Race, reading, and critical framing

I’m working slowly but persistently on this James Baldwin book – tentative title ‘So Unimaginable a Price’: Baldwin and the Black Atlantic – and have recently been sitting with his famous critique of Richard Wright. The basics of that critique are well-known and straightforward enough: the protest novel is one-dimensional and Black life is more complex, complicated,…

Baldwin, home, tradition

From the conclusion to my essay entitled “James Baldwin and the Question of Home” – also the final chapter of my book project tentatively entitled ‘So Unimaginable a Price’: Baldwin and the Black Atlantic. *           * * A final few words. I began the present reflections with a note on Balfour’s…

Language, race, memory, home

Below is the conclusion to my essay “Vernaculars of Home,” in which I explore James Baldwin’s conception of language. In the essay, I argue that Baldwin’s defense of what he calls “black English” works as an epistemological and ontological account of African-American subjectivity. This account links black English to the sorrow songs, and so to…

Baldwin, race, identity

In his 1964 essay “The White Problem,” dating from the period of the publication of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin sets out what he calls “two levels of experience.” These two levels operate as the dialectical tension within which whiteness as an American identity emerges. “In this country, for a dangerously long time,” Baldwin writes

Baldwin, language, spirituals

The function of the spirituals in the African-American intellectual tradition is well-known, especially in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke – for both, the spirituals work as a foundation to the tradition. The spirituals are an enigma. They represent content as both lyric and sound; indeed, the distinction between those two forms…

Baldwin, language, blackness

In “Letter on Humanism,” a letter written to French theorist Jean Beaufret in response to the claim that his book Being and Time did not contain an ethics, Martin Heidegger famously remarks that “language is the house of Being.” This is a signature moment in Heidegger’s work, one that (roughly) shifts his work from the…