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.
James Baldwin and the Broken Silences of Black Queer
McKinley E Melton
James Baldwin writes within and against the testimonial tradition emerging from the Black
Church, challenging the institution’s refusal to acknowledge the voices and experiences of
black queer men. Baldwin’s autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, creates a
space for Baldwin’s testimony to be expressed, and also lays the foundation for a
tradition of black queer artists to follow. In the contemporary moment, poet Danez Smith
inhabits Baldwin’s legacy, offering continuing critiques of the rigidity of conservative
Christian ideologies, while publishing and performing poetry that gives voice to their own
experiences, and those of the black queer community at large. These testimonies ultimately
function as a means of rhetorical resistance, which not only articulates black queer lives
and identities, but affirms them.
This essay proposes that we turn to James Baldwin’s work to assess the cost of, and think alternatives to, the cultures of traumatization whose proliferation one witnesses in contemporary U.S. academia. Beginning with some recent examples, the essay briefly places these cultures into a genealogy of onto-ethics whose contemporary forms arose with the reconfiguration of diasporic histories in the idioms of psychoanalysis and deconstructive philosophy in 1990s trauma theory. Baldwin speaks to the contemporary moment as he considers the outcome of trauma’s perpetuation in an autobiographical scene from “Notes of a Native Son.” In this scene—which restages Bigger Thomas’s murderous compulsion in Native Son—he warns us against embracing one’s traumatization as a mode of negotiating the world. In foregoing what Sarah Schulman has recently called the “duty of repair,” such traumatized engagement prevents all search for the kind of “commonness” whose early articulation can be found in Aristotle’s query after “the common good” (to koinon agathon). With Baldwin, the present essay suggests the urgency of returning to the question of “the common good”: while mindful of past critiques, which have observed in this concept’s deployment a sleight-of-hand by which hegemonic positions universalize their interests, we should work to actualize the unfinished potential of Aristotle’s idea. Baldwin’s work on diasporic modernity provides an indispensable archive for this effort.
Memories of cinema-going in the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
Joseph Fitzgerald, ‘Reminiscence in Adult
Development’, in David C. Rubin (ed.) Remembering Our Past:
Studies in Autobiographical Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995), p. 370.
based on a reworking of what he referred to as ‘forsaken fragments’ drawn from various different points in his sixty years of film-making. He also published two limited edition collections of photographs and three largely autobiographical books related to his film work. During this period, he actively supported the activities of a number of independent film artists through his production company, Studio7Arts.
Robert Gardner as ethnographic film-maker
‘presentism’, whereby the pressures of the present distort
our understanding of the past. 6 Character-led dramas (often based on autobiographical
novels, and memoir – like Crisis at Central High , Heart
of Dixie, and Passion for Justice: The Hazel Brannon Smith
Story ) promote a single monologic point of view to create what has
ubiquitously come to be known as a ‘useable past’, in which
some kind of objective statement about how Maasai life was in earlier times.
Given the Maasai subjects’ reluctance to engage in protracted autobiographical reflection,
Memories and Dreams
perforce became less the exploration of individual life histories that Llewelyn-Davies had originally intended and more an account of how life had turned out for the Maasai as a collectivity over the previous twenty years. The balance of this
isolation. In the two years before
shooting he had faced widespread media criticism following
the release of Natural Born Killers. Further shocked by the disappointing critical and public response to Nixon (1995), he also had
ended up in divorce proceedings. As recompense, Stone returned
to finish his semi-autobiographical book, A Child’s Night Dream
(1997). Completion of the manuscript brought back a complex
mix of emotions and memories about his childhood, his relationship with his father and mother, his experiences in Vietnam, and
later in the Merchant Marine Corps
(Nygren et al. 2005).
But there was nothing new to tell, which is why the reporting came
to revolve around rumours and gossip instead. And it was obvious
that many more actors cultivated the rumour in addition to the
bloggers. An intricate and agitated conversation went on among
newspaper editorial offices, blogs, Flashback threads, and other social
To Jane Davidson and Ingmar Ohlsson, the reporting meant that
they were forced into a protracted merry-go-round of denials. In
an autobiographical book, Ohlsson writes that he felt disgust at
having to call individual
properly underway. Gripped with the desire to make
his mark as a writer, the trip to Asia provided the raw material for
Stone’s first writing project: a semi-autobiographical novel that lay
dormant for many years before being published in the 1990s as A
Child’s Night Dream.
Figure 1 Lou and Oliver Stone, Hong Kong, February 1968
The themes of suicide and death reverberate through the
pages of this early writing, and it is not hard to see how the
American post-Second World War psychoses of power, responsibility, guilt and redemption dictate much of Stone