There’s this majestic passage in James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk:
“What I was learning was beginning to frighten me to death. If you look steadily into that unblinking blue, into that pinpoint at the center of the eye, you discover a bottomless cruelty, a viciousness cold and icy. In that eye, you do not exist: if you are lucky. If that eye, from its height, has been forced to notice you, if you do exist in the unbelievably frozen winter which lives behind that eye, you are marked, marked, marked, like a man in a black overcoat, crawling, fleeing, across the snow. The eye resents your presence in the landscape, cluttering up the view. Presently, the black overcoat will be still, turning red with blood, and the snow will be red, and the eye resents this, too, blinks once, and causes more snow to fall, covering it all. Sometimes I was with Fonny when I crossed Bell’s path, sometimes I was alone. When I was with Fonny, the eyes looked straight ahead, into a freezing sun. When I was alone, the eyes clawed me like a cat’s claws, raked me like a rake. These eyes look only into the eyes of the conquered victim. They cannot look into any other eyes. When Fonny was alone, the same thing happened. Bell’s eyes swept over Fonny’s black body with the unanswerable cruelty of lust, as though he had lit the blowtorch and had it aimed at Fonny’s sex. When their paths crossed, and I was there, Fonny looked straight at Bell, Bell looked straight ahead. I’m going to fuck you, boy, Bell’s eyes said. No, you won’t, said Fonny’s eyes. I’m going to get my shit together and haul ass out of here.”
Majestic might not be the right word. Penso em português, enquanto busco entender o olho azul que mergulha na pele negra de sua vítima. É uma cena terrível, uma cena dentro da cena: how does one feel when one is being hunted?
But why a scene within a scene? Este é o momento, no livro, em que Tish começa a pensar em Bell, o policial que criou a farsa que levara Fonny à cadeia, transformando-o em suspeito do estupro de uma jovem portorriquenha no Village. We’re in the 1970s in downtown New York. It must be like hell for Black people.
In his open letter to Angela Davis, written in 1970 while she was in jail, Baldwin tells her that she looks “exceedingly alone—as alone, say, as the Jewish housewife in the boxcar headed for Dachau, or as any one of our ancestors, chained together in the name of Jesus, headed for a Christian land.”
A carta é cheia de sarcasmo, de amor, e de um fervor tão distanciado quanto próximo. Assim como outros afro-americanos, Baldwin viveu (e morreu) na França, jamais abandonando sua posição, mas protegendo-se de seu próprio país, que lhe era letal. He was not avoiding confrontation. Instead, he let it happen within his own words, in his engagement, in his enraged essays, but also in the tense depiction of each and all of his characters. How to forget the force of Tish’s family, her sister Ernestine, their mom, or that adorable father who decides, together with Fonny’s father, to go for him, ready to “blow away a pig, or blow up a city, to save their progeny from the jaws of this democratic hell.”
Quando Drummond pensou em “dinamitar” Manhattan, não creio que pensasse como os personagens de Baldwin. O pai de Tish está pronto a matar e morrer, se necessário, para proteger a filha e o neto e tirá-los das mandíbulas demoníacas daquele inferno chamado Estados Unidos. Drummond, differently, speaks of a lack of potency, as if the poet were out of steam, fatigado, never convinced that there’s still something to be done.
There must be something one can do… The use of italics in Baldwin’s writings is puzzling, notably in this beautiful novel in which the sound of the voices, their intonation and volume are so important. Mas o que ele quer com os itálicos? Que sintamos o acento do Harlem, a marcação cerrada de palavras em meio a uma música—da língua—que o papel não alcança manter viva? Fico pensando que só o cinema, ou o rap, tornariam os itálicos de Baldwin desnecessários. Aliás, Spike Lee começa a surgir na cena imediatamente após a morte do escritor. It might be interesting to remember that temporal coincidence when watching the new film by Barry Jenkins, based on Baldwin’s novel. It’s a different aesthetic, for sure, but listen to how the music of the speech is played when the soul’s dramas are at the center of a tale.
O paradoxo da invisibilidade está todo contido na cena da batalha dos olhares. A única sorte possível é não existir naquele olho terrível. Uma vez habitante daquele azul vicioso, uma vez lá, no olho do policial, you’re done, because you’ve plunged—or have you drowned yourself?—into that endless snowy winter where you’re the prey and he’s the one who will find you.
Prey and pray… A religião é risível em Baldwin; a redenção, impossível. Ainda assim, há algo assombroso na esperança de Tish, uma esperança não romântica, feita de afeição e de um fervor ligado à vida em toda sua impureza. How to go through hell without hope?
There may be some prayer in Baldwin. E não é uma oração aos céus, is it not that very last sentence spelled by the Black man’s eyes a prayer? I’m going to get my shit together and haul ass out of here.