James Baldwin and the Heavenly City

James Baldwin and the Heavenly City

Prophecy, Apocalypse, and Doubt

by Christopher Z. Hobson

Published by: Michigan State University Press

258 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in

  • ISBN: 9781611862898
  • Published: August 2018



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Behind James Baldwin’s uncanny ability to evoke a nation’s crisis and potential hope lies his use of religious language to describe social and sexual transformation. The first study of its kind, James Baldwin and the Heavenly City shows that Baldwin’s novels use biblical ideas in partly but not fully secularized ways to express the possible human attainment of a new life embodying a real but undefinable holiness. Focusing on Baldwin’s six novels, along with essays, stories, and drama, the book first shows Baldwin’s method of recasting biblical and African American prophetic traditions to reveal their liberating core. It then examines several key themes: the prophet’s selection, seen in Baldwin’s debut novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain; the three linked ideas of prophetic art, the “apocalyptic body,” and the “apocalyptic city,” as presented in all his novels; and the polarity between prophecy and doubt, the subject of his last novel, Just Above My Head. This important work provides new readings of Baldwin’s novels, reassesses his once-neglected later fiction, and shows Gospel music’s centrality (with blues) in his fictional imagination.