Saturday, September 07, 2013
Brief Notes on Some Comments (James Baldwin)
My weekly posting.
I got a couple of comments this week. I don't get many comments--four so far this year, one in 2012 (and that all of seven words)--so it was a pretty momentous occasion. The commenter(s) didn't think much of something I wrote about James Baldwin five years ago. That is fine, I looked over what I wrote and while the introduction was a bit silly, the rest of the piece does not strike me as unreasonable or even disrespectful. In any event the criticisms directed at me were neither particularly coherent nor devastating. However, some of the things that were said interested me, and I wanted to briefly address them.
The childishness of my opinions was emphasized, twice in fact, though specific examples were not given. I don't feel childish when I am alone, but as this is the impression I make on most serious people above the age of seventeen or so, despite all that I have done to try to combat this shortcoming and give myself some gravitas over a period of many years, I must face the possibility that I don't have whatever quality people have that enables them to read and think out important things with perception and maturity. I must confess though, when I got bogged down writing this paragraph I cleared my head by watching a couple of numbers from On the Town on Youtube, which is not exactly an argument in favor of my having any kind of mind that is to be reckoned with.
The commenter accuses me of paying too much attention to what other critics have said about James Baldwin. I don't recall having ever read anything about James Baldwin. He is not at this point, and has not been for most of my reading life, someone who is talked about as a literary figure very much. Indeed, if I am coming to similar conclusions as other readers of a certain type, perhaps it speaks to something that is actually there. I do not deny that the man was courageous, or that he did not accomplish meaningful things in his life, or even that I did not like his first two books, Go Tell It On the Mountain, and Notes of a Native Son, both of which are well worth reading, though I do think Another Country was pretty bad. However, childish as I am, I have still read a thousand or so books in my life, most of them 'literary' in nature, and I also have spent a decent amount of time trying to write, and based on this experience, Baldwin displays some limitations as a writer that really jump out at you compared to other authors. Maybe these limitations are not important in the grand scheme of Baldwin's career, perhaps they are not even real, and I am blinded by certain biases related to my situation in life that have nothing to do with Baldwin's literary plan--I am not a scholar, after all. I am basically a person jotting down hasty impressions in a diary, or better, a journal. There is a way to do that well.
In my notes on Baldwin I was really thinking of him purely in a literary/artistic context and his place and relations in that universe, which is how I tend to perceive reality, interpret history, and so on. His status as a public figure or civil rights champion did not really factor much into what I was writing.
I am usually criticized for being over-reverent of authors. This is a change for me.
The writer pointed out that a number of black icons such as Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, etc, would probably not agree with my assessment of Baldwin, which, I might add, was not actually either bad or dismissive. It is hard for me to imagine a scenario where I could sit down with the likes of Malcolm X and Toni Morrison and say anything I genuinely believed or thought that would be enlightening or pleasing to them however.
The commenter closes by saying that I owe Baldwin (or maybe they really mean someone else) an apology. Do dumb readers whose offenses mainly consist of an inability to understand a celebrated (and dead) author's work even have the capability of insulting him? I don't think so. You have insulted your readers, if you have any, or teachers, or whomever, by wasting their time with falsehoods, and maybe you owe them an apology, which they can convey to Plato or James Joyce or Baldwin or whomever by understanding them even incrementally better than they did before. And can an inferior mind offer a legitimate apology to a great one anyway? Not really.
I am tired this week. I wanted to spend a little more time of this, but I have no concentration. I think I am more manic/bi-polar than I had realized. I notice that my moods and energy really swing back and forth. This week I am on a down cycle.