Abandoning the Black Hero is the first book to examine the postwar African American white-life novel—novels with white protagonists written by African Americans. These fascinating works have been understudied despite having been written by such defining figures in the tradition as Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ann Petry, and Chester Himes, as well as lesser known but formerly best-selling authors Willard Motley and Frank Yerby.
John C. Charles argues that these fictions have been overlooked because they deviate from two critical suppositions: that black literature is always about black life and that when it represents whiteness, it must attack white supremacy. The authors are, however, quite sympathetic in the treatment of their white protagonists, which Charles contends should be read not as a failure of racial pride but instead as a strategy for claiming creative freedom, expansive moral authority, and critical agency.
In an era when “Negro writers” were expected to protest, their sympathetic treatment of white suffering grants these authors a degree of racial privacy previously unavailable to them. White writers, after all, have the privilege of racial privacy because they are never pressured to write only about white life. Charles reveals that the freedom to abandon the “Negro problem” encouraged these authors to explore a range of new genres and themes, generating a strikingly diverse body of novels that significantly revise our understanding of mid-twentieth-century black writing.
A hard-hitting look at the regulation of sexual difference and its role in circumscribing African American culture
The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture—sexual difference—can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology—Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and William Julius Wilson—has measured African Americans’s unsuitability for a liberal capitalist order in terms of their adherence to the norms of a heterosexual and patriarchal nuclear family model. In short, to the extent that African Americans’s culture and behavior deviated from those norms, they would not achieve economic and racial equality.
Aberrations in Black tells the story of canonical sociology’s regulation of sexual difference as part of its general regulation of African American culture. Ferguson places this story within other stories—the narrative of capital’s emergence and development, the histories of Marxism and revolutionary nationalism, and the novels that depict the gendered and sexual idiosyncrasies of African American culture—works by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison. In turn, this book tries to present another story—one in which people who presumably manifest the dysfunctions of capitalism are reconsidered as indictments of the norms of state, capital, and social science. Ferguson includes the first-ever discussion of a new archival discovery—a never-published chapter of Invisible Man that deals with a gay character in a way that complicates and illuminates Ellison’s project.
Unique in the way it situates critiques of race, gender, and sexuality within analyses of cultural, economic, and epistemological formations, Ferguson’s work introduces a new mode of discourse—which Ferguson calls queer of color analysis—that helps to lay bare the mutual distortions of racial, economic, and sexual portrayals within sociology.
When The Absurd Hero in American Fiction was first released in 1966, Granville Hicks praised it in a lead article for the Saturday Review as a sensitive and definitive study of a new trend in postwar American literature. In the years that followed, David Galloway’s analysis of the writings of John Updike, William Styron, Saul Bellow, and J. D. Salinger became a standard critical work, an indispensable tool for readers concerned with contemporary American literature. The New York Times described the book as “a seminal study of the modern literary imagination."
David Galloway, himself an established novelist, later extensively revised The Absurd Hero to include authoritative discussions of more than a dozen novels which had appeared since the first revised edition was released in 1970. Among them are John Updike’s Couples, Rabbit Redux, and The Coup; William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice; and Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet and Humboldt’s Gift. Through detailed analyses of these works, Galloway demonstrates the continuing relevance of his own provocative concept of the absurd hero and provides important insights into the literary achievements of four of America’s most influential postwar novelists.
What happens when the cerebral--that is, theories of literature and of affect--encounters the corporeal, the human body? In this study by Jane Thrailkill, what emerges from the convergence is an important vision of late-nineteenth-century American realist literature and the role of emotion and physiology in literary criticism.
Affecting Fictions offers a new understanding of American literary realism that draws on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Thrailkill positions herself against the emotionless interpretations of the New Critics. Taking as her point of departure realist works of medicine, psychology, and literature, she argues that nineteenth-century readers and critics would have taken it for granted that texts engaged both mind and body. Feeling, she writes, is part of interpretation.
Examining literary works by Henry James, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thrailkill explores the connections among the aesthetic, emotion, consciousness, and the body in readings that illuminate lesser-known works such as "Elsie Venner" and that resuscitate classics such as "The Yellow Wallpaper."
Focusing on pity, fear, nervousness, pleasure, and wonder, Thrailkill makes an important contribution to the growing body of critical work on affect and aesthetics, presenting a case for the indispensability of emotions to the study of fiction.
Satire's real purpose as a literary genre is to criticize through humor, irony, caricature, and parody, and ultimately to defy the status quo. In African American Satire, Darryl Dickson-Carr provides the first book-length study of African American satire and the vital role it has played. In the process he investigates African American literature, American literature, and the history of satire.
Dickson-Carr argues that major works by such authors as Rudolph Fisher, Ishmael Reed, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and George S. Schuyler should be read primarily as satires in order to avoid misinterpretation and to gain a greater understanding of their specific meanings and the eras in which they were written. He also examines the satirical rhetoric and ideological bases of complex works such as John Oliver Killens's The Cotillion and Cecil Brown's The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger—books that are currently out of print and that have received only scant critical attention since they were first published.
Beginning with the tradition of folk humor that originated in West Africa and was forcibly transplanted to the Americas through chattel slavery, Dickson-Carr focuses in each chapter on a particular period of the twentieth century in which the African American satirical novel flourished. He analyzes the historical contexts surrounding African American literature and culture within discrete crucial movements, starting with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ending in the present. He also demonstrates how the political, cultural, and literary ethos of each particular moment is manifested and contested in each text.
By examining these texts closely within their historical and ideological contexts, Dickson-Carr shows how African American satirical novels provide the reader of African American literature with a critique of popular ideologies seldom found in nonsatirical works. Providing a better understanding of what satire is and why it is so important for fulfilling many of the goals of African American literature, African American Satire will be an important addition to African American studies.
Robert A. Ferguson investigates the nature of loneliness in American fiction, from its mythological beginnings in Rip Van Winkle to the postmodern terrors of 9/11. At issue is the dark side of a trumpeted American individualism. The theme is a vital one because a greater percentage of people live alone today than at any other time in U.S. history.
The many isolated characters in American fiction, Ferguson says, appeal to us through inward claims of identity when pitted against the social priorities of a consensual culture. They indicate how we might talk to ourselves when the same pressures come our way. In fiction, more visibly than in life, defining moments turn on the clarity of an inner conversation.
Alone in America tests the inner conversations that work and sometimes fail. It examines the typical elements and moments that force us toward a solitary state—failure, betrayal, change, defeat, breakdown, fear, difference, age, and loss—in their ascending power over us. It underlines the evolving answers that famous figures in literature have given in response. Figures like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Toni Morrison’s Sethe and Paul D., or Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March and Marilynne Robinson’s John Ames, carve out their own possibilities against ruthless situations that hold them in place. Instead of trusting to often superficial social remedies, or taking thin sustenance from the philosophy of self-reliance, Ferguson says we can learn from our fiction how to live alone.
As the U.S. Latino population grows rapidly, and as the LGBTQ Latino community becomes more visible and a more crucial part of our literary and artistic heritage, there is an increasing demand for literature that successfully highlights these diverse lives. Edited by Lázaro Lima and Felice Picano, Ambientes is a revolutionary collection of fiction featuring stories by established authors as well as emerging voices that present a collective portrait of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience in America today. With a preface by Picano and an introduction by Lima that sets the stage for understanding Latino literary and cultural history, this is the first anthology to cross cultural and regional borders by offering a wide variety of urban, rural, East Coast, West Coast, and midwestern perspectives on Latina and Latino queers from different walks of life. Stories range from sensual pieces to comical romances and from inner-city dramas fueled by street language to portraits of gay domesticity, making this a much-needed collection for many different kinds of readers. The stories in this collection reflect a vibrant and creative community and redefine received notions of “gay” and “lesbian.”
Best Special Interest Books, selected by the Public Library Reviewers
Finalist, Over the Rainbow selection, American Library Association
Finalist, LGBT Anthology, Lambda Literary Awards
Best Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians
By synthesizing Kayser's and Bakhtin's views of the grotesque and Heidegger's philosophy of Being, American Fiction and the Metaphysics of the Grotesque seeks to demonstrate that American fiction from Poe to Pynchon has tried to convey the existential dimension: the pre-individual totality or flow of life, which defines itself against the mind and its linguistic capacity. Dieter Meindl shows how the grotesque, through its self-contradictory nature, has been instrumental in expressing this reality-conception, an antirationalist stance in basic agreement with existential thought. The historical validity of this new metaphysics, which grants precedence to Being--the context of cognition--over the cognizant subject, must be upheld in the face of deconstructive animadversions upon any metaphysics of presence. The notion of decentering the subject, Meindl argues, did not originate with deconstruction.
The existential grotesque confirms the protomodernist character of classic American fiction. Meindl traces its course through a number of well-known texts by Melville, James, Gilman, Anderson, Faulkner, and O'Connor, among others. To convey life conceived as motion, these writers had to capture--that is, immobilize--it in their art: an essentially distortive and, therefore, grotesque device. Melville's "Bartleby," dealing with a mort vivant, is the seminal text in this mode of indirectness. As opposed to the existential grotesque, which grants access to a preverbal realm, the linguistic grotesque of postmodern fiction works on the assumption that all reality is referable to language in a textual universe.
American Fiction and the Metaphysics of the Grotesque will significantly alter our understanding of certain traditions in American literature.
In American Fiction in the Cold War Thomas Hill Schaub makes it clear that Trilling’s summary was in itself a mythic reconstruction, a prominent example of the way liberal writers in the late 1940s and 1950s came to terms with their political past. Schaub’s book brilliantly analyzes their efforts to reshape an “old” liberalism alleged to hold naively optimistic views of human nature, scientific reason, and social progress into a “new,” skeptical liberalism that recognized the persistence of human evil, the fragility of reason, and the ambiguity of moral decision.
Most important, as American Fiction in the Cold War demonstrates, these liberal reassessments of history, politics, human nature, and destiny—what Schaub calls the “liberal narrative”—mediated the critical and imaginative production of the literary community after World War II. Schaub shows that the elements of this narrative are visible in a wide spectrum of cultural narratives in American history, political philosophy, and social criticism during the Cold War era. His analysis of the dominant critical communities of the late 1940s—led by critics such as Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe, Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate—recovers the political meanings embedded within their debates over the nature of literary realism, the definition of the novel, and speculations on its “death.”
In the second part of his study, Schaub turns to Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Norman Mailer, and John Barth. His readings of their fiction isolate the political and cultural content of works often faulted for their apparent efforts to transcend social history. Reviewing John Barth’s End of the Road, for example, he shows the politics of culture concealed within what seems to be a philosophical narrative. In novel after novel, he demonstrates, the liberal narrative is operating from within, tuning and steering the direction of the plot and the creation of the character. Schaub’s penetrating exploration of the relationship between U.S. political and social thought and the literary consciousness in the early postwar years will be of interest to intellectual historians and to students of American literary culture.
In America as in Britain, the rise of the Gothic represented the other—the fearful shadows cast upon Enlightenment philosophies of common sense, democratic positivism, and optimistic futurity. Many critics have recognized the centrality of these shadows to American culture and self-identification. American Gothic, however, remaps the field by offering a series of revisionist essays associated with a common theme: the range and variety of Gothic manifestations in high and popular art from the roots of American culture to the present.
The thirteen essayists approach the persistence of the Gothic in American culture by providing a composite of interventions that focus on specific issues—the histories of gender and race, the cultures of cities and scandals and sensations—in order to advance distinct theoretical paradigms. Each essay sustains a connection between a particular theoretical field and a central problem in the Gothic tradition.
Drawing widely on contemporary theory—particularly revisionist views of Freud such as those offered by Lacan and Kristeva—this volume ranges from the well-known Gothic horrors of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to the popular fantasies of Stephen King and the postmodern visions of Kathy Acker. Special attention is paid to the issues of slavery and race in both black and white texts, including those by Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner. In the view of the editors and contributors, the Gothic is not so much a historical category as a mode of thought haunted by history, a part of suburban life and the lifeblood of films such as The Exorcist and Fatal Attraction.
Before the idea of the Anthropocene, there was the angry planet
How might we understand an earthquake as a complaint, or erosion as a form of protest—in short, the Earth as an angry planet? Many novels from the end of the millennium did just that, centering around an Earth that acts, moves, shapes human affairs, and creates dramatic, nonanthropogenic change.
In Angry Planet, Anne Stewart uses this literature to develop a theoretical framework for reading with and through planetary motion. Typified by authors like Colson Whitehead, Octavia Butler, and Leslie Marmon Silko, whose work anticipates contemporary critical concepts of entanglement, withdrawal, delinking, and resurgence, angry planet fiction coalesced in the 1990s and delineated the contours of a decolonial ontology. Stewart shows how this fiction brought Black and Indigenous thought into conversation, offering a fresh account of globalization in the 1990s from the perspective of the American Third World, construing it as the era that first made connections among environmental crises and antiracist and decolonial struggles.
By synthesizing these major intersections of thought production in the final decades of the twentieth century, Stewart offers a recent history of dissent to the young movements of the twenty-first century. As she reveals, this knowledge is crucial to incipient struggles of our contemporary era, as our political imaginaries grapple with the major challenges of white nationalism and climate change denial.
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