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← 21. African-American Criticism

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Ukazujem Revíziu 1 vytvorenú 03/23/2013 od Amara Bot.

  1. Prof: So I'm not sure
    how long this lecture is going
  2. We could be finished in ten
    minutes,
  3. to be.
  4. though I doubt that,
    and if we're not finished at
  5. the end of the fifty,
    there are some things that I've
  6. reserved for the end of the
    lecture that I definitely do
  7. want to get said.
  8. I don't know if you've noticed
    that there are times when the
  9. last point or two that I
    appeared to have been preparing
  10. to make never get made,
    but in this case I want to make
  11. sure that they are made so that
    if I don't finish today,
  12. or if I still have a point or
    two to make,
  13. I'll definitely be taking up
    those points at the beginning of
  14. Thursday's lecture.
  15. All right.
  16. Now the African-American
    tradition of literary production
  17. is rich and long standing.
  18. As Henry Louis Gates tells you,
    the first really rather
  19. important poet in the tradition,
    Phillis Wheatley,
  20. is an American colonial writer.
  21. The flourishing of the slave
    narrative form begins in the
  22. eighteenth century,
    continues into the nineteenth,
  23. the nineteenth century
    witnesses extraordinary works of
  24. fiction,
    and in the twentieth century,
  25. of course most conspicuously in
    the Harlem Renaissance,
  26. but throughout the century
    there has been extraordinary
  27. work done in the
    African-American literary
  28. tradition.
  29. It's a very rich tradition--in
    other words,
  30. somewhat in contrast with the
    very rich but also very recent
  31. tradition of African-American
    literary theory and criticism.
  32. It's possible to argue that the
    development of theory and
  33. criticism in this tradition was
    somewhat balked by a preliminary
  34. way in which it found itself at
    odds with itself.
  35. Black criticism and black
    feminist criticism from the
  36. beginning saw that they didn't
    have quite the same agenda.
  37. This is something that can
    resonate,
  38. perhaps, later in this lecture
    when we move to other topics,
  39. but in the meantime critics
    like Barbara Christian,
  40. Barbara Smith,
    Hazel Carby,
  41. and Bell Hooks were in their
    variety of ways working with
  42. emphases that other,
    male African-American critics
  43. weren't quite comfortable with.
  44. So while work,
    especially beginning in the
  45. eighties,
    proliferated,
  46. there was, as I say,
    a kind of internal divide which
  47. has been a complex matter to
    negotiate and which is,
  48. I think, now largely sort
    of--well,
  49. détente has been
    achieved,
  50. and African-American literary
    theory is moving forward
  51. unfettered any longer by these
    concerns,
  52. or at least by any excess of
    these concerns.
  53. But in the meantime that may
    partly account for a certain
  54. delay in the emergence of theory
    and criticism given the
  55. long-standing richness of the
    literary tradition.
  56. Now the role of Henry Louis
    Gates in African-American
  57. criticism is,
    it seems to me,
  58. exemplary, although there are
    some rather harsh moments in
  59. this essay,
    moments that I wish to take up,
  60. that would suggest an element
    of--
  61. what shall I say?--extremism or
    overkill in Gates's thinking.
  62. This is actually not at all the
    persona that he has projected.
  63. Indeed what's extraordinary
    about Gates, whose
  64. administrative power and whose
    abilities as a program builder
  65. are remarkable.
  66. After he left Yale to go to
    Harvard,
  67. he was able to gather to
    Harvard Anthony Appiah,
  68. Cornel West,
    and others who have since
  69. departed from Harvard,
    but Gates is in a way an empire
  70. unto himself and he has been an
    extraordinary figure.
  71. The earliest work,
    which is actually among the
  72. earliest work in
    African-American criticism,
  73. is what you've been reading for
    today,
  74. and it established his
    reputation together with--
  75. not so much discovery of,
    but authentication of--
  76. a manuscript by Harriet Wilson
    which he published,
  77. an important contribution to
    our knowledge of
  78. nineteenth-century
    African-American literature.
  79. In any case,
    what happened then was that
  80. Gates who by some miracle or
    other--
  81. he was a perfectly good writer
    in the first place but gradually
  82. became a marvelous writer--
    began writing for The New
  83. Yorker,
    and during this phase of
  84. his career,
    when among other things he
  85. produced a remarkable
    autobiography about growing up
  86. in West Virginia,
    during this phase Gates really
  87. became a spokesperson for a
    détente among races
  88. and racial factions.
  89. In other words,
    he was a voice of moderation
  90. without incurring any imputation
    of Uncle Tom-ism or anything of
  91. the sort.
  92. His sheer urbanity as the
    remarkable writer that he is in
  93. those years when he wrote under
    Tina Brown for The New Yorker
  94. was just a remarkable
    achievement,
  95. and his career is still going
    strong.
  96. Now for Gates,
    as for Elaine Showalter last
  97. week and for Woolf before her,
    the problems surrounding the
  98. concept of identity persist.
  99. Identity--which of course is an
    important anchor for the
  100. thinking of people who feel the
    need for voices,
  101. for a place in the literary and
    cultural horizon--
  102. is nevertheless at least
    potentially,
  103. as we've begun to notice
    already, a kind of quicksand.
  104. There are two problems really
    that dog the issue of identity.
  105. One of them is the problem of
    "essentializing"
  106. which I'll take up now,
    and then, as I'll take it up
  107. next, also the problem of what
    might be called the identity
  108. queue.
  109. In other words,
    I am a lower-class black
  110. lesbian feminist whose nation is
    Palestine.
  111. Needless to say,
    I have a variety of identity
  112. options to choose from,
    but the result is I've got to
  113. figure out which of them has
    priority.
  114. In other words,
    which of those identities do I
  115. suppose has the underlying
    integrity and essence,
  116. essentiality,
    that can motivate,
  117. as it were, the characteristics
    of my other identities,
  118. which are therefore somehow or
    another placed further down in
  119. the queue?
  120. So this is a topic that I'll
    come back to in a minute,
  121. but in the meantime the problem
    of essentializing,
  122. as we call it:
    for example,
  123. as Gates describes it on page
    1893 in the right-hand column,
  124. where he's very clear on the
    dangers of ascribing,
  125. whether positively or
    negatively, attributes to any
  126. group that is constituted as or
    thought of--
  127. because of course,
    the notion of race and whether
  128. there is race is in
    itself according to Gates
  129. problematic--
    the problem of ascribing
  130. attributes even honorifically to
    a race is,
  131. as he describes it on page
    1893:
  132. The sense of difference defined
    in popular usages [finally my
  133. voice is changing]
    >
  134. >
  135. of the term race has
    been used both to describe and
  136. inscribe differences of
    language,
  137. belief system,
    artistic tradition,
  138. "gene pool,"
    and all sorts of supposedly
  139. "natural"
    attributes such as rhythm,
  140. athletic ability,
    cerebration,
  141. usury,
    and fidelity.
  142. In other words,
    obviously, apportioning out
  143. stereotypes to the various
    groups that may come forward as
  144. candidates to be races--
    he's pointing out that all of
  145. these stereotypes do nobody very
    much good.
  146. So the problem of
    essentializing,
  147. which undergirds the wish to
    make manifest the existence of
  148. race gives pause.
  149. Think about it.
  150. On the other hand,
    Gates seems to be divided at
  151. the beginning of his essay
    between a certain candor about
  152. race,
    as in the work of Hippolyte
  153. Taine that he describes,
    in which "race,"
  154. "milieu"
    and "cultural moment"
  155. are considered the key
    determining issues of any kind
  156. of artistic or cultural
    production.
  157. He says of that in effect,
    "Well,
  158. at least race is being talked
    about," while at the same
  159. time obviously wincing away from
    the implications of race and
  160. from the belief that there is
    such a thing as race,
  161. which goes all the way back to
    Montesquieu and others from
  162. Taine.
  163. Nevertheless,
    as I say, he's rather cheerful
  164. about the fact that at least
    race is being discussed,
  165. unlike the twentieth century
    when the whole thing is swept
  166. under the rug and a kind of
    ersatz and hypocritical
  167. politeness prevents anybody from
    talking about such categories at
  168. all,
    and gives rise to the idea that
  169. we all exist in the same Great
    Tradition,
  170. that work either belongs to
    that tradition or,
  171. if it for some reason seems
    egregious or outside the
  172. tradition,
    it just can be shoved aside and
  173. neglected.
  174. That's the supposition of the
    twentieth century when folks
  175. don't talk about race.
  176. So the very question whether it
    is an issue is part of this
  177. problem that is dogged by the
    more complicated issue of
  178. essentializing.
  179. For example,
    suppose--and of course,
  180. you've been reading about this
    in Showalter as well--
  181. you ascribe positive value to
    what another person might call a
  182. stereotype.
  183. This is what the important
    Francophone African poet Senghor
  184. does, as Gates says at the top
    of page 1901,
  185. the right hand-column.
  186. Gates says:
    When we attempt to appropriate,
  187. by inversion,
    race as a term for an
  188. essence,
    as did the Negritude movement,
  189. for example ("We feel,
    therefore we are,"
  190. as Senghor argued of the
    African),
  191. we yield too much,
    such as the basis of a shared
  192. humanity.
  193. Such gestures,
    as Anthony Appiah has observed,
  194. are futile and dangerous
    because of their further
  195. inscription of new and bizarre
    stereotypes.
  196. So you can see there are a lot
    of landmines to be avoided in
  197. negotiating the discourse of
    race, and certainly Gates is
  198. aware of them.
  199. Now there's also the problem,
    as I say,
  200. of the identity queue,
    and Gates himself may have a
  201. little difficulty with this,
    at least from time to time,
  202. because as I said at the
    beginning,
  203. he does have this sort of
    uneasy détente
  204. with feminism in the
    African-American critical
  205. tradition still to work within.
  206. So for example,
    on page 1894,
  207. a somewhat problematic passage
    in which the identity queue
  208. seems to be at issue,
    about a third of the way down,
  209. the left-hand column,
    he says:
  210. The sanction of biology
    contained in sexual difference,
  211. simply put, does not and can
    never obtain when one is
  212. speaking of "racial
    difference."
  213. Yet we carelessly use language
    in such a way as to will
  214. this sense of natural
    difference into our
  215. formulations.
  216. So what he's saying is in
    biological terms there's
  217. definitely a difference between
    the sexes,
  218. but in biological terms there
    is not necessarily a difference
  219. among the so-called primary
    races.
  220. The result is that at least
    when one speaks of women and men
  221. in the feminist tradition,
    one has to come face to face
  222. with the problem of actual
    difference;
  223. whereas when one speaks of
    black and white in the
  224. traditions of discourse about
    race, one isn't actually talking
  225. about a genuine difference at
    all.
  226. Therefore the discourse with
    the greater integrity of the two
  227. is the one which is about
    differences that are absolutely
  228. ephemeral,
    as opposed to the one which is
  229. about differences,
    which, whatever one thinks of
  230. them and whatever one wants to
    make out of them,
  231. are nevertheless essential.
  232. Now plainly when we go back to
    feminist criticism,
  233. particularly the gender theory
    of Judith Butler,
  234. we'll see of course that the
    whole question of the biological
  235. basis of sex,
    the biological difference
  236. between the sexes which
    essentializes what we will be
  237. wanting to talk about,
    is of course something that is
  238. profoundly in question,
    and not just because of
  239. so-called trans-gender issues
    but also,
  240. at the same time,
    because of the way in which our
  241. very sexual identity is
    something which,
  242. according to Butler,
    we construct.
  243. So there is an insistence here
    on a biological difference
  244. between these two forms of
    discussing identity which may or
  245. may not seem to us to be
    problematic.
  246. Now I think this is the point
    at which we can see the
  247. importance of the extraordinary
    essay that I've also asked you
  248. to read, by Toni Morrison.
  249. We know her best,
    of course, as a novelist,
  250. but she's also a distinguished
    critic, as she has been a
  251. distinguished editor of other
    important work.
  252. Here it seems to me that her
    reflections in some ways give us
  253. a sideways exit from the
    predicaments that I have been
  254. talking about,
    the problem of essentialism and
  255. the problem of the identity
    queue,
  256. because what Morrison wants to
    say--
  257. and I think she borrows here
    particularly from the famous
  258. discussion of the master-slave
    dialectic in Hegel's
  259. Phenomenology of Mind--
    what Morrison wants to say
  260. is that identity isn't so much a
    question of what something is
  261. but rather a question of what it
    is not.
  262. She says not that we should be
    so much preoccupied with what it
  263. is to be black,
    but rather that,
  264. as we think about the way in
    which being black is inscribed
  265. within the white tradition--
    as we think about that,
  266. we need to think about what
    white is not:
  267. in other words,
    as she says repeatedly,
  268. about black as absence,
    as negation, as negativity.
  269. We have to understand the
    absolute--
  270. and this is where she drives
    her argument from the
  271. master-slave dialectic--
    the absolute necessity in the
  272. construction of white identity
    for there to be,
  273. as an absence and as a lack
    over against white identity,
  274. the existence of the African
    American and,
  275. more particularly,
    for the better part of the
  276. American cultural tradition,
    of the slave.
  277. Let me quote then from her
    essay on page 1795,
  278. the left-hand column,
    where she says:
  279. In that construction of
    blackness [this is a third of
  280. the way down]
    and enslavement could be found
  281. not only the not-free but also
    the projection of the not-me.
  282. The result was a playground for
    the imagination.
  283. And what rose up out of
    collective needs to allay
  284. internal fears and rationalize
    external exploitation was an
  285. Africanism--
    a fabricated brew of darkness,
  286. otherness,
    alarm and desire--that is
  287. uniquely American.
  288. Then she points out that
    although her subject is the
  289. American tradition,
    there also exists a European
  290. Africanism with its counterpart
    in its own colonial literature.
  291. To reinforce this,
    she takes a remarkable example
  292. which must have reminded you,
    those of you who know Faulkner,
  293. of Thomas Sutpen or at least
    reminded you in some ways of
  294. Thomas Sutpen--
    the example of this character
  295. Dunbar,
    who actually rose up not so
  296. much out of the swamp as out of
    the Scottish Enlightenment and
  297. came to the United States and--
    according to Bernard Bailyn,
  298. the historian from whom she
    cites her information--
  299. became a completely transformed
    character.
  300. I won't quote to you the long
    passage from Bailyn's text which
  301. makes what Morrison wants to
    take from it clear,
  302. but rather from what Morrison
    summarizes of it on page 1796,
  303. the top of the right-hand
    column:
  304. I take this [William Dunbar]
    to be a succinct portrait of
  305. the process by which the
    American as new,
  306. white, and male was
    constituted.
  307. It is a formation that has
    several attractive consequences,
  308. all of which are referred to in
    Bailyn's summation of Dunbar's
  309. character and located in how
    Dunbar feels "within
  310. himself"--
    "a power,
  311. a sense of freedom he had not
    known before."
  312. This is uncannily parallel by
    the way to the rationalization
  313. for slaves in Greek culture.
  314. The Greeks always said that the
    reason they had slaves was so
  315. they could be free:
    in other words so that the home
  316. or ruling population was
    liberated in the case of the
  317. Greeks from performing the daily
    necessities that are life
  318. sustaining and keep us going.
  319. In other words,
    to be free according to the
  320. citizen of the Greek
    polis is to be free from
  321. work.
  322. Now in a certain way,
    this is still a rationalization
  323. that Tony Morrison sees in the
    American slave-owning tradition,
  324. but it's not so much in the
    case of this Dunbar a freedom
  325. from work.
  326. It's a more broad and insidious
    idea of freedom:
  327. freedom from responsibility,
    freedom from the need to
  328. acknowledge otherness as human--
    freedom, in other words,
  329. from the sorts of constraint
    imposed by old world civility in
  330. Scotland and in London;
    freedom on this frontier,
  331. in this wilderness,
    in this swamp,
  332. simply to be whatever one wants
    to be.
  333. That freedom is achieved on the
    backs of the black slaves.
  334. It is in some ways similar,
    as I say,
  335. to the rationalization for
    slavery in Greece,
  336. but it is in a way more
    insidious and certainly more--
  337. in the terms that Morrison's
    giving it to us in--
  338. more dialectical.
  339. That is to say,
    it is the question of whether a
  340. person could become white
    without the availability of a
  341. black absence,
    of that which can be
  342. oppressed-- like a kind of
    spring for the jack-in-the-box--
  343. which allows the white
    jack-in-the-box to leap out of
  344. the box because of that which
    has been suppressed down below.
  345. All of that is part of Toni
    Morrison's concern,
  346. and it colors her,
    well, certainly controversial
  347. reading of Huckleberry
    Finn--
  348. which nevertheless,
    it seems to me,
  349. has a quite profound interest.
  350. Now my own first instinct when
    people single out Huckleberry
  351. Finn for blame is to
    wince away, because it's an
  352. extraordinary novel.
  353. The controversy about it in the
    school districts which made it a
  354. banished book had mainly to do
    with the "N-word,"
  355. to which we'll return,
    and the question of who has the
  356. right to use the
    "N-word,"
  357. which is not an easy question
    to answer,
  358. as we'll see.
  359. But that controversy,
    while it had an authentic
  360. basis,
    was nevertheless certainly in
  361. literary terms and in terms of
    the imagination perhaps rather
  362. limited.
  363. Morrison gives rise to another
    equally and intensely critical
  364. way of thinking about
    Huckleberry Finn.
  365. She argues that to liberate
    Jim--
  366. which of course is the
    tremendous failure at the end of
  367. the novel,
    a failure of imagination on the
  368. part of Tom Sawyer and a failure
    of will or independence of mind
  369. on the part of Huck himself--
    that the failure to liberate
  370. Jim, which would have been the
    easiest thing in the world,
  371. because all they had to do was
    point out the right fork in the
  372. river,
    is an absolute necessity for
  373. the ongoing self-definition of
    whiteness as it's available both
  374. to Tom and to Huck and,
    after all, by implication,
  375. to Mark Twain himself.
  376. He couldn't figure out how to
    end the novel.
  377. He wrote it,
    then it lay on his desk for a
  378. long time because he just
    couldn't figure out what to do
  379. with it,
    and he finally comes up with
  380. this--as we all agree--
    appalling ending.
  381. Toni Morrison says it's the
    only ending available
  382. because in ways that the,
    as she sees it,
  383. sentimentality of the novel and
    the sentimentality of the
  384. relationship between Huck and
    Jim,
  385. which is so strong that it
    caused another critic named
  386. Leslie Fiedler to talk about a
    homoerotic relation between
  387. them--
    the title of Fiedler's famous
  388. essay is "Come Up on the
    Raft,
  389. Huck, Honey"--with all of
    that in the background,
  390. Toni Morrison says the basic
    structure of consciousness in
  391. Twain's novel is obscured,
    a basic structure which makes
  392. it absolutely imperative that
    Jim not be free.
  393. If Jim is free,
    then there is no Other over
  394. against which whiteness can
    define itself.
  395. That's the way in which she
    makes use of the general
  396. argument about the traditions of
    American literature in culture
  397. in applying it to Huckleberry
    Finn.
  398. All right.
  399. Let's go back to Skip
    Gates--Henry Louis Gates's
  400. nickname, sorry--another person
    who was at Yale and whom I knew
  401. very well.
  402. I actually had a little bit to
    do with the origin of the notion
  403. of the signifying monkey;
    I'll come back to that later.
  404. Barbara Johnson,
    also now at Harvard,
  405. and I had a lot of
    conversations with Skip at that
  406. period about this,
    and so it's not that I feel
  407. proprietary--
    it's Skip's idea--but I was in
  408. on that,
    and so it's not just name
  409. dropping.
  410. I get to call him by what his
    friends call him.
  411. However, I'll try to remember
    to say Henry Louis Gates,
  412. and in any case to return to
    him now.
  413. I want to talk a little bit
    simply about his understanding
  414. and the understanding of others
    of the African-American
  415. tradition--
    both of the critical tradition
  416. and of the literary tradition.
  417. First of all,
    the grasp of the critical
  418. tradition as basically a
    two-step or two-part progression
  419. is something that he shares with
    Elaine Showalter from last time.
  420. You remember Showalter says
    that the important movement of
  421. feminist interventions in
    literary criticism begins with
  422. the moment that she calls
    "feminist":
  423. that is to say,
    the moment of Kate Millett and
  424. other authors who talk about the
    degradation and unfair treatment
  425. of women in male books,
    and then what Showalter prefers
  426. and supposes to have supervened
    and to have become more
  427. important,
    "gynocritical
  428. criticism,"
    which is women's appropriation
  429. of literary traditions for
    themselves,
  430. the archival work that makes
    the canon of women's literature
  431. not just leaping from great name
    to great name,
  432. but an actual unfolding and
    continuous development from
  433. decade to decade,
    as Showalter puts it.
  434. Now Gates on page 1896,
    the right-hand margin,
  435. sees it in much the same way
    for the development of
  436. African-American criticism.
  437. You can do two things
    basically, says Gates.
  438. He doesn't put them
    chronologically,
  439. but you could map onto what
    he's saying here the same
  440. chronological sequence.
  441. He says: What I mean by citing
    these two overworked terms [he's
  442. talking about "the
    other" in particular]
  443. is precisely this:
    how blacks are figures in
  444. literature [that is to say,
    how they're represented in
  445. literature,
    demeaningly,
  446. even perhaps honorifically],
    and also how blacks
  447. figure, as it
    were,
  448. literature of their own making.
  449. [You can see,
    in other words,
  450. the same movement in his
    thinking about these issues.]
  451. As Showalter argued too,
    the question of the
  452. literary tradition is
    more complicated;
  453. it has more steps.
  454. In other words,
    the powers of self-expression
  455. available to women from the
    beginning of their creative
  456. expression passed through more
    than just two stages,
  457. and the same thing is true of
    African-American literature.
  458. Now I think that Gates simply
    takes for granted as an implicit
  459. premise of the work that was
    done the year before he
  460. published this essay in
    Critical Inquiry by
  461. another colleague of ours here
    at Yale--
  462. who died tragically not too
    long thereafter--
  463. named Michael Cooke,
    who in 1984 wrote a book called
  464. Afro-American Literature in
    the Twentieth Century:
  465. The Achievement of
    Intimacy.
  466. Cooke argued in this book that
    the history of African-American
  467. literature passes essentially
    through four stages.
  468. It begins with what Cooke calls
    "self-veiling":
  469. the period,
    in other words,
  470. in which people attempting for
    the first time to write--
  471. and of course Gates talks about
    the way in which writing is
  472. really writing oneself into the
    human community for black
  473. people--
    the people who first attempted
  474. to write used white models.
  475. Phillis Wheatley,
    the poet whom Gates talks
  476. about,
    a remarkable poet and a very
  477. interesting one,
    nevertheless wrote in the
  478. manner of Alexander Pope,
    so much so that a great deal of
  479. her work is almost impossible--
    which is course a point of
  480. praise--to distinguish from that
    of Alexander Pope.
  481. She is an instance of the first
    phase, which Cooke calls
  482. "self-veiling."
  483. The second phase,
    which Cooke calls
  484. "solitude,"
    involves continuing to use
  485. white models,
    a white prose style,
  486. a way of narrating which is
    obviously derived from white
  487. teachers and white models but
    which nevertheless involves,
  488. as its central theme,
    self-definition.
  489. Here you might want to think of
    Douglass and of slave narratives
  490. in general,
    where the emphasis is on being
  491. taught by white people,
    but nevertheless there is a
  492. tension which exists and which
    founds and governs the
  493. possibility of self-liberation
    and self-freedom.
  494. In other words,
    the slave narrative as an
  495. ongoing form partakes of this
    second phase in the development
  496. of African-American literature
    as Cooke understands it.
  497. Thirdly, there is what Cooke
    calls "kinship,"
  498. a literature in which African
    Americans reach out to each
  499. other,
    identify themselves as a
  500. community,
    not as individuals struggling
  501. to be free but rather as a
    community.
  502. Cooke identifies this phase
    with the experimentation with
  503. dialect and a way of narrating
    and poetizing which involves a
  504. self-conscious insistence on
    verbal and linguistic
  505. difference.
  506. You can think of many of the
    poems, for example,
  507. of Langston Hughes in this
    regard and of a great deal else
  508. that goes on in the Harlem
    Renaissance;
  509. so that's the third phase,
    kinship.
  510. Then the last phase--and what
    I'm going to want to say is that
  511. Gates doesn't think we've
    reached this.
  512. In other words,
    the point of disagreement
  513. between Cooke and Gates is
    precisely about this.
  514. The last phase,
    which Cooke calls
  515. "intimacy,"
    is the freedom to expropriate
  516. any and all models,
    not in other words to insist
  517. necessarily on one's own
    creative paradigms as a racial
  518. tradition but to expropriate
    anything that comes ready to
  519. hand.
  520. Ellison's Invisible
    Man, for example,
  521. is a masterpiece of High
    Modernism.
  522. It takes freely,
    in other words,
  523. from whatever traditions come
    to hand and are most readily
  524. available for the kind of work
    that Ellison wants to do.
  525. Cooke identifies this perhaps
    rather optimistically with what
  526. he calls "intimacy":
    in other words,
  527. a merger, a finally achieved
    merger of traditions such that--
  528. and this is plainly the ideal
    of Virginia Woolf as well--
  529. such that one no longer has to
    write as a spokesperson.
  530. One no longer needs to be
    concerned with thematizing the
  531. kinds of identity out of which
    one's writing has arisen.
  532. One can write just anything one
    wants to--
  533. in other words,
    the utopian vision of "no
  534. matter who I am,
    I have access to absolutely any
  535. forms and themes I care to work
    with."
  536. That is the vision of Michael
    Cooke,
  537. which Gates,
    I think, unfortunately,
  538. rightly feels that we haven't
    quite arrived at,
  539. and that's why I deliberately
    used the word
  540. "expropriate"
    in talking about Cooke's fourth
  541. phase.
  542. If I use models other than
    models made available by my own
  543. tradition, I'm not just kind of
    pulling them out of the air.
  544. I'm using them with a
    calculated purpose.
  545. I always have something in mind
    in choosing the model that I
  546. choose.
  547. We're not really quite at
    intimacy because self-definition
  548. is still at issue.
  549. You can talk about the High
    Modernism of the Invisible
  550. Man all you like,
    but think of what the
  551. Invisible Man is about.
  552. The Invisible Man is
    still about what it means to be
  553. black.
  554. What is "passing"?
  555. What does it mean in other
    words to have this racial
  556. identity?
  557. So that, yes:
    traditions, manners,
  558. styles have been expropriated,
    but at the same time the
  559. business of writing as an
    African American continues,
  560. and it is as much,
    after all, a question of
  561. self-definition as it has been
    hitherto.
  562. As Gates sees it,
    it continues to be the issue.
  563. We use other models.
  564. We need to make them our own.
  565. Otherwise we're just colonized
    by them, and then after all
  566. we're back in phase one,
    right?
  567. We're back in self-veiling
    because, after all,
  568. Phillis Wheatley used other
    models.
  569. Phillis Wheatley actually
    aspired to the idea that she was
  570. just a poet.
  571. She could write about anything
    she wanted to write about--
  572. the tears of Niobe in the
    painting by Richard Wilson--
  573. whatever it might be,
    she could write about it
  574. because she was just a poet.
  575. That was her great aspiration,
    to be received not as
  576. that amazing thing,
    a young black slave woman who
  577. could write.
  578. She wasn't interested in that.
  579. She wanted to be a poet,
    and so in a certain sense you
  580. can see the problem.
  581. If intimacy is achieved in the
    fourth phase,
  582. well, then that's finally just
    the realization of what Phillis
  583. Wheatley wanted in the first
    phase,
  584. >
  585. and we have to admit,
    for all of the complicated
  586. reasons that these critics go
    into,
  587. that this is not a moment which
    can be said yet to have been
  588. achieved.
  589. Okay.
  590. Now this brings us to Gates's
    key concept: what does it mean
  591. to expropriate other people's
    traditions,
  592. more particularly the white
    tradition,
  593. Here Gates is after all
    thinking primarily about
  594. criticism.
  595. How can we do theory and
    criticism in the white man's
  596. language?
  597. How can we appropriate or
    expropriate for ourselves the
  598. white man's language?
  599. The necessity of bending
    language to one's own purposes
  600. is what is emphasized in the
    remarkable epigraph on page 1891
  601. that Gates takes from Bakhtin.
  602. This is, it seems to me,
    as central a passage in
  603. Bakhtin,
    by the way, as anything that we
  604. studied when we were actually
    reading Bakhtin,
  605. and I'd like you to make note
    of it because I think it really
  606. can illuminate a great deal
    that's going on in Bakhtin that
  607. we didn't perhaps fully
    articulate at the time.
  608. This is what Bakhtin says:
    … language,
  609. for the individual
    consciousness,
  610. lies on the borderline between
    oneself and the other.
  611. The word in language is half
    someone else's.
  612. It becomes "one's
    own" only when the speaker
  613. populates it with his own
    intention,
  614. his own accent [and you can
    hear Gates wanting to emphasize
  615. that word "accent"],
    when he appropriates the word,
  616. adapting it to his own semantic
    and expressive intention.
  617. Prior to this moment of
    appropriation,
  618. the word does not exist in a
    neutral and impersonal language
  619. (it is not,
    after all, out of a dictionary
  620. that the speaker gets his
    words!)
  621. [how true], but rather it
    exists in other people's mouths,
  622. in other people's contexts,
    serving other people's
  623. intentions: it is from there
    that one must take the word,
  624. and make it "one's
    own."
  625. Now actually during the course
    of his essay,
  626. Gates echoes this sentiment of
    Bakhtin by quoting Derrida at
  627. the very top of the right-hand
    column on page 1901,
  628. where he says,
    "We must master,
  629. as Derrida wrote,
    'how to speak the other's
  630. language without renouncing
    (our) own."
  631. Now how do you do this?
  632. How do you set about talking
    the language you are given?
  633. This isn't, of course,
    just a question of the
  634. difference between the races.
  635. It's a question of all of us in
    relation to each other.
  636. As Bakhtin says in what you
    have already read,
  637. most of the time we're speaking
    other people's languages.
  638. It is rare indeed that we can
    say, feeling very much like
  639. creative writers when we do so,
    that we have somehow wrenched
  640. other people's language out of
    its conventional usages and made
  641. it our own,
    slightly rewritten it so that
  642. it is truly our own.
  643. So more broadly speaking,
    this is the challenge that
  644. faces a theoretical tradition or
    a theoretical enterprise,
  645. I should say,
    that doesn't want to be just
  646. derivative from what other folks
    have already said.
  647. The concept that Gates brings
    to bear on this,
  648. because after all he
    recognizes, as does Showalter
  649. too,
    that the notion of the
  650. sign is probably the
    cornerstone of white male
  651. literary theory--
    he recognizes that in order to
  652. perform this expropriative act,
    he's got to do something with
  653. the notion of the sign,
    and so he talks about the way
  654. in which one can signify
    on something.
  655. He introduces it very quietly
    on page 1900,
  656. the right-hand column,
    just seemingly in passing,
  657. near the top of the right-hand
    column:
  658. Since writing,
    according to Hume,
  659. was the ultimate sign of
    difference between animal and
  660. human,
    these writers implicitly were
  661. Signifyin(g) upon the figure of
    the chain itself…
  662. Notice the accent.
  663. You don't necessarily pronounce
    the g:
  664. they were signifyin' on the
    chain.
  665. Of course, the great chain of
    being, which is hierarchical,
  666. is very different from the
    vertical chain of the chain
  667. gang, isn't it?
  668. It's very different from the
    chain that holds slaves
  669. together.
  670. That's part of what it means to
    "signify on"
  671. something.
  672. At least allegedly,
    the "signifier"
  673. in the white male theoretical
    tradition is just a kind of
  674. placeholder in a play of
    linguistic differences.
  675. The question of the underlying
    sociological and cultural basis
  676. of this play and of the way in
    which this play takes shape
  677. isn't taken into account--
    again, allegedly--
  678. because--well,
    in ways that you can probably
  679. grasp from what we've said all
    along,
  680. this is slightly to
    oversimplify,
  681. but this is the position taken
    up.
  682. In any case,
    you therefore need to take the
  683. signifier and signify on
    it.
  684. Well, what is it to signify on
    something?
  685. This is an expression that
    Gates takes from the trickster
  686. tradition,
    the tradition of African
  687. storytelling in which the weaker
    is also the smarter,
  688. and the monkey or Anansi the
    Spider--
  689. some of you may remember the
    songs of Rafi from your
  690. childhood about Anansi the
    Spider--
  691. in which the monkey or the
    spider tricks the big,
  692. bad guys, the elephant,
    the lion.
  693. All of the bad guys get tricked
    because they are stupider,
  694. and the little guy is always
    able to signify on them,
  695. to trick them,
    and to lie to them without
  696. their realizing what's going on.
  697. This way of talking about
    signifying is very much in the
  698. tradition of African-American
    folklore and first comes to
  699. public consciousness in a song
    by the scat singer Oscar Brown,
  700. Jr., written by Oscar Brown,
    Jr., called "The
  701. Signifyin' Monkey."
  702. If I could sing,
    I'd sing it to you.
  703. Fortunately,
    I can't sing,
  704. but it became extremely popular
    and was picked up by various
  705. instrumental jazz groups and was
    a staple in the jazz tradition
  706. of the fifties and sixties.
  707. In any case,
    Oscar Brown Jr.'s notion of the
  708. signifying monkey is where Gates
    takes his essay's title from and
  709. which is where also he gets this
    idea of taking somebody else's
  710. discourse out of its context and
    insisting on bending it into an
  711. African-American context--
    in other words,
  712. a context which is one's own
    and not just the context one is
  713. given.
  714. Now the other example of
    "signifyin' on"
  715. that Gates gives is the
    culminating example of The
  716. Color Purple, and the
    conversation about "gettin'
  717. the man out of your eye,"
    which is a way of taking back a
  718. problem that exists even within
    the African-American tradition.
  719. As Gates has been pointing out,
    Wheatley and later Rebecca
  720. Jackson take their models of
    education and self-development
  721. from white male figures who have
    taught them how to read.
  722. In each case of course,
    this is pernicious because the
  723. existence of the white male
    figure is very much still in
  724. your eye.
  725. You got to get the man out of
    your eye, at least according to
  726. the dialogue Gates quotes from
    The Color Purple.
  727. Well, the interesting thing
    there is that in a way the issue
  728. of feminist criticism comes back
    to haunt Gates's argument
  729. because plainly Shug doesn't
    just mean the white man
  730. when she says "the
    man."
  731. A big issue in The Color
    Purple, of course,
  732. is the emergence of a possible
    feminism from social
  733. constructions that aren't just
    defined by race;
  734. so that when Gates says
    "the man,"
  735. which all of us recognize as
    shorthand for "the white
  736. man," can be signified on
    by an African-American
  737. tradition,
    making it a term of opprobrium,
  738. right?--
    "get the man out of your
  739. eye"--
    at the same time it can be
  740. signified on by the
    feminist tradition,
  741. making it a term of opprobrium
    not in a completely different
  742. way,
    but in an overlapping and
  743. partially different way.
  744. Gates, in emphasizing the one
    as opposed to the other,
  745. is perhaps tilting again toward
    a certain imbalance.
  746. Now finally I want to take up
    the example,
  747. the most controversial example
    in his essay,
  748. one which is a source of
    outrage for most readers,
  749. at the bottom of page 1893 in
    the left-hand column.
  750. He's been talking about the New
    Agrarian moment out of which
  751. there emerged a number of
    figures associated with the New
  752. Criticism,
    including Robert Penn Warren,
  753. who very early on repudiated
    the New Agrarians and became a
  754. politically progressive figure
    in his own writing.
  755. Many of you have probably read
    All the King's Men,
  756. certainly,
    and his poetry as well.
  757. He was an avatar,
    a central figure,
  758. in the development of the
    thinking of the New Criticism,
  759. which we have briefly studied.
  760. Now Warren wrote a poem called
    "Pondy Woods,"
  761. which is quoted completely out
    of context by Sterling Brown and
  762. unfairly out of context in the
    passage which I'm not going to
  763. read because I don't think I
    have the right to speak the
  764. "N-word";
    so I'll just have you look at
  765. it--and I'll come back to that
    in a minute.
  766. Sterling Brown's response is
    also recorded there for you.
  767. Well, the problem is,
    from the standpoint of anybody
  768. who's actually read the poem--
    but remember in some ways it's
  769. a problem raised by a New
    Critical perspective,
  770. and I'll explain what I mean in
    a minute--
  771. that expression is spoken by a
    buzzard or vulture from--
  772. I forget whether it's Tennessee
    or Kentucky.
  773. The episode takes place in
    northern Louisiana,
  774. and the buzzard is sitting
    expectantly on a tree waiting
  775. for a fugitive slave who has
    been chased into the swamp by
  776. his white pursuers to die.
  777. The vulture is sitting
    there--well, if it could it
  778. would be--rubbing its hands with
    glee waiting for this to take
  779. It's the vulture that says it
    in the poem: nothing to do in
  780. place.
  781. other words,
    as we say, with the author of
  782. the poem,
    Warren, who is writing a
  783. completely sympathetic evocation
    of what it's like to be a
  784. fugitive slave in this state of
    terrible and overwhelmed panic.
  785. So it seems completely unfair
    and it is, I think,
  786. unfair as Sterling Brown took
    it up and as Gates then
  787. perpetuates the idea in his own
    reference.
  788. The one thing I would add,
    however, is that it's a New
  789. Critical idea that we invoke to
    say that it's unfair.
  790. It's the New Criticism,
    in which Robert Penn Warren was
  791. a participant,
    that tells us we shouldn't
  792. confuse speakers in poems with
    authors.
  793. In other words,
    an author is someone,
  794. according to the New Criticism,
    who is dispassionate and who
  795. introduces dramatic voices even
    in lyric poems,
  796. voices with which we are merely
    confusing ourselves if we
  797. associate them with an author.
  798. Now this is something that we
    just take for granted when we
  799. read poems.
  800. All poems for us are to some
    degree dramatic monologues on
  801. the model of Browning and others
    in the nineteenth century.
  802. We read them that way now,
    but it is,
  803. as I say, a New Critical idea,
    and it comes back to the
  804. question,
    "Who has the right to use
  805. the 'N-word'?"
  806. It's a frequent term used on
    the street,
  807. as you know,
    in African-American culture,
  808. used almost with a certain
    fondness as a form of mutual
  809. greeting,
    but at the same time it is a
  810. term that continues rigorously
    to be rejected as available to
  811. anyone other than someone who
    belongs within this community.
  812. And so that issue lingers.
  813. It's an issue that
    Warren--because of course he
  814. wrote long before this
    controversy began to arise
  815. around the word--
    the controversy really boiled
  816. over precisely at the time of
    the banning of Huckleberry
  817. Finn from public schools,
    much later, and so there's a
  818. kind of innocence perhaps in
    Warren's use of the word.
  819. Nevertheless,
    in the critical tradition it's
  820. a question, "Who has the
    right to use it?"
  821. This gives rise perhaps to the
    suggestion of a certain
  822. insularity in the thinking of
    the New Criticism.
  823. Use any model you like:
    the model of the Freudian
  824. unconscious, the model of the
    political unconscious.
  825. In other words,
    we've been reading a lot in
  826. this course about our never
    quite saying what we mean to
  827. say,
    of our never quite being fully
  828. in control of our discourse
    because it bubbles up from the
  829. unconscious, right?
  830. Now if you take a model like
    this, even though it's a nasty
  831. buzzard from Kentucky that's
    saying what Gates quotes,
  832. nevertheless there is an
    author, and it has bubbled up
  833. from the unconscious of that.
  834. Well, what are you going to do
    with that?
  835. There's a kind of impasse there.
  836. We feel distinctly and vividly
    and even bitterly--
  837. because I love Warren,
    I love "Pondy Woods"
  838. and I also am something of a
    New Critic--
  839. so we feel a bitterness about
    the expropriation,
  840. the "signifying on"
    what Warren says in this
  841. fashion.
  842. At the same time,
    we have entertained these ideas
  843. of a subliminal author,
    not an authority but an author
  844. welling up from below.
  845. If that's the case,
    then we have to worry a little
  846. bit about how an expression like
    that got into the poem after
  847. all.
  848. I call it a lingering problem
    because it strikes me as one of
  849. those moments when probably it
    would have been better if Gates
  850. hadn't followed Sterling Brown,
    one of those moments when there
  851. is a kind of overkill in the
    zeal of argumentation,
  852. but which at the same time we
    can't absolutely dismiss out of
  853. hand for the variety of reasons
    that I have mentioned.
  854. Okay.
  855. I'll leave it there,
    and we'll return to many of
  856. these issues in a new vocabulary
    and in new forms when we read
  857. the examples of post-colonial
    criticism on Thursday that
  858. you've been assigned.