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.
An Excerpt from Bill V. Mullen’s New Biography, James
Baldwin: Living in Fire, and an Interview with the
Bill V. Mullen
This excerpt from James Baldwin: Living in Fire details a key
juncture in Baldwin’s life, 1957–59, when he was transformed by a
visit to the South to write about the civil rights movement while grappling with
the meaning of the Algerian Revolution. The excerpt shows Baldwin understanding
black and Arab liberation struggles as simultaneous and parallel moments in the
rise of Third World, anti-colonial and anti-racist U.S. politics. It also shows
Baldwin’s emotional and psychological vulnerability to repressive state
violence experienced by black and Arab citizens in the U.S., France, and
I will read John Winthrop‘s Model of Christian Charity against and through Edgar Allan Poe‘s poem ‘The City in the Sea’. Winthrop and Poe both localize a ‘city’ to represent an extreme form of society. The koine Greek of Matthew 5 uses the word polis to describe a ‘city on a hill’. Christ says this city must not be hidden, but rather should shine so that the world may see it. The New Testament‘s merging of ‘politics’ and ‘city’ in the word polis makes it unsurprising that many Anglophone writers invoke ‘city’ in a title or phrase when making political innuendoes. Winthrop was a devotee of scripture, and Poe knew Greek, so their allusions to a representative human city are fraught with cultural meaning. To contextualize and compare their particular evocations of the city metaphor, I incorporate the theories of Edward Said and present cross-references to Eugène Delacroix, the prophecies of Ezekiel, and Shelley‘s poem ‘Ozymandias’. The Holy Land is at once fixed in the exotic Middle East yet necessary for America‘s quotidian social mores. Winthrop and Poe romanticize, appropriate, and exploit Middle Eastern symbolism. The interesting twist, however, is that Poe Orientalizes Winthrop‘s city on a hill, and in so doing, he Orientalizes Winthrop, and perhaps America‘s own religious fanaticism.
As Gothic works knock the stuffing out their subject and splatter the remains over the page and screen, their obsessive focus on an economy of decomposing bodies in distress makes a compelling case for the attraction they exert on materialist criticism. A broad and heterogeneous spectrum of left social and cultural critique has always relied on Gothic referents to make descriptive sense of the teratology of life within societies dominated by the bourgeoisie. Marx‘s Capital begins, after all, by seeing the ‘monstrous ungeheure accumulation of commodities’ as the symptom of something gone terribly wrong in liberal political economy.1 What, though, if the Gothic codex is more than simply ornamental language or images added to the otherwise dry bones of philosophical, political, and economic writings and is itself a mode of critical inquiry into capitalist modernity that may also interrogate classical Marxisms precepts and underexplored aspects? If Marxism has depended on Gothic referents to make its point, can Gothic return the favor by thinking through obstacles and potentialities within familiar Marxist claims? In this light, we mean ‘material Gothic’ as something greater than simply a less provocative name for Marxist-inflected readings of Gothic works, and understand it as a project in which Gothic studies can inform and reshape cultural and historical materialism.
James Baldwin criticism from 2001 through 2010 is marked by an increased appreciation for
Baldwin’s entire oeuvre including his writing after the mid 1960s. The question of his
artistic decline remains debated, but more scholars find a greater consistency and power
in Baldwin’s later work than previous scholars had found. A group of dedicated Baldwin
scholars emerged during this period and have continued to host regular international
conferences. The application of new and diverse critical lenses—including cultural
studies, political theory, religious studies, and black queer theory—contributed to more
complex readings of Baldwin’s texts. Historical and legal approaches re-assessed Baldwin’s
relationship to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and new material emerged on
Baldwin’s decade in Turkey. Some historical perspective gave many critics a more nuanced
approach to the old “art” vs. “politics” debate as it surfaced in Baldwin’s initial
reception, many now finding Baldwin’s “angry” work to be more “relevant” than “out of
touch” as it was thought of during his lifetime. In the first decade of the new
millennium, three books of new primary source material, a new biography, four books of
literary criticism, three edited collections of critical essays, two special issues of
journals and numerous book chapters and articles were published, marking a significant
increase not only in the quantity, but the quality of Baldwin criticism.
Taking its cue from recent scholarly work on the concept of time in African American
literature, this essay argues that, while both James Baldwin and Malcolm X refuse
gradualism and insist on “the now” as the moment of civil rights’ fulfillment, Baldwin
also remains troubled by the narrowness assumed by a life, politics, or ethics limited to
the present moment. In his engagement with Malcolm’s life and legacy—most notably in One
Day, When I Was Lost, his screen adaptation of Malcolm’s autobiography—he works toward a
temporal mode that would be both punctual and expansive. What he proposes as the operative
time of chronoethics is an “untimely now”: he seeks to replace Malcolm’s unyielding
punctuality with a different nowness, one that rejects both calls for “patience,” endemic
to any politics that rests on the Enlightenment notion of “perfectibility,” and the
breathless urgency that prevents the subject from seeing anything beyond the oppressive
system he wants overthrown. Both thinkers find the promise of such untimeliness in their
sojourns beyond the United States.
In Ann Radcliffes The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, the sublime in nature represents a benevolent patriarchy which works in tandem with ‘the heightened awareness’ that characterizes sensibility in order to educate and empower Emily St Aubert and Ellena di Rosalba. Both of these forces work symbiotically within the gazes (read ‘spectatorship’) of the heroines. Conversely, these forces are threatening to the heroes, in that they limit Valancourts and Vivaldis ability to gain their desires and to influence the events surrounding their beloveds. This gender-based disparity reflects eighteenth century familial politics and suggests that, despite Radcliffes apparent protofeminism in giving her heroines agency over the patriarchal weapons of the sublime and sensibility, her reinventing these forces to empower her heroines at the expense of the heroes actually buys into and supports patriarchal ideals of the roles of difference and sameness in heterosexual desire.
This essay discusses the ways in which different models of historical and social development, and especially of the relationship of the Gothic past to the present, might be seen to structure – and help us now to interpret – eighteenth-century Gothic fiction. It begins with an account of the representation of ‘Gothick days’ in James Beattie‘s poem The Minstrel (1771–4), and then gives an overview of how‘ Scottish’ conjectural histories attributed a pivotal modernizing role to feudalism and chivalry, in some cases defining an exceptional Gothic legacy with particular reference to the agency and influence of women. The essay concludes by suggesting that critical attention to different accounts of social development, and contemporary ‘histories of women’, might help to provide a better literary-historical map of eighteenth-century Gothic fiction, and a richer sense of the cultural and political work that that fiction may have performed.
Vancouver is not necessarily the first topic that springs to mind when discussing the production of vampire television. In an attempt to remedy this, the vampire television series Blood Ties (2007) is considered in relation to its Canadian production context. I explore the series political economy within an international framework (its production and distribution in Canada and its scheduling/exhibition and reception in the UK), suggesting that the Canadian qualities of the series are often wilfully ignored in distribution and reception. The ultimate failure of the series (running for only one season) is then located in relationship to the recent explosion of vampire fiction on domestic screens, where I suggest that Blood Ties inspires a form of Gothic television distinct from the American vampire series True Blood (2008-).
In the early gothic literature of the eighteenth century danger lurked in the darkness beneath the pointed arches of gothic buildings. During the nineteenth century, there was a progressive, although never complete, dislocation of gothic literary readings from gothic architecture. This article explores a phase in that development through discussion of a series of dark illustrations produced by Hablot Knight Browne to illustrate novels by Charles Dickens. These show the way in which the rounded arches of neo-classical architecture were depicted in the mid-nineteenth century as locales of oppression and obscurity. Such depictions acted, in an age of political and moral reform, to critique the values of the system of power and authority that such architecture represented.