Chapter 5 addresses poetic representations of embodied perception including disturbed or inhibited sight, compensatory sensibility, and the interplay between the nerves and the senses in the construction of knowledge and experience. The models of embodied perception offered here correspond with a preoccupation with the limits of knowledge in contrast to the camera obscura model explored in Chapter 4. The first section of the chapter outlines a mid-century emphasis on the body’s role in individual perception by exploring descriptions of sight in topographical poetry by Thomas Gray, James Thomson, and Mark Akenside, together with accounts of sensory description in the work of the blind poet Thomas Blacklock. The subsequent section addresses models of spiritual perception and embodiment in Edward Young’s Night Thoughts and the religious poetry of William Blake. The second half of the chapter introduces the impact of Hartleian associationism and eighteenth-century accounts of the nerves and sensation. Finally, poetic examples from Akenside to Coleridge demonstrate the emergence of the Aeolian harp as an analogy for imaginative creation and sensory engagement.
Looking to the presentation of colour in Thomson’s Seasons, Blackmore’s Creation, Akenside’s The Pleasures of Imagination, Mallet’s Excursion and several other topographical poems, this chapter demonstrates how explanatory descriptions of their occurrence and perception in the natural environment become for writers a way to stimulate the reader’s empirical perception and knowledge. The relationship between natural philosophy, subjectivity, and experience is established in the first section through an investigation of Newton’s optical experiments. The second section considers challenges to the analogical significance of colour categories by looking at representations of the rainbow and individual colours in a range of religious, natural philosophical, and literary examples. Alternatives to Newton’s account of colour production and perception are also explored: Louis-Bertrand Castel’s materialist theory, George Berkeley’s equation of both colours and physical phenomena as non-material in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, and Christopher Smart’s religious poetry, which provides an anti-Newtonian spectrum. The chapter closes by presenting three analogical tropes that poets use to describe the effect and experience of perceiving colour in the natural world: colour as painting or dye, colour as tapestry or weaving, and colour as clothing or covering.
This chapter investigates how the eye was understood medically, philosophically, and analogically in the first half of the eighteenth century. It outlines how figures of sight, blindness, and recovery of sight were employed both before and after significant ophthalmological developments in the middle of the period. Drawing on anatomical treatments of the eye and vision by William Chesselden and William Porterfield, the chapter begins by investigating analogies for eyesight in poetry by Henry Brooke and Richard Blackmore that figure the eye as a perfect, designed instrument that is akin to a camera obscura. It explores how descriptions and models for the processes of vision are largely distanced from the individual’s experience of sight as well as the implications this has for the valuation of sighted and non-sighted experience. The chapter then focuses on eighteenth-century engagements with Molyneux’s Question by considering its implications for thinking about individualised sensory experience as the source of knowledge, the relationship between the senses, and competing philosophical accounts of interactions between the perceiving individual and the lived environment. The final section considers surgical interventions by William Chesselden and John Taylor of Hatton Garden. The chapter closes with a reading of Richard Jago’s fictionalised explorations of blindness and recovered sight in Edge-Hill.
James Baldwin was a vocal critic of Hollywood, but he was also a cinephile, and his critique of film was not so much of the medium itself, but of the uses to which it was put. Baldwin saw in film the chance to transform both politics and art—if only film could be transformed itself. This essay blends readings of archival materials, literature, film, and print culture to examine three distinct modes in Baldwin’s ongoing quest to revolutionize film. First, I argue, literature served as a key site to practice being a filmmaker, as Baldwin adapted cinematic grammars in his fiction and frequently penned scenes of filmgoing in which he could, in effect, direct his own movies. Secondly, I show that starting in the 1960s, Baldwin took a more direct route to making movies, as he composed screenplays, formed several production companies, and attempted to work in both Hollywood and the independent film scene in Europe. Finally, I explore how Baldwin sought to change cinema as a performer himself, in particular during his collaboration on Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982). This little-known film follows Baldwin as he revisits key sites from the civil rights movement and reconnects with activist friends as he endeavors to construct a revisionist history of race in America and to develop a media practice capable of honoring Black communities.
James Baldwin’s arrest in Paris in December 1949 gave birth to his perfect storm. His ten days in Fresnes jail weakened him physically and emotionally. He made it out, but upon release he was mired in self-doubt and enveloped in a bout of depression. He returned to his hotel, ready to try to get back to his life, however daunting that effort would be. The hotelier’s demand that he settle his bill, and do it quickly, awakened his obsession with suicide. He simply could not handle one more obstacle in his path; he chose to kill himself in his room. Ironically, he saved his life when he jumped off a chair with a sheet around his neck. In a matter of seconds his death wish was replaced by his equally obsessive need to write, witness, think, party, drink, challenge, and love.
The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the
Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers
University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly
influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995)
and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary
Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black
women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and
complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The
Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at
the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career
she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and
gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of
James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute
of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen
colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and
honor her legacy.
A Hollywood Love Story (as Written by James Baldwin)
D. Quentin Miller
Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work (1976) has proven challenging since its publication because readers and critics have trouble classifying it. The challenge may be related to a common feature of Baldwin criticism, namely a tendency to compare late career works to early ones and to find them lacking: the experimental nature of later works of nonfiction like No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) does not square easily with the more conventional essays that made Baldwin famous in his early years. I attempt to reframe The Devil Finds Work not through a comparison to other Baldwin essays, but rather through a comparison to his fiction, specifically the novel Giovanni’s Room. I posit that a greater appreciation for Devil can result from thinking of it as a story, specifically the story of a failed love affair.
Filmmaker Karen Thorsen gave us James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, the award-winning documentary that is now considered a classic. First broadcast on PBS/American Masters in August, 1989—just days after what would have been Baldwin’s sixty-fifth birthday—the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990. It was not the film Thorsen intended to make. Beginning in 1986, Baldwin and Thorsen had been collaborating on a very different film project: a “nonfiction feature” about the history, research, and writing of Baldwin’s next book, “Remember This House.” It was also going to be a film about progress: about how far we had come, how far we still have to go, before we learn to trust our common humanity. But that project ended abruptly. On 1 December 1987, James Baldwin died—and “Remember This House,” book and film died with him. Suddenly, Thorsen’s mission changed: the world needed to know what they had lost. Her alliance with Baldwin took on new meaning. The following memoir—the second of two serialized parts—explores how and why their collaboration began. The first installment appeared in the sixth volume of James Baldwin Review, in the fall of 2020; the next stage of their journey starts here.
Baldwin, Racial Melancholy, and the Black Middle Ground
This article uses Baldwin’s 1949 essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel” to consider that literary mode’s corollary in the 1990s New Black Cinema. It argues that recent African American movies posit an alternative to the politics and aesthetics of films by a director such as Spike Lee, one that evinces a set of qualities Baldwin calls for in his essay about Black literature. Among these are what recent scholars such as Ann Anlin Cheng have called racial melancholy or what Kevin Quashie describes as Black “quiet,” as well as variations on Yogita Goyal’s diaspora romance. Films such as Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) and Joe Talbot and Jimmy Fails’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) offer a cinematic version of racial narrative at odds with the protest tradition I associate with earlier Black directors, a newly resonant cinema that we might see as both a direct and an indirect legacy of Baldwin’s views on African American culture and politics.