friends of the family, Alex and Sarah, drive upstate to spend a few days at the Striebers’ rural retreat, a secluded country house with an elaborate security system. During the night, the building is bathed in strange illuminations. Whitley awakens to glimpse an alien face, and Andrew, in his room, screams. “I want to go home,” says middleaged Alex in the morning. Who would not say the same? But, though Whitley drives them all back to the city, inexplicable experiences continue. Whitley is visited in the early hours by assorted beings, including mobile masks and little blue men who inject something into his skull. He is carried out of the bedroom by unearthly beings. Anne is angry at what she takes to be Whitley’s selfindulgent fantasizing and berates him for frightening their son. One night, back at the country house, Whitley stalks an alien with his shotgun and almost kills his wife. Anne delivers an ultimatum: either he seek medical care or their marriage is over. When the doctor can find nothing physically wrong with Whitley, except for a mysterious incision behind his ear, she refers him to Janet Duffy \(Frances in rape. ThOugh he does feel violated, Whitley at first resists her therapy. “I think I’m hallucinating” is his initial strategy to diminish the trauma. But, under hypnosis, he recounts the bizarre events, and we, in a flashback, see them vividly again, as authentic as anything else on a commercial screen. Dr. Duffy rejects the explanation that her patient is psychotic. “I have a dozen patients who have all reported seeing the same things you have,” she declares, and cajoles Whitley and Anne into attending a session of her alien abductees mutual support group. “This isn’t a joke,” insists one. “These visitors are real.” And the painful earnestness of their testimonies is enough to convince Anne, if not the skeptical viewer. Ultimately, after going off alone to spend a night communing with the aliens, Whitley makes his peace with the paranormal. “It would be narcissistic to consider ourselves alone in the universe,” he tells Anne, while both wander about a contemporary gallery whose images are no less uncanny than what Whitley has seen. “There are many faces of God, masks of God” is the way Anne comes to terms with what has occurred. “I think they gave you a gift,” says Anne to Whitley. “You’d better use it. “Communion is, of course, an attempt to use that gift, a self-begetting work that recounts its own genesis and culminates in its own creation. When we last see Whitley Streiber, he is sitting at his computer trying to find the words to describe what we have all just been through. Eerie electronic music by Eric Clapton heightens the movie’s tension in ways that remind us it is a movie. And the fact that Streiber presumably bought his country house with the handsome proceeds from his novels Wolfen and The Hunger suggests that he has always had a vivid imagination for the macabre, though it does not resolve the question of whether Communion is invention, delusion or visitation. When bornagain Jimmy Carter saw a special screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the White House, he described it as a profound religious experience and pro BY SCOTT MCLEMEE C.L.R. JAMES: THE ARTIST AS REVOLUTIONARY By Paul Buhle Verso, 1989 197 pages, $13.95 L.R. James is best known in this country for his history of the Haitian slave revolt, The Black Jacobins paperback. But when James died in London on May 31, he left a large and diverse legacy: work in fiction, political theory, sports writing, philosophy, and cultural studies, in addition to his better known studies in Caribbean and Black history. The term “Renaissance man,” often used to describe James, fails to capture the range and the special qualities of his work. A more fitting comparison might be with some Victorian sage, perhaps Thomas Carlyle: combining enormous learning with a prolific and rhetorically skillful pen, such a figure brings the resonance of history to bear on current political and cultural issues. And like Carlyle, James was a frequent public lecturer, often speaking extemporaneously for hours with virtuoso brilliance. James’s students included numerous figures who became prominent in Third World politics, such as Kwame Nkrummah and Jomo Kenyatta, and among his friends he could name Paul Robeson, Leon Trotsky, and Richard Wright. His influence continued in the United States even after his expulsion during the McCarthy era. James’s brand of libertarian socialism appealed to black labor union militants in Detroit and to young radical intellectuals uncomfortable with the Mao-chic dominant among some SDS factions. Such a figure demands a biography. And Scott McLemee is a writer living in Washington, D.C. claimed that the world would be a better place if the film were widely viewed. The special effects within and beyond Communion are not nearly as powerful. But perhaps it is a critic’s pardonable fancy to regard memorable films even if nothing more than celluloid strips flashed at 24 frames per second as masks of God. Each leaves us still asking: Who is that masked stranger? 0 yet James is a biographer’s nightmare. He moved from continent to continent throughout his long life; his voluminous correspondence is now scattered among individuals around the world. Much of his writing was published under various pseudonyms in radical journals with relatively small audiences. Several of his books after The Black Jacobins appeared in tiny editions which fell quickly out of print. For years, some of his most important works circulated in photocopied or mimeographed form, from hand-to-hand, among activists. And most daunting of all, there is the matter of James’s personality, which by all accounts was extraordinarily powerful. From talking with old Trotskyists who knew James 30 or 40 years ago, I can attest to the impossibility of getting a dispassionate account of the man. He drew adulation or hostility, students or enemies and little in between. Paul Buhle belongs in the camp of James’s admirers. At the end of his biography C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary, he even calls himself a “disciple” of the older man, albeit one “as heterodox and independent-minded as he [James] could hope for.” Buhle edited the first anthology of James’s writings in 1970, published as a special edition of the SDS journal Radical America. Like the anthology, this first fulllength biography of James is a labor of love. The author seems to have read everything James published, even his contributions to the internal discussion bulletins of radical groups. The book draws heavily on interviews with those who knew James during his years in the United States, and also on James’s letters to his second wife. By far the strongest section of the book is its opening chapter, recounting James’s early life in the Caribbean and his formation within the culture of Trinidad. Buhle provides the backdrop by discussing the The Sporting Life Cricket, Revolution and C.L.R. James THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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