“…a study of this baffling geography…”

James Baldwin, a grossly talented, truthful, and penetrating writer, is at his best in some of the reviews, speeches, and essays in the edited collection The Cross of Redemption.  This is the first part of his review of The Arrangement, a novel by Elia Kazan:

Memory, especially as one grows older, can do strange and disquieting things.  Though we would like to live without regrets, and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, this is not really possible, if only because we are mortal.  When more time stretches behind than stretches before one, some assessments, however reluctantly and incompletely, begin to be made.  Between what one wished to become and what one has become there is a momentous gap, which will now never be closed.  And this gap seems to operate as one’s final margin, one’s last opportunity, for creation.  And between the self as it is and the self as one sees it, there is also a distance, even harder to gauge.  Some of us are compelled, around the middle of our lives, to make  a study of this baffling geography, less in the hope of conquering these distances than in the determination that the distances shall not become any greater.  Chasms are necessary, but they can also, notoriously, be fatal.  At this point, one is attempting nothing less than the re-creation of oneself out of the rubble which has become one’s life…

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