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preface From the Harlem Renaissance This book about canonical nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature emerged paradoxically out of a class I taught on the Harlem Renaissance. For any scholar interested in the economic history of modern American literature, the Harlem Renaissance seems anomalous. In standard accounts of literary history, scholars argue that the mode of production for literature switches unevenly in the post-Civil War period from a system of elite patronage and genteel amateurism to what is described as the free literary market and self-supporting professionalism. The market, literary scholars say, helped democratize literary production and consumption, even as it enabled the creation of a new profession in which writers could sustain themselves without a need for patrons or sponsors . The Harlem Renaissance, however, seems to pose an exception to this economic narrative. Many Harlem Renaissance writers had patrons—black but also white (Alain Locke, James Weldon Johnson, A’leila Walker, W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as ‘‘Godmother’’ Charlotte Mason, Nancy Cunard, Carl Van Vechten). Even more strikingly, Harlem Renaissance writers’ work was sponsored or promoted by a number of philanthropic or philanthropically inclined organizations (Guggenheim, Rosenwald, the NAACP, the Urban League). Individual patronage and institutional philanthropy— especially involving white elites—have therefore always been controversial features in debates about Harlem Renaissance artists, in a way that they have not been for white artists of the same period.1 At one level, this controversy is not surprising, because if Harlem Renaissance writers themselves are any gauge, patronage and philanthropy were of deep interest to these writers in imagining the significance and critical potential of their work. Repeatedly in the Harlem Renaissance and viii Preface the period that followed it, African American authors quite directly depict and analyze the effect that patrons and philanthropic organizations had on the art and intellectual work that they produced.2 However, relying on the critical vantage point of Harlem Renaissance writers on patronage and philanthropy , one quickly realizes that sponsorship is not as anomalous as our modern literary histories have made it seem. A double standard has been used to study Harlem Renaissance cultural production. While the racial politics of the Harlem Renaissance are specific to it, patronage and philanthropy have been continuous features of cultural production in the United States generally. The quest to create or define an American literary tradition , so central in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was often also (whatever else it was) one about funding the production of American literature. The ‘‘market’’ is thus often figured, both in the nineteenth century and in the literary histories written afterward, as a central solution to this problem of funding; however, this market is nebulously defined. Indeed, as ‘‘the new economic criticism’’ has shown, literary history often simply borrowed its standard narrative about free and democratizing markets from liberal economics, even as liberal economics depended, without acknowledgment, on literary modes. As Gordon Bigelow argues, the fiction of the expansive democratization of free markets is foundational to liberal economics. At the same time, that fiction is inextricably linked to romanticism in its depiction of the consumer freely expressing his/her inner self through the articles s/he selects. Bigelow’s point is that romantic expressivism is conceptually problematic in and of itself, but even more so when used to create a quasiempirical model of how markets work, which in turn literary historians then unproblematically borrow.3 In short, one of the terms literary historians most rely on to discuss cultural production in modernity—the market—is also one of the most opaque. This is not to say that the term has not helped in clarifying the dynamics of cultural production in modernity, or that markets do not exist. Rather, it is to say that our often unconscious reliance on liberal economics’ notion of markets as free and as democratizing production and consumption has meant that we often ignore the systematic forms of what economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi calls ‘‘interventionism’’ that construct or create markets. What the Harlem Renaissance thinkers’ intensive, sustained, and self-conscious scrutiny of the social and economic practices of patronage and philanthropy does is help us think about interventionism. It is precisely From the Harlem Renaissance ix because Harlem Renaissance intellectuals were racial outsiders that they became so deeply fascinated with patronage and philanthropy. The Harlem Renaissance represents a moment when these social and economic practices were used for the first time systematically to invite black intellectuals to enter a historically segregated national market...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812290035
Related ISBN
9780812246308
MARC Record
OCLC
884615827
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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