An Unbearable Lightness Of Being: James Baldwin’s Existential Blues

Ever since I read my first book by James Baldwin, namely, “No Name In The Street“, I was transformed. Something shifted within me & the way I viewed the world would never be the same. Oh, there were other books I read at that time that shook the ground beneath my feet like, “Breaking Bread-Insurgent Black Intellectual Life” by Cornel West & Bell Hooks, “Necessay Illusions-Thought Control In Democratic Societies” by Noam Chomsky & “Inventing Reality: the Politics of News Media” by Michael Parenti to name a few, but it was Baldwin’s book that had the most impact.

“No Name In The Street” is a deeply personal, reflective piece of the rage,fury & despair of the sixties and seventies that turned Baldwin’s world upside down. In vivid yet painful detail he reflects on his upbringing in Harlem that shaped his early consciousness & the later events that impacted him deeply-—the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his experiences in Europe and Hollywood and his return to the American South to confront a violent America face-to-face.

I wrote copious notes along the margins of the book which I personally baptized as holy text–hahaa. Here are some of quotes from the book which are as relevant today as they were decades ago. Unafraid to wield his pen as a sword, he sliced through hypocrisy, ignorance, conformity, all the enemies of art and enlightenment, with his Third Eye ablaze :

The administration of justice in the U.S is a wicked farce–it has no love for justice or any concept of it.

Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

Power is dependent on human energy, on the wills & desires of human beings. When power translates itself into tyranny, it means that the principles on which that power depended, and which were its justification, are bankrupt. When this happens, power can only be defended by thugs and mediocrities–and seas of blood.

Many white people appear to live in a state of carefully repressed terror in relation to black people.

All men are primitive, but not in the same way, for in that absolutely unassailable privacy of the soul, they do not worship the same gods.

The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.

It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.

Brilliance without passion is nothing more than sterility.

One can learn from one’s errors. What one cannot survive is allowing other people to make your errors for you, discarding your own vision–in which, at least, you believe–for someone else’s vision, in which you do not believe.

On racist terror:It was as though he were wrestling with the mighty fact that the danger in which he stood was as nothing compared to the spiritual horror which drove those who were trying to destroy him—they endangered him….but they doomed themselves

To learn more about one of America’s greatest novelist/essayist, check out these resources:

American Masters

Life Of James Baldwin

Stay open….

One Love


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