The Last man is a big novel in a small package. As a reader told me recently, it begins introspectively, inside the Last Man’s head and then “it punches you right in the face.” This was the novel I was meant to write. It challenged me as no other novel I have written, assailing unexplored frontiers and realities, not just within my heart but those beyond my normal experience.
A couple of weeks ago I went to see a theater piece by friends and former cast members of my play “Occupy My Heart” For the play my director cast a black woman, Donier (pronounced: Donyay) Tyler, in the role of a ditsy girl, but in this new piece I recall watching her come to several parts with this amazing strength and confidence. The realization was instant and powerful; The Last Man could be, or should be a woman!
The whole point of the book, and the stage adaptation is to besiege paradigms on systems of power. I’d written the main character as a black man on trial for his life. Casting Donier in a dramatic reading for the stage and Youtube later this month revealed a whole new dimension to the story, one I exalt in realizing and lament for not realizing earlier.
And so, this past weekend I sat down to read the piece aloud with Donier. The piece is from the trial, in which the Last Man is arguing for his very life. Alone, with the court and odds stacked plainly against him, he remains defiant, if for no other reason that to show pride and disdain for his accusers and would-be executioners. She paused a moment, pulling herself into the part. Slapping her hand hard to the table she began, with all that strength and passion I’d glimpsed earlier. Her voice rose in the still of the livingroom. She was the Last Man.
“Kill that dog!” Her hand fell loudly against the table. “If a man uses a dog to keep you from what is yours, kill that dog! Violence is the last domain of the downtrodden. Power concedes nothing without demand, said Frederick Douglas. There is an implicit power behind any demand, or it has no value. The only true power of the powerless is violence. Or the potential for violence. It must be a possibility when power is unbalanced. You must understand, that when your power overcomes reason and justice and mercy, that I may rise against you, and that our very existence becomes part of the negotiation…”
Against those who hold and abuse power, the words of the writer are violence, and are thus met with their ultimate rage. It is the reason that oppressive regimes and rulers single out the writer and artist first for destruction. and whether under benevolent or oppressive government, the writer has a responsibility to be bold, to dare to tell the truth that resides within the human heart, and which ultimately guides or rampages in human society. In that way, The Last Man might well be applied to the responsibility and the danger of writing and writing the truth.
“…I must justify my existence,” Donier continued. “Men must tolerate men by right of agreement. You must know that my rights are inviolable, and that no man may ‘give’ another man rights, for if you can give those rights then you may take them away. No one gives me rights. They are mine, and if taken away then they are stolen, and that is the difference. Hence the words of Malcolm X; Kill that dog! I have done nothing. This right to exist is mine by virtue that I am, and if you remove that from me then it is you have committed the real crime!”