Wednesday, November 29, 2006

James Baldwin is kicking my ass

I was going to write a long post about the Michael Richards thing--about the absurdity of his apology tour, the irrelevance of Jesse Jackson, the misguided focused on the 'n' word (did we all miss the part where he threatened lynching and sodomy?)--but alas, I have been hard at work on my book on James Baldwin. I feel completely overwhelmed by this project and spend most of my free time whining about it. I do so much whining, in fact, that when my dear friend Jody sent me a copy of his book (an edited collection of essays on Radiohead), Frances said to me "Mommy you lose. Jody finished his book and you're still complaining about yours." Ah, the joys of motherhood.

Anyway, I've been grumpy about this book until recently when the project forced me to go back and read Baldwin (I hadn't actually read any Baldwin in two years; I have, however, read every book review and critical article written about his work). I leave you with one of my favorite passages from "Autobiographical Notes" in Notes of a Native Son. I fell in love with Baldwin the first time I read this:

"I do not like people who like me because I am a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer."

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