1. 2.Utopias False and True in Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

2.Utopias False and True in Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

David A. Farnell 九州大学


“Utopia” is not a word commonly associated with the writings of James Baldwin; indeed, his stories are more likely to be seen as dystopian, with many of them set in the dead-end streets of mid-twentieth-century Harlem. But dystopia engenders dreams of utopia, and “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin’s story of desperation, addiction, and musical redemption, contains within it three paths to utopia―two false, one true.

Sonny, the narrator’s brother, seeks a way out of the dystopia of Harlem to a place where people can communicate and commune with each other, and thereby be free. He resists the temptation of the first false path, religion―which in the forms of Eastern mysticism and evangelical Christianity provides a seductive promise of a utopian afterlife in exchange for acceptance of the flawed world and an abandonment of revolution―only to succumb to the second false path, heroin―another opiate which offers a false sense of control and communion in exchange for addiction, poverty and eventual death.

But drawing upon his creative energies, he masters a third, intensely personal path, music, and by shattering walls of alienation, “at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen,” he creates an emancipatory moment of utopia within here-and-now reality, what philosopher Ernst Bloch calls a “Vorschein” (anticipatory illumination) that can be realized through art, “a countermove against the bad existence,” a revolutionary vision intended not to comfort us into complacency, but to bring that bad existence “to the point of collapse” (“Art and Utopia,” The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, 1988, p. 109). Not only does he create this moment for himself; he shares this communal illumination with his audience, including the older brother who has never before been able to understand him.

This presentation will explore the theme of utopia in Baldwin’s story, in the Blochian sense of an immanent utopia, always present and accessible through creative imagination. At the same time, the presentation will consider the manifold meanings of utopia as well as the positives and negatives of utopian longing, the benefits and the destructive potentials of walking the knife-edge utopian path, what Baldwin refers to in the story as the difference between “deep water and drowning.”