This article assesses James Baldwin’s status as a symbol of third world solidarity by situating his nonfiction writings in the context of his travels to France, Turkey, Israel, and West Africa, as well as the Cold War institutions and ideologies that shaped the contours of his internationalism. Adalet suggests a reading of Baldwin as a comparative thinker who increasingly abandoned an imperial framework of comparison in favor of a more fluid approach that could unearth the particularities of oppression. In early writings, for instance, Baldwin enacted a Cold War politics of comparison, recycling a worldview in which Africa was deemed to be savage and alien, the Soviet Union totalitarian and sinister, and the United States open and free. In later writings, Baldwin arrived at a more critical lexicon that relied less on the maintenance of boundaries between discrete and fixed units than the possibility of their commensurability. Such an approach enables us to think through and historicize the “politics of comparison,” with its implications for anticolonialism, antiracism, and transnational solidarity.
Tensions, Terrors, Tenderness: James Baldwin’s Politics of Comparison
Begüm Adalet is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University. She is the author of Hotels and Highways: The Construction of Modernization Theory in Cold War Turkey (Stanford University Press, 2018).
Begüm Adalet; Tensions, Terrors, Tenderness: James Baldwin’s Politics of Comparison. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2018; 38 (3): 508–523. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-7208834
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