The Fire Next Time offers a personal and intimate account of racial injustice

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin offers a strikingly personal and intimate account of James Baldwin‘s early life in Harlem while examining the consequences of racial injustice. Rooted in an intellectualism that is simultaneously and unapologetically provocative by design and delivery, The Fire Next Time this 106-page personal search for meaning wedded with civil rights call for action for 1963 America. These two essays (or letters?) were targeted to a white and black American audience, 100-years after the Emancipation Proclamation, attacking the terrible legacy of racism and calling for legitimate cultural and social action in American civil rights.

I am a male in my forties, married without kids, “parent” to a well-mannered dog. In reading Mr. Baldwin, there are parts of the struggle that I intellectually recognize as difficult. I can look back to inequities in the outcomes and treatment for people of color in the day and see wrong. I see efforts to legislate change as well meaning movements towards justice aimed at the legacy of institutional wrong. I see the struggle there is with race in elements of society in 2017, and the honest difficulty people have in how society thinks about racial violence, policing, access to fair treatment in professional opportunities, and more. My early experiences with race are not the same as James Baldwin‘s in Much of the account is deeply personal, getting into the daily frustrations. Baldwin helps you feel the intimately devastating realities of needing to have a gimmick to struggle with being black and poor in Harlem. He provides the context of needing a “gimmick” to overcome the carnal or religious seductions of this time and place; he sees education as a path that led to nothing for too many. Regarding education, Baldwin sees that merit in educational accomplishment wasn’t rewarded with professional opportunity.

The Fire Next Time 2 (James Baldwin)

The first letter in The Fire Next Time was “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.” This reflected Baldwin‘s evaluation on the racism in America in the 1960’s, along with guidance to his nephew for behaving as a catalyst for changing the fortunes of an aggrieved black population. Baldwin contends, as this excerpt from eNotes shares, that “White America holds fast to ideals that are not actually practiced. This failure to practice its ideals is proven in its steadfast denial of the value of black lives. Baldwin tells his nephew that American society has narrowly circumscribed his world so that his dreams will never move beyond the street corner of the Harlem ghetto.”

The second, longer essay for The Fire Next Time is “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind.” In this essay, Baldwin first discusses the how growing up in the Harlem ghetto lead him to becoming involved in the church, almost competing with his father who simultaneously preached at the church. Later, Baldwin reflects on the black nationalism as occasioned in meeting with Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. In the the third movement here, Baldwin offers solutions to the racial conflict confronting America in 1963.

Much of the account is deeply personal, getting into the daily frustrations. Baldwin helps you feel the intimately devastating realities of needing to have a gimmick to struggle with being black and poor in Harlem. He provides the context of needing a “gimmick” to overcome the carnal or religious seductions of this time and place; he sees education as a path that led to nothing for too many. Regarding education, Baldwin sees that merit in educational accomplishment wasn’t rewarded with professional opportunity.

The Fire Next Time 3(Quote from The Fire Next Time)

The broader message, that is solution, that James Baldwin offers in The Fire Next Time was that both white America and black America broaden its conceptions of reality in order to transcend their experience, beliefs, and fears with relation to their own stereotypes of themselves and others. The effort to reach across the gulf of difference in a real sense, not simply through legislation but in actual practice, is where meaningful change would and could be realized for the benefit of an aggrieved and aggrieving population.

Overall, I give the book 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Monday, May 29, 2017

Politics mingles with post-Reformation Europe in Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love

Politics mingles with post-Reformation Europe in Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love. The book as written by Dava Sobel offers the reader a baited hook in terms of the close relationship between iconic scientist and Roman Catholic Galileo Galilei and his eldest daughter and cloistered nun,  Maria Celeste. While the book certainly offers crumbs to the bond between these two based on the limited surviving correspondence, the truth of the matter is that the book justifiably brings more focus into the life and times of Galileo.

The book does an engaging job of laying out the career, travels, brilliance, and creativity of the scientist that we know as the biggest influence in arguing for the sun as the center of the solar system. The many distresses that Galilei endured in his efforts to explain the nature of the world came into sharp exposition and challenge by the Roman Catholic church of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in and around Rome.

The Roman Catholic church was a largely political animal in this time that had suffered challenges to its political and spiritual authority spurred by the Protestant Reformation as notably instigated by theologian Martin Luther, theologian and journalist John Calvin, and King Henry VIII of England. Galileo suffered from findings of heresy and censorship as a response to that Reformation through the Roman Catholic church’s Counter-Reformation efforts. The story of Galileo’s one trial at the hands of the Roman Inquisition makes up a more forceful component to Galileo’s Daughter, in my opinion, than does the telling of the relationship between Marie Celeste and Galileo.

Galileo's Daughter 2

Galileo’s Daughter drew me in from the beginning and held my interest throughout the telling. The hook for me was having a front row, biographical telling of the human story of who Galileo Galilei was to those that loved him, were his friends or many dependents, and those that ultimately were there at the end or vacated their sense of decency, open-mindedness, and political courage in the face of Pope Urban VIII’s inquisitor, Father Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola.

The 1633 heresy conviction that resulted in house arrest for the remainder of Galileo‘s life (he outlives his daughter Maria Celeste) is captured well with tension, interest, and excellently with the hook of Maria Celeste’s loving interest. The earlier telling of Galileo’s telescopic inventions, motion experiments (including in Pisa), and increasingly earned influence were phenomenal. I think that I concur with one of author Dava Sobel‘s earlier arguments; namely, Galileo Galilei was able to reconcile science with his religion. That Galilei was clearly ahead of western culture in reconciling these two, then as now, is a story still with us today.

My overall grade for Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love is 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Thursday, March 30, 2017