Friday, August 15, 2014

Jess Row: Native Sons - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics:

When Another Country was published—at the very peak of Baldwin’s public stature as a civil rights activist—it was taken as a document of a very small slice of the present: the Greenwich Village and Paris of the late 1950s and early 1960s, where interracial couples and gay people were able to live openly, mostly but not entirely out of the omnipresent shadow of violence. But Another Country is also an intensely prophetic book, in which Baldwin glimpses a world much more like the one we inhabit today, where overt, legal racism and homophobia is inexorably falling away, and what we have to look at, instead, is the face of the person we’ve feared and misunderstood and avoided. It’s a plural world, a world of unstable pronouns, multiple identities, and overlapping narratives. Which is not to say that anyone in the book ends up happy: this is a novel, after all, that begins with one man’s leap off the George Washington Bridge and ends with a series of betrayals—profound and petty—among his survivors. It’s out of that traumatized state, Baldwin seems to say, that the most important realization occurs: our offenses, our intertwined histories and mutual obligations, are more like love affairs than legal cases—love affairs that are never really over. “It doesn’t do any good to blame the people or the time,” one of his characters says, “one is oneself all those people. We are the time.”