Saturday, December 4, 2010

All My Countrymen

Vintage Baldwin James Baldwin
2004 (The Estate of James Baldwin)
Weight: 7 oz
Method of Disposal: Giving to my friend, Tracy

I am not a huge fan of anthologies because I hate it when I get very into a piece of work and realize that it is just a selection from a much larger piece of writing. I tend to avoid buying anthologies for this reason alone but, for whatever reason, at some point I bought this book anyway. It sat on my bookshelves for years, unread. I picked it up the other day. I was in the mood for Baldwin, a very confident and brazen author.

The majority of the book left me feeling riveted and active. I wanted to get out in the world and do something. I wanted to write something that mattered. I wanted to hide in a corner and worry about how slow progress seems. There were some parts of the book that left me sneering and unhappy. The excerpt from ANOTHER COUNTRY was particularly hard for me. I felt so much resentment for the lead character even though Bladwin did such a good job of creating a complex character who had been through so much and done so much. You were motivated to feel for him and tempted to understand him, but I guess I am just not there yet. His interactions with Leona, a girl he became involved with, were so revolting. In the sex scene, the blurred line between rape, force, and sex made me recoil. The job of writing is not to make me feel good about everything. I know that, but I did recoil. A lot. In fact, I found myself avoiding all of Baldwin’s descriptions of women in the book. It is always hard to hear such a progressive author write about women in such a gross and unappealing way. It is one of those fallacies of the activist world. You know better than to expect more out of people because they fight for something you believe in, but you do it anyway. And, of course, men do interact with women in a forceful and sometimes detrimental way. We cannot just avoid writing about. So, here we are. It’s complicated.

All that being said, I will definitely be reading more Baldwin. He has a powerful voice that is impossible to ignore. So, here is my recommendation, read Baldwin, but read complete works. I am sure Another Country would mean more in its entirety. I intend to find out, anyway. I will leave you with two quotes from the collection.

“…all my countrymen had been able to offer me during the twenty-four years that I tried to live here was death—and death, moreover, on their own terms.” p.153 (NOTES FOR The Amen Corner)

“It has to do with political power and it has to do with sex. And this is a nation which, most unluckily, knows very little about either.” P.82 (Nobody Knows My Name)

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