There will be, and should be, reams and reams of analysis, even praise, for our friend but also even larger measures of non-analysis and certainly condemnation for James Baldwin, the Negro writer. Alas we have not yet the power to render completely sterile or make impossible the errors and lies which will merely be America being itself rather than its unconvincing promise.
But the wide gap, the world spinning abyss, between the James Baldwin of yellow journalism and English departments (and here we thought this was America), and the James Baldwin of our real lives is stunning! When he told us Nobody Knows My (he meant Our) Name, he was trying to get you ready for it even then!
For one thing, no matter the piles of deathly prose citing influences, relationships, metaphor and criticism that will attempt to tell us about our older brother, most will miss the mark simply because for the most part they will be retelling old lies or making up new ones, or shaping yet another Black life to fit the great white stomach which yet rules and tries to digest the world!
For first of all Jimmy Baldwin was not only a writer, an international literary figure, he was man, spirit, voice–old and Black and terrible as that first Ancestor…..
This man traveled the earth like its [historian] and its biographer. He reported, criticized, made beautiful, analyzed, cajoled, lyricized, attacked, sang, made us better, made us consciously human or, perhaps more acidly, pre-human…..
Jimmy will be remembered, even as James, for his word. Only the completely ignorant can doubt his mastery of it. Jimmy Baldwin was the creator of contemporary American speech even before Americans could dig that. He created it so we could speak to each other at unimaginable intensities of feeling, so we could make sense to each other at yet higher and higher tempos.
But that word, arranged as art, sparkling and gesturing from the page, was also man and spirit. Nothing was more inspiring than hearing that voice, seeing that face, and that whip of tongue, that signification that was his fingers, reveal and expose, raise and bring down, condemn or extol!
…….What was said of him, the so-called analysis, often reeking of the dead analysis of white supremacy and its non-existent reality, made no difference. All of that did not really register, except as re-call for dull conversations with fire plugs or chairs or stone steps when abroad in the practiced indifference called U.S. society.
What he gave me, what he gave us, we perceived instantly and grew enormous inside because of it. That Black warm truth. That invincible gesture of sacred human concern, clearly projected–we absorbed with what gives life in this world contrasted as it is against the dangerous power of death…..
He was our consummate & complete man of letters, not as an un-living artifact, but as a Black man we could touch and relate to even there in that space filled with Black fire at the base and circumference of our souls…..
Jimmy’s voice, as much as Dr. King’s or Malcolm X’s, helped shepherd and guide us toward Black liberation.
And for this, of course, the intellectual gunmen of the animal king tried to vanquish him…..
But attacked or not, repressed or not, suddenly unnews worthy or not, Jimmy did what Jimmy does. He lived his life as witness. He wrote until the end. We hear of the writers’ blocks of celebrated Americans, how great they are–so great, indeed, that their writing fingers have been turned to checks, but Jimmy wrote. He produced. He sang, no matter the odds. He remained man, and spirit and voice. Ever expanding, even more conscious!…..
Let us hold him in our hearts and minds. Let us make him part of our invincible Black souls, the intelligence of our transcendence….Let us one day be able to celebrate him like hie must be celebrated if we are ever to be truly self determining. For Jimmy was God’s Black revolutionary mouth. If there is a God, and revolution his righteous natural expression. And elegant song the deepest most fundamental commonplace of being alive.