James Baldwin criticism from 2001 through 2010 is marked by an increased appreciation for
Baldwin’s entire oeuvre including his writing after the mid 1960s. The question of his
artistic decline remains debated, but more scholars find a greater consistency and power
in Baldwin’s later work than previous scholars had found. A group of dedicated Baldwin
scholars emerged during this period and have continued to host regular international
conferences. The application of new and diverse critical lenses—including cultural
studies, political theory, religious studies, and black queer theory—contributed to more
complex readings of Baldwin’s texts. Historical and legal approaches re-assessed Baldwin’s
relationship to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and new material emerged on
Baldwin’s decade in Turkey. Some historical perspective gave many critics a more nuanced
approach to the old “art” vs. “politics” debate as it surfaced in Baldwin’s initial
reception, many now finding Baldwin’s “angry” work to be more “relevant” than “out of
touch” as it was thought of during his lifetime. In the first decade of the new
millennium, three books of new primary source material, a new biography, four books of
literary criticism, three edited collections of critical essays, two special issues of
journals and numerous book chapters and articles were published, marking a significant
increase not only in the quantity, but the quality of Baldwin criticism.
James Baldwin might be imagined as reaching his greatest level of popularity within this current decade. With the growth of social media activist movements like Black Lives Matter, which captures and catalyzes off a Baldwinian rage, and the publishing of works directly evoking Baldwin, his voice appears more pronounced between the years of 2013 and 2015. Scholars in Baldwin studies, along with strangers who were turned into witnesses of his literary oeuvre, have contributed to this renewed interest in Baldwin, or at least have been able to sharpen the significance of the phenomenon. Publications and performances highlight Baldwin’s work and how it prefigured developments in critical race and queer theories, while also demonstrating Baldwin’s critique as both prophetic and “disturbingly” contemporary. Emerging largely from Baldwin’s timelessness in social and political discourse, and from the need to conjure a figure to demystify the absurd American landscape, these interventions in Baldwin studies follow distinct trends. This essay examines the 2013–15 trends from four vantages: an examination of a return, with revision, to popular work by Baldwin; identifying Baldwin’s work as a contributor to theoretical and critical methodology; Baldwin and intertextuality or intervocality; and a new frontier in Baldwin studies.
James Baldwin and the "Closeted-ness" of American
This article reads the work of James Baldwin in dialogue with that of Eve Kosofsky
Sedgwick. Taking its cue from Baldwin’s claim that Americans “live […] with something in
[their] closet” that they “pretend […] is not there,” it explores his depiction of a
United States characterized by the “closeted-ness” of its racial discourse. In doing so,
the article draws on Sedgwick’s work concerning how the containment of discourses
pertaining to sexuality hinges on the closeting of non-heteronormative sexual practices.
Reconceptualizing Sedgwick’s ideas in the context of a black, queer writer like Baldwin,
however, problematizes her own insistence on the “historical gay specificity” of the
epistemology she traces. To this end, this article does not simply posit a racial
counterpart to the homosexual closet. Rather, reflecting Baldwin’s insistence that “the
sexual question and the racial question have always been entwined,” I highlight here the
interpretive possibilities opened up by intersectional analyses that view race, sexuality,
and national identity as coextensive, reciprocal epistemologies.
A Session at the 2019 American Studies Association Conference
Magdalena J. Zaborowska, Nicholas F. Radel, Nigel Hatton, and Ernest L. Gibson III
“Rebranding James Baldwin and His Queer Others” was a session held
at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association in November 2019 in
Honolulu, Hawaii. The papers gathered here show how Baldwin’s writings
and life story participate in dialogues with other authors and artists who probe
issues of identity and identification, as well as with other types of texts and
non-American stories, boldly addressing theoretical and political perspectives
different from his own. Nick Radel’s temporal challenge to reading novels
on homoerotic male desire asks of us a leap of faith, one that makes it possible
to read race as not necessarily a synonym for “Black,” but as a
powerful historical and sexual trope that resists “over-easy”
binaries of Western masculinity. Ernest L. Gibson’s engagement with
Beauford Delaney’s brilliant art and the ways in which it enabled the
teenage Baldwin’s “dark rapture” of self-discovery as a
writer reminds us that “something [has been missing] in our discussions
of male relationships.” Finally, Nigel Hatton suggests “a
relationship among Baldwin, Denmark, and Giovanni’s Room
that adds another thread to the important scholarship on his groundbreaking work
of fiction that has impacted African-American literature, Cold War studies,
transnational American studies, feminist thought, and queer theory.” All
three essays enlarge our assessment of Baldwin’s contribution to
understanding the ways gender and sexuality always inflect racialized Western
masculinities. Thus, they help us work to better gauge the extent of
Baldwin’s influence right here and right now.
Readers and critics alike, for the past sixty years, generally agree that Baldwin is a
major African-American writer. What they do not agree on is why. Because of his artistic
and intellectual complexity, Baldwin’s work resists easy categorization and Baldwin
scholarship, consequently, spans the critical horizon. This essay provides an overview of
the three major periods of Baldwin scholarship. 1963–73 is a period that begins with the
publication of The Fire Next Time and sees Baldwin grace the cover of Time magazine. This
period ends with Time declaring Baldwin too passé to publish an interview with him and
with critics questioning his relevance. The second period, 1974–87, finds critics
attempting to rehabilitate Baldwin’s reputation and work, especially as scholars begin to
codify the African-American literary canon in anthologies and American universities.
Finally, scholarship in the period after Baldwin’s death takes the opportunity to
challenge common assumptions and silences surrounding Baldwin’s work. Armed with the
methodologies of cultural studies and the critical insights of queer theory, critics set
the stage for the current Baldwin renaissance.
Featuring essays from some of the most prominent voices in early medieval English studies, Dating Beowulf: studies in intimacy playfully redeploys the word ‘dating’, which usually heralds some of the most divisive critical impasses in the field, to provocatively phrase a set of new relationships with an Old English poem. This volume presents an argument for the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa, while offering a riposte to anti-feminist discourse and opening avenues for future work by specialists in the history of emotions, feminist criticism, literary theory, Old English literature, and medieval studies alike. To this end, the chapters embody a range of critical approaches, from queer theory to animal studies and ecocriticism to Actor-Network theory, all organized into clusters that articulate new modes of intimacy with the poem.
The power of vulnerability interrogates the new language of vulnerability that has emerged in feminist, queer and anti-racist debates about the production, use and meanings of media. The book investigates the historical legacies and contemporary forms and effects of this language. In today’s media culture, traumatic first-person or group narratives have popular currency, mobilising affect from compassion to rage to gain cultural visibility and political advantage. In this context, vulnerability becomes a kind of capital, a resource or an asset that can and has been appropriated for various groups and purposes in public discourses, activism as well as cultural institutions. Thus, politics of representation translates into politics of affect, and the question about whose vulnerability counts as socially and culturally legible and acknowledged. The contributors of the book examine how vulnerability has become a battleground; how affect and vulnerability have turned into a politicised language for not only addressing but also obscuring asymmetries of power; and how media activism and state policies address so-called vulnerable groups. While the contributors investigate the political potential as well as the constraints of vulnerability for feminist, queer and antiracist criticism, they also focus on the forms of agency and participation vulnerability can offer.
Elisabet has only given up spoken language, one must consider a
distinction: between her rejection of phonocentrism (and false
transparency) and her continuing engagement with a destabilizing
practice of inscription. If Elisabet has given up the sincerity of
speech but not other, potentially duplicitous forms of communication,
with what does that align her? I would posit that it places her in the
position of the queer subject as defined in a major strand of queertheory advocated by Leo Bersani and Lee Edelman. 22 The
Bordering intimacy is a study of how borders and dominant forms of intimacy, such as family, are central to the governance of postcolonial states such as Britain. The book explores the connected history between contemporary border regimes and the policing of family with the role of borders under European and British empires. Building upon postcolonial, decolonial and black feminist theory, the investigation centres on how colonial bordering is remade in contemporary Britain through appeals to protect, sustain and make family life. Not only was family central to the making of colonial racism but claims to family continue to remake, shore up but also hide the organisation of racialised violence in liberal states. Drawing on historical investigations, the book investigates the continuity of colonial rule in numerous areas of contemporary government – family visa regimes, the policing of sham marriages, counterterror strategies, deprivation of citizenship, policing tactics, integration policy. In doing this, the book re-theorises how we think of the connection between liberal government, race, family, borders and empire. In using Britain as a case, this opens up further insights into the international/global circulations of liberal empire and its relationship to violence.
This book is about science in theatre and performance. It explores how theatre and performance engage with emerging scientific themes from artificial intelligence to genetics and climate change. The book covers a wide range of performance forms from the spectacle of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony to Broadway musicals, from experimental contemporary performance and opera to educational theatre, Somali poetic drama and grime videos. It features work by pioneering companies including Gob Squad, Headlong Theatre and Theatre of Debate as well as offering fresh analysis of global blockbusters such as Wicked and Urinetown. The book offers detailed description and analysis of theatre and performance practices as well as broader commentary on the politics of theatre as public engagement with science. It documents important examples of collaborative practice with extended discussion of the Theatre of Debate process developed by Y Touring theatre company, exploration of bilingual theatre-making in East London and an account of how grime MCs and dermatologists ended up making a film together in Birmingham. The interdisciplinary approach draws on contemporary research in theatre and performance studies in combination with key ideas from science studies. It shows how theatre can offer important perspectives on what the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has called ‘cosmopolitics’. The book argues that theatre can flatten knowledge hierarchies and hold together different ways of knowing.