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Chaotic Justice

Chaotic Justice: Rethinking African American Literary History

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  • Book Info
    Chaotic Justice
    Book Description:

    What is African American about African American literature? Why identify it as a distinct tradition? John Ernest contends that too often scholars have relied on naive concepts of race, superficial conceptions of African American history, and the marginalization of important strains of black scholarship. With this book, he creates a new and just retelling of African American literary history that neither ignores nor transcends racial history.Ernest revisits the work of nineteenth-century writers and activists such as Henry "Box" Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Wilson, William Wells Brown, and Sojourner Truth, demonstrating that their concepts of justice were far more radical than those imagined by most white sympathizers. He sheds light on the process of reading, publishing, studying, and historicizing this work during the twentieth century. Looking ahead to the future of the field, Ernest offers new principles of justice that grant fragmented histories, partial recoveries, and still-unprinted texts the same value as canonized works. His proposal is both a historically informed critique of the field and an invigorating challenge to present and future scholars.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0507-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Loosed Canons The Race for Literary History
    (pp. 1-34)

    This book has been inspired by numerous conversations, conferences, articles, and books over the years, but basically it was sparked by my initial experience of reading and trying to understand Frances E. W. Harper’sIola Leroy(1892). Intrigued by the names of the characters in Harper’s novel, I started to do some very elementary research on such names as Iola, Delaney, Latimer, Latrobe, and Gresham, and in so doing found my way to Ida B. Wells, Lucille Delaney, George Latimer, John Hazlehurst Boneval Latrobe, and Gresham’s Law, among many other entrances to the complexities of nineteenth-century American history and culture.¹...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Representing Chaos and Reading Race
    (pp. 35-74)

    InThe Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois famously asserts that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line” (359). We are now past the twentieth century, and many scholars and other cultural commentators have argued that it is time for us to be past or get beyond or just get over the concept of race. I think that such arguments are ahistorical, or possibly more deeply historical than their proponents appreciate. Many examinations of race in the present are haunted, troubled, and tainted by the philosophical traces, the absurd frameworks, the overdetermined...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Truth Stranger than Fiction African American Identity and (Auto)Biography
    (pp. 75-111)

    In his 1880 memoir,My Southern Home; or, The South and Its People, William Wells Brown begins with a note about his autobiographical reflections. The book’s “earlier incidents,” he explains, “were written out from the author’s recollections. The later sketches here given, are the results of recent visits to the South, where the incidents were jotted down at the time of their occurrence, or as they fell from the lips of the narrators, and in their own unadorned dialect” (113). Brown is being typically disingenuous, for what readers actually find inMy Southern Home, albeit beyond their awareness, is a narrative...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Shortest Point between Two Lines Writing African Americans into American Literary History
    (pp. 112-146)

    Some years ago, Eric J. Sundquist observed that “it remains difficult for many readers to overcome their fundamental conception of ‘American’ literature as solely Anglo-European in inspiration and authorship, to which may then be added an appropriate number of valuable ‘ethnic’ or ‘minority’ texts, those that closely correspond to familiar critical or semantic paradigms” (7). Today, we can point to a number of scholars for whom this statement does not apply, scholars devoted to what Sundquist has termed “the challenge of revising the contours of literary tradition” (19). It would be more difficult, though, to identify scholarly studies that attempt...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Choreographing Chaos African American Literature in Time and Space
    (pp. 147-192)

    Henry Box Brown’s decision to conclude his 1851Narrativeby reprinting laws regulating slavery was not unique. Such reprintings frequently appear in slave narratives, antislavery newspapers, and such books as William Goodell’sThe American Slave Code in Theory and Practice(1853) and George M. Stroud’sStroud’s Slave Laws: A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America(1856). Law is a regular feature and often a major plot device in a great number of nineteenth-century African American novels as well. William Wells Brown beginsClotelby noting that marriages among the enslaved were...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Story at the End of the Story African American Literature and the Civil War
    (pp. 193-241)

    When describing the conclusion of the Civil War in his last autobiography, and the apparent success of the cause, the “great labor of [his] life” with which he had been identified and that had provided him with a clearly defined public role, Frederick Douglass writes of his “strange and, perhaps, perverse” reaction, a “great and exceeding joy . . . slightly tinged with a feeling of sadness”: “I felt I had reached the end of the noblest and best part of my life; my school was broken up, my church disbanded, and the beloved congregation dispersed, never to come together...

  10. CONCLUSION Covenants and Communities The Demands of African American Literature
    (pp. 242-254)

    In an essay published originally in 1996, Mae G. Henderson explores the tensions between Black Studies (which emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s) and Black Cultural Studies (which appeared during the late 1980s and early 1990s). She begins by noting the similarities between the two projects. Black Cultural Studies “continues the Black Studies project in that it takes as its object of investigation the consequences of uneven economic, social, and cultural development.” Moreover, “like Black Studies, cultural studies challenges received and conventional disciplinary paradigms in the construction of knowledge through its multidisciplinary and cross-cultural focus.” Both schools, too,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 255-274)
    (pp. 275-308)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 309-316)