- James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile
Very rarely does a scholar get the luxury to savor the research s/he is doing. The pressures of the tenure clock, the lack of creative time and/or monetary resources, and the demands of teaching can create an intellectual atmosphere that induces a premature birth for some scholarly projects that can be damaging to the admirable efforts of its academic scholar. This is not the case with Magadalena Zaborowska's James Baldwin's Turkish Decade. As she states in the preface, this project was grown from years of research, writing, and thinking—thinking that has produced a wonderful monument to the complexities of the scholarly process. James Baldwin's Turkish Decade is at once "unapologetically autobiographical" as it is self-reflexive of the genius of the man to which it is dedicated. Zaborowska masterfully brings together scholarship and literary critical readings, and interweaves these perspectives with her primary research in Turkey. As she poignantly states in the conclusion to her volume, before her trips to Turkey, she had seen Baldwin's house in France and had "touched the weathered surface of the welcome table" where Baldwin spoke with such individuals as Josephine Baker and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. She was able as well to visit the room where Baldwin died where she "lingered too long." These spiritual experiences coalesce into the rich and unique critical perspectives Zaborowska offers in her book. An immigrant scholar herself, and in her words, "an outsider-participant in American culture and academy," Zaborowska captures well the perplexities of Baldwin's exile in Turkey from 1961 to 1971. Baldwin wrote some of his most influential work while traveling in the various locales of Turkey, France, and western Europe.
It is his sojourns in Turkey, however, that have been grossly undervalued by Baldwin scholars as pertinent to our understanding of Baldwin's Another Country, The Fire Next Time, Blues for Mister Charlie, Going to Meet the Man, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, One Day When I Was Lost, and No Name in the Street. Zaborowska fills this gap well as she gathers an impressive array of never-published photographs, archival materials, and original interviews from the Turkish artists and intellectuals who influenced Baldwin's creative spirit during this pivotal decade. This rich intellectual tapestry of transnational cross-fertilization builds a dynamic link between Turkey and the United States that destabilizes the privileging of race or sex that have trapped Baldwin's identity as a black and queer man. According to Zaborowska, our readings of his work are haunted: we inherit the black writer from Harlem or the gay writer from Paris. By refocusing the critical lens of Baldwin scholarship to include an assessment of his multiple personas, Zaborowska cultivates an alternative location from which to view Baldwin's personal anguish and prophetic intellectual integrity as these provide better distance from which to see his American roots. Baldwin's often contentious relationship with America and its inability to reconcile [End Page 776] its tortured history with its dark and queer brethren placed his more provocative works on the periphery of America's academic circles. As Baldwin writes in his fourth volume of essays, No Name in the Street, and as Zaborowska reiterates with keen sensitivity, Baldwin realized that to some in America he was viewed as a lonely, sexually dubious, political revolutionary whose outrageous antics made him an "unspeakably erratic freak." Baldwin's words, harsh in their assessment of his perceived artistic "freakishness" in the U. S., are cast in another light in Zaborowska's work as we are provided with a number of intertextual layers that probe the political, social, and cultural landscapes of each country in productive and inventive ways.
In the introduction, Zaborowska charts Baldwin's journey from Harlem to Istanbul through a series of dynamic reflections that provide an overview of his polarizing effect on certain members of the black and literary community, such as Eldridge Cleaver, Norman Mailer, and Fern Marja Eckman, and of his love...