Synopses & Reviews
"The originality, brilliance, and scope of the work is remarkable.... Gates will instruct, delight, and stimulate a broad range of readers, both those who are already well versed in Afro-American literature, and those who, after reading this book, will eagerly begin to be."--Barbara E. Johnson, Harvard University. "A critical enterprise of the first importance.... Gates promises to lead and to show the way in boldness of conception, in vigor of execution, and in vitality and pertinence of expression."--James Olney, Louisiana State University. Recently awarded Honorable Mention from the John Hope Franklin Publication Prize Committee of the American Studies Association, Figures in Black takes a provocative new look at how we analyze and define black literature. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., attacks the notion that the dominant mode of Afro-American literature is, or should be, a kind of social realism, evaluated primarily as a reflection of the "Black Experience." Instead, Gates insists that critics turn to the language of the text and bring to their work the close, methodical analysis of language made possible by modern literary theory. But his goal in this volume is not merely to "apply" contemporary theory to black texts. Indeed, as he ranges from 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley to modern writers Ishmael Reed and Alice Walker, he attempts to redefine literary criticism itself, moving it away from a Eurocentric notion of a hierarchical canon--mostly white, Western, and male--to foster a truly comparative and pluralisic notion of literature. In doing so, he provides critics with a powerful tool for the analysis of black art and, more important, reveals for all readers the brilliance and depth of the Afro-American tradition.
A study which focuses on Afro-American literature.
For over two centuries, critics and the black community have tended to approach African-American literature as simply one more front in the important war against racism, valuing slave narratives and twentieth-century works alike, primarily for their political impact.
In this volume, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a leading scholar in African-American studies, attacks the notion of African-American literature as a kind of social realism. Insisting, instead, that critics focus on the most repressed element of African-American criticism--the language of the text--Gates advocates the use of a close, methodical analysis of language, made possible by modern literary theory. Throughout his study, Gates incorporates the theoretical insights of critics such as Bakhtin, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, and Bloom, as he examines the modes of representation that define black art and analyzes the unspoken assumptions made in judging this literature since its inception.
Ranging from the eighteenth-century poet, Phillis Wheatley, to modern writers, Ishmael Reed and Alice Walker, Gates seeks to redefine literary criticism itself, moving away from a Eurocentric notion of a hierarchical canon--mostly white, Western, and male--to foster a truly comparative and pluralistic notion of literature.
This insightful book, written by a leading scholar in African-American studies, attacks the notion of African-American literature as a kind of social realism. Insisting, instead, that critics focus on the most repressed element of African-American criticism- the language of the text--Henry Louis Gates, Jr. advocates the use of a close, methodical analysis of language, made possible by modern literary theory.
About the Author
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
is Chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies and W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of The Signifying Monkey
, Loose Canons
, and Colored People
; general editor of The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers
; and general editor of The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute