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Chapter 17 - “The Whole Body of the Sound”: The Black Musical Basis of Baldwin’s Literary Craft and Social Vision

from Part 2 - Social and Cultural Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 July 2019

D. Quentin Miller
Affiliation:
Suffolk University, Massachusetts
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Summary

James Baldwin is a musical writer. But what does that mean? For one, it means that unlike most writers, certainly unlike most writers we consider prose writers, we really do listen to Baldwin. We wait for certain turns of phrase, we listen and watch and read and reread again and again, much as we do with our favorite songs. Baldwin’s musicality is not restricted to pieces of his writing where he mentions musicians, quotes songs, etc. His writing smuggled the complex reality of song onto his pages, so we read his work rather like sitting with headphones on, listening to textures, rhythms, and tones. He’s not alone in this but it’s my contention that Baldwin’s song is high on the list of musical-literary work that takes from, but also adds things to, the music that no singer or musician could do. His connection to music and musicians is part of why Baldwin’s writing adds so much to our experience of listening and living.

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James Baldwin in Context , pp. 177 - 186
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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