The Postmodern Moment in Black Literary and Cultural Studies

Madhu Dubey

in Signs and Cities

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2003 | ISBN: 9780226167268
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226167282 | DOI:
The Postmodern Moment in Black Literary and Cultural Studies

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This chapter spells out what exactly it means to speak of a postmodern moment in African–American studies. Selectively examining key texts from various disciplines, it sketches the lineaments of a widely registered crisis in the idea of black community and specifies the problems of racial representation sparked by this crisis. To distinguish postmodern from modern projects of racial representation, it looks closely at exemplary efforts to forge new forms of community suited to the changed realities of the post-Civil Rights period. These entail a shift from uplift to populist and from print to vernacular paradigms of black intellectual work. It is argued that even as they stress their critical distance from previous models of black community, postmodern cultural critics find it difficult to legitimize their own claims to racial representation without reanimating the cultural politics of 1960s black nationalism. In the domain of print literature, antirealism and textual self-reflection are generally identified as the unique elements of postmodern black fiction and said to disable essentialist constructs of black culture and community. Such assumptions are disputed through a comparative analysis of Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo and John Edgar Wideman's Reuben. In their common effort to incarnate the black urban writer in the image of Thoth, Egyptian god of writing, these novels explicitly engage the difficulties of resolving postmodern problems of racial representation through the medium of print literature.

Keywords: postmodernism; African–American literature; racial representation; black community; Ishmael Reed; John Edgar Wideman

Chapter.  16752 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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