Monday, February 8, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt eight)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Even as Baldwin framed his critique of Black Power, his willingness to take the movement seriously at all came with a cost. For some critics and at least one biographer, Baldwin’s turn to Black Power marked the beginning of the end of him as an artist. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, the novel he had been working on in Istanbul and finished at the house in London, was finally published in 1968 to some of the worst reviews of his career. “It is possible that Baldwin believes this is not tactically the time for art, that polemical fiction can help the Negro cause more, that art is too strong, too gamy a dish for a prophet to offer now,” wrote Mario Puzo in The New York Times Book Review. “And so he gives us propagandistic fiction, a readable book with a positive social value. If this is what he wants, he has been successful. But perhaps it is now time for Baldwin to forget the black revolution and start worrying about himself as an artist, who is the ultimate revolutionary.” Hilton Als, looking back from a vantage point of two decades, would go as far as to say that “by 1968, Baldwin found impersonating a black writer more seductive than being an artist.” The power of Baldwin’s pen had been corrupted, Als maintained, by the bitterness and venom of the young militants. Jimmy’s desperate desire to remain relevant and be accepted by them, some opined, led him to become a sycophant to what they saw as the wild and bombastic claims of the young.

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