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or, The Self-Possessed Child

The late twentieth century is fascinated by the phenomenon of the gothic child, the child who manifests evil, violence, and sexual aggression. On the face of it, this evil is “caused” by either medical or social factors: medicinal drugs, radiation, or the corrupting influences,of political others. However, this essay argues that the gothic child actually arises from conflicting forces of child-philosophies, the intersection of Romantic childhood innocence with Freudian depth models. These models tacitly point to a child that “is” rather than “is,made”, a child that belies contemporary parental attempts to make it be otherwise. Moreover, the idea that the child is somehow immune to parental influence – that it is self-possessed rather than possessed by another – extends to the current notion of,the “inner child”, that “self” who is the seat of identity and coherence. Because of this, the gothic as often fantasizes the killing of the “child within” as it revels in killing the child without.

Gothic Studies
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Violence and Miscegenation in Jean Toomer‘s ‘Blood- Burning Moon’

Jean Toomer‘s Cane (1923) has long been considered a signature text of both avant-garde Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. While Gothic tropes and imagery lurk throughout Toomer‘s collection of poetry and prose, Anglo-American Gothic conventions come to the foreground in the story ‘Blood-Burning Moon’. The story‘s interracial love triangle provides a locus of conflict between the post-Reconstruction American South and the haunting economic logic of slavery. Though the three characters each aspire to new racial, sexual and economic identities, they are terrorized by a society where employer-employee relations cannot escape the violence of the master-slave dialectic. Toomer does not relinquish his aesthetic experimentation and political radicalism to the Anglo-American Gothic, but instead engages the Gothic form in order to critique the violent racism of American capitalism. In this way, Toomer positions the Gothic centrally within African-American literary and cultural history.

Gothic Studies
James Baldwin and Ray Charles in “The Hallelujah Chorus”

Based on a recent, archival discovery of the script, “But Amen is the Price” is the first substantive writing about James Baldwin’s collaboration with Ray Charles, Cicely Tyson, and others in a performance of musical and dramatic pieces. Titled by Baldwin, “The Hallelujah Chorus” was performed in two shows at Carnegie Hall in New York City on 1 July 1973. The essay explores how the script and presentation of the material, at least in Baldwin’s mind, represented a call for people to more fully involve themselves in their own and in each other’s lives. In lyrical interludes and dramatic excerpts from his classic work, “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin addressed divisions between neighbors, brothers, and strangers, as well as people’s dissociations from themselves in contemporary American life. In solo and ensemble songs, both instrumental and vocal, Ray Charles’s music evinced an alternative to the tradition of Americans’ evasion of each other. Charles’s sound meant to signify the history and possibility of people’s attainment of presence in intimate, social, and political venues of experience. After situating the performance in Baldwin’s personal life and public worldview at the time and detailing the structure and content of the performance itself, “But Amen is the Price” discusses the largely negative critical response as a symptom faced by much of Baldwin’s other work during the era, responses that attempted to guard “aesthetics” generally—be they literary, dramatic, or musical—as class-blind, race-neutral, and apolitical. The essay presents “The Hallelujah Chorus” as a key moment in Baldwin’s search for a musical/literary form, a way to address, as he put it, “the person and the people,” in open contention with the social and political pressures of the time.

James Baldwin Review
Ordinary Intimacies in Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin

This essay reads James Baldwin in conversation with two unexpected interlocutors from the American nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Ralph Waldo Emerson and W. E. B. Du Bois. What draws these historically distant and intellectually different thinkers together, their differences making their convergences all the more resonant and provocative, is a shared mode of attention they bring to the social crises of their eras. It is a mode of attention foregrounding how the often unobserved particulars and emotional registers of human life vitally shape civic existence; more specifically, a mode of attention provoking us to see how “a larger, juster, and fuller future,” in Du Bois’s words, is a matter of the ordinary intimacies and estrangements in which we exist, human connections in all their expressions and suppressions. Emerson names them “facts [. . .] harder to read.” They are “the finer manifestations,” in Du Bois’s terms, “of social life, which history can but mention and which statistics can not count”; “All these things,” Baldwin says, “[. . .] which no chart can tell us.” In effect, from the 1830s to the 1980s these thinkers bear witness to what politics, legislation, and even all our knowledges can address only partially, and to the potentially transformative compensations we might realize in the way we conduct our daily lives. The immediate relevance and urgency this essay finds in their work exists not in proposed political actions, programs for reform, or systematic theories of social justice but in the way their words revitalize the ethical question “How shall I live?” Accumulative and suggestive rather than systematically comparative or polemical, this essay attempts to engage with Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin intimately, to proceed in the spirit of their commitment to questioning received disciplines, languages, and ways of inhabiting the world.

James Baldwin Review
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James Baldwin, Teju Cole, and Glenn Ligon

This essay uses Edward Said’s theory of affiliation to consider the relationship between James Baldwin and contemporary artists Teju Cole and Glenn Ligon, both of whom explicitly engage with their predecessor’s writing in their own work. Specifically, Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village” (1953) serves a through-line for this discussion, as it is invoked in Cole’s essay “Black Body” and Ligon’s visual series, also titled Stranger in the Village. In juxtaposing these three artists, I argue that they express the dialectical energy of affiliation by articulating ongoing concerns of race relations in America while distinguishing themselves from Baldwin in terms of periodization, medium-specificity, and their broader relationship to Western art practice. In their adoption of Baldwin, Cole and Ligon also imagine a way beyond his historical anxieties and writing-based practice, even as they continue to reinscribe their own work with his arguments about the African-American experience. This essay is an intermedial study that reads fiction, nonfiction, language-based conceptual art and mixed media, as well as contemporary politics and social media in order consider the nuances of the African-American experience from the postwar period to our contemporary moment. Concerns about visuality/visibility in the public sphere, narrative voice, and self-representation, as well as access to cultural artifacts and aesthetic engagement, all emerge in my discussion of this constellation of artists. As a result, this essay identifies an emblematic, though not exclusive, strand of African-American intellectual thinking that has never before been brought together. It also demonstrates the ongoing relevance of Baldwin’s thinking for the contemporary political scene in this country.

James Baldwin Review
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Epistemology and Revolution in Charles Brockden Brown‘s Wieland

In Wieland, Charles Brockden Brown attempted to negotiate varying forces confronting contemporary American religious and political life. Through the transformation of the temple into a Gothic zone Brown injects questions of epistemological uncertainty, clashing forces of rational Enlightenment and supernatural faith. Brown outlines the religiously motivated founding of the nation reacting to European oppression as allegorical to the Wieland patriarchs journey from the Old to New World, and his construction of the temple demonstrates the establishment of new institutions in the American landscape. Religious liberty turns into extremism, producing Gothic violence that transforms the temple into a site of horror and destruction. His children attempt to re-transform the temple along rational Enlightenment lines much the same as Brown perceived the need for America to distance itself from its revolutionary and religious extremist origins. Yet the failure of rationalism to expunge the supernatural aura from the temple allows for the tragic events to transpire that comprise the bulk of the novel. Ultimately, Brown‘s Gothic novel evinces the critical nature of the epistemological clash he sees taking place for the direction America will take, and his concerns that Gothic violence will reverberate throughout future generations find their expression in Wieland‘s temple.

Gothic Studies
Open Access (free)
Listening over James Baldwin’s Shoulder

Black music played a crucial role in the work and life of James Baldwin. What Baldwin heard in the music guided his sense of political reality and human possibility, his invention of character, his shifting analytical point of view, and his decisions about what to do, when, and how to do it during his life in private and career in public. The music, therefore, also offers his critics and his readers important insight and guidance in their own experience and interpretation of his work. This brief essay accounts for some of the most basic connections between Baldwin and black music; it serves here as an introduction to a list of songs, some of which offered Baldwin important guidance and some of which offer his readers access to deeper meanings in his work. A playlist of songs, curated by Ed Pavlić and Justin A. Joyce, is available on YouTube at www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtSYQ5bCX-C-IZkeQ_PX7ncsbdjI32HSy

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin and Melanie Klein in the Context of Black Lives Matter

Recent killings of unarmed black citizens are a fresh reminder of the troubled state of racial integration in the United States. At the same time, the unfolding Black Lives Matter protest movements and the responses by federal agencies each testify to a not insignificant capacity for addressing social pathologies surrounding the color line. In order to respond to this ambivalent situation, this article suggests a pairing between the work of James Baldwin and that of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. I will argue that we cannot fully appreciate the depths of what Baldwin called the “savage paradox” of race without the insights provided by Klein and object relations psychoanalysis. Conversely, Baldwin helps us to sound out the political significance of object relations approaches, including the work of Klein and those influenced by her such as Hanna Segal and Wilfred Bion. In conversation with the work of Baldwin, object relations theory can help to identify particular social settings and institutions that might allow concrete efforts toward racial justice to take root.

James Baldwin Review

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
An Interview with Raoul Peck

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.

James Baldwin Review