February 8, 2018

Who, when asked what religion are you now, said: "Now? Nothing. I'm a writer. I like doing things alone"?

Answer: James Baldwin.

I'm reading about James Baldwin as a consequence of reading something in the current news — Vulture — which is almost too scurrilous to mention. Quote from The Vulture (to go from the highest quality to the lowest quality remark): "Brando used to go cha-cha dancing with us. He could dance his ass off. He was the most charming motherfucker you ever met. He’d fuck anything. Anything! He’d fuck a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye." That's Quincy Jones, who also said: "Trump is just telling [people] what they want to hear. I used to hang out with him. He’s a crazy motherfucker. Limited mentally — a megalomaniac, narcissistic. I can’t stand him. I used to date Ivanka, you know.... Yes, sir. Twelve years ago. Tommy Hilfiger, who was working with my daughter Kidada, said, 'Ivanka wants to have dinner with you.' I said, 'No problem. She’s a fine motherfucker.' She had the most beautiful legs I ever saw in my life. Wrong father, though."

Sorry to burden you with all that, but I was interested in the idea that to be a writer means doing things alone — and that means not wanting it in your head that God is with you (which is a different  issue from whether there really is a God).

42 comments:

rhhardin said...

Nietzsche's god is dead means he is a literary effect that no longer works for us.

A writer has his own literary effects.

Mark said...

The idea is hardly original, wanting to do things alone, not wanting God, thinking you don't need God. It was crafted at the dawn of humanity. You can read about it in Genesis 3:5-6.

Sally327 said...

I would think maybe James Baldwin didn't want to deal with any co-religionists, not that he was thinking he could keep God out of his head. Hell being other people, that sort of thing.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

I can guarantee that Ivanka didn't think she was on a 'date'. She thought she was a business woman who was at a meeting with an important person.

Ann Althouse said...

"The idea is hardly original, wanting to do things alone, not wanting God, thinking you don't need God. It was crafted at the dawn of humanity. You can read about it in Genesis 3:5-6."

Do you have an example of someone tying the idea specifically to being a writer?

rhhardin said...

Lautreamont's Maldoror defeated god. Every literary effect arrayed against god instead of for him.

Ann Althouse said...

Then there are the writers who like writing thinking that God is in there telling him the words he is to write down.

Mark said...

There are countless examples of people falling prey to this idea. And writers are people.

And even aside from God, wanting to do things alone, all by yourself, we all know to be ignorant vanity. Leaving aside Obama's snide remark, nothing we do is done all by ourselves. We are all interconnected and dependent upon others, starting from the man and woman (and God) without whom we would not be here. And we specifically learn language and writing from others. None of us is isolated.

Ann Althouse said...

"I can guarantee that Ivanka didn't think she was on a 'date'. She thought she was a business woman who was at a meeting with an important person."

It depends on what the meaning of "date" is.

Mark said...

Then there are the writers who like writing thinking that God is in there telling him the words he is to write down.

Well, technically, that is what "being inspired" really means -- to have the Holy Spirit within you. But then there are also those who specifically claim that they are taking God's dictation when really they are claiming it for their own purposes and benefit. I suppose you mean people like Mohammed.

Sally327 said...

"Then there are the writers who like writing thinking that God is in there telling him the words he is to write down."

Also known as prophets. Or apostles.

It's one of the things I find amusing, not the inspired Word of God, but how many other human endeavors are imbued with that faith in Divine Involvement, especially sporting events. Like...God wanted the Eagles to win.

TerriW said...

"God wanted the Eagles to win"

God is bigger than that! Not only did He want the Eagles to win, He *let* the Patriots win all those other years so this win would be that much sweeter.

rhhardin said...

Omnimpotency.

MikeR said...

Good post, if the goal is to convince me never to read a word that guy wrote. Each sentence in the post would have been a good enough reason by itself. Bleggh.

buwaya said...

Interesting interview with Quincy Jones.

Including the various "things I shouldn't be talking about".
The man is 85, and he is still scared of "going there" on some things. I wonder why.

Guildofcannonballs said...

"MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016

Blogging Under the Influence
Well, I'm in the clear for today. I wasn't needed for jury duty. In California you're on the hook for one week, but you can check in the night before and they may or may not need you. So here I am with nothing to write about, as usual.
As you can see from the sidebar, I've been reading Robert Spitzer's trilogy -- soon to be a tetralogy -- on happiness, suffering and transcendence. Right now I'm in the middle of volume 2, The Soul's Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason. The whole structure of the series is a bit like One Cosmos (the book), except it is much more sprawling and sometimes repetitive, taking him four books to carefully convey what I recklessly packed into one eccentric flight of fancy.

For example, in my book there is a very brief passage on What It's Like to write under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I didn't put it exactly that way, but there is something in there vis-a-vis having one's language conditioned from above, as opposed to coming out in a mechanical or precogitated way -- about truly speaking instead of being spoken by language.

As an aside, the One Cosmos book -- very much like the blog -- was simultaneously written and discovered. It is by no means a work of "scholarship," although I naturally brought in scholarly support when and where I could." - http://onecosmos.blogspot.com/2016/06/blogging-under-influence.html

8/9/17, 1:24 AM"

I suggest you people read the comments.

traditionalguy said...

God is where ever you find Him. Seek and you shall find. But God understands that we would rather be alone and still loves us passionately.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Were James Baldwin, Richard Pryor, and Marvin Gaye the guys Brando went cha-cha dancing with? Or the guys he'd fuck after he got done with the mailbox?

Kate said...

I'm not clicking through. Did he say religion or God? Very different kind of aloneness. The most ardent believer could choose to avoid religion. Maybe as someone who practices a solitary profession, he doesn't need company. He's free to play with the people in his head.

Sebastian said...

"the idea that to be a writer means doing things alone — and that means not wanting it in your head that God is with you"

I think we need a distinction here between people who believe in God and actively "don't want" God there, and people, the "Nothings" like Baldwin, supposedly, who don't think there's a God at all. Two different kinds of writerly solitude, I would think--one of them a tad more anxious.

I, for one, am pleased Althouse is a blogger, not a writer. If you know what I mean.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Thank you, Paul. +1



buwaya said...
Interesting interview with Quincy Jones.

Including the various "things I shouldn't be talking about".
The man is 85, and he is still scared of "going there" on some things. I wonder why.

2/8/18, 7:37 AM

Perhaps he doesn't want to be rude. Question then of course is, for whom does he reserve his politesse, and, as you imply, why?

Amadeus 48 said...

James Baldwin was a wonderful writer, so it worked for him.
“I want to be a good writer and an honest man.”

Fernandistein said...

Paul Zrimsek said...
Or the guys he'd fuck after he got done with the mailbox?


"Richard Pryor slept with Marlon Brando, Pryor’s widow confirms"

robother said...

Buddhism is considered a religion, which does not involve belief in God or gods. Assuming Baldwin was well aware of that, his response is best understood as Sally237 suggests, as not wanting his writing burdened with ties to any group of people and the formal dogma that binds them.

Trumpit said...

When I was a kid or teenager, I asked my father, a devout atheist, why people who were highly educated believed in God. He didn't discuss the fact that it is a security belief to settle the mind when it comes to the finality of death; he simply said that it they could be a good doctor, lawyer, writer, etc., yet they are mistaken about the existence of God. My father was occasionally an anti-religion proselytizer, and he didn't go about in the most pleasant manner. He could offend people whose beliefs were deeply held. I don't like the "Watchtower" people who knock on my door on Sunday who want to covert me, but I wouldn't dare try to change their beliefs. However, people who are "holier than thou" troublemakers need to have the absurdity of their beliefs made clear to them at the appropriate moment. Otherwise, don't upset the apple cart.

Trumpit said...

One grammatical point: I should have used the subjunctive mood in the following sentence:
"he simply said that they could be a good doctor, lawyer, writer, etc., yet they are mistaken about the existence of God." It should be: "they may be a good doctor, lawyer, writer, etc., yet be mistaken about the existence of God."
Fixed it.

Darcy said...

Quincy Jones somehow let Peggy Lipton go. Talk about a crazy motherfucker.
I really don't think we needed to know about Brando and Pryor. Or rather, I didn't. Dammit.

CStanley said...

In context, I don't think he meant that this was a particular way to view oneself as a writer. I think he was very disillusioned about religion (I just read the essay from which the quote was taken and that was definitely my takeaway) and he was just saying that he had nothing left with which to explore these ideas except for his own intellect and writing ability. It's a shame that his exposure to Christianity led him to discard it, though in my view it's to his credit that he didn't embrace the Nation of Islam.

Temujin said...

I'm sorry. I know this is supposed to be about writers, and the concept of being separate from God. Fine. Whatever.
I'm still stuck on Richard Pryor with Marlon Brando. Marvin Gaye, too?

Jeez. Can I ever listen to 'What's goin' on?' again without trailing off to thoughts of Marlon getting sexually healed?

D said...

Being alone in your head, collecting your thoughts without external inspiration, sounds like the old "Writing for yourself". Writing for yourself is certainly what people are free to do. You can always write and be an audience of one. Writing for others generally has a purpose to it. Sometimes it is for compensation. Sometimes it is to test/extoll your individual beliefs with the mob surrounding you. Sometimes it is to express emotional bonds to another, be it love hatred agreement envy etc. even if only really an indirect signal to them. (Do dogs in the night bark to say I'm here or do they bark to say Where are you?)

Where other people may not understand what you are saying, (as happens all the time) maybe writers who do write great amounts of paper, out of self-regard or importance, tend towards wanting to take a Godlike view of themselves, so that they can consider any miscommunication to be a product of others that do not understand them / heed their words. I dont see connection with the no-God conclusion, just the possible connection with writers seeing their products as perfect distillations.

William said...

I wonder if Quincy Jones' remarks about Ivanka will get him in trouble for objectifying women. Not a chance........I read the interview. It gives the impression of a candid, open discussion,but close textual analysis reveals that he didn't gut any of the living sacred cows......He's had a pleasant, successful life, but think of how much more pleasant and successful his life would have been if he had never had to deal with racism. Think of how much happier and more blessed he would have been had he been born in Uganda and lived out his life there.

Luke Lea said...

Reminds me of something that Updike, who tried to believe in God, said about his closely observed physical descriptions of sexual intercourse: that if God wasn't embarrassed, why should he be? The uncanny accuracy of his descriptions of everything we see is what makes him most "God-like" as a creative artist. He's at the top of his game in The Witches of Eastwick.

Paddy O said...

The first thought that came to mind was Mark Twains, "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut"

It's wrong to think that God is just about fears of the afterlife. That's part of it, but is a very limited perspective on the role of religion in history.

Religion is about making sense of life and orienting life in some coherent way. Some religions have gods, some just one God, but they're all proposing a picture of reality that involves primarily life and how we live it and how we construct a coherent understanding of our self in the mist of a chaotic world.

Everyone has something that does this, and in our era an increasing amount of versions don't involve a deity. But they're still religious, if not entirely coherent(meaning they don't provide integration to all elements of life and thought).

A writer might believe in God or a god, but feel like that's a presence pulling them away from free creativity. Which indeed gets a what Mark said earlier.

"Do you have an example of someone tying the idea specifically to being a writer?"
Faust? Especially if we see Mephistopheles representing ego.

Twain's writings, especially his later ones, seem to reflect his tensions with God, though that was more anger.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Brando and Pryor? Dang, the things I learn here.

Howard said...

Many of you people are conflating religion and god. Religion is the human interpretation (myth-making) of what they think god might be or what they want god to be. IMO, Baldwin seeks his own path to god directly without the filters of established mythology.

The Godfather said...

@Howard: Do you seek your own path to scientific truth without the filters of science?

Howard said...

G_dfather: If what someone calls science requires faith, yes those are filters to be avoided. If I want to identify a particular mineral, I'll be happy to use crossed nicols.

Paddy O said...

"Baldwin seeks his own path to god directly..."

Which is a religion.

I think you're conflating religion (small r) with a specific Religion.

Simply not joining a major religion doesn't make a religious journey not religious, just less traveled.

RichardJohnson said...

James Baldwin had a dysfunctional relationship with his stepfather, who was a preacher. James Baldwin spent some time as a preacher himself during his adolescence.

Conclusion: he had a rather complex relationship with religion.

walter said...

Quincy knows a lot of motherfuckers.

Jay Elink said...

Jones is 85, Ivanka is 37.

Do the math.

He's a fucking liar.

Michael McNeil said...

If what someone calls science requires faith, yes those are filters to be avoided.

Science certainly does require faith — faith in the orderly (not whimsical) structure of the universe and the laws by which it operates.

Moreover, the “facts” of science (individual units of sensory or instrumental perception) require a scientific theory to organize them — or else they (and the world around us) are not facts, but simply a confusing blur of otherwise incomprehensible sense impressions.