Death of paradox

April 30, 2011


James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist. Baldwin described the ambiguous situation of black Americans in the 1950s as Kafkaesque. He predicted that American nation will be put to death by paradox, itself a paradox since Americans seemed intent on putting paradox to death. He then situates American author Richard Wright fictional character Bigger Thomas in Native Son (1940) as a character controlled, defined by hatred and fear as a descendant of Uncle Tom. Bigger Tom’s hatred and fear later drive him to murder and rape. Baldwin saw Richard Wright as the 1940s Negro novelist locked with the 19th century New England author in a deadly timeless battle. He decries the fact that Bigger Tom’s tragedy is that he has accepted a theology that situates him as subhuman eternally constrained to fight for his humanity. Baldwin then summarizes, “But our humanity is our burden, our life, we need not battle for it; we need only do what is infinitely more difficult, that is accept it. The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended (Baldwin “Everybody’s Protest Novel” in Zero 1955: 58).”

1852 American author Harriet Beecher Stowe published her anti-slavery novel entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. Although some argued that the novel “helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War” (Will Kaufman) James Baldwin claimed that is reeked of self-righteousness and virtuous sentimentality. Baldwin argued that sentimentality is the mark of dishonesty which betray the sentamentalist’s aversion of experience, fear of life and an arid heart. Baldwin states that sentimentalism is a signal of secret and violent inhumanity, a mask for cruelty. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a “catalogue of violence”. He described Harriet Beecher Stowe as an impassioned pampheteer not a novelist who wrote solely to reveal the immorality of slavery (Baldwin “Everybody’s Protest Novel” Zero 1955: 57).

1924 James Baldwin was born

1938 Shoghi Effendi (1938:36) Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote that racial prejudice was the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Americas.

“Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the…believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits (1938:36).”

“The ceaseless exertions which this issue of paramount importance calls for, the sacrifices it must impose, the care and vigilance it demands, the moral courage and fortitude it requires, the tact and sympathy it necessitates, invest this problem…with an urgency and importance that cannot be overestimated (1938:34).”

” [Freedom from racial prejudice] should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá’í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies (1938:36).”

1940 American author Richard Wright published Native Son. James Baldwin in his essay entitled “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (c. 1950s?: 54-59) published in Zero situated American author Richard Wright fictional character Bigger Thomas in Native Son (1940) as a character controlled, defined by hatred and fear as a descendant of Uncle Tom. Bigger Tom’s hatred and fear later drive him to murder and rape. Baldwin saw Richard Wright as the 1940s Negro novelist locked with the 19th century New England author in a deadly timeless battle. He decries the fact that Bigger Tom’s tragedy is that he has accepted a theology that situates him as subhuman eternally constrained to fight for his humanity. Native Son is number 71 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. The Modern Library placed it number 20 on its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. Time Magazine also included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

1941 Seventeen-year-old James Baldwin studied at The New School, Greenwich Village, New York City.

1948 James Baldwin lived in Paris, France and became involved in the cultural radicalism of the Left Bank. His work started to be published in literary anthologies, notably Zero.

1949-1956 Albert Benveniste and Themistocles and Hoetis were editors of Zero, Gotham Book Mart Selection. James Baldwin’s essay entitled “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (pp 54-59) was published in Zero. http://books.google.com/books?id=9wdVDKAZZFoC&pg=PP5&lpg=PP5&dq=New+York+Times+’Zero’+Themistocles+Hoetis&q=New+York+Times+’Zero’+Themistocles+Hoetis&hl=en#v=snippet&q=New%20York%20Times%20′Zero’%20Themistocles%20Hoetis&f=false

“It is the peculiar triumph of society – and its loss – that it is able to convince those people to whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree; it has the force and the weapons to translate its dictum into fact, so that the allegedly inferior are actually made so, insofar as the societal realities are concerned. This is a hidden phenomenon now than it was in the days of serfdom, but it is no less implacable. Now, as then, we find ourselves bound, first without, then within, by the nature of categorization. And escape is not effected through a bitter railing against this trap upon us. We take our shape, it is true, within and against that cage of reality bequeathed us at our birth; and yet it is precisely betrayed. Society is held together by our need; we bind it together with legend, myth, coercion, fearing that without it we will be hurled into that void, within which, like the earth before the Word was spoken, the foundations of society are hidden. From this void – ourselves – it is the function of society to protect us; but it is only this void, our unknown selves, demanding forever, a new act of creation, which can save us – “from the evil that is in the world.” With the same motion, at the same time, it is this toward which we endlessly struggle and from which, endlessly, we struggle to escape(Baldwin “Everybody’s Protest Novel” Zero 1955: 57).”

“It must be remembered that the oppressed and oppressor are bound within the same society; they accept the same criteria, they share the same beliefs, they both alike depend on the same reality. Within this cage it is (Baldwin “Everybody’s Protest Novel” Zero 1955: 57) romantic, more, meaningless, to speak of a “new” society as the desire of the oppressed, for that shivering independence on the props of reality wyhich he shares with the herrenvolk makes a truly “new” society impossible to conceive. What vengeance will be exacted; either there will be no oppressed at all or the oppressed and the oppressor will change places (Baldwin “Everybody’s Protest Novel” Zero 1955: 58).”

1955 James Baldwin published Notes of a Native Son. The title refers to Richard Wright’s 1940 protest novel entitled Native Son.

1963 James Baldwin’s book entitled The Fire Next Time was considered to be one of the most influential books about race relations. In it Baldwin predicted, “The Negroes of this country may never be able to rise to power, but they are very well placed indeed to precipitate chaos and ring down the curtain on the American dream.” Could he have imagined President Obama?

“James Baldwin’s collection of essays, The Fire Next Time, is considered one of the most influential books on race relations published during the 1960s. Divided into two sections, the book urges the politicization of both African Americans and European Americans on the issue of racism. Baldwin explains that the radicalism and militancy of many prominent African Americans is a reaction to feelings of alienation inspired by traditional American society. Originally published as two separate works – “Letter from a Region in My Mind” in The New Yorker and “A Letter to My Nephew” in the Progressive – the essays were retitled “Down at the Cross” and “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation” for their appearance in book form. Using rhetorical devices learned in his youth as a Pentecostal preacher and examples from his own life, Baldwin argues for an end to racism (Gale Free Resources).”

“In order to survive as a human, moving, moral weight in the world, America and all the Western nations will be forced to reexamine themselves and release themselves from many things that are now taken to be sacred, and to discard nearly all the assumptions that have been used to justify their lives and their anguish and their crimes so long (Baldwin).”

1979-1981 Atlanta Child Murders were a series of murders committed in Atlanta, Georgia, United States in which a minimum of twenty-eight African-American children, adolescents and adults were killed creating an atmosphere of panic and paranoia. James Baldwin documented these murders in his nonfiction book entitled The Evidence of Things Not Seen. Although Atlanta African American Wayne Williams was convicted of two murders and suspected to be guilty of more Baldwin criticized the “untidy” criminal investigation process and felt it was incomplete.

1987 James Baldwin died.

Who’s Who

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist.

Webliography and Bibliography

Baldwin, James. 1962-11-17. “Letter From a Region of My Mind.The New Yorker. “Letter from a Region in My Mind.” p. 59.

Baldwin, James. 1963. “Down At the Cross; Letter From a Region of My Mind.” The Fire Next Time. Dial Press. USA.
Baldwin, James. 1963. The Fire Next Time. Dial Press. USA.
Baldwin, James. 1964. The Fire Next Time. Penguin Books. UK.


Charles Taylor’s book entitled The Ethics of Authenticity was first published in Canada under the name “The Malaise of Modernity” which was broadcast in November 1991 on the CBC’s Ideas series. By 2003 it was in its 11th printing.

Three Malaises of Modernity.

1. The first malaise concerns the dangers of individualism and the loss of meaning.

“. [...] The worry has been repeatedly expressed that the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action. Some have written of this as the loss of a heroic dimension to life.  People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for.  Alex de Tocqueville [author of Democracy in America] sometimes talked like this in the last century, referring to the “petits et vulgaires plaisirs” [“petty and vulgar pleasures”] that people tend to seek in the democratic age.  In another articulation, we suffer from a lack of passion.  Kierkegaard saw “the present age” in these terms. And Nietzsche’s “last men” are at the final nadir of this decline; they have no aspiration left in life but to a “pitiable comfort.” This loss of purpose was linked to a narrowing. People lost the broader vision because they focused on their individual lives. Democratic equality, says Tocqueville, draws the individual towards himself, “et menace de le renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur” [“and threatens finally to enclose him entirely within the solitude of his own heart”].  In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes  them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with  others or society (Taylor, Charles. 1991. “Taylor 1991:4 .”

2. The second malaise is the disenchantment of the world.

“Once society no longer has a sacred structure, once social arrangements and modes of action are no longer grounded in the order of things or the will of God, they are in a sense up for grabs. They can be redesigned with their consequences for the happiness and well-being of individuals as our goal. The yardstick that henceforth applies is that of instrumental reason Taylor 1991:5 .”

3. The third malaise concerns the atomism of the self-absorbed individual who is so “enclosed in their own hearts” and comfortable in their own homes that they no longer participate actively in self-government. This results in an “immense tutelary power” of a mild and paternalistic government, democratic in form with periodic elections but in reality a form of soft despotism as predicted by Tocqueville. (Tocqueville 1835) cited in Taylor 1991:9 .

“After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people. Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain (de Tocqueville 1835.” Democracy in America).”

de Tocqueville, Alexis. 1835. “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.” Democracy in America.

Taylor, Charles. 1991. “Three Malaises.” The Ethics of Authenticity. Harvard University Press. pp. 1-12.


1785 German philosopher Immanuel Kant () in his publication entitled “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals” translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

1839 According to Rifkin (EC 2009:346) it was the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer , (1788 – 1860) who was the first to clearly define the empathic process. In his paper entitled On the Basis of Morality (Über die Grundlage der Moral) submitted to the Royal Danish Society of Scientific Studies, Schopenhauer argued against Kant’s purely rational-based, prescriptive ethics and offered an opposing description of the source and foundation of morals. Schopenhauer made the controversial claim that compassion animated by feelings and emotions formed the basis of morality.

links

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11945/pg11945.html

http://www.archive.org/stream/basisofmorality00schoiala/basisofmorality00schoiala_djvu.txt


The Romantics argued that at the core of being there is an authentic self that is pure in nature, although corruptible by society. What made the Romantic era unique within the context of the evolutionary history of empathic consciousness is the great stress placed on what Rousseau, and later Wordsworth and Whitman, called the “Sentiment of Being.”

1755 In “Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men” Rousseau argued that the noble savage man, alienated from others was more authentic than the hypocritical, servile social man who tells people what they want to hear. Kant developed the concept of the “enlarged mentality” – the ability to exercise empathy, to “stand up in the mind of others”.

“the savage lives within himself; the social man lives always outside himself; he knows how to live only in the opinion of others, it is, so to speak from their judgment along that he derives the sense of his own existence.”

The social man is someone who cares only about appearances. Rousseau abandoned Paris (and the modern age) for rural isolation claiming that even the politeness of the city promoted corruption. He concluded that,

“We have only a deceptive and frivolous outward appearance, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. It suffices for me to to have proved that this is not the original state of man, and that it is only the spirit of society and the inequality it engenders which thus transform and corrupt all our natural inclinations.”

Rousseau sees human history as beginning with the struggle for mutual recognition that Hegel analyzed as the master-slave dialectic. Rousseau’s Sentiment of Being.”

1762 Rousseau’s self-help book on proper parenting entitled Emile was published.

1790s Rousseau’s self-help book on proper parenting entitled Emile rose in popularity at the dawn of the Romantic period. Romantics were attracted to Rousseau’s emphasis on nurturing the child’s natural instincts in direct opposition to John Locke’s assertion that children are born a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Rousseau argued that children who are naturally inclined towards the good and that childhood is a time for parents to honour and nurture their children so their naturally good instincts will develop (See Rifkin EC:354).

1790s Jane Austin introduced the two sisters Elinor and Marianne in her satire of dominant currents of the later 18th century entitled Sense and Sensibility (published in 1811). The reliable, predictable Elinor, who is the voice of reason, has a deep sense of responsibility, keeps her emotions in check, fulfills her social responsibilities but ultimately finds happiness when she discovers her inner sensibility and finally marries her true love. The overly emotional, romantic, Marianne is spontaneous to the point of being irresponsible represents the bleeding heart liberal governed entirely by passions and desires. She finds happiness when she balances her exercises more sense and reason in her decision-making and actions. keywords: ideological thinking. See Rifkin (EC:320).

1805 In The Prelude begun in his twenties by Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850)’s semi-autobiographical poem of his lifelong spiritual journey. early years spiritual autobiography, he associated the experience of beauty as transcending rational thought: Wordsworth’s “Sentiment of Being.” See Trilling 1972 Sincerity and Authenticity.

The song would speak
          Of that interminable building reared
          By observation of affinities
          In objects where no brotherhood exists
          To passive minds. My seventeenth year was come
          And, whether from this habit rooted now
          So deeply in my mind, or from excess
          In the great social principle of life
          Coercing all things into sympathy,                         390
          To unorganic natures were transferred
          My own enjoyments; or the power of truth
          Coming in revelation, did converse
          With things that really are; I, at this time,
          Saw blessings spread around me like a sea.
          Thus while the days flew by, and years passed on,
          From Nature and her overflowing soul,
          I had received so much, that all my thoughts
          Were steeped in feeling; I was only then
          Contented, when with bliss ineffable                       400
          I felt the sentiment of Being spread
          O'er all that moves and all that seemeth still;
          O'er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought
          And human knowledge, to the human eye
          Invisible, yet liveth to the heart;
          O'er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings,
          Or beats the gladsome air; o'er all that glides
          Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself,
          And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not
          If high the transport, great the joy I felt,               410
          Communing in this sort through earth and heaven
          With every form of creature, as it looked
          Towards the Uncreated with a countenance
          Of adoration, with an eye of love.
          One song they sang, and it was audible,
          Most audible, then, when the fleshly ear,
          O'ercome by humblest prelude of that strain
          Forgot her functions, and slept undisturbed.

Whitman "Sentiment of Being."

1807 G.W.F. Hegel major philosophical work entitled  Phänomenologie des Geistes [Phenomenology of Mind, Phenomenology of Spirit] was published. Hegel traced the evolution of consciousness distinguishing between lower and higher levels of consciousness. In the section entitled "Self Consciousness > A: Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness > Lordship and Bondage" Hegel developed the Master-slave dialectic.

1870 In "St. Paul and Protestantism" Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) wrote,

Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.

Trilling cited this in Sincerity and Authenticity (1972).

1968 Student uprisings at Columbia University, Trilling's academic intellectuals community. The adversary culture, the cruder form of liberalism, asserted itself. Complex arena of mental struggles were forced into the arena of simple political struggles. Moral, psychological, social selves that we imagined ourselves possessing were split and fragmented and a "dissociation of sensibility" took over. Wordsworth and Rousseau are crucial to Trlling in Sincerity and Authenticity.

1972 Trilling, Lionel. 1969-70. Sincerity and Authenticity. Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard published in 1972. "It comprises a history of the elaborate development of mind and self since Shakespeare, a brief consideration of certain literary texts he sees as central, a polemical refutation of some prophets of our time, and an authorial credo that conceals hope about literature while it counsels stoic resignation about life. And as his last argument with the forceful reality of death, it is also Trilling's attempt to discover a means by which estrangement of self from self might at last be resolved. Trilling's authentic authenticity is perhaps best embodied in Conrad of Heart of Darkness. Lesser authenticities Chace, William M. Lionel Trilling, criticism and politics. Lionel Trilling makes the point that authenticity is not to be confused with sincerity, which is being true to one's social self. Authenticity runs deeper-it is, in the words of Trilling, a "primitive" strength that is continually compromised by society. Maintaining one's core authenticity, for Rousseau and the Romantics, required a life of personal suffering and constant attention and sympathy to the plight of others. Only the alientated could enter into this world (Rifkin EC:350).

Sartre, the French existential philosopher of the mid-twentieth century, defined the sentiment of being as the place where

"each of us finds himself as well as the others. The common place belongs to me; in me, it

 

 

1990 Kenneth D. Bailey defined social entropy  as "a measure of social system structure, having both theoretical and statistical interpretations, i.e. society (macrosocietal variables) measured in terms of how the individual functions in society (microsocietal variables); also related to social equilibrium" in his publication entitled Social Entropy Theory. (State University of New York Press).

1999 In their publication entitled A Primer of Jungian Psychology  , (New York: Meridian), Calvin S. Hall and J. Vernon described "psychological entropy as the distribution of energy in the psyche, which tends to seek equilibrium or balance among all the structures of the psyche."

Robinson, Jeffrey Cane. The current of romantic passion.


A Note on the author of The Varieties of Religious Experience

“The road by which William James (1842-1910) arrived at his position of leadership among American philosophers was, during his childhood, youth and early maturity, quite as circuitous and unpredictable as were his father’s ideas on the training of his children. That Swedenborgian theologian foresaw neither the career of novelist for his son Henry, nor that of pragmatist philosopher for the older William. The father’s migrations between New York, Europe and Newport meant that William’s education had variety if it did not have fixed direction. From 13 to 18 he studied in Europe and returned to Newport, Rhode Island, to study painting under the guidance of John La Farge. After a year, he gave up art for science and entered Harvard University, where his most influential teachers were Louis Agassiz and Charles W. Eliot. In 1863, William James began the study of medicine, and in 1865 he joined an expedition to the Amazon. Before long, he wrote: “If there is anything I hate, it is collecting.” His studies constantly interrupted by ill health, James returned to Germany and began hearing lectures and reading voluminously in philosophy. He won his medical degree at Harvard in 1870 (28-years-old). For four years he was an invalid in Cambridge, but finally, in 1873, he passed his gravest physical and spiritual crises and began the career by which he was to influence so profoundly generations of American students. From 1880 (38) to 1907() he was successively assistant professor of philosophy, professor of psychology and professor of philosophy at Harvard. In 1890, the publication of his Principles of Psychology brought him the acknowledged leadership in the field of functional psychology. The selection of William James to deliver the Gifford lectures in Edinburgh was at once a tribute to him and a reward for the university that sponsored the undertaking. These lectures, collected in this volume, have since become famous as the standard scientific work on the psychology of the religious impulse. Death ended his career on August 27th, 1910 (Gutenberg project).”

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