Poetics of selfhood : from critical theory to spiritual autobiography in James Baldwin's short stories
This study of James Baldwin's short stories focuses on the inter-play of reason and intuition within the process of interpretation. It draws on the protest of theological criticism against a narrow understanding of critical theory fostered by the thinking that literature is "autonomous" and that objectivity implies that the critic has to approach texts as an emotional blank slate. The study demonstrates the capacity of literature to elicit specific ethical and theological responses. It argues that even where a literary work does not seem to exhibit themes immediately relevant to theological inquiry, it remains doubtful whether an analysis of such a text can be effective if it is left neutral or purely descriptive. The underlying assumption is that the power of language constantly stimulates the development of sensibilities and reflections on texts-be they "sacred" or "secular." Hence, it is contended that interpretation necessarily demands the making of choices or the preference of one system of value over another. More specifically, and against the background of the mind-set engendered in James Baldwin by his encounter with religion and subsequent experience as a child-preacher, this study examines the range of issues that echo in his collection of short stories. The claim is that the stories are autobiographically driven. To argue this thesis and the related proposition that the stories feed into theological themes relevant to self-knowledge, vicarious suffering, love and forgiveness, their effectiveness as transformative and revelatory texts is highlighted. By drawing on short story theories and challenging the view that short stories are no more than miniature pieces merely echoing "major" works of their authors, it is further argued that the genre can be profoundly forceful and effective in the articulation of complex human issues.