In this essay, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. addresses the historical and contemporary
failures of American democracy. Using the metaphor of “the
magician’s serpent,” Glaude brings Walt Whitman’s views on
democracy into the full light of America’s failure to resolve the problem
of race. Glaude places Whitman’s Democratic Vistas
(1871) in conversation with James Baldwin’s No Name in the
Street (1972) in order to construct a different sort of reading
practice that can both engage with Whitman’s views on democracy and
reckon with what George Hutchinson calls Whitman’s “white
imperialist self and ideology” as an indication of the limits of a
certain radical democratic imagining.
That colonialism has associations with eighteenth century humanism is not a controversial claim. The eighteenth century with its fascination with how the subject knows has a central place in Foucault‘s account of the rise of the human sciences in The Order of Things. More recently Leela Gandhi has explored how the virtual construction of subjectivity in the eighteenth century was closely associated with the conceptual formulation of humanity. In these humanist constructions the human became defined by its relation to the non-human in a process where ideas about racial difference were used to form the hierarchies in which subjects were racially located. For Foucault, in the eighteenth century, the subject becomes both an object of knowledge (one that is understood ‘scientifically‘) and a subject who knows one that is interpreted `metaphysically`). This apparently scientific reading of the ‘objective status‘ of the subject reflects on the construction of race as an indicator of Otherness. The wider claim made by Leela Gandhi is that this position has a vestigial presence in much of todays `science‘. It is this correlation between race and certain pseudo-scientific taxonomies relating to race which underpin, in the nineteenth century, those theories of degeneration that attempted to account for perceptions of imperial decline, and it is these ideas that influenced Stoker‘s writings. Most notably Dracula has received considerable critical attention on the novels reliance on a model of degeneracy that articulates contemporary anxieties relating to criminality and race; this common view of Dracula is one that associates the Other (the vampire) with theories of degeneracy. The novel is also, arguably self-consciously so, about knowledge. The oddly unheroic pursuit of the vampire hunters is apparent in their search through documentation in order to develop an explanatory theory for vampirism. It is this pursuit of knowledge which is also to be found in A,Glimpse of America (1886) and The Mystery of the Sea (1902). Knowledge as knowledge of the national and/or racial Other is the central issue to which Stoker keeps returning.
The lesbian community of colour in America has been largely overlooked amidst the current popular culture mania for all things vampiric. Yet the complex ambiguity of the lesbian vampire very readily lends itself to women of colour, who frequently explore in their gothic fiction the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, assimilation, and the transgressive significance of the vampire myth. This essay discusses two works by African-American Jewelle Gomez and Chicana- American Terri de la Pena as lesbian Gothic romantic fiction, as feminist affirmation, and as prescriptive, community-building activist discourse.
This essay draws on James Baldwin’s ideas on race, immigration, and American identity to examine the experience of contemporary African immigrants in the United States. More Africans have come to the U.S. since 1965 than through the Middle Passage, and only now is their experience gaining the full creative and critical attention it merits. Since becoming American entails adopting the racial norms and sentiments of the U.S., I explore how African immigrants contend with the process of racialization that is part and parcel of the American experience. Drawing on Baldwin’s idea of blackness as an ethical category, I also consider the limits of the concept of Afropolitanism to characterize the new wave of African immigrants in the U.S.
A Review of Hilton Als’ God Made My Face: A Collective
Portrait of James Baldwin
This essay reviews Hilton Als’ 2019 exhibition God Made My Face: A
Collective Portrait of James Baldwin at the David Zwirner Gallery.
The show visually displays Baldwin in two parts: “A Walker in the
City” examines his biography and “Colonialism” examines
“what Baldwin himself was unable to do” by displaying the work of
contemporary artists and filmmakers whose works resonate with Baldwin’s
critiques of masculinity, race, and American empire. Mirakhor explores how
Als’ quest to restore Baldwin is part of a long and deep literary and
personal conversation that Als has been having since he was in his teens, and in
this instance, exploring why and how it has culminated via the visual, instead
of the literary. As Mirakhor observes, to be in the exhibit is not to just
observe how Als has formed and figured Baldwin, but to see how Baldwin has
informed and made Als, one of our most lyrical and impassioned contemporary
writers and thinkers.
Artists, scholars, and popular media often describe James Baldwin as
revolutionary, either for his written work or for his role in the civil rights
movement. But what does it mean to be revolutionary? This article contends that
thoughtlessly calling James Baldwin revolutionary obscures and erases the
non-revolutionary strategies and approaches he employed in his contributions to
the civil rights movement and to race relations as a whole. Frequent use of
revolutionary as a synonym for “great” or
“important” creates an association suggesting that all good things
must be revolutionary, and that anything not revolutionary is insufficient,
effectively erasing an entire spectrum of social and political engagement from
view. Baldwin’s increasing relevance to our contemporary moment suggests
that his non-revolutionary tactics are just as important as the revolutionary
approaches employed by civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X or Martin Luther
Aquarium Colonies and Nineteenth-Century Narratives of Marine Monstrosity
In this essay the author proposes that a detailed study of the context of the production and reception of the spate of best-selling marine natural history books published in the 1850s provides an important and neglected opportunity for understanding Victorian conceptions of evolutionary,and anthropological monstrosity. Whilst the ape has received a good deal of attention as the primary evolutionary icon, through which the Victorians dreamed their nightmares of descent, the marine invertebrate has been much neglected. However, represented by evolutionists as the first life forms on the planet from which all higher life forms had evolved, marine invertebrates were an important alternative evolutionary ancestor, and were used to express ideas about the `nature of class, race and masculinity‘.
The Venerable Bede has often been held as creator of a single collective identity
for the Germanic inhabitants of Britain: the English (gens Anglorum). This
article examines how Bede crafted his notion of Englishness, reviewing his use
of terms for nation, race and peoples to exclude those of whom he did not
approve. It included the Northumbrians and the people of Kent whom Bede regarded
as the progenitors of the English Church. It excluded the Mercians who were
rivals and sometime enemies of Bede‘s own people, the Northumbrians. By the time
Bede finished his account (731) the term gens Anglorum had begun to lose its
usefulness in binding together the Northumbrians and Kentishmen as custodians of
a unitary Church. After Bede terminology remained unstable, writers such as
Boniface or Alcuin being as likely to call the people of England Saxons as
Angles/English. Bedes role as the father of Englishness is thus here nuanced and
seen to be historically contingent.
The Texture—Gendered, Sexual, Violent—of James
Baldwin’s Southern Silences
Spurred on by Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The
Nickel Boys (2019), which is set in Tallahassee, FL, during the
1950s and 1960s, this essay presents a close-up look at James Baldwin’s
visit to Tallahassee in May 1960. Moving between Baldwin’s writings about
the South, especially “They Can’t Turn Back,” published by
Mademoiselle magazine in August 1960, and subsequent
writing about the movement in Tallahassee, and checking off against
Whitehead’s fictional treatment, we find a lattice of silences obscuring
the names and contributions of Black women. Most importantly, we find that the
historic case of the rape of Betty Jean Owens in May 1959, and the subsequent
trial that summer, appears neither in Baldwin’s nor Whitehead’s
writing about Tallahassee at the time. This essay establishes the missing names
of Black women in the places marked and unmarked by Baldwin in his work at the
time, and puts the case of Betty Jean Owens on the historical map where it
belongs. In so doing, we figure issues of race, gender, sex, and violence for
the ways they twist together, ways suppressed in historical (and even some
contemporary) writing, ways crucial to our deepening consideration of
Baldwin’s work and the history which he drew upon and to which he
contributed so profoundly.
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.