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Birthday Cake from the Comrades

August 8, 2013
birthday cake

Ginger-chocolate cake made by Becca, Eliana, and Roxy

I won’t talk about my birthday, but I will talk about James Baldwin.  Or, really, listen to him.

It is a pity that [Eldridge Cleaver and I] won’t, probably, ever have the time to attempt to define once more the relationship of the odd and disreputable artist to the odd and disreputable revolutionary; for the revolutionary, however odd, is rarely disreputable in the same way that the artist can be.  These two seem doomed to stand forever at an odd and rather uncomfortable angle to each other, and they both stand at a sharp and not always comfortable angle to the people they both, in their different fashions, hope to serve.  But I think it is just as well to remember that the people are one mystery and that the person is another.  Though I know what a very bitter and delicate and dangerous conundrum this is, it seems to me that a failure to respect the person so dangerously limits one’s perception of the people that one risks betraying them and oneself, either by sinking to the apathy of cynical disappointment, or rising to the rage of knowing, better than the people do, what the people want.

Because it’s my birthday week and I do what I want, I’d like to argue for a broad definition of “artist” that includes those of us interested in wisdom. (Baldwin, as an artist, certainly was.)  Which helps explain, maybe, some of the awkwardness and contradictions in the Buddhist-Marxist combo.  One operates at the level of the person (or the non-self, existence, but framed in an individualistic fashion that was revolutionary at the time of the Buddha’s teaching), while the other concerns itself with the people.

Perhaps a similar tension also underlies the queasy slipperiness of identity politics — or identity, period.  “Identity” (gender, race, ability, sexuality, etc.) is at once intensely personal, emotional, and subjective (our stories), and simultaneously collective, socially and historically determined (our position).  I’ve written about this paradox before; maybe an unsurprising fixation for a mixed girl. ;)

My bad, friends: this was supposed to be a birthday post!  I lead an extremely fortunate life amidst a blessed contagion of creativity and caring from those around me.  No idea how we’re going to reconcile the person and the people, but I’m lucky to find myself in community that wants to try.

Thanks to everyone for the bornday love.  And deliciousness!

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