James Baldwin on Death

Nicely, nicely said:

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return, […] (James Baldwin, “Down at the Cross,” in The Fire Next Time.)

In terms of Baldwin’s own existential chessboard (from which his moves were made), add to his being born mortal the fact that he was also born poor, black, and gay–a condition he called “hitting the jackpot” (because you couldn’t get much further out on the limb of existence than that).

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to James Baldwin on Death

  1. Mikels Skele says:

    Baldwin may be the most overlooked writer of the last century.

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