May 4th, 2014
“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability toe feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent humanity, the mark of cruelty.”
James Baldwin, in "Everybody's Protest Novel" (which I've only just read)
Yep. I've often thought something like this, sitting next to certain men at sanctioned sentimental displays, feeling disappointment at this poor substitute for something that might make me feel and cry, but glancing over to see their eyes misted over.
ETA. And more, and more, that's so right on.
"[The human being] is not, after all, merely a member of Society or a Group or a deplorable conundrum to be explained by Science. He is...something more than that, something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity--which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves--we are diminished and we perish..."
"...only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves..."
"It is this power of revelation which is the business of the novelist, this journey toward a vast reality..."
"...the formula created by the necessity to find a lie more powerful than the truth has been handed down and memorized and persists yet with a terrible power."
"...this fear of the dark makes it impossible that our lives shall be other than superficial."
Wow: "our confusion, dishonesty, panic, trapped and immobilized in the sunlit prison of the American dream"
Also: "But unless one's ideal of society is a race of neatly analyzed, hardworking ciphers..."
"The aim has now become to reduce all Americans to the compulsive bloodless dimensions of a guy named Joe" [like "the zeal of the alabaster missionaries to Africa to cover the nakedness of the natives"]
"For [Bigger's] tragedy is...that he has accepted a theology that denies him life."
"...but it is only this void, our unknown selves, demanding forever, a new act of creation, which can save us – 'from the evil that is in the world.' With the same motion, at the same time, it is this toward which we endlessly struggle and from which, endlessly, we struggle to escape."
How well he describes a particular that extends to all of us.
And finally, perhaps: "The failure of the [allow me to substitute lousy] novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended"
A neat unpacking of Wilde's "sentimentality is the bank holiday of cynicism."
Among the addenda I like best that journey and that formula, which seem to combine in the magnificent void/evil quote.
I only know The Fire Next Time, which had me with this: "Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we gave no right to assume otherwise."
I'd forgotten that Wilde line--but it, too, feels so true.
Yeah, that magnificent void/evil quote: it's very Romantic, but it becomes so concrete in Baldwin's hands.
I haven't read TFNT, but now I will. Getting to a lot of reading that went neglected in my earlier years (although I must agree that early youth certainly isn't the time to read Uncle Tom's Cabin; I just read that, and I feel like I'm the appropriate age for it now.) Reading Fredrick Douglass's narrative, of which I've only ever accounted passages and paragraphs, next.