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James Baldwin, "Paris Letter: A Question of Identity," (1954) printed in James
Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected non fiction, 1948-1985,
•The best that one can do by way of uniting these so disparate identities simply to accept
without comment the fact of their military experience without questioning its extent and
fur ther to suggest that they for m, by virtue of their presence here a somewhat unexpected
•One is forced to suppose that it was nothing more than the legend of Paris not
infrequently as its most vulgar and super f icial level.
•It was certainly no love for French tradition, indeed in his mind, that tradition may be and
in any case, sine he himself is without tradition he is ill equipped to deal with the
traditions of any other people.
•It was no love for t heir language, no love for history, no love for t he monuments,
cathedrals, palaces and etc.
•Difference between what one desires and what reality insists on- which difference we will
not pursue except to observe that, since reasons which brought t he student here are so
romantic, and incoherent, he has come in effect to a city which exists only in his mind.
•For Paris is, according to its legend t he city where everyone loses his head, and his
morals, lives through at least one histoire d’amour, ceases quite, to ar rive anywhere on
time, and thumbs his nose at the Pur itans the city, in brief, where all become drunken on
the fine old air freedom.
•The American student lives here then, in a kind of social limbo he is allowed and he
gratefully embraces irresponsibility he is also invested with power, he may choose to
confirm or deny his identity.
•The “catch” for the American, in the Paris freedom: that he becomes here a kind of
revenant to Europe, the future of which continent, it may be, is in his hands.
•The American wishes to be liked as a person, an implied distinction which makes perfect
sense to him, and none whatever to the European.
•The most curious thing about the pass ion wit h which he has embraced the Continent is
that it seems to be nothing more or less than a means of safeguarding his American