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Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964) by James Baldwin. I of I. Realism, Naturalism, Socialism “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1943).

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Blues for mr charlie 1964 by james baldwin

Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964)byJames Baldwin

I of I

Realism naturalism socialism everybody s protest novel 1943
Realism, Naturalism, Socialism“Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1943)

In 1949 the young New York essayist James Baldwin, a protégé of Wright, published Everybody’s Protest Novel, a criticism of protest fiction from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Native Son. Baldwin’s charge that the protest novel was prone to overlook the complexities of human beings.

"Uncle Tom's Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. ... But this, let us say, was beyond Mrs. Stowe’spowers; she was not so much a novelist as an impassioned pamphleteer[….] Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; a confusion, a breakdown of meaning."

  • Baldwin’s fiction increasing turns toward the absorption of avant-garde (often French) genres of narrative and poetry. His theater is not exempt from this tendency.

Brecht and epic theater
Brecht and Epic Theater

From his late twenties Brecht remained a life-long committed Marxist who, in developing the combined theory and practice of his ‘’epic theatre’', to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas. and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism.

Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its Psychological and socialist varieties


Epic theatre incorporates a mode of acting that utilizes what he calls gestus. The epic form describes both a type of written drama and a methodological approach to the production of plays: "Its qualities of clear description and reporting and its use of choruses and projections as a means of commentary earned it the name 'epic'." The audience should always be aware that it is watching a play: "It is most important that one of the main features of the ordinary theatre should be excluded from [epic theatre]: the engendering of illusion, producing the key (and perhaps paradoxically named effect of alientation).

In epic theatre requires actors to play characters believably without convincing either the audience or themselves that they have "become" the characters. Actors frequently address the audience directly out of character ("breaking the fourth wall") and play multiple roles. Brecht thought it was important that the choices the characters made were explicit, and tried to develop a style of acting wherein it was evident that the characters were choosing one action over another. For example, a character could say, "I could have stayed at home, but instead I went to the shops."

Staging nationalism and integration in epic theatre
Staging Nationalism and Integration in Epic Theatre

Talking Points

1) The use of Brecht’s epic mode to call attention to call attention to the construction and dimensions of segregation and a de facto Black Nationalist community.

2) The Use of the Skeleton Courtroom: Putting Non-Violent protest, segregation, and the race problem on trial in the absence of American justice.

3) The Church as a symbol of the black collective and the importance of its split staging vis-à-vis the issues of non-violent protest and militant Black nationalism.

4) Staging Plessy vs. Ferguson- Visually representing the absurdity of “separate but equal”

5) Using the technique of alienation to stage

And, in so doing represent, this aspect of

The black experience: that one must “play black”

6) Using the Alienation of Epic Theater to Stage Black Nationalism: Forcing the

Audience to contemplate its role at a distance

&) The implications of linking racial terrorism to a

Self consciously-constructed show.

The play s political problematic violence non violence justice
The Play’s Political ProblematicViolence, Non-Violence, Justice

Talking Points

Lorenzo as Militant Black Nationalist

Non-Violent Protest and the Possibility of Justice

Violent Protest and the Impossibility of Survival

Segregation and Nationalism

Traumatic testimony medgar evers and emitt till
Traumatic Testimony:Medgar Evers and Emitt Till

The accident, that is, as it emerges in Freud and is passed on through other trauma narratives, does not simply represent the violence of the collision but also conveys the impact of its very incomprehensibility. What returns to haunt the victim, these stories tell us, is […] the reality of the way that its violence has not yet been fully known.

The story of the accident thus refers us, indirectly, to the unexpected reality—the locus of referentiality—of the traumatic story. (Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Explorations in Trauma and Memory )

As a relation to events, [traumatic] testimony seems to be comprised of bits and pieces of a memory that has been overwhelmed by occurrences that have not settled into understanding or remembrance, acts that cannot be constructed as knowledge nor assimilated into full cognition, events in excess of our frame of reference. What the testimony does not offer, however, is a completed statement, a totalizable account of those events. In the testimony, language is in process and trial, it does not possess itself as a conclusion, as the consternation of a verdict or the self-transparency of knowledge. Testimony is, in other words, a discursive practice, as opposed to a pure theory. To testify— to vow to tell to promise and produce one’s own speech as material evidence for truth— is to accomplish a speech act, rather than to simply formulate a statement. As a performative speech act, testimony in effect addresses what in history is action that exceeds any substantialized significance, and what in happening is action that dynamically explodes any conceptual reifications and any constative delimitations. (Felman, Shoshana. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History)

What is ghastly and almost hopeless about our racial situation is that the crimes we have committed are so great and unspeakable that acceptance of this knowledge would lead literally to madness. The human being, the, in order to protect himself; closes his eyes, compulsively, repeats his crimes, and enters a spiritual darkness no one can describe. (James Baldwin)

May 28, 1963

The assassination of

Medgar Evers (two white juries deadlock and do not convict De la Beckwith)

The murder of Emitt Till

(1958), (results in two acquittals

Traumatic testimony epic theatre black aesthetics and the truth of the incomprehensible
Traumatic TestimonyEpic Theatre, Black Aesthetics, and the Truth of the Incomprehensible

Talking Points

Traumatic Memory: The Mechanics of Repetitive Atrocity

Religious Testimony

Trauma and Testimony:

The Call and Response of the Black Church Aesthetic

Epic Theatre and Cognitive Frames

James baldwin 1924 1987 novelist essayist playwright civil rights activist
James Baldwin (1924-1987)Novelist, Essayist, Playwright, Civil Rights Activist

An Absurd Impulse

“Kazan asked me at the end of 1958 if I would be interested in working in the Theatre. It was a generous offer, but I did not react with great enthusiasm because I did not them, and don’t do now, have much respect for what goes on in American Theatre. I am not convinced that it is a Theatre; it seems to me a series, merely, of commercial speculations, stale repetitious and timed. I certainly didn’t see much future for me, and was profoundly unwilling to risk my morale and talent—my life in endeavors which could only increase a level of frustration dangerously high.” (James Baldwin)

Baldwin hints, here, as to the other

Philosophical and Theatrical movements informing his play: existentialism and absurdism. He, in essence, insinuates that he will write an absurdist play about the absurdity of race in America.

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953

  • Notes of a Native Son, 1955

  • Giovanni's Room, 1956

  • Nobody Knows My Name, 1961

  • Another Country, 1962

  • The Fire Next Time, 1963

  • Blues for Mister Charlie (play)

  • Nothing Personal (with Richard Avedon), 1964

  • Going to Meet the Man, 1965

  • The Amen Corner (play), 1968

  • Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, 1968

  • A Rap on Race (with Margaret Mead), 1971

  • No Name in the Street, 1972

  • A Dialogue (with poet Nikki Giovanni), 1973

  • If Beale Street Could Talk, 1974

  • The Devil Finds Work, 1976

  • Just Above My Head, 1979

  • The Evidence of Things Not Seen, 1985

Existentialism and the notion of the absurd the absurdity of non violent and violent protest
Existentialism and the Notion of the Absurd: The Absurdity of Non-Violent and Violent Protest

The play then, for me, takes place in Plaguetown U.S. A, now, the plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity; and the raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship. (James Baldwin)



The absurd encounter can also arouse a "leap of faith", a term derived from one of Kierkegaard's early pseudonyms, Johannes de Silentio (although the term was not used by Kierkegaard himself[ where one believes that there is more than the rational life (aesthetic or ethical). To take a "leap of faith", one must act with the "virtue of the absurd" (as Johannes de Silentio put it), where a suspension of the ethical may need to exist. This faith has no expectations, but is a flexible power initiated by a recognition of the absurd. However, Camus states that because the leap of faith escapes rationality and defers to abstraction over personal experience, the leap of faith is not absurd. Camus considers the leap of faith as "philosophical suicide", rejecting both this and physical suicide

What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must act in a case where my reason, my powers of reflection, tell me: you can just as well do the one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reflection say: you cannot act and yet here is where I have to act... The Absurd, or to act by virtue of the absurd, is to act upon faith ... I must act, but reflection has closed the road so I take one of the possibilities and say: This is what I do, I cannot do otherwise because I am brought to a standstill by my powers of reflection

– Kierkegaard, Søren, Journals, 1849

Although the notion of the 'absurd' is pervasive in all of the literature of Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus is his most extensive work on the subject. In it, Camus considers absurdity as a confrontation, an opposition, a conflict or a "divorce" between two ideals. Specifically, he defines the human condition as absurd, as the confrontation between man's desire for significance, meaning and clarity on the one hand – and the silent, cold universe on the other. He continues that there are specific human experiences evoking notions of absurdity. Such a realization or encounter with the absurd leaves the individual with a choice: suicide is a leap of faith or recognition. He concludes that recognition is the only defensible option.

For Camus, suicide is a "confession" that life is not worth living; it is a choice implicitly declaring that life is "too much". Suicide offers the most basic "way out" of absurdity: the immediate termination of the self and its place in the universe.

Lastly, a person can choose to embrace his or her own absurd condition. According to Camus, one's freedom – and the opportunity to give life meaning – lies in the recognition of absurdity. If the absurd experience is truly the realization that the universe is fundamentally devoid of absolutes, then we as individuals are truly free. "To live without appeal",[] as he puts it, is a philosophical move to define absolutes and universals subjectively, rather than objectively. The freedom of humans is thus established in a human's natural ability and opportunity to create his own meaning and purpose; to decide (or think) for him- or herself. The individual becomes the most precious unit of existence, as he or she represents a set of unique ideals which can be characterized as an entire universe in its own right. In acknowledging the absurdity of seeking any inherent meaning, but continuing this search regardless, one can be happy, gradually developing his or her own meaning from the search alone.

Camus states in The Myth of Sisyphus: "Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death, and I refuse suicide.”

Existentialism as heroic crisis of faith the inadequacy and inescapability of racial paradigms
Existentialism as Heroic Crisis of Faith: of Non-Violent and Violent ProtestThe Inadequacy and Inescapability of Racial Paradigms

Talking Points

B.C.- Moving Forward in the absence of meaning as embracing Existential heroism

The harmful effects of pacifism on racial uplift and identity

The race problem in light of the human race problem as posited by the Existentialists

Meridians “B.C.” as a rejection of foundational ideologies

The incompatibility of ideology and the complexity of lived experience

Existentialism absurdism and theater of the absurd
Existentialism, of Non-Violent and Violent ProtestAbsurdism, and Theater of the Absurd

Absurdism is a philosophy stating that the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning in the universe ultimately fail (and hence are absurd), because no such meaning exists, at least in relation to the individual. "The Absurd," therefore, is commonly used in philosophical discourse to refer to the clash between the human search for meaning and the human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean "logically impossible," but rather "humanly impossible]

In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual's search for meaning and the apparent meaninglessness of the universe. As beings looking for meaning in a meaningless world, humans have three ways of resolving the dilemma. Kierkegaard and Camus describe the solutions in their works: Suicide(or, "escaping existence"): a solution in which a person simply ends one's own life. Both Kierkegaard and Camus dismiss the viability of this option. Religious belief in a transcendental realm or being: a solution in which one believes in the existence of a reality that is beyond the Absurd, and, as such, has meaning. Kierkegaard stated that a belief in anything beyond the Absurd requires a non-rational but perhaps necessary religious acceptance in such an intangible and empirically unprovable thing (now commonly referred to as a leap of “faith” However, Camus regarded this solution as "philosophical suicide".

Acceptance of the Absurd: a solution in which one accepts and even embraces the Absurd and continues to live in spite of it. Camus endorsed this solution, while Kierkegaard regarded this solution as "demoniac madness": "He rages most of all at the thought that eternity might get it into its head to take his misery from him!"[

The Theatre of the Absurd is commonly associated with Existentialism, and Existentialism was an influential philosophy in Paris during the rise of the Theatre of the Absurd; however, to call it Existentialist theatre is problematic for many reasons. It gained this association partly because it was named (by Esslin) after the concept of "absurdism" advocated by Albert Camus, a philosopher commonly called Existentialist though he frequently resisted that label.

In a 1966 interview, Claude Bonnefoy, comparing the Absurdists to Sartre and Camus, said to Ionesco, "It seems to me that Beckett, Adamov and yourself started out less from philosophical reflections or a return to classical sources, than from first-hand experience and a desire to find a new theatrical expression that would enable you to render this experience in all its acuteness and also its immediacy. If Sartre and Camus thought out these themes, you expressed them in a far more vital contemporary fashion". Ionesco replied, "I have the feeling that these writers -- who are serious and important -- were talking about absurdity and death, but that they never really lived these themes, that they did not feel them within themselves in an almost irrational, visceral way, that all this was not deeply inscribed in their language. With them it was still rhetoric, eloquence. With Adamov and Beckett it really is a very naked reality that is conveyed through the apparent dislocation of language".

In comparison to Sartre's concepts of the function of literature, Samuel Beckett’s primary focus was on the failure of man to overcome "absurdity.“ Beckett's work focuses "on poverty, failure, exile and loss — as he put it, on man as a 'non-knower' and as a 'non-can-er' 

The Everyday Madness of The Failure to Overcome the Absurd and the “Race Problem” in America: Racism as a Manifestation of a Universal Human Condition

Talking Points

Meridian’s crisis as exemplary of man’s “failure to overcome the absurd.”

Aligning the race problem with a universal crises of meaning

Meridian’s madness and the humanly impossible: the search for justice and the search for meaning.

Non-Violence and Existential Acceptance

Justice and existentialist rebellion the hope for new creation in a hopeless cause
Justice and Existentialist Rebellion: and the “Race Problem” in America: Racism as a Manifestation of a Universal Human ConditionThe Hope for New Creation in a Hopeless Cause

One of Camus' primary arguments in The Rebel concerns the motivation for rebellion and revolution. While the two acts - which can be interpreted from Camus' writing as states of being - are radically different in most respects, they both stem from a basic human rejection of normative justice. If human beings become disenchanted with contemporary applications of justice, Camus suggests that they rebel. This rebellion, then, is the product of a basic contradiction between the human mind's unceasing quest for clarification and the apparently meaningless nature of the world. Described by Camus as "absurd", this latter perception must be examined with what Camus terms "lucidity." Camus concludes that the absurd sensibility contradicts itself because when it claims to believe in nothing, it believes in its own protest and the value of the protester's life. Therefore, this sensibility is logically a "point of departure" that irresistibly "exceeds itself." In the inborn impulse to rebel, on the other hand, we can deduce values that enable us to determine that murder and oppression are illegitimate and conclude with "hope for a new creation.”


When Wikipedia Works!:

The Rebel (French title: L'Homme révolté) is a 1951 book-length essay by Albert Camus, which treats both the metaphysical and the historical development of rebellion and revolution in societies, especially Western Europe. Camus relates writers and artists as diverse as Epicurus and Lucretius, the Marquis de Sade, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and André Breton in an integrated, historical portrait of man in revolt. Examining both rebellion and revolt, which may be seen as the same phenomenon in personal and social frames, Camus examines several 'countercultural' figures and movements from the history of western thought and art, noting the importance of each in the overall development of revolutionary thought and philosophy.

Differing ideologies and overlapping strivings bringing things to a cyclical close
Differing Ideologies and Overlapping Strivings and the “Race Problem” in America: Racism as a Manifestation of a Universal Human ConditionBringing Things to a Cyclical Close

Talking Points

The Bible and Bullet and The Ballot or the Bullet (Malcolm X and Black Power).

Existentialist Acceptance as the Race Problem

The Compatibility of Incompatible Ideologies and Racial Uplift