Equal in Paris? (THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS in N+1 magazine)

JAMES BALDWIN WROTE that although William Faulkner might not accurately be called a racist, the novelist “could see Negroes only as they related to him, not as they related to each other.” For Baldwin, Faulkner’s depictions of blacks had far less to do with them as people than with “the torment of their creator” who was “seeking to exorcise a history that is also a curse.

In these nightmarish days in Paris since the astonishing massacre of cartoonists, black and Arab police officers, and random hostages in a Jewish épicerie, it is Baldwin whose words echo loudest in my mind—more than Voltaire or Rushdie or Christopher Hitchens or any other exemplar of satire and blasphemy to be repeatedly quoted (and misquoted) in the press and on social media. In the above lines, taken from No Name in the Street, Baldwin is writing not only about Faulkner, but about France and his growing understanding of the country’s vexed relationship to its homegrown underclass.

from Pocket

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