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Search tags: James-Baldwin
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review 2018-06-07 16:32
Another Country, by James Baldwin
Another Country - James Baldwin

"So what can we really do for each other except--just love each other and be each other's witness?"


When I finished Another Country, it brought tears to my eyes. There's so much suffering exquisitely depicted alongside glimmers of love and beauty, such whole, flawed characters. Like the recently read The Fire Next Time, a nonfiction work by Baldwin, it might have been written today. Again, this is both a compliment to Baldwin's art and his powers of observation but also a lament that so little has changed, particularly regarding race but also gender and sexuality.


Nothing is easy about this book except its gorgeous, lucid prose. It's not afraid of the dark things in people, the mistakes we make, and what holds us back. I felt deeply for these characters, but the book doesn't give in to despair, which, at the end, is what made me cry in relief.


I was surprised to be reminded of Virginia Woolf as I read. There are passages where a character's inability to express "it" or oneself or story are noted. There's a suicide. There's also something about the way both Baldwin and Woolf capture fine states of emotion or the way our feelings and attitude can change so quickly, from seemingly small things. And, when we learn Cass's real name is Clarissa (her husband is Richard), I knew I wasn't crazy to make these connections!


The book is a landmark queer text, and Baldwin clearly knows how to write sex, the act itself--between men and women and between two men--and desire. Its queerness affected its reception at the time; I'm sure many would prefer Baldwin stick exclusively to race and racism. The quote above is spoken by Vivaldo to Eric, and it is a beautiful and simple idea even as the story proves it may be impossible to live by.


However, Baldwin does privilege love between men and the homosocial above all. Nearly all the central male characters are queer or explore their sexuality with one another; at the very least, platonic love between them is a source of comfort and hope. This is not the case with the women. Women's sexuality and power emasculate or cannot be known. There appears to be no escape or solution for women and their pain and oppression, whether white or black. If there is one flaw or problematic issue in this book, in my mind it's that. The love and act of witnessing in the quote seem to be for men only.



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review 2018-05-13 17:07
The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin

There they (police officers) stood, in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club or a fist or a gun.

Terrible how much this text is still relevant, might have been written today. This would not have surprised Baldwin--he acknowledges more than once that things may never change in America--though I imagine it might have saddened him.


The Fire Next Time contains two separate nonfiction pieces, one a letter to Baldwin's nephew, the sort of message or discussion African Americans have with their younger family members that white people don't. The second is an elegant "Letter from a Region in My Mind" that explores the author's coming to (and leaving) religion as a way to discuss race and racism in America. It is, ostensibly, a solution, though perhaps an impossible one.


I couldn't possibly capture Baldwin's argument in a brief synopsis, nor do I want to. His prose is beautiful and crystal clear, unflinching yet humane. He's my favorite kind of arguer, one who acknowledges from where other points of view are coming while advocating for his own position. It's been too long since I first read him, and I won't make that mistake again.

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text 2018-03-19 21:26
Reading progress update: I've read 10%.
The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin

This is the next read as picked by my RL bookclub. This time we're reading about racism in the form of 2 letters, written on the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately I can't read much of it at the minute due to my head, but I have the suspicion it'll be another one to leave a lasting impression.

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review 2018-01-16 03:48
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin’s controversial second novel, is a clenched fist, a bucket of sour grapes, a weeping work of art. A compact little tale of societal alienation and forbidden love (and lust), time has not dimmed its lights or smoothed its edges. Not one iota.


Baldwin’s most well-known work is sensual and thrilling and tragic; I closed my paperback edition with tears in my eyes. The tale of Giovanni and Butch is universal, yet special, shimmering; it is the Romeo and Juliet for gays. What should be humdrum — pining for one’s love, an affair, adventures in a new city — is rendered fresh in this author’s hands.


Oft considered one of the finest LGBTQ novels, this is a groundbreaking, rambunctious work that was far ahead of its time. Its lessons should be considered and remembered in the current year, as a matter of fact. I have left that room, but I am grateful for the short visit.


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review 2018-01-13 00:00
Blues for Mister Charlie
Blues for Mister Charlie - James Baldwin This play has been on my mind – has been bugging – for several years, γράφει ο Baldwin για το συγκεκριμένο έργο το οποίο βασίζεται σε πραγματικό γεγονός, στη δολοφονία του μαύρου νεαρού Emmett Till το 1955, υπόθεση που σφηνώθηκε στο μυαλό του συγγραφέα και μεταμορφώθηκε σε θεατρικό έργο κατά την κρίσιμη περίοδο του κινήματος για τα πολιτικά δικαιώματα. Κύριος στόχος του Baldwin με αυτό το τολμηρό κείμενο ήταν πρόδηλα να παρουσιάσει ένα, όσο το δυνατόν, αμερόληπτο πορτραίτο του δολοφόνου, ενός ανθρώπου που γνώριζε ότι η πράξη του ήταν κατακριτέα κι όμως προκειμένου να προστατέψει τον εαυτό του κλείνει τα μάτια κι επαναλαμβάνει, παθολογικά σχεδόν, τα εγκλήματά του. But if it is true, and I believe it is, that all men are brothers, then we have the duty to try to understand this wretched man, υποστηρίζει ο Baldwin, προσθέτοντας πως δεν παύει ο άνθρωπος που διαπράττει κάποιο έγκλημα να είναι προϊόν της κοινωνίας. Σύμφωνα με τον Baldwin,
It is we who have locked him in the prison of his color. It is we who have persuaded him that Negroes are worthless human beings, and that it is his sacred duty, as a white man, to protect the honor and purity of his tribe.
Όπως είναι φυσικό το έργο κατέληξε να διχάσει το κοινό με τις ιδέες του, όχι μόνο εξαιτίας της ιδιόμορφης αντιμετώπισης του εγκληματία αλλά και λόγω της τόσο φανερής απεύθυνσης σε λευκό ακροατήριο, εντούτοις, η λύση για τον τίτλο του έργου δίνεται από τον πατέρα του νεκρού Richard, "All white men are Mister Charlie"· ως Mister Charlie δηλαδή χαρακτηρίζεται ο λευκός άνθρωπος εν γένει, αποτελώντας μια καρικατούρα. Εξάλλου, όπως υποστηρίζει ο Baldwin στο κείμενο A Word from Writer Directly to Reader, του 1959:
Nor is it easy for me, when I try to examine the world in which I live, to distinguish the right side from the wrong side.[…]Nothing, I submit, is more difficult than deciphering what the citizens of this time and place actually feel and think.

Και σκηνικά, όμως, το θεατρικό παρουσιάζει ιδιαίτερο ενδιαφέρον, καθώς στη σκηνή συγκροτείται ένας πραγματικός φυλετικός διαχωρισμός, με τον διάδρομο στο κέντρο να λειτουργεί ως μοχλός διαίρεσης των λευκών και των μαύρων, με τις δυο κοινότητες να βρίσκονται η μια απέναντι απ’ την άλλη και με τη μόνη αλληλεπίδραση να συντελείται στις αναδρομές και στην τελική δίκη. Εξαίρεση εδώ αποτελεί ο Parnell, ο λευκός χαρακτήρας που όντας μετριοπαθής συζητά ελεύθερα και με τις δυο οικογένειες.
MOTHER HENRY: Richard, you can’t start walking around believing that all the suffering in the world is caused by white folks!
RICHARD: I can’t? Don’t tell me I can’t. I’m going to treat everyone of them as though they were responsible for all the crimes that ever happened in the history of the world – oh yes! They’re responsible for all the misery
I’ve ever seen, and that’s good enough for me.

Από το έργο του Baldwin δε θα μπορούσε να λείπει η διάσταση της θρησκευτικής σύγχυσης, με έναν από τους χαρακτήρες να κατακρίνει τον ιερέα-πατέρα του νεκρού πως ο Θεός δείχνει συμπόνια μόνο στους λευκούς και πως Εκείνος είναι ο πραγματικός υπαίτιος για την καταστροφή των μαύρων ανθρώπων (It’s that damn white God that’s been lynching us and burning us and castrating us and raping our women and robbing us of everything that makes a man a man[…]). Στον πρόλογό του, εκτός τούτου, γράφει ο Baldwin,
The play then, for me, takes place in Plaguetown, U.S.A., now. The plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human.
Ταυτόχρονα, είναι τουλάχιστον ριζοσπαστική η σύνδεση που θέτει ο συγγραφέας της θρησκευτικής πίστης και της αξιοπρέπειας, με την έννοια ότι ο μαύρος άνθρωπος επιλέγει να πιστέψει στο Θεό ακριβώς για να θεωρείται άνθρωπος, αν όχι στα μάτια των υπόλοιπων λευκών ανθρώπων, τότε σε εκείνα του Θεού.
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