Amiri Baraka Thesis

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¶ … Corrections in Blue Suggestions / New Material in Red

No Apprenticeship for Freedom

"A man is either free or he is not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom," wrote Amiri Baraka whose life work has been a series of attacks on what he has felt to be the constraints -- the chains -- of mainstream American society. His plays, poems, and essays have made him one of the signature voices of the Civil Rights Movement and continue to make him an important force in American literature in the twenty-first century.

Beginning in the 1960s he has became one of the voices of black America, a complicated and sometimes internally contradictory position. He has written on the particular and unique circumstances, desires, and fears of African-Americans (and particularly of African-American men) over a half-century as the position of blacks in the United States has changed dramatically -- and yet not changed enough and is still necessarily undergoing change. And yet, e Even While embodying the specificity of the experiences of African-Americans, he has also written more broadly about the his subjective experience of the texture of life in over the last half-century and the ways in which he believes imperialism is still an irrefutable element of our putatively post-colonial world.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Thesis on Amiri Baraka Assignment

It is always at least somewhat suspect to argue that a black writer -- or a woman, or a Latino, or an artist who is anything but male and white -- embodies both particular individual as well as universal human concerns. This implies that minority writers either are betraying their identity in not writing solely about their own demographic group or that there is something surprising about the ability of any minority to write about universal experiences. I, of course, do not mean to fall into either of these fallacies. The implication being that either minority writers are betraying their own identity when writing about things other than their ethnicity, or that the ability of a minority writer to understand and write about universal human experiences is surprising. Both stances are patently untrue. Baraka is able to write about his individual experience as an African-American as well as his experience as a human being irrespective of race. Rather, when I argue that Baraka writes both about the concerns of black men in the decades since the Civil Rights Movement as well as concerns that affect all people I am instead arguing that he has chosen to write in both veins.

He could have chosen to be a chronicler only of the lives of African-American men of his generation, or he could have chosen to forgo writing about his own cohort. Instead he chose to write primarily about his own life and times but also to extend his experiences and perspectives to the larger issues of his time. Rather than limit himself as a writer defined by race, Baraka has chosen to write simply about himself; his life and experiences and the manner in which race and humanity converge on his subjective experience.

While he is not limited compositionally by ethnicity, there is a tangible sense of his "Black Voice" in every line he has ever written. One of the defining characteristics of Baraka's most famous works are the rage at and revulsion of white middle class America (Watts, 2001). Particularly those individuals who express kinship with the struggles of African- Americans in defining themselves as a culture distinct from traditional white American Ideals.

Baraka is himself very aware of his balancing these two different literary (and at least earlier in his life personal) trajectories. In a 1963 interview he described his position in the following way:

I'm fully conscious all the time that I'm an American Negro, because it's part of my life. But I also know that if I want to say, 'I see a bus full of people,' I don't have to say, 'I am a Negro seeing a bus full of people.' I would deal with it when it has to do directly with the poem, and not as a kind of broad generalization that doesn't have much to do with a lot of young writers today who are Negroes. (Ossman 118).

This is not to say that Baraka has represented all aspects of American life with equal validity. His writings have intertwined his reputation with a number of at-times ugly controversies, most of them involving charges of anti-Semitism that very much appear to be proven substantiated by his own words. It is evident though that these opinions reflect more cogently personal belief than the reality of African- American and Jewish interaction in the Civil Rights Movement. In this way he reflects more some of the values that have run through the Black Nationalist movement and not the realities of the ways in which Jews and African-Americans worked together in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.

In this paper I examine both the talent of Amiri Baraka and his life and the ways in which he has influenced American literature and culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, examining both the controversies in which he has been involved and the important contributions that he has made to the literature of our age.

It is impossible to understand Baraka's writings without reference to his life, for both his work and his biography have been intentional and studied productions of a very specific kind of identity. So I begin with a brief overview of his life in its various stages because he has seen himself very differently during different eras of his life, which hashad consequences for the kinds of writing that he has focused on.

Early Years

Baraka was born in 1934 in Newark as Everett LeRoi Jones, the son of a postal supervisor and a social worker. His first decades might not seem to give any sense of what he would become, but In retrospect there was a certain restlessness that can be seen to presage permeate both the intensity of his personal and professional lives. Baraka has lived in the margins of different movements, staunchly unwilling to be defined by any one person's way of viewing him. always been something of a liminal character, someone existing at the margins of different movements, someone unwilling to be defined as who he was yesterday. His family of origin helped instilled in him a dislike bordering on hatred of the impulse of many African-Americans desire to assimilate into what he saw as the values of a mainstream white America that negated the legitimacy of black experiences (Brown 72). Throughout his work he would mocks the values of his parents' household and the values (and strategies) of so many blacks as the country made its transition into the Civil Rights Movement and a post-segregational world. (Or at least a world in which segregation shifted from a de jure status to a de facto one.)

You switch between Baraka and Jones frequently, you need to decide which name to use and then use it consistently until it makes temporal sense to begin using his assumed name.

As a young man he Baraka studied at Columbia University (factually inaccurate Jones is quoted as saying he never attended Columbia. Further, Jones attended Rutgers first for a degree in science, he left though and ultimately pursued a degree in English at Howard.) Howard University, and Rutgers University, focusing on religion and philosophy. Before he finished his degree, he left the world of higher education in 1954 to join the Air Force (Factually inaccurate Jones completed a degree in English). The Armed Services were one arena in which black men of his generation could sometimes found professional success and personal satisfaction, but Baraka's tenure in the Air Force was not a happy one. He was given a dishonorable discharge because of writings that his commanding officers considered to be supportive of Communism.

Upon Jones's discharge from the armed forces he moved back to Newark NJ eventually moving into the "Village" in New York City. This area, a hub of artistic activity, was where Jones would meet his first wife a vivacious Jewish writer and activist. While in this fertile proving ground for his much lauded imagination and expressive ability Jones brought together a collective of some of the most influential writers artists and political adjutants. Many of the most familiar names in the Beat movement as well as the early civil rights movement were friends and frequent guests at the Jones residence (Harris, 1991).

While in this relatively idyllic time of his life Jones achieved academic notoriety. He was a recipient of both the Whitney Fellowship (60- 61) and the Guggenheim Fellowship (65- 66). Jones also spent time teaching at The New School for Social Research. His classes focused primarily on poetry and the composition of prose. It was also during this time that Jones would later say he "found his voice" (Harris, 1991)

During the latter half of the 1960's Jones became heavily involved in editorial work for several off… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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