Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION

David responds to the Leonard Pitts Op Ed to which I linked with this powerful quote from James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son:

"The only real change vividly discernible in this present, unspeakably dangerous chaos is a panic-stricken apprehension on the part of those who have maligned and subjugated others for so long that the tables have been turned ….  Out of this incredible brutality, we get the myth of the happy darky and Gone with the Wind. And the North Americans appear to believe these legends, which they have created and which absolutely nothing in reality corroborates, until today. And when these legends are attacked, as is happening now--all over the globe which has never been and never will be White--my countrymen become childishly vindictive and unutterably dangerous. The unadmitted icy panic of which I spoke above is created by the terror that the Savage can, now, describe the Civilized: the only way to prevent this is to obliterate humanity."

A personal story about James Baldwin.  In 1992, when I transferred from the UMass Philosophy Department to the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, I was assigned an empty office down the hall from the Departmental office, on the third floor of New Africa House.  UMass was [and still is] an underfunded state university and there were not many amenities, but each professor did get a little name plaque that was mounted on one’s office door.  My new office had very little in it save a wooden desk and some chairs.  In the desk drawer I found a stack of name plates that had belonged to former occupants.  As I flipped through them, curious to see who had sat in my chair before me, I came across a plate with the name “Chinua Achebe” on it.  The great Nigerian novelist, author of Things Fall Apart and other important works, had been a member of the department.  A few nameplates later, I found one that read “James Baldwin.”


I was walking in the footsteps of giants.

6 comments:

David said...

I was a graduate student at UMass when James Baldwin was the Five-College professor. Among my memories of that time is a public talk in which he discussed the president (Reagan) whom he referred to as "that cowboy." One of my idle fancies is to imagine what James Baldwin might have had to say about the current president of what he was fond of calling these yet-to-be-united-states.

I am pleased and depressed that these "unutterably dangerous" times have made James Baldwin's writings seem more relevant and insightful than ever.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

David, what field were you in?

David said...

I was in the MFA program in Creative Writing.

Jerry Fresia said...

During the period in which Baldwin was teaching at UMass, a friend of mine reported that she would be taking a course with Baldwin and asked me if would I like to take the course too given that there was still room.

"Nah, maybe another time, " I said. Who was I then? What did I not understand?

It is one of my most troubling regrets.

LFC said...

@ J. Fresia

A high-school classmate w/ ties to China invited me to go to the PRC with him and a few other people in the summer after we graduated (1975). I didn't go. Unbelievably stupid decision; I have no idea now what my reasoning was. Though I lived abroad as a young child and have traveled a certain amount (though not for quite a long time) as an adult (including in the Indian subcontinent), I've still never been to China.

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia and LFC,

If the decisions described above are among the most foolish or stupid ones that you both made when young (as young as having just graduated from high school), then you both were very wise and rational young men.

It hurts just to begin to think about so many stupid or unwise decisions I made while young, ones that affected not only my life not also the lives of others around me.

If I hadn't been so unwise, I doubt that I would have ever felt the necessity to study philosophy nor would have continued studying it (not formally of course) for so many years.