The suit, with its travels and meanings—an object imbued with memories of love and trauma, a symbol of rupture and connection between self and other, self and personal past, self and national history—represents a fitting way to frame a group of essays about Baldwin and democracy.
Apparently, Jimmy had been given an advance of $100,000 for If Beale Street Could Talk with the promise of another $200,000 on completion. I gathered that he was anxious to get it done. It seemed as if he needed the seclusion of this special place to write about the tragic life of black Americans.
Like Baldwin, Manning seemed to recognize the appeal to security, along with the stories we tell ourselves about how that security was won, as costly fantasies enacted through both the explicit suppression of information and a deep denial of who we are, or have become, as a nation.
The thrill was in the prose, in Baldwin’s capacity to wed the intimate and the universal and to make of his life an offering to generations of readers, including those whose experiences were far removed from his own. But the destabilization mattered more. Baldwin’s language upended the order of my understanding, as a political theorist-in-training, and as a white American.