An Introduction To Jeff Perry
(A Meditation on Knowledge & History)
by Ralph Dumain
I was in a Printing house in Hell & saw the method in which
knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.
In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the
rubbish from a caves mouth; within, a number of Dragons were
hollowing the cave,
In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock & the
cave, and others adorning it with gold silver and precious stones.
In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings and feathers of
air, he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite, around were
numbers of Eagle like men, who built palaces in the immense cliffs.
In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire raging around
& melting the metals into living fluids.
In the fifth chamber were Unnam'd forms, which cast the metals
into the expanse.
There they were reciev'd by Men who occupied the sixth
chamber, and took the forms of books & were arranged in libraries.
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell , plate 15, "A Memorable Fancy"
Is Blake's characterization of the process of knowledge production meaningful to you? Looking at creative work from the standpoint of the struggle to complete it looks very different than from the vantage point of someone who picks a book off a shelf. There are a million stories of such struggles. In keeping with the self-referential character of our age, this testimonial is not so much about Jeff Perry but about my introduction to Jeff Perry.
My interest in Hubert Henry Harrison dates back to the late 1980s, when I came across a pamphlet about Harrison written by John G. Jackson and published by the American Atheist Press. My reaction then was akin to my reaction in the early 1980s when I accidentally stumbled upon C.L.R. James at the SUNY/Buffalo library: how could I have gotten through so many decades without knowing about this person and why didn't anyone ever tell me about him?
My interest in Harrison proceeded along two lines:
First, there was my interest in black atheism, freethought, and secular humanism, the one area of black history neglected or rejected not by whites but by many black people themselves. Seeking out this hidden history, of which Harrison is a part, led me to my interaction with Norm Allen, founder of African Americans for Humanism, the first organization of its kind.
Secondly, I was interested in Harrison as an outstanding example of the phenomenon of the autodidact, a social type that also invokes a hidden history, obscure intellectual networks and infrastructures.
A decade ago I stumbled blindly into the world of James Studies and my association with The C.L.R. James Institute. As our work in cataloging and annotating the James papers peaked in 1993, we found ourselves in an enclave in the Catskills called Kerhonkson, an event we subsequently dubbed the Kerhonkson Caper. It was there that Jim Murray happened to mention that I might be interested in talking to a fellow who was working on someone named Hubert Harrison. I leapt at the chance, and right then phoned Jeff in Jersey. Thus began several years of discussions and moral and material support of one another's work.
Jeff worked like a dog on his monumental, definitive, projected two-volume biography of Harrison, stealing every possible spare moment he could for his work, in addition to being occupied full time by his job and family responsibilities. Jeff worked with a scholarly fanaticism and devotion to detail that would put many an academic professional to shame. Such is the case for many outsiders. Not that he needed any impetus from me, but I took every opportunity to egg Jeff on, reminding him constantly about how unique and crucial and desperately needed his work is. We also discussed various aspects of Harrison's encyclopedic interests and commitments. In time, I learned about Jeff's expanded plans, including the publication of an anthology of Harrison's writings.
Publication of the first volume of the Harrison biography is on its way. But the Harrison anthology is now here! I can hardly believe I'm holding it in my hands. One has to pinch oneself to really believe that one is looking at a finished product, and thus from a different standpoint, after so many years of struggle. Perhaps Jeff feels the same way. And thus begins the public venture of Harrison Studies, which is going to have a revolutionary impact upon Black Studies and American intellectual history. Allow me to take this moment to express my pride in Jeff in seeing his labors come to fruition at last. But only momentarily, as this moment does not belong to me. I now present to you ... Jeff Perry.
30 May 2001
(c) 2001 Ralph Dumain & The C.L.R. James Institute
The Hubert Harrison Center
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Uploaded 30 May 2001