One hears, it seems to me, in the work of all American novelists, even including the mighty Henry James, songs of of the plains, the memory of a virgin continent, mysteriously despoiled, though all dreams were to have become possible here. This did not happen. And the panic, then … comes out of the fact that we are now confronting the awful question of whether or not all our dreams have failed. How have we managed to become what we have, in fact, become? And if we are, as indeed we seem to be, so empty and desperate, what are we to do about it? How shall we put ourselves in touch with reality?
—James Baldwin, 1962
3 thoughts on “Inspirational Verse”
Baldwin hits the nail on the head with this one, certain dreams were possible for a certain few of a certain few, but what happens if you fall in the margin? So leads to the question any pluralist or, even, anti-pluralist should be asking him or herself: who is a real American and what does that even mean, at this point? What are we doing?
Those are my thoughts, anyway, put upon Baldwin’s very interesting / thought provoking rumination.
In the interest of providing a little context, the passage comes from “As Much Truth As One Can Bear,” an essay Baldwin wrote for the New York Times Book Review; it’s also in a forthcoming book of Baldwin’s uncollected nonfiction, which is how I came across it. The piece was a retort to the belief that American writers would have a hard time improving on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, and Faulkner; Baldwin’s point is that those authors are all habitually working a “lost innocence” theme that doesn’t address the country’s genuine concerns head-on. More specifically, he dings Faulkner’s writing on race, calling Intruder in the Dust and Requiem for a Nun “indefensibly muddy.” It’s provocative 60s Baldwin, and it’d be nice if he had more backup for his assertions instead of just asserting that things are so (a real problem with the book reviews in the collection). But I like the line from which the essay gets its title: “In my mind, the effort to become a great novelist simply involves attempting to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then a little more.”