On Natty Dread

Natty Dread. Like it or lump it, it has become clear to any thinking person that Emperor Haile Selassie, or Ras Tafari, was indeed a living god. Admittedly, the thinking done by those persons is conducted with brains ravaged by pot, but that does not make their thinking any less cogent. Well, it does, and perhaps they might think a teensy bit more cogently with clearer heads. But they would surely reach the same conclusions regarding Haile Selassie and Jah Rastafari and the escape from Babylon and all that business. Natty Dread indeed.

It has long perplexed me that F. R. Leavis, in expounding his so-called Great Tradition, wholly ignores Emperor Haile Selassie. Notwithstanding that Leavis was batty rather than natty, and while today we might dismiss his prescriptive insistence that the only great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and poor demented D. H. Lawrence, it beggars belief that Leavis can construct his grand edifice without placing Jah at its pinnacle. It is true that Jah did not actually write any English novels, and can thus safely be left out of account, but that just won’t do, will it? Not for me, anyway, or I and I, I should say.

If one trawls through the collected works of Austen, Eliot, James, Conrad, poor demented Lawrence and Leavis himself, the first thing that strikes one is that Jah does not even get a mention. One retrawls, with closer attention, hoping to find stray references one has missed the first time round, but again emerging empty handed. This actually takes rather a long time, given the sheer amount these people wrote, and as one begins the third, desperate, trawl, one begins to wonder if it might not be better simply to ravage one’s brain with pot and call it a day. But one persists, as one must, where Emperor Haile Selassie is concerned. Once again, one finds not a trace of Jah. Truly we are in Babylon.

It is of course always possible that, had either Austen or Eliot or James or Conrad or poor demented Lawrence or Leavis issued dub versions of their work, we might find what we are looking for. To take just one example, Mansfield Park In Dub, had it ever existed, would I think be a more sure-footed text than the original. It would probably also find room for natty dread. I say ‘probably’, rather than ‘certainly’, for one does not wish to engage in fruitless conjecture. Fruitlessness must always be avoided. That is not a lesson I have taken directly from Jah, incidentally, except in a roundabout way. But then a roundabout way is by definition indirect. Could it be, I wonder, that one can approach His Highness The Emperor Haile Selassie, Jah Rastafari, similarly indirectly, in a roundabout way, in the works of our canonical authors, albeit in the absence of dub versions of their books? This will of course necessitate a fourth, even more eagle-eyed, trawl. Still we must put off the ravaging of our brain with pot.

And so once again we slump against a tree-trunk with a huge pile of books next to us. Above, in the higher foliage, monkeys cavort and chatter. They are not, so far as we can see, monkeys with typewriters, who might, given time, type out the complete works of Austen and Eliot and James and Conrad and poor demented Lawrence and Leavis. Could they, in a fraction of the time, type out dub versions? Setting aside the copy of Under Western Eyes we have just opened, for the fourth time, we look up and count the monkeys. Nine monkeys, for which we will require nine typewriters. Entrusting our pile of books to the safe keeping of a dreadlocked rasta slumped against a neighbouring tree, his brain ravaged by pot, we set off for the nearest typewriter shop. By one of those curious coincidences one meets in certain songs by Sumner, the name of the shop’s proprietor is F. R. Leavis.

“Are you any relation?”, we ask.

There follows a lengthy and somewhat ill-tempered account of distant cousinage. We are relieved to hand over the cash and make our exit from the shop, nine secondhand but reconditioned typewriters heaped upon our barrow. Under the neighbouring tree, the pot-ravaged rasta is leafing through The Mill On The Floss.

“Have you found any trace within the text that Eliot is conscious of the divinity of the Emperor Haile Selassie?” we ask, more to make conversation than in hope of a coherent reply.

“There is great sufferation in Babylon,” he says, puffing on his pot, “You wouldn’t have a dub version of this novel, would you?”

“Not yet,” we reply, “But soon, I hope, soon!”, and we point at the barrow of typewriters and then at the monkeys cavorting and chattering atop the trees.

With the assistance of the affable rasta, we set up the typewriters in a line along the beach. Then we coax and cajole the monkeys down from the trees, using fruit as a lure – another reminder of the perils of fruitlessness. Soon enough they are tippy-tapping away, taking occasional rest breaks to pick nits from each other’s hairy coats. Waves lap against the sandy shore. The sun blazes in the sky. Eschewing the offer of pot, and instead glugging a tumbler of lemonade, we keep our brain unravaged, our head clear. But our heart is thumping, for what we are witnessing, watching our monkeys typing away, is the birth of a brand new Great Tradition, one which will propel F. R. Leavis into the dustbin of history, one in which Jah Rastafari assumes his proper place atop the pinnacle of English literature, in dub. Natty indeed. Natty dread.

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