Chapter

Books of Life: Postmodern Uses of Print Literacy

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226167282.003.0003
Books of Life: Postmodern Uses of Print Literacy

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The modern legacy of print literacy has come under fire in the postmodern era because of its presumed irrelevance to new social conditions and constituencies. The more powerful sway of electronic technologies has sparked a crisis for writers of print literature, which seems at best to occupy a residual space within the postmodern cultural domain. The postmodern attack on print culture is symptomatic of a wider disenchantment with the career of modern humanism, in which print literacy has been thoroughly implicated. Nowhere has the humanist legacy been interrogated as sharply or deeply as in African–American literature, which has long been demonstrating that the dehumanization of African–Americans was essential to the definition of universal humanity in print modernism. Yet the archive of African–American literature is never consulted in postmodern debates on modern humanism and print culture. This chapter focuses on literary texts—Philadelphia Fire (1985) by John Edgar Wideman and Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia Butler, along with Sapphire's PUSH—that continue to be profoundly invested in the modern idea of print literacy as a vehicle of social critique and advancement.

Keywords: African–American literature; print culture; postmodernism; modern humanism; John Edgar Wideman; Octavia Butler; Sapphire

Chapter.  20360 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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