NO NAME IN THE STREET
James Baldwin has come a long way since the days of Notes of a Native Son, when, in 1955, he wrote: "I love America more than any other country in the world; and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." Such bittersweet affairs are bound to turn sour. The first curdling came with The Fire Next Time, a moving memoir, yet shot through with rage and prophetic denunciations. It made Baldwin famous, indeed a celebrity, but it did little, in retrospect, to further his artistic reputation. Increasingly, it seems, he found it impossible to reconcile his private and public roles, his creative integrity and his position as spokesman for his race. Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, for example, his last novel, proved to be little more than a propagandistic potboiler. Nor, alas, are things very much better in No Name In the Street, a brief, rather touchy and self-regarding survey of the awful events of the '60's -- the deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the difficulties of the Black Panther Party, the abrasive and confused relationships between liberals and militants. True, Baldwin's old verve and Biblical raciness are once more heard in his voice; true, there are poignant moments and some surprisingly intimate details. But this chronicle of his "painful route back to engagement" never really comes to grips with history or the self. The revelatory impulse is present only in bits and pieces. Mostly one is confronted with psychological and ideological disingenuousness -- and vanity as well.