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Queer Orientalisms, or Baldwin’s "Another Country" Re/Sited

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Abstract:

Another Country (1962) was James Baldwin’s novelistic response to the Civil Rights Movement in its insistence that racial and sexual oppression are inextricably interlinked, that they are private and political, domestic and transnational. It was in this third novel, one that he claimed “almost killed” him and that took him nearly a decade to write, that Baldwin prepared ground for The Fire Next Time and its invocation to white and black Americans to come together “like lovers” in the struggle against American and global imperialisms. However, it is little known that this text, set in New York City and centering on predominantly American characters, was actually revised and finished in Istanbul, on what Irvin Schick terms the “erotic margin” of Asia and Europe.
As I argue in this presentation, the Orientalized “East” was for Baldwin a location and lens – a place to write from and one through which to see and reassess American culture. A temporary haven and space of exile, it helped him to merge the “black writer” from Harlem of Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and the “gay writer” from Paris of Giovanni’s Room (1956) into a cosmopolitan “black queer” writer, who articulated in Another Country the indivisibility of race and sex and their dependence on location and migration – themes that would remain central for the rest of his career. By juxtaposing a close look at the context in which Another Country was written in Turkey with close readings of several key moments in this novel, I show how Baldwin engages a way of seeing and representing cultural difference of the part of the world known as the East.
This presentation unfolds in two parts, first briefly focusing on biographical and theoretical contexts of Baldwin’s writing Another Country in Istanbul, and second, on close readings of several moments in the novel, where he brings together discourses on the East with those on queer sexuality. The instances in the novel where Baldwin shows us how Western notions of eastern exoticism are present even in the erotic and racial experience of his American characters provide a broader context for regarding domestic representations of whiteness, blackness, and sexuality in the mid-twentieth-century United States. Aided by archival, little-known images of Baldwin in Turkey, my reading of Another Country focuses on the spectacular and fantastic associations of the imaginary East with decadent erotic desire and non-normative and interracial sexuality, and demonstrates how Baldwin sets out, as Lisa Lowe might put it, to “refunction and rearticulate” Orientalism “against itself” on its pages.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244341_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Zaborowska, Magdalena. "Queer Orientalisms, or Baldwin’s "Another Country" Re/Sited" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244341_index.html>

APA Citation:

Zaborowska, M. "Queer Orientalisms, or Baldwin’s "Another Country" Re/Sited" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244341_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Another Country (1962) was James Baldwin’s novelistic response to the Civil Rights Movement in its insistence that racial and sexual oppression are inextricably interlinked, that they are private and political, domestic and transnational. It was in this third novel, one that he claimed “almost killed” him and that took him nearly a decade to write, that Baldwin prepared ground for The Fire Next Time and its invocation to white and black Americans to come together “like lovers” in the struggle against American and global imperialisms. However, it is little known that this text, set in New York City and centering on predominantly American characters, was actually revised and finished in Istanbul, on what Irvin Schick terms the “erotic margin” of Asia and Europe.
As I argue in this presentation, the Orientalized “East” was for Baldwin a location and lens – a place to write from and one through which to see and reassess American culture. A temporary haven and space of exile, it helped him to merge the “black writer” from Harlem of Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and the “gay writer” from Paris of Giovanni’s Room (1956) into a cosmopolitan “black queer” writer, who articulated in Another Country the indivisibility of race and sex and their dependence on location and migration – themes that would remain central for the rest of his career. By juxtaposing a close look at the context in which Another Country was written in Turkey with close readings of several key moments in this novel, I show how Baldwin engages a way of seeing and representing cultural difference of the part of the world known as the East.
This presentation unfolds in two parts, first briefly focusing on biographical and theoretical contexts of Baldwin’s writing Another Country in Istanbul, and second, on close readings of several moments in the novel, where he brings together discourses on the East with those on queer sexuality. The instances in the novel where Baldwin shows us how Western notions of eastern exoticism are present even in the erotic and racial experience of his American characters provide a broader context for regarding domestic representations of whiteness, blackness, and sexuality in the mid-twentieth-century United States. Aided by archival, little-known images of Baldwin in Turkey, my reading of Another Country focuses on the spectacular and fantastic associations of the imaginary East with decadent erotic desire and non-normative and interracial sexuality, and demonstrates how Baldwin sets out, as Lisa Lowe might put it, to “refunction and rearticulate” Orientalism “against itself” on its pages.


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