- Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics in Twentieth-Century African American Literature
Understanding the text as a result of more than the forces of writerly intent captures the key premise of John K. Young's Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics and 20th Century American Literature. This attention to the extrinsic factors responsible for what we eventually embrace as the book foregrounds a bibliographic anthropology whereby the principles of cultural situation determine the textual result in accordance with the writer' s measured acts of production. The text then, as in the case of the writer, emerges primarily from a cache of codes regulated by established cultural dominants that presuppose historical context and ideological weight, and the writer as determined subject creates in accordance with how she is already scripted or in light of how society expects her to be scripted. Accordingly, to study the text is to study the context. The upshot as Foucault (2001, 1635) would have it means:
[. . .] we should suspend the typical questions: how does a free subject penetrate the density of things and endow them with meaning; how does it accomplish its design by animating the rules of discourse from within? Rather, we should ask: under what conditions and through what forms can an entity like the subject appear in the order of discourse; what position does it occupy; what functions does it exhibit; and what rules does it follow in each type of discourse? In short, the subject (and its substitute) must be stripped of its creative role and analyzed as a complex and variable function of discourse.
It is such attention to the social and historical determinants forming our sense of authorship and influencing our understanding of literary production that situates the thematic focus of Young's work. Specifically, Young addresses how white editorial theory in accordance with its traditional use of a mythological and reductive concept of race affects and determines the African-American writer's placement and legitimacy in the American society.
Identifying his method somewhat vaguely as "historicist" but leaving one to qualify that it is more explicitly a new historicist project functioning in the politically engaged vein of its British version, namely, cultural materialism, Young is concerned with how white publishers and black writers interact "at the level of power in the Foucauldian sense" (6) where the fluctuating relationship between writers and publishers involve on the part of the former acts of dissidence as well as acts of containment. Young is clear regarding [End Page 162] the extent to which he understands traditional white American editorial theory as representing a discourse in need of critical exposure and epistemological reformation. By exploring and interrogating the extent to which black writers have existed at the mercy of a white editorial culture steeped in racial presuppositions about blackness, it is Young's contention that:
[. . .] a focus on African American textual history importantly revises the scope and conceptual framework of editorial theory itself. By confronting the material book as residual evidence of the "white mythology" that has dictated the kinds of African American literature that could be published, editorial theory can realize its unique ability to investigate the social networks that motivate, shape, and often control textual production. While editorial theorists argued generally against authorial intention as a guiding principle for editing and interpretation, African-American authorial agency has been systematically circumscribed and even ignored, so the bibliographic codes for minority text are, indeed, the only possible demonstration of this historical silencing.(26)
Ultimately, Young's engagement of editorial theory involves more than an academic project pursuing a descriptive account of the Eurocentric sensibilities responsible for marginalizing the African-American writer and, accordingly, African-American literary culture. He sees himself as being the first to appropriate editorial theory extensively for the analysis of African-American literary politics. It is in this sense that Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics and 20th Century American Literature heralds new historicist attention to editorial theory as a discursive parallel by which to augment our understanding of the etiological...