James Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin

James
Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin
1924
1987

American Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet, Activist and Social Critic

Author Quotes

Why am I going home? he asked himself. But he knew why. It was time. In order not to lose all that he had gained, he had to move forward and risk it all.

You know, it's not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.

Tell me...is there really no other way for you but this? To kneel down forever before an army of boys for just five dirty minutes in the dark? Think...of the men who have kneeled before you while you thought of something else and pretended that nothing was happening down there in the dark between your legs.

The determination to outwit one's situation means that one has no models, only object lessons.

The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived--nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died--through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not he had ever, really, been present at his life. For if he had ever been present, then he was present still, and his world would open up before him.

The relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others in order to end the racial nightmare and achieve our country.

The writer's greed is appalling. He wants, or seems to want, everything and practically everybody, in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all.

There is nothing more boring, anyway, than sexual activity as an end in itself, and a great many people who came out of the closet should reconsider.

Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.

We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.

Whatever you describe to another person is also a revelation of who you are and who you think you are. You cannot describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.

With everything in me screaming No! yet the sum of me sighed Yes.

You might feel different out there, with all the sunshine and oranges and all.

Terrifying, that the loss of intimacy with one person results in the freezing over of the world, and the loss of oneself! And terrifying that the terms of love are so rigorous, its checks and liberties so tightly bound together? Their relationship depended on her restraint? The premise of their affair, or the basis of their comedy, was that they were two independent people, who needed each other for a time, who would always be friends, but who, probably, would not always be lovers. Such a premise forbids the intrusion of the future, or too vivid an exhibition of need.

The distance between us, and I had never thought of this before, was that they did not know this, and I now dared to realize that I loved them more than they loved me. And I do not mean that my love was greater: who dares judge the inexpressible expense another pays for his life? Who knows how much one is loved, by whom, or what that love may be called on to do? No, the way the cards had fallen meant that I had to face more about them than they could know about me, knew

The only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power-and no one holds power forever.

The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.

The writer's only real task: to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art

There seems to be a vast amount of confusion in the Western world concerning these matters, but love and sexual activity are not synonymous: Only by becoming inhuman can the human being pretend that they are. The mare is not obliged to love the stallion, nor is the bull required to love the cow. They are doing what comes naturally.

Time is always now. Everybody who has ever thought about his own life knows this. You don't make resolutions about something you are going to do next year. No! You decide to write a book: the book may be finished twenty years from now, but you've got to start it now.

We cannot discuss the state of our minorities until we first have a sense of what we are, who we are, what our goals are, and what we take life to be.

When a man asks himself what is meant by action he proves that he isn't a man of action. Action is a lack of balance. In order to act you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.

Words like "freedom," "justice," "democracy" are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.

You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.

That day in Chartres they had passed through town and watched women kneeling at the edge of the water, pounding clothes against a flat, wooden board. Yves had watched them for a long time. They had wandered up and down the old crooked streets, in the hot sun; Eric remembered a lizard darting across a wall; and everywhere the cathedral pursued them. It is impossible to be in that town and not be in the shadow of those great towers; impossible to find oneself on those plains and not be troubled by that cruel and elegant, dogmatic and pagan presence. The town was full of tourists, with their cameras, their three-quarter coats, bright flowered dresses and shirts, their children, college insignia, Panama hats, sharp, nasal cries, and automobiles crawling like monstrous gleaming bugs over the laming, cobblestoned streets. Tourist buses, from Holland, from Denmark, from Germany, stood in the square before the cathedral. Tow-haired boys and girls, earnest, carrying knapsacks, wearing khaki-colored shorts, with heavy buttocks and thighs, wandered dully through the town. American soldiers, some in uniform, some in civilian clothes, leaned over bridges, entered bistros in strident, uneasy, smiling packs, circled displays of colored post cards, and picked up meretricious mementos, of a sacred character. All of the beauty of the town, all the energy of the plains, and all the power and dignity of the people seemed to have been sucked out of them by the cathedral. It was as though the cathedral demanded, and received, a perpetual, living sacrifice. It towered over the town, more like an affliction than a blessing, and made everything seem, by comparison with itself, wretched and makeshift indeed. The houses in which the people lived did not suggest shelter, or safety. The great shadow which lay over them revealed them as mere doomed bits of wood and mineral, set down in the path of a hurricane which, presently, would blow them into eternity. And this shadow lay heavy on the people, too. They seemed stunted and misshapen; the only color in their faces suggested too much bad wine and too little sun; even the children seemed to have been hatched in a cellar. It was a town like some towns in the American South, frozen in its history as Lot's wife was trapped in salt, and doomed, therefore, as its history, that overwhelming, omnipresent gift of God, could not be questioned, to be the property of the gray, unquestioning mediocre.

Author Picture
First Name
James
Last Name
Baldwin, fully James Arthur Baldwin
Birth Date
1924
Death Date
1987
Bio

American Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Poet, Activist and Social Critic