you know how in chris rock’s movie, good hair, the ladies hooked on relaxer call it the “creamy crack.” to me james baldwin is the dreamy crack. that one, he knows how to be human so good it hurts. fiction and non-fiction, these are just words. but oh, what he did with these, these fallible words.
the james baldwin conference is going on this very weekend at nyu, last day is tomorrow. i spent much of today there, at the silver center, 100 washington square park east, and even through three panels, i soaked up so much, like fruit in sangria, the wine was heady. i urge you to attend, its free and open to the public.
here’s a link to the conference site: james baldwin’s global imagination. and let me tell you, it was almost cien por ciento natural hair up in that room.
to give you a sense of the conference dialectic, here’s a sample of some star moments from a panel, entitled “james baldwin in the ‘age’ of obama.” we considered quotes from a rare 1961 speech by baldwin (i’m approximating off notes here, exact quotes can be found in randall kenan’s singular collection, “the cross of redemption: uncollected writings of james baldwin”), quotes like “bobby kennedy said one day i could be president too…it has probably never entered the country’s mind that i wouldn’t want to be president.” quotes on america like, “there has never been another country, so fat, so sleek, so wealthy, so irresponsible, so dead for 20 years.” professor kendall thomas talked about the brand of obama which reps for virtual democracy, but not democracy in fact. he broke down the features of race in the obama age, talked about the ethnisization of race, the moralization of race, and the privatisation of race. perhaps most moving, was the way professor kendall used baldwin to emphasize the idea that a democracy which has no understanding, not even a desire to understand the inner, private life of its citizenry, will always be hollow, will never, ever have a healthy public. damn.
on friday (that silky, warm friday which was just yesterday) the homie suneela organized a lecture entitled “poetics of the popular revolution,” by prof. muhsin al-musawi from columbia (middle eastern lit), and so much of interest was discussed but two things really stuck. one, that hip hop is fueling these shakedowns of oppressive systems much the same way it pumped life back through a neglected south bronx. more on that later.
two, that under exploitative regimes words and their meaning have been divorced. but with the peoples movements raising skies above the arab world, words have reunited with meaning. words mean something again when humanity is restored to nations. james baldwin, he was a site for reunion between words and their meaning in pre to post-civil rights america, even though and even when it meant he stood as a bridge alone.
more to come,