Christopher Z. Hobson

Written in the aftermath of the civil rights era’s expansive hopes, James Baldwin’s last novel, Just Above My Head (1979), examines a fundamental issue, the choice between hope and skepticism, or prophecy and doubt. Baldwin approaches this issue by questioning two cornerstone ideas of his fiction, the need for prophetic art and this art’s focus on anticipating a renovated society, often pictured in terms adapted from apocalyptic biblical texts and Gospel music lyrics. Just Above My Head is Baldwin’s fullest presentation of this kind of art and its linkage to apocalyptic hopes. He dramatizes these ideas in the art of his Gospel singer protagonist, particularly in a climactic scene of artistic dedication whose Gospel lyric envisions “tearing down the kingdom of this world.” Yet Baldwin also unsparingly questions these same ideas through plot and the blues-inflected skeptical-tragic consciousness of his narrator. Responding to a 1970s moment when hopes for transcendent justice seemed passé, Just Above My Head’s unique contribution is not to try to resolve the ideas it counterposes, but to face both the possible falseness of prophetic hope and our continuing need for it, and to present the necessity for choice in a final dream that holds the key to the novel’s meaning. In presenting this issue through a sustained double-voiced narrative that reexamines its author’s artistic practice and raises fundamental choices in outlook and conduct, Just Above My Head evidences the continuing artistic vitality of Baldwin’s late fiction.

James Baldwin Review
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Intimacy, Shame, and the Closet in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room
Monica B. Pearl

This essay’s close interrogation of James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room allows us to see one aspect of how sexual shame functions: it shows how shame exposes anxiety not only about the feminizing force of homosexuality, but about how being the object of the gaze is feminizing—and therefore shameful. It also shows that the paradigm of the closet is not the metaphor of privacy and enclosure on one hand and openness and liberation on the other that it is commonly thought to be, but instead is a site of illusory control over whether one is available to be seen and therefore humiliated by being feminized. Further, the essay reveals the paradox of denial, where one must first know the thing that is at the same time being disavowed or denied. The narrative requirements of fictions such as Giovanni’s Room demonstrate this, as it requires that the narrator both know, in order to narrate, and not know something at the same time.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Robert J. Corber

The author reviews Barry Jenkins’s 2018 film adaptation of Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, finding that Jenkins’s lush, painterly, and dreamlike visual style successfully translates Baldwin’s cadenced prose into cinematic language. But in interpreting the novel as the “perfect fusion” of the anger of Baldwin’s essays and the sensuality of his fiction, Jenkins overlooks the novel’s most significant aspect, its gender politics. Baldwin began working on If Beale Street Could Talk shortly after being interviewed by Black Arts poet Nikki Giovanni for the PBS television show, Soul!. Giovanni’s rejection of Baldwin’s claims that for black men to overcome the injuries of white supremacy they needed to fulfill the breadwinner role prompted him to rethink his understanding of African American manhood and deeply influenced his representation of the novel’s black male characters. The novel aims to disarticulate black masculinity from patriarchy. Jenkins’s misunderstanding of this aspect of the novel surfaces in his treatment of the character of Frank, who in the novel serves as an example of the destructiveness of patriarchal masculinity, and in his rewriting of the novel’s ending.

James Baldwin Review
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If Beale Street Could Talk, 2019
Bill Schwarz

I reflect on the place of If Beale Street Could Talk in the corpus of Baldwin’s writings, and its relationship to Barry Jenkins’s movie released at the beginning of 2019. I consider also what the arrival of the movie can tell us about how Baldwin is located in contemporary collective memories.

James Baldwin Review
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Mary Chamberlain

, Aimé Césaire from Martinique, Leopold Senghor from Senegal, Richard Wright, Alioune Diop also from Senegal, and the novelist Jean Alexis from Haiti. 29 Other participants among the 600 crammed into the smoky lecture hall included James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. The majority were acutely aware of being linked through the shared experience of being black in a white, colonial world. This experience

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
Chinua Achebe’s critique of cosmopolitics
Laura Chrisman

: Even James Baldwin returning to America from France in a casket and W.E.B. Du Bois finding a resting place in Ghana … Diverse as their individual situations or predicaments were, these children of the West roamed the world with the confidence of the authority of their homeland behind them. The purchasing power of even very chapter10 21/12/04 158 11:25 am Page 158 Postcolonial theoretical politics little real money in their pocket set against the funny money all around them might often be enough to validate their authority without any effort on their part. The

in Postcolonial contraventions
Open Access (free)
Francisco E. González and Desmond King

’s Combat. But to explain French interest in the civil rights of Blacks solely by anti-Americanism would produce a partial account for several reasons. Black Americans, such as Josephine Baker and Sidney Bechet, had been important figures in French cultural life during the inter-war decades, and in the post-war years Paris-settled writers such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin maintained this interest. Indeed, French affection for Americans was strong after 1918, as the role of the United States in contributing to France’s victory was recognized. Black American soldiers

in Democratization through the looking-glass
Volker M. Heins

James Baldwin's classic The Fire Next Time : ‘I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them’ (Baldwin 1992 : 21). Freeing oneself from the very need for recognition from particular quarters is an essential part of liberation. Another great writer on the subject of oppressed nations

in Recognition and Global Politics
Open Access (free)
Bill Schwarz

). 23 C. L. R. James, ‘Is this worth a war?’, New Leader , 4 October 1935. 24 C. L. R. James, ‘Baldwin’s next move’, New Leader , 3 January 1936. 25 George Padmore, ‘Fascism in the colonies’, Controversy , February 1938

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
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Crossing the seas
Bill Schwarz

Britain in these years could barely be spotted, both in relation to the formal artefacts of high culture (the regard for Herman Melville, for example) or in the more complex arena of commodifed popular cultures. 52 Every aspect of black America was seized upon: the West Indian Gazette ’s enthusiasm for James Baldwin was symptomatic. Through the 1960s, West Indians in Britain were alive to the cultural

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain