Joseph Vogel

This review article charts the general direction of scholarship in James Baldwin studies between the years 2016 and 2017, reflecting on important scholarly events and publications of the period and identifying notable trends in criticism. Surveying the field as a whole, the most notable features are the “political turn” that seeks to connect Baldwin’s social insights from the past to the present, and the ongoing access to and interest in the Baldwin archive. In addition to these larger trends, there is continued interest in situating Baldwin in national, regional, and geographical contexts as well as interest with how he grapples with and illuminates issues of gender and sexuality.

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

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
Monika Gehlawat

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
James Baldwin’s American South
Jeff Fallis

James Baldwin has frequently been written about in terms of his relationship to geographical locations such as Harlem, Paris, St. Paul-de-Vence, Istanbul, and “the transatlantic,” but his longstanding connection to the American South, a region that served as a vexed and ambiguous spiritual battleground for him throughout his life and career, has been little discussed, even though Baldwin referred to himself as “in all but no technical legal fact, a Southerner.” This article argues that the South has been seriously underconsidered as a major factor in Baldwin’s psyche and career and that were it not for the challenge to witness the Southern Civil Rights movement made to Baldwin in the late 1950s, he might never have left Paris and become the writer and thinker into which he developed. It closely examines Baldwin’s fictional and nonfictional engagements with the American South during two distinct periods of his career, from his first visit to the region in 1957 through the watershed year of 1963, and from 1963 through the publication of Baldwin’s retrospective memoir No Name in the Street in 1972, and it charts Baldwin’s complex and often contradictory negotiations with the construction of identity in white and black Southerners and the South’s tendency to deny and censor its historical legacy of racial violence. A few years before his death, Baldwin wrote that “[t]he spirit of the South is the spirit of America,” and this essay investigates how the essential question he asked about the region—whether it’s a bellwether for America’s moral redemption or moral decline—remains a dangerous and open one.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin and Fritz Raddatz
Gianna Zocco

When James Baldwin in No Name in the Street discusses the case of Tony Maynard, who had been imprisoned in Hamburg in 1967, he emphasizes that his efforts to aid his unjustly imprisoned friend were greatly supported by his German publishing house Rowohlt and, in particular, by his then-editor Fritz Raddatz (1931–2015). While the passages on Maynard remain the only instance in Baldwin’s published writings in which Raddatz—praised as a courageous “anti-Nazi German” and a kindred ally who “knows what it means to be beaten in prison”—is mentioned directly, the relation between Baldwin and Raddatz has left traces that cover over fifty years. The African-American writer and Rowohlt’s chief editor got to know each other around 1963, when Baldwin was first published in Germany. They exchanged letters between 1965 and 1984, and many of Raddatz’s critical writings from different periods—the first piece from 1965, the last from 2014—focus of Baldwin’s books. They also collaborated on various projects—among them a long interview and Baldwin’s review of Roots—which were all published in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, where Raddatz served as head of the literary and arts sections from 1977 to 1985. Drawing on published and unpublished writings of both men, this article provides a discussion of the most significant facets of this under-explored relationship and its literary achievements. Thereby, it sheds new light on two central questions of recent Baldwin scholarship: first, the circumstances of production and formation crucial to Baldwin’s writings of the 1970s and 1980s, and secondly, Baldwin’s international activities, his transcultural reception and influence.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin and Ray Charles in “The Hallelujah Chorus”
Ed Pavlić

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
James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the 1965 Cambridge Debate
Daniel Robert McClure

The 1965 debate at Cambridge University between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr., posed the question: “Has the American Dream been achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?” Within the contours of the debate, Baldwin and Buckley wrestled with the ghosts of settler colonialism and slavery in a nation founded on freedom and equality. Framing the debate within the longue durée, this essay examines the deep cultural currents related to the American racial paradox at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Underscoring the changing language of white resistance against black civil rights, the essay argues that the Baldwin and Buckley debate anticipated the ways the U.S. would address racial inequality in the aftermath of the civil rights era and the dawn of neoliberalism in the 1970s.

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James Baldwin and Malcolm X
Mikko Tuhkanen

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.

James Baldwin Review
Between “Stranger in the Village” and I Am Not Your Negro
Jovita dos Santos Pinto, Noémi Michel, Patricia Purtschert, Paola Bacchetta, and Vanessa Naef

James Baldwin’s writing, his persona, as well as his public speeches, interviews, and discussions are undergoing a renewed reception in the arts, in queer and critical race studies, and in queer of color movements. Directed by Raoul Peck, the film I Am Not Your Negro decisively contributed to the rekindled circulation of Baldwin across the Atlantic. Since 2017, screenings and commentaries on the highly acclaimed film have prompted discussions about the persistent yet variously racialized temporospatial formations of Europe and the U.S. Stemming from a roundtable that followed a screening in Zurich in February 2018, this collective essay wanders between the audio-visual and textual matter of the film and Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village,” which was also adapted into a film-essay directed by Pierre Koralnik, staging Baldwin in the Swiss village of Leukerbad. Privileging Black feminist, postcolonial, and queer of color perspectives, we identify three sites of Baldwin’s transatlantic reverberations: situated knowledge, controlling images, and everyday sexual racism. In conclusion, we reflect on the implications of racialized, sexualized politics for today’s Black feminist, queer, and trans of color movements located in continental Europe—especially in Switzerland and France.

James Baldwin Review
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A Review of Hilton Als’ God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin
Leah Mirakhor

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.

James Baldwin Review