This article uses Baldwin’s 1949 essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel” to consider that literary mode’s corollary in the 1990s New Black Cinema. It argues that recent African American movies posit an alternative to the politics and aesthetics of films by a director such as Spike Lee, one that evinces a set of qualities Baldwin calls for in his essay about Black literature. Among these are what recent scholars such as Ann Anlin Cheng have called racial melancholy or what Kevin Quashie describes as Black “quiet,” as well as variations on Yogita Goyal’s diaspora romance. Films such as Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) and Joe Talbot and Jimmy Fails’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) offer a cinematic version of racial narrative at odds with the protest tradition I associate with earlier Black directors, a newly resonant cinema that we might see as both a direct and an indirect legacy of Baldwin’s views on African American culture and politics.
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.
This essay argues for the importance of James Baldwin’s last house, located in St. Paul-de-Vence in the south of France, to his late works written during the productive period of 1971–87: No Name in the Street (1972), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), The Devil Finds Work (1976), Just Above My Head (1979), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and the unpublished play The Welcome Table (1987). That period ushered in a new Baldwin, more complex and mature as an author, who became disillusioned while growing older as a black queer American who had no choice but to live abroad to get his work done and to feel safe. Having established his most enduring household at “Chez Baldwin,” as the property was known locally, the writer engaged in literary genre experimentation and challenged normative binaries of race, gender, and sexuality with his conceptions of spatially contingent national identity. The late Baldwin created unprecedented models of black queer domesticity and humanism that, having been excluded from U.S. cultural narratives until recently, offer novel ways to reconceptualize what it means to be an American intellectual in the twenty-first-century world.
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.
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.
In recent years, scholars have been devoting more and more discussion to Ingmar Bergman’s films from a musical perspective. 1 Considering that Bergman himself had a heartfelt love of music, and worked meticulously on the soundtrack of his films where music was often foregrounded as an essential conveyor of narrative information and the character’s emotions, it is odd that his film music has not come in for greater attention before. Of course, this circumstance has also been noticed by other writers. Per F
Mozart’s music. Later in the programme, he provided a narrative for the beginning of the slow movement of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. For him, there was a clearly outlined story to be told: there are two characters, the angry orchestra and the comforting piano which tries to temper the outbursts, perhaps like Johan and Alma in Hour of the Wolf (1968). Music for Bergman caused a wide range of reactions, from purely magical emotional ones to more or less clear-cut narrative ones; and in the case of The
within Hollywood did have an impact on Stone in the 2000s. In World Trade Center and W., the perspectives on 9/11 and the Bush administration were remarked on for their lack of polemical bite. More visceral and acerbic critiques including War on Terror and Jawbreaker were developed, but ultimately faltered for want of available funding. This was certainly evidence of what Stone and many other observers saw as the prevailing neo-conservative cultural narrative about the necessity and justification of the ‘War on Terror’. However, the mothballed scripts also provided
1990s, a sophisticated media genre. Dramatising the incursions of a colour present into a black and white past, Pleasantville creates a narrative based on the cultural apotheosis, ‘not everything is as simple as black and white’. Tapping into the spectacular growth of nostalgia networks on cable television during the 1990s, the film uses digital techniques of colour conversion to affect a political
narrative emerges in these flows of communication? The comparatively firm structure, dramaturgical simplicity, dramatic 14 The Swedish Broadcasting Commission, decision of 11 June 2012, reg. no. 12/00116. 124Exposed content, and drastically presented main characters of the story link it to an older narrative tradition. Is it a modern fairy tale or a tall tale? There are features indicating a connection to both of these genres within folklore, but most of all the story gradually seems to have taken on the form of an urban legend. Unlike the fairy tale, this type of