Monday, January 5, 2015

Harlem is God's Commentary on Park Avenue

"...What has not been devoured, in your dark furnace, Harlem, by marijuana, by gin, by insanity, hysteria, syphilis?..."
“Now the terrifying paradox of the whole thing is this: Harlem itself, and every individual Negro in it, is a living  condemnation of our so-called ‘culture.’  Harlem is there by way of a divine indictment against New York City and the people who live downtown and make their money downtown.  The brothels of Harlem, and all its prostitution, and its dope-rings, and all the rest are the mirror of the polite divorces and the manifold cultured adulteries of Park Avenue: they are God’s commentary on the whole of our society.
"Harlem is, in a sense, what God thinks of Hollywood.  And Hollywood is all Harlem has, in its despair, to grasp at, by way of a surrogate for heaven.
"The most terrible thing about it all is that there is not a Negro in the whole place who does not realize, somewhere in the depths of his nature, that the culture of the white men is not worth the dirt in Harlem’s gutters.  They sense that the whole thing is rotten, that it is a fake, that it is spurious, empty, a shadow of nothingness.  And yet they are condemned to reach out for it, and to seem to desire it, and to pretend they like it, as if the whole thing were some kind of bitter cosmic conspiracy: as if they were thus being forced to work out, in their own lives, a clear representation of the misery which has corrupted the ontological roots of the white man’s own existence.
"The little children of Harlem are growing up, crowded together like sardines in the rooms of tenements full of vice, where evil takes place hourly and inescapably before their eyes, so that there is not an excess of passion, not a perversion of natural appetite with which they are not familiar before the age of six or seven: and this by way of an accusation of the polite and expensive and furtive sensualities and lusts of the rich whose sins have bred this abominable slum.  The effect resembles and even magnifies the cause, and Harlem is the portrait of those through whose fault such things come into existence.  What was heard in secret in the bedrooms and apartments of the rich and of the cultured and the educated and the white is preached from the housetops of Harlem and there declared, for what it its, in all its horror, somewhat as it is seen in the eyes of God, naked and frightful.
"No, there is not a Negro in the whole place who can fail to know, in the marrow of his own bones, that the white man’s culture is not worth the jetsam in the Harlem River.”
Pages 378-379
Thomas Merton; The Seven Story Mountain; Harcourt, Inc; New York; 1998.
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