restricted access Race, Modernity, Postmodernity: A Look at the History and the Literatures of People of Color since the 1960s (review)
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Reviewed by
W. Lawrence Hogue. Race, Modernity, Postmodernity: A Look at the History and the Literatures of Peoples of Color since the 1960s. State U of New York P, 1996. xii + 209 pp.

W. Lawrence Hogue’s look at the history and literature of people of color since the 1960s is an interesting one. Framed in the epistemological tenets that govern discussions of modernity and postmodernity, Hogue investigates the state of being “colored” in America, not from its static, representational position but from its dialectical position as it relates to the larger intellectual communities of mainstream and nonmainstream groups of the 1960s to the present. Hogue focuses on eight narratives from members of four ethnic groups: African American, Asian American, Mexican American, and Native American. As he makes clear in his preface, his study “explores how desires are repressed, ignored and subordinated when they encounter rigid, naturalized narratives either in the forms of literary texts, critical discourses, cultural and political discourses, or canon formations.” Hogue hopes to expand the boundaries which govern the discussions of these texts, positing, in effect, an interpretation that does not center around race exclusively but includes philosophical debates centering on these narratives as modern or postmodern texts.

In chapter 1, Hogue outlines the ongoing debates surrounding the significance of postmodernity and its influence in our culture. He notes that changes in the social, political, and economic organization of American society prompted transformations not only in American society at large but also within the communities of people of color over the past three decades. The globalization of certain national markets, [End Page 396] the emergence of computer and information networks, the explosion of the media culture—all these factors contributed to the production of a new social reality which found its “subjects” decentered as the conceptions of time and space took on new meaning in a culture that had lost its master narratives and had left “man . . . without external principles of authority.”

Against this backdrop, Hogue argues, “a vision of racial communities as being defined by racial tradition has been distilled” in contemporary literature. This tradition becomes, for all intents and purposes, a shadow of a master narrative that “dichotomizes yet conjoins two oppositions: the rural/urban, the European/non-European.” In tracing the history of this tradition through the lives of people of color, Hogue pinpoints what he believes to be the essentialization of the race tradition by “racial cultural nationalists” who “fall into a trap of taking the rhetorical ideological construct of continuity (and unity and wholeness) as being an essential relation of continuity.” For people of color, this “tradition” then becomes appropriated, objectified, homogenized, and reified through Mexican, African, and Asian cultures. What Hogue suggests is that the properties of modernism and postmodernism complicate these notions of wholeness as ideological constructs like alienation, fragmentation, and individualism supersede the need for historical and communal continuity. The rest of Hogue’s study explores these conflicts in minute detail through an analysis of the following novels: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (chapter 2); Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory and Andrea Lee’s Sarah Phillips (chapter 3); Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident (chapter 4), and Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey and Richard Perry’s Montgomery’s Children (chapter 5).

Hogue’s book goes far in positing alternative ways to view the racial tradition within the dictates of modernism and posmodernism. As the title suggests, “race” alone does not determine the positionality of a text or its author within certain intellectual communities in this country. Yet his analysis left me asking whether “white” America itself does not speak from its own “racial tradition.” If the answer to this question is yes (and I believe that it is given the move in certain theoretical circles to include “whiteness” as a cultural/racial category in and of itself), where does that leave the term “people of color” given the [End Page 397] philosophical tenets of modernism and postmodernism that Hogue poses in his book? Similarly, I would ask how do his discussions of the “racist tradition...