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.
Elsewhere, but always subsumed within more general issues, I have argued for paying more attention to the Gothicism in the writings of James Kirke Paulding, whose literary career spanned the first half of the nineteenth century. He is one of those American writers who, like murder, will out, despite more neglect than his accomplishments deserve. By 1830 - to cite but one example of Paulding‘s significance - when Hawthorne and Poe were still apprentices in the craft of short fiction, a span of years had passed during which Paulding‘s productions in this genre clearly justified such labels as ‘the Paulding decade of the short story’ (Amos L. Herold‘s designation). Harold E. Hall, moreover, ranks ‘Cobus Yerks and ‘The Dumb Girl’, two Paulding tales from this period, among the finest early nineteenth-century American short stories. Although personal and career necessities often drew him away from literary pursuits, Paulding should by no means be ignored; his name keeps surfacing, particularly when the topic is literary nationalism, as Benjamin T. Spencer, John Seelye, Michael John McDonough, and I have already indicated. Paulding is also remembered as a pioneer in presenting frontier life in fiction and for his early essays in what we now term Southwestern Humor.1