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September 11, 1963 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 1963-09-11
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Into an Epoque Dominated by the Classicism of

(Continued from preceding page)

Norman Mailer wrote in July's Esquire,
"Baldwin's characters maim themselves
trying to smash through the wall of their
That prison Baldwin's characters dis-
cover is black, mysterious, inexplicable--
far from the suburban anxieties of John
Updike's neatly marbled caricatures.
Their efforts at breaking through to
"Another Country," in Baldwin terms,
entail agony and growth. J. D. Salinger's
Seymour Glass kills himself rather than
live in an alien world, but John Grimes
of Go Tell It On The Mountain and the
American in Giovanni's Room survive be-
yond the struggle with an alien world to
the battlegrounds of their own minds.
BALDWIN SAYS, "The thing that most
white people imagine that they can
salvage from the storm of life is really,
in sum, their innocence. It was this com-
modity precisely which I had to get rid of
at once, literally, on pain of death. I
am afraid that most of the white people
I have ever known impressed me as being
in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dream-
ing of a vanished state of security and
order, against which dream, unfailingly
and unconsciously, they tested and very
often lost their lives."
The history of American Literature
verifies Baldwin's view: Henry James'
Christopher Newman (The American),
Hack Finn, Hemingway's Nick Adams
stories, the themes of Robert Frost, all
the way up to Salinger and Philip Roth,
depict Innocents initiated into a sleezy
world where all sorts of devious motives
Baldwin has written, "The principal
fact that we must now face . .. is that the
time has come for us to turn our backs
forever on the big two-hearted river."

Nor does he sanction the relegation of
free-will to "instincts"-whether they are
animal or the conditioned "mob 'instincts"
which thrive more obviously today.
Baldwin does not see the individual's
sometimes tortuous conflicts with our so-
ciety as clearly impossible to resolve. To
a weaker or bolder degree, this is what
not only Salinger, but Saul Bellow, Nor-
man Mailer and Jack Kerouac are telling
us: The literary heirs of Hemingway have
not changed his basic conclusions but
they now suggest no way out, no real
means to attain a degree of personal sal-
vation. They have flung what were at least
the dead souls in Sartre's "No Exit" into
Suburbia and sentenced them to eternal
life-and eternal hate.
America of 1963 are considerably more
hopeful. When Mailer writes that Bald-
win's characters "maim themselves" in
attempts to, escape their own bleak, con-
fining prisons he ignores a vital corol-
lary: John Grimes is not strong until
he is maimed.
Out of their hopeless internal battles
they emerge men. But their suffering ex-
tends beyond the loss of male pride or
individual consideration in an impersonal
Baldwin subjects his characters to a
series of horrifying discoveries about

themselves. But the depth of the abyss in
which the character finds himself permits
extraordinary perspective.
The spiritual jolts Baldwin's charac-
ters sustain result in neither zest nor
resignation. He leaves them with a mea-
sure of self transcendence; from their
struggles crystallize strength of under-
standing which sparks will. The scars of
Baldwin's characters enable them to do
more than grimly face themselves or the
world; they emerge with promise that
strong wills may be imposed on either.
ALTHOUGH HE IS sometimes misun-
derstood as merely a Negro author,
Baldwin's answer to the Quixote of 300
years is compelling for any human being.
The mirror he holds reflects color, but
sears to a core, a place where the skin
and its trappings are long forgotten.
It is "another country" which Baldwin
captures in the concluding passage of
Giovanni's Room, at a point when a man's
primary reason for living-another man-
is to be guillotined. He must face the fact
that he has been a principal cause of the
He kisses the cross and clings to it.
The priest gently lifts the cross away.
Then they lift Giovanni. The journey
begins. They move off, toward another
door. He moans. He wants to spit, but
his mouth is dry. He cannot ask that

they let him pause for a moment to
urinate-all that, in a moment, will
take care of itself. He knows that be-
yond the door, which comes so de-
liberately closer, the knife is waiting.
It's getting late.
The body in the mirror forces me to
turn and face it. And I look at my
body, which is under sentence of
death. It is lean, hard and cold, the
incarnation of a mystery. And I do
not know what moves in this body,
what this body is searching. It is
trapped in my mirror as it is trapped
in time and it hurries toward revela-
When I was a child, I spake as a
child, I understood as a child, I
thought as a child; but when I be-
came a man, I put away childish
I long to make this prophecy come
true. I long to crack that mirror and
be free . . . The journey to the grave
is already begun. The journey to cor-
ruption is, always, already half over.
Yet, the key to my salvation, which
cannot save my body, is -hidden in
my flesh.
Then the door is before him. There
is darkness all around him, there is
silence in him. Then the door opens
and he stands alone, the whole world
falling away from him. And the brief
corner of the sky seems to be shriek-
ing, though he does not hear a sound.
Then the earth tilts, he is thrown for-
ward on his face in darkness, and
his journey begins ...
And at last I step out into the
morning and I lock the door behind
me. I cross the road and drop the
keys into the old lady'smailbox. And
I look up the road, where a few people
stand, men and women, waiting for
the morning bus. They are very vivid
beneath the awakening sky, and the
horizon beyond them is beginning to
flame. The morning weighs on my
shoulders with the dreadful weight
of hope and I take the blue envelope
which Jacques has sent me and tear
it slowly into many pieces, watching
them dance in the wind, watching the
*wind carry them away. Yet, as I turn
and begin walking toward the waiting
people, the wind blows some of them
back on me. -Giovanni's Room
t is difficult to assess Baldwin's long.
range impact on American literature.
Some readers have concluded that "re-
verse discrimination" has worked to the
young Negro's advantage. Thus when
civil rights demands have been adequate-
ly met, they contend, interest in Baldwin
will ebb. This is more than a remote pos-
sibility. The Negro Question, however, has
been a mere jumping-off point for Bald-
win. He says:
However immoral or subversive this
may sound to some, it is the writer
who must always remember that mor-
ality, if it is to remain or become
morality, must be perpetually ex-
amined, cracked, changed, made new.
He must remember, however pow-
erful the man who would rather for-
get, that life is the only touchstone
and that life is dangerous, and that
without the joyful acceptance of this
danger, there can never be any safety
for anyone, ever, anywhere."
--New York Times Book Review
(Jan. 14, 1962)
Thus, Baldwin has taken it upon him-
self not only to reflect the society in
which we live, but to conclusively estab-
lish that there may be hope for shaping
it. His extraordinary talent is in no way
lessened by his social responsibility.

This French Genius Brought His Notic
Of the Supremacy of th

The University Museum

across from the


T SEEMS SLIGHTLY morbid to be ob-
serving the centennial of Eugene Dela-
croix's (1798-1863) death instead of that
of his birth, but in 1898 his genius went
-unrecognized. His native France now
recognizes his great artistic contributions;
this summer the Louvre has hung a retro-
spective exhibition of his works including
"The Return of Columbus," loaned by the
Toledo, Ohio, Art Museum.
Delacroix was a highly articulate and
deliberate man despite his romantic ap-
pearance and passionate emotions, and
it is from the notes in his jourhal (which
I will quote frequently) that we can ascer-
tain his artistic intentions and doctrine,
as well as from the paintings and draw-
ings firsthand. Into an epoque dominated
by the academic classicism of David and
Ingres, Delacroix brought his notion of the
"supremacy of the individual" who is
capable of feeling and sensation in rela-
tionship with the outside world; with
Delacroix, inner feelings were scrutinized
and laid bare for the first time and often
expressed in paint as lyrical fantasies.
Convention was to be ignored in favor of
the individual's imagination.
These, of course, were the traits of the
true Byronic Romantic, and Delacroix's
subjects were characteristic. He drew on
classic and early Christian figures as well
as heroes of fiction -: characters from
Byron, Shakespeare, Dante, and Goethe.
He accompanied a count to Morocco and
thereafter filled his work with noble
Arabs, their plunging steeds, lions, and
tigers. To Delacroix all these subjects
were grand, symbolizing the intensity of
life being lived; he wished to fill his art
with the action of living rather than

reaching for scientific and technical per-
fection. "Beauty through boldness" was
his creed, to put honor and public success
by the board to hold to one's own convic-
tions. This spirit has been held in favor
since Delacroix, but often employed with-
out the checks he constantly controlled
himself with, always courageous, and
above all sincere.
CASTING ASIDE contemporary conven-
tion, and studying Rubens, Gericault,
Titian and others, Delacroix developed a
new and dominant use of color which all
but obscured the drawing so vital to
the French Academists. "Light, shade,
reflections and atmosphere," he declared,
all of which are vital to the free play of
imagination, "cannot be substituted by
line and style." Delacroix's color, the "life
and soul of a picture," is almost independ-
ent of other elements in his paintings;
their forms and movement evolved
through the way he placed and broke
down his hues. The Impressionists and es-
pecially the Pointillist Seurat were later
to use Delacroix's color theories to good
Of course, Delacroix was not a "little
green chemist," Seurat-like. His all-im-
portant ingredient of imagination was
made up of passionate energies, which he
successfully managed to channel into his
work. Slow, methodical painters were be-
yond him-he could not see how their
introspective natures would permit feel-
ing and love to flow into their work as
he thought it should. What is amazing is
how reasonably Delacroix, also a fervent
music-lover, molded his dynamism into
plastic representation. He drew attention

is currently observing
the centennial of the
great artist's death with
a special exhibition.

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Delacroix's 'Study of a Horse' at the Museum


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