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Jay Garcia

The intellectual connection between James Baldwin and Lionel Trilling, and the resonances across their criticism, are more substantial than scholarly and biographical treatments have disclosed. For Trilling, Baldwin’s writings were notable for their deviation from most humanistic inquiry, which he considered insufficiently alert to the harms and depredations of culture. Baldwin’s work became for Trilling a promising indication that American criticism could be remade along the lines of a tragic conception of culture deriving from Freud. This essay concentrates on a relevant but neglected dynamic in American letters—the mid-twentieth-century tension between Freudian thought and American humanistic inquiry evident in fields like American Studies—to explain the intellectual coordinates within which Trilling developed an affinity for Baldwin’s work. The essay concludes by suggesting that the twilight of Freud’s tragic conception of culture, which figured centrally in the modernist critical environment in which Baldwin and Trilling encountered one another, contributed to an estrangement whereby the two came to be seen as unrelated and different kinds of critics, despite the consonance of their critical idioms during the 1940s and 1950s.

James Baldwin Review
Jules B. Farber

Rather than write a classic biography of James Baldwin in the last cycle of his life—from his arrival in 1970 as a black stranger in the all-white medieval village of Saint-Paul, until his death there in 1987—I sought to discover the author through the eyes of people who knew him in this period. With this optic, I sought a wide variety of people who were in some way part of his life there: friends, lovers, barmen, writers, artists, taxi drivers, his doctors and others who retained memories of their encounters with Baldwin on all levels. Besides the many locals, contact was made with a number of Baldwin’s further afield cultural figures including Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Angela Davis, Bill Wyman, and others. There were more than seventy interviews in person in places as distant as Paris, New York or Istanbul and by telephone spread over four years during the preparatory research and writing of the manuscript. Many of the recollections centred on “at home with Jimmy” or dining at his “Welcome Table.”

James Baldwin Review
Robert J. Corber

The author reviews Raoul Peck’s 2016 film, I Am Not Your Negro, finding it a remarkable achievement as a documentary that breaks with cinematic conventions and emphasizes the importance of listening as much as looking. The director has singled out Baldwin as the writer whose work spoke most directly to his own identity and experience during his peripatetic childhood in Haiti and Africa, and in I Am Not Your Negro, Peck aims to ensure that Baldwin’s words will have a similar effect on audiences. However, even as it succeeds in reanimating Baldwin’s voice for a new political era, I Am Not Your Negro inadvertently exposes the difficulty of fully capturing or honoring the writer’s complex legacy. As scholars have long noted, interest in Baldwin’s life and work tends to divide along racial and sexual lines, and Peck’s documentary is no exception. The filmmaker privileges Baldwin’s blackness over his queerness by overlooking the parts of The Devil Finds Work and No Name in the Street in which the writer’s queerness figures prominently.

James Baldwin Review
David Leeming and Magdalena J. Zaborowska

Sedat Pakay, whose name will always be associated with the most intimate portrayals we have of James Baldwin, died on 20 August 2016 at his home in Claverack, NY. Sedat was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where he graduated from Robert College. He studied at the Yale School of Art under Walker Evans, Paul Strand, and Herbert Matter and became a successful photo-journalist and filmmaker. His subjects for photographic portraits included Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Gordon Parks, and, especially, James Baldwin. Pakay’s best-known films are Walker Evans/America (2000) and, as all Baldwin scholars and friends know, James Baldwin: From Another Place, filmed in Istanbul in 1970.

James Baldwin Review
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James Baldwin and the "Closeted-ness" of American Power
David Jones

This article reads the work of James Baldwin in dialogue with that of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Taking its cue from Baldwin’s claim that Americans “live […] with something in [their] closet” that they “pretend […] is not there,” it explores his depiction of a United States characterized by the “closeted-ness” of its racial discourse. In doing so, the article draws on Sedgwick’s work concerning how the containment of discourses pertaining to sexuality hinges on the closeting of non-heteronormative sexual practices. Reconceptualizing Sedgwick’s ideas in the context of a black, queer writer like Baldwin, however, problematizes her own insistence on the “historical gay specificity” of the epistemology she traces. To this end, this article does not simply posit a racial counterpart to the homosexual closet. Rather, reflecting Baldwin’s insistence that “the sexual question and the racial question have always been entwined,” I highlight here the interpretive possibilities opened up by intersectional analyses that view race, sexuality, and national identity as coextensive, reciprocal epistemologies.  

James Baldwin Review
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Dennis Ray Knight Jr.

If he is known for anything other than his writings, James Baldwin is best known for his work as a civil rights activist. What is often overlooked is Baldwin’s work toward uniting two under-represented and oppressed groups: African Americans and homosexuals. With his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin began a career of speaking about and for homosexuals and their relationship with the institutions of African-American communities. Through its focus on a sensitive, church-going teenager, Go Tell It on the Mountain dramatizes the strain imposed upon homosexual members of African-American communities within the Pentecostal Church through its religious beliefs.

James Baldwin Review
D.Quentin Miller

The acceleration of interest in Baldwin’s work and impact since 2010 shows no signs of diminishing. This resurgence has much to do with Baldwin—the richness and passionate intensity of his vision—and also something to do with the dedicated scholars who have pursued a variety of publication platforms to generate further interest in his work. The reach of Baldwin studies has grown outside the academy as well: Black Lives Matter demonstrations routinely feature quotations from Baldwin; Twitter includes a “Son of Baldwin” site; and Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, has received considerable critical and popular interest. The years 2010–13 were a key period in moving past the tired old formula—that praised his early career and denigrated the works he wrote after 1963—into the new formula—positing Baldwin as a misunderstood visionary, a wide-reaching artist, and a social critic whose value we are only now beginning to appreciate. I would highlight four additional prominent trends that emerged between 2010 and 2013: a consideration of Baldwin in the contexts of film, drama, and music; understandings of Baldwin globally; Baldwin’s criticism of American institutions; and analyses of Baldwin’s work in conversation with other authors.

James Baldwin Review
Rhetoric and Identity in James Baldwin’s Revolution from Within
Davis W. Houck

Despite the proliferation of interest in James Baldwin across popular culture and the academy, few, if any, critical studies of his public oratory have been conducted. This is unfortunate and ironic—unfortunate because Baldwin was a marvelous orator, and ironic in that his preferred solution to what ailed whites and blacks as the Civil Rights movement unfolded was thoroughly rhetorical. That is, Baldwin’s racial rhetorical revolution involved a re-valuing of the historical evidence used to keep blacks enslaved both mentally and physically across countless generations. Moreover, for Baldwin the act of naming functions to chain both whites and blacks to a version of American history psychologically damaging to both. Three speeches that Baldwin delivered in 1963 amid the crucible of civil rights protest illustrate these claims.

James Baldwin Review
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James Baldwin and the Broken Silences of Black Queer Men
McKinley E Melton

James Baldwin writes within and against the testimonial tradition emerging from the Black Church, challenging the institution’s refusal to acknowledge the voices and experiences of black queer men. Baldwin’s autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, creates a space for Baldwin’s testimony to be expressed, and also lays the foundation for a tradition of black queer artists to follow. In the contemporary moment, poet Danez Smith inhabits Baldwin’s legacy, offering continuing critiques of the rigidity of conservative Christian ideologies, while publishing and performing poetry that gives voice to their own experiences, and those of the black queer community at large. These testimonies ultimately function as a means of rhetorical resistance, which not only articulates black queer lives and identities, but affirms them.  

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Biographical Dispatches on a Freedom Writer
Phillip Luke Sinitiere

This essay presents the idea of James Baldwin as a freedom writer, the organizing idea of my biography in progress. As a freedom writer, Baldwin was a revolutionary intellectual, an essayist and novelist committed unfailingly to the realization of racial justice, interracial political equality, and economic democracy. While the book is still in process, this short essay narrates autobiographically how I came to meet and know Baldwin’s work, explains in critical fashion my work in relation to existing biographies, and reflects interpretively my thoughts-in- progress on this fascinating and captivating figure of immense historical and social consequence.

James Baldwin Review