English | Literature and Society
L779 | 24798 | Crawford


1:25p – 4:25p R

TOPIC:  THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT AND CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN AMERICAN
LITERATURE         The literature and visual culture of the Black
Arts Movement (the artistic counterpart of the Black Power Movement)
revolved around a bold rejection of a white gaze and the bold
attempt to privilege a black gaze that was often described, during
this movement, as “Black is Beautiful” and “natural black beauty.”
Black Arts participants fetishized blackness in an incredibly
subversive and incredibly reactionary manner. We will study the
nexus of skin color fetishism, gendered nationalism, and subversive
primitivism at the core of this movement.
Our questions about this nexus will lead to our immersion in the
emergent field of “race and psychoanalysis.” Both the one drop rule
(the American rule that "one drop" of "black blood" makes a person
black) and the fetishism of skin color gradations ("shades" of
blackness) deeply affect the African American gaze. The relation
between the disavowal of difference (the one drop rule, the
legal "fiction" with very real consequences) and the recognition of
difference (the fetishism of skin color gradations) is a striking
example of the definition, in Freudian psychoanalytic theory, of the
fetish. The fetish, in psychoanalysis, is the disavowal of
difference that overcompensates for the recognition of difference.
The co-existence of the one drop rule and the imagined difference
between "shades" of blackness shapes African American skin color
fetishism into the peculiar simultaneous recognition of difference
and the disavowal of difference. As the field of "race and
psychoanalysis" continues to emerge, we need to think about the
relation between the psychoanalytic idea of "having" the phallus
(the male body) versus "being" the phallus (the female body) and the
tension, cemented by the American idea of the "one drop rule,"
between "having" visual signs of whiteness and "being" black.
As we think critically about both the usefulness and limitations
of “race and psychoanalysis,” we’ll interrogate particular layers in
Black Skin, White Masks, Soul on Ice, Racial Castration, Desiring
Whiteness, and Existentia Africana. We’ll then explore the impact of
Black Arts Movement literature and visual culture on contemporary
African American literature. Images of racial and sexual fetishism
in post-Black Arts Movement literature will be compared to the Black
Arts ethos. Our work in contemporary African American literature
will revolve around Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and John Edgar
Wideman.  _Tar Baby_ (1981), _Sent for You Yesterday_ (1981),
_Temple of My Familiar_ (1989), _Philadelphia Fire_ (1990), and
_Paradise_ (1997) are quintessential post-Black Arts Movement novels
in that "Black is Beautiful" is taken for granted to the extent that
the novelists can critique belief in the embodiment of "blackness"
even as they celebrate an elusive cultural and historical quality
that is presented as specifically African-American, notwithstanding
its hybrid forms.  Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and John Edgar
Wideman begin their literary careers as the Black Arts Movement is
emerging.  The body politics of the Black Arts Movement is reflected
and deflected in their early novels and the more recent ones. The
attempt to separate race and culture and the attempt to separate
cultural hybridity and racial hybridity are at the heart of the post-
Black Arts Movement point of view that shapes _Paradise_, _Sent for
You Yesterday_, _Philadelphia Fire_, and _Temple of My Familiar_. We
will connect the relation between "race" and "culture" and the
ongoing questioning of the differences between “sex" and "gender."
The course will include a five page essay that will be read by your
peers and used as a springboard for class discussion, a prospectus
of the final essay, and the final twenty five page essay.