Hunter College: “African American Literature: Baldwin, Morrison, and the Deep Democratic Tradition” (Fall 2012)

English 321: 02 African-American Narratives:
Baldwin, Morrison, and the Deep Democratic Tradition

Tuesdays and Fridays, 12:45-2:00pm

Professor Frank Roberts
Department of English
Hunter College, City University of New York
Office Hours: By Appointment

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To be an Afro-American, or an American black, is to be in the situation, intolerably exaggerated, of all those who have ever found themselves part of a civilization which they could in no wise honorable defend-which they were compelled, indeed, endlessly to attack and condemn-and who yet spoke out of the most passionate love, hoping to make the
kingdom new, to make it honorable and worthy of life.
–James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (1972)

The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

Course Description:
This seminar serves as an advanced introduction to various key moments in the oeuvre of two of the most influential African American novelists of the post-civil rights era: James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. We will pay particular attention to the various literary and rhetorical strategies Baldwin and Morrison deploy in their trenchant critiques of American liberalism and the failed promises of U.S. democracy. Central themes this semester will include: the artist as social critic (or, as Baldwin once put it, the artist as a “disturber of the peace”); the blues as metaphor and motif; the ongoing traumatic legacies of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and American apartheid; double and triple consciousness; the black body as a shifting signifier; and literature as a site of the critical reconfiguration of history. In addition, we will be especially interested in thinking about the use-value of Baldwin’s and Morrison’s ideas for approaching the conundrum of race in the twentieth-first century. Finally, we will place Morrison and Baldwin’s fiction in conversation with the non-literary work of contemporary thinkers such as Cornel West.

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