Further Thoughts on “Dutchman”
Filed Under: Media & Tech | Posted: 10/05/2011 at 9:56PM
Comments | Region: New York | United States
I have seen Amiri Baraka give readings five or six times over the last 30 years. He is always utterly contented. Perhaps from writing Dutchman! (Remember, he also composed Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. (Come to think of it, this play is pretty suicidal.) Amiri’s philosophy is: "I’ll kill myself tomorrow, but I’ll write my new manifesto today!")
What were his politics when he wrote this play? Was he already a Marxist, or just a slightly unhinged "Beat"? It’s difficult to guess. (A year later, he changed his name, moved to Newark, and left the "white world." He took the Dutchman‘s advice. What spurred him to this action? The murder of Malcolm X!)
Clearly, Lula is America, and Clay is The Black Man. (Though, of course, plays are not symbols.) What happened to Obama is quite similar to Clay’s fate, actually — America was titillated by a black man in a suit, fascinated by the suggestion of sexual potency, electrified, amused. Then they turned on him.
Also, Dutchman is about the evils of conversation. You meet someone at a party, and guess their "type." You picture the house they grew up in, the house they live in now. You speak not to them, but to an Irish Catholic stockbroker their age. Even your old friends, whom you’ve known for 40 years, become caricatures to you. You speak to your memories of them, to your "bond" with them. Every conversation involves four people: the two honest, actual people, and the imaginary constructs they address.