English 190

Research Seminar: James / Baldwin


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2016 Best, Stephen M.
TTh 12:30-2 50 Barrows

Book List

Baldwin, James: Another Country; Baldwin, James: Giovanni's Room; Baldwin, James: Go Tell It on the Mountain; James, Henry: The Ambassadors; James, Henry: The Portrait of a Lady; James , Henry: The Wings of the Dove

Description

James Baldwin never made a secret of the importance of Henry James to his creative life.  The numerous quotations, echoes, and nods to James sprinkled throughout Baldwin’s writings all but directly invite us to think of James as we read Baldwin’s work.  The two certainly shared a great deal in life and art, having chosen European exile and then turned that exile into a major theme within their art.  But why the affinity of the firebrand black writer for one concerned with the workings (both psychic and social) of American elites?  Our contemporary bias for self-disclosure might predispose us to the view that Baldwin felt he found a fellow queer writer in James; however, James’s reticence on such matters means that “queer” (if it should signify anything) names the moment when the relationship gets awkward.

This class will explore the major themes these writers share as well as queer “sensibilities” that, always deniable if not always denied, may or may not be there -- the many effects, both dramatic and formal, that keep us at a loss for knowledge of our subject, i.e., reticence, renunciation, opacity, bewilderment, and belated recognition.

We will read three novels by each author.  By James: The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors. By Baldwin: Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country.  Both writers also produced a vast number of essays and short stories; we will read selections from their wider oeuvre.  

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