By Emily Rosenberg
Arts & Features Editor
Arts & Ideas kicked off the event series “Good Trouble” Sept. 28 with a presentation of the short film “James Baldwin: From Another Place” by Sedat Pakay and a discussion with Rich Blint.
The “Good Trouble” event series is in memory of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis who came to speak at the 2019 FSU commencement and was a Civil Rights icon who is one of many who made strides in gaining African American equality in the United States. This is one of many talks that celebrates bold voices and activism against injustice.
Rich Blint is a professor at the Eugene Lee Yang College of Liberal Arts at The New School in New York City. He is co-editor of a special issue of African American review on James Baldwin, who wrote the introduction for the e-book “Baldwin for Our Times” and served as guest critic for the Brooklyn Rail on a special issue on James Baldwin.
Introducing the event, English Professor Sandy Hartwiger told an anecdote about coming to FSU for an interview and having one of the longest days of his life. But he saw a portrait of Baldwin on the wall and couldn’t help but think it was a sign of some sort.
“Since joining FSU, I have seen Baldwin’s work play a prominent role in the English Department from seminars being conducted on his work to critical work being used as part of our anti-racist dialogue,” said Hartwiger.
Senior English major Austin Rifflemacher shared he is the first student at FSU to have a concentration in African American literature. He also serves as a student representative on the English Department committee for promoting anti-racism. He was invited to speak about Baldwin’s influence on literature.
Rifflemacher said he was first introduced to Baldwin in his Expository Writing class with the text “A Stranger in a Village” which is a common first-year reading assignment used to teach students about college writing as well as anti-racism.
He added that after learning about Baldwin’s extensive portfolio on topics not just on race relations, but also sexuality, the contradictions within Christianity on race, and the rise of the Black Muslim movement, he became “obsessed with Baldwin’s work.”
“What James Baldwin’s life and work reveals to me is a fascinating and complex weight for one writer to carry,” Rifflemacher said. “To be a Black, gay man in the times he wrote was a struggle in and of itself. To write openly and honestly about both is audacious and honorable.”
He added as he works on his thesis about the playwright August Wilson, he finds more and more that for a lot of Black writers “everything comes back to Baldwin.”
Sociology Professor Kaan Agartan, introduced “James Baldwin: From Another Place.”
Agatan said in 1961, Baldwin traveled to Istanbul where he was amongst his own people and no one stopped him to ask for interviews.
“He was, of course, always attentive to what was going on, but he could still shut himself off, sit in front of his typewriter and just simply write,” Agatan said. “It provided Baldwin with almost a claustrophobic dichotomy between Black and white when thinking about race relations.”
Agatan added Istanbul became a place where Baldwin could “hear his own voice” as a gay, Black man.
The film explores Baldwin’s time in Istanbul. It begins with Baldwin awaking in his bedroom, where he ponders what his place was in America.
“I don’t really know what I am, prolifically speaking,” Baldwin said. “I don’t consider myself to be a leader. I don’t consider myself to be a kind of witness. I don’t know. Though my weapon or my tool is my typewriter, my pen.”
Baldwin then walked outside into the crowd of a busy city, with mostly white citizens who did not look welcoming.
“When I’ve been in America, I’ve really done very little writing. The pressures are too immediate and too great,” Baldwin said. “Once one gets off a plane or a boat, one knows it is going to be impossible to close one’s door and to concentrate.”
He added that politicians are not always committed to the welfare of all people.
“Storms are always coming,” Baldin said. His criticism is that a true politician will stay until the storm is over.
Baldwin then explored the city, visiting shops and examining works of writing that sat on shelves in the street.
While smoking a cigarette, he said he believed privacy is everybody’s right. “It’s certainly mine,” Baldwin said.”My involvement with men, with women, what can I say about them? It’s not to be talked about to the world.”
He added life never comes to you in the way you think it will. “In the way you’re taught it will.”
“I think the trick is to say yes to life,” Baldwin added.
The film then cut to a giant dog attacking a man on the street. Baldwin went out on a boat into a scenic area with castles and mountains.
As the credits rolled, Baldwin said, “I got to move and I got to finish the books.”
Attention then turned to Blint who shared a film “Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in
Paris” by Terrence Dixon.
The film premiered last year at The New York Film Festival.
Blint said his intention of showing the four parts of the film was to “paint the visual geography of Baldwin’s ideas.”
The first movement included an interviewer who asked Baldwin why he thinks the Bastille is the most popular monument in Paris. Baldwin replied with the question – why do they care what he thinks? He said he is not interested in “Jimmy Baldwin’s Paris,” or that he has lived there for the past 22 years. Instead, what is important is that he is “a witness to something.”
“I am a Black man in the middle of this century,” Baldwin said. “And none of you know yet who this dark stranger is.
“I think you think I am an exotic survivor,” he added.
In the second clip, Baldwin said, “I left my country because I knew I was going to be murdered there.”
Baldwin added, although the U.S. prides itself on democracy and independence, 22 years after he left, boys and girls “had to leave the country for the same reason” he did.
He said Christians and white Americans always want to save Black Americans and think they know everything about them.
“Let me save you. I know something about you. You don’t know anything about me,” Baldwin said.
Blint added the film was also a good representation of the world in the first decade of decolonization.
In the fourth clip, Baldwin responded to an interviewer who asked why he didn’t “escape” from the political discourse to write his books.
He said he is “better than that.”
Baldwin added, “Love has never been a very popular movement and no one has ever really wanted to be free.”
He said later in the film, they go to show how Baldwin feels like a subject of Christian charity.
Blint added at the end of the film, Dixon referenced that Baldwin was “writing for white people.
“Baldwin’s response – I’m writing for people, baby,” Blint said.”I don’t believe in white people. I don’t believe in Black people either. But I know the difference between being Black and white at this time. So, I can unfold myself about some things. I could not unfold about myself if I were white.”
[Editor’s Note: Austin Rifflemacher is a staff writer for The Gatepost]