NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 1 - Winter 2018 - Page 144

ep : And great violence . If they were stronger assumptions , they wouldn ’ t need the kind of arsenals they seem to require to keep their place in the world . And , you know , it ’ s funny when you talk about humor , because often these satirical statements of James Baldwin , and others , Richard Pryor , said these are things that aren ’ t funny at all . That people end up laughing at . The question becomes : What is it that makes things funny ? There is a modernist philosopher named Bergson . He wrote a book on humor , and he said that the essence of humor is putting things out of their place . So you take the low , and you make it high . You take the king and you make him low . Humor is to play with the inter-changeability of social position and cultural hierarchy . So deep in the fabric of what makes things funny , at the deepest level , is this playing with place . And , of course , in African American history , the notion of staying in one ’ s place is a massively political and historically loaded set of assumptions . Which again , are fragile , but come with perilous force . That rightly shouldn ’ t be played around with , but there go the comedians who are the first out there — through the doorway to play around with things .
jd : And again , to emphasize this point , which we shared earlier , is a remarkable series of gestures of tremendous courage on James Baldwin ’ s part . I remember as a teenager , first coming into the light of James Baldwin ’ s work , really being swept away by the great love that he has for everyone . And his ability , which I believe in our day and age is uncanny , to render even his closest enemies , if you will , with the full dimension of their human experience and contradictions .
ep : Yes , well , this is something he insisted upon , because he understood the deep logic of the idea that all hatred is self-hatred .
jd : There it is . Could you unpack that a little further ?
ep : That human realities are so entangled with each other . The reality is that one ’ s feelings about the world are never one-directional . One ’ s already too involved with one ’ s perceptions of the world . Whatever we see in life , we are also seeing our self there . If we recognize it , we are recognizing our self . If we say we don ’ t recognize it , chances are we ’ ve loaded it up with something we don ’ t want to see . The reality of human consciousness and human experience is that . It is , in essence , interaction . So , those feelings of hatred or violence or whatever they may be are coming back at you . This is something that James Baldwin was ambivalent [ about ], when it came to nonviolence as a philosophy and social practice . He admired it , but he had his questions about it . He certainly understood that one of its most powerful and sacred elements , that through that practice , one really did , at least , save oneself from becoming the mirror of the power , which was threatening you . Which I think James Baldwin thought was one of the key horrors of life . To become the image of that thing , which beset you . That ’ s one of the great seductions of the social arena : is to fight fire with fire in that way , and therefore , you burn yourself .
jd : Let me pivot just slightly from what you are saying to a point that just dovetails with what you are describing , and it came from an interview not long ago with Quincy Troupe on the subject of James Baldwin . We were talking about our contemporary world and how James Baldwin might have commentated on it . One of the things that Quincy brought up right away had to do with a word and idea , which comes up quite a bit in James Baldwin ’ s work , that we are alluding to here , that is almost never heard today , and that is conscience . That the individual does indeed have an honest , not fragmented , deep , sensual sense of what is right and what is wrong . And this is an idea that is barely broached anymore in the so-called social discourse or this kind of strange notion , but you hear it a lot in corporate-sponsored media , national conversation . One doesn ’ t hear much about conscience .
ep : No , I think the default position seems to be that one ’ s conscience seems to be a liability , and who can afford it ? In a corrupt world , carrying that ballast of what ’ s right through it makes it too heavy to get by . But , of course , there you are going down the river with it . And that way with no paddle . But part of what made James Baldwin so courageous , and so difficult really , in each of the eras that he worked through , was his insistence on multiple , often clashing , what I call registers of experience . Levels of your life . You feel one way about one dimension of your life , another way about another dimension , another way about a third . You have several of these dimensions of your life , and what writers — and , certainly politicians — do is : They feature one over the other , and make a kind of coherent statement in one direction on the basis of those silent other parts of your life . James Baldwin was radical in his reluctance to do that . He was also very fond of the word confession . Which is a term that I define at some length in the book .
Contributors Writer Monique Clesca lives in her native Haiti and in Miami, FL. She holds a BA in philosophy from Howard University and an MS in journalism from Northwestern University. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Black Renaissance Noire, Huffington Post, and The Root. She has published a novel and an essay collection in French. A recipient of numerous awards for her work as a child and women’s rights advocate, notably the Commander of Niger’s Order of Merit, and honorary titles from Niger’s Traditional Chiefs, she is writing a memoir about growing up under a brutal dictatorship. Andre Bagoo is a Trinidadian poet and writer. His poetry has appeared in Boston Review, Caribbean Review of Books, Cincinnati Review, Moko, St Petersburg Review,  The Poetry Review and elsewhere. In 2017, he was awarded The Charlotte and Isidor Paiewonsky Prize. In 2005, he was awarded an honourable mention in the Derek Walcott Writing Prize. His third book of poems, Pitch Lake, is published by Peepal Tree Press. Justin Desmangles is chairman of the Before Columbus Foundation, administrator of the American Book Award, and host of the radio broadcast New Day Jazz, now in its fifteenth year. A member of the board of directors of the Oakland Book Festival, Mr. Desmangles is also a program producer at the African-American Center of the San Francisco Public Library. Chantal Bizzini is a French poet, translator, photographer, and collage artist, who lives in Paris. She has published poetry and translations in many international literary journals. American poets she has translated extensively include Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, W. H. Auden, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, John Ashbery, Clayton Eshleman, Jorie Graham, Quincy Troupe. Her own poetry has been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, and Greek. Her first volume of poetry, Boulevard Magenta, was published in 2015 by le bousquet-la barthe éditions. In 2015, her book Disenchanted City, translated in English by Marilyn Kallet, J. Bradford Anderson and Darren Jackson, was published in a bilingual edition by Black Widow Press. Distinguished Professor in African American Studies at Wayne State University, Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd is an award-winning author of 13 books, nine of which are poetry. Death Dance of a Butterfly received the 2013 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award for Poetry, Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press received the Honor for Nonfiction from The Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall received the 2010 Independent Publishers Award, the 2010 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the 2010 ForeWord Award for Poetry. Boyd’s critically acclaimed and widely reviewed, Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E. W. Harper, 1825-1911, was the first comprehensive study on Harper. Chairman of Medgar Evers College Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Owen Brown has over 25 years experience in education. He has managed welfare-to-work and youth development programs, provided leadership for the National Urban League’s National School-to-Career initiative, served on the US Department of Labor and Department of Education’s national School-to-Work and Harrisburg School District School-to-Work Advisory Boards. He has taught at the SUNY-Stony Brook and University of Port Harcourt, located in Nigeria, West Africa. With a Ph.D. in sociology from Binghamton University, he is currently writing a book titled The African American Nightmares. Chester Higgins , retired staff photographer from The New York Times from 1975-2014 (39 years), has published nine books, including Chester Higgins’ Homage to Ethiopia (2015) and A Dance of Rivers (2014). A recipient of numerous awards, including Legacy Artist Award, Global Citizenship Award, International Youth Leadership Institute. The Gordon Parks Legend Award, and Nubian Women’s Art Circle Award, his photographs have been exhibited in embassies, galleries, and museums worldwide. Mildred Howard has received a Lee Krasner Award; NEA Grant in Sculpture; two Rockefeller Fellowships to the Rockefeller Center, Bellagio, Italy; Joan Mitchell Fellowship; Distinguished Women in the Arts Award from Fresno’s Council of 100; Arte Laguna 2013 Prize in Sculpture nomination. 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