James Baldwin and Melanie Klein in the Context
of Black Lives Matter
David W McIvor
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.
The avant garde is dead, or so the story goes for many leftists and capitalists alike. But so is postmodernism an outmoded paradigm in these times of neoliberal austerity, neocolonial militarism and ecological crisis. Rejecting ‘end of ideology’ post-politics, Vanguardia delves into the changing praxis of socially engaged art and theory in the age of the Capitalocene. Reflecting on the major events of the last decade, from anti-globalisation protest, Occupy Wall Street, the Maple Spring, Strike Debt and the Anthropocene, to the Black Lives Matter and MeToo campaigns, Vanguardia puts forward a radical leftist commitment to the revolutionary consciousness of avant-garde art and politics.
James Baldwin might be imagined as reaching his greatest level of popularity within this current decade. With the growth of social media activist movements like Black Lives Matter, which captures and catalyzes off a Baldwinian rage, and the publishing of works directly evoking Baldwin, his voice appears more pronounced between the years of 2013 and 2015. Scholars in Baldwin studies, along with strangers who were turned into witnesses of his literary oeuvre, have contributed to this renewed interest in Baldwin, or at least have been able to sharpen the significance of the phenomenon. Publications and performances highlight Baldwin’s work and how it prefigured developments in critical race and queer theories, while also demonstrating Baldwin’s critique as both prophetic and “disturbingly” contemporary. Emerging largely from Baldwin’s timelessness in social and political discourse, and from the need to conjure a figure to demystify the absurd American landscape, these interventions in Baldwin studies follow distinct trends. This essay examines the 2013–15 trends from four vantages: an examination of a return, with revision, to popular work by Baldwin; identifying Baldwin’s work as a contributor to theoretical and critical methodology; Baldwin and intertextuality or intervocality; and a new frontier in Baldwin studies.
As police racism unsettles Britain’s tolerant self-image, Black resistance to British policing details the activism which made movements like Black Lives Matter possible. Colonial legacies and newer forms of state power are used to understand racism beyond prejudice and the interpersonal: black resistance confronts a global system of racial classification, control, exploitation and violence. Adam Elliott-Cooper offers the first detailed account of grassroots anti-racist resistance to policing in Britain since the 2011 ‘riots’. British racism stretches back further than Windrush and beyond the shores of the British mainland. Imperial cultures and policies, as well as colonial war and policing, are used to highlight connections between these histories and contemporary racisms. But this is a book about resistance, considering black liberation movements in the twentieth century while utilising a decade of activist research covering spontaneous rebellion, campaigns and protest. Drawing connections between histories of resistance and different kinds of black struggle against policing is vital, it is argued, if we are to challenge the cutting edge of police and prison power which harnesses new and dangerous forms of surveillance, violence and criminalisation. The police and prison systems are seen as beyond reform, and the book argues that to imagine a world free from racism we must work towards a system free from the violence and exploitation which would make that possible.
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.
Das Kapital Oratorio to the political limits of the BlackLivesMatter and MeToo movements as forms of ‘victim politics.’ In contrast to Simon Critchley’s notion of an ‘ethics of commitment’ and Nizan Shaked’s particularist and identity-based approach to conceptual art’s ‘synthetic proposition,’ I draw on Marxist theory in order to better appreciate the limits of postmodern pluralism as a means to confront the problems of global capitalism.
Prole art threat
Judith Butler’s notion of the performative
policing must not only use radical forms of resistance; it must also provide a radical vision for a future in which police and prisons are no longer how we solve social problems.
Disrupting transport, commerce and business-as-usual: BlackLivesMatter in the UK
One of the first targets in this wave of BLM solidarity action was Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush (west London), the largest indoor shopping centre in London. On 10 December 2014, I was one of hundreds of protesters who gathered in and outside the enormous building, while an outsized Westfield security
Assad in Syria and Duterte
in the Philippines being extreme examples). It is not humanitarians who created this
‘neutral’ space but liberal-capitalist states. And the scale of private and state
violence in our world shows us that it is far from a universally held view that all lives have
equal worth (think of the BlackLivesMatter campaign, for example, to tackle the widespread
killing of African-Americans by the US police). But without this principle, humanitarianism
ceases to be a demand for rights, justice and the observance of the law, and
This book studies the persistence of imperial memory, nostalgia and culture in contemporary Britain. Focusing on imperial nostalgia as a structure of feeling, it attempts to understand the role it plays in forming and articulating a politics of nationalist reaction, and how it has been mobilised by political actors in promoting emergent right-wing movements. Historicising nostalgia as an inherent part of imperial culture, it argues that the fantasies developed in late Victorian Britain in order to give ideological coherence to the imperial project are to a large extent the same fantasies at play in the current sovereigntist turn. Focusing on the events following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and controversies over freedom of speech and education, it traces how ongoing public debates over histories of slavery and colonialism are put to work within the ‘culture wars’; more broadly, it interrogates the imperial genealogies of contemporary approaches to class, gender, race, nationality and sovereignty.