Channel title: James Baldwin, “Autobiographical Notes”, Notes of a Native Son (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955).
It was a peculiar symbiosis which, perhaps because of its relatively primitive character, makes more apparent than any later form of factory work that we are able to maintain ourselves on this earth only by being harnessed to the machines we have invented. That weavers in particular, together with scholars and writers with whom they had much in common, tended to suffer from melancholy and all the evils associated with it, is understandable given the nature of their work, which forced them to sit bent over, day after day, straining to keep their eye on the complex patterns they created. It is difficult to imagine the depths of despair into which those can be driven who, even after the end of the working day, are engrossed in their intricate designs and who are pursued, into their dreams, by the feeling that they have got hold of the wrong thread.
“Drumming has no end,” the drummer said. “No one can know everything about drumming. Everyone knows only to his extent. If you know everything, what are you going to do and know it? In our drumming way, no one blames another. If someone doesn’t know, you don’t say ‘this man doesn’t know.’ If you say that you have demeaned yourself. Maybe as you say you know, someone too knows better than you. And as you’re bending down looking at someone’s anus, someone is also bending down looking at yours.”
My archives, your archives, our archives. But by archives, I’m not thinking of musty or air-conditioned rooms, almost inaccessible. Tombstones of stalwart abbott. I’m speaking of archives of sound, of memory. Archives of the oral. Archives of spirit. The library as mbira, the thumb piano on which you play the troubles and the travels of your soul.… Archives of ownership, of reclamation, of record, of discovery, of yourself in a strange land by the still or turmoil waters where you lay down and weep, where you lay down and dream, where you become free. The oral moment here as text becoming. The oral moment here as text becoming. I mean a slave knows that the slave is free when he or she has reclaimed his archives. Ask John Henry Clark, lecturing his archives without his sight.… This is the magic and the mystery of the slave ship over and across… triumphant passage of the Middle passage. I mean we come with freedom archives, without the printing block, without the Roman alphabet. The plantation does not encourage libraries and archives. It doesn’t do that at all. It has always not done that. It always inhibits freedom. But the archives of our people, we really need a name to cover all of us who come over on that Middle Passage, just as we have the song of the Omuwala returning to the motherland so we have not yet got a name for those of us who have come. This is very interesting and very unfortunate and very sad. The Kumina people of Jamaica say “arrivants.”
When the disciples asked Christ about the world to come and the places they were to get in it, he told them, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” They could not understand it. They just couldn’t. The glory of life in our age is that this intense, individual, personal life can, in fact must, be lived in harmony with the great social forces that are now striving to carry humanity over the last barrier. When I say I love you, it comes from very, very far.