African American Literature Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:06:56
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This process, wherein the reading of a text becomes a vehicle for self-realization and self-transformation is emphasized in the slave narratives of African American Literature. These narratives present us with accounts of individual self-transformation evident in the process wherein the individual writes his or her self into a being recognized by the dominant society. Within such works, the authors portray the process in which he or she overcomes the slaveholding societys continuous attempts to deny or eradicate his or her identity.

Despite of this, it is important to note that although such a process involves the creation of a referent, which is tantamount to the creation of an identity, such a process also involves the assimilation of the dominant cultures norms. In this sense, slave narratives may be seen as depicting the conflict involved in the creation of an African American identity. The conflict is evident if one considers that the aforementioned assimilation of values involved in the creation of an African American identity stands in direct conflict to the individuals experiences during and after slavery.

African-American slave narratives, in this sense, provide a dramatic model of the textual construction and development of African-American identity. Such a process, on the other hand, mirrors the correlation between literature and politics and thereby allows us to consider the theoretical and ethical implications of a literary work. This is evident if one considers that African American slave narratives aide in the construction of an African American identity by raising issues regarding the comportment and formation of the self within an inscrutable literary form.

In lieu of this, this paper opts to present an analysis of the textual, social, and political conditions that affect the creation of the African American identity. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part of the paper aims to explicate the aforementioned relation of the textual construction of identity evident within literary texts. The necessity of such is evident if one considers that the process sets the contextual background for the analysis of literary texts.

The second part of the paper, on the other hand, opts to explicate the manner in which certain forms of slave narratives may aide in the creation of an African American identity. Such an explication involves the analysis of Frederick Douglass Narratives of the Life of Frederick Douglass as well as Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The following texts will be used due to the autobiographical character of the aforementioned texts. It is important to note that the aforementioned genre provides a form of discursive control both as an authorial choice and as a privileged aesthetic and ethical discourse.

This stems from the presumed unitary character of the narratives within the genre (Gilligan 89). Such a character, on the other hand, enables the promotion and presentation of a self that shares confessional discourse and an assumed interiority with an attached moral law in the examination of an individual and in the creation of the authors individuality. In this sense, the inclusion of the aforementioned works within the genre of autobiography may be seen as political act, which mirrors the same conflicts evident in the political construction of the self that African Americans experience in the creation or formation of an identity.

In this part of the paper, I will also argue that the aforementioned works enable the act of transformative recognition, which is necessary in the creation of an African American identity. The third part of the paper, on the other hand, involves the setting of the power relations that enables the conflict of identity formation amongst African Americans within the current American society. The third part of the paper thereby provides a social analysis of the aforementioned conflict in identity formation.

In the last part of the paper, I will argue that such a conflict continually pervades the current American society and that the reason for such lies in the continuation of African American slavery within the 21st Century America. It is important to note that the continuation of such is enabled by the continuous perception of the African American as a slave. The continuation of slavery thereby is enabled by the continuation of the perceived status characteristic of the African American as a slave (Levin 227).

Let us now proceed with the initial part of the paper. Due to the interconnectedness of the text and the individual, discussions of African American Literature can be placed within a theoretical and ethical arena. It becomes possible to conjoin the effects of the ethical and aesthetic character of a work in the realization of a self-identity and political identity in the reader. At the same time, this view allows us to posit the individual reading a text as someone whose ethical problematization necessitates a theoretical problematization.

Through this, it also becomes possible for us to ask whether the predisposed reading of texts is in itself a mode of exercising power over the ethical predispositions of individuals and not necessarily a theory, which opts to pave the way for human emancipation. All of these will show that the spontaneous and habitual orientation of attention is inimical to the maintenance of reality. Therefore, the event of ascribing an identity towards ones self is a reorientation of attention and a kind of ontological conversion, which affects the aesthetic, ethical, and political perceptions of the individual.

In order for literature to be considered as a form of social practice, there are factors that need to exist. These are the writer, the reader, and the text. Spatiotemporal and material conditions may affect the relationship between the three. For example, not all authors know their readers and the meaning ascribed to a text is dependent upon the conditions within the society in which the text is located. There are other complexities in the relationship between the three.

For example, by looking at the material conditions closely, we will see that writers normally write for a specific audience whose inclinations and attitudes they consider in the process of writing their stories. This leads to the creation of genres, which dictate how a particular form of literature will be read and considered. Of course, genre formation is not this simple but what I would like to emphasize here is that in the process of genre formation abstractions are being created and established within a system, which leads to the creation of a new set of categories and a new paradigm for assessing a literary text.

Since writing occurs within a specific logonomic system, which constrains and determines the meaning of a text, it becomes important to consider whether what is being written and produced will not disrupt the dominant paradigm. That is why, within a patriarchal society, any form of literature that questions or presents another alternative to the normative form of existence becomes marginalized and silenced. True enough, there are instances wherein a space is provided for the existence of deviant perspectives.

However, it should be noted that no dominant social discourse includes or exhausts all human practice, energy, and intention. On the contrary, it is a fact of all modes of domination that they select from and consequently exclude the full range of human practice. Therefore, when an excluded and marginalized discourse becomes incorporated or is allowed to exist within the dominant paradigm, it has already been reinterpreted to suit the dominant paradigms perspective. Such is the case of African American slave narratives.

Acceptance of the aforementioned narratives within the literary sphere involves recognition of the African American existence as individual entities with their own ontology. It is important to note, that early slave narratives took the form of spiritual autobiography, the providential tale, criminal confession, Indian captivity narrative, sea adventure story, and the picaresque novel (Fisch 13). The religious character of such slave narratives accounts for the process of liberation [spiritual and then political] character of the aforementioned forms evident within the genre.

Acceptance of the genre thereby involves a predetermined creation of an ontology for those who are depicted within the genre itself. Such an ontology is provided by the religious conversion associated with the narratives of the self evident within the aforementioned genre. According to Fisch, the acceptance of the genre was characterized by a form of racial condescension that often takes the form of romantic primitivism wherein the African American ex-slave is portrayed as a native people who were more virtuous since they were removed from the corrupting influences of society (25).

From this, we can see that African Literature faces the problems of categorization. Knowing that recognition will only be achieved when one is accepted within the dominant paradigm, there is a considerable desire to be a part of the canon. However, working with the knowledge that acceptance is tantamount to the loss of the subversive and revolutionary character of their writings; African American Literature strives for a form of recognition, which erases all forms of domination wherein the literary works from the centre, periphery, and the middle all possess equal ground.

This is possible if we perceive African American Literature as a form of minor literature. Minor literature does not designate a specific literature but it refers to the recognition that all forms of literature have been placed in revolutionary conditions¦within the heart of what are called great (or established) literature (Deleuze and Guattari 18). However, this recognition that all forms of literature once held a revolutionary position against the canon does not erase the dominance of a particular mode of perceiving texts.

Drawing a boundary of what is or what is not African American Literature is a problematic exercise since the talk of African American writing aims to raise issues of difference by implying the presence and the absence of something that is not yet fully defined [African American identity]. Furthermore, the answer to the question is dependent upon the establishment of meaning in relation to the text. Within this perspective, meaning may exist in the identity apparent in the writer, the reader, or the text itself. However, there are problems with this viewpoint.

If what is necessary for a text to be considered as African American Literature is the race of its writer, it becomes problematic when we consider a text written by a African American who has not yet identified himself with the struggles of the class and the race. Second, not all the texts produced by African American writers pertain to experiences of racism and slavery. Third, contrary to the constructivists account of the fluidity of identity, such a perspective is based upon the assumed fixity of identity of the writer.

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