Canon & Satire

In our readings for Monday, questions of canon and authorization coincided with the interrogation of integration and survival. In “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters,” Orlando Edmonds proposes that “the irony of today’s police violence would not have been lost on Baldwin: namely, that all this takes place under the watch of a Black President, whose first term began a little more than forty years later.” Certainly, Baldwin is aware of the hypocrisy of systems in the US, whether that be the morality of the Black church or heterosexuality or the institutionalization of racism. Undoubtably, the hypocrisy of a Black President would be unsurprising. Interestingly, this article distinctly notes Baldwin keen perception on issues of irony. His particular voice, then, is postured to critique and mock America’s hypocrisy with honesty and precision. 

In a similar motion,  Thomas Chatterton Williams in “Equal in Paris” investigates France’s history and canon of satire. His conclusion, is that “it is Baldwin whose words echo loudest in my mind—more than Voltaire or Rushdie or Christopher Hitchens or any other exemplar of satire and blasphemy.” In France’s moment of crisis, more than the relics of old canon, Williams appeals to the scathing words of Baldwin, outside of the hypocrisy of the Enlightenment’s colonizations. Similarly, Williams’ race provides him with the insight to see through France’s performance of satire. He acknowledges the coexistence of France’s “violent, racist, and unexorcised past” as well as their “tradition of anti-authoritarian satiric wit.” This is what leads him to ultimately conclude “a crucial component of any joke or narrative can be found in who exactly is doing the telling.” His work then, in this paper and in his reading of Baldwin, lies is valuing the insightful and productive voices of the oppressed as relevant and canon worthy, if not canon-creating. 

The conclusion for both Williams and Lorde seems to be an ethos opposed to mythologizing thinkers. Rather than promoting a culture that pedestals thinkers, like the Western canon that highlight Descartes, these two challenge us to elevate those forgotten in order to make the possibility of a true canon even thinkable.