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.
Geoffrey Hill’s work from 1996 to 2016 is a distinct phase and a development from his earlier work. This later phase is instigated by a divergence from T.S. Eliot and by Hill’s critiques of such modernist poets as W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, along with an abiding commitment to modernist claims about poetry. Hill’s divergence from these figures takes the form of a strenuous re-reading of modernism and its legacies, and at its heart is a close engagement with the work of F.H. Bradley, the philosopher on whom Eliot wrote his doctoral dissertation. The poetry and criticism of this period is energised by a perplexed commitment to being and an attendant sense of swimming against the stream of the “stridently post-cultural” postmodern moment in which this work takes its place. The philosophical notion of “intrinsic value” is accordingly central to this later work, as is the cultural-political sense of this period being one of “plutocratic anarchy”. The political place of poetry, and what this book in its final chapter terms the political imagination, is a crucial element in the later work, and is placed in the context of such figures as Coleridge, Wordsworth, Ruskin, Shakespeare and Dante. The cultural politics at the heart of Hill’s later achievement is also explored, drawing on the work of George Steiner, Gabriel Marcel, and Noam Chomsky, among others, along with his controversial commitment to the right of art to be difficult and his assertion that such difficulty is truly democratic.
But send thou to Hygelac, if the war have me, The best of all war-shrouds that now my breast wardeth, The goodliest of railings, the good gift of Hrethel, The hand-work of Weland. Tale of Beowulf , trans. William Morris 1
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.
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.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016) takes its direction from the notes for a book entitled “Remember this House” that James Baldwin left unfinished, a book about his three friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.— their murders, and their intertwining legacies. The film examines the prophetic shadow Baldwin’s work casts on twentieth- and twenty-first-century American politics and culture. Peck compiles archival material from Baldwin’s interviews on The Dick Cavett Show, his 1965 Cambridge lecture, and a series of banal images indexing the American dream. Juxtaposed against this mythology is footage of Dorothy Counts walking to school, the assassination of black leaders and activists, KKK rallies, and the different formations of the contemporary carceral state. Our conversation examines Peck’s role as a filmmaker and his relationship with the Baldwin estate. Additionally, we discussed a series of aesthetic choices he fought to include in the film’s final cut, directing Samuel L. Jackson as the voice for the film, the similarities and shifts he wanted to document in American culture since the 1960s, and some of the criticism he has received for not emphasizing more Baldwin’s sexuality.
Riddles at work is the first volume to bring together multiple scholarly voices to explore the vibrant, poetic riddle tradition of early medieval England and its neighbours. The chapters in this book present a wide range of traditional and experimental methodologies. They treat the riddles both as individual poems and as parts of a tradition, but, most importantly, they address Latin and Old English riddles side-by-side, bringing together texts that originally developed in conversation with each other but have often been separated in scholarship. The ‘General Introduction’ situates this book in its scholarly context. Part I, ‘Words’, presents philological approaches to early medieval riddles—interpretations rooted in close readings of texts—for riddles work by making readers question what words really mean. While reading carefully may lead to elegant solutions, however, such solutions are not the end of the riddling game. Part II, ‘Ideas’, thus explores how riddles work to make readers think anew about objects, relationships, and experiences, using literary theory to facilitate new approaches. Part III, ‘Interactions’, explores how riddles work through connections with other fields, languages, times, and places. Together, the sixteen chapters reveal that there is no single, right way to read these texts but many productive paths—some explored here, some awaiting future work.
4 The immigrant in Abdellatif Kechiche’s cinematic work: transcending the question of origins Emna Mrabet Starting in the 1980s, filmmakers from Maghrebi1 immigrant families began to represent themselves and their daily lives. They revealed the discrimination they experienced and the problems arising from an identity crisis within French society. They set out to reclaim their history, offering a competing narrative to the stigma they had so far been subjected to2 (Tarr, 2005: 9). The 1980s signal a turning point in the history of the representation of people of
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.