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Blackness and the Dreaming Soul Paperback – 9 May 2007
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Blackness and the Dreaming Soul is an account of a long journey of self-discovery involving an ever deepening awareness of the causes of our current alienation from each other and the natural primordial world. It is an alchemical venture, exploring the darkness of the human psyche: being black and trapped in a white culture, as well as being white and caught in an ambush of denial. Written without bitterness and recrimination, Blackness & the Dreaming Soul is neither pure biography nor philosophical manifesto, but grows out of the author's childhood as the great grandson of a slave in British Guiana. The book chronicles his career during a long sojourn in Britain, as a World War II RAF officer (two years spent as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany), qualifying as a barrister at law, to a career in show business spanning stage, film, radio and TV. In the late 50s, Cy's was the first black face to appear regularly on television, singing the news in calypso. Blackness & the Dreaming Soul transcends attempts at categorization. It is a reconstruction of the way we make our reality, a journey leading the author to a holistic outlook beyond the frustrations that have dogged his life, beyond anger, beyond division and polarity, to a vision of unity in diversity in which all things are connected; man and nature, earth and cosmos. In the 1970s, Cy Grant was chairman and co-founder of DRUM, the first black arts centre in Britain. In the 80s, he was Director of CONCORD multicultural Festivals, celebrating British cultural diversity when the idea of multiculturalism was not so popular. Cy is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Roehampton, a member of the Scientific & Medical Network and author of Ring of Steel, pan sound & symbol, the story of the evolution of the Trinidad Steelpan. "Blackness & the Dreaming Soul does not pull its punches - it has its finger smack on the pulse of what is eating away at the very heart of civil society in Britain" Professor Gus John
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Grant was an RAF navigator in WW2, and was literally bombed out of the sky, but his service was dispensed with immediately after the war on purely racial grounds. Much of his life was a struggle against prejudice.
I recall, from my childhood, his lilting calypso singing on the BBC-TV Tonight program, so I wanted to find out about his life afterwards. I note that the presenter of that show (Cliff Michelmore) was also an ex-RAF officer, so maybe that helped Cy to get his TV launch; I am only speculating. The book reveals that Cy Grant was far more than a mere singer and actor; he was a considerable thinker too. Sadly, he seemed to disappear from the screens after the 1960s, but his cultural exploits went on.
A warm man with a lot to be angry about, this book usefully marks his life in his own words.
I have dropped a star only because it is a self-published work, and the book's close-set on-demand printing detracts rather from its readability.
Part memoir, part cultural negotiation, the book attempts not only to make sense of his worlds, but to propose solutions that are deeply founded and attainable to all. Whilst a POW in Germany, he began this bold exploration into realms that Lewis Mumford called `the wilderness that Western man has failed to explore; the dark continent of his own soul'. As the title suggests, this process is inevitably bound up with the quest for inner meaning, sadly so often missing from Western culture today.
The book reads as a set of linked essays, each of which builds upon the previous one. It begins with the account of Grant's early life in British Guiana, his sojourn as an officer in the RAF in WWII and the disintegration of his Lancaster around him in the skies over Holland, leading to his earliest reflections in the German Stalags. He retrained as a barrister after the War but being black, found no work. Turning to singing and acting to survive, brought him to the notice of the wider public especially via BBC television.
As an actor he faced the dilemma of only being cast in `black' roles, that is, roles where race was an issue, or reflected the perceived status of, or the prejudices towards, black people in society. Following Powell's `Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968, he came to recognise an institutionalised racism never previously apparent despite earlier setbacks. The Civil Rights Movement spurred on his exploration of identity, the `dark journey' into his soul. As an angry black man, he wrote a collection of short poems, several of which were anthologised. These vividly express the dilemma black people face when using language and prepare the ground for the current analysis into how our emphasis on scientific empiricism has trapped us within the language we use.
In 1974, Grant set up DRUM, the first black arts centre in Britain, ironically derided at the time for its `separationist' approach, and almost entirely unacknowledged today by successors which share its fruits.
His last `black' gesture was performing and touring a stage version of Aime Cesaire's Negritude Movement poem Return to my Native Land. Known for its passionate deconstruction of colonialism, the poem calls for a re-engagement with nature and the emergence of a new man.
The CONCORD festivals, born out of the racial tension of the early 80s, typify Grant's aim to celebrate cultural diversity in Britain at a time when attempts at social reconciliation were largely ignored. They anticipate his current emphasis on `unity in diversity', a subject he first wrote about in Ring of Steel, the story of the Trinidad steelpan, describing the alchemical transmutation of waste metal into harmonic sound.
As the biographical detail unfolds, the author's inner journey gradually comes into focus. Much as the alchemical oil-drum becomes `pan', so the surface detail of his life becomes meaning for all. For instance, his lengthy piece on Carnival captures the emphasis on cultural identity, celebration in adversity and the reconciliation of `great house' with `the folk' that comprise the social fabric of West Indians. Columbus' voyages; the rush towards Genetic engineering; religion and spirituality; issues that are almost never discussed within a holistic framework are reassessed and shown to be vital for understanding our world.
Taoism has long been a major influence on Grant's thinking and he has broadcast for the BBC on the subject. Tao, the primal energy that permeates the Universe, brings all things into being and reconciles all opposites, contrary to the Western tendency to fragment all knowledge into its constituent parts. Grant subscribes to a holographic Universe, in which everything is embedded in an `implicate order of wholeness' as described by physicist David Bohm; a Universe that is always getting to know itself; that integrates science and spirituality. Grant's description of the New Physics gives previously unfathomable ideas both a new context and relevance. His straightforward analysis of complex issues renders them available to everyone.
The events of `9-11' were a defining moment in history, polarising our world further. In suggesting ways of rediscovering and developing ancient worldviews, the author challenges us to cut across conventional categories and realise the potential for unity in diversity. He believes that the true direction of the evolution of our species lies not in the survival of the fittest but in the diversity that is the imprint of Creation- we need to develop a reverence for all life. Indeed, recent discoveries confirm that human beings, plants and animals all share the same DNA. He stresses the `ultimate connectedness of the inner and the outer... the DNA of a single living cell retains the imprint of the whole person which parallels the smallest atom as a microcosm of the Cosmos', and `being aware of this allows us to re-envisage our true place in the Universe.'
Cy Grant's story transcends the specialist categories of the conventional bookshelf, opting instead for a reconstruction of the way in which we make our reality. Instead of adopting the mono-culture of globalisation in which duality is enshrined, he seeks to develop a vision of unity in diversity in which all things are connected; man and nature, earth and cosmos. In seeking to recover the ancient worldview, the author believes we will have to acknowledge our history of exploitation and our present rush toward world domination. His book offers us a believable route toward this goal.
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--Theodore D. Hall, Ph.D.