Postmodernism, Traditional Cultural Forms, and African American Narratives

SUNY Press
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Examines how six writers reconfigure African American subjectivity in ways that recall postmodernist theory.

This book explores how African American social and political movements, African American studies, independent scholars, and traditional cultural forms revisit and challenge the representation of the African American as deviant other. After surveying African American history and cultural politics, W. Lawrence Hogue provides original and insightful readings of six experimental/postmodern African American texts: John Edgar Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire; Percival Everett’s Erasure; Toni Morrison’s Jazz; Bonnie Greer’s Hanging by Her Teeth; Clarence Major’s Reflex and Bone Structure; and Xam Wilson Cartiér’s Muse-Echo Blues. Using traditional cultural and western forms, including the blues, jazz, voodoo, virtuality, radical democracy, Jungian/African American Collective Unconscious, Yoruba gods, black folk culture, and black working class culture, Hogue reveals that these authors uncover spaces with different definitions of life that still retain a wildness and have not been completely mapped out and trademarked by normative American culture. Redefining the African American novel and the African American outside the logic, rules, and values of western binary reason, these writers leave open the possibility of psychic liberation of African Americans in the West.
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About the author

W. Lawrence Hogue is John and Rebecca Moores Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Houston. He is the author of several books, including The African American Male, Writing, and Difference: A Polycentric Approach to African American Literature, Criticism, and History, also published by SUNY Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Dec 1, 2013
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Pages
339
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ISBN
9781438448367
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / American / African American
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
Social Science / Minority Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Literary Research and American Postmodernism is a guide to scholarly research in the field of American postmodern literature, which this volume defines as the period between 1950 and 1990. This work aims to provide advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars of literature with a comprehensive view of the print and online resources available in literature and related subject areas. The volume offers best practices for research, especially for the challenges inherent to the field of American postmodernism, and provides scholars with a path toward success in their research endeavors.

The opening chapters describe the state of academic research in the literary field and how to formulate an appropriate research topic, develop keywords, and use advanced search techniques to improve search results. One chapter is devoted to how to navigate library catalogs, read a catalog record, and locate materials in libraries worldwide. Subsequent chapters describe general reference resources, print and electronic bibliographies, and scholarly journals that focus on literature in the second half of the twentieth century. The author identifies resources for locating the book reviews and historical magazines and newspapers that can offer insight into the history of particular author’s publications. The unique challenges and promises of archival research are outlined, along with tips for getting the most out of a trip to a special collections library to perform primary research. Web resources and techniques for finding scholarly resources on the Internet are addressed in addition to subscription-based or library-owned materials. The final chapter synthesizes the information described in the previous chapters by taking the reader through a real-life research question and demonstrating how a scholar might locate resources on a difficult topic. An appendix of resources in related fields suggests additional directions the researcher might explore.
With The Tempest's Caliban, Shakespeare created an archetype in the modern era depicting black men as slaves and savages who threaten civilization. As contemporary black male fiction writers have tried to free their subjects and themselves from this legacy to tell a story of liberation, they often unconsciously retell the story, making their heroes into modern-day Calibans.

Coleman analyzes the modern and postmodern novels of John Edgar Wideman, Clarence Major, Charles Johnson, William Melvin Kelley, Trey Ellis, David Bradley, and Wesley Brown. He traces the Caliban legacy to early literary influences, primarily Ralph Ellison, and then deftly demonstrates its contemporary manifestations. This engaging study challenges those who argue for the liberating possibilities of the postmodern narrative, as Coleman reveals the pervasiveness and influence of Calibanic discourse.

At the heart of James Coleman's study is the perceived history of the black male in Western culture and the traditional racist stereotypes indigenous to the language. Calibanic discourse, Coleman argues, so deeply and subconsciously influences the texts of black male writers that they are unable to cast off the oppression inherent in this discourse. Coleman wants to change the perception of black male writers' struggle with oppression by showing that it is their special struggle with language. Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban is the first book to analyze a substantial body of black male fiction from a central perspective.

This dramatic rereading of postmodernism seeks to broaden current theoretical conceptions of the movement as both a social-philosophical condition and a literary and cultural phenomenon. Phil Harper contends that the fragmentation considered to be characteristic of the postmodern age can in fact be traced to the status of marginalized groups in the United States since long before the contemporary era. This status is reflected in the work of American writers from the thirties through the fifties whom Harper addresses in this study, including Nathanael West, Anaïs Nin, Djuna Barnes, Ralph Ellison, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Treating groups that are disadvantaged or disempowered whether by circumstance of gender, race, or sexual orientation, the writers profiled here occupy the cusp between the modern and the postmodern; between the recognizably modernist aesthetic of alienation and the fragmented, disordered sensibility of postmodernism. Proceeding through close readings of these literary texts in relation to various mass-cultural productions, Harper examines the social placement of the texts in the scope of literary history while analyzing more minutely the interior effects of marginalization implied by the fictional characters enacting these narratives. In particular, he demonstrates how these works represent the experience of social marginality as highly fractured and fracturing, and indicates how such experience is implicated in the phenomenon of postmodernist fragmentation. Harper thus accomplishes the vital task of recentering cultural focus on issues and groups that are decentered by very definition, and thereby specifies the sociopolitical significance of postmodernism in a way that has not yet been done.
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