Cover image for The evidence of things not said : James Baldwin and the promise of American democracy
The evidence of things not said : James Baldwin and the promise of American democracy
Balfour, Katharine Lawrence, 1964-
Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 192 pages ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3552.A45 Z58 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Evidence of Things Not Said employs the rich essays of James Baldwin to interrogate the politics of race in American democracy. Lawrie Balfour advances the political discussion of Baldwin's work, and regards him as a powerful political thinker whose work deserves full consideration.Baldwin's essays challenge appeals to race-blindness and formal but empty guarantees of equality and freedom. They undermine white presumptions of racial innocence and simultaneously refute theories of persecution that define African Americans solely as innocent victims. Unsettling fixed categories, Baldwin's essays construct a theory of race consciousness that captures the effects of racial identity in everyday experience.Balfour persuasively reads Baldwin's work alongside that of W. E. B. Du Bois to accentuate how double consciousness works differently on either side of the color line. She contends that the allusiveness and incompleteness of Baldwin's essays sustains the tension between general claims about American racial history and the singularity of individual experiences. The Evidence of Things Not Said establishes Baldwin's contributions to democratic theory and situates him as an indispensable voice in contemporary debates about racial injustice.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Balfour examines Baldwin's body of work not just as a writer on racial matters but as a vibrant "democratic thinker," a man with heartfelt concerns about the promise and failure of American democracy. Baldwin was a self-proclaimed "commuter American," after leaving the U.S. for Europe. And his career as racial commentator provoked criticism in some circles that he was a racial assimilationist and in others that he was a radical. A man rendered an outsider by his race and sexual orientation, Baldwin in his work reflects W. E. B. DuBois' concept of double consciousness. Balfour examines the work of this writer in the 1960s with an eye toward what Baldwin might still contribute to the debate about current racial issues, the persistence of racial disparities, and the popularity of color blindness as an attempt to "escape the horrors of American history." Balfour also studies Baldwin's writing, primarily his essays, in the context of contemporary writers and philosophers to explore America's troubled racial history, the present, and the uncertain "multiracial" future. A worthy reexamination of the works of a powerful writer. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Balfour (politics, Babson Coll.) has written an unusual, complex analysis of novelist and essayist James Baldwin (1924-87) as a political theorist. Because Baldwin is not generally regarded as a theorist of any sort, Balfour is obliged to tease political meaning out of several major nonfiction pieces. Though his arguments are sometimes obscured by his postmodernist vocabulary, Balfour contends that Baldwin's focus on the personal and individual rather than the abstract should give political theorists pause when making connections between race and democracy. In his essays, Baldwin simultaneously derided white presumptions of racial innocence and perceptions of blacks that stressed only their victimization, advocating a deeper race consciousness that was rooted in concrete, everyday life. An intriguing but very difficult work, this is recommended for large public and academic libraries only.ÄAnthony O. Edwards, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Balfour focuses on Baldwin's essays (primarily the early ones), with the acknowledged intent of tracing the trajectory of continuity throughout. The author argues that the early essays are more completely realized and timeless, less dated than later ones. Balfour also asserts that Baldwin's essays sustain a tension between general claims concerning the meaning of the African American experience and the meaning of the individual and personalized African American experience. The first chapter serves as a lengthy background and introductory statement relating the essays to Baldwin's cultural and racial milieu and racist experiences in youth and adult life. Subsequent chapters--bearing such opaque titles as "A Most Disagreeable Mirror," "Blessed Are the Victims," "Presumptions of Innocence," "The Living Word"--offer new critical insights and approaches to Baldwin's essays, a genre that many critics have labeled his best and most significant writing. Since the reader needs to have some knowledge of Baldwin's literary production to use this volume successfully, it is best suited to graduate students and faculty. B. Taylor-Thompson Texas Southern University

Table of Contents

1 Speaking of Racep. 1
2 "a Most Disagreeable Mirror"p. 34
3 Blessed Are the Victims?p. 60
4 Presumptions of Innocencep. 87
5 The Living Wordp. 113
Afterword: Baldwin and the Search for a Majorityp. 135
Notesp. 141
Bibliographyp. 171
Indexp. 187