The essay argues that, with the trope of “un/binding,” James Baldwin, most notably in “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1949), Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and Another Country (1962), thinks through the central ethical idea in his oeuvre: the call for “transformation.” Such transformation comes about when the subject yields to the forces of sex and finitude. These forces—which Baldwin also calls “corruption”—have two functions. First, the subject’s unbinding, through corruption, enables the emergence of what Baldwin calls “the self.” Only with such emergence can we break from the structures that have created the subject, specular identifications that, as Baldwin saw it, entrapped Bigger Thomas (Native Son) and Gabriel Grimes (Go Tell It on the Mountain). Second, the “transformation” demanded by sex and finitude can preempt the “evil” that, writing in the immediate aftermath of World War II and engaging the work of Richard Wright and Albert Camus, Baldwin identifies in fascism. The seductions of fascism are obviated by the “acts of creation” by which “the individual” emerges.

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