An Excerpt from Bill V. Mullen’s New Biography, James
Baldwin: Living in Fire, and an Interview with the
Bill V. Mullen
This excerpt from James Baldwin: Living in Fire details a key
juncture in Baldwin’s life, 1957–59, when he was transformed by a
visit to the South to write about the civil rights movement while grappling with
the meaning of the Algerian Revolution. The excerpt shows Baldwin understanding
black and Arab liberation struggles as simultaneous and parallel moments in the
rise of Third World, anti-colonial and anti-racist U.S. politics. It also shows
Baldwin’s emotional and psychological vulnerability to repressive state
violence experienced by black and Arab citizens in the U.S., France, and
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.
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.
As a technology able to picture and embody the temporality of the past, cinema has become central to the mediation of memory in modern cultural life. The memory of film scenes and movies screens, cinema and cinema-going, has become integral to the placement and location of film within the cultural imagination of this century and the last. This book is a sustained, interdisciplinary perspective on memory and film from early cinema to the present. The first section examines the relationship between official and popular history and the constitution of memory narratives in and around the production and consumption of American cinema. The second section examines the politics of memory in a series of chapters that take as their focus three pivotal sites of national conflict in postwar America. This includes the war in Vietnam, American race relations and the Civil Rights Movement, and the history of marginality in the geographic and cultural borderlands of the US. The book explores the articulation of Vietnam. The final section concentrates on the issue of mediation; it explores how technological and semiotic shifts in the cultural terrain have influenced the coding and experience of memory in contemporary cinema. It considers both the presence of music and colour in nostalgia films of the 1990s and the impact of digital and video technologies on the representational determinants of mediated memory. The book also examines the stakes of cultural remembering in the United States and the means by which memory has been figured through Hollywood cinema.
Rhetoric and Identity in James Baldwin’s Revolution
Davis W. Houck
Despite the proliferation of interest in James Baldwin across popular culture and the
academy, few, if any, critical studies of his public oratory have been conducted. This is
unfortunate and ironic—unfortunate because Baldwin was a marvelous orator, and ironic in
that his preferred solution to what ailed whites and blacks as the Civil Rights movement
unfolded was thoroughly rhetorical. That is, Baldwin’s racial rhetorical revolution
involved a re-valuing of the historical evidence used to keep blacks enslaved both
mentally and physically across countless generations. Moreover, for Baldwin the act of
naming functions to chain both whites and blacks to a version of American history
psychologically damaging to both. Three speeches that Baldwin delivered in 1963 amid the
crucible of civil rights protest illustrate these claims.
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.
expropriates themes and techniques, and decants them into the contents
of our collective memory. Movie memories are influenced by the
(inter)textuality of media styles – Fredric Jameson has gone so
far as to argue that such styles displace ‘real’ history.
The CivilRightsMovement made real history but the Movement struggle
was also a media event, played out as a teledrama in homes across
which studied the American civilrightsmovement,
with actual travel to many important sites from the history of the movement and
encountering people who had taken part in the struggle directly. The three-week
course took students all over Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and finally up the
Mississippi River to Chicago. Academically, the course looked at the intersection
of politics and culture by bringing together a professor of history and a professor
of music who travelled with students and took part in place-based learning alongside their students.
Domestically, the hundred years after the Civil War
(1861–65) were characterized by a gradual abandonment of
narrow assimilationism and the enactment – in the 1960s –
of legislation, prompted by the civilrightsmovement (Morris
1984), to uphold the rights of citizenship of all Americans.
Addressing the legacies of pre-1960s discrimination and
racism (Fields 1990; Jordan 1968; Kelley 1994) proved a platform for a multiculturalist reformulation of American national identity, or in David Hollinger’s phrase a ‘post-ethnic
politics’ (Hollinger 1995). The