A Black Queer Phenomenology of Space in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room


  • Lucien Darjeun Meadows Centre for Queer History




queer studies, phenomenology, American literature


In Giovanni’s Room (1956), James Baldwin emphasises the Black queer space of architecture, particularly of lines, walls, and wallpaper. In particular, by using  walls to highlight the existence of the poché, or in-between architectural pocket space, Baldwin generates an inside/outside space that facilitates a slippage  and reclamation of subjectivity for his queer characters.
Throughout this novel, the characters seek shelter and are described as houses and walls themselves even as they are un-housed in spaces which, from an apartment building to the human body, are always permeable and temporary. Each wall of Baldwin’s novel is, like Black space and queer space, a site of tension and entanglement. These walls are complicated by Giovanni’s violent efforts to expand the architectural and symbolic space of his room. He takes a 
hammer to the walls not to escape into another apartment on the other side of the walls but, rather, to open the poché between walls.
The poché is a liminal and undefined inside/outside space (even on architectural blueprints, when/if it appears). Baldwin’s use of the poché in this novel  disrupts white and (hetero)normative expectations of space and classification, makes visible hidden histories, resists stability, and promotes inclusive  assemblages.