Flush It Friday: God Made My Face


Later this month in honour of the centenary of James Baldwin’s birth, Brooklyn Museum and Dancing Foxes Press will publish God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin, edited by esteemed writer, critic, and professor Hilton Als, based on a 2019 group exhibition also curated by Als (with David Zwirner) at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s a beautiful object, slightly oversized and hovering somewhere between edited collection, coffee table book, and museum collectible. With its striking cover, a 1945 photo of Baldwin by friend, former high school classmate, and collaborator Richard Avedon, it demands, if not aches, to be displayed on a table or face-forward on a shelf; why hide this object behind its spine like every other book? it asks.

Doing its best to replicate the museum exhibit, God Made My Face weaves together short essays from Als, Baldwin’s first biographer David Leeming, filmmaker Barry Jenkins (whose adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk I hate), authors Jamaica Kincaid and Teju Cole, leading academic voices such as Stephen Best and Daphne Brooks, with a plethora of photographs, paintings, drawings, and other forms of visual artwork from Avedon, Diane Arbus, Beauford Delaney, and more than a dozen others. Each essay, but a few pages long, leads into pages of artwork, laid out amidst great amount of whitespace to give its subject—often, but not always, Baldwin himself—the room it deserves. It is a labour of love from those who both knew Baldwin during his life and/or after it.

Though the essays are sometimes slight, fans and devoted readers of Baldwin will find much comfort and succor in them, vibrant and animating as they are. No passage is more arresting or affecting than Hilton Als, in his reading of the beautiful Giovanni’s Room, particularly the scene when David and Joey make love for the first and only time: “Which is to say that their lovemaking has made David aware that he has a corporeal self, one that troubles and excites another human being. How is he to stand this? One way of getting rid of the flesh and its disturbing habit of replicating desire is by clamping down on it, trying to nullify it.” Als is attuned so finely to something fundamental about embodiment, sexuality, and desire that permeates all of Baldwin’s novels. If we think of Giovanni’s Room in conversation with something like its contemporary Invisible Man, we see that invisibility is no longer the operating and defining anxiety; rather, its very opposite—the sense of being seen, of being felt, of being experienced, of existing as a body in space and in a space shared by another body that wants to share that space—creates a form of absolute panic and dread, one that must be snuffed out lest the already ego-shattering jouissance of desiring and orgasm and sex completely undoes David’s sense of self.

When trying to think about what God Made My Face might mean to a broader audience, one consisting of Baldwin acolytes and those either new to or unfamiliar with Baldwin in all but the broadest strokes, I couldn’t quite find a satisfactory answer. There’s no replacement for reading Baldwin than just reading Baldwin, particularly his novels. But then I read a quote from Edmund Wilson on his friend the esteemed music critic Paul Rosenfeld and everything, as it sometimes does, found its right place. Wilson writes, looking back on Rosenfeld’s oeuvre after the death of his friend, “One can only reassure oneself by remembering that the work he had done was of the kind that pays for itself, because it is done with love, in the desire to give life away, and because it brings, in the doing, elevation and liberation of spirit.” God Made My Face is emphatically a work done with love, in the fullness of a desire to give life away and to elevate the spirit of those who are lucky to read it.

If you are new to Baldwin or feel under-read in him or just want more, this is the year for it. Already Bill V. Mullen has brought out a new biography James Baldwin: Living with Fire, and it appears that Baldwin’s works, perhaps in total, will be getting full reprints that are supposed to be gorgeous objects in and of themselves. There’s never a wrong time to read any or read more Baldwin, but maybe 2024 is an even more right time to do so!

But enough, for now, about a man who was known as Jimmy by all his family and friends. It’s time to look back at all the work “done with love, in the desire to give life away” in this, the legendary bowl known as Toilet ov Hell. Let’s flush!

Big Stick and Big Owl with the big lists! Atrae Bilis with the huge debut and Slimelord with the huge release this week.

I was lucky enough to premiere the first track from the upcoming Diabolic Oath LP. It’s madness, but the good kind:

Track Premiere: Diabolic Oath – “Winged Ouroboros Mutating Unto Gold”

Tha Boiz got into slam deathcore poetry, and I think they found a lot to like!

Toilet Radio 484 – Deathcore Poetry

Longtime friend of the site Brock Samson published his first piece, a look at three remarkable pieces of disso-death.

Brock Hard with DISSOpointment


Shirt Stains: $layer

Dis Big review courtesy of Aaron on the latest collab between Da Body and Dis Fig.

Review: The Body / Dis Fig – Orchards Of A Futile Heaven

Oh, look who it is. It’s the legendary Spear who just so happens to have the goods with a new ripper from Vaticinal Rites. ¡Qué sorpresa!

Premiere: Vaticinal Rites – “Plead For Termination”

BGK hits Aborted with the patented TovH 4.5/5 and opens with a Sum 41 joke. What more could you want, forks?

Review: Aborted – Vault of Horrors

Is it just me, or are we stackin’ some solid weeks in the Year of Baldwin? I’m lovin’ how much flushin’ we’re doin’ these days.

Hit us with those Goods and Bads and Uglies in the comment section, and make merry with our fellow denizens of the bowl. It’s a blessing! All my love to you all. Except Theo… and Eenzy.

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