I got the sense that this guy was accustomed to being the most knowledgeable (or at least the loudest) guy in the room, so I was content to let him talk until he ran out of steam, hoping all the while that Joanna would wander back in our direction or that a meteor would destroy the apartment complex across the street. Anything that would give us an excuse to change the subject.
Like a soloist, Baldwin introduces an idea, a phrase, then he explores it, explodes it, develops it until he finds something new, something more precise or melodic. Baldwin accomplishes in his story what Sonny accomplishes in that jazz club. And, really, isn’t this just the most beautiful “vanishing evocation” (as the narrator describes music) of what art is capable of doing?
And then one of my Mexican students reminded us of the 1968 Olympics that were held in Mexico City, where only ten days before the games opened 267 students were gunned down and more than 1,000 were wounded during a protest at the Plaza of Three Cultures. And then two of my South Korean students told us of their government’s secret decision to send troops to Vietnam despite the public’s protest against such a move. And then one of my Chinese students, a remarkable young woman who exudes joy like no one I’ve ever known, said, “Yes. The same in China. During the Cultural Revolution.”
When I asked my ESL students last night about the great literatures of their native language, one of the Iranians told me about the Arab conquest of Persia. In their effort to erase all evidence of Persian culture, the ancient Arabs outlawed the speaking of Farsi, which, of course, only served to inspire a new generation of writers.