It’s brilliant, it’s perfect, it’s sad, it’s serious, it’s funny, it’s articulate, it’s powerful, it’s acerbic, it’s engaging, it’s harrowing, it’s optimistic, it’s realistic, it’s pessimistic, it’s true… That’s right, it’s prose by James Baldwin…
This 2010 book (edited by Randall Kenan) contains around sixty pieces of writing by James Baldwin that don’t appear elsewhere in his collected writings, in particular not in the Toni Morrison -edited Library of America volumes that have the vast majority of his oeuvre inside.
There are transcripts of speeches, there are articles and open letters, there are book reviews from more than five years before Jimmy would have a book of his own published, there’s a single piece of short fiction and there is, throughout, James Baldwin.
His interests and his themes and some of his phrases – especially in the speeches (though also in some of the writing published during his most successful years but not put into one of his actual books) – reoccur, but that is of course the joy and the pleasure of seeing these texts. Of course.
Of course, they’re not necessarily discarded items – all of the writing here was intentionally and knowingly published by Baldwin at some point – but they were items that he choose to not revisit, expand, develop, or put into a context more concrete: a book is a more solid object than a newspaper or a magazine; other than the texts here that are brief introductions Jimmy (is it appropriate for me to call him Jimmy? Should I call him Mr Baldwin? Probably I should?) wrote for other people’s books, these are all pieces of writing not produced or presumed to exist in perpetuity or for posterity. This means there is, yes, a rawness here… A distance, a…
I dunno, though, the writing is fucking great, but because it’s a collection of uncollected writing and because it is not organised fully chronologically, there’s no build, there’s no development, and tho each section (e.g. ESSAYS & SPEECHES, BOOK REVIEWS, etc) is organised chronologically, when the longest section (essays & speeches) ends with some of the very last pieces Baldwin wrote – which are, of course, excellent -, the second half of The Cross of Redemption feels somewhat anticlimactic because it never well never really catches up with itself
Baldwin was, yes, very skilled and very expressive from bang boom bash the start of his career, but the world around him and his articulation changed…
It’s not like the early writing is worse, it’s just a different context – 1947 (the earliest piece here) and 1987 (the last) were very different times, and Baldwin had lived very different prior lives at those points.
Of course, it’s lovely to be reminded of the parallels and the consistencies of his voice and thought, the partitions do feel somewhat arbitrary as sectional distinctions.
This approach does, of course, avoid the quiet introduction by having Baldwin’s early book reviews open the text (and I remember a similar feeling of this disappointment when I reached the last section of Baldwin’s Library of America essay collection, which goes from the 80s to the 40s with a similar sigh), but by having this non complete chronology it’s somewhat more frustrating than the book not being chronological at all …
But I dunno. I’m an idiot. Maybe this is perfect?
And, of course, it’s brilliant. Baldwin was brilliant. There is great writing here, flawless prose. I love it I love it I love it.
Some samples of bits I underlined that work without context:
“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“I’ve drunk my share of dry martinis. I have proved myself civilized in every way I can.”
It’s a great book, but not a place to start with Baldwin, though certainly a fitting place to end (unless letters or diaries are released (if they exist?), this will almost certainly be Baldwin’s last ever “new” book.)
He was one of the best to ever write. If you’re not a big fan of Baldwin you’re probably doing reading wrong.
TriumphoftheNow.com is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.
0 comments on “The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin”