Outdated GomorrahsnJames Baldwin: Just Above MynHead; Dial Press; New York.nby Allan C. BrownfeldnIn an essay written in Partisan Reviewnin 1949, when he was twenty-four,nBaldwin declared his determination tonreject the path of protest which a blacknwriter in America was expected to pursue.nRather than depict the black mannas “merely a member of a Society ornGroup” who has been condemned bynwhites to poverty and ignorance, Baldwinnexpressed his desire to understandnblack men as “something resolutelynundefinable, unpredictable.” He decided,nin effect, to write about men,nnot about racial symbols. He went sonfar as to criticize such novels as RichardnWright’s Native Son which, he argued,nwas crippled by hatred and fear. Itsnfailure, he wrote, came from “its rejectionnof life, the human being … in itsninsistence that it is his categorizationnalone which is real and which cannotnbe transcended.” All of which indicatesnthat James Baldwin has, for many years,nbeen struggling to find a proper literarynidentity.nSlowly, however, James Baldwinnchanged his view. He was, it is reported,nstricken by Eldridge Cleaver’s criticismnin Soul on Ice, when Cleaver denouncednthe characters in Baldwin’s novels fornengaging in various sexual activitiesn”in a vacuum,” without a proper awarenessnof race, of politics, of economics.nOther black nationalists and black radicalsnjoined in the attack.nApparently, James Baldwin could notnremain indifferent to such intellectuallynrefined charges, and he reacted. In NonName in the Streets, written in 1972,nhe rejected the creed of nonviolence andnwrote favorably of the guerrilla tacticsnMr. Brownfeld, a Washington, D.C.njournalist, is on the staff of the LincolnnReview.nof the Black Panthers. He came to viewnCleaver’s attack as a “necessarynwarning.” Finally, in Just Above MynHead, Baldwin portrays the black communalnlife and culture which he hadnfound absent from the “protest” novelsnof the past. It is clearly a “black” book,nin which whites exist only as remotendemons; it is a love song—as Hall Montana,nits narrator, says to his brother,nAbove My Head, there are many pagesnroutinely devoted to explicit accountsnof both homosexual and heterosexualnencounters. This time, however, thensexual monotony has an equal partnernin Baldwin’s humdrum, clichd attacksnon whites and America, that citadel ofnhostile and pale-faced enemies. Mixednin, nevertheless, is the complex feelingnwhich any human being feels for hisn•”} [c- siidiknlv sivin.s ;i iniiih iiiori’ univtT>;;il wriler . . . I’IIITI’ is inccsl. prosliliition,ni;i|ii’. L’liilli’ss horror and uii i’i|ii,il ilosf of fi-rvL-ni piission.”n— Play hoyn”ll niiisi he saiil (hat Mr. liukKvin wrilcs ahour lionioscxual love vvifli soniethiii^’nlike m’liiu.s.””n—John I.c-onardnNt’w Yiirk TimesnArthur. Dead in his 39th year, Arthurnwas a gospel singer and a homosexual.nThe novel pictures the lives of thenMontana and Miller families, from Harlemnof the 1940’s and 1950’s to thenpresent time. Julia, a precocious nineyear-oldnpreacher, is exploited by herngreedy, weak father and feared by hernweak, timid brother. Jimmy, her resentfulnseven-year-old brother, is largelynignored. Julia and Hall will eventuallynfall in love, as will Jimmy and Arthur.nThe events are less a story than a recitationnof happenings: the Trumpets ofnZion quartet must tour the South; Julianmust leave the ministry and endurenabuse from her father; the Korean War,nthe Black Muslims and the civil-rightsnmovement appear. Throughout, Hallninsists that Arthur remains “the applenof my eye. I worried about cops and billynclubs and pushers, jails, rooftops, basements,nthe river, the morgue: I movednlike an advance scout in wicked andnhostile territory, my whole life was anstrategy and a prayer; I knew I could notnlive without my brother.”nMany of James Baldwin’s critics havencharged that he has squandered his talentnon his obsession with sex. In Justnnnnative land. “I don’t think anybody cannreally hate his country, I don’t thinknthat’s possible,” Baldwin writes, “butnyou can certainly despise the road yourncountry travels, and the people theynelect to lead them on that road. If Inhad been a white man, I would have beennashamed, really, to send a black mannanywhere to fight for me. But shame isnindividual, not collective, and collectivelynspeaking, white people have nonshame. They have the shortest memoriesnof any people in the world—which explains,nno doubt, why they have nonshame.” And, at some points, he seemsnto understand that racism—fear of thosenwho are different—is not simply annaffliction of whites, but a dilemma facingnall men: “They believed that theynhated white people, and that’s no wonder.nThey were far from the hard apprehensionnthat they simply could notnendure being despised, far from thenknowledge that almost everybody is,ncould not conceive that the world, ornat least the world we know, could benso tremendously populated by peoplenwho despise each other because eachndespises himself . . . Thus, they imaginednthat they hated white people be-nMarch/April 1980n