Ideas of blackness and racial difference have deep roots in European culture, stretching further back than the slave trade and 19th-century imperialism. This text exposes this history through an archaelogy of the racial imagination, exploring the work of both black and white artists and writers. Adam Lively shows how racist beliefs in innate intellectual and moral difference developed from the classificatory sciences of the 18th century, and Enlightenment model stemming from older, biblical divisions of mankind into "tribes". This book also questions the more opaque racism of integration, where professed ideas of "equal" often mean "like us". This is akin to the older abolitionist tradition of describing black slaves as pure victims; their skin might be "ugly and black" but their soul is always white. Tracing these two strands of thought, the text places them against a third "existential" definition of blackness, which has come mostly from black writers themselves. Lively looks closely at specific texts, from the 18th-century novels to jazz and rap, encompassing sentimental romances, propagandist verse, the trickster tales of slaves and their autobiographical narratives, the science of Darwin and fictions of blood and empire. Examining the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and the subversive effect of black feminism, he argues that only by understanding the complex evolution of present attitudes can we understand the impact of race on our imaginations, and on our lives.
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From Kirkus Reviews:
Adam Lively is a well-known critic, novelist, and broadcaster. He was born in Swansea and studied history and philosophy in England and America. He is the author of four novels, Blue Fruit, The Burnt House, The Snail, and Sing the Body Electric, as well as a pamphlet, Parliament: The Great British Democracy Swindle. Mr. Lively lives in London.
A comprehensive, if meandering, survey of black peoples in Western literature. Novelist and critic Lively (Blue Fruit, 1989) ranges all over the map, painting his literary study in encyclopedic brush strokes. From a fascinating segment on the African origins of the French harlequin figure, to an illuminating discourse on the role of Darwins theories in 19th-century conceptions of race, to the Harlem Renaissance, to a comfortably erudite discussion of jazz, to a perceptive review of James Baldwins relationship with Richard Wright, the author shows how time and again throughout history, attitudes on race, as exemplified especially in literature, tend to persist despite their transformation into different forms. But this unexceptionable premise raises the question, Wheres the argument? Although initially Lively attacks what he claims are simplistic criticisms of the 19th centurys racist science, he never develops that theme further. Later he suggests that vestiges of abolitionism survive in the writing of John Updike and Bernard Malamud, yet again the point disappears before being fully outlined. Sometimes Livelys ruminations are thought-provoking, as when he contends that as with fascism, [Joseph] Conrads nihilism is a nihilism without the courage of its own lack of convictions. Such moments, however, frequently occur far into tangents that leave racial issues behind. Lively often provocatively links numerous subjects, as he does with jazz, Ralph Ellison, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., but his discussions too often wander, in this case to an extended consideration of Sartre and black writers from French West Africa and the Caribbean. While Livelys wide research and keen eye illuminate almost every corner of the nettlesome issue of race, he never discloses more generally disturbing, encouraging, or singular trends in literature by and about blacks. An omnibus treatment of literary blackness, replete with detail, lacking in focus. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Book Description Vintage, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 99485516
Book Description Vintage, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0099485516