This essay focuses on James Baldwin's treatment of the Atlanta child murders in The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), a book that began as a series of reports for Playboy magazine. Returning to the United States from France, Baldwin not only reported on the child murders, but offered a treatise on terror as well: a treatise that distinguishes an imagined or remembered menace from a terror that might be considered constitutive, ontolological. This terror persists, Baldwin maintains, as the negative cause of African American existence. Insistently political, the kernel of nonbeing to which Baldwin's thought appeals is not the grand abstraction of death but the becoming-abstract of abduction and permanent disappearance. Baldwin's essay on the Atlanta child murders thus seeks not only to bear witness to the plight of the missing children, but of the persistence of this “terror of being destroyed” as well. This essay revisits Baldwin's late work, often dismissed as either lackluster polemic or as sermonizing reportage, as no less apocalyptic a work of Pauline witnessing than The Fire Next Time.

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