur paroisse. Mais surprise des surprises, il existe pour ces criminels de la finance non repentis des paradis non en or mais dorés où ils peuvent se réfugier et continuer leur trafic sur une plus petite échelle. Dans le film il s’agit de la Nouvelle Zélande, paradis des voleurs boursiers et des voleurs de copyright. Le film aurait pu ajouter l’Australie et la Russie comme paradis des voleurs de données confidentielles. Le dernier en date de ces voleurs détenant des millions de données d’ordre militaire et sécuritaire prioritaires et laissant planer la possibilité de les révéler au plus offrant, a choisi la Russie et fait le forcing pour le Brésil.

On attendait mieux de Scorsese. Mieux et beaucoup plus dense et donc condensé.



C’est une gageure de vouloir rendre l’art gothique en un si petit volume et couvrir tous les aspects de cet art : architecture religieuse et civile, peinture, sculpture, enluminure, littérature et même culture urbaine. C’est beaucoup trop ambitieux, surtout quand en plus le livre veut couvrir l’Europe entière. Mais le problème le plus grave est que l’on ne peut comprendre l’art gothique, ici tenu entre les dates 1137 et la fin du 15ème siècle, sans le comparer à l’art roman qui l’a précédé. C’est un changement radical d’orientation du fait d’une évolution technique importante dans tous les domaines.

Le gothique ouvre de vastes baies dans les murs, le chœur et la façade. L’église devient un lieu de lumière, alors que le roman était un lieu sombre fait pour le recueillement, la confrontation avec soi-même, la méditation et la prière. L’église gothique devient alors la maison de dieu, la maison de la lumière divine. L’église romane est entièrement contenue en elle-même avec une histoire propre à chaque église racontée par les chapiteaux historiés qui tracent en plus un chemin à suivre vers le chœur où dieu se trouve. L’église gothique est devenue une église ouverte sur l’extérieur avec les sculptures des portails ouest, et l’entrée dans la lumière de dieu et la grâce divine en entrant dans la lumière de cette église où tout n’est plus que décoration.

Le gothique rétablit le portail occidental pour entrée principale mais aussi développe les entrées latérales aux extrémités sud et nord du transept. C’est d’ailleurs cela qui a amené au 12ème siècle la fermeture, voire l’occlusion des portails occidentaux des églises romanes et l’ouverture d’un portail latéral sud qui à la différence du portail occidental a été largement sculpté et décoré, mais d’un art qui comme les chapiteaux historiés, raconte une histoire à dimension religieuse et éthique. Cela était vrai des portails occidentaux quand ils étaient décorés ou quand ils ont été maintenus comme entrée de l’église romane du fait de bâtiments latéraux bloquant le flanc sud. Le gothique par contre décore les portails de statues des saints, des apôtres, d’évêque ou archevêques, de dignitaires de l’église, voire de dignitaires locaux pas toujours ecclésiastiques. On ne raconte plus l’histoire religieuse on donne à admirer et à honorer. Le fidèle n’est plus face à lui-même et dieu, mais face à des personnages qu’il doit honorer d’une façon ou d’une autre.

Les peintures romanes, fresques en général, ont la même dimension que les sculptures : raconter l’histoire religieuse en images simples et directement parlantes pour les fidèles. Le gothique se lance dans des peintures de plus en plus complexes et qui demandent encore non du recueillement et de la méditation personnelle mais de l’admiration. Même quand des tapisseries comme celle de l’école d’Arras (La Chaise Dieu par exemple) sont pendues dans une église gothique, la structure de la représentation est très riche et complexe et contient même des mentions et des références écrites que la plupart des fidèles ne peuvent pas comprendre. Et je ne dirai rien des statues qui sont là pour l’adoration et ont vraiment une dimension d’icônes et justifieront plus tard, dès la fin du 15ème siècle la Réforme qui enlèvera ces icônes.

Mais une représentation est commune du roman au gothique. C’est la Vierge à l’enfant. Elle est en majesté assise en art roman, l’enfant sur les genoux, alors qu’elle est debout en art gothique, tenant l’enfant sur le bras gauche. Il y a même eu des cas de Vierges romanes qui ont été retaillées pour être debout selon les normes gothique, et elles sont alors fort courtes sur jambes, comme à Mauriac dans le Cantal. Il y a bien eu un changement de vision de ce couple central du christianisme.

Les vitraux sont bien sûr un élément essentiel de l’art gothique. On touche là à l’immense évolution de l’art de la construction qui est le résultat de nouvelles techniques mais aussi et surtout de la montée en force des guildes et corporations de bâtisseurs, de divers métiers qui vont pouvoir travailler de façon plus sérieuse et avec davantage d’échange de savoir et de savoir-faire. La société du savoir commence à prendre forme dans ces guildes et corporations, ces métiers comme les Rois de France les ont appelés.

En fait en dehors de l’architecture religieuse ou civile, voire militaire, tous les autres arts sont le résultat d’une évolution lente de la civilisation qui bénéficie largement à partir du 11ème-12ème siècles de la réforme religieuse (9ème-10ème), de la Paix de Dieu (10ème-11ème), de la révolution agraire (11ème), de la révolution proto-industrielle (12ème) et de la révolution féodale (9ème-12ème) portée par et portant toutes les autres y compris comme révolution sociale (52 dimanches, trois semaines de fêtes religieuses et quelques fêtes religieuses ponctuelles obligatoirement chômés).

Le gothique est le résultat de tout cela et le livre ne le montre pas vraiment du fait justement de son enfermement dans la période gothique définie de façon assez étroite.



Un joli et gentil carnet de voyage sur le Brésil. Les illustrations sont toutes des dessins en couleur, des aquarelles j’imagine, qui donnent des esquisses délicates de scènes et de lieux au Brésil. De gens aussi, mais je trouve cela être un ensemble de touches plus qu’une image du Brésil.

Le texte est très réduit et les quelques notes sur des villes ou des personnes sont elles aussi très courtes et donnent une poignée de vignettes très succinctes sans vraiment donner la profondeur de ce pays d’Amérique Latine, le seul à parler portugais, et en plus en pleine émergence, sans compter qu’il est un des acteurs principaux de l’alliance connue sous le nom de BRICS, Brésil, Russie, Inde, Chine, Afrique du Sud. 

Le Brésil deviendra d’autant plus important quand les porte-containeurs et autres tankers seront devenus trop gros pour traverser le canal de Suez d’ici cinq ans et feront le tour de l’Afrique. Le Brésil deviendra une étape sinon un pôle d’échange entre le trafic maritime remontant de l’Océan Indien et de l’Asie et le trafic maritime descendant de l’Atlantique Nord.

J’attendais plus sur la diversité culturelle et raciale de ce pays. On dira que les Noirs sont plutôt à peine couverts et les Indiens d’Amazonie pas du tout, ou presque. On dirait que le Brésil est une destination de tourisme vert. Ce pays mérite mieux et plus.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Without experience or a user's guide, it is difficult to know what to do.


Read-along books used to be with audio cassettes. My son used them voraciously. Then they turned CD and they are the current norm on the market. The next generation will be with a MP3 file downloaded directly from the publisher’s site. That’s for very soon, if not already widely practiced. At least in the cloud.

This CD version is supposed to be pedagogical. It thus has five pages of activities before, during and after reading. That’s good but that is not enough. I did not find the answers to the activities. It cannot be used by an isolated child. It is done for class use with a teacher who can correct the answers to the activities.

But what’s more it is not enough to have the tool. We need to know how to use it. What is the objective? To learn some English? To learn how to read? To learn how to understand a story? To learn how to listen without the text under the nose?

What is the role of the teacher or adult working with the kid? Is it for early learning or normal teenage learning? Who can be a teacher in that case?

If you have some experience you may be able to use it as a starting point for a long work on a subject: volcanoes or camera shooting or reporter. Why not natural phenomena or climate change? But for plain collective reading in class, or even worse collective listening to the CD in class with the text in front of the students’ eyes, I doubt the interest will last long and the efficiency will be very great.

That’s always the same thing. You can have a perfect tool, but it takes a good tool user to do anything good with the tool.



Cherchez bien et vous trouverez, mais vous devrez probablement farfouiller pas mal


Un livre fascinant par sa taille et le fait que ce soit le travail d’un seul homme, le travail d’une vie qui a été remplie par des petites fiches. C’est bien sûr un outil fabuleux, même s’il est un peu dur de s’y retrouver dans le listing alphabétique qui ne l’est pas entièrement.

Je ne dirai que ce que je peux dire.

Il n’y a pas eu deux AGNE III Baron d’Olliergues. Le second est bien sûr Agne IV, celui qui a fait construire le pont roman, qui a fait agrandir la chapelle castrale pour accueillir ses treize enfants survivants et leur personnel, mais surtout, surtout celui qui a épousé par dérogation  papale sa cousine Anne de Turenne qui a apporté dans la famille des La Tour d’Auvergne Baron d’Olliergues le titre de Vicomte de Turenne. On peut imaginer sans se tromper que la Sainte Anne Trinitaire déposée quelque part dans le château, restaurée sous les soins du Maire Lucien Drouot dans les années 1970, et qui vaut une . . . grosse . . . fortune aujourd’hui, a été commandée et reçue en hommage à Anne de Beaufort, marié La Tour d’Auvergne, Baronne d’Olliergues et Vicomtesse de Turenne.

Dommage qu’il ne soit pas plus explicite sur Henri de Turenne, Baron d’Olliergues et Vicomte de Turenne, branche mineure ou pas de la famille des La Tour d’Auvergne, il n’en a pas moins été enterré dans la Basilique Saint Denis, sépulture des rois de France parce que depuis le Moyen Âge les armes de la ville d’Olliergues portent un bandeau rouge de bâtardise royale et donc Henri de Turenne avait du sang royal, comme le Prince de Condé à côté duquel il fut enterré et Bossuet justement mentionna en parallèle Henri de Turenne dans l’oraison funèbre du Prince de Condé. Il aurait même pu résoudre le problème de quel roi de France et quelle baronne d’Olliergues ont convolé dans une nuit de bienvenue lors d’une visite dans ces temps reculés où l’hospitalité féodale n’était pas un vain mot. Cela a bien changé dans nos temps de République et de couples non mariés.

Il aurait pu alors s’alourdir sur le sort de ses os qui furent pillés à la révolution, dont les dents ont été vendues une à une par le gardien de la basilique, dont les restes osseux ont été récupérés par Bonaparte et déposées dans un jardin aux plantes quelconque de Paris pour plus tard être transférés aux Invalides par Napoléon.

Cela lui aurait permis de s’étonner que la ville d’Olliergues n’ait pas encore donner le nom d’un des plus célèbres barons de la ville à une rue ou un bâtiment public quelconque, comme la bibliothèque municipale qui n’a pas de nom.

Mais ce livre reste un livre de référence.



This book is a masterpiece in historical testimony.


The main interest of the book is of course the “autobiographical testimony” it contains. But this particular edition is enriched with notes and various appendices written by the two editors. These notes and appendices create a real perspective providing all available documents or press clippings about most elements the book contains and we cannot be aware of today. The people who are named are then expanded with concrete information and data about who they were and what they did. The events that are mentioned are thoroughly documented from the press of the time and from all available registers and alternative testimonies. The notes and appendices turn the “biographical testimony” into a document that can be considered as mostly truthful beyond the personal vision the author provides us with, for example the fact that he only sees one side of Louisiana as we will mention later, the American takeover and their practice of slavery as chattel exploitation. Solomon Northup could of course not know better and is well forced to ignore the French or Spanish conceptions.

As such this book is a phenomenal tool for people who really want to know what slavery was some 20 to 10 years before the Civil War in the American tradition. It provides us with a detailed description of the treatment, exploitation and management of slaves in the South, even if it only concerns the American side of Louisiana forty years after the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon and France. What’s more it provides us with a panorama of what the Northern states and their citizens could know about the practice of this peculiar institution in the Southern States since this book was published in 1853 and was quite successful at the time. One document is given in the appendices: “An Act more effectually to protect the free citizens of this state from being kidnapped, or reduced to Slavery” passed in the State of New York on May 14, 1840. Solomon Northup was abducted in 1841 and that date makes the abduction a crime that intentionally breaks a standing law in the State of New York. Facts like that proves that more than twenty years before the Civil War the horror of slavery was known in the North. There cannot be any denial about that.

This “autobiographical testimony” played a tremendous role in the awareness of the barbaric practice of slavery by spreading a direct and believable description of what everyday life could be for a slave and the lawsuits and court decisions in Washington DC after the retrieval of Solomon Northup from slavery make it impossible for us to minimize or soften the picture. Some may think the author has darkened the vision for commercial or ideological reasons, but that is going against a whole set of documents, some documentary and some fictional, that depict the very same situation and at times with more brutality. The recent film Django Unchained (2011) goes a lot farther in that terroristic violence, even showing the practice of using some of these slaves in to-the-death fights for the entertainment of whites with bets and other monetary stakes attached to these “fights.” The famous letter of Willie Lynch also goes a lot farther and insists on torturing one male slave to death and suggesting to reach it by quartering the male slave with four horses tied up to each one of his four legs and arms, the whole “show” in front of all the slaves, particularly the children to induce the mothers into making their children obedient and to induce the children into being obedient by the horror of such torturing scenes that could last hours. We will consider the vision given by some like Booker T. Washington later as being nothing but a dubious “softening of the picture.” Understanding why it was done is essential if we want to understand why slavery was kept alive in segregation, lynching and systematic disfranchisement and violence against the blacks that were to last more than one century after the passing and ratification of the 13th and 14th amendments.


Here I would like to insist on the special case of Louisiana which was colonized by the French at the beginning of the 18th century and entrusted at the end of this 18th century to the Spanish. The two colonizing powers did not practice slavery the same way but one thing is common: the role of the Catholic Church in keeping slavery within some moderate limits. On the French side they had the “Code Noir” that is clear about many elements that are absolutely refused by the Americans meaning the British colonists who became American colonists in 1776. The Catholic Church insisted on christening children and parents, imposing the respect of Christian sacraments like marriage. It accepted marriages between people from the various communities, Indians and blacks as well as whites. Intermarriages were definitely sanctified, even if they were not encouraged by some, by the Catholic Church of France and Spain. Solomon Northup is clear about the American practice in American Louisiana:

“Marriage is frequently contracted during the holidays [3 to 6 days for Christmas], if such an institution may be said to exist among them [the slaves]. The only ceremony required before entering into that “holy estate,” is to obtain the consent of the respective owners. It is usually encouraged by the masters of female slaves. Either party can have as many husbands or wives as the owner will permit, and either is at liberty to discard the other at pleasure. The law in relation to divorce, or to bigamy, and so forth, is not applicable to property, of course.” (page 130)

And at the same time Solomon Northup gives the example of one planter who “married” [the text is not explicit whether the religious sacrament attached to marriage was performed or not] a black slave:

“”Shaw was generally surrounded by such worthless characters [allusion to Armsby who betrayed Solomon when contacted to help for his liberation], being himself noted as a gambler and unprincipled man. He had made a wife of his slave Charlotte [also called Harriet in another chapter, one name probably being the “wife”’s name and the other her slave name used by the slaves to speak of her], and a brood of young mulattoes were growing up in his house.” (page137)

We must understand that such unsanctified unions were tolerated because any white man could use any black women as a sexual “partner” that could not say no and did not have to say yes to any request. Here we have two elements. On one hand the fact that sexual activities among slaves are nothing but regulated insemination that produces small slaves that are the property and chattel of the owner of the female slave. We understand then why the owner of female slaves encourage sexual partnerships and as many as possible and with no permanence whatsoever. On the other hand to have sexual relations with a black slave is legitimate for a white man [we assume this is only valid for white males though we do not have any idea whether white females could have or had any sexual relationships with black males. At the same time we only consider here procreative sexual relationships, hence heterosexual relationships, though, men being men, we can think that quite a few male slaves were raped regularly.] since the slave is his property and he can do what he wants with his property, including destroy it if such is his desire. The book is clear that the wife of the main planter is just as vicious with one female slave as her husband is with all the slaves.

Another practice on the French and Spanish sides is manumission, the fact that a slave can be bought out of slavery either by some free independent person or by himself. This practice led to a three-tiered society on the French and Spanish side in which between the lower class of the slaves and the top class of the planters, the merchants and other economic, political or military important people, you had a vast middle group composed of free people of color and poor whites. On the American side this is absolutely marginal because of the “one drop theory” for which one drop of black blood makes you black, hence a slave in the South. It is the existence of this middle social group that explains why Louisiana was on the side of the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War but changed sides very fast and moved back to the Union in 1862, which made Louisiana crucial for the ratification of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution. This of course is not said directly in this book because we are solely on the American side of Louisiana.


We can now turn to the book and give the main characteristics of this “peculiar institution” that slavery was in the South.

A slave has no identity. His common name is given to him by the slave dealer or the slave’s owner. If any precision is needed to differentiate two slaves who would have the same common name the name of the slave’s owner is added to the common name. The origin of a slave is also extremely vague. He may have a birth place though there is no guarantee that the birth place attributed to a slave is accurate. Same thing about the birth date and all other data about the slave. A slave is in fact identified by his physical and visible characteristics: color, height, muscular structure, strength, etc. A “white” black slave is of course not “white” but “pale.” We have to understand that the proportion of mixed bloods or mulattoes or whatever ( lists 35 synonyms of “mulatto”) is a lot higher than is believed but the two-tiered society of the “one blood theory and practice” makes such differences marginal, whereas they can become essential in a three-tiered society (check Denise Oliver-Velez, an adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at SUNY New Paltz, a Featured Writer for Daily Kos, and an editor of Black Kos, on the subject, at

A slave has only one function in life: to work physically and produce whatever the owner requires to be produced on the plantation. This book deals with cotton and sugar and actually gives a detailed description of the cultivation of cotton and sugarcane and the harvesting of cotton as well as the harvesting and processing of sugar cane to produce both white and brown sugar. This is an important aspect of the book because it gives us a close vision of the economic side of slave agriculture. The book is clear about the particular qualifications and skills slaves have and the fact that they are used accordingly. Solomon for example is a jack of all trades on the plantation and as for the cultivation of cotton or his being hired to sugar cane plantations, it is clear that he is not skilled in the direct harvesting of cotton and hence is not employed for it, though on the other hand he is skilled for the harvesting of sugar cane. Furthermore since he is able to take care and repair machines, do a lot of carpentry or wood work, he is often used as a craftsman or a technician, particularly for the building of various structures, the overlooking of sugar production and as a black driver on the side of cotton cultivation and harvesting. Solomon insists on one aspect of his accepting to be a black driver, which he cannot refuse anyway. He uses the whip a lot but he never or hardly hit the other slaves and some kind of arrangement is reached: the black driver in a way protects the slaves provided they respect their quotas. We reach here another element.

The work of slaves is measured. Each slave is submitted to one particular task under duress, which means with a lot of whipping around or on his body. The amount of work or harvesting done in such conditions is set as the minimum the concerned slave has to produce. All slaves do not have the same quotas though all slaves have to be over the minimum considered as profit making by the owner. It is important then that the slaves respect their personal “minimum.” If they do not reach it, they will be punished, which means whipped. If they do more then their minimum is increased and if they do not reach this new minimum on a regular basis they will be punished, meaning whipped. To keep such quotas they have to keep a certain rhythm in their work, and this rhythm is essential for Africans who have rhythmic music ingrained in their culture and heritage: chanting for example will become the way to keep the rhythm of their work hence to reach their quotas, just enough, no less no more. We will see later how important this element can be.

They have to work from sunup to sundown, meaning they have to be ready by sunup and they will stop working in the fields by sundown. They have to get ready before and they have to take care of their food, cooking, the animals, their tools after work. They are provided with a limited amount of food, corn meal and bacon, they have to prepare by themselves and worms or other parasites in these two items are just plain food, animal protein as we would say today. Slaves can do some hunting or fishing after work, by night, and they do to supplement their diet with possum meat for example or with fish. Solomon actually invented a fishing trap that enabled his fellow slaves to enrich their diet easily since the fishing trap is working while the slaves are in the fields, and in the evening they just have to pick what’s in the trap. This is of course typical of Louisiana where rivers and bayous are everywhere as well as swamps.

A slave is nothing but the tool or the toy of the slave owner or his white personnel. He is exploited, brutalized and used in anyway set by the planter. Solomon Northup gives the example how his owner when drunk made him use his fiddle to play music and forced the slaves to dance all night, though on the following morning their work in the fields will have to be the same. He insists on the case of a young female slave who is used and abused by the planter, which makes his wife jealous and then they kind of manage to pacify their own family life by both victimizing that young female slave. This victimizing, this whipping is always performed in front of everyone: the slaves, the planter and his wife, and the planter’s children.


Solomon Northup insists on the case of this girl or woman because he is the one who is ordered to whip her one day for no justified reason whatsoever. She is undressed and tied face down on the ground to four posts and she is whipped moderately by Solomon who refuses – at his own risk – to go beyond some thirty lashes as initially ordered, but then the planter takes over in a frenzy of violence and viciousness in front of his wife, his children and the slaves till the woman is unable to react in the slightest possible way, even with a moan. Solomon Northup insists on the result as for the general attitude and behavior this cruel unwarranted punishment produces.

“Indeed, from that time forward she was not what she had been. The burden of a deep melancholy weighed heavily on her spirits. She no longer moved with that buoyant and elastic step – there was not that mirthful sparkle in her eyes that formerly distinguished her. The bounding vigor – the sprightly, laughter-loving spirit of her youth, were gone. She fell into a mournful and desponding mood, and often-times would start up in her sleep, and with raised hands, plead for mercy. She became more silent than she was, toiling all day in our midst, not uttering a word. A care-worn, pitiful expression settled on her face, and it was her humor now to weep, rather than rejoice. If ever there was a broken heart – one crushed and blighted by the rude grasp of suffering and misfortune – it was Patsey’s.” (page 154)

There is no better description of the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome you can find anywhere, and we are a century and a half before the concept was invented. This testimony proves the depth of this trauma that slavery was and the lasting and inerasable impact of this trauma on the psyche of any individual who has suffered it, witnessed it and will transmit it to the next generation as long as they will be able to remember the facts or the stories about the facts.

But we have to insist on two elements here.

The effect on the white children of the planter.

“Epps’ oldest son is an intelligent lad of ten or twelve years of age. It is pitiable, sometimes, to see him chastising, for instance, the venerable Uncle Abram [who is supposed to be around 60]. He will call the old man to account, and if in his childish judgment it is necessary, sentence him to a certain number of lashes, which he proceeds to inflict with much gravity and deliberation. Mounted on his pony, he often rides the field with his whip, playing the overseer, greatly to his father’s delight. Without discrimination, at such times, he applies the rawhide, urging the slaves forward with shouts, and occasional expression of profanity, while the old man laughs, and commends him as a thorough-going boy. . . On arriving at maturity, the sufferings and miseries of the slave will be looked upon with entire indifference. The influence of the iniquitous system necessarily fosters an unfeeling and cruel spirit, even in the bosom of those who, among their equals, are regarded as humane and generous.” (page 155-156)

But we must not be completely mistaken about this trauma and the post traumatic stress syndrome it implies. The victim is deeply affected by it but the victim keeps some reasonable perspective as Patsey’s case shows with her reaction when Solomon Northup is leaving for good.

“On my way back to the carriage, Patsey ran from behind a cabin and threw her arms about my neck.
“Oh! Platt,” she cried, tears streaming down her face, “you’re goin’ to be free – you’re goin’ way off yonder where we’ll nebber see you any more. You’ve saved me a good many whippins, Platt; I’m glad you’re goin’ to be free – but oh! de Lord, de Lord! What’ll become of me?” (page 186-187)

In that trauma Patsey kept only one milestone to which she could attach herself: the slave condition, the solidarity among the slaves, the racial definition of that slave-condition, etc. Just the same way as this mistreatment of slaves produces the attitude of the son who will never be able to consider black people, ex-slaves as being human because deep in his mind they have been registered as animals, chattel, the slaves when they are freed will keep in their own minds this solidarity among slaves, this racial definition of the world cut in two and the whites will always be frightening monsters. This traumatic situation has long lasting effects on both the whites and the blacks and Solomon Northup shows it marvelously. The fact that the slaves were able to survive this traumatic situation that lasted three centuries is because they retained deep in their minds and bodies some African heritage.


Though, and Solomon is clear about that, the slaves are deprived of any education, writing and reading being forbidden, and religion being more or less off limits for them, the slaves retain some fundamental African features and cultural elements.

The physical and hard work and working conditions to which they are submitted maintains in them the basic physical strength and power of Africans in Africa. To suffer and to strain one’s body are part of the African culture and tradition. All initiation rites and rituals are based on very strict and strenuous tests of strength and endurance for all boys in their teenage. This is still true in some areas and Nelson Mandela tells us about his own rituals that were associated to his circumcision. In African culture there is a basic principle that an African man or an African woman have to be physically strong and both physically and mentally demonstrate a high level of endurance. The duress under which they were exploited in fact had a positive result: they kept their physical dimension.

But the description Solomon Northup gives of one Christmas “festival” shows that three other things were kept from their African heritage. They were expected for these Christmas festivals to produce music, to dance and to sing. This enabled them to retain their unique polyrhythmic music that has become universal today thanks to this retention. They retained their African singing that is both chanting and singing, both monophonic and yet polyphonic, what I would call monophonic with polyphonic variations. They retained their dancing and it is clear that their bodies do not dance one tempo but several: swinging and swaying for the upper part of the body or the head, and then different tempos for the arms and the feet, the feet being able to capture extremely fast tempos. All that is in Solomon Northup’s testimony. This dancing is pure communion for the slaves, communion among themselves and communion with their heritage, their past, their African roots. Strangely enough it is this triad of music-singing-dancing that also saved the American Indians who were able to keep their traditions and their soul by cultivating these there forms of culture in their powwows. Strangely enough the Americans tried to ban it for the Indians though for the blacks, the slaves, they encouraged it as an entertainment for themselves of course. They will even imitate it with the black minstrels.

Solomon Northup gives one example of one of these song-cum-music-cum-singing: “A Refrain of the Red River Plantation.” The text contains the full song, though the appendices only give the music of the first stanza and chorus. When you look at the next stanzas of the song, you find out that their rhythm and their tempo are different, and the words themselves are no longer a nicely rhymed regular five line stanza and two line chorus, but a song which implies a music and a dancing based on repetitions like

“Hog eye!
Old Hog Eye.
And Hosey too!” (page 129)


“Hop Jim along,
Walk jim along,
Talk Jim along, &c.” (page 130)

This chorus implies many patterns, forms of singing, dancing that could be very multifarious both as for polyphonic singing that could be understood as the root of Gospel singing or as for the polyrhythmic music and dancing that could be developed from such a song and there we have the root of polyrhythmic blues and jazz and later many other forms. We could also understand that this singing might be very close to chanting or even speaking and it would be the root of what we call today rap which was also common in jazz in the 1920s or 30s. Curious minds will find 3,700 such “traditional and folk songs” at, the one given by Solomon Northup in 1853 being listed among the others. I say here this testimony explains how the Blacks were able to survive slavery by keeping and developing some African tradition coming directly from their cultural heritage.


This book has just been adapted into a film. In fact it is the second time.

The first time was in 1984 under the title “Twelve Years a Slave Solomon Northup's Odyssey.” The more recent adaptation kept the title of the book and is based or connected to this present edition of the book.

This brings a question that is more and more asked among people: is that interest for the past of African Americans in the recent period the sign of a deep change in the cultural and mental approach of the Blacks and slavery in the United States, or is it only a fad reflecting the fact that the President of the United States has been black for five years and will be for three more years? I do not have an answer to that question and I lean towards a twofold approach: the fact that the President of the United States is a black man has some influence on the United States as a whole and every American in particular, and on the other hand Americans have always cultivated their historical dimension probably because they are all of them, except American Indians, uprooted immigrants who were transplanted into a new continent, by force or by choice. All Americans have thus to face this important period in their past: slavery that started for the English colonists in 1619 and ended for the Americans in 1865, though it continued in some form of apartheid or other till the end of the 20th century if not till today.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?