Bourbon Bliss

Bourbon is beloved nationwide, but Kentucky has an unquenchable adoration for this spirit. Not only is it an $8.5 billion industry in the state, but there’s even a petition to switch Kentucky’s official drink from milk to bourbon.

KBFAs September is officially bourbon month, the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival is currently underway through September 17 in Bardstown. Delicious food, displays, music and entertainment, and a number of other events are being offered this week.

In celebration of this luscious libation, below is a sampling of recipes from Albert W.A. Schmid’s latest book with us, Burgoo, Barbecue & Bourbon.

 


 

burgoo

 

Bourbon Slush

2 cups strong tea
1 cup sugar
1 – 12 ounce can frozen lemonade (as is)
1 – 6 ounce frozen orange juice
6 cups water
1 ½ cups bourbon

Mix all of the ingredients. Freeze at least 12 hours. Remove from freezer 1 hour before serving. Scrape while still icy. Serve with straw and top with orange slice, maraschino cherry, and sprig of mint.

“The Greatest Kentucky Drink”

An Old Fashioned glass or a tumbler
3 ice cubes
2 ounces Kentucky Bourbon
4 ounces branch water

Place the ice cubes into the tumbler. Add the bourbon and branch water. Enjoy!

Moon Glow

Crushed ice
1 ½ bourbon
2 ounces cranberry juice
2 ounces orange juice
2 teaspoons maraschino cherry juice

Pack a tall glass with crushed ice. Add the cranberry juice and the orange juice. Add the maraschino cherry juice. Then add the bourbon. Stir well with a bar spoon and garnish with 2 maraschino cherries and a straw.

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Beer Lovers & Lovers of Beer Cheese

Happy National Beer Lovers Day! As far as hard beverages go, the Bluegrass State is known for its bourbon, but our state also boasts some great craft beer. Lexington is home to the Brewgrass Trail, and other breweries and pubs are scattered across the Commonwealth. You can find local beer in Louisville, Paris, Somerset, and beyond.

Although craft beer isn’t unique to Kentucky, Kentucky does something truly unique with beer. We add beer to cheese to make a delicious dip / spread / culinary concoction aptly known as beer cheese. In fact, Clark County, Kentucky–the Winchester area–is the birthplace of beer cheese, and we even have a Beer Cheese Trail!

BeerCheeseTrail_7x5_tabletent_2015_V2

To celebrate National Beer Lovers Day, below is a recipe that utilizes beer from Lexington’s own West Sixth Brewing. You can find this and other awesome recipes in Garin Pirnia’s The Beer Cheese Book, which we’ll be releasing this October. Cheers!

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Smithtown Seafood West Sixth Porter Beer Cheese

This recipe by Smithtown’s chef, Jon Sanning, includes a rich porter. The restaurant serves this beer cheese with fresh seasonal vegetables.

Makes about 5 cups

2 large garlic cloves, chopped
¼ medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon Crystal hot sauce (no substitutions!)
½ teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon mustard powder
1 pound and 2 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated
1 cup West Sixth Brewing Pay It Forward Cocoa Porter

In a food processor blend the garlic, onion, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, salt, cayenne, and mustard until smooth. Add ¼ of the grated cheddar and continue processing until smooth. Then alternate between adding the porter and the rest of cheese. When all of the beer and cheese has been added, scrape down the sides of the processor and continue to process until completely smooth.

Celebrating Gene Kelly

gene3

This week in history: a star was born. Wednesday, August 23, would have been Gene Kelly’s 104th birthday. Dancer, choreographer, director, actor, father, husband, sportsman, Naval lieutenant, political activist, and one of the most beloved icons of Hollywood’s golden age. What better way to celebrate than with a book giveaway? Enter for your chance to win a copy of He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly by Cynthia and Sara Brideson.

In the first comprehensive biography written since the legendary star’s death in 1996, Cynthia Sara Brideson disclose new details of Kelly’s complex life. Drawing on previously untapped articles and interviews with Kelly’s wives, friends, and colleagues, Brideson and Brideson illuminate new and unexpected aspects of the actor’s life and work. Not only do they examine his contributions to the world of entertainment in depth, but they also consider his political activities—including his opposition to the Hollywood blacklist.  He’s Got Rhythm is a balanced and compelling view of one of the screen’s enduring legends.

Below is an excerpt from the book. Here, we’re on the set of Singing’ in the Rain, as Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Gene Kelly practice the routine for “Good Morning”.


Another flare up took place after Gene relentlessly went through a tap routine with Debbie and Donald that was to accompany “Good Morning.” The scene takes place at Don’s mansion and depicts him, Cosmo, and Kathy brainstorming ideas of how to save Don and Lina’s disastrous talkie. To cheer themselves, they sing and dance everywhere from the counter of Don’s bar to his sofa. As Debbie and Donald rehearsed, Gene continually told them they were out of step. “You’re so stupid, you’re not doing the step right. You’re stupid,” he told Donald. Thirty-five years later, Donald told Debbie that Gene picked on him because he was in fact always mad at her. But, Gene knew that if he kept yelling at the young actress she would hold up production with her tears. “So he screamed at Donald, who wouldn’t cry,” Debbie concluded. Finally, Gene realized it was he who was tapping the dance steps incorrectly. This only fueled his temper; he chided his co-stars, who had noticed his fault all along, for not informing him of it.

After all the suffering involved in “Good Morning,” Gene was still unhappy with Debbie’s dancing and decided someone should dub her taps. He went into the recording room to dub the sound of her feet as well as his own. Gene’s lifelong drive for perfection and incessant dissatisfaction (which Debbie intuited was largely directed at himself) could not help but transfer to his co-stars. He did not take long to apologize to Donald O’Connor for using him as a whipping boy. “That’s okay, Gene. But next time you do it, I’ll kick you in the balls,” Donald told him with no trace of his usual clowning. There is no record that Gene ever unleashed his anger on Donald again.

 

Weird and Wonderful Tales from the Editorial Department: Meet Joe Martin

9780813174259Senior Editing Supervisor Ila McEntire loves a good story, and she’s in the right job to read some great ones. She delighted our staff recently by sharing the tale of an editorial mystery that arose while she was working on Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood by Sherri Snyder. Ila’s story was so much fun, we wanted to share it with you.

It all started with a photo caption . . .

and Joe Martin

Barbara La Marr with Ramon Novarro and Joe Martin in TRIFLING WOMEN (formerly BLACK ORCHIDS). From the collections of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

While editing our forthcoming biography of silent film star Barbara La Marr, I came across this photo and this (slightly edited) caption: “Barbara La Marr with Ramon Novarro and Joe Martin in TRIFLING WOMEN (1922).” It’s my job to make sure the photos match the captions, and I only see two people in this photo—Barbara and Ramon. “Where the heck is Joe Martin?” I thought.

JoeMEET JOE MARTIN. An orangutan who happened to be a silent film star. During this particular film’s production he attacked a (human) costar who antagonized him after fifteen grueling hours onset. It took six men to rescue the victim, who came away from the altercation with some broken bones and a nasty bite on his hand; he never worked with Joe Martin again. Joe was usually gentle, and he adored the film’s leading lady (Barbara La Marr).

Our Director of Editing, Design, and Production, David Cobb, had never heard of Joe Marin either, and we discovered (by Googling) that there’s a controversy as to his species —some folks say chimp, some say orangutan. (Our author says orangutan, so I’m obliged to agree.)

But the IMBD page identifies him as a chimp. I don’t know whose flag to follow, but he looks like an orangutan in the photo to me!


Barbara La Marr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood will be available in November, 2017.

Happy Birthday, Dustin Hoffman!

Dustin Hoffman became an octogenarian today! Among his many acting roles, one of Hoffman’s most famous is that of Benjamin Braddock, the hapless title character of 1967’s The Graduate. He starred alongside Anne Bancroft, known as the older seductress Mrs. Robinson. Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel mentions that Hoffman “had been impressive in stage work in New York and brought [a] kind of sweet goofiness to the part.”

Below is an excerpt from the book. Here, Hoffman and Bancroft are presenting together at the Oscars nearly three decades after The Graduate was released.


Those films had not yet been released when, in March 1993, Anne appeared on the Academy Awards show to present an Oscar for screenwriting. Presenting with her was her Graduate costar, Dustin Hoffman. In the years since their film Hoffman had starred in three best picture winners in three different decades—Midnight Cowboy, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Rain Man—and had won Oscars for the latter two films. None was more popular than The Graduate. Hoffman played off that nostalgia when he and Anne presented the awards for screenwriting via satellite from New York. It seems that Anne had not completed the description of the award for a screenplay written directly for the screen, and Hoffman added, “and not previously published or produced.” She turned to him and said, “Thank you,” but continued to hold him in her gaze.

Her former costar looked at her not once but twice before asking, “Are you trying to seduce me?” As the reference to the line from The Graduate drew laughter and applause, Anne smiled and turned to the audience and said, “Not anymore.” Both cracked up along with those in the room. “Oh, boy,” she said after Hoffman hugged her, “are we having fun.”


If you’re interested in learning more about Bancroft’s role in The Graduate and other films, pick up Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel, forthcoming from UPK in September 2017.

THE GRADUATE, from left: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, 1967

Anne and Dustin Hoffman in the seduction scene in The Graduate (1967). The huge financial and critical success forever set her in the public’s mind as the sexy Mrs. Robinson. Everett Collection

The Softer Side of Michael Curtiz

9780813173917In a few months, we’ll publish Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode. As the first comprehensive biography in English of the director of classic films such as Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and White Christmas (1954), this book highlights some fantastic stories about one of the film industry’s most complex figures.

Since it’s high summer and a number of us here at the press are devotedly tending home gardens, the following anecdote from the book really struck a chord. Curtiz was famously known for having a temper on set, but it seems that the legendary director did have great compassion for a garden’s most adorable scourge: bunnies.

The following is excerpted from the book:


Victory Garden

The war years sped by for Curtiz. Long days at the studio were interspersed with leisure time on Saturday nights and Sundays at the Canoga Ranch. Though his dedication to polo began to taper off, Curtiz’s passion for shooting skeet remained constant. He wore a jacket around the ranch adorned with a sleeve patch that bore a “50” insignia, indicating that he’d successfully hit fifty consecutive targets without a miss.

World War II motivated everyone to support the Allied cause. John Meredyth Lucas [Curtiz’s adopted son] remembered “the war had gotten Mother out of bed.” Bess [Curtiz’s wife] became involved with the British War Relief Society during the early years of the war. She joined Virginia Zanuck and many other friends in supporting “Bundles for Britain.” Started in a New York City storefront, the wartime charity ultimately delivered $1,500,000 in clothing to a belt-tightened United Kingdom along with another million in cash.

Then there were the ubiquitous victory gardens championed by the government to support the war effort. Bess seeded a large plot adjacent to the main house to raise vegetables for the family table. Although she diligently tended the garden, it wasn’t productive; the local rabbit population became nighttime saboteurs. After an unsuccessful attempt to fence off the garden from the pests, Curtiz initiated an evening stakeout with his shotgun. After spotting a rabbit, Curtiz shot it in the leg, then experienced an epiphany as the injured creature piteously attempted to drag itself to safety. According to John Meredyth Lucas, the episode brought forth a compassionate side from Curtiz that was rarely witnessed on a film set:

Mike watched, horror-stricken. Then, calling for help, he carefully captured the wounded rabbit. We had a veterinarian we used for all our dogs. Mike had Mother get the vet out of bed and took the rabbit to the animal hospital. The rabbit made a slow but satisfactory recovery and was ultimately turned loose on the ranch again. “Why hell we need garden?” Mike asked Mother. “We doesn’t eat much vegetable.” Henceforth we bought our greens at the market. Mike had always loved rabbit cooked the French provincial way, but as far as I know, he never again ordered this dish.


Excerpted from Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode, forthcoming from the University Press of Kentucky in October 2017.

Celebrating James Baldwin

Today, on what would have been James Baldwin’s 93rd birthday, we’re celebrating by sharing an excerpt from A Political Companion to James Baldwin edited by Susan J. McWilliams (forthcoming November 2017). In this selection, eminent scholar Eddie S. Glaude Jr. explores why contemporary activists follow Baldwin in a radical cultivation of democratic individuality in the service of racial justice.


James Baldwin and Black Lives Matter

By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.9780813169910

I want to think about Black Lives Matter in a different register, one that connects this complex movement with the extraordinary insights of James Baldwin. My reflections were triggered by citations of Baldwin by protesters (and serve as kind of run-up to a more extensive engagement with his disturbing book on the Atlanta child murders, The Evidence of Things Not Seen).[1] To put it bluntly, Jimmy is everywhere. People, especially young people, seem to be reaching for him as way of accounting for the latest disaster—the latest national panic around race—that has defined this country since its beginnings. In fact, when I think about the protests and the damning precarity of black life in this country, Baldwin’s words come to mind: “America sometimes resembles . . . an exceedingly monotonous minstrel show; the same dances, same music, same jokes. One has done (or been) the show so long that one can do it in one’s sleep.”[2] To be sure, there is something familiar and wholly unprecedented in our current moment. No wonder activists are reaching for Baldwin.

My thoughts are preliminary; they are inchoate. They reflect my efforts to think about Baldwin as a kind of exemplar of a perfectionist tradition that takes shape under the conditions of domination. I want to suggest that Black Lives Matter refracts this tradition in particularly interesting ways. Of course, against the backdrop of events in Ferguson and Baltimore and the deaths of so many black women and men at the hands of the police, the assertion that black lives matter takes on added significance. We utter the words in the context of life-and-death circumstances—at least some of us do—circumstances that seem to be a constant feature of what it means to be black in this country.

[ . . . ]

In no way do we live in a society like apartheid South Africa (that would be an example at the extreme), but we do live in a country where black people confront every day the reality that we are less valued; it is experienced, as Clarissa Hayward argues, in the very built environment of this nation—in our neighborhoods, where we go to school, and the places we work.[3] The data are crystal clear. African Americans suffer chronic double-digit unemployment. We lead the nation in rates of heart disease and HIV/AIDS. African Americans make up nearly 1 million of the 2.4 million Americans in prison. When we think about the differences between whites and blacks in high school graduation rates, among those with college degrees, mortality rates, in access to health care, in levels of wealth, differences in salaries with the same level of education, in the percentage of children in poverty, we can see, independent of individual acts of racism, that white Americans, particularly those with money, matter more than others.[4]

We ought to understand the Black Lives Matter movement as a rejection of this belief. More to the point, we ought to understand it as a rejection of the belief that white lives are presumed more valuable than black lives. Because, it is that belief—the view that animates so much of the mess that has undermined democratic life in this country—that limits our ability to reach for higher excellences (and I mean this for both black and white Americans).

I use the language of excellences purposefully. I want to think about the Black Lives Matter movement in the tradition of what I call black democratic perfectionism: that is, a radical cultivation of democratic individuality in the service of racial justice. Within the Black Lives Matter movement, we find an insistence on the expansiveness of black life—at the forefront of the protests are black members of the LGTBQ community, the working black poor, and others challenging the state as well as narrow conceptions of black political leadership and action—all in the name of a robust form of black individuality (and I don’t mean some facile bourgeois idea of individualism consistent with the political rationality of neoliberalism—although it is certainly susceptible to it).[5]

My model for this view is James Baldwin. In his essay “The Uses of the Blues,” Baldwin clearly states what he takes to be the “Negro Problem”:

I’m talking about what happens to you if, having barely escaped suicide, or death, or madness, or yourself, you watch your children growing up and no matter what you do, no matter what you do, you are powerless, you are really powerless, against the force of the world that is out to tell your child that he has no right to be alive. And no amount of liberal jargon, and no amount of talk about how well and how far we have progressed, does anything to soften or to point out any solution to this dilemma. In every generation, ever since Negroes have been here, every Negro mother and father has had to face that child and try to create in that child some way of surviving this particular world, some way to make the child who will be despised not despise himself. I don’t know what the “the Negro Problem” means to white people, but this is what it means to Negroes.[6]

Here Baldwin foregrounds the idea of white supremacy that I put forward earlier: that the fact of growing up, of coming of age, in a place that denies you standing distorts one’s sense of self and disfigures one’s character. It arrests one’s capacities, and, in that light, it is with great effort and risk that one takes up the task of self-creation in such a world.

This is what Baldwin tries to convey to William Buckley and the young students at Cambridge in 1965. Here Baldwin insists on a sense of perspective: how the question of who we are gets handled, managed, and pursued under adverse conditions matters. It matters if one bears the brunt of the police baton and if one does not, if one is a descendant of slaves or of slaveholders. Both may be inheritors of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call upon us, but the difference matters greatly. As Baldwin writes, “To persuade black boys and girls, as we have for so many generations, that their lives are worth less than other lives, and that they can live only on terms dictated to them by other people, by people who despise them, is worse than a crime; it is the sin against the Holy Ghost.”[7] This is, and it must be said without concern for hurt feelings or guilt, undeniably white supremacy.

Baldwin makes explicit the primal scene of instruction: it is a context in which black people are seen as disposable. This scene, in all of its messiness, casts in relief what Stanley Cavell calls Emersonian perfectionism.[8] For Emerson, we have the task before us to ascend to higher forms of excellences. But this task isn’t rooted in some fixed destination or some final resting place of perfection (the spiral stairs going upward—taking each step and leaving others behind). That final resting place, however, differs for each person. Life’s journey consists of better and more excellent versions of who we take ourselves to be. Each experience of significance calls us to a higher sense of ourselves and requires the abandonment of older versions. Jeffrey Stout puts it best: “The higher self congeals out of the highest intimations of excellence you can intuit from where you stand. Excellence and sacred value are the kinds of goodness that matter most for living well.”[9]

But the daunting challenge of seeking a higher self in a world that denies one standing gives new meaning to W. E. B. Du Bois’s cry of “two unreconciled strivings.”[10] For African Americans, as Langston Hughes said, life ain’t been no crystal stair.[11] To embrace perfectionism across the proverbial tracks, then, requires something more fundamental; it requires a confrontation with what Baldwin calls reality. For Baldwin, reality is a denotative term for whatever happens in experience: the doings and sufferings of people transacting with environments that result in joys and suffering, even though white people are seen as more valuable than others.[12]

Baldwin asserts a form of perfectionism in such an environment, and that assertion requires an unflinching encounter with the ugliness of who we are and a rejection of comforting illusions that hide the lie and all of the rot underneath the American Idea. Here our moral and ethical senses are profoundly distorted, and any robust idea of the public good is obscured. As Baldwin put it: “What is most terrible is that American white men are not prepared to believe my version of the story, to believe that it happened. In order to avoid believing that, they have set up in themselves a fantastic system of evasions, denials, and justifications, which system is about to destroy their grasp of reality, which is another way of saying their moral sense.”[13] This adds another layer of complexity to the context of the black democratic perfectionism he commends. It is not just white supremacy—the fact that life as it is in this country says over and over again to the black child of fifteen and to the black woman of forty that you are less then (and it says this in every possible way)—it is also the maddening fact that the country denies what it has done and continues to do to black people, a kind of willful ignorance. As if Baltimore or Ferguson is somehow a surprise just as Harlem and Watts and Detroit were shocking some fifty years ago. That innocence is the crime, as Baldwin noted, and it corroborates what he mercilessly described as the monstrous quality of this place: “There is something monstrous about never having been hurt, never having been made to bleed, never having lost anything, never having gained anything because life is beautiful, and in order to keep it beautiful you’re going to stay just the way you are and you’re not going to test your theory against all the possibilities outside. America is like that. The failure on our part to accept the reality of pain, of anguish, of ambiguity, of death has turned us into a very peculiar and sometimes monstrous people.”[14] The reality of white supremacy and its repeated evasion or outright denial makes the idea of abandoning older versions of ourselves damn near impossible. We seem to be comfortable right where we are—permanently docked in the station.

But for black folk, especially those who languish in the shadows of America’s ghettos, to stay right where we are means to surrender to death. So, Baldwin’s insistence on reaching for higher forms of excellence under captive conditions demands an unflinching encounter with the uses and abuses of the past. As he says in “The White Man’s Guilt”:

History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, Oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more human and more liberating.[15]

Such an approach to history requires a black self, in particular, that isn’t reducible to sociology as Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray described it—the flat statistics and stereotypes that trap Americans in the farce that is race relations.

I am not talking about the version of the story that trades in the Willie Hortons, Bigger Thomases, the welfare queens, the thugs of the world—those black people who are natively criminal or, because of their woeful circumstances, destined to be criminal. I am not talking about that. Instead, black democratic perfectionism requires a self with a rich and complex interiority, what William James refers to in The Varieties of Religious Experience as a two-storied self—an interior that has been, whether we want to admit it or not, terribly wounded by the inescapability of what Toni Morrison describes as a nastiness that will dirty you on the inside.[16]

[ . . . ]

Baldwin commends perfectionism in the context of a system of domination that denies black selves any standing. He also insists on a vibrant and complex black interiority in a world that reduces us to flat, predictable characters and narrates its history to corroborate such descriptions. Both are bound up, constrained by, an idea of history that corroborates the lie that some people matter more than others. But, again, this is not some bourgeois preoccupation, some private affair with no public consequence. Black democratic perfectionism has radical implication for the order of things. As Baldwin puts it, “When a black man, whose destiny and identity have always been controlled by others, decides and states that he will control his own destiny and rejects the identity given to him by others, he is talking revolution.”[17]

Baldwin’s witness entailed aspirational claims about what kind of society we hoped to live in and what kind of persons we aspired to be as well as claims, rooted in care, about the historical depth of where we now stand (that is, about the enduring legacy of white supremacy that deforms self-formation and about the history of struggle that constitutes the backdrop of current efforts). His democratic perfectionism is situated in the histories of black life in particular and American life more generally—stories that narrate the litany of events and the chorus of black voices struggling for freedom and resisting the arbitrary use of power. These histories carry with them an ethical ought: that the struggle and sacrifices of so many require of those who are its immediate beneficiaries a commitment to treating one’s fellows justly and to ensuring a society where all can flourish—a society in which all of us can reach for higher excellences.

Invocations of that history can spur or constrain; they can serve as “wind beneath our wings” in the context of creative engagement with the present, or they can limit the range of actions to a stale, ossified set of practices that purportedly best represent our efforts. Baldwin’s democratic perfectionism commends the former. He insists that we look the facts of our experience squarely in the face and challenge directly the idea that white people matter more and upend a world comfortable with the senseless death of black people.[18]

To my mind, Black Lives Matter, at its best, works in this register. Young people all around the country are challenging the underlying assumptions of white supremacy. They are putting their bodies on the line, disturbing the peace, and “asking hard questions and taking very rude positions.” This is what our moment requires. Turning our backs on the status quo and demanding a revolution of value. But it also requires that we abandon older versions of ourselves. That we break loose from stale models of black political engagement and confining ideas of black community and obligation. We can no longer suffer from what I want to call catalepsis: that political condition characterized by rigidity and fixity of posture; it is that which arrests the perfectionist impulse; it paralyzes us, keeps us where we currently are, allows for a black political class to exploit that fixed position in the name of progress, and desensitizes us to the pain and terror of what it means to be black in this country. We remain trapped.

But these young folk are daring to break free (with all of the complications that daring and risk entail). They are asserting the uniqueness and distinctiveness of their own voices. In short, they are daring to be—and that, if I understand Baldwin, is a revolutionary act in this country. As he put the point in a short piece written in 1959 titled “A Word from Writer Directly to Reader”: “What the times demand, and in an unprecedented fashion, is that one be—not seem—outrageous, independent, anarchical. That one be thoroughly disciplined—as a means of being spontaneous. That one resist at whatever cost the fearful pressures placed on one to lie about one’s experience.”[19] To my mind, Black Lives Matter, at its best, enacts this formulation courageously and, to take a phrase from Henry James, “at the pitch of passion.”[20]

Notes

[1] James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (New York: Holt, Reinhart, 1985).

[2] James Baldwin, “Black Power,” in The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, ed. Randall Kenan (New York: Pantheon, 2010), 81.

[3] Clarissa Rile Hayward, How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[4] I am mindful of arguments like William Buckley’s and other conservatives that attribute much of this state of affairs to the pathologies of black people. In his debate with James Baldwin at Cambridge in 1965, Buckley mobilizes this argument in response to Baldwin by citing Nathan Glazer. Here Buckley shifts the blame, after citing the progress that Baldwin himself represents, onto shoulders of black people. Baldwin’s eyes were ablaze upon hearing this “nonsense.” But Baldwin answers this argument clearly in his essay “The Uses of the Blues” (which first appeared in Playboy in January 1964).

The fact that Harry Belafonte makes as much money as, let’s say, Frank Sinatra, doesn’t really mean anything in this context. Frank can still get a house anywhere, and Harry can’t. . . . [W]hen we talk about what we call “the negro problem” we are simply evolving means of avoiding the facts of this life. Because in order to face the facts of a life like Billie’s [Holiday] or, for that matter, a life like mine, one has got to—the white American has got to—accept the fact that what he thinks he is, he is not. He has to give up, he has to surrender his image of himself and apparently this is the last thing white Americans are prepared to do.

See “The Uses of the Blues,” in The Cross of Redemption, ed. Kenan, 60–61. Well, Buckley is clear about this. In fact, he says if it comes down to America’s precious ideals, then they “will fight the issue.”

[5] Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone, 2015).

[6] Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption, ed. Kenan, 60.

[7] Ibid., 84.

[8] See Stanley Cavell’s Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

[9] Jeffrey Stout and Ron Kuipers, “Excellence and the Emersonian Perfectionist: An Interview with Jeffrey Stout, Part 1,” in The Other Journal: An Intersection of Theology and Culture (September 1, 2009), http://theotherjournal.com/2009/09/01/excellence-and-the-emersonian-perfectionist-an-interview-with-jeffrey-stout-part-i/.

[10] W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), 7.

[11] Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son,” in The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing, ed. Dianne Johnson (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 81.

[12] The connection to Emerson is strong. In the beginning of “As Much Truth as One Can Bear” (1962), Baldwin strikes an Emersonian note, recalling the beginning of Nature, as he seeks to open space for young writers who write in the shadow of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, and Faulkner. I was particular struck by this formulation. It gives one a sense of the different stakes in Baldwin’s perfectionism: “We live in a country in which words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not to wake him up; and therefore, it seems to me, the adulation so cruelly proffered our elders has nothing to do with their achievement—which I repeat was mighty—but has to do with our impulse to look back on what we now imagine to have been a happier time. It is an adulation which has panic at the root” (The Cross of Redemption, ed. Kenan, 29).

[13] Ibid., 77.

[14] Ibid., 64.

[15] James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt,” in James Baldwin: The Collected Essays: Volume 2 (New York: Library of America, 1998), 722–23. This echoes Baldwin’s point about God in The Fire Next Time (New York: Vintage, 1962). If the concept doesn’t make us larger, freer, and more loving—in short, more humane and more liberating—then it’s time we got rid of him.

[16] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Modern Library, 1902).

[17] Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption, ed. Kenan, 81. How might we think of Philip Petit’s notion of freedom as nondomination in light of Baldwin’s position? Petit argues that freedom ought to be understood “as the absence of subjection to the will of others.” He limits this, however, to social, political, and economic questions/concerns. But subjection can happen, and Baldwin insists on this point, at the level of historical memory—how our refusal to confront the past or willingness to disremember that past can do the work of domination much more efficiently, or at least less brutally, than the coercive arm of the state. That refusal to remember, as you recall, results in a startling fact: that white folks are as unfree, if not more so, than black folks. They’re stuck.

[18] This is the connective tissue of the tradition I am trying to outline here. As Ms. Ella Baker said so powerfully, “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” This is the direct challenge to white supremacy as I have defined it. It is the ground upon which Black Lives Matter acquires meaning. So it is not about asserting our value; it is about rejecting the belief that snuffs out the ability of others to reach for higher selves.

[19] Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption, ed. Kenan, 8.

[20] Henry James, The Art of Criticism: Henry James on the Theory and Practice of Fiction, ed. William Veeder and Susan M. Griffin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 235. In The Cross of Redemption, Baldwin writes, “I am aiming at what Henry James called ‘perception at the pitch of passion’” (49).


Excerpted from A Political Companion to James Baldwin edited by Susan J. McWilliams, forthcoming from the University Press of Kentucky in November 2017.