Nobody Knows My Name Nobody Knows My Name discussion


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Nobody Knows My Name - J Baldwin - BR Maya - Sofia June 2016

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message 1: by Sofia (last edited Jul 04, 2016 09:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sofia

PART ONE Sitting in the House …
1. The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American
2. Princes and Powers
3. Fifth Avenue, Uptown: a Letter from Harlem
4. East River, Downtown: Postscript to a Letter from Harlem
5. A Fly in Buttermilk
6. Nobody Knows My Name: a Letter from the South
7. Faulkner and Desegregation
8. In Search of a Majority

PART TWO … With Everything on My Mind
9. Notes for a Hypothetical Novel
10. The Male Prison

11. The Northern Protestant
12. Alas, Poor Richard
i. Eight Men
ii. The Exile
iii. Alas, Poor Richard
13. The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy


message 2: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Thanks for making the thread!
Tomorrow is good for me too :)


Sofia Great tomorrow then :D


message 4: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Reading the introduction where JB explains what his state of mind was at the time of writing these essays:

"Am I afraid of returning to America? Or am I afraid of journeying any further with myself?"

and i just know we have a good read ahead of us.


Sofia Joining you now.


Sofia I almost highlighted the whole introduction. He touched me on several points.

1. Small unexamined problems often hide behind big problems which hog the limelight in our lives.

2. The unexamined life is not worth living in my opinion.

3. He is growing more mature.

I want to read this.


message 7: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Same reaction.

Not to mention how vulnerable he is always admitting his personal struggles on paper for anyone to read. This honesty requires a lot of bravery.


message 8: by Maya (last edited Jun 30, 2016 06:45AM) (new) - added it

Maya The discovery of ...

that was interesting
(view spoiler)

edited to add (view spoiler)


Sofia The discovery..........

I too wonder what he would find if he came now. He himself recognised that he can never divorce his view from being the view of an American and that the view of say an Algerian taxidriver would be different even as regards to racism.

Although I do feel that we are different because I note this when reading American books, following threads with Americans, talking with friends etc. It might be that some differences have crept close together because of the globilisation (media, values etc) It is very easy today to grow distanced from your own reality, where you live what your people do etc if your head and fingers are always on line and moreover if you lead an 'unexamined' life. This is a kind of exile we can easily be part off - you feeling divorced from your life, a stranger. Which is a paradox because you connect on line to feel connected at the same time you grow more distanced at home.

Immigration is/will cause different problems then the 'negro' problem in America because the base is different but it's still problems we have to deal with. I don't know how humanity has not found a way to deal with it yet considering that we've all been migrating from one place to another since we first existed :D

Going back on different values - I think is still easier to value yourself over here as value is not so tied to how much money you have and what you own and what you do. I fear this is changing because of 'consumer' mentality and media bombardment. I do hope we resist.


message 10: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Going back on different values - I think is still easier to value yourself over here as value is not so tied to how much money you have and what you own and what you do.

Not where I live, sadly. But as a relatively young democracy (27 years) I think my country, despite being so old, is closer to the values of the New World.


Immigration is/will cause different problems then the 'negro' problem in America because the base is different but it's still problems we have to deal with. I don't know how humanity has not found a way to deal with it yet considering that we've all been migrating from one place to another since we first existed :D

yes, but also if you look at the current situation with Brexit for example: I've been watching UK news channels in the last couple of days and they constantly report of significant increase of racist activity (I realize this maybe an agenda of the anti Brexit medias but still). I think having the history most western European countries have it is inevitable that there will always be people who believe they are worth more than other people - they cannot erase the lesson of privilege that's been thought to them all their lives. So I'm thinking the recent migration problems and Brexit now empowers them to reveal their true feelings about other races. I do hope I'm wrong.


message 11: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya One more essay tonight?


Sofia Yes to another tonight.

I think you are reading the situation right Maya - that's why Boris Johnson started fudging the immigration rhetoric he was spouting before the referendum. Because their are people who felt enabled by the vote to show their true colours.

Is it like communism made a tabula rasa of the previous values and afterward you were starting anew?


message 13: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Yes, they exploited the knowledge of people's fears of immigrants. It's scary how many nationalist parties in Europe are gaining more and more support. I'm thinking this globalization process will meet even more resistance from now on.

I am obviously biased and pro globalization considering where I live and that I hate living here. So ...

Before the communist regime we were under occupation of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years. You can imagine what this has done to many generations. Even my grandparents who were born in the 1930s had subservient mentality.


Sofia That's one of the things i dislike here. Having been a colony (different rulers) for ages and finally won independance in 1964 many still look outside for validation.


message 15: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya reading the second essay I found this to be relevant to our discussion above:

(view spoiler)


Sofia Reading the second one too. Your quote brings me back to another discussion we had about the meaning of European. European for Baldwin and Cesaire means the colonising Europe not our Europe.


message 17: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Princes and Powers

(view spoiler)


Sofia I find the different points discussed interesting (whilst the world continued outside. But any kind of self examination is good. What I take from this is:

the importance of acknowledging the past. As they said we cannot deny our past because it forges us. This means that we cannot claim a past that is not ours. I mention this because we heard European a lot and it was always referring to the colonisers. You and I are European too but have a different past so we have to acknowledge that and be careful when others talk about our Europeanity (or whiteness) what they actually are referring too.

They also discussed the point of what happens after they get rid of the colonial yoke. I think it was a just observation. Considering the turmoil, wars and problems some African nations are still going through I think it was a just worry. The effects of colonalisation are long reaching and need to be acknowledged and addressed. As you know the mind-set of the people is what makes a country what it is.

"The interior life is a real life, and the intangible dreams of people have a tangible effect on the world."


message 19: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Sofia wrote: "Reading the second one too. Your quote brings me back to another discussion we had about the meaning of European. European for Baldwin and Cesaire means the colonising Europe not our Europe."

yeah, i guess that's expected considering that we didn't play a role in the historical events that he's using to make his case.


message 20: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya yes, even when the country becomes independent some cultural influences remain even though they were not adopted by the local people voluntarily, and mix with the native. The argument if this lessens the authenticity of a local culture or it's just an evolution of the culture has too many angles to be considered. And i think this is what they were doing, or at least trying to.


Sofia whether volunatarily or not, they still are part of the whole mix so they have to be considered. That's what it means acknowledging the past. He talked of self examination in the introduction and here it is not just of the individual but also of a group, a nation, a tribe.


message 22: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya read the next two essays this afternoon:
3. Fifth Avenue, Uptown: a Letter from Harlem
4. East River, Downtown: Postscript to a Letter from Harlem

(view spoiler)


message 23: by Sofia (last edited Jul 02, 2016 01:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sofia if you grow up an orphan being told that your mother is no good than you do rethink your view of yourself if you found that your mother was 'good', human.

I do feel a kind of hopelessness reading these twp. What to do? How to change minds?


message 24: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya good analogy!
yes, the prospects seem bleak. I think it will take a few more generations before real change of views happens. Seeing that there are people much younger than me are racists, homophobes, misogynists, etc.,

I hope you'll be having a relaxing weekend. I'll read a couple of essays in the afternoon/evening. Will you have time to read?


Sofia Goodmorning Maya - happy weekend :D. Yesterday i had my first swim. Cold, it was cold :P

A Fly in the ......(view spoiler)

I'll read the other one later.


message 26: by Maya (last edited Jul 02, 2016 10:06AM) (new) - added it

Maya A Fly in Buttermilk

Agreed. JB is the witness in these essays like he wanted and needed to be after his search for his own identity. That was one of the reasons he went back to the US if I remember correctly from the biography.


Sofia yes I keep thinking of that Maya, this book is full of him being a witness. I guess he spent his whole life being a witness putting himself and his life out in his works.


Sofia Nobody Knows My Name: a Letter from the South
"Integration," said a very light Negro to me in Alabama, "has always worked very well in the South, after the sun goes down."

(view spoiler)


message 29: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya still reading it but finally googled Little Rock as he mentions it often. Here's what happened: http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/eis...


message 30: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya yes, I think psychologically this is a complex issue:

" (he) must have wondered, after his first experiment with black flesh, where, under the blazing heavens, he could hide. And the white man must have seen his guilt written somewhere else, seen it all the time, even if his sin was merely lust, even if his sin lay in nothing but his power: in the eyes of the black man. He may not have stolen his woman, but he had certainly stolen his freedom."

But the bottom line JB makes (as I understand it) is that the white man is so ashamed of his lust that he'd do anything to dehumanize the black man. therefore no change can happen - the mind set is too corrupted.


message 31: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya The ending of this essay was powerful - he's directly calling the americans delusional and failures. I looked up the magazine that originally published the essay - Partisan Review. Take a look if you have time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partisa...


Sofia thanks for the links Maya - do you think he knew of the CIA link - :D

going back to the sex

If you are stealing from somebody maybe it makes it easier on your conscience if you say that that someone is undeserving - it helps you feel that yours is a lesser sin. Hence the dehumanising


message 33: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Faulkner and Desegregation

(view spoiler)


Sofia Going to read this now as i got distracted by The West Canal which i enjoyed :D. Happy Sunday Maya.


Sofia "Faulkner and ........

Thanks for the link, you always finf goid ones.

I liked this because it gave me a clear picture of what a Southerner is. How he is different from the Northerner. That the effects of the long past civil war are still there. That they've been forced to eat craw and they don't like it and the scapegoat remains the Negro.


Sofia In Search of A Majority (view spoiler)


Sofia Let me know if we are reading another today.


message 38: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya Just got home. Will read In Search now, probably won't have time for another but go ahead if you want to and i'll catch up in the morning.

Glad you liked The West Canal :)


message 39: by Maya (last edited Jul 03, 2016 01:30PM) (new) - added it

Maya Sofia wrote: "In Search of A Majority [spoilers removed]"

I thought this was a very good essay. His arguments were strong and his "speculations" made perfect sense to me. But I can imagine the reaction of the readers at his "cracking the American image".

That especially:
"In a way, the Negro tells us where the bottom is: because he is there, and where he is, beneath us, we know where the limits are and how far we must not fall. We must not fall beneath him. [...] In a way, if the Negro were not here, we might be forced to deal within ourselves and our own personalities, with all those vices, all those conundrums, and all those mysteries with which we have invested the Negro race."

(ETA: i don't think that's the case any more in America. Do you? I think now the people at the bottom of the social ladder are the poor people - jobless, homeless, etc - regardless of the color of their skin,)


i remember a scene from Malcolm X where he's in the prison library and he looks up the words black and white in the Merriam Webster dictionary. All the negative meanings were attached to the word black such as a sinner, dirty etc and all the positive attached to the word white: light, saint, etc.
It's like everything bad imaginable for a human being was purposely named to the black people and just by being white it meant you were clean and good. i have to look up when they changed it.


Sofia I don't know the answer to the present day situation. I do know that the poor are at the bottom, a mix of minorities and even their name for poor whites is troublesome 'white trash'. If status is still attruibuted to material wealth than i don't feel there is much advancement. It's like the scapegoat, the black sheep changes not the perpetrator, the cause.

I'm really liking this book. How he is laying out his observations, his arguments.


message 41: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya If status is still attruibuted to material wealth than i don't feel there is much advancement. It's like the scapegoat, the black sheep changes not the perpetrator, the cause.

couldn't agree with you more. the way I interpret the situation from what I see and read it's not that the people's views and thinking have changed much but the focus has shifted strongly on the money making because of the many crises the economy has been going through.


Sofia yes money is still what makes you you rather than a means to an end.

Notes for a Hypothetical Novel I liked this - he banters. (view spoiler)


message 43: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya I liked it too, he didn't fool me with the light tone though. I mean his appeal for self knowing is quite strong even masked with the hypothetical novel and its hypothetical characters.

"I mean that in order to have a conversation with someone you have to reveal yourself."


Sofia when I think of him sweating over words, digging deeper and deeper into himself and finally producing a manuscript, I say no wonder that there is writing and writing. The first writing is like slow food - a labour of love and the second writing - is fast food - churned out for the superficial reading.


message 45: by Maya (last edited Jul 04, 2016 07:15AM) (new) - added it

Maya he was a man on a mission, he couldn't afford to waste a word.

I just remembered this thing from the biography: when someone asked what it feels to write a book he said :Like shitting a brick."


message 46: by Maya (new) - added it

Maya The Male Prison

(view spoiler)


Sofia I felt I was missing something as well with this one Maya.

You compare Gide's prison well. I tried to understand that bit about the necessary connection with the other sex woman - I had it was not only sexual attraction he was talking about, but I cannot really pin point it.

This is his first tackling of homosexuality apart from Giovanni's Room - I think and still we get what he thinks of Gide's but have to read between the lines for him.


message 48: by Maya (last edited Jul 04, 2016 12:00PM) (new) - added it

Maya It's the secrecy I'm puzzled with considering how open JB is about everything.
In Another Country the sexuality of his characters was fluid - it was the human being they were attracted to and not the gender, it was the need for intimacy (Vivaldo and Eric, Eric and what was her name the married woman for example).

So it's not like he's saying sexual orientation is private, it's more like ... it's irrelevant.


Sofia I think he emphasised here too that's the connection that's important not the multitudes of casual sex.


Sofia This bit is still unclear to me:

"For, no matter what demo s drive them, men cannot live without women and women cannot live without men. And this is what is most clearly conveyed in the agony of Gide's last journal. However little he was able to understand it or, more important perhaps, take upon himself the responsibility for it, Madeleine kept open for him a kind of door of hope, of possibility, the possibility of entering into communion with another sex. This door, which is the door to life and air and freedom from the tyranny of one's own personality, must be kept open, and none feel this more keenly than those on whom the door is perpetually threatening or has already seemed to close."


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