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Ante Antietam

Michael Irwin

24 January 1980
Confederates 
by Thomas Keneally.
Collins, 427 pp., £5.75, October 1980, 0 00 222141 1
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Just Above My Head 
by James Baldwin.
Joseph, 597 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 7181 1764 6
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Winter Doves 
by David Cook.
Secker, 213 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 436 10673 6
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All Girls Together 
by Paula Neuss.
Duckworth, 141 pp., £5.95, November 1980, 0 7156 1454 1
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... significantly wrong through lack of the literary control that Thomas Keneally so abundantly exhibits. If one were to judge him simply on the evidence of Just Above My Head, one would have to say that JamesBaldwin’s talents, though striking, are notably incomplete. He is like an oarsman who powerfully thrashes out a circle because one arm is stronger than the other. The starting-point of the story is ...

The Last Witness

Colm Tóibín: The career of James Baldwin

20 September 2001
... On 1 February 2001 eight writers came to pay homage to JamesBaldwin in the Lincoln Center in New York. The event was booked out and there were people standing outside desperately looking for tickets. The audience was strange; in general in New York an audience is ...

Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen

11 October 2018
... and underwhelming. Most of the information so dutifully gathered would now be available through a call to the author’s publicist, and the rest would probably come up if an agent googled, say, ‘JamesBaldwin communist?’ Like lazy students of literature everywhere, the agents filing reports didn’t usually bother to do their reading. In the documents collected here only the report on Norman ...
7 February 1991
Talking at the Gates: A Life of James​ Baldwin 
by James​ Campbell.
Faber, 306 pp., £14.99, January 1991, 0 571 15391 7
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James BaldwinArtist on Fire 
by W.J. Weatherby.
Joseph, 412 pp., £17.99, June 1990, 0 7181 3403 6
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... It may be an accident of rereading that makes me want to put JamesBaldwin’s essays and novels together, to see The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room, for example, as versions of each other. But the matched books do make interesting sense: more thoughtful sense ...

Tears in the Café Select

Christopher Prendergast

9 March 1995
Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and Others on the Left Bank 1946-1960 
by James​ Campbell.
Secker, 305 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 436 20106 2
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Foreign Correspondent: Paris in the Sixties 
by Peter Lennon.
Picador, 220 pp., £16.99, April 1994, 0 330 31911 6
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The Good Ship Venus: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press 
by John de St Jorre.
Hutchinson, 332 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 09 177874 3
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... Paris figures in the titles of both James Campbell’s and Peter Lennon’s books, but this is a restricted, specialised Paris. Campbell takes us into something called the ‘Interzone’ (the term is odd, and troublesome), inhabited by ...

Answering back

James​ Campbell

11 July 1991
The Intended 
by David Dabydeen.
Secker, 246 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 436 20007 4
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Cambridge 
by Caryl Phillips.
Bloomsbury, 185 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 7475 0886 0
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Lucy 
by Jamaica Kincaid.
Cape, 176 pp., £11.99, April 1991, 0 224 03055 8
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... way to tell it. It is not only black British writers who have discovered this: certain Irish and Scottish writers have been insisting on it for years. Adherents of a politics of language such as James Kelman and the poet Tom Leonard (actually the midwife of the Glasgow ‘renaissance’, though less frequently mentioned than his novelist colleagues) do not group together on exclusively nationalist ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Voices from Beyond the Grave

20 November 2008
... sound in a public space. The time is long past when writers – pace Dickens – behaved as if the voice in their writing was a secret between the work and its readers. We don’t know what Henry James sounded like, and that is part of the mystery we enjoy. So much so that hearing the actual voices of dead writers can come as a shock. The British Library has decided, most pleasingly, to begin ...

White Lies

James​ Campbell: Nella Larsen

5 October 2006
In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... One night it did not work. He rose from the bed and told the woman that he was a Negro. “You are?” she said. “I thought maybe you were just another wop or something.”’ Twenty years earlier, James Weldon Johnson, a black man who served as American consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua during the Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft administrations, opened his novel The Autobiography of an Ex ...

Heavenly Cities

Daniel Aaron

10 October 1991
The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities 
by Richard Sennett.
Faber, 266 pp., £17.50, June 1991, 0 571 16192 8
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... numbers unequipped to achieve her principled self-containment. She was oblivious, he thinks, to the weight of ‘social customs and circumstances’ and conflated sympathy and softness. In contrast, JamesBaldwin attained ‘natality’ (Arendt’s term for ‘the birth of the will to make oneself over again as an adult’) through the power of empathy. The Fire Next Time, according to Sennett, enacts ...

Public Words

Randolph Quirk

19 February 1981
Language – the Loaded Weapon 
by Dwight Bolinger.
Longman, 224 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 582 29107 0
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... to which women have been subjected are compared to the traditional ‘innocent merriment of racial slurs’, as in ‘Eenie-meenie-miney-mo’. Reflecting upon expressions like black-hearted, JamesBaldwin wrote recently that ‘for a black writer in this country to be born into the English language is to realise that the assumptions on which the language operates are his enemy.’ So, admits Bolinger ...

Getting on

Joyce Carol Oates

12 January 1995
Colored People: A Memoir 
by Henry Louis Gates.
Viking, 216 pp., £16, January 1995, 0 670 85737 8
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... products of other kinds of experience, and therefore other lives, by definition less significant, because those lives themselves are less significant? ‘Colour is not a human or personal reality,’ JamesBaldwin said, ‘it is a political reality.’ Substitute ‘gender’, ‘ethnic identity’ or ‘class’ for the word ‘colour’, and one sees how far-ranging and how potentially anarchic the ...

Sheer Enthusiasm

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Zadie Smith

30 August 2018
Feel Free: Essays 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 464 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 241 14689 7
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... Several​ of the last century’s finest non-fiction writers – Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, JamesBaldwin – longed to be novelists. In interviews with the Paris Review, each touched on the tension and insecurity involved in their dual métier. Sontag wrote in surprisingly aspirational tones of ‘the ...

What Is Great about Ourselves

Pankaj Mishra: Closing Time

20 September 2017
The Retreat of Western Liberalism 
by Edward Luce.
Little, Brown, 240 pp., £16.99, May 2017, 978 1 4087 1041 8
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The Fate of the West: Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea 
by Bill Emmott.
Economist, 257 pp., £22, May 2017, 978 1 61039 780 3
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The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics 
by David Goodhart.
Hurst, 256 pp., £20, March 2017, 978 1 84904 799 9
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The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics 
by Mark Lilla.
Harper, 143 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 0 06 269743 1
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The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam 
by Douglas Murray.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £18.99, May 2017, 978 1 4729 4224 1
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... media, which even at its most reactionary used to maintain some commitment to wit and style. The Spectator, once suavely edited, now serves as a fraternity house for Douglas Murray, Toby Young, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle; pummelling Muslims and high-fiving on Brexit, these right-wing bros are to the posh periodicals what Jeremy Clarkson was to the BBC. Murray’s book-length screed, The ...

Why do white people like what I write?

Pankaj Mishra: Ta-Nehisi Coates

22 February 2018
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Hamish Hamilton, 367 pp., £16.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 32523 0
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... to the makers of the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, which depicted (falsely) swarthy villains revealing bin Laden’s hideout under torture. ‘A racist society can’t but fight a racist war,’ JamesBaldwin wrote in 1967, ‘the assumptions acted on at home are also acted on abroad.’ During the war on terror the traffic between the US and various shithole countries wasn’t only in assumptions: there ...

Faraway Train

Hilary Mantel

23 January 1997
Flickerbook 
by Leila Berg.
Granta, 256 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 1 86207 004 0
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... children are not only better than adults but a different order of moral being. This may be necessary as a foundation for her future trade. But it will strike some as a piece of sentimentality. As JamesBaldwin put it in Nobody Knows My Name, ‘children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. They must, they have no other models.’ That ...

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