The Devil Finds Work (1976) could be summarised as a series of essays on film and its troubling relationship with race. I love the clarity and beauty of Baldwin’s writing, and find the book thought-provoking and full of insight. Here are two of his reflections on the question of identity.
“…a victims may or may not have a color, just as he may or may not have a virtue: a difficult, not to say unpopular notion, for nearly everyone prefers to be defined by his status, which, unlike his virtue, is ready to wear“ (p. 10, bridging discussions of Birth of a Nation, which portrayed the American South as victim, and A Tale of Two Cities).
“An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger: the stranger’s presence making you the stranger, less to the stranger than to yourself. Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which robes one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change clothes” (p. 77, introducing a dissection of Lawrence of Arabia).