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1 A TANGLE OF DOUBLE BINDS: POSTMODERN DISCOURSE ON SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN NOVEL By JOHN LOVELL GLENN A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2012
2 2012 John Lovell Glenn
3 To my loving wife, parents, and rather large family : May you all enjoy lives of learning, so that you are apt to teach one another. Thanks for teaching me to love laugh, and live by the Holy Spirit
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank God for his guiding grace. In addition, I thank my committee chair, Mark Reid. My readers Tace Hedrick, Faye Harrison, and Debra King were indispensable. I am grateful for the careful readings, criticisms, and encouraging smiles given me by wife Rachel Andre Glenn Without her insight and wit, this project would have much less personality Much thanks to my mentor/peer Zahir Small whose desire for knowle dge enhanced my own made me all the more confident. Lastly, thanks to my parents, and my brothers and sisters for their interest in my acad emic goals; n othing gets completed in isolation
5 TABLE O F CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 9 What Will Postmodernism Do With History? ................................ ........................... 13 Autonomy and the Politics of the Double Bind ................................ ........................ 18 African American Postmodernism and Radical Democracy ................................ .... 22 O ntology and the Treatment of Difference in African American Fiction .................. 27 The Politics of Mid twentieth Century Social Movements ................................ ....... 29 Conclusion: African American Literary Discourse ................................ ................... 32 2 REVISING CULTURAL CONCEPTIONS OF PROGRESS: AFROFURISM IN THE INTUITIONIST ................................ ...................... 36 ................................ ........................ 37 Afrofutur ................................ ................................ ............. 39 Postmodernity and Identity Formation ................................ ................................ .... 45 ................................ ................................ ......... 49 Tokenism and Negro Firsters ................................ ................................ .................. 58 Revising Cultural Concept ions of Progress ................................ ............................. 69 3 MERIDIAN ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 79 ................................ .............................. 80 The Protocols of Psychological Angst ................................ ................................ ..... 82 Apathy and Postmo dern Resistance ................................ ................................ ....... 87 ................................ ................................ ... 91 Women and the Movement ................................ ................................ ..................... 95 The Man Question ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 98 ................................ ................................ ........... 102 4 THE COTILLION: OR, ONE GOOD BULL IS HALF THE HERD .......................... 114 olemical Influence ................................ ................................ ................. 115 A Work of Culture ................................ ................................ ................................ 117 Postmodernity and Class Difference ................................ ................................ ..... 122 Black Nationalist C ................................ ................... 125 Class Consciousness and Religion ................................ ................................ ....... 128
6 Gender and Its Psychological Ramifications ................................ ......................... 131 ................................ ................................ ........................ 133 The Fabric of Relations and Dis sent ................................ ................................ ..... 137 5 TAR BABY ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 145 ................................ ................................ ........ 146 On the Move: Open Journeys ................................ ................................ ............... 148 Postmodern Truth ................................ ................................ ................................ 153 The Post Civil Rights Domain: The Street Household ................................ .......... 160 Gender, Philosophy, and Cultu ral Narratives ................................ ........................ 167 A Native Son ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 170 Multiple Truths ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 173 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 179 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 192
7 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy A TANGLE OF DOUBLE BINDS: POSTMODERN DISCOURSE ON SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN NOVEL By John Lovell Glenn December 2012 Chair: Mark Re i d Major: English A Tangle of Double Binds: Postmodern Discourse on Social Movements in the African American Novel examines the ways in which novels by African American writers have interrogate d fifties and sixties black social movements Within the context of postmodernism, I analyze the portrayal of several c ultural and philosophical tensions that emerged out of concerns for racial equality and justice I argue that t he social changes occur r ing during the mid twentieth century in America h ave impacted African Americans in two ways For example, t he first involves the cultural and genera tion al tensions surfacing in black communities throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Second, the rights gained as a result of civic struggles while contribut ing to the accessibility of mainstream sectors, have come a t a high social cost to black individual s In addition these shifts result in a social dynamic that I describe as a double bind in which a n in dividual coming of age must not only negotiate the constraints of in group traditions but also must navigat e his or her way through repressive institutions in mainstream society. Ultimately, t he novels I cover in this project constitute discourses on postmodern ity and black social movements In particular, African American writers
8 have developed men and women protagonists who deploy a self concept that embrac es the social fragmentation rife in the contemporary era With this perspective, I give close readings of the following texts The Intuitionist Meridian The Cotillion: Or, One Good Bull is Half the Herd and Tar Baby Throughout this project I seek to answer the following questions: How have cont emporary black writers grappled with the socioeconomic changes in American society since the 1960s ? What are the implications of rights movements for postmodern society? And how have particular movement s impacted individual autonomy among African Americans? Finally, m y reading of each text is organized around the protagonists who enact forms of resistance that hedge against problem atic group practices and stave off cooptation in hegemonic American systems
9 CHAPTER I INTR ODUCTION The Salt Eaters is a novel about cultural wholeness and healing. Bambara initiates a journey toward alternatives to dominant American norms, whi ch plays out in spiritual, social, and political matters. Throughout the novel, Velma Henry seeks wholeness while guided by Minnie Ransom, a healer in the Claybourne community. A mother, a Civil Rights activist, and an employee at Transchemical (a chemic suicide attempt. Even prior to this, her efforts prove to be self sabotaging. In one scene, Velma participates in a brutal protest march that leaves her sullied and outraged. his experience community and to encourage the female counterpart Women for Action to go their ts the hemmed in nature of social striving in the community and vies for agency outside Moreover, the tensions surrounding the Transchemical Company are also part of her struggle, as some believe the plant thr eatens to contaminate the town with radioactive waste or destroy the Infirmary because activists in the Movement are has provided employment opportunity to previous generations of black workers and, even with its suspect practices, Velma works there. Her inaction against the company
10 makes her complicit with the dominant system that uses its foothold on black employment to obscure its corrupt environmental practices. the midst of her effort to recover is that she hopes to remedy her splintering reality: aesthetic/ military/ psychosocial/ psychological/ psych dazzling performances (258). When the stress of her endeavors nearly brings about her demise, Velma imagines the modern sociopolitical status quo which consists of group striving, self sacrifice and burdensome caretaking speaks to an alternative to this modern paradigm, in that she retools the strivings of her foremothers and forefathers and asserts herself. She no longer tries to flee her fragmentation but embraces her brokenness, laughs at her entire ordeal, and stands to her fe of the challenges emerging during the Civil Rights Movement reveals the strategic sense of self Velma must marshal to negotiate the untenable dynamic between her community activism and her company position and not become incapacitated by either. Depicting the polarizing nature of in group political concerns and mainstream The Salt Eaters features th e social situation that I illuminate in this study. In the late twentieth century, African American novels have rejected racial transcendence for a full on circumspection of the complexities of history and postmodernity. Inasmuch as novelists
11 like Bambar a speak to issues of uncertainty and instability, they reflect the critical vacillation around conceptions of history within theories of postmodernism. In light of the terrain I think African American postmodernism must traverse, I examine the ways writers look back at black social movements of the mid twentieth century. Laying claim to perspectives on the profound shifts in black culture that helped set in motion postmodern conditions, artists and intellectuals have written commentary on a number of debat es, namely in the arenas of race, political culture, education, cultural tradition, class, gender, and work in urban environments. They also tease out discourses on highly visible social movements from Desegregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and Black C ultural Nationalism to the post Civil Rights era. My project claims that writers delve into the exteriority of these social movements to extract efficient wisdoms and strategies for negotiating late twentieth century challenges. To ascertain these challe nges, I ask questions about the observations writers make: Why does so much thematic content revolve around sixties social movements? Why does a consideration of the hegemonic forces at work in society take center stage? and Why have authors presented the shirking off of burdensome intraracial sensibilities and the skillful maneuvering through oppressive systems as part of their repertoire? The answers to these questions largely demonstrate postmodernist sensibilities. Still, even as postmodernity problem atizes essential categories, new formations follow from the motivated undertakings of writers highlighting the discursive nature of constructions like race, class, and gender, even as they give attention to the material reality underpinning these concepts.
12 Thinking through the portrayal of social movements in African American literature, I make the claim that the upheavals of fifties and sixties black social movements not only resulted in the accessibility of more opportunities and identifications for Afric an with a distinct set of circumstances. In the following texts, The Intuitionist Meridian The Cotillion: Or, One Good Bull is Half the Herd Tar Baby (1981), each author takes as his or her backdrop a given social movement or references the impact of a cause clbre. Even as writers explore the larger ambiance of these m ovements, they hone in on the routine struggle for autonomy by middle and working class men and women protagonists. My argument is that these works provide a rich discourse because they identify tensions around in group burdens and institutional dominatio n. In this project, I study texts that portray ambitious characters in their negotiation of group tradition (within families or communities) and the maneuvers they make in society, usually in workplaces, educational sites, or governing institutions. I i nclude the aforementioned texts because the protagonists within them not only seek out self knowledge but also they are situated in conditions that require the navigation of the institutional structures upon which they depend for stable living. Even thoug h a Mumbo Jumbo traffics in a number of cultural ideologies, I exclude it because it does not situate its protagonists in the midst of negotiating the practicality of these frameworks. Rather, I focus on nove ls that feature the symbiotic strivings of men and women protagonists while portraying social movements and building complexity around the advancements made. Within the
13 context of African American literature, writers imagine a cache of standpoints through which to challenge the status quo of mainstream bias and group consensus and thwart sociopolitical co optation in both situations. What Will Postmodernism Do With History? Debates over how best to deline ate African American postmodernism have enjoined theorists of postmodern cultural studies to centralize African American social reality. Critics have argued that if nothing else postmodernism is certainly inflected by black cultural production, artistic a utonomy, a politics of difference, and an expanding black critical presence. 1 However, because several theories localize, residualize, and marginalize the experiences of people of color, African American postmodernism approaches black experiences in contexts that frame the world differently than Eurocentric paradigms. Evaluating such contexts as they emerge in black literature, critics are assessing print culture and its limited capacity for racial representation; recognizing culturally specific experience; analyzing notions of fragmented subjectivity and psychic decenteredness; a nd foregrounding numerous African American cultural paradigms. 2 African American postmodernism, in delineating its own epistemologies, is not only informing widely read postmodernist theories but also mapping its wider concern for social realities and history. Wahneema Lubi ano compels critics attention toward serious 1 See Cornel West Po st mo dernity and Afro 170 ) and bell hooks ( 2 4 29 ). 2 See Phillip Brian Harper Framing the Margins ( 12 13 ); Madhu Dubey Black Literary Postmodernism ( 40 ); W. Lawrence Hogue Race, Modernity, Postmodernity ( 16 25 ); an d The African American M ale, Writing, and Difference ( 18 19).
14 ensive theory of postmodernism sees one characteristic of postmodern aesthetic consumption as a loss of historicity, in which we can no longer conceptualize history as a meaningful means to understand the present. Jameson offers us a degraded historicism, significance in contemporary times 27). Linda Hutcheon se es postmodern cultural production as historical and critical due to its interaction with discourses of the past. Her term historiographic metafiction corresponds to narratives, which ironize and problematize history through the [discursive] contexts in which the fiction is being produced 3 Just as these two accounts tend to see postmodernism as chiefly oppositional to previous cultural and aesthetic formations, others want to situate postmodernism within a Eurocentric, ahi storical system of remained inscribed within narrow disciplinary boundaries, [and] insulated artistic rthrightly into tendency toward tropological readings of sociohistorical reference and an emphasis on 3 [h] istory is unquestionably one of the most contentious areas of debate Duvall from architectural history to discuss aesthetic production s ( 20 )
15 pastiche and the parodic referencing of history in contemporary cultur al production. Without consideration of material cost or larger cultural concerns the necessary move to understanding any cultural apparatus a discipline like African American postmodernism could not succeed in its intent to cultivate paradigms that have the potential to move criticism forward with attention to notions of generative historicity around incessant determination. Cautioning against the elevation of African American postmodernism as a critical site devoid of problematic notions about cultural experience, Lubiano explains it this to negotiate particular material circumstances in order to attempt some constructions of ngagement with differences from concretizing 158). For Lubiano, static constructions the tools used in postmodernist discourse to generalize about the exteriority of cultural difference largely i gnore the ways African Americans conceptualize the disadvantages they face in society. Lubiano argues that African the dominant discourse but also to theorize the complexities of African American social engagement throughout the late twentieth century. To resist the residual construction of black culture as other, Madhu Dubey suggests that cultural studies must give attention to the racialized, structural and systemic challenges facing African Americans by considering the uneven development that has emerged as a result (9); by looking to what we know socially of the operative
16 class politics in contemporary American so ciety and the issue of less access to political power (Harper 12); and by positing concrete and translatable experiences, not abstraction, as a basis for black postmodern cultural politics (hooks 29). While the aforementioned critical material concerns i tself with much neglected social realities that serve to distinguish black postmodernism from the insular constructions proffered by dominant theories, I see a need to consider systemic inequality in light of the understandings embedded within untapped cul tural narratives. We might stretch the limits of African American critical discourses by discerning the lessons from historically seminal conflicts whose insights can be applied to contemporary situations. To arrive at this point, critics will need to re ject the artificial society. In order to guard African American postmodernism agains t a degraded historicism, it is essential to disabuse ourselves of the task of over defining or properly designating postmodernity in its multiple iterations. The key is to utilize its explanatory power, pairing it with social science, literary theory, ph ilosophical discourses, and political science, and then discerning a sense of the representation of history in the present as Lubiano recommends. We must treat seriously not only history but also the interdisciplinary nature of African American postmodern ism and open up our interrogations to the meanings posited within womanism, feminism, Afro diasporic paradigms and globalizing theories. Much of the blanketing conceptions in theories of postmodernism conveniently ignore the particularity of cultural diff erence and the fact
17 distinct from the experiences of nonminority Americans. A move toward attention to concrete experience can spark thoughtful considerations of the on the ground contestations and strivings of minority groups. Even as critics observe political and cultural struggles, they must generate analyses of the deceptively unpretentious epistemologies that emerge out of such tense endeavors, which aim to f oster anti establishment, postcolonial, and countercultural vantage points. While avoiding residual constructions is key, to gain a broader sense of the dynamics of local and global struggles, whose far reaching results spill onto society at large, we mus t avoid underestimating the influence of social movements. In my thinking, the latter must take center stage in the reassertion of history as a viable means of inquiry in contemporary African American postmodernism. Such a move is important because it de monstrates how the everyday is often given a cursory glance rather than engaged in a way that invites social scientific observations, political economy, and literary critical insight. Sites of cursory reference can become the grounds upon which critics ma ke concrete, yet fluid, constructions utilizing several theoretical, macro/micropolitical reference points to enhance a deeper sense of cultural perspective. While deconstructing and situating these perspectives around issues like exploitation, self degra dation, hegemony, ideology, overdetermination, and racial tradition, in my view, the challenge is avoiding constructions that stifle critical reflection and curtail the introduction of new positions for postmodernism. Problems can arise if critics fall ba ck to the familiar discourses and usual presuppositions. Those belonging to a seemingly hermetic Euro American cultural perspective enjoy dominance, and therefore, have the
18 space to conceive of periodizing temporalities with scant consideration of subalt ern epistemologies and circumstances in particular, historical movements like Civil Rights and Black Nationalism that have disrupted repressive conditions. My sense in this project is that the lessons we may derive from such a history are still very much intact in postmodern culture. African American postmodernism, where it intersects with literary and cultural studies, can engage the insight that past civic movements have to offer. In this way, historicity will not become a despised logic in critical discourse nor a mere phenomenon d ivorced from social context. African American postmodernism can and should revive historicity. In short, critics do this by offering new theories that are approachable as points of departure into conversations about the ways cultural difference from the mythical norm plays out in spaces that are traversed daily. The truth of the matter is that African American postmodernism must interrogate its own truth claims about ideologies of cultural value, black culture in the sphere of history, and notions of the real (Dubey 11 13). Autonomy and the Politics of the Double Bind My project accounts for a double bind in American social relations that has resonated with African American writers in the late twentieth century. I do not use the term double bind in my title phrase to signal a fixed binary of sorts but to highlight the tangle of exploitations, trappings, and fragmentations identifiable in postmodern culture and society. Moreover, the heterogeneous connec tions between one situation and then another are not so easily distinguished. Therefore, I am concerned with why this social reality manifests in a cycle in which mainstream institutions move to exploit individuals while group traditions confine them, and why this dynamic registers in the lives of
19 individuals in the process of adopting paradigms that are more suitable than those offered in either space. Generations bequeathed the strivings of sixties social e 14) to racial tradition, finding themselves beset by an increasingly accessible, yet binding, social reality. Since the late 1960s, African American literature has engaged the possibility of maneuvering through black cultural institutions and dominant o rganizations and has clarified the unwitting crosscurrents between them. Novelists have grappled with the sense that sixties social movements had the effect of setting a monolithic agenda for divergent black communities and restricting the autonomy of ind ividuals. Even as critics come to terms with the significance of mid twentieth century U.S. transformations, the issues of sociocultural equity and political justice hinge on individual autonomy. In the mid twentieth century, American politics underwent a sea change as a result of the influence of Civil Rights, economic volatility, and political infighting. Those transformations culminated in a crisis of autonomy, which largely registered within marginalized communities. As a result, the 1960s witnesse d an uptick in public policy had ended as economic stagnation began to set in. At this point, American politics race relations illustrated this. Writing about consensus in political affairs, Jean Francois Lyotard observed that discontentment with inequality bolstered 1970s countercult ure. 4 While at the federal 4 For information on the seventies overview of the countercultural movements that held over in the seventies The
20 level, backlash surfaced from politicians cynical about government social spending and by the changing racial landscape, at the local level, New Left radicals ch allenged liberalism through the political empowerment of the poor and disenfranchised. Moreover, grassroots movements challenging the status quo served the unique purpose of cultivating a bottom up critical mass willing to voice the concerns among minorit y groups and to act on them. As a result, the issue of autonomy became a driving force in postmodernity. As American politics has historically foundered on the interests of marginalized groups, black life in America has always relied on collective strug gle against government sanctioned oppression and de facto injustice. 5 Hanes Walton observes that for years Congress has operated under a bia sed standard against African level of constitutional relief was better than the group based model, even though African Americans had suffered in the American political t politically much of African American life has pivoted on the arbitrary group/individual distinction, which elites cast as an aspersion upon marginalized populations. In his discussion of liberalism and race, David Cochran remarks on an interesting dynam ic within black communities. As Seventies Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies 5 As it concerns black politics in the late 1960s, civil rights struggles and nationalism involved a complex conditioning for African American and minority communities, which produced soc ial transformations. However, Michael Omi and Howard Winant in Racial F ormation in the United States have read the 1960s centrality of race in shaping Am They con cultural nationalism, which criticized the Civil Rights movement for proffering a liberal agenda of policy demands and lacking a cultural component. Cruse favored of a culturally based radical and
21 Black Americans participate in a distinct cultural traditio n that provides an ongoing dialogue about the content of a good life, about the nature of a good person, about worthy values and norms of behavior, about justice and human dignity, about the proper relationship of individual members to their families and c ommunities, and so on. (110) The degree to which blacks have made collective strides contours modernity, but the consciousness, which emerges out of resistance compels African Americans to see their participation in American democracy as substantive. I would argue that the failure to acknowledge this perspective splinters black agency creating a situation in which blacks make some gains but have limited means of asserting their own sociopolitical autonomy within the American social fabric. I should mak e clear that the status quo of the diminishment of black life in society gets particularly vexed when individuals resist it. Resisting the status quo leads to social fragmentation. But this fragmentation, I think, illuminates the precarious capacity one has for making progress in arrangements that perpetuate instability. In fact, conformity only belabors a condition of delimited influence in politics, culture, social relations, and the like. If the hope of transcendence can be jettisoned then one can se ek out the transgressive spaces that exist within any constricting site. In short, an fragmentation and to progress in its midst. Even with such daunting challenges, b lack communities must also consider the longstanding gender dynamics within traditional black organizations. Subsuming black
22 rights. bell hooks addresses this issue in her concept of radical black subjectivity, 6 which moves identity formation beyond essentialist notions of patr iarchal dominance to (20). When we move beyond essentialism to view identity as a process, black men and women become equal participants in conversations around black progress. Moreover, male leadership in black communities to more nuanced ideas of equita ble guidance. African American Postmodernism and Radical Democracy While I am concerned with the fate of history in postmodernism, I am not so much interested in periodization or temporalities as signifyi ng the postmodern, nor do I offer readers social categories or dominants. Because postmodernism is a construct, I believe it can exist alongside other constructs like modernity, late modernity, postmarxism, countermodernity, etc. 7 I do however take the historical circumstances iterated theoretical and temporal connotations, my position is that I can draw from illumina ting ideas that emerge from debates over the set of assumptions attached to this 6 Yearning : Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics 7 While it is true that t heoretical tropes and concepts generally register some sort of sociocultural complement (usually charting aesthetic, intellectual, and political epochs) Mike Feathersone has process as a strategic move in the field of academic and intellectual cultural production (Bourdieu 1984). A new generation of scholars can confine a previous one to history and make them appear outdated if they succeed in imposing a new, allegedly superi
23 philosophy. In fact, I use postmodernism generally because I can look at prior crisis points in African American history that approximate something like the conjunctures and ruptures often tied to the term. I think it is more useful to think of African American postmodernism as a critical location for registering cultural practices and thoughts that enable African Americans to conceive of advancement in spite of limited agenc y. On account of the relation between history and postmodernism, which sees culture as a pressure point or implicates it in the paradoxical role of history in fiction (respectively Jameson and Hutcheon), I characterize the cultural realm of postmodernity as following a logic that unsettles double binds in ways that may initially appear impractical. But this is because a postmodern agenda does not bring about the transcendence of various dilemmas but offers the wherewithal to negotiate them. Bringing abo ut multiple transformations, this negotiation usually involves moments of reckoning in which there hone in on the resolve of minority groups a resolve that resists the allure of future challenges and confronts more immediate concerns. As I remarked earlier, Lubiano ascribes to African American postmodernism an interest in representing certain historical realities in the present. However, even this endeavor on the part of African American critics and writers is hampered if those and also neglect a p of discourses which hold that the fragmentation of marginalized groups predates
24 postmodernism ( and informs its conceptions of society) 8 and inevitably intersect with issues of democracy in the postmodern era. elides a consideration of pos tmodernism in the context of radical democracy. Because its nuanced positions. Wh en we bring into the conversation race and radical specific narratives gets elevated to a material place. effect of ghettoizing blac k culture (Harvey 117). I think critics do well not to ignore the way democracy has been inflected and colored by social movements. Jean The Postmodern Condition remarks on the dissolution of the unitary, modern politic al subject as a result of avant garde developments since the 1960s 9 which bro ught forth a sociopolitical attitude more aware be epitomized in African American cultural production, does not seem attentive to the black investment in reformi 8 In Yearning now share with black folks a sense of deep alienation, despair, uncertainty, loss of a sense of grounding eve n if heyday of postmodernist culture and thus indicating the degree to which the subjective fragmentation of social marginality diverges from that of postmodern ism, even when it apparently approximates and 9 The Postmodern Condition suggests the 1960s as a time of as it is generally understood involves a radical break, both with a dominant culture and aesthetic, and with a rather different moment of socioeconomic organization against which its structural novelties and innovation are measured (vii).
25 Othered by race could scarcely facilitate an encounter with the political status quo that avoided any pro blematic appropriation of entrenched hegemonic ideology and initiate an egalitarian ethos. 10 In an analysis of radical democracy, Chantal Mouffe has argued that such a project of political import that Lyotard i magines can only come about through connections between multiple democratic struggles for the development of new subject positions, which would articulate the many social relations we inhabit and participate in (42, 44). This political philosophy is essen tial in not only theories that acknowledge the presence of other voices but also in black postmodernism which speaks from a register that emphasizes intersecting oppressions. Mainstream postmodernists also share the sense that difference necessitates new conceptions about the practice of democracy. For instance, John McGowan problematizes assumptions about the radical prospect of a politics of difference by 11 which looks at the social whole in order to protect difference in daily life. Undoubtedly feminism has often championed the connection between cultural difference and politics. Black women 10 Adolph Reed, in Stirrings in the Jug looks at the misdirected nature of past bl ack political practices. Reed not only integrationist demand and their al liance with corporate liberals but also he chides nationalists for not being adamant enough about their aim of economic and political control in black communities. Because both entities d on a monolithic ideology, Reed attributes to them the decline of robust black opposition to systemic injustice (65 69). 11 s Postmodernism and Its Critics individual differences are possible and can be preserved only within a social whole that recognizes such explains, freedom belongs to the individual and if an open future can exist, it can only do so to the extent that human diversity and creativity are given liberty.
26 intellectuals like Patricia Hill Collins resist the logic that academic and nonacademic labor cannot complement each other that dissent must be cultivated within academic and political spaces and then extend outward in ready made, accessible social projects to those outside the academy. Collaborative work among diverse black women has been a significant way to combat structures of domination wherever they appear ( Black Feminist Thought from democracy. For this reason, perspectives on power relations circulate largely in the discourse on postmodernity teased out by black writers. Writers ha ve sought to articulate the systemic and routine challenges that are a part of the equation in any progressive struggle in American democracy. At its core, postmodernism has elevated its theoretical conceptions of cultural phenomena above sociopolitical conditions, and when it has investigated political frameworks, it has also put undue weight on the ability of cultural production to impact political dealings and to seamle ssly transform disempowerment into critical engagement. Emerging out of such historical disjunctures as rights movements, radical democracy offers a distinct vantage on the standpoints promulgated by those sidelined by race and culture. As understandings of difference intensify, so too must critical insight on radical democracy. Therefore, to my thinking African American postmodernism is uniquely situated to engage conceptions of radical democracy. For instance, I think we need to generate new framework s that recognize the ways African Americans have consistently tempered modern liberal democracy, so that it might show greater fidelity to its egalitarian ideals.
27 Ontology and the Treatment of Difference in African American Fict ion Despite the scant attention given to radical democracy in postmodernist philosophy, literary postmodernism holds its own critical sway. Literary postmodernism has to do with the dynamics of textual innovation, non linear narr ative, and reflexive commentary on that act of writing itself. For the most part, it signals a critical project geared towards making observations of the essentialist categories expressed in a discursive products such as texts. According to Brian McHale, one of the most distinct ontological dominant suggests that the many features ascribed to this fiction can be summed up within a concept that is concerned with explori ng ideas of being, with the possible world(s) that we live in and the worlds portrayed in a literary text (10). Because postmodern fiction rejects the notion of objective reality, it does not invest much in realist narrative. Similarly, writers call hist ory into question fictionalizing history and positing the fictionality of history itself while real (85, 96). The foremost postmodern writers in African American literature like Ishmael Reed have demonstrated a different sort of ontological dominant, which not so much flouts questio ning and resisting the monocultural impulses (and enterprises) in Western society. Undoubtedly because of a politics of difference in black literary postmodernism, there is deep interest in portraying cultural temporalities, rejecting mimesis, exploding n otions of identity, and revising and deconstructing Euro American centric metanarratives (Gysin 139 145). What undergirds this interest is a concern with
28 promulgating new and untapped epistemologies those enabling the critical observation of social strugg les and the countercultural resistances rooted in them. Speaking about black postmodernist practices in an interview with Anders 278) creeps up in the black postmodernist practices of writers who engage American history. The implication is that the material reality of black Americans in poverty must be conceived of differently than the angst felt by middle class Americans in contemporary times. Ultimately, black postmodernists mus t interrogate the insights of multiple theories, but in so doing, they cannot neglect observations of social reality, which put them in touch with conditions that may not be generalizable but may index philosophical and concrete contestations. Writing abo middle class reality is seen as the unique source of meaning, as the U.S. center of rather than subj ects often in conflict with American injustice; they are robbed of existential presence. Hogue envisions a reading of African American culture that invites historical and literary perspectives and favors the communities behind the representations (4). Ex ploring the perspectives of novelists, much like Bambara and Reed, whose fictional worlds portray the nuanced understandings and cosmologies of individuals no longer held in abeyance by repressive ways, might open up new critical locations. These location s tease out postmodernisms inside and outside the scope of formal complexity that are germane to culture and aesthetics.
29 Literary postmodernism in America is often seen as a fictional code of sorts, with its imaginative treatment of discontinuity, time, and paradigms this code having the ability to blind readers to the differences of which it consists (Fokkema 38 40). However, black literary postmodernism must not only embrace these rhetorical tent historical and social challenges dominant historical records, which are invested in erasure, and reinscribes inclusive dialogues of continuity, legacy, and opp osition. When African American writers think of historical and social conditions as enhancing textual formations that blur the ideological apparatuses at work in literary production, they arrive at points of reference from which to challenge the fictional displacement of difference. The Politics of Mid twentieth Century Social Movements Of the critics whose work attempts to situate black postmodernism in the world of literary and cultural theory by explor ing nuanced communities that have developed around the use of language and art or by identifying the ways black culture has destabilized dominant traditions and seized public consciousness, some neglect to examine the political situations that serve as a b ackdrop for such occurrences. 12 However, Hogue has foregrounded efforts to push back against the American ideological apparatus of the mid twentieth century. He discusses the literary scene and He points out the ability of sixties social movements to create extratextual discursive 12 Black Chant: Languages of African American P ostmodernism (4 37) and Andreas After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (191 194).
30 formations in which black writers could not only flesh out uninvestigated African ons. new myths about, or representations of, the American and Afro American historical past blished conventions, observation of sixties social movements represents an approach that offers critical closeness to African American politics, strivings, angst, and h istory in a context that makes visible moments of cultural redefinition. The novelists in this study write from the vantage of past crisis points in American history, which afford them the distance to think critically about some of the cooptations experie nced in mainstream politics and to fill in the gaps of cultural insight left by those writers who abandoned freedom struggles as a fount of cultural knowledge. Bernard Bell has said about reinvigorating black cultural nable, however, to throw out the baby that is the relentless struggle of African Americans for freedom, justice, equality, and unity as any liberating discourse on bla ck life and cultural production, and because of this, an examination of the liberation efforts that have spun theories into the vexed debates of the present is, I think, essential. While beset by its own challenges, literary postmodernism is, as Hogue sugg ests, an apt location from which to continuously expand conventions, formal, thematic, and intertextual. This vantage allows us to consider the African American novels in this
31 study and the insight that emerges in them in relation to the historical conten t they engage. We can then think about the contexts (sites of knowledge production) imagined in the fiction written by African American men and women contexts whose social and ideological tensions might be investigated. Contemporary novels by African Ame rican women have engaged matters of gender, sexism, and cultural heritage with the desire to generate discussion over these issues in the public sphere. Barbara Christian has remarked that this literary endeavor ( Black Feminist Criticism 185). As it concerns social transformation, black women novelists have opened new conceptua l windows in the contemporary novel, which emphasize the importance of generational expressions, from the political to the everyday. I want to make clear that the African American novel has been a site not of harmony but one surrounded by ideological and conceptual struggle. Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty first century, aesthetic traditions have been constantly contested from external and internal forces. Gene Andrew Jarrett argues truants, contemporary black men and women authors, have entered postmodern literary spaces. In these transgressive sites, black writ ers have sparked a reconsideration of tradition in black literature. When writers create nonconformist (or suspect) paradigms in their novels, they not only throw criticism into an unstable place but also they force
32 critics to read literary constructions in more diverse ways that do not presuppose interpretive practices based on literary tradition. Conclusion: African American Literary Discourse In the first chapter of A Tangle of Double Binds I lay bar e the nuances of an African American discourse that is concerned with conceptions of history in postmodernism. Analyzing African American autonomy and black social movements, I give attention to the constricting nature of African American group practices and the cooptation of black ambition in the mainstream. Still, I do not want to install a tradition. Rather, I want to look at the niche experiences in an epochal moment in American history and the rethinking of assumptions about progress that came out o f it, which might teach us something about postmodern culture. The nagging notions besetting African American writers in the contemporary era are checkmated in the nexus between African American literary discourse and postmodern aims for art. Postmodern fiction militates against a politics that supports the kinds of progress beneficial to the group while ignoring the individual. Ultimately, the novelists I cover favor the prioritization of individual autonomy, for the development of a true progressive po litics. In creating a discourse on postmodernity, writers imagine, in their fictive representations, their aware negotiations of society. In addition, t he interrogation of fifties and sixties social movements by several writers represe nts an attempt to make a unique cultural vantage on postmodernity accessible. The Intuitionist agency dur ing the era of Racial Desegregation. His Afrofuturist text looks at the challenge individuals pose to industrial power brokers. Through an investigation of
33 another on future), I observe the ways Lila Mae and her male counterparts come to rethink their notions of what progress means for African Americans as a group and individually. Lastly, Lila brass through an intuitive strategy. Meridian that grips activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Looking at the ways in which Meridian Hill, the between movement activists and political figureheads compels Meri dian to seek out a era of social protest to a situation in which he enjoys middle class privilege as an artist. emonstrates a tactic, which is vital in a culture coming to grips with social apathy. The Cotillion : Or, One Good Bull Is Half the Herd fl uorescence of late 1960s Black Nationalism. In addition, I investigate the operative class politics in the Femmes Fatales, a high the ways in which protagonists Yoruba Lovejoy and Ben Ali Lumumba must infuse the cul class division they negotiate makes clear the need to forego consensus and invite dissent. Portraying these complexities, Killens resists the easy fix of locating commo n
34 ground upon which the black bourgeoisie, cultural nationalists, and working class blacks can meet. Tar Baby o highlight the legitimate capital ascribed to different truths across communities in the post Civil Rights era. I consider the ways in which Jadine Childs and Son (William Green) get entangled on their journeys toward self connection to her wealthy benefactors and to her aunt and uncle, this chapter observes her struggle to adopt a consciousness that embraces her own notion of truth. Son, however, cannot do the same, making it difficult for him to see beyond the false stab ility of a previous life. This project represents my attempt to analyze the discourses on postmodernity circulating within contemporary African American letters. In doing so, I have discussed African American fiction that deploys resistance to both cultur al and societal constraints. The novels I examine in this study, produced from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, diligently explore cultural perspectives. Thematizing the effect of particular historical moments on black populations, they present views t hat can be read in relation to their own disillusionment with group consensus and an always already compromised inclusion into mainstream society. Pointing out the common effacement of the tenor of black American experience in postmodernism, hooks calls f or an anti essentialism that to heart then they must introduce translatable examples of black autonomy that have been calibrated, in a context of social fervor, to resist specific oppressions. Bringing, as
35 it does, such autonomous experiences to the forefront of literary and cultural studies, my research signals an expansion in the lexicon around postmodern black cultural politics.
36 CHAPTER 2 REVISING CULTURAL CONCEPTIONS OF PROGR ESS: AFROFURISM IN C OLSON THE INTUITIONIST Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature interrogates the tradition of social change in African American literary history. Jarrett makes the case that deans proponents of racial r ealism who believe black writers should exclusively address the inequities of black life view contemporary writers that do not primarily emphasize race as truant. Regarding the contemporary world that allows [them] to interrogate racial hierarchy and celebrate inclusive Americanism, yet remain attentive to the history of race and racism in the United States, implies a more sophisticated way of thinking about the connec tion of racial history to the reference to postmodernist work, which has its broadest implications in Afrofuturism. 1 Burgeoning as it is in the postmodern era, this genre engages issues of race through a contemporary lens that picks apart the propagandistic realism of its literary predecessors. Sandra J ackson and Julie E. Moody Freeman in The Black Imagination focusing on Black speculations about the future, foregrounding Black agency and creativity explored through lit In this way, Afrofuturism approaches the heterogeneous conditions of postmodern society by drawing from a cache of varied tropes. 1 Sandra Jackson and Julie E. Moody Freeman in The Bla ck Imagination and cultural aesthetic which encompasses historical fiction, fantasy and myth, magical realism and draws upon non Western cosmologies to interrogate and critique current conditions of Black and other people of
37 In chapter one, I consider the impetus in Afrofuturist fiction to lay bare the co optati The Intuitionist (1999) portrays American modernization through technology and the dealings of industrial power brokers. Whitehead critiques ambitious individuals who, in their driv e for success, do not recognize elite corruption, and he offers worker agency as a solution to the alienation experienced by African Americans in postmodernity. Ultimately, Whitehead demonstrates the marginalization of black workers capturing the spheres in which black workers find themselves. African American literary criticism, racial authenticity, cultural memory, and cross (82). My research further identifies a set of Neo Segregation Narratives Signs and in From Modernism to Postmodernism of Whitehead fluid quality that lands it in the critical sights of multiple disciplines. With the publication of The Intuitionist Whitehead entered the broad genre of science fiction. He has been able to apply racial concerns to issues of technology, politics, industry, etc., in diverse ways where each issue informs the other. Critics like Isiah Lavender, Frankie Bailey, Steven Belleto, and Suman Gu pta look at the intersection of cultural politics in science fiction, mystery and investigation, war politics,
38 allegories of race. 2 John Henry Days and The Colossus of New York suggest that one of his foremost concerns was recasting the past. William operates The Colossus though set The Intuitionist The Intuitionist because it not only portrays an identifia ble historical moment (racial integration) but also does not shy away from a confrontation with the past and present burden of long held cultural narratives. urban industr y by African Americans. In addition, he examines the way social progress gets defined in black communities and explores the benefits this kind of examination holds in understanding the hindrances to individual direction. I argue that The Intuitionist see ks to revise cultural conceptions of progress. In doing so, the novel 2 Race in American Science Fiction in which he suggests that African American Mystery Writers looks at the ways Whitehead roots his geographical spaces in historically black conc No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives pegs The Intuitionist as an allegory of the relationship between individuals, state authority, and society (33, 80); and Globalization and Literature 41).
39 effects a postmodern revision in which ambitious individuals rethink their relationship to society and demonstrate strategic negotiations of work and social space. the foundational voices in the genre since the late 1960s and urges on the expansion of black writers and bl ack readerships. Indeed, the fiction of artists like Toni Cade Bambara, Ishmael Reed, Gloria Naylor, and Colson Whitehead represents a particular Afrofuturist leaning in African American literature, which thematizes the strong influence of individuals in the industrial sector. The aesthetic penned by these writers operates in several ways in terms of exploding notions of a singular kind of blackness; transforming the way readers see society; featuring (technological) futurist elements or mechanized unsust ainable practices; and illustrating the discursive quality of literature. The Salt Eaters features a local chemical plant that threatens the health of a small town population and the ability of black political organizations to make any The Intuitionist heralds the coming of a futuristic elevator with heretofore unseen malleability. At the same time, the elevator industry itself overruns with competing entities and special interests that atte themes that revolve around new opportunities for African Americans has grown. Afrofuturist fiction shares similar tropes with American popular science fiction. While t he placing of marginalized cultures at the forefront signals a major distinction, both bodies of work conceive of individual influence as a composite of tradition or tenets that are at risk of co optation by larger society.
40 Afro futurism signals a separation in black literary studies among the protest literature traditions and discourses that imagine race in nuanced contexts. Earlier traditions of slave narratives, protest literature, and even nationalism have utilized the litera ry platform to defend black humanity and demand fidelity to racial equality in America. Throughout the twentieth century these trends expressed vernacular based idioms that propelled African American cultural production into mainstream American letters. th century 3 and race as well. When assumptions about race relations and a post racial America dominate the public sphere, writers delve into the fundamental assumptions that drive such memes. Unwilling to confine itself to the proscriptions of affirmin g and defending cultural identity against detractors, Afrofuturism expresses curiosity in imagining fantastic and technological components in society while remaining fiction concerns itself with racial history, its portrayals of futuristic or post apocalyptic environs offer insight into technological advancement and social crises. By investigating an insidious racial order, black writers opt for a more comprehensive a pproach to understanding the motivating force behind the will to advance and the snares that await such ambition in postmodern society. However, this kind of fictional project evaluating a set of cultural assumptions can only be useful if it can find ways contemporary fiction, while it may not engage race in the explicit group portrayals of 3 Flam e Wars 180).
41 earlier literary movements, it does supply a useful take on the weight these sa me movements have inadvertently placed on the contemporary racial individual. Since the 1970s, grassroots possibility in American science fiction has functioned as a liberal philosophy opposite the state and corrupt political processes. Ken Macleod posit fiction views individual autonomy as a means of escaping the mainstream politica l similar thematic identifiers in the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction Elisabeth Leonard argues that science fiction can solidify itself as a potent literature wh en it gives fiction, must be infused with nuanced alternatives that reimagin e routes to self sufficiency apart from the political status quo. While science fiction can create worlds in which people solve problems outside the realm of government influence, during the sixties and seventies the nation underwent a rights revolution that called on the government to intervene in the protection of minority events of the black civil rights movement, this later revolution was led by the Th e Minority Rights Revolution 2). In the 1970s, America saw an increase in the number of African Americans 4 participating in government and in 4 See The Politics of Race: African Americans and the Political System
42 protests, as well. In addition, Congress introduced a number of civil rights measures that enabled more effective advocacy of civil rights at the federal level. Undoubtedly, federal legislation played a key role in hastening the trek toward the realization of African American equal rights and a ccess to more employment, but resistance in the business sector checkered these gains. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe analyze racial bias in the post Civil Rights era within industrial business. In can comprehend hegemonic certain certain spheres might refer to the socioeconomic conditions exace rbated by modern urbanization. In Postmodernism and Its Critics cerns himself with the sphere of recently integrated black labor, with those that pursue opportunity in hegemonic structures. The Intuitionist invites an observation of individual impact in the midst of obstruction. Tellingly, Whitehead discards the alternative of energy toward infusing the structures of power wi th not only racial difference but also the perspectives of marginalized groups. The struggle black Americans have faced after their embattled entrance into the misconcept ion that opportunities in industry would necessarily lead to equitable living in the postmodern era. Charles Banner The Fruits of Integration looks at
43 struggle of African Americans to define themselves and their attendant vision of what America is and is becoming, a struggle that has often fallen to the black middle class to vis ion of social possibility for black Americans depends upon the willingness of the individual to identify accomplishment as agency within American institutions. The attempt to qualify the influential sway of the individual in black literary criticism speak creates possibility, which includes political ideas that depart from Western perspectives. The African American Male, Writing and Difference look s at the emergence of studies of tradition that have been excluded from the pre 1960s racial uplift narratives and the 1970s/1980s Black aesthetic canons. Hogue allowing more comprehensive representation of black American life, then considering the tensions blacks encounter in everyday cultural exchange in society can serve as a point of becomes in it representations, the more critical attention leans toward the cognitive shifts African Americans must make to negotiate mainstream institutions and in group encou nters. In tune with the imaginative political possibilities of science fiction and the advancement of American minorities, sixties social movements and black material reality become key in understanding postmodern conditions. Colson Whitehead states
44 in an My outlook on the world prohibits me from cheerleading the latest thing I always have to find the weakness. The hidden cost. So the Intuitionists, despite their philoso phy, effective influence in his novels at face value. He acknowledges that as a result of integration, a culture of pride developed that elided some of the critical thought, which would aggravate, though necessarily so, thoughts about the gains of that era. As Whitehead suggests in the interview, at the crux of The Intuitionist lies his suspic ion of the depth of the veiled costs involved on both sides of the cultural and political equation and their manifestations in the postmodern era. The celebrated authorship of men and women novelists and critics demonstrates strides toward balanced gender dynamics in Afrofuturism and postmodern fiction. Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, two of the foremost Afrofuturists, come to mind alongside Nalo Hopkinson, Walter Mosely, and Tananarive Due, to name a few. ing through a period of social solidarity like Mark Dery and Alondra Nelson also provide a new stream of insight on technoculture. The critical value of Afrofuturism comes through appropriating the savviness of information society and convening a conversation, for the most part, around the agenc y for blacks working in urban institutions.
45 Postmodernity and Identity Formation Lila Mae Watson becomes the first black woman elevator inspector in an unnamed metropolis reminiscent of mid twentieth cent ury New York City. A devout Intuitionist, embroils her in a controversy that not only spirals out of control in close encounters with Mafia cronies but also leads her into self awareness. Having previously submitted an inspection report, the Department of Elevator Inspectors blames her for the inexplicable crash of the Number Eleven elevator at the Fanny Briggs Memorial Building. To worsen matters, the drama thickens aroun vie for Guild Chair, the current president Frank Chancre (Empiricist) and hopeful Oliver Lever (Intuitionist). Intuitionists worry this incident will discredit their camp and hurt their nces, making Lila Mae a target. Lacking solidarity with anyone, Lila Mae seeks out Pompey, the only other black employee, who rejects her cordial forces her to reckon wi th her ideas about progress. Ultimately, the entire industry is searching for a missing manuscript known as the black box, which the industry believes contains a blueprint for technologically unparalleled elevators of the future). James Fulton, an Africa n American elevator theorist, is believed to have created this black box during his in depth study of elevation. Whitehead sets the stage for the postmodern era in The Intuitionist through the socioeconomic ramifications of industrialization and urbanizati on that developed during the period of racial integration. Whitehead creates a discourse around the crisis of progress in the novel. The power structures in place compel strategies of workplace navigation. Moreover, the novel exposes the inextricable li nks between spheres of
46 black labor and unchecked political power. For example, the characters Lila Mae, Pompey, James Fulton, and Raymond Coombs all find themselves beset by dilemmas in which they must leverage their agency in the elevator industry. The key in overcoming problematic worker conditions rests in revising the ways one thinks about progress (after integration) in favor of a more self aware notion of progress. Just as The Intuitionist depicts modernization, inclusive of government, business mo nopolies, and blue collar workers, Whitehead also showcases the contributions to modernization by those rendered invisible through exclusion and racial othering. In assessing black perspectives, Whitehead works through the sociopolitical spheres sustained by African American workers. Insofar as he unveils the co conspiratorial partnership between the public and private sector, Whitehead addresses the spaces in which the functionaries of power can re appropriate the tools of the elite. Finally, Whitehead invests in a project that frames a corrective to hegemonic domination. 5 Recently, critics like Madhu Dubey give attention to The Intuitionist rrogation critical excavation, revealing African Americans to be the hidden architects of modern propelled African Dubey argues, follows a path of social mobility by becoming literat e and later 5 Gramsci is concerned with how and why the elite maintain power over the dominated wit hout force. For Gramsci, while the consent of the dominated comes through socialization and education, he finds consent bound up in the relationship between intellectuals and the world of production. Gramsci understands the rata and their degree of connection with a fundamental social group, and to
47 discovery. On a fundamental level, Intuitionism the brain child of James Fulton, who writes a book that initiates Intuitionist philosophy (while passing for white) awakens Lila Mae. Fu modern print tradition, will have to be refashioned before it can redee m its utopian book within a book in novels as signaling a concomitant change in the use of print literacy in contemporary times. ys Lila Mae as inserting herself into a coming sociopolitical order. For Johnston, The Intuitionist treacherous intrigues and manipulations of her boss (vying for re election) and his Maf ia also Fulton subtexts in The Intuitionist neither author delves specifically into concerns the functionary role of black workers in a crooked enterprise. Throughout her brief career, Lila Mae engages in a project of self awareness. Hailing from a tradition of resilient black women, namely Harriet Beechum, a prominent black actress; Fan ny Briggs, an enslaved African who teaches herself to read, and her vigilant third grade teacher, Ms. Parker, Lila Mae builds upon a foundation of strength,
48 curiosity, and, at times, riskiness, which stems from her affinity for the unsettling darkness (or void) of elevators. In From Modernism to Postmodernism Gerhard formative ye ars and her present both inhabit the void that enthralls her. Her politics There is another world beyond this one 6 futu rity than about the viability of a transcendent life path. The Contemporary African American Novel takes up the task of assessing the new voices, politics, and poetics emerging in the tradition of the African American novel. Bell argues tha rather than an ascending dialectic for understanding history and developing acknowledgement of the spiral from the progressive to the apocalyptic that contemporary novelists emphasize in relation to African American reality. Afrofuturism goes deeper in this direction that most contemporary discourses in postmodern culture. In spite of its often oblique references to race and cu ltural difference, Afrofuturism interrogates the regressive tendencies in African American culture and politics. Highlighting the blind spots in narratives of uplift and pointing out the disconnect between black access to opportunity and mainstream sector s and the 6 s, mutability itself, constructed of as yet unconjured plastics. It will float, fly, fall, have not need of steel armature, have a liquid spine, no spine at all (198) in The Intuitionist instantiates an example of the ontological play Brian McHale associat es with postmodernist fiction. For McHale, the ontological dominant governs this fiction wherein it draws from the fantastic and implications of encounters between different worlds.
49 number of critical dialogues with it readers. Conversations about the inheritance of 1950s racial integration as well as shifts in the canon of African American lit erature are being spurred on as an exigency in the postmodern condition. This setting makes encounters with the mainstream in The Intuitionist unavoidable and facilitates selves. In The Intuitionist Whitehead contextualizes workplace integration as a political phenomenon, helmed by leaders and interest groups within the elevator industry However, in the African American community, integration registers as racial progress and black access to American capitalist entities. After being called back to Headquarters to discuss the elevator incident, as yet unbeknownst to her, Lila Mae fixates on a billboard elevator ad that, for her, gets seen in the eyes of ordinary civilians environment Whitehead creates, which portrays society in the early stages of integration and socioeconomic inclusion. The presence of African Americans in positions previously held by whites strikes a chord in mainstream America. Moreover, the bureaucratic and polit ical ploys of the elevator industry eclipse the significance of this social milestone. The move toward the inclusion of African Americans inheres in an expansive writes thi s line in describing the effect of the elevator upon the American city. However,
50 to which a contrived sense of accomplishment (elevation) glosses over the failings o f narratives of uplift, I contextualize the history of the northern city and black subjectivity. Writing about twentieth century migration out of the agrarian south in t You American Migration Narrative Farah Jasmine Griffin talks about stifling and provincial and as such they inhibit the progress and the deve lopment of the The City in African American Literature Yoshinobu Hakutani and hesitant to criticize the negative aspects of American city life, it has o nly rarely American 7 (10 11). To a considerable degree, the practice of integration sets off a number of disruptions. Whitehead creates controversy around two ideological groups, the Empiricists and Intuitionists, not for the sake of the privileging of one over another but instead to have readers question their respective underpinnings. Whitehead sets Empiricism and Intuitionism at odds, showing how the former allies with Western modernity and the latter with postmodern difference. Empiricists vilify Intuitionist insp ectors, calling them witch doctors. Intuitionists decry Empiricists as over reliant on 7 The City in African American Litera ture
51 n Chancre historicizes Empiricism but others Intuitionism as a non Western framework. Later in already bought off many of the street men building owners lay cash on insp ectors in exchange for fastidious blindness to defect. Their sacred Empiricism has no meaning ignores the unsavory relationship between those that make the products an d those that service them. The presence of African Americans in the industry only expands the base for power brokers intent on using inspectors for their foul purposes. Empiricism in the novel has to do with logic and reason. When an inspector subscrib ing to this philosophy services an elevator, he or she does so literally by the book and also based upon prior experience. However, as the name suggests, Intuitionist inspectors utilize their intuition when servicing elevators, which includes sensory expe 6). In the novel, Intuitionism comes about as a revision of what Whitehead sees his speech.
52 Whitehead draws attention to the othering of Intuitionism through its most prominent practitioner, Lila Mae. The logic behind scapegoating her for the Fan ny from executives over the entrance of numerous women and minorities into the Elevator Guild (the inspector association that oversees the Department). During a press conference, the Mayor and the Guild chair launch a full investigation, yet they sidestep any accusations of foul play, eclipsing all racial animus tethered to Lila Mae by claiming a ancestral home lands, and the family crests of near exterminated clans. Her position is Cornel West calls homogeneous communalism, 8 full circle. The onslaught of difference not only challenges the prescribed authority but also represents a moment of opportunism for those leaders and agents touting diversity while simultaneously stoking the fears of racial difference. 8 I such a politics hinges upon the demystification of ins titutional power structures. West call s for a move from In the late twentieth cen tury, there is a sense that people must challenge the status quo, least our current dilemmas escalate In that respect the new cultural polit ics of difference faces sociopolitical challenges that are specifically at odds with the concentrate d power we see portrayed in The Intuitionist with the elevator industry.
53 Whitehead writes a passage that encapsulates the conundrum undergirding black up in a web of li es, backroom deals, and political corruption, Lila Mae must confront her existential crises as an embroiled inspector. Whitehead interrogates the subtle pursuits. He does t the first black female elevator inspector. For, instance, when Lila Mae heads home to contemplate the Fanny Briggs elevator crash, she finds Jim and John, two industry cronies, rambling The Intuitionist s, John reveals his view of the circularity of life recursive, and if the pattern has not announced itself yet, it will, eloquent and emphatic in a mild 28). To square this moment with others throughout his life, John needs a new perspective that the lens through which he has heretofore viewed life has not given him. Jim and John represent the white mythical norm despite their criminality involvement, a norm being winnowed away in the racial sea change John philosophizes about. appraisal of her drab clothing and identical suits. In discovering her sense of regularity, Jim and
54 everymen, the true citizens. Lila Mae counts few people in this world as friends. Jim and John are the rest. Dusty brown clumps of hair, prow jaws, complexions quick to crises in American industry and the way in which its veneer unravels, belying the deception that the rugged individualism of the racial majority alone ushered in modernity. In neighborhood. From this vantage, Whitehead posits a fluid understanding of the neighborhood. A cknowledging the influx of African Americans during the Great Migration and the flight of Polish and Russian immigrants (that still maintained their stores in the neighborhood), Whitehead exposes the hand of speculators in shaping the meaning of the neighborhood for each group: The neighborhood is changing again. Its meaning blurs at the edges as insidious rents. Only the real estate agents, who understand that meaning is elastic, know the borders of th e neighborhood for sure, modulating their sales pitches to reassure their clients that they are not moving into the colored neighborhood, but into the farther reaches of th e adjacent white neighborhood. (30) the meaning of a community to outsiders, the text lays bare an understanding of minority conditions, which speaks to the wider implications of integration. This observation posits an understanding of inclusion that crisis illustrates well the mixed bag of her ascension in the industrial arena. In The Intuitionist just as Lila Mae receives the symbolic benefits of being an elevator inspector, she also inherits the thorny industry practices that go along with it. Not
55 manager, arrives at her home and tells her she has been set up because of the preemptive s trike, for involving someone on the outer circle away from high profile orchestrations. Ironically, just before Reed arrives, a shocked Lila Mae reflects on her diminishment in the face of such political fallout. She thinks about her small living quarter addition, her smallness comes to reference the ways those in power exploit her. When Reed contradictory light, as fall girl, token, and asset. To his logic, and although he ties her De partment implicates Lila Mae in the elevator crash because of her race, gender, or perfect inspection record. His subsequent statement however calls attention to his car eer, Miss Lila Mae. The first colored woman to become an elevator inspector. things out ift and the expansion of For Lila Mae, the security of her position soon becomes secondary, at which point she adopts a more fluid agenda. However, before Lila Mae can influence power and act as the custodian of her own narrative, independent of a presumed progress, Whitehead tasks her with negotiating two discourses: her unyielding detective work to locate
56 nd her intellectual development as an Intuitionist critical thinker. First, she must repel the antics of industry cronies. From there, she must shed Asserting Gender In The Intuitionist Whitehead ties issues of gender to tense situations in which women demonstrate assertiveness in the face of either male dominance or reserve in While Lila and it is the acceptance, and not the aid itself, which galls her and makes her pride her own path a pride she fights to maintain when declaring she will locate the missing about her abrasive father Marvin Watson tell readers of their strained relationship, particu larly as it concerns her education. She recalls a childhood incident when she gets out of bed for a drink of water. Thinking her parents were asleep, she encounters her father drinking whiskey and reading about elevators. He calls her over and asks, reading, she cannot identify most of the words. Her father reads every word, warns that her literacy, this incident, the contrast between gentle father and scathing p atriarch have the effect of making Lila Mae reticent in matters of education. When Lila Mae applies to
57 the Institute of Vertical Technology, she does not tell her mother or father. Notwithstanding, she experiences guilt over leaving her parents and movin g North. The reticence she maintains as a child and adolescent unravels as she matures. While a teenager, Lila Mae goes on a movie date with her childhood friend, Grady Jr., her last opportunity for affection with him; he gently kisses her and then pulls away after spying inal instance of her reserved behavior. After moving North, she has a one night stand with Freeport Jackson, a traveling beauty products salesman, which she approaches with a methodical, bureaucratic assertiveness. Her earlier reticence morphs into a dis regard Lila Mae adopts persistence 9 as a necessary characteristic. In the face of patriarchal dominance and insecurity, this trait prepares her for a male dominated career in elevato rs. Another woman character in the novel, Marie Claire Rogers faces her own gender housekeeper (he has been deceased for six years), Mrs. Rogers has literally borne the burden of ins. She 9 definition. In Black Feminist Thought fostered by the strong development reflect this historical truth. Her nurturing comes from the influence of strong black women like Fanny Briggs, a brave e nslaved African in the novel who teaches herself to read and is named for a municipal building in the city.
58 house now, by contractual agreement. There was no mention of it in the file, but there must be rumors that Fulton and Rogers were lovers. Why else go to so much trouble We learn that Mrs. Rogers moves in because Fulton could not tolerate any other housekeepers Yet Mrs. Rogers demonstrates her own assertiveness when someone as I moved in her days? Ther situation created by the nefarious practices of the elevator industry, which limits opportunity in urban a reas. The lack of opportunity materializes in downtrodden urban communities. Rogers uses the agency she possesses as a domestic worker in negotiating her living conditions and escaping the conditions exacerbated by modernization. Tokenism and Negro Firsters The novel makes distinct comments on the issue of integration when it comes to male characters. Tokenism and the notion of Negro firsters have their own complexities in the space of black male leader ship. Lila Mae confronts Pompey about the Fanny targeting, Whitehead suggests that he despises Lila Mae for possessing some of the
59 same conformist values as he did when he became an elevator inspector. An office rumor circulates about Pompey that indicts blacks as obsequious opportunists groveling for promotions. Holt, the former Guild Chair, summons Pompey upstairs for a conference: He [Pompey] expected confidences; Hol t told him he was going to kick him in the ass. Pompey laughed (this executive humor was going to take a little getting used to) and went along to the joke, even after Holt told him to bend over. Which he did. Pompey continued to chortle until Holt kick ed him in his promotion to Inspector Second Grade. (25) The Pompey rumor indicates the degree to which the Depar tment freights a colored worker with the burden of others seeing his or her hiring as a political stunt. This dynamic challenges black workers themselves with accepting the validity of each sabotaged the Lila Mae Interestingly, Lila Mae does not give a legitimate reason why Pompey would stoop so loa thing of his own blackness. Although Pompey proves innocent, I think his own heated reflection on his rise to elevator inspector sheds some light on his animus toward Lila Mae. While, for her, d indicates it to readers as central in understanding his on the job politics. As Pompey puts it,
60 will never, ever know what hell they put me through. You think you have it be. And I got it. I was the first colored man to get a Department badge. (195) One gathers that, as a Negro firster, Pompey has sublimated his anger toward racist coworkers and still harbors bitter memories. Whitehead implies that Pompey hates seeing her follow in his footstep s, driven toward a pseudo progressive posture. He has endured for years the dilemma in which Lila Mae finds herself. While he has devoted his life to what seems like a progressive track (tokenism), his integrative efforts have only placed Lila Mae in a co mplicit position, one winnowing her agency down to Department bidding. When Lila Mae confronts him over the bribe he takes from follow the degeneration of the neighborhood around him and about moving his wife and two bitterness has implications for what the job will do to her. Unaware that the Department has coerced her onto this path, she sees Pompey as his involvement in Department schemes. However, revising the office rumor, Pompey describes an instance when Chancre calls him into his office and asks him if he needs money. In addition, Chancre questions whether or not Pompey knows about his
61 friendship with Johnny Shush, a known mob boss. Pompey admits hearing rumors and agrees to a bribe. Realizing he can do so anonymously, he makes sure red coded cronies. When Lila Mae scolds him for not keeping his oath, Pompey delivers a diatribe about the socioeconomic co nditions he faces: [sold] but some other poison. wife and two (194 ) As explained in the passage, Pompey uses the decline of his neighborhood and the safety of his family to justify his choices. Speaking to the lack of opportunity available in demoralized urban areas, Pompey argues that it results from the industrial sc ramble for profit, which drains communities like his of economic prospects. Thus, for Pompey, the postmodern era to come, which legitimizes cultural difference, does not hold out much hope for his sons even though he himself has gained access to white col lar work. Unable to imagine maneuvering (of his own volition) beyond the influence of elite bribery, Pompey forfeits his agency. the distinctions between their communiti es. When she spies on Pompey outside his tenement, she takes stock of his neighborhood and family, realizing he lives only two street she [Lila Mae] is anonymous; the Ca ribbean immigrants share a code, a broad
62 ng their less sanitized behavior indoors. In contrast, Pompey remarks on his neighbors, whose ill habits spill out into the community. These contrasting areas, though only two blocks apart, make apparent the work of marketers and real estate agents intent on profiting from the contrast between two black groups. Because pro growth developers understand that African Americans and Caribbean blacks both occupy the space between immigrant and second class citizenship in America, they not only prey upon the optimism of those seeking a better drug culture in which African Americans become scapegoats and pawns. The real power brokers maintain their criminal enterprises by decimating communities that suffer from a dearth of economic resources. As Lila Mae ends her conversation with Pompey, an with a wooden cane, on his interminable progress up the street last positive remnants of the neighborhood in the saunter of an elderly man. In doing so, he comes down impediments originating inside or outside black communities. Even in postmodernity, those willing to find new definitions of progress and those willing to locate new routes to achieve th is progress can thrive. controversy highlights questions of race consciousness in The Intuitionist A strong arm industrial consultant for Arbo Elevators, Inc., Natchez acts very much as a trickster. Surreptitiously installed as a butler at Intuitionist House (the company residence),
63 Natchez curries favor with Lila Mae through kindness. Lila Mae could use a friend, Natchez determines, as his feigned concern makes him appear an ally. Tr ailing behind white, and affirms that the black box does exist and that he sho uld reclaim it for African need to take it back. What he made, this elevator, pure to Lila Mae because it resonates with the ambition that animates her search for the black box. and for you to get what belongs to She frames her budding relationship with Natchez as similar to her social leave her alone. And now look at her: she let the city down last Friday, was remiss in that the city (Natchez, the Department, etc.) meet her neutrality with the sam e
64 detachment. Yet the industry very much acts in its own interest, treating her as a subject acted upon, rather than as an actor. Ultimately, Lift magazine journalist Ben Urich, who penned an article announcing that searchers were close to finding Fulton black box, gives Lila Mae the run down about the political machinery of the elevator er man Intuitionism or Empiricism? No one really give a crap about that. Arbo and (208). After Urich exposes Natchez as a corporate spy to Lila Mae, she visits him at Arbo Headquarters. Acting as what W. Lawrence Hogue describes as a postmodern subject, 10 Coombs le nds his fidelity to the enterprise end of things, not the political. He spies on his back at them. For what they did to my uncle that messed up his head. For what they d necessitates that one manufacture his or her own struggle. 10 Race, Modernity, Postmodernity posits an accurate description for Raymond Coombs character.
65 punished by gold suspenders corpo rate creation as opposed to the coarse fabrics of has morphed from southern drawl to northern finishing speaks like a colored man from the So uth. Like Natchez. Nor is his face the same as it re integrated. Let two in, you got a race war as they try to kiss cloaks the implications of racial progress, which fuel her ambition. Lila Mae at times give short shr ift to cultural concerns; she believes that putting forth her best efforts on the job and navigating her way around race will protect her from them. However, diligence, demonstrated by her perfect inspection record, makes her a target for the wiles of the political and industrial elite. job. Coombs has agency as a Special Projects Executive. He has no interest in keeping his hands clean or paving the Though Coombs himself has a family, the novel sugge sts that he enjoys luxury. To enjoyment of an executive post. When Lila Mae observes a photograph of his family on his desk, Coombs identifies his wife by her occupation al pedigree as a registered nurse,
66 indicating his career obsession and his distance from a more sentimental attachment to Coombs rebuffs what he reads as the unproductive distraction blacks impose on themselves when seeking the acknowledgement of black achievement from whites. that level. The level of commerce. They can put Fulton into one of those colored history calendars if they want located outside Arbo headquarters. The proverbial racial rat race as it manifests in the corporate world involves the putting on display (oth ering) of tokens and firsters for repetitive glances, while the Department stultifies the agency of these workers. Lila Mae demonstrates an acknowledgement of her condition when she decides against adding another piece, the Arbo Excelsior, to the menageri e outside. postmodern framework for underprivileged workers. Perry Anderson writes in The Origins of P ostmodernity because of its selective definitions of reality (64). Whi le the notion of the residual in postmodern discourse often relegates blacks to
67 re search and philosophical development represent his struggle for minority justice and against the assumptions of dominant culture. Therefore, from the beginning, Whitehead has Fulton write against the inherently sha Grave Otis (the founder of Empiricism). unobvious solution that is also the perfec theories upon his social reality. As a child, he dreams of places and racial conditions projections and therefore misreads the describes does not exist. There will be no redemption because the men who run this nor transcendence he knows he can never find. In a metaphor for elevation, he offers a 11 in an ieth floor], everything is air and the difference between you and the medium of your passage is disintegrating with every in the way he approaches life. This complex notion of striving embedded in Intuitionism, 11 Invisible Man The ability to escape punishment for the crime of incest. In a similar vein, Fulton wants to move unfettered by race in the elevator industry, which he implies through an extended metaphor about elevators.
68 which absolves its devotees of the burdensome responsibility of struggling against all racial odds, piques Lila Mae at her core. h Engineering one day, eighteen years old, slow of speech, tentative, and proceeded to at but Fulton later informs Mrs. Rogers. Though maintaining business as usual at home, 12 drastically changes, often in violent outbursts toward his c new he was coming that night when their mother came home torn. She says she knew by their trocity and his own anxieties about racial difference as a child, when an old black man in a of his whiteness. tual to trickster from Mrs. Rogers, we get a posthumous glimpse of a man who has suppressed the deeply painful 12 Writing Tricksters identity, as a mythic trope for the postmodern (16).
69 will live on through Lila Mae. Mrs. Rogers recalls developed a critique of the insular, sight based tenets of white supremacy, turned that premise on its head and then disseminated his theories as more favorable to industrial these are his words preoccupied with appearance and with manipulating those appearances to their advantage. Intuitionism subverts the one sidedness of such a gaze within bureaucracies by locating truth in sociocultural nuances, which those who prefer only to look within their own purview cannot see. Revising Cultural Conceptions of Progress The phras she comes into self awareness, bears considerable significance. This description comes to mean a woman driven by hard work, ambition, and justice in a corrupt metropolis, in which men vie for dominance and women occupy a marginal position. her idea of success and to access entitlements typically granted men in the space of patriarchal dominance. L travel North all culminate in her becoming the first black female elevator inspector. Still, enthralled by but a lso duped by an industry that showcases minority workers for political
70 gain. In this context, Lila Mae achieves something weighted with symbolic value. She black community will no doubt reward her with positive affirmations. But she must rethink the idea that her job post represents a moment of transcendence. Rogers. Mrs. Rogers invites Lila Ma uestioning and on toeing the line from one conformist move to the next, she gets embroiled into to strike her own path and develop a sense of self, untainted by bureaucratic aims or unquestioned cultural directives. tenuous self assurance. When giving her credentials, Lila Mae reveals that she attended the Institute of Vertical Technology and con
71 The badge that she fondles in her pocket quickly becomes a superficial symbol of conformity. Her IVT credentials do not hold sway with Mrs. Rogers. The narrator likes of Mr. Reed write her destiny and then discard h er after she completes their opted it. Mae desires more than just clearing her name or finding the black box she now rs. Rogers. Mrs. ops a new literacy Becoming more self aware, Lila Mae sees the elevator industry from the vantage of both laborer and power structure. Interestingly, as Mrs. Rogers relat es this story to Lila Mae, she retrieves the pieces of her porcelain horse collection, damaged in a recent break collection beyond repair, she cannot restack them on the mantle.
72 merely serving the industrial machine. Refusing such a simplistic notion of success and engaging a postmodern alternative, Whitehead uses Lil On the other side of her conversation with Mrs. Rogers, Lila Mae undergoes a kind of transformation. To fully understand the unraveling of cultural co nceptions of progress in The Intuitionist protagonist develops from a by the book technician into a complex character that questions her fidelity to the elevator industry and Intuitionism. She also matures as a student; from one dependent on the ideas of her predecessors into one confident enough to formulate her own truths. Lila Mae no longer views progress as dedication to an industry or a cultural narrative. By becoming self aware an d realizing a postmodern perspective, Lila Mae turns the tables on her ideas of transcendence, emerging as the puppet master of a corrupt industry and political system. She sees herself as gearing up for the postmodern city to come. Over the course of he she was a citizen of the city to come and that the frail devices she had devoted her life a critical framewo works. Lila Mae has asserted her right as an individual to create the world around her opposite the will of industry magnates. Though Lila Mae starts from a very limited imagination, W hitehead charges her
73 first, Lila Mae rejects the notion that the black box will change the way the world looks at elevators. Questioning what the perfect elevator would make it real. The black box is the elevator Volume One of Theoretical Elevators on her own terms. ibility of second elevation as the redemptive key to postmodernity. For Lila Mae, the second elevation (a key concept in Intuitionism) will prove useful in negotiating the coming postmodern era because it has to do with the complexities of African America n mobility. Lila Mae intuits that workplace racial integration, in and of itself, will not enable African Americans to become elevator citizens (or upwardly mobile individuals) of the world though this mobility comes with challenges. As Dubey notes in he epistemological standpoint likely to be most appealing to those who suffer most from the Intuitionist philosophy, in th at it metaphorically links black progress with achieving a postmodern America. Volume Two and with the crux of his ideas. At ext
74 the Briggs elevator incident with the discovery that Fulton passed for white, she asks, quip this type of fluidity in postmodernity. In this passage, Lila Mae brings her understanding down to the reality of the compromised agency of black workers, and in an epiphany, decides critique of Empiricism. Those who take the industry at face value cannot ascertain the structures of power behind the elevator companies. As a result, they find themselves in a futile search for success. Lila Mae, in a postmodern revision of her idea of progress, now looks beyond the overreliance on either the obvious or the abstract. Comprehending the ways in which whites co opt black agency and thwart true self determination, Lila Mae discerns the ways in which she, though disconnected from the seats of power, perpetuated the status quo. Reflecting on a lesson she learns from Pompey, she thinks: Pompey gave ] How eager they would be for a piece of the dream that they would do anything for massa. She hated her place in their world, where she fell in their order of things, and blamed Pompey, her shucking shadow in the office. She could not see him anymore tha
75 Now she sees Pompey as more than just a jaded worker. Squaring her growth this hatred of himself; she hated something in he rself and she took it out on Pompey. Now she could see Fulton for what he was. There was no way he believed in transcendent viewpoint, Lila Mae opts for signification. After recei Theoretical Elevators Volume Three from Rogers, she dupes Coombs, Chancre, and Ben Urich and box. Isolating herself in an undisclosed location, L ila Mae plays upon the elevator and steers the economic and political machine as puppet master of the elevator industry. In The Intuitionist Lila Mae rejects neutrality for an anonymity that restores her agency. The uncertainty she experienc es in her modern environment both compels adaptation and challenges the hegemonic domination of the elevator industry. workplace and illustrating the sociopolitical tensions that arise among those who occupy the precarious positions of token and Negro firster and must re appropriate the she revises her conceptions of progress, which in her case, de fine success as earning a formal education, leaving behind her southern community, and obtaining a coveted
76 ambition winds up tethered to the calculating agendas of the powerfu l, rendering African American self efficacy moot. marginalized within the system. In Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society All too often, postmodernism involves a different form of reduction a reduction to complete fragmentation or fluidity in which any African American experience to a sign ificant level of political importance in the novel. Specifically, The Intuitionist portrays the sociocultural endeavors of black workers and the dominant political apparatus on an even keel in terms of the ebb and flow of autonomy. Moreover, he avoids gl ossing over the uphill battle black characters in the novel face, particularly with their own modern assumptions. Beginning with Lila Mae, prior to her awakening, she thought of the new citizens tipped martini glasses and stroked silver cigarette cases engraved with their initials and called the bartender by his black box with what Urich mentions in his broad base d understanding of the status quo of corporations, financing campaigns, and the modern elevator enterprise. Whitehead links characters like Pompey, Natchez, and even Fulton to modern individualism, each dispirited in their own way, while he deems intuitio n a prime quality of those new (or
77 ng interrupted at his paperwork shell glasses the pages of a book. He knows the other wo rld he describes does not exist. There will be no redemption because the men who run this place do not want redemption. They for completely rejecting all she knows. With a line scribbled in the margins of his Lila Mae Watson is the one exist, Lila Mae would spearhea d its construction. Ultimately, Lila Mae co opts the othering process to which the elevator industry simple. Communication with what is not e, Lila Mae recalls attending church with her parents as a child and then no longer attending when she comes North. Yet she does not reduce religion to something useless but re imagines it the end, we see Lila Mae achieve balance between fragmentation and fluidity. She manipulates the industry status quo and city officials alike with her intuition. The Intuitionist probes modern notions of rationality, hum anism, and black progress that stall self determination. The text moves in opposition to modern discourse with a postmodern evaluation of black ideas of success and survival within industrial capitalism. Whitehead implements a revisionist stance to long held assumptions of cultural sacrifice and respectability by introducing self awareness
78 among social climbing black workers. Lastly, The Intuitionist concerns itself with difference in a system that thwarts a true fluidity of viewpoint s and co opts opposing ideas. While the novel tests the mettle of black integrative progress, it launches a postmodern investigation of both the cultural and socioeconomic quandary of African Americans experience in modern and contemporary industry.
79 CHAPTER 3 RESTLESS QUESTIONING : PSYCHOLOGICAL ANGST MERIDIAN In her 1998 study Psychoanalysis and Black Novels Claudia Tate uses psychoanalysis to investigate the multiple ways African American literature textualizes collect ive) racial discourse. In turn, literary criticism represses these desires by freighting the subjectivity of black authors with the weight of US racial history even as they try to affirm personal experiences. Not seeking to psychoanalyze authors, Tate in cultural circu mstances as well as personal authorial longings conscious and advance a reading of novels premised upon psychological anguish. Significantly, the emphasis on psychological anguish in African American literature shows up as writers illustrate diverging vantage points on historical moments. Because postmodernity problematizes issues like desire itself, writers can hone in on the emotional and the psychological forces that hav e always attended historical contestation. This chapter looks at the representation of psychological angst in African Meridian Authors deploy this phenomenon to imagine the gut wrenching nature of resistance to the status quo and how this preps individuals for postmodern conditions. At its core, this
80 observation not only clarifies the dismissal of individual concerns by figureheads privileging a given agenda but also illuminates the angui sh visited upon those voluntarily bearing this burden. Writers portray protagonists as beset not only by their respective communities and society but also by their personal convictions. Along with her contemporaries Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, and Gloria Naylor, Walker brings an informed perspective on the emotional and spiritual strivings of black women. Out of their sharing of thematic inter ests, incorporation of agrarian folk elements, and emphasis on thwarted female energies, 1 No doubt including Marjorie Pryse, Debra Walker King, Houston Baker, and Susan Willis have written about her effect on African Ame rican literary studies and theory. 2 alongside lite rary criticism, as her work complicates disciplinary boundaries. For 1 In Black Feminist Cultural Criticism Jacqueline Bobo considers the creativity of black women and emphasizes the merits of analyzing the artistic output of black women, according to its historical and political dimensions, etc., in academic contexts. The editors of Still Brave: The Evolution of Black pay homage to the development a history, art history, sociology, and literary studies to acknowledge and seriously address the inte 2 Through the positing of a cultural spirit; the establishment of a historically symbolic grammar of folk cultural terms; the articulation of a return to communal consciousness and language; and the affirmation of a folk cultural and spiritual matrix that resists the interests of domination, Walker fiction resonates broadly Conjuring, Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition Deep Talk: Reading African American Literary Names Workings of the Spirit ; and Susan Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experience some way
81 configurations and cultural contexts. Similarly, Melvin Dixon in Ride Out the Wilderness the North and the South and concern with land and identity. lify her notion of a womanist 3 view, and her concern for spiritual, cultural, and psychological angst, among women and men. In this way, she thi nks through the road to self awareness and links this dynamic to history. Contemplating several challenges African Americans have faced throughout American The Color Purple examines the post Civil War/Reconstruction period, Meridian crit iques the Civil Rights Movement, and Temple of My Familiar connects ancient history and African cosmology with late twentieth century life. For the purposes of my argument, I focus on Meridian 4 The novel portrays a revolutionary consciousness that would be ideal in a postmodern context. Furthermore, I find Meridian relevant to my readin g of the personal adjustments to culture and society, which individuals must make projects and do not portray the facing off against oppressive structures. My argumen t diverges from the aforementioned observations by homing in on political and institutional repression while simultaneously delving into the structures of mainstream America and their impact on racial minorities. I argue that Walker, in 3 Walker coins this term, which she sees as more germane to the challenges black women face, as distinguished from white feminist perspectives, in her collection and to outrageous, audacious, courageous or will survival and wholeness of entire people, male and 4
82 Meridian performs a postmodern interrogation of the alienating nature of Civil Rights Movement leadership wherein activists find their individual convictions eclipsed by the group agenda. In complicating the status quo, Walker considers the Movement from domineering institutions. Ultimately, the individual autonomy that sparks postmodern change opens up new possibilities for realizing those convictions. The Proto cols of Psychological Angst In Reconstructing Womanhood (1987) tradition established a strong foundation from which to explore psychology in black the fluid historical reality behind black black women intellectuals within the soc of psychological anguish hinges on the representation of social and political proscription as organically spare rat her than elaborate, ascetic rather than lush, a process of Everyday Use: Alice Walker 124). This thought moments that have had las ting effects both within black communities and on the collective conscious of America. Likewise, her fiction captures the effect of black necessarily but causes mental labor and ambivalence. Novels about psychological angst demonstrate how the emotional and spiritual undercurrents of race inform social reality. In addition, they articulate the mental
83 weightiness of postmodern experience. As a characteristic, such texts feature interiority in a way that sees the individual beleaguered by political and educational institutions. These works often deploy what comes across as overindulgence in psychological unease or as extended self confrontation. In either case, African American writers that deploy these tactics enter into an ongoing cultural conflict brought on by an inattention to the strivings of black individuals. While a reading of psychological and emotional labor appears to privilege interiority over harsher exterior concerns like material deprivation, contemporary writers do not take the former without equitable attention to the latter. Because the legacy of black struggle speaks to confrontation in American history, literature presu pposes a a keen eye for the historical realities and racial politics depicted in her work, through which she has written herself into the ranks among foremost America n writers. In postmodern times, African American women and men find themselves ever mindful of the legacy of Civil Rights but also aware of their vulnerabilities to economic and cultural alienation in a global era. Novels about psychological angst engage issues such as displacement, education, and late capitalism/market competition. As authors bring nagging notions of civil rights activism. By angling the lens to show a different perspective, even in fiction, writers can make the personal political in a deeper sense of contemporary striving. But the volatility that emerges leans less toward reconciliation than toward a fragmentation, which authors prefer to the obscuri ng of black psychological anguish.
84 intraracial tradition in Meridian we see her elaboration on a milieu that becomes oppressive to young activists. The emphasis on the black psyche that has cha racterized African American literature since the 1970s has earned political import. Gene Andrew Jarrett examines representation in African American literary history has con sistently endeavored to Representing the Race 6). One literary tool has been narrative representation, which make readers question their own attitudes about race and promotes social action. Sociologist Robert Washington, in T he Ideologies of African American Literature acknowledges the impact of African American literature on American race relations and black communities. Yet he concerns himself with the fact that mainstream ideological forces that shaped dominant literary w orks may have dominant ideologies. Discussing postmodernism, Lyotard describes this process as atives about modernity that exclude the perspectives of marginalized groups (xxiv). Walker follows structures in Meridian Just as the literary and social spheres exp erienced ideological battles, in the wake of white racial backlash in the South and North during the fifties and sixties, the public The Modern Presidency and Civil Righ ts evaluates presidential rhetoric on racial crisis. Throughout the early twentieth century, segregation forced the intervention of Dwight
85 Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Their respective national addresses described racial has no doubt grown accustomed to a healthy skepticism toward the motivations and efforts of any leadership. James Ideal Citizens: The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement looks at recent misconceptions about civil rights activists. While several movements centered on student politics, race, and, gender sprang up amid the As an accounting of the social agendas in black communities must include some attention to history, black literary criticism looks at the politics of writing h istorical narratives. Keith Byerman that they tell of both tremendous loss and survival; they describe the psychological and social effects of suffering. More important, perhaps, they tell of the erasure of such recovery, which compels a reading of the stories of those lives ecli psed by repression. Even in fictive representations, Byerman does insert a caveat about the difficulties of ascribing therapeutic possibilities to postmodern literature. Meridian demands that it be taken as serious literature by complicating our understa nding of a historical movement. In particular, Meridian and highlights the ways individual autonomy can rebuff rigid practices. Moreover,
86 status quo in university, state, and national politics at large. Meridian : In Meridian I started out being really concerned about some of the things people did to each other in the sixties, in the name of change, in the name of revolution. I wanted to see what qualities we were giving up in exchange for other qualities. Somehow part of it really understands the questions, n ot just understands the answers. (14) If the novel gives attention to questions arising out of revolution, then it must pose answers that complicate ideas about revolution. Nearly twenty years earlier, Karen Stein in h Meridian Rights Movement in 1967 changed in her writing of Meridian to favor spiritual transformation and psychological stability over militant resistance. The gendering of the emotional commitment made by civil rights activists as feminine unfolds in fiction and then becomes more nuanced in social science research. For example, Evelyn White suggests that one of Meridian was that of black women who had given their lifeblood to the movement only to be burdens borne by women during this era but also th e nuances of their marginal leadership. Twenty years after the Movement, a core of ideals surfaces in Anne hindsight of black women activists. They identify the Movement with
87 y black women and maintained by their sacrifice and development in contemporary times. Apathy and Postmodern Resistance In Meridian Walker underscores fidelity to the cause of social justice in black com munities affected by the status quo of American racial injustice during the 1960s. The novel explores the life of its eponymous protagonist Meridian Hill, a precocious southern youth, and her colleague Truman Held, 5 an e mbattled artist and activist. Quiet and unassuming, Meridian gets whisked into adult life and marriage after becoming pregnant by a high school lover. At 17 years of age, she marries her lover at the behest of her mother, drops out of high school, and as sumes the role of wife and mother, though unprepared for either. At first oblivious to the racial politics that surround her Georgia home, Meridian matures into a socially conscious activist and commits to the Civil Rights Movement. From there, she atten ds college and develops fainting spells that result in both psychological and political awakening. By her side stands Truman, who becomes a brief lover, and, though vigilant in the freedom struggle as well, indulges his bourgeois values. He later becomes jaded over racial animus within the Movement. Their lives fragment in multiple ways and intersect a relationship with Truman to interactions with a cadre of militant r evolutionaries, and then to a relentless squaring off against the political agendas of figureheads, which diminish black ambition. The fragmentation of black freedom movements, the rise of 5 penchant for casting othering her male characters and making them brutal. Kelly sees Walker moving away from this trend in Meridian and entertaining wholeness and healing for all.
88 the black middle class, and the changes in politics and race relat ions during the 1960s all bring about sociopolitical alienation and apathy. The lives of Meridian and Truman reflect the tectonic shifts that precipitate a postmodern American society. In an early chapter containing an epigraph of assassinated revolutio naries from commenting on the 1960s and the onset of postmodernity: It was a decade marked by death. Violent and inevitable. Funerals became engraved on the brain, intensifying t he ephemeral nature of life. For many in the South it was a decade reminiscent of earlier times, when oak trees sighed over their burdens in the wind; Spanish moss draggled bloody to the ground; amen corners creaked with grief; and the thrill of being able once again, to endure unendurable loss produced so profound an ecstasy in mourners that they strutted, without noticing their feet, along the thin backs of benches: their piercing shouts of anguish and joy never interrupted by an inglorious fall. They s hared rituals for the dead to be remembered. But now television became the repository of memory, and each onlooker grieved alone. (21) This passage headlines a chapter that features Anne Marion and Meridian in the honors house watching a televised broadca tragedy now modulated by a shift in th e sense of group solidarity. The absence of solidarity mentioned in the final line does not only signal a bygone era that we should bemoan, but it directs our attention to the onlooker that grieves for the fallen. Throughout the novel, Walker begins posi ting conscious individuality as an option in the midst of postmodern conditions. glimpses of the postmodern era we see throughout Meridian Walker views civil rights conditions as indexed by the struggles not of affluent movement figureheads but of
89 minor participants determined to support causes for freedom in the most personal ways. Suffocating leadership acts as the nemesis of the individual in Meridian It seeks to silence wome n, quell deep intellectual and emotional energy and demand solidarity. Within this dynamic, sacrificing oneself for the Movement becomes the order of the day, yet the novel challenges this trend. Discussing 1960s radical politics and the postmodern, Mari anne DeKoven in Utopia Limited bility to conceive of the Movement not as a monolith but as a program rife demonstrate the postmodern when they go against the tenets held by staid leadership, when the y impose on themselves the responsibility of changing society for the better, particular, involves the voluntary imposition of psychological burdens upon herself for the cause of revolution. Throughout the novel, Meridian demonstrates political nuance, but as she matures her life illustrates the mutability of postmodern conditions. She operates according to ot to seek any total vision. It merely questions. If it finds such a vision, it questions how, in fact, it made ambivalence, Meridian she survives by questioning her life. When her queries alienate her from loved ones, she must stand fast on self awareness. Ultimately, Meridian experiences renewal in the midst of the disabling trauma of her life.
90 Very much the nonlinear novel, Walker utilizes innovation in Meridian by fea turing temporal shifts and placing readers in medias res. Describing this postmodern sense of in The Condition of Postmodernity offers an interesting framework for ex amining the Meridian portrays the moral dilemmas that civil rights activists faced. In discussing postmodern ethics, Zygmunt Bauman describes a whereby postmodernity trades out the burden of ethical The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism observes the politi cs behind revolutionary movements. He describes a in a world in which crisis and emergency are not discrete moments but a universal resistance. Neither critic can view this issue as positive in the political or cultural sense. environment that relishes its ab sence, her protagonist must come to terms with and act on her own convictions. insight on the analysis of history, which bears significance for what Walker achieves in Meridian I embedded history in contemporary society (34). As a character, Meridian embodies this critica l approach in her willingness to analyze, dispense with, and adapt to the endless
91 variety of traditions, movements, and agendas against which she struggles. In this way, she can wade through the stultifying structures of postmodern society. In observing the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on budding revolutionaries to revolu tionary aims, capturing the depth of individual restlessness and the toll it exacts. Her fiction explores the conflict between politics, education, and society through w ith that of the Movement. But Meridian must mature politically and emotionally. As she advocates for the ideals of the movement (voting rights, nonviolence, demonstrations, etc.), she begins to look at the freedom struggle from a different vantage, quest ioning its effectiveness. As Walker takes as its backdrop the nonviolent protests and voting rights efforts of the 1960s, her protagonist takes revolutionary ideals to task. Writers like Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor often imbue their female character s with nonconformist sensibilities. Walker as well works with themes centered on issues of womanism that include an examination of patriarchal culture and the struggles of coming of age youth. Meridian must cope on multiple ideological fronts, in the are nas of Saxon College, the Atlanta Movement, and rural southern communities. These experiences act as a blessing for her helping her come to terms with the freedom struggle while at the same time navigating the tensions that grow out of it. In addition, c onsidering the implications of revolutionary black womanhood, Walker situates her protagonist in a male dominated movement, and has her champion those revolutionary values long after her counterparts abandon the struggle. Not only does Meridian combat the existential
92 threat of judgment and co optation as an educated black woman and activist but also she manages the fragmentation of her psyche by coming to terms with her own ambivalence. Meridian ains, Meridian can be read as an attempt to mend the ruptures and reconstruct an alternative black tradition from its contemporary American artifacts. The novel conducts Meridia n Walker signifies on the many unnamed activists, volunteers, and grassroots efforts for enfranchisement and freedom by engaging the often unarticulated psychological angst sh champions the individuality of workers participating in a broad based movement. Individuals leave behind institutional and cultural spaces for the purpose of realizing their autonomy. Whereas we tout heterogeneity as a given in the postmodern era, ded icated individuals maintained, throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the ongoing Meridian does not take this struggle for granted. Rather, it criticizes the idea that unquestioned solida rity remains essential in social movements. The novel suggests that when it comes to interfacing with dominant institutions, any movement would benefit from intellectual nuance among its members. Meridian disperses protest movements throughout local com munities and makes them infectious. The violence enacted against these entities initiates an eye opening moment for Meridian. She typically lives in a fog of unconcern. Nonetheless, Meridian one day saunters through her neighborhood and passes a black f
93 she sees white people milling about. When she makes it home, the television reports that a voter registration drive will begin at that particular house and move throughout the neighborhood. The following morning the news mentioned tha t the house along with insertion of this event calls to mind the racially motivated 1963 bombing of the 16 th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which resulte d in the death of four black girls. This experience stirs an emotional and psychological response in Meridian a that one day in the middle of April in 1960 Meridi an Hill became aware of the past and or not the people at the voting house know something she does not. effect upon her consciousness. Afterwards, she takes her son to her mother in her bedroom window, reflecting on her life. Meridian undergoes one of several transformations here: At first it was like falling back into a time that never was, a time of complete rest, like a faint. Here senses were stopped, while her body rested; only in her head did she feel something, and it was a sensation of lightness a lightness like the inside of a drum. The air inside her head was pure of thought, at first. For hours she sat by the window looking out, but not seeing the pecan trees bending in the wind, or the blue clouded sky, or the grass. (71) Seeking pureness of thought or expecting she wi ll find such a thing proves futile. She does however wade through ignorance to emerge more conscious of her own circumstances. Meridian reckons with the responsibilities of motherhood, thinks beyond the burdensome nature of marriage, and recognizes a fut ure for herself that has heretofore been absent. With this sensibility, she ventures beyond her usual confines.
94 For Walker, the space of black protest into which Meridian enters affords her more mindfulness. Meridian shifts from lacking purpose to volun teering in the neighborhood voter registration drive. In her newfound motivation, Meridian empowers others with voting rights and political action in her own community. The black townspeople commend Meridian for erates to read and write, demonstrating against segregated facilities and keeping the Movement house open when the other workers identified with Native Americans and the ir marginalization and providing land reparation for the wrongs perpetrated against them. However, her mother does not share their sentiment and feels that Meridian is wasting her life. Beyond denigrating civil rights protestors, Mrs. Hill accepts the in fallibility of every institution around her and resigns herself to an apolitical life. Nonetheless, while the community celebrates the volunteers nor the psychologic al trauma visited upon those that give not only their bodies to the movement but also their emotions. Meridian recalls inviting a young woman named Anne to join in a demonstration. Anne gets separated from her during a lunch counter demonstration. After the police officers arrest them, Meridian can hear imagine she did, and the screams became an accompaniment of the guilt already The Movement constitutes another system with its own bureaucracy, which alienates Meridian and other volunteers. This system encourages revolutionary practice
95 exemplifies the distanc e between the leadership and the workers. The strategy dictates that every volunteer not previously arrested in another protest should face off against the police so the early demonstrators will get released. The top down politics deployed by Movement fi gureheads concerns the workers closest to the violence and subsumes the concerns of the protestors. Though cathartic in a number of ways for Meridian, the Movement compounds her personal challenges and spills over into her education. After graduating fr om Saxon College, Meridian has no intention of leading a life of bourgeois values but identifies wholly with the disenfranchised. Perhaps in writing a postmodern interrogation of mid twentieth century civil rights struggles, Walker creates a condition for her protagonist Walker posits the possibility that Meridian can draw from the wealth of critical knowledge available in the arena of civil rights and higher education to begin informing her own politics and following that path with conviction. Women and the Movement Walker careful women, including those whose circumstances the Movement does not address on the proverbial agenda. Through Meridian, the novel challenges dehumanizing practices against women by allowin rights energy to bear on campus. Meridian has several experiences involving female tragedy, both on campus and while canvassing voters, which taken together, catalyze the paralyzing illne ss she later experiences. The Wild Child, a homeless young black
96 girl, ends up pregnant, and gets killed by a speeding driver. Meridian also learns of the tales of Louvinie and Fast Mary. Louvinie, an enslaved West African has her tongue cut out for tel problem) to death. Fast Mary concealed her pregnancy out of shame, murders her baby, and commits suicide three months later. For Meridian, these events converged at the site of The Sojourner, a large magnolia tree at the center of campus, where students funeral in the campus chapel. While the novel southern patriarchal ethos rehearses seve critique such practices. Walker reacts against this entire system by creating an environment in which Meridian neither takes up the weaker sex role nor the mule of the world m antle state pardoned murder on the part of her cuckolded husband who shoots her lo ver and at harnessing these atrocities but also forcing patriarchal authority to own them. sists the diminishment of issues important to her. Meridian tweaks the philosophies of Miss Winter and Anne Marion, two influential people in her life, to cultivate her own struggle for freedom. Miss Winter grew up in the same community as Meridian, gra duated from Saxon College herself, and acts as a contrarian figure that at first has to purge her feelings of
97 no longer being the only person from her town to attain such a pedigree. While the text does not speak specifically to her involvement in any aux iliary of the Civil Rights politics when she teaches Meridian both in high school and at Saxon College. In the former, when Meridian objects to reciting a speech on the v irtues of the Constitution, she reassures her reservations. In the latter, she visits Meridian when she falls ill at in college. One of three black faculty members on campus, Miss Winter has a misfit reputation on campus, teaches jazz, spirituals, and bl ues in her classes and stands In contrast, Meridian chooses to work outside the bureaucratic main. She has a penchant for purpose and not distinction. Like Miss Winter, Meridian no longer needs to attach herself to the Movement to impact others. She moves away from a collective politics to leverage the institutional impact of Saxon College and the Atlanta Movement in demystifying the centers of power for the disenfranchised. Marion has a militant ame falls ill, Anne Marion severs ties with her and the Atlanta Movement, eventually taking up with a group called the New York Revolutionaries. In a meeting with the rev olutionaries, Anne for the movement), and Meridian never affirms that she will. Ultimately, Anne Marion becomes a well known poet and enjoys the luxuries that her writing affords. Evi dently,
98 Anne Anne ning. When reflecting on her encounter with Anne inability to kill anyone and deems herself a failure in terms of Anne revolutionary. Ten years later, Meridian retains the notes and letters she rec eived from Anne weak and lacking priorities. In considering her own priorities, Anne Marion rejects the notion that she should leave a violent enough impact that would thru st the black poor while others agonize over the toll the Movement has taken on them, she imagines that she will rise up singing the freedom songs that have held black c ommunities together for generations. Even in this imagery, Meridian chooses to situate herself as the vessel American communities in postmodernity. The Man Question In Meridian relationship to the Movement. Truman acts a counterpoint to characters like Meridian. Walker situates him in disparate envi ronments: the South and the North, international sites like Paris, Saxon College, and the Atlanta and Mississippi Movements to highlight the ways Truman comes to critique larger society and his own place in the freedom struggle. In considering Truman Held readers may pose a couple questions: How does he practice revolution? What are his politics, as it concerns his art? and How does
99 Movement, while requiring work, aff ords him the spoils of bourgeois life. In addition, he has the benefit of a well to do black father. Jonathan Arac, in Postmodernism and Politics weighs in on the possibility of developing intellectual and social practices that cut against the ideologie society continues to subordinate women, however good it may be, it is hardly irrelevant to the problems of the o Truman in his own right might view himself as progressive, in that his acculturation includes not only higher education (he attends R. Baron College) but also a commitment to activism. Unlike M eridian, whose revolutionary practice leads to withdrawal from bourgeois pleasures and fraternization, Truman takes advantage. For example, he has a short lived and sporadic relationship with Meridian which ends in her pregnancy. She never tells Truman f general beside him. He did not want a woman who tried, however encumbered by hedonism impedes his activism. Preoccupied and philandering with three white what I believe cannot does it for reasons of agency and because of the taboo ideas about interracial sex When Truman finally confronts his demons, he works at a coun try club and subjects himself to the condescending remarks of wealthy whites. Truman complains that he
100 (117). Because he cannot enjoy the pleasures the country club members lord over him, Truman consumes himself with attaining dominance in the spaces of the Atlanta Movement and Saxon College. Walker initiates a clash between the Movement and Truman due to his interracial relationship with a white Jewish exchange s tudent, Lynne Rabinowitz. Truman ultimately marries her, and together they experience the clash of two cultural identities during their time in the South. The two settle in Mississippi, where for the first time he has to deal with backlash over his inter racial relationship. Though phenotypically white, from white society. After an incident in which fellow activist Tommy Odds because of racial backlash against the Moveme nt, he and Truman argue when Tommy blames considers the way race has factored into the mistreatment of black individuals. For Truman, blacks bear the burden of their skin color and all its negative associations in shooting incident in the realm of the taboo of black and white relations and the purported protection of white womanhood by whit e men, which characterized racial terrorism throughout much of American history. When serving in the Mississippi Movement, Truman and Lynne witness the closing of ranks and discrimination as the Movement grows. Truman notices the fear Lynne engenders am ong the young men at their first meeting. But despite her whiteness, the
101 liking was coming into being, the Movement itself was changing. Lynne was no longer welcome a t any of the meetings. She was excluded from the marches. She was no his wife, they ostracize him for his attachment to her and insist that he not discuss informa tion with her. After this incident, Truman finds it impossible to operate in the leadership capacity to which he feels entitled nor can he any longer marshal the agendas of the Movement to his advantage as do his colleagues. Unable to adopt a postmodern sense of the value of cultural difference, Truman estranges himself from Lynne and moves to New York. Ultimately, he retreats into the arts. He paints a mural of the struggle for the Atlanta Movement and then begins exclusively painting and sculpting fi gures of black women. Whereas he once decries saying those things, at least out loud. It was as if the voluptuous black bodies, with breasts like melons and hair like a crow n of thorns, reached out creatures of his own creation does not follow that his art represents a kind of aesthetic recuperation of his earlier activism. In an encounter with Meridi an during which time he chides her for thinking too much about the revolution, Truman asks Do you realize no one is thinking about these things any more? Revolution was the theme of the sixties: Medgar, Malcolm, George, Angela Davis, the Panthers, people b lowing up buildings and each other. But all that is gone now. I am myself, making a statue of Crispus Attucks for the Bicentennial. illegal immigrants from the West Indies who ado re America just the way it is. (206) historical reference, his statement captures the arrival of postmodernity in America,
102 which hinges on difference and militates again st the denial of cultural pluralism. In fetishize even the most potent resi stance struggles, a problematic feature of late capitalism. Though some spark remains, Truman has no desire to recover the freedom struggle but appears to have taken the capitalist route as has Anne Marion. To move beyond the state of resignation in whic h he finds himself, he will need to champion his ambivalence over the same matters of revolution Meridian questions with obsessive regularity. A debilitating sickness grips Meridian days before her graduation from Saxon her move toward an activism characterized by restless questioning and critical reflection. 6 Her condition begins with blindness, loss of appetite, and then culminates in catatonic fainting spells. As her roommate (Anne Marion) feed s her what little she will whatsoever. And, to her complete surprise and astonished joy, she began to Marion how ever, Anne Marion soon abruptly leaves Meridian behind with the parting comment 6 Postmodern Psychologies dr aws a distinction between reflexivity and critical reflection, the former that drives the individual into action as he or she identifies the exerc ise of power that pins him or her into
103 obso Marion, Meridian embraces the inquisitive mindfulness that suffering brings. For example, when Truman visits Meridian in a small town in wha t she was saying to you, and no matter what you were saying to her, seemed to be thinking of something else, another conversation perhaps, an earlier one, that continued on a parallel track. Or of a future one that was running an identical course. This appropriates guilt of her life into a memory of life lessons by which she can guide herself through this turmoil. Meridian retreats to a small village on the Georgia Alabama state line years later and receives a visit from Lynne. Lynne, aware that Truman wants to rekindle a relationship with Meridian, speaks to the constricting thought processes of Movement activist are scared to death of each other, you know. Not your average black men and women, of course, who accept each other as only natural, but people like you and Truman who have to keep analyzing each featured a black man who after gaining the right to vote, did not know how he would earn money to buy food. His face allows Meridian and Lynne to question the minutiae of freedom available to the enfranchised poor in a nation deviously operated by wealthy understand, to encompass everything, and the struggle to live honorably and understand everything at the sa me time, to allow for every inconsistency in nature,
104 Movement never accounts for this dynamic. In fact, in the same way that differences get flattened out in mainstream Am erica, the bureaucracy of civil rights activism sought to sidestep in group difference. The novel concerns itself with the complexities of cultural connection. An post modern understanding of her moment. Meridian recalls an earlier time in which she that had to be performed required, and like them [enslaved Africans], this ability seemed to her something her ancestors had passed on from the days of slavery when there had long walk and begins to question the idea of martyrdom. Interestingly enough, this walk precipitates a revision of the ancestral connection she appropriates: had said to herself, mumbling it aloud, so that people turned to stare at her, have refused. All those characters in all those novels that require death to end the book should refuse. All saints should walk away. Do their bit, then just walk away. (162) besides compulsory activism and imagines martyrs walking away alive after having done th eir part. When Lynne tells Meridian that she cannot change people in the South, begins exercising her imagination and willing herself beyond her limitations. Meri which Meridian stands silent as a group of New York revolutionaries questions whether
105 exten ded beyond herself to those around her because, in fact, the years in America had campus tree and deciding she would kill for the cause of Christ. But wavering from her pr omise, Meridian realizes that she cannot fathom even killing for the church. Moving beyond righteous guardianship and the false urgings of rage, she searches for a new Mario n face. postmodern political action. which involved the singing of Christian hymns and Native American rituals, but she can neither in God. Early on, Meridian experiences a tangible spiritual encounter arena of civil rights, the former a fleeting moment, the latter holds immediacy. However, as an adult, Meridian begins irregularly attending a large Baptist church, featuring a stained glass image of B.B. King, where the congregation sang dirge like lyrics to freedom songs. Meridian, who had always connected with freedom melodies, finds that the songs have become much less revolutionary. homilies to a tee and delivers a politically charged message, the congregation responds dryly. To the o lder preacher, who introduced himself as the father of a civil rights martyr
106 pictured on a large photograph in the church that lost a son to the Movement, the congregation buzzed. Meridian gathered from the ceremony that the church had embraced the sacrif obstacles, to live it, and not to give up any particle of it without a fight to the death, prefera bly not revolutionary (invoked by the death the preacher often references) into the language and cul ture of the church, so as to stir up resistance in an institution becoming increasingly absent in political struggle. The red eyed preacher only makes such loss. Walker uses this scene to comment on the changing cultural sensibilities and the absence of revolutionary ire among black churches in the postmodern era. Because the church enjoys the gains of being able to elect black candidates, the young preacher who dons a n eat black suit only imitates the language of revolutionary change in a stoic environment. The novel paves the way for postmodern subjectivities by having Meridian temper embrace of the natural and supernatural proves inaccessible to Meridian in light of both societal changes and her personal growth. However, Meridian equips gradients of Feather Mae
107 proscriptions in her psychological burden bearing approach to the revolution. Ultimately, her questioning becomes spiritual in nature, a form of penitence. modern turn through isolation and physical waning. The self consciousness she experiences early on as a young wife and mother juts against her role as an activist and college graduate. Moreover, the novel surrounds Meridian in social, political, and raci al upheavals that broaden her awareness and attachments, Walker gives a portrait of how individuals might harness the sociopolitical apathy brought on by social movements and complicated in postmodernity to useful ends. Through Meridian, Walker imagines a revolutionary practice of restless questioning, as she constructs a mutable kind of activism for Meridian, which others can remake and revise for their own political approach A number of critical reflections on Meridian give attention to tradition, voice, and self a uthorized notions of appropriate speech, (public repentance, patriotic school speeches, works out the brunt of her personal struggle through non conformity vis vis the status quo for southern black women. Deborah McDowell argues that Walker transcends gender to explore the tensions of black womanhood and self discovery. 7 According to Donna Winchell, individuality gets repressed in the Civil R 7 relia nce, and self realization. Walker weaves these issues into her Bildungsroman in a way that allows the title character of Meridian to achieve wholeness in the face of fragmentation.
108 postmodern turn as she challenges the public policies of a small town. In effect, she her need to continually question. Having closed the public pool, the city officials precipitate the drowning of several small children that often wade in the town reservoir. As she leads the community in a protest march, which ends in her lying catatonic on the ground, Meridian bears the body of a e, Meridian literally harnesses death At the beginning of the novel, we meet Meridian as she leads a demonstration in t policies. Black Chicokema did indeed own a tank. It had been bought during the sixties when the those members Several characteristics of postmodern culture make this demonstration unique: F irst, Second, Meridian dons the appearance of a train conductor, as opposed to a charismatic civil rights leader. Lastly, we see small schoolchildren follow in line with Meridian, but they never burst into song, as a by standing Truman anticipates. After the
109 children and some adults view the exhibit, the crowd disperses without much ado. Meridian then almost methodically collapses and the townspeople cart her home. In a departure from the Atlanta Movement, Meridian does not seek out volunteers. She neither counters Movement practices nor adopts them. When Truman remarks that adag Unlike Truman, Meridian cannot walk away from the Movement as if it never happened. She grieves for the victories and defeats through continued mindfulness. Not acceptin g the status quo of racial disparity or female domination, Meridian cultivates an individuality that meets the restless demands of revolution. Her revolutionary practices thought, I have not wanted to face, this that has caused me to suffer: I am not to belong In her interrogation of the Civil Rights Movement, Walker has Meridian reflect on the protracted freedom struggle itself, the endless battles, and the losses that attend it. Meridian takes a walk and ponders the thoughts of martyrs like Christ, King, and Malcolm. In a chapter entitled Free at Last, Walker recasts the funeral for Martin Luther King as an affair with the expected pomp and circum stance, but absent any grief. Meridian witnesses an odd distancing from death by the spectators who engage in loud with Truman, Meridian contemplates the revolution:
110 She could not help struggling with these questions. Just as Truman could not help thinking such struggle useless. In the end people did what they had to do to survive. They acquiesced, they rebelled, t hey sold out, they shot it out, or they simply drifted with agonizing over what they would lose, which was what separated them from Meridian. (207) This passage speaks to Me In the postmodern era, Meridian refuses to settle for anything less than the giving of her full self to serving the downtrodden, realizing that another path would self defeating. In opposition to pos most pressing questions. After isolating herself from the novels other characters, Walker highlights this agonizing need to question, which not only represents her political core but also animates her activism a stubborn ambivalence that sustains her. Meridian s eponymous hero enacts this quest in her journey from adolescent unawareness to mature self knowledge, from death to rebirth, from confrontations with revolutionary as not only physical via the violence enacted by brutal segregationists but also fit the molds others would cast her in (motherhood, wife, public speaker, violent revolutionary, and religious acolyte) brings about her liberation. Finally, Nadel suggests that Meridian does not lend itself to one reading, but cycles through several alte rnatives,
1 11 options, and points of view. Walker gives readers an exercise in the significance of meaning making for communities and individuals alike. In Meridian revolutionary practice. Even as Meridian had canvassed voters diligently in the Movement, she struggled with questions about the revolution at large. This penchant for agonizing ultimately becomes her crucible, which she enters of her own accord. In always be deplored by people wh o consider themselves revolutionists, and your aloneness. She hugs him and exits qu ickly, leaving him to question. Truman burdens Truman must indulge them he must take the weight of a cause on his shoulders and bear it for others. Dizzy, he cli Marion herself arriving, lost, someday, at the door, which would remain open, and wondered if Meridian knew that the sentence of bearing the conflict in her own soul whi ch she had imposed on herself and lived through Ultimately, Truman must come full circle, from activism to hedonism to recuperating his role in the liberation of the downtrodden. Furthermore, ha ving lost a wife and a
112 daughter, Truman will need to willingly bear the calamities in his own life to experience the psychological relief for which he yearns. Meridian leads her to acknowledge the pitfalls of civil rights activism, resulting fro m top down politics and the postmodern conditions of social alienation and ambivalence. Through it all, the novel opposes an essentialist, one size fits all approach. In addition, Walker observes the kind of restlessness and abstraction marking black exp eriences in terms of revolutionary agendas, education, and social mobility. Lastly, Meridian situating this issue around the horizon of resistance movements. Furthermore, Walker considers the psychological effect of civil rights movements on individuals that become jaded, though their political fire remains. other things, this chapter suggests that taking a look at the barriers to individuality erected during the civil rights revolution can provide insight into the fragmented conditions of black life in the postmodern era. If the absence of such an impactful movement represents a cessation of or redirection of those energies, then why do we see the struggle played out on so many fronts by middle and working class blacks. In short, the psychological angst and almost obsessive will to struggle against oppressi on rests not with the auspices of political or cultural organizations but gets shouldered by everyday young dissidents. Ultimately, I encourage the exploration of the detriments and benefits of group consciousness and its absorption into the hegemonic lan dscape. Critics might consider the struggle for autonomy, traversing both cultural and institutional terrains.
113 The hope for a more nuanced understanding of what signals a postmodern moment among marginalized groups lies in looking at the functionality of individuals in contemporary contexts. This chapter hopes to reconfigure postmodernism by including the works of Alice Walker as insight into the rarely illustrated postmodern crises facing African Americans.
114 CHAPTER 4 RESISTING CONSENSUS : CULTURE WORK IN JOHN THE COTILLION : O R, ONE GOOD BULL IS HALF THE HERD artistic, cultural, social, and politica l legacy of the Black Arts Era and its lasting influence on American culture. Smethurst suggests that the era changed the creation and reception of artistic endeavors and that it produced conflicting tenets, which for better or worse, treated culture seri ously. Commenting on the debates among artists and together was that their ideas and even organization work moved through shared activists who were also artists would travel to various cities to participate in some political event or activity and would also find the Doing culture work (making cultural production accessible) within urban sites, social organizations, and durable institutions reclaims those spaces for people languishing in the monotony of social climbing. With this observation, Smethurst hones in on the energy behind a key move in 1970s African American literature toward working culture in advantageous ways for black communities. Literary culture workers have functioned to support, criticize, and educate emerging artists and the general populace by creating an aesthetic infrastr ucture, whose insight would make postmodern cultural difference more approachable. Chapter three looks at the African American culture work narrative and how it anticipates the cultural fluidity one needs in a heterogeneous postmodern society. As John Oli The Cotillion demonstrates, the culture work narrative portrays an
115 effective use of culture as unabashed expressions, which emerge out of shared practice, and stir up emotions and values, not partisanship. Inasmuch as The Cotillion which as the title suggests, riffs satirically on a longstanding southern tradition, Killens not only portrays the clash between traditions held among particular racial races and classes but also creates an environment in which exclusive traditions 1 jar with expansive notions of difference. in the research of writers like Keith Gilyard, Addison Gayle, Jr., James Smet hurst, and Lisa McGill. Shaped by the political and cultural consciousness of black rights supporters and nationalism during The Indignant Generation Lawrence Jackson and artistic ties. While he wanted to compose a politically engaged black subjectivity, Killens found multiple aesthetic conventions to analyze the black experience: the use of a satirical mode and fluidity i n narrative voice; attention to black cultural heritage, community based lexicons, and vernacular; commentary on the cultivation of a black psyche; and the influence of televisual reflection on African American identity politics. 2 Trinity of Passion: The Lit erary Left looks at how Killens organized numerous 1 Andreas Huyss 2 See Daryl Dickson s African American Satire (143 New Day in Babylon Trinity of Passion: The literary Left Living Color: Race and Television in the United States (70).
116 illens and others articulated artistic issues Moreover, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education dedicated its 2004 issue to Killens for influencing upcoming generations to use writing to promote black cultural and political agendas. Killens initiated his political and artistic foray when his first novel Youngblood grabbed the attention of readers and critics alike for its emphasis on unionism among black and white workers in t he South. However, his novels And Then We Heard Thunder and The Cotillion were each nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. And Then We Heard Thunder examines racism abroad and situates black racial reality within a global context. However, it does not featur e the kind of in group cultural tension that is germane to my analysis. I perform a close reading of The Cotillion because of its critical focus on class exclusionary practices among the black elite and Afrocentric influence among black working classes an d the politics of cultural nationalism. I argue that Killens takes a vantage on the era of Black Nationalism that not only reads the divisions between activists, artists, elites, etc. into the ideology but also looks at the protections of tradition in eac h arena, which only lets up in shared spaces. Killens creates a context that not only resists consensus but also resists the collapsing The Cotillion does not privilege or reinst all one tradition over another, but makes identity flexible and imagines multiple viewpoints in postmodern urban space.
117 A Work of Culture the burden that authors have in helping black America discover and preserve its literature despite the hostility in predominantly white publishing companies. In his essay, Emanuel outlines the cause for which authors themselves have become cu lture workers and have deployed characterizations of culture workers in their fiction. Writers like Ishmael Reed, Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, and Sam Greenlee present the culture work narrative in multiple ways. Whether in themes that push against Western monocultural impulses, circulate cultural knowledge and an Afrocentric ethos, or cultivate a political black consciousness within the working class divides, these authors speak to the necessity of utilizing culture in a way that socializes others to diffe rent experiences. African American literary culture, having gained momentum from reform movements within the academy and abroad cannot loosen its grasp on a conflicting cultural and social reality. That said, the culture work narrative relishes the circu lation of multiple traditions but never achieves a consensus of ideas nor settles for agree to disagree logic. Instead, it rejects such false dichotomizing of human experience for the voicing of multiple cultural expressions. Ideas about culture make the ir way into African American literature because they distinct racial projects, comprehen d the cultural terrain and work to change traditional
118 and thereby cement separation among these schools of thought. To this point, Binder and 70s social issues. They talk about the separatist and inclusionist perspectives espoused by Black Nationalism and Post Civil Rights liberalism, respectively, in which black intellectuals choose to work within the sphere of their own ideologies and institutions and to double down on their politics. Liberating culture itself in any project can enable the articulati on of other valuable ways of knowing. The literary portrayal of culture work is didactic in its own right, but it does not depend on a meeting of the minds. Instead, it welcomes and builds upon what Black writers that demonstrate this narrative move, portray the difficulties associated with establishing a multivalent concept about the use of culture in institutional and social spaces. As this kind of literature elevates cultural production, traditi on, etc. to impact urban life, it bridges different social realities. The culture work narrative may descend from protest literature that once dominated the African American literary canon. In the mid twentieth century, protest literature aimed at appra ising the American social scene from the perspective of disadvantaged blacks. Treated as second class citizens, vast cities of the North best captured the vise, which bespoke opportunity but shunted ambitious blacks into drudgery. While the Post Civil Ri ghts Era brings about opportunity, writers have had to challenge the lingering cultural inferiority. The culture work narrative redresses the
119 devaluation of black cultural experiences by enabling several traditions to flourish. Lastly, the culture work n arrative does seek reconciliation with some authentic black culture but instead contends for the flourishing of different social experiences. One current that runs through education reform movements and social movements alike is the particularity of exper ience over common culture. Writing about the post civil Beyond Black and White blacks felt when confronted by leg al racial segregation. Moreover, contemporary black experience can no longer be defined by a single set of socioeconomic, political and/or and culture within black communities. He speaks to the nuanced reality taken up at the height of Black Nationalism and scrutinized in African American Studies departments Spectacular Blackness Movement began its negot iations around class, inclusion, and cultural production precisely when changes created by the Civil Rights Movement and the end of legalized The negotiations made by noveli sts during the era also include correctives for culturally disinvested blacks who reject an African heritage for Euro American traditions. Such correctives show up in fiction and militate against the generalization of African American identity. Among newl y realized black experiences in the 1960s, socioeconomic difference assumptions about and tendency toward certain sets of behaviors and practices. A
120 number of writers during the la te 1960s accounted for intraracial class tensions. Determining that studying the plane of class relations would yield an understanding of African American socialization, The Cotillion articulates what Linda Hutcheon in the A Poetics of Postmodernism descri In defining difference, novel of class are engulfed in crisis and rife with meaning in the postmodern era. As the concept of Black Nationalism, which argued for cultural self determination, emanated from black scholars and intellectuals during the 1960s, a number of offshoots like Black Arts Movement and Black Power culture developed. Critics ascribe to these collectives the ripple effect recognizable in the postmodern era. However, Ongiri makes formed the ways in wh ich we continue to understand Black identity, Black community, nationalist legacy can be readily seen in its impact on American media and visual culture. In her assessm ent, the oppositional creativity practiced by artists led to the featuring of more African Americans in popular culture. Opposite the study of black cultural politics, Madhu Dubey analyzes literary culture in Black Literary Postmodernism Her reinterpret ation of Black Nationalism exclusion does not bring about the valuation of black Ameri ca. The impetus behind dispelling Western universality among writers like John Oliver Killens included a belief
121 that the recognition of a common heritage and of socially specific experience could invigorate the cultural consciousness of African Americans grasping for identification within the working class or middle class. Radical social politics undergirds the culture work narrative. Remarking on the The Cotillion was s omething that had been going around in my head for some time, how to satirize what I deem to be the folly of black middle class imitators of the white people who identity ( developing a black psyche) challenges sentiments of cultural inferiority. In effect, those who would embrace their individuality must reject essentialist notions of respectability, avoiding as they do the pitfalls of mistaking imitation for cultural enlig htenment. Because of these factors, Killens observes, some blacks demonstrate completely white. What is white is right. What is black is negative. Some of them, I think, when they read [ The Cotillion ] were deeply hurt. But I think it made some of them The Cotillion purposely enga ges insular ideas about black culture that abound even in the midst of a range of black experiences. Awareness of the various identities that surround, engulf, and make up the modalities of blackness represents not only a prime concern for Killens but als o the most important step toward acknowledging self definable ways of being. a masculine, patriarchal prescription in families and communities. Dubey takes up this
122 issue in Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic While critiquing the ways discour of the same universalizing pretexts artists have challenged. Culture workers like Toni Morrison and Gayl Jones produced novels that disrupted constricting models of black ide ntity and created complex female subjects. The value of the culture work narrative rests in its suspicion of prescriptions, which pass themselves off as broad experiences. Postmodernity and Class Difference A summary of The Cotillion Daphne, and Yoruba), which resides in Harlem, and Ben Ali Lumumba, an erstwhile neighbor. Each character goes through a number of changes to achieve a suitable social identification. Set in the late 1960s during the height of Black Nationalism, the varying performances that come out of this flowering of Afrocentricity create a backdrop rife in the cultural capital of black pride. Matthew, a rural man from Georgia com es to Harlem in 1928, and, believing himself business savvy, pursues success as an entrepreneur. He marries Daphne Braithwaite, a semi aristocratic beauty from Barbados, who cherishes her Scottish heritage and, soon after migrating to New York, decides ag ainst domestic work. Daphne watches their daughter Yoruba mature and a result, the Lovejoy family splinters, undergoes a consciousness raising transformation, and eme rges more socially heterogeneous. Amid the clamor, Ben Ali Lumumba, a self He embodies black cultural nationalism. The two lovers challenge the parochial ideas
123 of decorum and trad ition held by Daphne and the Femmes Fatales, a social organization composed of elite black women. the legacy of Black Nationalism as negating difference for a repressive ac knowledgment of shared heritage. Nonetheless, West identifies a contemporary culture worker that ness, race, and nationality (7). Embedded in The Cotillion are instances of the postmodern articulations popular culture, etc., critique modern black strategies of resistance and have begun an analysis of identity formation in in the postmodern era. of boundaries between cultura l institutions, which share a common heritage. He exposes an insidious class consciousness among the black middle class during the late 1960s. In exploring the complexities of African American class mobility, he illuminates the extent to which some aspir e to the proscriptive politics of particular institutions. For example, in The Cotillion the Femmes Fatales, the social club Daphne hopes to join, is an exclusive club that welcomes only middle class individuals while inviting the children of working cla ss blacks like Yoruba for the sake of reforming them. Yet this encounter eventually infuses difference into the organization. Individuals fend off exclusion with the insistent spreading of their cultural values as opposed to retreating into like minded s paces. Indeed, postmodernity problematizes rigid distinctions made by entities like the
124 experiences flourish in close proximity to one another. Some of the most useful s tension, I think, focus on satire and nationalism. Darryl Dickson Carr, emphasizing the a common ground on which the different intraracial classes can meet is remarkably (144). Obs erving the satirical nationalist self display in The Cotillion Rolland Murray purposes of their arguments, Dickson Carr and Murray do not delve into Killens concern for a politics of difference, which paves the way for postmodern social relations between family, cultural ties, and social organizations. The Cotillion tasks Yoruba and Lumumba with assimilating multiple subjectivities so that they can appear innocuous while permeating (and appropriating different identities to permeate) numerous spaces, slipping through the cracks contemporary society provides via social mobility. K illens articulates a dilemma in which African Americans found themselves in the era of Black Nationalism, which developed as a result of the entrance of numerous blacks into middle class arrangements of status and the surge of black pride among the working class. Lastly, Yoruba and Lumumba concern themselves with demonstrating the flexibility that will be necessary to navigate the most pedigreed clubs. While doing so, their actions suggest that the socioeconomic
125 and heterogeneous conditions of postmoderni ty make difference vibrant enough that social bias cannot quell it. Historically, Killens invokes Black Nationalist movements of the late 1960s in The Cot illion This moment witnessed the flourishing of African American cultural identities. Whereas the literature of his contemporaries honed in on social protest, avant gardism, t black bourgeoisie. The novels of satirists like Ishmael Reed take a more global approach in not so much concern itself with the everyday social dynamics of black comm unities. 3 The Cotillion portrays black cultural nationalism as it engulfs Harlem. First, the novel credits black arts poetry and militant rhetoric with igniting black consciousness in Yo ruba. Some of this performativity serves as entertainment. For example, Yoruba styled nationalist leader that makes crowds laugh at his signifying. Yet he fails at articulating redemptiv e strategies for economically disenfranchised blacks. However, nationalist rhetoric cultivates in her a respect for the critiques of racism, hedonism, and consumerism embedded in the nationalist poetry. 3 world. Hooks opposes embracing a neonationalism for According to hooks, we actualize this relational love in light of the presence of multiple black experiences, he experiences, she cherishes the epistemologies of agrarian culture in opposition to dismissive postmodernist critiques of culture without essentializing it.
126 Black cultural nationalism maintains its appeal be cause it attaches to cultural spaces. As Yoruba strolls through Harlem, she encounters throngs of counterculture groups and hears the melodies of jukeboxes blasting the jazz classics of artists wailing freedom sounds. From there, the novel transplants re aders to the Caf Uptown Society, where the rhythms and cadences mesmerize her. Readers take in the sights and sounds of the Way Out Restaurant, a mix of restaurant, cabaret, and coffeehouse borne out of the sexual revolution. These spaces give voice to working class issues of low wage labor and joblessness and to nationalist concerns with black enterprise and racial uplift. However, The Cotillion avoids linking the two. It renders the experiences of cultural nationalism and working class ideology mutua lly exclusive. Early on, this becomes a textual strategy for the later entwining of these two groups. Killens does not portray cultural nationalist and working class experience (though they cope with the same conditions) as always already congruent in postmodern society. In fact, The Cotillion projects social spaces familiar to Lumumba as disparate from t he sites Matt frequents, and vice versa. The novel achieves this through its emphasis on in group practices. For example, it suggests that the Kool Krazy Kats not themse Out Restaurant, Yoruba witnesses grip, Indian wrestle, chest pounding, hand gr and states, makes their appropriation nearly impossible.
127 The protagonist Yoruba Evelyn Lovejoy comes of age and seeks an identity in The Cotillion Observing the multiple iden tities around her in Harlem, she does not relinquish her past or fashion an insular way of life, but absorbs the plurality of culture her now from that faraway age were Yoruba neither overemphasizes it nor puts stock in some highfalutin future. She very diverse environment, Yoruba sees herself as beset by an but also submits to the bourgeois tutelage of the Femme Fatales, an doyennes of high society. However, like the plastic that adorns the furniture in one of Yoruba must adopt an identity that does not constrain her but enables the negotiation of two key positions: debutante in training and Afrocentric black woman. In The Cotillion intraracial difference ignites a confrontation between nationalism and discourses of respectability and as similation. Both sides take pride in their traditions. 4 However, similar to the emergen ce of Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities 5 the Femmes Fatales appropriates the ideology of elite white organizations. 4 Chantal Mouffe highlights the ideological politics operative in the concept of tradition in the postmodern constructed as subjects through a series of already existing discourses, and that it is through this tradition which forms us 5 For a history of the social hierarchy surrounding black elites and their emerging social organizations such as Jack and Jills, cotillions, and Black Greek letter organizations see Our Kind of People: I nside
128 While Killens celebrates the boundary crossing potential of nationalist performativity (as he satirizes it), he scrutinizes the self aggrandiz ing efforts toward social climbing. Yoruba does not embrace the concept of a black respectability attained through wealth or the emulation of whiteness. She does however play around with the notion of Postmodernism and Popular Culture and political requirement, a form of enforcement, a means of regulating legitimate ways ludes requires that Yoruba assert real Yoruba Evelyn step forward please. And asser concept involves the merging of two distinct schools of thought. First, she embraces the Afrocentric stylizations that characterize Harle from her usual environs others Yoruba, she equips a working class identity in the midst vision of a Grand Cotillion that will civil Class Consciousness and Religion Lovejoy associate themselves with respective classes. When Mat thew Lovejoy marries Daphne Braithwaite and settles down in Harlem, he becomes an entrepreneur. The Stock Market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression see to it that his businesses do not take root and grow into a fortune. As a result, Matt clinches his blackness as a source of great pride and worth and joins the nationalist and working class movements
129 behind every Black man who ever raised his voice in Harlem, includi ng Garvey, Powell, Penn Station redcap, Matt situates himself among the working class. Dap hne, he fixates on his blackness and on living a common life. Speaking as a foil for with you colored peoples imitating white folks. You try to do everything they do, without knowing how come they doing what they doing in the first place, or the second place, beauty (reputedly sacrificing her birthright by coming to America and mar rying Matt), bourgeoisie because she descends from the Braithwaites Barbados. The Cotillion dral as disconnected from black life, denies Yoruba a religious option suitable to her cultural identity. The Brooklyn Memorial Episcopal Cathedral, once an all white church in the exclusive Crown Heights district, undergoes a drastic change in becoming a n all black congregation. The parishioner Father Madison Mayfair succeeds Father Thatcher, who, in the wake of the full scale retreat of white congregants, invited black parishioners to join. When Yoruba and Matt accompany Daphne on Sundays, she sees the m as middle class manners. Daphne relishes taking Matt and Daphne there every Sunday.
130 Though she appropriates black middle class traditions, her actions ascribe a privil ege to more illumined quarters. Preferring not to brighten the corner where they were, as they connection between associating with the middle class, absorbing their bourgeois tendencies, and attaining prestige for her family. The Brooklyn Memorial Episco pal Cathedral, in contrast to cultural nationalism, offers only a one dimensional experience and marginalizes of black conceptions of spirituality. 6 sacrificing Christ figure because he follows suit with the former pastor in permitting black attendance. Daphne e career as a white man, just to give us should get down on your Black knees and thank God for progressive men like Father incorporating black spiritual traditions; even more so, the absence of white congregants diminishes the integrative experience. Last ly, divorced from any movement that democratic gesture falls flat. Killens does not present Mayfair as an agent of change in 6 As it concerns Black church politics, The Black Church in the African American Experience social and cultural institution, the Black Church is deeply embedded in black culture in general so that the sphere of politics in the African American community cannot be easily separated from it
131 black communities but as an emissary of white paternalism. Matt deems the black implies a non sequitur: it does not follow that t will grant blacks access to meaningful racial diversity or bring about any social parity with whites. Gender and Its Psychological Ramifications In The Cotillion women occupy an adored status in terms of the nationalist rhetoric on embracing black women as descendants of African queens. This tenet contrasts the mainstream devaluation of black women, which favors elevating white womanhood. While in different conte xts, Daphne and Yoruba experience similar struggles because of their gender. The narrator underscores the paternalist logic concerning black women in by the white (1). Yoruba occupies this position in a nationalist milieu that (7). Yet this logic that sees women as defenseless objects in need of protection also embraces the patriarchal sway of white masculinity. In two particular instances, Yoruba and Daphne combat white masculine privilege. vigor of black women. On the other hand, Daphne casts off the psychologi cal burden of Potts. His stereotypical assumptions lead him to ascribe to Yoruba a kin d of generative sexual power, and then to attempt to consume this energy for his own purpose. Potts
132 We are both him into heteronormativity because she too belongs to a marginalized group. Undoubtedly, Potts has not only witnessed the subordination of his sexuality in mainstream society but also the subordination of his socioeconomic status as a male dance instructor hired by the Femmes Fatales. In addition, he fancies himself an expert on the color question and on attractions between blacks and whites. This situatio n, though rendered satirically by Killens, enacts what Philip Brian Harper describes as a 7 society denies Potts masculine privilege on several levels, he finds a way to reduce Yoruba to a mere gat eway to his own ascendance. While the novel paints Potts as a satirical character, the preoccupation with heteronormative masculinity and his association of it with sexual prowess victimizes him. Just as he embraces this problematic conception, he also p uts stock in the outmoded conception of black womanhood as a source of transformative capabilities. Fortunately, Yoruba will wade through wrongheaded assumptions and come to redefine conceptions of black womanhood for herself, ways that move beyond exploi tation into autonomy. white father and disregard for her black mother. In the fondest memory, Daphne 7 The term Harper uses in Framing the Margins to represent the possibilities for discordances and the balances between two socially margin al individuals.
133 leven black concubines and fathering two or three children by each over the implied autonomy of working Daphne r overvaluation of whiteness a tendency that also shows up in the ranks of the Femmes this dilemma functions as more than an isolated quirk but as a comment on the sentim ents of racial inferiority in black social institutions. In working class spaces and in nationalist sites, The Cotillion paves the way for Lumumba (formerly Ernest Walter Billings boundary crossing, class bridging strategies he utilizes. He exemplifies a postmodern conception of socialization for Yoruba, her family, and the Femmes Fatales. To ertoire, I ask basic questions: What kind of subject is Lumumba? What are compelling examples of his social functionality? What approach to class and tradition does he embody? How does he differ from other characters? How, then, do other characters resp ond to his instincts? Commenting on
134 boundaries dismantles identity and acts as a prelude to consciousness expansion (227) As Graff explains, the Western ego represents a rational mode of consciousness opposed to conceptions of difference. Lumumba perceives boundaries in a unique way. He has an instinctive ethos when it comes to class and culture. Moreover, Lumumba impro vises when faced with difference; therefore, class distinctions in the black communities do not sway him. Lastly, his character thwarts both bourgeois vanity and nationalist proscriptions. Lumumba blazes the trail of postmodern fusion. Acting as code s witching purveyor of sorts, he possesses the skill set for adapting to traditions while infusing his own assumptions within those traditions. A poet, artist, and seaman, Lumumba proves to have a cosmopolitan disposition. He speaks of Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, describing himself as a world traveler on a journey to galvanize the black diaspora. The trailblazer facilitates the convergence of diverse communities. At moments when institutions close ranks along the lines of difference, as do th e class stratified Femmes Fatales, the trailblazer must first disrupt group politics. He does so by socializing in different spaces (banquets, parties, cotillions, etc.) in the novel, and using those spaces as a palimpsest upon which he leave his own idio syncrasies. Ultimately, Lumumba demystifies class particularity and guides Yoruba in bringing her ideas of beauty, culture, to Grand Cotillion. faith in the childhood memori es that she often recalls in joyful reverie. Through his Daphne instilled, gone with the selfhood
135 challenges Yoruba with overcoming the tells her that the Femmes Fatales act as unaware agents of black cultural oppression in their overemphasis on pedigree. Finally, Lumumba acts in solidarity with Yoruba, and escorting her to the cotillion. Lumumba permeates multiple constituencies. Passing through the circuits of disparate lived experiences (through the boroughs of New York and abroad), ich limit an those behaviors and thinking processes that have been marginalized. [The t]rickster is (89). His social indulgence bridges cultural divides, though he does so to the marrying pies what Linda Hutcheon terms the inside outsider position in which one rejects a totalizing tradition while simultaneously participating in it. To influence organizations like the Femmes Fatales, Lumumba as inside outsider can either support the domina nt ideology or undermine the systems at play. As such, he bridges the gap between cultural, social, and class boundaries, demonstrating to Yoruba the viability of his efforts. Though he joins Yoruba in her upper class foray, Lumumba rebuffs the notion th the cooptation of his black consciousness, Lumumba permeates ego boundaries and
136 promotes consciousness expans stage to explode assumptions about middle class respectability. In an adlibbed demonstration, Lumumba and Yoruba, plan to make the Grand Cotillion black and beautiful. Unbeknownst to the Femmes Fatales Yoruba and some of the other debutantes show up wearing their hair natural. Lumumba shows up wearing an African robe with one shoulder bare. Panicking over their plot, Yoruba thinks about ditching the cotillion before she debuts. Lumumba sympathizes w ith her e join in with the solidarity of intraracial difference. Albeit a fragmented experience, the Grand Cotillion represents a postmodern space of dispersal rather than the prospect of favoring one experience over another. Through Lumumba, The Cotillion demon strates another thrust against the working on, he neglects his writing. Nonetheless, he delivers a poetic musing on (238). His words imply that he mingles artifice with authenticity. The distinction nly falters, it collapses. Finally, Killens portrays the internal mutability of institutions. On the one hand, the novel disturbs the tensions at the nexus between the loyal and dissenting members of the ocial milieu and her pretensions.
137 On the other hand, it gives voice to other narratives within the club and highlights the connections between them. The Fabric of Relations and Dissent Because class in contemporary African American experiences often involves the sharing of group mores, Killens portrays avenues of dissent in The Cotillion Even though the novel delves into the inextricable links between different lived realities, these links get obscured in social organizations like the Femmes Fatales. However, postmodernism makes the acculturation process appear much less impermeable. As Lyotard puts it in The Postmodern Condition A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at circuits, however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various kinds of messages pass. (15) In exploring class tensions within black communities, The Cotillion shows how the self connects to an ever already linked to multiple subjectivities and dissenting ideas. that organizations like the Femmes Fatales and the Kool Krazy Kats will evolve in terms of the language and debutantes explore other class experiences because of their curiosity. Even those though, The Cotillion brings together the Harlem debs with their middle cl ass colleagues
138 and the Brooklyn debs with their white counterparts, thereby exposing them to different racial experiences. The Femmes Fatales acts as an exclusive organization. A club belonging to the upper classes, they pride themselves on their disti nction. Thomas Vargish, in Rewriting Democracy describes an Absolute System as an organization isolated from external influence and instilling order through self aggrandizement. The Femmes Fatales touts l club. More than a social club. We have always been civic minded and interested in helping in the uplift of our fellowman, and geographic separation from working class and poor blacks. The Femme Fatales have recruited debs in accordance with a single value structure and along class lines, while the cultural sensibilities of the advantage d and disadvantaged debutantes have meshed and taken on a postmodern character that does not evade heterogeneity. Dissenting ideas within the Femmes Fatales surface during a soiree hosted by one of its members, Zenith Jefferson. The unabashed Zenith Jeffe rson and the outspoken Beverly Brap bap maintain a subculture of dissent within the organization. Figuring herself as the voice of reason, the Femmes Fatales as shortsighted, and the debs as cogs in a problematic social experiment Brap bap addresses the d ifficulties of creating a progressive entity without dissent. But neither Brap bap nor Jefferson pursues the membership of working class girls alone, which would prove misguided. Brap bap
139 situation speaks volumes because so much African American fic tion portrays opposition to staid institutions but does not offer ways of subverting the class constructs that besmirch them. Undoubtedly, dissent has a redemptive power for social organizations nearly undone by their defunct by charges any group with welcoming dissenting voices and with assessing their base values. Because the Femmes Fatales preoccupy themselves with the lore of their traditions, the mixed racial history and class diversity within their own ranks goes unacknowled ged. Because the Femmes Fatales obscure their fabric of relations, Brap Bap interjects a measure of historicity into a false recollection of the good old days inclu Migrant workers. They would have them shipped up here from Virginia, Georgia and Barbados and South Carolina, right out the cotton patch and the cane fields, and live with them to help them pay them mortgages. They were paying guests, but since the colored muck the mucks were not supposed to let rooms for rent, these people were palmed off to everybody else as first cousins, second cousins, distant cousins. High yaller families with jet black cousins. (130) In problemat izing the historical record, Brap Bap recuperates the erased individuals who, due to their mischaracterized experiences, do not exist within the selective annals environment in w hich organizations can acknowledge the social and cultural particularities of its membership while respecting the differences that abound. Such a s culturally ebullient milieu.
140 Resisting Consensus middle class culture, experiencing its spontaneity and joys. The Jeffersons adorn their inal paintings on the wall of Black happenings by identity here not only because of her ambivalence toward middle cl ass culture and the cotillion crowd but also because the Jefferson soiree compels that she adapt to a different environment, one which does not allow her an easy dismissal of all bourgeois culture. While the debutante process pegging into any one slot. In response to her displeasure with the whole process and her sense that she has compromised too much for her mother, Lumumba reassures her. He explains the larger plight to her in his own way: your mother is not the enemy. If she is, then we are in a real big hurt. Cause your mother is where a whole heap of the Black and beautiful people of the B (183 184) This reassurance strengthens Yo she can entertain new ideas at cotillion events and, in so doing, generate meaning by trafficking in her own flare to these experiences. Possessing a flexible sense of self, she grips the possibilitie s offered even in middle and working class culture, cultural nationalism, and Afrocentricity, among other sociopolitical ethics. Through her connections to Matt, Daphne, Lumumba, and the Femmes Fatales, Yoruba achieves an
141 evolving identity that resists co nsensus with any particular group with which she identifies. Yoruba ultimately activates the postmodern at the Grand Cotillion in a way that gives her the wherewithal to sidestep resolving issues beyond the moment, for instance, future college attendance and her relationship with her mother. In short, Yoruba resists consensus. From a postmodern vantage, this means that the text posits dissent and difference in the place of a favored entity. But how does Yoruba avoid displacing her future uncertainty on to the Femmes Fatales? She, in effect, jettisons her burdens and lives in the present. This debut does not represent a moment of transcendence for subjectivity, Kill ens ends the narrative with her pacing out the door of the Cotillion toward a viable, but uncertain, future. Killens scrutinizes the postmodern framework Yoruba equips at the cotillion by highlighting the repressed tensions that emerge in the process of h er training. Preparing for the Cotillion, Yoruba struggles to affirm a conception of beauty. In a moment of reflection, she finds herself before a mirror taking inventory of her features: wide eyed at the mirror. She turned her back and s tared behind her. Then went into her dance, turning, spinning, pirouetting. I am Black and beautiful, O you determination, but a kind of determination, which does not ai m for distinction. Yoruba and nappy anxiety to calm an exasperated Mrs. Patterson, the head of the Femmes Fatales. Seizing the moment, Yoruba takes the stage to mixed reactions tha t mirror her own
142 mixed feelings p, her mother finds herself torn between fidelity to the Femmes Fatales and her family, and an enraged Mrs. Patterson goes berserk. Tellingly, Yoruba precipitated the dispersal of the cotillion crowd and the conclusion of the event with no consensus attai ned. When Yoruba follows through with her plan to make the Cotillion black and f un and games when you got down to the nitty wearing closely cropped hair, she escapes the angry grasps of the Femmes Fatales natura l woman to make her grand debut in the annals of cotillions, and when she two traditions and the strong ambivalence that marks the cotillion. Within a postmodern f ramework, one cannot seek consensus or biased institutional annals by which to grant oneself elite status. In this milieu, the individual must embrace his or her decenteredness, live in the moment, and face diverse social conditions. Finally, through the negotiation of class division across black communities, Yoruba comes of age via her exposure to cultural nationalism, embrace of Afrocentricity, and sojourn into middle class culture dbuting into postmodern
143 She e ven finds her niche in the confines of the Femmes Fatales. Moreover, as a text that flouts totalizing narratives, The Cotillion circulates several points of view throughout the text without centering a single one. In addition, not invested in triumphalis m, the novel closes open ended and resists a concrete resolution. The tactics taken by Yoruba demonstrate the ways in which she chooses heterogeneity, dissent, and difference in lieu of institutionalization. Moreover, Killens makes no assumption that the ending represents a transcendental moment. In fact, he questions the fidelity of black social movements and organizations peace and power and liberation and Nationhood. The Black extremist demagogues one marked by self consciousness and fragmentation all but ensures her involvement in spaces where difference flourishes. Accordingly through the linking of different experiences, the novel renders other social ideologies accessible. In The Cotillion the tradition fracturing values of Yoruba and Lumumba prove both ending alludes to, former approach of siding with the upwardly mobile and disparaging classed Others, Lumumba and Yoruba subvert exclusionary institutions by imposing on them social difference. An awareness of the extensive class politics in operation in contemporary society can facilitate an insider outsider critique of black institutions that suppress heterogeneity.
144 The culture work narrative extends beyond the Black Arts Novel. Culture work narratives have their benefits in the characterization that they do not shy away from the economic realities that abound in divergent class experiences. For this reason, Killens, in The Cotillion fictionalizes the presence of severa l black experiences within the social terrain of an inherently conflicted, yet serious, existential movement in Black Nationalism. One viable solution to class division is often an insistence on cacophonous encounters with multiple experiences in a social space. In The Cotillion Killens juts a postmodern sensibility up against stagnating, marginalizing, and repressive class traditions. The text moves in opposition to the overvaluation of white practices and values by blacks with middle class aspirations. Lastly, the novel introduces fluidity into the black experiences ascribed to different classes, ideologies, and social organizations. In doing so, The Cotillion addresses intraracial class tensions -taking as its backdrop the historic emergence of the m icropolitics of difference within black communities, including race, class, and gender. Inasmuch as the novel satirizes the interfacing of different belief systems, social mores, and traditional ways of knowing, it also tests the viability of such a proje ct and presents a literary context for class relations in postmodern African American life.
145 CHAPTER 5 MULTIPLE TRUTHS: JOU RNEYS AND PROSPECTS TAR BABY Co ntemporary African American Fiction identifies a key feature in African American literature that takes the individual journey as a process wherein the freedom to define oneself unfolds. Butler highlights the agreement between the American and African Amer ican literary canons and the way they imagine open ended movement in fictional narratives, which serves the desire for social mobility. Writers a process of endless becoming rather tha n progress culminating in a state of completed being. Such the journey motif, which ha s its roots in early twentieth century literature and its recent extensions in the postmodern era. This motif places a high premium on change and the the social and cu Morrison looks at her tendency in her fiction toward a resistance to settling in a single characters, often s ituated in agrarian society, must negotiate the weight of history and tradition. Her unique theme represents a dialectic that traverses the canon. Perhaps the journey mo tif. This logic balances out the sociocultural upheavals that occur and
146 Tar Baby as a contemporary African American novel that thematize s personal journeys. The novel demonstrates the ways African American novelists have swapped out the expectations consistent with racial traditions for more generative sensibilities, which develop out of postmodern conditions. In contemporary fiction, ind ividual journeys lead to the prospect of new social and Tar Baby explores the existential challenges of multiple characters and the losses and gains in their identities. ilosophical Leanings insight on black social movements. In her work Remember: The Journey to School Integration Morrison captures the struggle of black Americans pursuing the desegregation of public schools. According to Karen Stein, Morrison examines Black Women Novelists Sula as a work t radically new black femininity that upsets all the oppositions (between past and present, individual and community, absence and presence) that structure Black Aesthetic d African Paradise in the Post Civil Rights Paradise as a discussion of the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the possibility of social reform in the twenty first century. Cri The Black Atlantic Race, Modernity, Postmodernity The constellation of arguments has suggested that Morrison interrogates modern black
147 life and imagines a confrontation between Eurocentric ideas and diasporic truths. Moreover, she concerns herself with the experiences of black Americans before the onslaught of American mode The Story of Jazz Romance, Diaspora, and Black Atlantic Literature both the markers, her work often reclaims alternative mythologies and finds cultural tradition insoluble with the social imperatives of the contemporary world. Overall, novels like Beloved Jazz and Paradise receive the most critical attention as it concerns postmodernism. My view of Tar Baby is that, unlike the aforementioned novels, it represents a postmodern American reality and contemporary relationships, and also undoes the modern trend to see individualism as reckless. Critics like John Duvall, Linden Peach, and Thoma s Hove identify postmodern nuance 1 Significantly, Morrison creates embattled characters so as to signal their influence in shifting entrenched values. In this way, Tar Baby challenges the modern social order she contextualizes in other novels. Thus, Tar Baby awareness. I argue that Morrison offers a perspective on the Post Civil Rights Era via the neglected tensions within familial, southern agrarian, and upper middle class experiences. The novel dissemina tes multiple truths (or ways of seeing the world) to protagonists for the purpose of demonstrating the ways in which such an acknowledgment can lead one 1 The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison cites her complex representation of blackness and questioning of subjectivity (15, 17). Linden Peach, in his work ti tled after Morrison points out the the collection Postmodernism : The Key Figures meaning among marginalized populations.
148 beyond a knee jerk appropriation of traditional value systems. In the postmodern era, protagonists mus t find agreeable paths in life despite traditional obligations and strained love relationships. On the Move: Open Journeys In Another Man Gone: The Black Runner in Contemporary Afro American Literature ( 1977), Phyllis Klotman observes the trope of the running man in American literature and its nuanced form in contemporary African American fiction. The journey he [ or she] finds himself [or herself] by birth, compulsion, or volition, and literally takes Tar Baby reliance and epitomizes a running dem and Morriso Sula feature the separation from constricting Amerocentric mythology or an imposed cultural narrative. ways of identifying themselves. Just as the journey motif cr eates opportunities for personal development, it also acts as acknowledgement of the incessant struggle for self autonomy. Novelists have come to speak about the generation gap and the passing of, or the rejection of the torch (read: cultural memory) to g enerations impacted by postmodern society. Open journeys environment to another. Suffice it to say, even when such movement takes place, it is
149 not seamless. The individual b ears the trace of ideological markers identifiable with previous sites. While the journey motif stretches throughout the earliest texts in the African American literary canon, it undergoes nuanced complexity in the Post Civil Rights Era. Slave narrative s adopted the theme, featuring treks into freedom. Protest novels depict withdrawal from the urban city, which does not make good on it promises of opportunity, while contemporary fiction portrays the symbolic retreat into prelapsarian communities. Mid t wentieth century modern narratives mirrored the frustration that fuelled black social movements at the time. However, the postmodern pursues very real shifts in thinking about resistance to material deprivation. Writers recast the journey motif in terms t hat realize the need for actual exploration, be it legitimated by a given social movement or experience. Contemporary writers reckon with the difficulties of achieving self identity in an era of cultural heterogeneity. By this same token, such an underta king necessarily leaves journeys open ended in novels. Thus, the journey motif must validate the In the late twentieth century, postmodernity gives credence to the authority of individual truth Dark Language: Post Rebellion Fiction uses the term post rebellion fiction to identify the nature of contemporary black writing, which seeks to provide a pleasurable reading experience and a material understanding of black life a fter the Civil Rights Movement. Quall describes this fictional rhetoric as based on nostalgia and critical memory. I am concerned with critical memory, which attended b
150 of it as a site of passive social relations ( The Production of Space 11,142) but unveils an in evitable power struggle. One must muster enough power to construct and to defend a given space. Therefore, the contemporary protagonist can fix his or her own parameters and fulfill their ambitions, provided they engage the levers of power that dictate b ehavior, identity, and authority. While black novelists lead us down a path away from burdensome traditions, African American life during the late twentieth century compels new strategies for coping with a number of challenges in the fast paced, global age The political vanguards that once fought to keep the plight of black Americans at the forefront find corporations as public life deteriorates due to class polarization, racial ba lkanization, 115). Even as the political context in this age becomes more partisan, and so, impotent to handle such cultural decay, still some will speak out about th e marginalization of black urban America. For West, in the postmodern era, black strivings will continue to escalating identity, gender, and political crisis. The need awareness does not comport with upholding conventions but with transcending past conventions. As a result of the civil rights re volution, the minority cultural production of which Andreas Huyssen speaks in After the Great Divide
151 and criticism are an important part of the postmodern culture of the 1970s and 1980s African America n literature illustrates that the inclusion of blacks into egalitarian America brought out alternatives to past notions. African Americans come out of the Civil Rights Movement and revise social expectations. With the expansion of the black middle class a nd the critical force of black popular culture, marginalized groups in the Post Civil Rights Era look to the strength of their individual desires. Still group autonomy does not become a foregone We Who Are Dark salvages the cr ux of nationalist solidarity, arguing against collective identity in favor of difference and what he calls cultivating effective bonds among African Americans, and in fact that attempting to forge one would be self racial inequality in the post preserve distinct identities, and I argue that multiple truths can be preserved and appreciated for their value to a given individual. The exploitation and commodification rife in American systems necessitates a commitment to the maintenance of cultural ways of knowing, which take on fluidity once ap propriated by postmodern individuals. Literary criticism accounts for the retooling of cherished principles in a manner that s the inevitable differences in the conception
152 can be no single truth about a place, she does not reject the idea that traditions may be attached to a place. Rather, she calls for anti essentialism in the way writers and critics merely closed and self argument about the characterization of place has relevance for fictional settings. The way a character views a site depends upon the social terms he or she brings to the table. Writers, in a time of when close knit communities have shrunken, come to see crucial to the maintenance of familial bonds, not their destruction. Inasmuch as the journey motif signifies new prospects and a move away from the familiar, individuals must also relinquish the ethos of mainstream institutions. In an interview with Nellie McKay, Morrison suggests that the problems Jadine and Son face in Tar Baby while affected by gender roles, has more to do with the more innocuous to do, when and where to do it, and where to live. Those things hinged on what they felt about who they were, and what their r Post Civil Rights Era, though m arked by substantive life chances, comes packaged with endeavors.
153 The representation of journeys undertaken by men and women protagonists reflects the intersecting them atic interests of contemporary black male and female authors. For instance, writers like Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Colson Whitehead, and Richard Perry portray men and women protagonists with equanimity in gender complexity. Like Morrison, the aforemen tioned authors take on culturally weighty issues of authenticity and racial consciousness in their works. With the journey theme, the attention to the complexity of individuals across class boundaries and the refusal to shy away from the emotional vulnera bilities accompanying different attachments come to the forefront. Postmodern Truth dynamic in which characters, though beholden to truths, (cultural, social, spiritual, or otherwise) refuse to relinquish their personal conceptions of truth. This dynamic crosses racial boundaries. One retreats to these truths during altercations when er own when they cannot square it with their conception of the world and their role within it. Overcoming such self must find themselves to their benefit or detrimen t and explore their own truths. For example, Jadine and Son leave behind uncertain lives for uncertain futures. For them, upsetting the apple cart of family and friends and experiencing the unknown (whether sustaining the experience or not) validates the journey. In Tar Baby Morrison concerns herself with the recognition of different conceptions of truth and the forms of control deployed in contemporary social interactions. As author, she conveys the modalities of social determination in African
154 Ameri can experiences and links them to transgressive behavior behaviors that embrace the social flux of postmodern society. She sets a number of her characters on the course of mastering their own destiny, at once vying for control of their own lives while str essing the need for stabilizing support. Ultimately, Tar Baby displays a range of critical inquiry where it concerns maneuvering through contemporary society. As it concerns the more far reaching socioeconomic conditions of postmodern society, Morrison a ttaches these issues to locations like Philadelphia, New York, and the North proper. The site of New York in the novel represents the postmodern flow of late capital, hedonism, and cultural difference. On the one hand, in New York, the dynamism surround ing awakens innovation and desire in Jadine. On the other hand, Son diagnoses the monotony of life for blacks in New York as a grievous and painful experience. The women seem starved to death for meaning behind desks in large corporations. The men displ ay queer identities implicitly in part because of the absence race men. Even the performances of black actors and actresses on television seem to were shrieks of satisfacti However, he almost succumbs to the allure of the postmodern city and the preoccupation with upward mobili attention. Notwithstanding, Morrison marks their entire stint in New York with e foggiest notion that spring was on its way.
155 Vaguely aware of such things when they were apart, together they could not (230). In addition, the friendships Jadine and Son develop prove fleeting because they lack substance and do not engage their concerns. Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities offers context relevant to Tar Baby detrimenta communities and city centers. In the postmodern city, the vast development represents a false cultural pluralism, where decisions made by those in power subsume the ideas of others. The detriment to most inhabitants comes by way of an unseen hierarchy that creates the veneer of substance through technology, luxury, and unending attractions. e financial apex of urbanization. Urbanization disfavors the diverse populations, which, while highly visible, experience the strongest sense of alienation. Moreover, postmodernity equates diversity with the contemporary city, while the inequalities that attend the postmodern condition stifle robust diversity. manufacturing, which characterizes one facet of the postmodern era and the kind of patronizing behavior we see wi th Valerian. At the beginning of the novel, Valerian the candy industry brings the postmodern age and its philosophical flanks into focus. Valerian had inherited the Street Brothers Candy Company. He immediately went under the tutelage of his sentimental uncles at the age of seven.
156 Valerian sold the candy fac tory to a candy conglomerate, when he realized his son Michael would not take over. At 68, he retires, but Morrison leaves us with what he ision to sell Valerians (a confection named after Valerian) to a sizable black population in the South as sentimental, a racial animus exists in their practices, namely the exploitation of black labor. Not only do they make the product made from left over retirement allows him to escape their ways, h e too seeks nothing more than a paternalistic attachment with other races. a diversity that operates solely for the sake of his maintenance. He employs a Filipino boatman and butler), several indigenous workers, and an Algerian Dentist. Despite that however, he does not adopt a postmodern sensibility. Morrison describes Valerian in methodical terms: [H]e checked catalogs, brochures and entered into ringing correspondence with nurseries from Tokyo to Newburg, New York. He read only mail these days, having given up books because the language in them had changed so much stained with rivulets of disorde r and meaninglessness. However, Valerian wants relaxation and peace from outsiders and the social concerns he left behind on the US mainland. He avoids what he can neither control and the postmodern cultural changes in America he avoids by not reading books.
157 s wife, expects Michael during the holidays Michael moves from anthropological work with several Native American tribes to epherd, poet in residence, film producer, lifeguard out to study law, the more environmental the better. An advantage really, 28). Despite erberating effect with members of the Street household. Morrison circulates ideas about racial consciousness in Tar Baby linking notions by name in the novel. Mich ael lives an agrarian life, demonstrates solidarity with minority cultures, and appreciates frugal behavior. But his absence and pending arrival raising. While Valerian describes Michae l in postmodern terms, as occupying many subject positions, d me to string cowrie beads or sell Afro combs. The system was all fucked up he said and only a return to handicraft and barter could change it. That welfare mothers could do crafts, pottery, clothing in their homes, like the lace makers of Belgium and v oila! have implications for the conflicting biases held by Valerian and Margaret. In addition,
158 Valerian and Margaret exhibit a defensive reaction to black solidarity and its implications for their household. When Valerian learns that Jadine is thinking about opening a retail Margaret and Valerian judge the lack of racial solidarity polarizing her fragile racial consciousness (64). More interesting, when Son (a fugitive) unknowing ly squats in the house for a few days, Valerian has feelings of exhibited in defending property and personnel that did not belong to them from a black (145). While Valerien does not entertain any extensive conversation about his own racial bias, his thoughts suggest that he sees the black residents as equally oppressed. s for a rethinking of the capitalist system in which Valerian operates. His ideas however neither fit the status quo nor offer a feasible corrective, which Valerian decries as the context of the novel. Late in the novel, an argument ensues on Christmas Day after stroke when he learns that Margaret abused Michael when he was a child. Though u questions his ontology: This is not life. This is some other thing. It comforted him a b it, knowing that whatever this was it was not life. He achieved a kind of blank, whited
159 out, no feeling at all that he hoped would sustain him until the blood tears came. Until his heart, revivified, pumped its way along for a single purpose: to spill ou t his eyes throughout the millennia he would have to live. (235) The life that Valerian can no longer grasp afforded him the modern privilege to divest the family business, marry a much younger beauty queen, and buy a private island on which to retire. Th prove as escapist as his own. In fact, in order to truly avoid the nonchalant world in less methodical w ays, allowing those around him to shape his worldview. consciousness, Morrison implies the sociocritical framework with which to question their subordination. For example, Sydney labels Michael a spoiled child because he does of him tells readers somethin g, as it exposes her own ambivalence about why his ideas About why I was studying art history at that snotty school instead of Organizing or so 75). While the notion that Sydney and Ondine can make the pri vileged leap from working class and benefactor to thinking through issues of upward mobility, financial independence, and ownership they do eventually serve as a counterpart to other incidents, which compel that they take these matters more seriously. Mor eover, the Christmas fiasco brings to the fore racial concerns and the ways they link to other inequalities. For example, Sydney and Ondine have the
160 much needed conversation about their future; their relationship with the Streets and Jadine. For the firs t time, they consider their meager finances and concerns about their While Michael gets socialized in a world that privileges appearances over reality (Margaret abuses Michael right under Valeria which Michael later exposes himself represent his move away from the capitalist, solidarity with marginalized cultures, Michael dispenses with his sense of home. ghetto to reservation to barrio to migrant farm [ ambivalence. What deserves her loyalty? Her career or her family. Having this conversation and conversations like these initiate her mo ve into a personal truth that Valerian, in a conniption, says he will visit Michael, but Margaret admonishes that he not t like a person on a bus, already de la Croix. Th e Post Civil Rights Domain: The Street Household In Tar Baby Morrison fashions a post civil rights era devoid of overt political in the af orementioned chapters. Implications for the post civil rights era play out in the
161 tenor of social battles that we can read as holdovers from the Civil Rights Era. Weighing in on the impediments to critical dialogue within black communities, Adolph Reed, in Stirrings in the Jug : Black Politics in the Post Segregation Era looks at the misdirected nature of past black political practices. While Reed critiques civil rights nationalists for not being adamant enough about their aim of economic and political control in black communities. Reed ascribes to both movements the expansion of a monolithic ideology, he also attributes to them the decline of robust, black opposition to systemic injustice (65 69). Morrison portrays this political reality, which characterizes the Post Civil Rights era. Within this context, her protagonists must art iculate new methods of resistance and collective action, at once made possible and compromised by integration, civil rights struggle, and nationalist thought. concerns, Marc C. B onner reads her writing through the lens of western philosophical The Aesthetics of Toni Morrison xiii) of Morrison oeuvre segues into his explora tion of classical aesthetic concepts. Nonetheless, his critical American life remains to many an embattled exis critical context of wide Civil Rights Era assists her in fleshing out some of the tensions of postmodern society.
162 A number of tension s over truth whether in terms of culture, ideology, or basic out his retireme nt. A wealthy white benefactor, Valerian presides over a diverse space. Yet his authority gets) gets questioned by others in the household, namely Margaret, Ondine, and Sydney. As Jadine and Son, members of the post civil rights generation, come into th thinker, Jadine sees herself as unsure about her surroundings, life choices, and family ties. Theref ore, she must come to terms with her own complexity. Taking assurance in class status and leaves Dominique for an entertainment career in Paris. Son (William Green) enters the Street home as a fugitive black inhabitants. Rough around the edges but yet charismatic, Son becomes romantically involved with Jadine. They travel together, flitting back and forth geographically and emotionally, as they struggle to redefine their autonomy and to discover viable truths. At twenty five, Jadine undergoes an existential crisis that makes her feel inauthentic and vulnerable as a black American woman living abroad whose tastes and lifestyle do not subscribe to any essentialist experience. As Jadine explains, not American Jadine returns home to the Isles de Chevaliers to sort through
163 challenges she has faced in Paris. She leaves behind her Parisian Fiance Ryk, because he cannot understand her need to be conscious of her racial self, and then works as a social secretary f or Margaret. Contemplating her next career move Jadine In Paris, the sight of a stunning, dark skinned woman in a yellow dress shakes Jadine to her core. She e xperiences a sublime moment. 2 that moth er/sister/she; that unphotographable beauty gesture [spitting toward Jadine] had derailed her shaken her out of proportion to that she cannot capture the sight of the woman in yellow in a way that grasps the sublimity of the moment (while absorbing the shock of her rudeness) and maintains the subjectivity of her own life experience. One post e ways Jadine constructs her identity as a racial subject in a mixed household? Morrison tasks Jadine with working through her racial identity crisis. In particular, she must look beyond her experience with upper middle class life and contend with her so ciocultural heritage. During her hiatus, Jadine not only comes to terms with the posh world of international celebrity but also with her privilege in the Street household. In addition, Jadine makes a connection with Son, who emblematizes southern black c ulture. Lastly, her relationship with her benefactors, 2 The Postmodern Condition describes this experience as a at, the infinitely powerful, but every
164 Valerian and Margaret and her actual relatives, Ondine and Sydney, comes to a head when she leaves them behind for the cosmopolitan scene with which she feels most comfortable. In Tar Baby race and class dynamics in the home. The novel implies that Sydney comes from a line of middle class blacks. Also, the reader learns that Sydney and Ondine adopt Jadine from her absent mother. We encounter these endearing qualities, but the text never years. Readers do however catch a glimpse of their personal politics in moments of crisis. Sydney himself de ploys class politics reminiscent of the intraracial class tensions of the Civil Rights era. When Son first appears in the house, running from the law and slipping in unnoticed, Sydney reels from the shock of holding a pistol to the head of the stranger an meaning one of them. He was a this way, they pathologize Son as both racially and socially deviant. When Son explains why he hid inside of their home for a time without revealing himself, Sydney declares, a delphia Negro mentioned in the book of the very same name. My people owned drugstores and taught school while yours were still cutting their faces open so as to be able to tell one of you from the other. And if you looking to lounge her and live off the fat of the land, and if you th (163)
165 The Philadelphia Negro a sociological text in which Du Bois himself places little emphasis on the ways in which working class and poor blacks negot iate class hierarchies and nuanced social contexts. Readers can neither situate Son into the primitive barbarism Sydney ascribes to him nor can they consider him acculturated in the sophistication ascribed to Philadelphia Negroes. Though identified as so geographically but makes him adaptive to his environment. Morrison brings to the fore issues of parity as Son comes to understand Sydney n the rear of will leave when Valerian secures papers for him. In addition, Son plays out the role of remorseful reprobate to win over Sydney. He calls him Mr. Childs and feigns rie Thrse leave when he orders him to do so, and instead Son brings about an airing of unspoken grudges. Early on, Jadine questions the racial politics undergirding La Croix from a perspective on black culture that speaks to her post civil rights era no. A white man thought you were a human being and should (121). In this passage, Jadine not only dehumanizes Son but also she does so in a way
166 does acknowledge that Jadine has not seen a black man that she associates with southern black culture in ten years, her current circle now includes black men who identifiable with the post civil rights era an era which she cannot figure Son into. Morrison addresses the remaining tension between the privilege enjoyed by white women and the domestication of black women in a post civil rights context. In the midst a deep distrust of Margaret even though commonalities exist between the two of them. For instance, Margaret marries Valerian at the age of seventeen. Also a young wife, Ondine enters the Street household at twenty three. Though at first cautious of each e loomed over their fragile relationship. hindrance to her own autonomy. In fact, not unti do they revisit their friendship. But tellingly, Ondine and Margaret misdirect their anger real target who would not be riled until now when she got fed up with the name calling and shot her
167 m of racial backlash that denies her the right to enjoy the comforts and privilege afforded white women and which marks a dividing line between a black maid and a white wife. By voicing past anxiety, Ondine finds ways to heal in the post civil rights era, but abuse and remaining employed. In addition, Ondine startles everyone with the Ondin as well, thanks Ondine, and begs her forgiveness. But this time Ondine rejects the y service to herself by divesting the burdens of others. Gender, Philosophy, and Cultural Narratives Morrison concerns herself with addressing the barriers to gender equity in the post civil rights era. As it concerns women in the novel, most of them occupy marginal roles as servants, or they never have the platform from which to voice their angst. Marg maid, Thrse gets fired for stealing apples, and Alma Estee and the multiple Marys referred to in the novel exist in a kind of anonymity. Gender dominance reconstitutes in wa ys other than the exclusion of women; it creeps up via in your face gender bias. Further, Jadine comes to act as a kind of Everywoman, articulating the complacencies and anxieties of other women. As Morrison would have it, through Jadine, the women have
168 The multiple contexts they proffer grant Jadine the privilege of not only speaking her truth but also expounding upon the truths of others. Tar Baby links issues of gender with attempts by male characters to rein in tle of wits between Jadine and Son that takes place when prior to their relationship, Son questions how Jadine came to prominence in her career and implies that she did so through illicit sexual means. At the uttering of his grotesque inquiry, Jadine atta cks him violently, and as they struggle, she threatens Son philosophy subordinates racial essentialism to primitive ignorance. This is why she describes him in animalistic terms. Though men have attempted worse treatment of acial notions with illicit sexual behavior unnerves her matter of fact distancing of racial assumptions directed at her. uestions Jadine about their relationship. The dialogue unfolds with the question,
169 relationship. Undoubtedly, Soldier rehearses a provocative binary. To his essentialist thinking, either Son will dominate the relationship or Jadine will. While Jadine could dismiss his quest ions as sexist, the realization that she cannot easily describe her and fought notions in competition with southern folk notions of a balance of power that favors the masculine. Within this context, she cannot assume that Son shares her fluid sense of how her relationship might offer a level playing field to them both. approach to life, the very beliefs b y which she lives jut up against the gendered cultural lore of Dominique. Gideon recounts the full story. Three hundred years ago, slaves aboard a sinking French vessel turn blind the moment they see the island of Dominique. Seeing with the eyes of thei r minds, the former slaves swim ashore along with the the hills. They learned to ride through the rain avoiding all sorts of trees and things. They race each ot her, and for sport they sleep with the swamp women in Sein de 153). visualizing one hundred men on one hundred horses, but she believes she almost has a fata l encounter with the swamp women when she falls in a tar pit. As Jadine sees it:
170 Veilles swamp, Jadine couches her struggle in fighting terms that reflect her inward battles. Moreover, throughout her first night in Eloe, the night women of which G ideon speaks, in a dream Accosting and tormenting her, Jadine believes the night women want to choke out her autonomy. A Native Son Se Tar Baby What vantage point does he bring to the family? Highlighting attributes of postmodernism in Toward a Postmodern Literature Ihab Hassan suggests that social phenomena in the postmodern era create ideologies around the unmaking of the self. In Tar Baby Son appears in the text without family name or inheritance. On the run from his criminal past (Son inadvertently kills his wife Cheyenne in fit of rage over her squats in his home. As a fugitive, society denies him access to stability. Having an existential crisis, Son wants to unmake the previous life he has constructed and reinstall a more fluid identity. Searching for some other way of being, he carries no identification or official documentation and imagines his life free of other trappings associated with contemporary life. Son works unlicensed on ships, consorts with gamblers, gigolos, and part time mercenaries. Having convinced himself that work need not be joined to a given liv elihood, he leads a nomadic existence. Suspicious of the changing American culture he reads about in Time magazine and the international press, Son cultivates a
171 postmodern perspective that resists the imposition of any knowledge beyond the visceral. He d for an identity. As a squatter, Son critiques the Street household from within and elicits outrage. A fear of otherness surfaces in the home with his arrival. When he greets Sydney at the abs her fragrant laughs at her fear that he will rape her. Ultimately, secrets unfold and a crisis ensues over household biases and anxieties. Morrison complicates S subordinated by social status. Son conceptualizes a symbiotic relationship with Gideon while staying with the Streets. As he watches Gideon working in the yard through a window, remembrances of his former life in Eloe move him to tears. This moment precipitates the shaking off of upper class identity for Son even as he resides in the live a self critical life, though at times chaotic, so that the privilege around him does not become his identity.
172 In Tar Baby Son operates as a knower a strong, impassioned character, who piano, and subsequent fugitive existence), develops germane wit and wisdom. The knower unsettles, provokes, and quickens the anger of those around him, calling attention to the th ree hundred pound perceptions. When those in authority ignores pertinent issues, as demonstrated by the absence of a conversation about race and class within the Street home, Son voices the opinions of the marginalized and reads their perspectives against privileged discourses. However, he cannot fully inoculate himself against conformist pressures. captivates his re turn to the U.S. Even before he travels to New York, Son begins to morning. No more moment to moment play it as it comes existence. That stomach required planning. T thoughts conflict from the start. He opposes futurity and, disillusioned by crass materialism, Son comes to see New York as inadequate for his subjectivity. American rat race. However after he reminisces about the first dime he ever earned from Frisco, a man from his childhood, his quasi answer becomes political when he
173 that he can only imagine an ad equate place for his politics as a place of community, epitomized by his sense of fraternity. He returns to Eloe because his father Old Man and three of his best friends Drake, Soldier, and Ernie Paul still live there. While later in the novel, Son move viable prospects within himself. Unf ortunately, after a dispiriting break up with Jadine, Son in his desperation chooses fraternity over autonomous individuality and embraces postmodernity skillfully, a whole individual must understand truth(s) as byproducts of multiple experiences and not always universally applicable. Ultimately, Son winds up back in Dominique, blindly approaching the mythical hills of the Isle de Chevaliers and the trees stepped back a bit as if to make the way easier for allowing space for multiple truths, it does not imply that embracing a single truth will grant an individual a prod uctive sense of self. Multiple Truths In Tar Baby Jadine undergoes a process of rethinking her perceptions of family, her career, and divesting herself of the expectations she attaches to both. In doi ng so, she comes to embrace her own truth in the post civil rights era, the prospect of new racial concerns and a postmodern approach to her contemporary reality. In part, Chri it begins to unravel along with her projections about opportunities in New York. First, her
174 ability to make a living diminishes. At twenty five, modeling agencies pass over Jad ine mission to civilize Son. Morrison leaves her to contend with answering th e question: question, Jadine returns to Dominique and works out her relationship to the multiple truths about culture and family espoused on the island. Because Tar Baby re the story of the blind race of horse riders and swamp women inaccessible to anyone in the Street household, the text offers little hope that Jadine will quell her feelings of inauthenticity and vulnerability through the oral his tory of the Isles de Chevaliers. Thrse and Gideon (Yardman) possess an organic understanding of the history of Dominique a cultural truth, which becomes inaccessible when translated by American tourists and other outsiders. It does not follow then that contend with her present moment. As it were, Jadine goes on a journey to self discovery in the novel and rejects the need for discovering anything not already within her. Moreover, she gives up looking for yellow dress, which plagues her from the beginning of the novel. Jadine embraces her own complicated reality. Her conception of truth now champions the pr ospect of an uncertain future. A postmodern subject, she neither requires a stabilizing narrative nor an attachment to the Streets, to Sydney and Ondine, to Gideon and Thrse, or Son.
175 it as it comes, her cognitive refram e, has immediate implications. engages in personal reflection 3 about diverging perspectives, which represent their res about remains firm in her decision to leave everything behind. Futhermore, Morrison sac rifice. as Ondine cares for her, she assumes that Jadine will one day respond in kind. In a heated conversation, Ondine admonishes Jadine that a real woman must first articulates her generational way of conceptualizing family ties. But Jadine, very muc h a product of the post civil rights era, can distance herself from obligations rooted in taxing moment, Jadine does not 3 Jadine in a postmodern manner comes to accept her own truth about the imperfect path she will take in life. For her she does not rebel from the tenets of Ondine and Sydney but chooses her own path and not allowing it to be seen as deviant.
176 toward finding within herself a sense of belonging and reclaimin g an orphan identity. ambivalence of her choice. Tar Baby creates a window of agency for her, not transcendence. Given that Ja dine frees herself from the will of others and no longer imposes her will on others, she can enact the postmodern. In resituating Jadine as neither dissident nor obligated saver of the downtrodden, but as subject in transit, Morrison informs dreams of safety. No more. Perhaps that was the thing the thing Ondine was saying. (290). At the en d of the novel, Jadine flouts her common expectations of returning home to the security of accommodating loved ones. Finding safety in herself, Jadine neither fears the uncertainty of the entertainment business nor seeks the solace of an island paradise. airborne, suspended, open, trusting, frightened, determined, vulnerable girlish, even, s her critical consciousness. The Street residence had the effect of suppressing individual desires, making them incompatible with the status quo. However, Jadine can
177 and wor ldview. A postmodern sensibility contrasts with an uncritical environment because it opposes outlooks that pass themselves off as universal givens. Tar Baby As Anna Yeatman puts it in Postmodern Revisionings of the Political are attempting to work with, and out of, postmodern perspectives [must come to realize:] Acceptance of the reality of the postmodern condition means a relinquishing of a nostalgic holding on to Revamping her perspective on African American experiences, Morrison adopts reflexivity, which interrogates the complicated truths that circulate in the postmodern era. With Tar Baby Morrison imbues the African American literary canon with the ability of combating notio ns of authenticity in the post Civil R ights E ra. I have attempted to show that the journey narrative in postmodern African American fiction is informed by the lone recourse of contemporary individuals to work out critically their own conceptions of truth. While the critical weight that the journey narra tive carries lessens as theories of postmodernism speak of cultural malaise and alienation en masse, writers must still acknowledge individual experience. As sociological discourse begins to look at the African American literary canon, the portrayal of th is kind of truth Tar Baby facilitates a cultural, political, and social convergence in which new truths are self identity. Ultimately, toward self awareness. Morrison distills issues of family obligation in a way that
178 epitomizes the response of contemporary African American literature to postmodern con ditions in black life. Morrison portrays the scramble for truth and control. As Morrison captures the postmodern, Tar Baby opens conceptual windows through which we see a plurality of truths as a complement to individual exploration.
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192 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH John Glenn received his PhD in English at the University of Florida in 2012 with a concentration in African American literature, cultural studies, and theory. While there, he held an Alumni Doctoral Fellowship in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and served in a number of capacities on campus. He functioned as Activities Coordinator for the Black Graduate Student Organization, volunteered as a campus t utor, worked as an English teacher for Upward Bound, and served as a Peer Advisor for the Florida interests include P ostmodernism, African American literature, Cultural Studies, a nd Critical Theory.