A hard-hitting look at the regulation of sexual difference and its role in circumscribing African American culture.
The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture--sexual difference--can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology--Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and William Julius Wilson--has measured African Americans' unsuitability for a liberal capitalist order in terms of their adherence to the norms of a heterosexual and patriarchal nuclear family model. In short, to the extent that African Americans' culture and behavior deviated from those norms, they would not achieve economic and racial equality.
Aberrations in Black tells the story of canonical sociology's regulation of sexual difference as part of its general regulation of African American culture. Ferguson places this story within other stories--the narrative of capital's emergence and development, the histories of Marxism and revolutionary nationalism, and the novels that depict the gendered and sexual idiosyncrasies of African American culture--works by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison. In turn, this book tries to present another story--one in which people who presumably manifest the dysfunctions of capitalism are reconsidered as indictments of the norms of state, capital, and social science. Ferguson includes the first-ever discussion of a new archival discovery--a never-published chapter of Invisible Man that deals with a gay character in a way that complicates and illuminates Ellison's project.
Unique in the way it situates critiques of race, gender, and sexuality within analyses of cultural, economic, and epistemological formations, Ferguson's work introduces a new mode of discourse--which Ferguson calls queer of color analysis--that helps to lay bare the mutual distortions of racial, economic, and sexual portrayals within sociology.
Roderick A. Ferguson is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota.
“The ghosts of the Civil War never leave us, as David Blight knows perhaps better than anyone, and in this superb book he masterfully unites two distant but inextricably bound events.”―Ken Burns
Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, a century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King, Jr., declared, “One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” He delivered this speech just three years after the Virginia Civil War Commission published a guide proclaiming that “the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again.”
David Blight takes his readers back to the centennial celebration to determine how Americans then made sense of the suffering, loss, and liberation that had wracked the United States a century earlier. Amid cold war politics and civil rights protest, four of America’s most incisive writers explored the gulf between remembrance and reality. Robert Penn Warren, the southern-reared poet-novelist who recanted his support of segregation; Bruce Catton, the journalist and U.S. Navy officer who became a popular Civil War historian; Edmund Wilson, the century’s preeminent literary critic; and James Baldwin, the searing African-American essayist and activist—each exposed America’s triumphalist memory of the war. And each, in his own way, demanded a reckoning with the tragic consequences it spawned.
Blight illuminates not only mid-twentieth-century America’s sense of itself but also the dynamic, ever-changing nature of Civil War memory. On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the war, we have an invaluable perspective on how this conflict continues to shape the country’s political debates, national identity, and sense of purpose.
From Frederick Douglass to the present, the preoccupation of black writers with manhood and masculinity is a constant. Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson explores how in their own work three major African American writers contest classic portrayals of black men in earlier literature, from slave narratives through the great novels of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.
Keith Clark examines short stories, novels, and plays by Baldwin, Gaines, and Wilson, arguing that since the 1950s the three have interrupted and radically dismantled the constricting literary depictions of black men who equate selfhood with victimization, isolation, and patriarchy. Instead, they have reimagined black men whose identity is grounded in community, camaraderie, and intimacy.
Delivering original and startling insights, this book will appeal to scholars and students of African American literature, gender studies, and narratology.
James Baldwin, one of the major African American writers of the twentieth century, has been the subject of a substantial body of literary criticism. As a prolific and experimental author with a marginal perspective—a black man during segregation and the Civil Rights era, a homosexual at a time when tolerance toward gays was not common—Baldwin has fascinated readers for over half a century. Yet Baldwin’s critics have tended to separate his weighty, complex body of work and to examine it piecemeal. A Criminal Power: James Baldwin and the Law is the first thematic study to analyze the complete scope of his work. It accomplishes this through an expansive definition and thorough analysis of the social force that oppressed Baldwin throughout his life: namely, the law. Baldwin, who died in 1987, attempted suicide in 1949 at the age of 25 after spending eight-days in a French prison following an absurd arrest for “receiving stolen goods”—a sheet that his acquaintance had taken from a hotel. This seemingly trite incident made Baldwin painfully aware of what he would later call the law’s “criminal power.”
Up to now, the only book-length studies to address Baldwin’s entire career have been biographies and artistic “portraits.” D. Quentin Miller corrects this oversight in a comprehensive volume that addresses and unifies all of Baldwin’s work. Miller asserts that the Baldwin corpus is a testament to how the abuse of power within the American legal, judicial, and penal systems manifested itself in the twentieth century.
James Baldwin: America and Beyond
Bill Schwarz and Cora Kaplan, editors University of Michigan Press, 2011 Library of Congress PS3552.A45Z72358 2011 | Dewey Decimal 818.5409
"This fine collection of essays represents an important contribution to the rediscovery of Baldwin's stature as essayist, novelist, black prophetic political voice, and witness to the Civil Rights era. The title provides an excellent thematic focus. He understood both the necessity, and the impossibility, of being a black 'American' writer. He took these issues 'Beyond'---Paris, Istanbul, various parts of Africa---but this formative experience only returned him to the unresolved dilemmas. He was a fine novelist and a major prophetic political voice. He produced some of the most important essays of the twentieth century and addressed in depth the complexities of the black political movement. His relative invisibility almost lost us one of the most significant voices of his generation. This welcome 'revival' retrieves it. Close call."
---Stuart Hall, Professor Emeritus, Open University
This interdisciplinary collection by leading writers in their fields brings together a discussion of the many facets of James Baldwin, both as a writer and as the prophetic conscience of a nation. The core of the volume addresses the shifting, complex relations between Baldwin as an American—“as American as any Texas GI” as he once wryly put it—and his life as an itinerant cosmopolitan. His ambivalent imaginings of America were always mediated by his conception of a world “beyond” America: a world he knew both from his travels and from his voracious reading. He was a man whose instincts were, at every turn, nurtured by America; but who at the same time developed a ferocious critique of American exceptionalism. In seeking to understand how, as an American, he could learn to live with difference—breaking the power of fundamentalisms of all stripes—he opened an urgent, timely debate that is still ours. His America was an idea fired by desire and grief in equal measure. As the authors assembled here argue, to read him now allows us to imagine new possibilities for the future.
With contributions by Kevin Birmingham, Douglas Field, Kevin Gaines, Briallen Hopper, Quentin Miller, Vaughn Rasberry, Robert Reid-Pharr, George Shulman, Hortense Spillers, Colm Tóibín, Eleanor W. Traylor, Cheryl A. Wall, and Magdalena Zaborowska.
By the 1980s, critics and the public alike considered James Baldwin irrelevant. Yet Baldwin remained an important, prolific writer until his death in 1987. Indeed, his work throughout the decade pushed him into new areas, in particular an expanded interest in the social and psychological consequences of popular culture and mass media. Joseph Vogel offers the first in-depth look at Baldwin's dynamic final decade of work. Delving into the writer's creative endeavors, crucial essays and articles, and the impassioned polemic The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Vogel finds Baldwin as prescient and fearless as ever. Baldwin's sustained grappling with "the great transforming energy" of mass culture revealed his gifts for media and cultural criticism. It also brought him into the fray on issues ranging from the Reagan-era culture wars to the New South, from the deterioration of inner cities to the disproportionate incarceration of black youth, and from pop culture gender-bending to the evolving women's and gay rights movements. Astute and compelling, revives and redeems the final act of a great American writer.
Behind James Baldwin’s uncanny ability to evoke a nation’s crisis and potential hope lies his use of religious language to describe social and sexual transformation. The first study of its kind, James Baldwin and the Heavenly City shows that Baldwin’s novels use biblical ideas in partly but not fully secularized ways to express the possible human attainment of a new life embodying a real but undefinable holiness. Focusing on Baldwin’s six novels, along with essays, stories, and drama, the book first shows Baldwin’s method of recasting biblical and African American prophetic traditions to reveal their liberating core. It then examines several key themes: the prophet’s selection, seen in Baldwin’s debut novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain; the three linked ideas of prophetic art, the “apocalyptic body,” and the “apocalyptic city,” as presented in all his novels; and the polarity between prophecy and doubt, the subject of his last novel, Just Above My Head. This important work provides new readings of Baldwin’s novels, reassesses his once-neglected later fiction, and shows Gospel music’s centrality (with blues) in his fictional imagination.
The central figure in black gay literary history, James Baldwin has become a familiar touchstone for queer scholarship in the academy. Matt Brim’s James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination draws on the contributions of queer theory and black queer studies to critically engage with and complicate the project of queering Baldwin and his work. Brim argues that Baldwin animates and, in contrast, disrupts both the black gay literary tradition and the queer theoretical enterprise that have claimed him. More paradoxically, even as Baldwin’s fiction brilliantly succeeds in imagining queer intersections of race and sexuality, it simultaneously exhibits striking queer failures, whether exploiting gay love or erasing black lesbian desire. Brim thus argues that Baldwin’s work is deeply marked by ruptures of the “unqueer” into transcendent queer thought—and that readers must sustain rather than override this paradoxical dynamic within acts of queer imagination.
In James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and the Rhetorics of Black Male Subjectivity, Aaron Ngozi Oforlea explores the rhetorical strategies that Baldwin’s and Morrison’s black male characters employ as they negotiate discourses of race, class, gender, and sexuality. According to Oforlea, these characters navigate a discursive divide that separates limiting representations of black males in dominant discourses from a decolonized and empowered subjectivity. Specifically, the discursive divide creates an invisible boundary between how black subjects are seen, imagined, and experienced in dominant culture on the one hand, and how they understand themselves on the other.
Oforlea’s book offers new analyses of the character dynamics in Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, and If Beale Street Could Talkand Morrison’s Beloved, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby. The black male characters in these novels encounter the discursive divide, or a cultural dissonance, when they encounter dominant representations of black male identities. They use these opportunities to construct a counter-discourse about black male subjectivity. Ultimately, Oforlea argues, these characters are strategic about when and how they want to appropriate and subvert dominant ideologies. Their awareness that post-racial discourses perpetuate racial inequality serves as a gateway toward participation in collective struggles for racial justice.
James Baldwin’s relationship with black Christianity, and especially his rejection of it, exposes the anatomy of a religious heritage that has not been wrestled with sufficiently in black theological and religious studies. In James Baldwin’s God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture, Clarence hardy demonstrates that Baldwin is important not only for the ways he is connected to black religious culture, but also for the ways he chooses to disconnect himself from it. Despite Baldwin’s view that black religious expression harbors a sensibility that is often vengeful and that its actual content is composed of illusory promises and empty theatrics, he remains captive to its energies, rhythms, languages, and themes. Baldwin is forced, on occasion, to acknowledge that the religious fervor he saw as an adolescent was not simply an expression of repressed sexual tension but also a sign of the irrepressible vigor and dignified humanity of black life. Hardy’s reading of Baldwin’s texts, with its goal of understanding Baldwin’s attitude toward a religion that revolves around an uncaring God in the face of black suffering, provides provocative reading for scholars of religion, literature, and history.
The Author: Clarence Hardy is an assistant professor of religion at Dartmouth College. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Religion and Christianity and Crisis.
James Baldwin’s Later Fiction examines the decline of Baldwin’s reputation after the middle 1960s, his tepid reception in mainstream and academic venues, and the ways in which critics have often mis-represented and undervalued his work. Scott develops readings of Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Just Above My Head that explore the interconnected themes in Baldwin’s work: the role of the family in sustaining the arts, the price of success in American society, and the struggle of black artists to change the ways that race, sex, and masculinity are represented in American culture.
Scott argues that Baldwin’s later writing crosses the cultural divide between the 1950s and 1960s in response to the civil rights and black power movements. Baldwin’s earlier works, his political activism and sexual politics, and traditions of African American autobiography and fiction all play prominent roles in Scott’s analysis.
Between 1961 and 1971 James Baldwin spent extended periods of time in Turkey, where he worked on some of his most important books. In this first in-depth exploration of Baldwin’s “Turkish decade,” Magdalena J. Zaborowska reveals the significant role that Turkish locales, cultures, and friends played in Baldwin’s life and thought. Turkey was a nurturing space for the author, who by 1961 had spent nearly ten years in France and Western Europe and failed to reestablish permanent residency in the United States. Zaborowska demonstrates how Baldwin’s Turkish sojourns enabled him to re-imagine himself as a black queer writer and to revise his views of American identity and U.S. race relations as the 1960s drew to a close.
Following Baldwin’s footsteps through Istanbul, Ankara, and Bodrum, Zaborowska presents many never published photographs, new information from Turkish archives, and original interviews with Turkish artists and intellectuals who knew Baldwin and collaborated with him on a play that he directed in 1969. She analyzes the effect of his experiences on his novel Another Country (1962) and on two volumes of his essays, The Fire Next Time (1963) and No Name in the Street (1972), and she explains how Baldwin’s time in Turkey informed his ambivalent relationship to New York, his responses to the American South, and his decision to settle in southern France. James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade expands the knowledge of Baldwin’s role as a transnational African American intellectual, casts new light on his later works, and suggests ways of reassessing his earlier writing in relation to ideas of exile and migration.
Four-year-old TJ spends his days on his lively Harlem block playing with his best friends WT and Blinky and running errands for neighbors. As he comes of age as a “Little Man” with big dreams, TJ faces a world of grown-up adventures and realities. Baldwin’s only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man celebrates and explores the challenges and joys of black childhood.
Now available for the first time in forty years, this new edition of Little Man, Little Man—which retains the charming original illustrations by French artist Yoran Cazac—includes a foreword by Baldwin’s nephew Tejan "TJ" Karefa-Smart and an afterword by his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart, with an introduction by two Baldwin scholars. In it we not only see life in 1970s Harlem from a black child’s perspective, but we also gain a fuller appreciation of the genius of one of America’s greatest writers.
The last sixteen years of James Baldwin's life (1971–87) unfolded in a village in the South of France, in a sprawling house nicknamed “Chez Baldwin.” In Me and My House Magdalena J. Zaborowska employs Baldwin’s home space as a lens through which to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity in his complex and underappreciated later works. Zaborowska shows how the themes of dwelling and black queer male sexuality in The Welcome Table, Just above My Head, and If Beale Street Could Talk directly stem from Chez Baldwin's influence on the writer. The house was partially torn down in 2014. Accessible, heavily illustrated, and drawing on interviews with Baldwin's friends and lovers, unpublished letters, and manuscripts, Me and My House offers new insights into Baldwin's life, writing, and relationships, making it essential reading for all students, scholars, and fans of Baldwin.
In Queer Tidalectics, Emilio Amideo investigates how Anglophone writers James Baldwin, Jackie Kay, Thomas Glave, and Shani Mootoo employ the trope of fluidity to articulate a Black queer diasporic aesthetics. Water recurs as a figurative and material site to express the Black queer experience within the diaspora, a means to explore malleability and overflowing sexual, gender, and racial boundaries. Amideo triangulates language, the aquatic, and affect to delineate a Black queer aesthetics, one that uses an idiom of fluidity, slipperiness, and opacity to undermine and circumvent gender normativity and the racialized heteropatriarchy embedded in English. The result is an outline of an ever-expanding affective archive of experiential knowledge.
Amideo engages and extends the work of Black queer studies, Oceanic studies, ecocriticism, phenomenology, and new materialism through the theorizations of Sara Ahmed, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, M. Jacqui Alexander, Édouard Glissant, José Esteban Muñoz, and Edward Kamau Brathwaite, among others. Ambitious in scope and captivating to read, Queer Tidalectics brings Caribbean writers like Glissant and Brathwaite into queer literary analysis—a major scholarly contribution.
Re-Viewing James Baldwin
Quentin Miller Temple University Press, 2000 Library of Congress PS3552.A45Z865 2000 | Dewey Decimal 818.5409
This new collection of essays presents a critical reappraisal of James Baldwin's work, looking beyond the commercial success of some of Baldwin's early writings such as Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son. Focusing on Baldwin's critically undervalued early works and the virtually neglected later ones the contributors illuminate little-known aspects of this daring author's work and highlight his accomplishments as an experimental writer. Attentive to his innovations in style and form, Re-Viewing James Baldwin reveals an author who continually challenged the notion of unity as he tackled matters of social justice, sexuality, and racial identity. As volume editor D. Quentin Miller notes, "what has been lost is a complete portrait of [Baldwin's] tremendously rich intellectual journey that illustrates the direction of African American thought and culture in the late twentieth century."
This is an important book for anyone interested in Baldwin's work. It will engage readers interested in literature and African American Studies.
Though often thought of as rivals, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Amiri Baraka shared a range of interests, especially a passion for music. Jazz, in particular, was a decisive influence on their thinking, and, as The Shadow and the Act reveals, they drew on their insights into the creative process of improvisation to analyze race and politics in the civil rights era. In this inspired study, Walton M. Muyumba situates them as a jazz trio, demonstrating how Ellison, Baraka, and Baldwin’s individual works form a series of calls and responses with each other.
Muyumba connects their writings on jazz to the philosophical tradition of pragmatism, particularly its support for more freedom for individuals and more democratic societies. He examines the way they responded to and elaborated on that lineage, showing how they significantly broadened it by addressing the African American experience, especially its aesthetics. Ultimately, Muyumba contends, the trio enacted pragmatist principles by effectively communicating the social and political benefits of African Americans fully entering society, thereby compelling America to move closer to its democratic ideals.
The forces of globalization have transformed literary studies in America, and not for the better. The detailed critical reading of artistic texts has been replaced by newly minted catchphrases describing widely divergent snippets and anecdotes—deemed mere documents—regardless of the critic’s expertise in the appropriate languages and cultures. Visions of Global America and the Future of Critical Reading by Daniel T. O’Hara traces the origin of this global approach to Emerson. But it also demonstrates another, tragic tradition of vision from Henry James that counters the Emersonian global imagination with the hard realities of being human. Building on this tradition, on Lacan’s insights into the Real, and on Badiou’s original theory of truth, O’Hara points to how we can, and should, reground literary study in critical reading.
In Emerson’s classic essay “Experience” (1844), America appears in and as a symptom of the critic’s self-making that sacrifices the power of love to this visionary project—a literary version of the American self-made man. O’Hara rescues critical reading using James’s late work, especially The Golden Bowl (1904), and builds on this vision with examinations of texts by St. Paul, Emerson, Wallace Stevens, James Purdy, John Cheever, James Baldwin, John Ashbery, and others.