Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Essay: "Alas, Poor Richard." James Baldwin.

Review: A memoir of Richard Wright who had recently died at age 54 in Paris. But it is only superficially a memoir of Richard Wright. It is really an exploration of the meaning of black experience. There are many memorable lines in this essay but, once again, as in “Notes of a Native Son,” Baldwin’s conclusion seems to sum up the issue:

“This is why, it seems to me, he [Richard Wright] found himself wandering in a no-man’s land between the black world and the white. It is no longer important to be white—thank heaven—the white face is no longer invested with the power of this world; and it is devoutly to be hoped that it will no longer be important to be black. The experience of the American Negro, if it is ever faced and assessed, makes it possible to hope for such a reconciliation. The hope and the effect of this fusion in the breast of the American Negro is one of the few hopes we have of surviving the wilderness which lies before us now.”

Quote: “…a real writer is always shifting and changing and searching. The world has many labels for him, of which the most treacherous is the label of success. But the man behind the label knows defeat far more intimately than he knows triumph. He can never be absolutely certain that he has achieved his intention.”

Quote: “The story, without seeming to, goes very deeply into the demoralization of the Negro male and the resulting fragmentation of the Negro family which occurs when the female is forced to play the male role of breadwinner.”

Quote: “This might not have been so serious if I had been older when we met…if I had been, that is, less uncertain of myself, and less monstrously egotistical.”

Quote: “…as so often happens, my first real triumph turned out to be the herald of my first real defeat.”

Quote: “There is very little point, I think, in regretting anything.”

Quote: Richard Wright: “All literature is ;protest. You can’t name a single novel that isn’t protest.”

Quote: “Part of the trouble between Richard and myself, after all, was that I was nearly twenty hears younger and had never seen the South.”

Quote: “…Richard was able, at last, to live in Paris exactly as he would have lived, had he been a white man, here in America.”

Quote: “When I say simply a black man, I do not mean that being a black man is simple, anywhere. But I am suggesting that one of the prices an American Negro pays—or can pay—for what is called his ‘acceptance’ is a profound, almost ineradicable serf-hatred. This corrupts every aspect of his living, he is never at peace again, he is out of touch with himself forever.”

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

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