James Baldwin – The Struggle of The Artist (1969)

James Baldwin - The Struggle of The Artist (1969)



I really don't like words like artist or integrity or courage or nobility I have a kind of distrust of all those words because I don't really know what those words mean anymore that I really know what such words as democracy or peace or peace loving or warlike or integration mean and yet once compelled to recognize that all these imprecise words a kind of attempts made by us all to get to something which is real and which lives behind the word whether I like it or not for example and no matter what I call myself I suppose the only word for me when the chips are down is that I am an artist there is such a thing there is such a thing as integrity some people are noble there is such a thing as courage the terrible thing is that all of these words a reality behind these words depend ultimately on what the human being meaning every single one of us believed to be real the terrible thing is all these words the reality behind them depend on choices one has got to make for ever and ever and ever every day I am NOT interested really in talking to you as an artist it seems to me that the artists struggle for his integrity it's a kind of metaphor must be considered as a metaphor for the struggle which is universal and daily of all human beings on the face of this terrifying globe to get to become human beings but it's not your fault and it's not my fault that I write I would never become before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do what we might get at this evening if we are lucky if the mic doesn't fail and my voice holds out if you ask me questions is what the importance of this effort is it would seem to me that how arrogant this may sound I want to suggest two propositions the first one is that the poet's by which I mean all artists are finally the only people who know the truth about us soldiers don't statesmen don't priests don't Union leaders don't only the poets that's my first proposition we know about the Oedipus complex not because of Freud but because of a poet who lived in Greece thousands of years ago and what he said then about what it was like to be alive is still true in spite of the fact now we can get to Greece in something like five hours and then it would have taken I don't know how long the time the second proposition is what I really want to get at tonight and it sounds mystical I think in a country like ours not a time like this but something awful is happening to a civilization when it ceases to produce poets and what is even more crucial when it ceases in anyway whatever to believe in the report that only poets can make Conrad told us a long time ago I think it was a book called victory but I might be wrong about that but the line is woe to that man who does not put his trust in life oh Henry James said live live all you can it's a mistake not to and Shakespeare said and this is what I take as being the truth about everybody's life all of the time out of this metal danger we pluck this flower safety art is here to prove and to make one bear to help one bear the fact that all safety is an illusion it's in this sense that all the artists are divorced from and even opposed to necessarily any system whatever let's trace it just for kicks for a minute and I'll use use myself I won't say me but it's my story the first thing an artist finds out his money is very very young when I say young I mean before he is before he is 15 let us say before properly speaking he or she can walk or talk before he or she has had enough experience to begin to assess his or her experience in what occurs at that point in this hypothetical artist's life is a kind of silence for reasons he cannot explain to himself or to others he does not belong anywhere maybe you're on the football team maybe you're a runner maybe you belong to a church you certainly belong to a family and abruptly in other people's eyes this is very important in other people's eyes you begin to discover that you are moving and you cannot stop this movement to what looks like the edge of the world now what is crucial and one begins to understand it much much later is that if you were this hypothetical artist if you were in fact the dreamer that everybody says you are if in fact you are wrong not to settle for the things that you cannot for some mysterious reason settle for if this was so the testimony in the eyes of other people would not exist the crime of which you discover slowly that you are guilty is not so much that you are aware which is bad enough but other people see that you are and cannot bear to watch it because it testifies to the fact that they are not you are bearing witness helplessly to something which everybody knows and nobody wants to face least of all the hypothetical misfit who is that as I said learn how to walk or talk and doesn't know enough about experience to know what experience he has had well one survives that no matter how dying by your uncles and your parents and the church stops praying for you they realize won't do a bit of good they give you up and you proceed a little further and your lovers put you down because they don't know what you're doing either and you can't tell them because you don't know you survived it and in some terrible way which I suppose no one can ever describe you are compelled you are corralled you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurts you and what is crucial here is that if it hurt you if it hurt you then it's not what is important everybody's hurt what is important what bullwhips you what Corral's you what drives you torment you is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive this is all you have to do it with you must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people's pain and in some files you can do that with your pain you can be released from it and then hopefully it works the other way around too insofar as I can tell you what it is like to suffer perhaps I can help you to suffer less then you make over 15 years later several thousand drinks later two or three divorces God knows how many broken friendships and an exile of one kind or another some kind of breakthrough which is a first particular you are would you say your first circulation of who you suspect we all are I mean let me put it another way when we were all very young when I was very young and I'm sure this is true for everybody here I assumed that no one had ever been born it was only five foot six inches tall or been born poor or been born ugly or masturbated or than all those things which were my private property when I was fifteen no one had ever suffered the way I suffered and then you discover and I discover this pseudo CF ski that it is common everybody did it not only did everybody do it everybody's doing it and all the time it's a fantastic and terrifying liberation the reason is terrifying is because it makes you once and for all responsible to no one but yourself not to God the Father not to Satan not to nobody not a living just you if you think it's right then you've got to do it if you think it's wrong then you mustn't do it and we all know how difficult it is given what we are to tell the difference not only between right and wrong the whole nature of life is are terrible that some somebodies right as always somebody else is wrong and these are the terrible choices well it's always got to make alright I said the cat survived all that and this is a very crucial thing you know dirty socks can make you feel like nothing but a dirty sock you walk into a room and somebody says what do you do you say I write they say yeah but what do you do and you wonder what do you do and what's it for why don't you get a job and somehow you can't and finally learn this the most terrible way because you try you're in a position of someone on the edge of a field and it's cold in the field and there's a house over there and it's fire in the house and food and everything you need everything you want and you make all kinds of efforts to get into that house and they would let you in they would let you in they're not being cruel they recognize you as you come to the door that's all and they can't let you in you get in let us say for five minutes and you can't stay and that was much younger people said to me this is very serious and it's not just the confessional not just being self-indulgent all right you were working now stop working have a drink forget it why you so serious all the time you can't write all the time Jimmy relax you heard anybody tells you to relax alright you get through all that let's roll that you made your first breakthrough people have heard your name and here comes the world again the world you first encountered when you were 15 the world were just starved you despised you here it comes again this time it is bearing gifts the phone didn't ring before if you had a phone now it never stops ringing when people saying what do you do they say won't you do this and you become or you could become a very important person you find yourself in position of a woman I don't know who sings a certain song and a certain choir and the song begins you says I said I wasn't going to tell nobody but I couldn't keep it to myself you've come full circle full circle here you are again it all do all over again and you must decide all over again whether you want to be famous or whether you want to write and the two things in spite of all the evidence have nothing whatever in common now what is it at the point to the artists since I must put it this way begins to come of age that he cannot keep to himself this is the trickiest part of the whole argument I was having lunch today with two very good friends of mine or one very good friend of mine and a friend of his and they're both artists and I wasn't trying to be sardonic the friend of the friend is a man at my very much but the other one is a cat I really know dig and we were trying to persuade or not persuade at all my friend is an actor and his role which we all know who all to play in fact we all know anyone who loves him that he has no choices to play it sooner or later and we all know the diesel afraid to and God knows he should be but he knows he's got to do it and his friend was saying to him and I paraphrase it paraphrase it very awkwardly you must remember that most people live in almost total darkness it is true said this friend that we drink too much he's up from stage right and you may get an ulcer or die of cancer and it is true that it is all very very hard and gets harder all of the time and yet people millions of people whom you will never see who don't know you never will know you people who may try to kill you in the morning live in a darkness which if you have that funny terrible thing which every artist can recognize and no artist can define you are responsible to those people to lighten that darkness and it does not matter what happens to you you are being used in the way a crab is useful the way sand certainly has some function it is impersonal this force but you didn't ask for and this destiny which you must accept is also your responsibility and if you survive it if you don't cheat if you don't lie it is not only you know your glory your achievement it is almost our only hope because only an artist can tell and only artists have told since we have heard of man what it is like for anyone who gets this planet to survive it what is like to die or to have somebody die what is like to fear death what it is like to feel what it is like to love what is like to be glad hymns don't do this churches really cannot do it the trouble is that although the artists can do it the price that he has to pay himself and that you the audience must also pay is the willingness to give up everything to realize that although you spent 27 years acquiring this house this furniture this position although you spent 40 years raising this child these children nothing none of it belongs to you you can only have it you can only have it by letting it go you can only take if you are prepared to give and giving is not an investment it is not a day at the bargain counter it is a total risk of everything of you of who you think you are who you think you'd like to be where you think you'd like to go everything and this forever forever now I if I may put it this way and all my tribes I may put it that way fine is very hard to do and it's very hard on my mother and my sisters and my brothers and all my friends and it's very hard on me and I may fail in the next two seconds but then when it's got to understand that is I and all my tribe I mean artists now that if it is hard for me if I spend weeks and months avoiding my typewriter and I do sharpening pencils trying to avoid going where I got to go then what has got to use this to learn humility after all after all there is a kind of saving egotism to a cruel and dangerous but also saving egotism about the artists condition which is this I know that if I survive it when the tears are stopped flowing or the blood is dried when the storm is settled I do have a typewriter which is my torment but it's also my my work if I can survive it I can always go back there and if I've not turned into a total liar then I can use it and prepare myself in this way for the next inevitable and possibly fatal disaster but if I find that hard to do and I have a weapon which most people don't have that one was one must then understand how hard is for almost anybody else to do it at all and this is where the whole question in my own private personal case of being an American artist being not yet 65 years old and being an American Negro artist in 1963 in this most peculiar countries begins to be a very frightening assignment when is dealing with all the time the most inarticulate people that are in a case have ever encountered and I don't hesitate to say the most in articulate group people are never likely to encounter I or anybody else for a very long time at least in this century inarticulate and illiterate in the very particular and difficult to describe way unlettered in the language which may sound a little florid but there's another way that I can think how to say it totally unlettered in the language of the heart totally distrustful and whatever cannot be touched panic-stricken and the very first hint of pain are people determined to believe that they can make suffering obsolete who don't understand yet a very simple physiological fact that the pain which thickens or toothache is a pain which saves your life this is very frightening it frightens me half to death and I'm not talking now nearly about race and I'm certainly not talking merely about Southerners I'm talking really about two-thirds of my public and tactical allies people who believe that it is time that the country became a real democracy people who believe that segregation is wrong people ready to march on picket lines who yet overlooked something else and they are still under the illusion I think the what they have overlooked has something to do with social questions and in my particular case anyway there's something you do with Negroes I would like to live long enough don't misunderstand me but I would like to live long enough to see that word or use to which its put struck from the American vocabulary in effect there is no Negro problem the problem is that one is still in the kindergarten an emotional kindergarten and the Negro in this country operates as some weird kind of gorilla who suddenly is breaking up all the backboards I am tired of being told well not only to wait but I'm tired the people saying what should I do they mean what should I do about the Negro problem what can I do for you there is nothing you can do for me there is nothing you can do for Negroes it must be done for you when is that one is not attempting to save twenty two million people what is it I'm going to save an entire country and that means an entire civilization and the price for that is high the price for that is to understand oneself the price for that for example is to recognize that no service white and black have arrived at a point where we do not know what to tell our children most of us have arrived at a point where we still believe and insist on and act on the principle which is no longer valid that this is such and such an optimum choice is the lesser of two evils and that is a longer true Galeria is not preferable to syphilis the time has come it seems to me to recognize that the framework the framework in which we operate weighs on us too heavily to be borne and is about to kill us it is time to has very hard questions and take very rude positions and no matter what price it is time for example for one example to recognize that the major effort of our country until today and I'm talking about Washington all the way down to whoever heads women's Temperance Union is not to change a situation but to seem to have done it it is spectacular for example to have been forced optimally to bringing the entire whatever it was militia the u.s. marshals to get James Meredith in the school and on a certain point of view which I do not at all share I can see the one can say no other country would have done it it's escaped everybody's noticed that no other country would have had to you

20 Comments

  • Worshipper Of No Idols says:

    All safety is an illusion!!!

  • Michael Fuqua says:

    amazing

  • Mike Jarvis says:

    🔥🔥🔥..Thank you for being alive on this earth James!

  • J.Kush says:

    What we need in this world is more James Baldwins and less backwards, racist, bigoted, uncultured f#cks

  • Abel Arredondo says:

    Thank you so much

  • Queene James says:

    Thank you.

  • Emily Maleah Tench says:

    I stumbled across this recording years ago, and love the title and artwork on this one the most… I'll never tire of hearing these words. ♡

  • [BantuEmpress] M-Beenzunk monsegue-hecker says:

    well articulated….kudos

  • michael seth says:

    A really Great Post

  • Actually Pendalum says:

    0:50 shattered dreams sample

  • Karl Halwani says:

    My nigga Earl sent me here

  • Lovely Word says:

    Ok so some things have been on my mind and this topic just brought it out. Thank God for this beautiful Earth, life, and each other. I confess my sins not because I want to but to ask for forgiveness. Now, I just heard about this cop lady. She didn't piss me off but I bet she is what I think she is. Anywho, look if you had such a problem before; to why was this handled differently and as soon as you were notified that this is a fellow police officer. Why didn't you act accordingly and welcome them to the neighborhood. CatchingThieves or criminals aren't the only thing you've been trained to do. It's women like you that others fear. No, you don't need to feel safer because this person was just doing her job. Listen to me. You all let an officer go that was a real gem to this world. Nation people voters, don't allow this to happen. She was bold and no humility to her so you know Christian is out of the picture. She sounds quick wit, just not in a way that I would respect. Legally he has so many options yet hell probably get a hearty hand shake maybe a bonus and he'll be fine with that maybe. But you, miss officer, that's how it looks. I still don't have the whole story but I bet Republicans have a different take on it from a blonde who looks like anorexic she-less he.

  • Blaque Reign says:

    Thanks !

  • Taylor Christina says:

    "The Struggle" appreciate you with this one!

  • Joe Lumumba Nkrumah says:

    The struggle by James Baldwin.
    Dude thanks for posting it.

  • BuddhaLove77 #NewCultureofPeace says:

    If we walk in the light respecting our dignity we are going to be alright. Thank you for posting !!!!!

  • Heather T says:

    ON POINT! ON POINT!
    ON POINT!💞💖💞
    👏👏👌

  • The General STRIKE says:

    One can never get enough of James Baldwin.
    Not only a Superiorly Gifted Protean Skilled Writer, a highly Astute Philosopher with an ability to examine life omnipotently a skill which few in modern times have even any desire to. I beleive and learned from his ability to express ANGER and RAGE that has no apology. His intellect being so autonomous amongst droves of detached zombies he expresses his anger knowing that all our emotions are acceptable, it is your reaction to your emotions that can be harmful or harnessed for greatness!
    James Baldwin is nearly perfect example of a public speaker. Clear, funny, emotional, and highly thought provoking.
    James Baldwin is one of the COOLEST HUMANS I have ever had the pleasure of reading, listening, or watching.

  • Garry Watts says:

    "Unlettered in The Language of The Heart" 💓 Well Said. James Baldwin and Langston Hughes Are Ambassadors of the Revolution.

  • Rasu Blaque says:

    these words are prolific

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