Biomythography – Lorde & Baldwin

I would like to explore the use of biomythography prior to our discussion of the intersection of James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. The concept of biomythography is intentionally borrowed from Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. It is a combination of myth, history, and biography in narrative format, often transcending conventions of said genres. I believe Baldwin, although much of his work predates Lorde’s, borrowed the conception of writing as self-discovery and claim. I argued this in my Richard Wright essay, in which I wrote that “Baldwin’s writing, thus, is effectively an act of personal salvation in the face of racism, homophobia, and condemnation,” in which he “sees identity as spectral and subjective, non-conforming to sanctions enforced by society.” Baldwin uses his criticism of Wright as staking a claim in his own conceptions of masculinity and identity and he does this out of personal need. He says the violence is gratuitous not because it is against women, but instead because it is an inaccurate portrayal of masculinity and is characteristic of the rage of castration. This is perhaps an issue misplaced or forgotten, yet telling of Baldwin’s primary thought in dealing with the racial divide. 

I believe Lorde does the same but perhaps takes it a step further. 

I read Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name last semester for a women’s writing course, and in much of our discussion, we explored how Lorde rewrites herself through the use of language and reflection. Most notably, how Lorde mythologizes the persona of “Audre” to adopt “Zami” which is incidentally, “a Carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers”. The protagonist is robbed of the conception of identity (perhaps what Lorde felt), and thus must reclaim her sense of self. Considering Lorde was legally blind, her life is a multi-traversing sensory experience. Lorde uses a third-dimensional, sensual language as symbolic meaning. This language is not phallocentric, it is a place where women and power might coexist, and demands an engaged and active audience. Just as Lorde challenged her readers, she seems to have challenged Baldwin. 

Baldwin has a clear and objective focus on the black man’s struggle in America. He says: “But you don’t realize that in this republic the only real crime is to be a Black man?” To which Lorde responds: “No, I don’t realize that. I realize that the only crime is to be Black. I realize the only crime is to be Black, and that includes me too”. Lorde points out one of Baldwin’s neglected margins of oppression of which he did not identify: the black woman. Lorde brings this topic to the forefront for Baldwin, directly addressing how black men use violence against black women as a way to cope with society’s treatment. Baldwin seems to push back, noting how a black man must not be blamed “for the trap he is in,” to which Lorde again re-emphasizes her point, not of blame, but of necessary change. These are thoughts I hope to continue to explore in my final paper, so feel free to leave feedback!

2 thoughts on “Biomythography – Lorde & Baldwin”

  1. I think there is an interesting question about agency at play here too. Biomythography seems to be an active participation in creating your identity. But Baldwin also acknowledges the social structures and norms keeping Black men in a male prison. To what extent does writing carve out a space for agency for Baldwin? How much do his own biases blind him to seeing reality? It seems to me that Lorde plays an important role in pushing Baldwin to see the world through her eyes. I wonder, then, how the form of conversation changes the opportunity for agency as opposed to novels or criticism.

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