Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership
Publication Year: 2012
Social and political change is impossible in the absence of gifted male charismatic leadership—this is the fiction that shaped African American culture throughout the twentieth century. If we understand this, Erica R. Edwards tells us, we will better appreciate the dramatic variations within both the modern black freedom struggle and the black literary tradition.
By considering leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama as both historical personages and narrative inventions of contemporary American culture, Edwards brings to the study of black politics the tools of intertextual narrative analysis as well as deconstruction and close reading. Examining a number of literary restagings of black leadership in African American fiction by W. E. B. Du Bois, George Schuyler, Zora Neale Hurston, William Melvin Kelley, Paul Beatty, and Toni Morrison, Edwards demonstrates how African American literature has contested charisma as a structuring fiction of modern black politics.
Though recent scholarship has challenged top-down accounts of historical change, the presumption that history is made by gifted men continues to hold sway in American letters and life. This may be, Edwards shows us, because while charisma is a transformative historical phenomenon, it carries an even stronger seductive narrative power that obscures the people and methods that have created social and political shifts.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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IT WAS IN THE IMMEDIATE WAKE of destruction, loss, and dispossession wroughtby 2005’s Hurricane Katrina that performing and recording artist ErykahBadu stopped the clock on the progress of black public protest. Called to stageto sing her own “Time’s a Wastin” at a televised rally organized by the Mil-lions More Movement to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Million Man...
Part I. Charisma
1. Restaging the Charismatic Scenario: Fictions of African American Leadership
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A SUSTAINED ENGAGEMENT with the multifarious experiences, perspectives,movements, stories, and players that make up the contemporary history ofblack American movements for social change and political progress requiresboth historicizing and disposing of the fiction that social transformation isimpossible in the absence of singular charismatic leadership. Charisma is a...
2. Leadership’s Looks: The Aesthetics of Black Political Modernity
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WHEN LITERARY CRITIC HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. lamented that that black Amer-icans could not seem to “agree on what leadership should look like” as thetwentieth century neared its close, he signaled a century-long anxiety abouthow race men would look while representing the race.1 In the transition fromslavery to freedom, charismatic leadership came to occupy the central site...
Part II. Contestations
3. Moses, Monster of the Mountain: Gendered Violence in Zora Neale Hurston’s Gothic
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ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING FICTIONS of twentieth-century black politicalculture is the fantasy of charismatic leadership, the idea that politicaladvancement is best achieved under the direction of a single male leaderbelieved to be gifted with a privileged connection to the divine. When leader-ship is structured around a charismatic aesthetic, it is often a male presence...
4. Disappearing the Leader: The Vanishing Spectacle in Civil Rights Fiction
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IN A CHILLING SCENE at the end of William Melvin Kelley’s 1962 novel, A Dif-ferent Drummer, a slick Northern preacher is forced to sing and dance for amob of white men who have decided that the black residents of their South-ern town who have followed the silent, puzzling actions of a quiet, boyishtwenty-two-year-old and left the town empty of its black labor force were...
Part III. Curiosities
5. “Cyanide in the Kool-Aid”: Black Politics and Popular Culture after Civil Rights
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THE STORY OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN freedom struggle most often invoked incontemporary popular, mass-mediated accounts of the civil rights movementfeatures a series of charismatic spectacles that build on the ancient symbol-ogy of the Exodus myth, the cultural repertoire of black political modernity,and the news reporting of post–World War II black protest. In these scenes,...
6. Claim Ticket Lost: Toni Morrison’s Paradise and African American Literature’s Holy Hollow
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DAYS AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast in September2005, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dispossessed as the scenesof New Orleans under water captured television sets and newspaper head-lines, I was having a conversation about the “active abandonment” of blackNew Orleanians with a young pastor of a mostly African American church...
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WHEN OPRAH WINFREY, charismatic in her own right, officially joined thecampaign for Barack Obama’s presidential bid in December 2007, she madeback-to-back appearances in Des Moines, Iowa, and Columbia, South Car-olina, lending her formidable cultural authority to electoral politics—as shecalled it, “stepping out of her pew”—for the first time in her decades-long...
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I OWE THANKS TO SO MANY who have enabled and in every way enrichedthe writing of this book that began as a dissertation at Duke University.Maurice Wallace was this book’s earliest and most earnest supporter andhelped me discover the best in my thought and writing. At moments, thisbook is for him. Wahneema Lubiano has been a generous and brilliant inter-...
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...1. Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the2. All of the ellipses here and below are Badu’s own. Millions More Movement,3. On disidentification as an engagement with a dominant ideology that “neitheropts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it” but rather “works onand against dominant ideology,” see José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of...
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ERICA R. EDWARDS is assistant professor of English at the University of...
Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Difference Incorporated