Thursday, March 2, 2017

More vital than ever.

Cornel West:

Baldwin today. Well one is that we live in an age in which there is such a paucity of eloquence. Baldwin exemplifies eloquence at its highest level. Now, when Cicero and Quintillian define eloquence as “wisdom speaking,” I think we’d have to add it’s “wisdom speaking” that’s rooted in a courage that refuses to sell out. We live in an age in which everybody’s for sale, everything is for sale. Baldwin would never have sold out. He was true to himself. He was true to his soul. This is in many ways the Baldwin moment, and it’s primarily because we know here’s somebody who’s committed to intellectual integrity, committed to a moral honesty.

Remember what he says at the end of Notes of a Native Son in the introduction: “All I want to be is an honest man and who, like Hemingway, endures in my work.” Now you see, in an age of mendacity and criminality, which is our own, just telling the truth and having integrity is revolutionary. It’s subversive. It’s countercultural. So, Baldwin comes back bringing this rich tradition of eloquent, truth-telling, witness-bearing, soul-stirring writing, and he’s got the black church as a backdrop. He’s listening to Bessie Smith. He’s listening to Mahalia Jackson when he’s writing, so you could feel the vibrations and the vibes on the page that are connected to the sonic expressions of geniuses like Bessie Smith and like a Ray Charles, of course, was probably his favorite. They were together at Carnegie Hall. That was a very historical moment at Carnegie Hall with the two of them.

All that to say is what? In this Trump moment, Baldwin comes back with tremendous power, potency, vitality and vibrancy, in part, because he’s willing to speak the truth not just about the country in the abstract but the truth about legacies of white supremacy, the truth about indifference, the truth about callousness, the truth about the spiritual blackout, which is the relative eclipse of integrity, honesty and decency in public life in the country. That’s true for Democrats, true for Republicans, true for right-wing, true for left-wing. It cuts across the board. But Baldwin is one of the few black intellectuals who was the darling of a slice of liberal elites for a while, and then, becomes demonized by them later on. That’s why you get the narrative of “the early Baldwin” and “the later Baldwin” as this decline, you see. Baldwin went his own way. He was Emersonian, he was Socratic and in some ways he was Jesus-like even though he left the church in order to preach his own gospel...

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