Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

I am grateful for the opportunity to thank friends, family, colleagues, and mentors who supported me through the writing of this book. It is a book I couldn’t have written without years of training under the immeasurably generous Michael Awkward. I thank him for his mentorship...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-16

In her 1987 essay “The Site of Memory,” Toni Morrison describes the work of the African American novelist through a metaphor that links black cultural memory to the seasonal floods of the Mississippi River. In this metaphor, the author’s romanticized floods defy spatial restrictions...

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1. Against Prohibitive Reading (On Trauma)

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pp. 17-52

Among the many responses summoned by Kenneth W. Warren’s controversial polemic, What Was African American Literature? is Aldon Lynn Nielsen’s critical review essay, “Wasness,” which appears within a printed symposium in the June 13, 2011, issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books...

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2. For Contradiction (On Masochism)

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pp. 53-92

In the previous chapter, I identified one dimension of the problem of historical desire confronting the contemporary narrative of slavery: Its object is elusive, its resolution is impossible. Here is a second dimension: In the contemporary narrative of slavery, the desire for liberation is...

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3. The Missing Archive (On Depression)

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pp. 93-130

In the opening chapter of Andrea Lee’s 1984 novella, Sarah Phillips, the eponymous protagonist describes a hostile, semi-public exchange with her French lover, Henri Durier. While dining with Sarah and two of his childhood friends at a “small inn near the outskirts of Rouen,” Henri is...

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4. Reading African American Literature Now

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pp. 131-168

Midway through Mat Johnson’s exhilarating, novelistic response to Edgar Allan Poe’s faux travelogue, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Johnson’s protagonist, a professor of African American literature, pauses to remark upon his fatigue with black studies’ prolific...

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Postscript

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pp. 169-172

From its inception, African American formal writing has troubled conventions and norms of how to read. The slave narrative and, later, the protest novel, with their purposeful, often sentimental appeals and their urgent calls to action, plainly asked to be read for their literal truths...

Notes

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pp. 173-194

Works Cited

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pp. 195-204

Index

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pp. 205-210

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About the Author

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p. 211

Aida Levy-Hussen is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.