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William J. Maxwell Black and White, Unite and Write: New Integrationist Criticism of U.S. Literary Modernism (on Michael North, The Dialect ofModernism: Race, Language, and Twentieth -Century Literature [New York: Oxford UP, 1994]; George Hutchinson, The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995]; and Barbara Foley, Radical Representations: Politics andForm in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941 [Durham: Duke UP, 1993]) In what may be less an analysis than an invention of imaginary resolutions to real social contradictions, critics of American literature have begun to treat black-white integration as a literary-historical obligation . Thirty years after thenonviolent, interracial Civil Rights movement was officially junked, a belated wave of post-segregationist criticism now challenges everything from the resumption of black church burning, to the regularizing ofHigh Courtreversals on school desegregation and affirmative action, to the hardening ofexclusive racial identities nearly everywhere outside humanities seminar rooms. If only according to the intellectual genealogy it favors for itself, this wave owes no more to poststructuralist anti-essentialism and the longing for a post-particularist left than to the latest comeback of Ralph Ellison. The same unashamed, eloquent, and ambiguously patriotic investigation of holes in the color line that made Ellison the public enemy of black nationalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s has made him the paterfamilias of the new integrationists in the period surrounding his 1994 death. Shelley Fisher Fishkin's 1995 bibliography-cum-manifesto "Interrogating 'Whiteness/ Complicating 'Blackness': Remapping American Culture," for instance, opens with the rhetorical equivalent of a three-gun salute to the author of Invisible Man and Shadow and Act. Before the first paragraph is through, the essay has dedicated itself to Ellison's memory, reiterated his 1958 opinion that whiteAmericans are "'absurdly self-deluded over the true interrelatedness ofblackness and whiteness,'" and invoked his enthusiasm for Fishkin's crossover study Was Huck Black? (1993) to bless the enterprise of literary-critical integrationism as a whole (428-29). As Fishkin suggests, new integrationist criticism such as Eric Sundquist's To Wake the Nations (1993) and Kenneth Warren's Black and White Strangers (1993) follows Ellison in exposing the illusion of self-contained, individually zip-locked racial traditions in American literature, delighting in recovered memories of the collaborative construction of white and black texts. 206the minnesota review In part, the proud display of Ellison's blessing is an index ofwhat's healthiest in this ongoing enterprise. The white critics who constitute the majority of the new school are unprecedentedly willing to cultivate and promote African-American intellectuals as parental figures. Not all of their searching for lost black relatives can be explained with cynical reference to some intimate defense against charges of interpretive incompetence and neo-colonialism, or a lessprofessionally specific borrowing ofanti-racist credentials and the multiculti mystique ofcultural ancestry repressed and rediscovered. Much as these critics are eager to identify the enabling black voices within Moby-Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and The Waste Land, they take time to acknowledge that their ability to hear them depends on the instruction of Ellison, Toni Morrison, and other exemplary black precursors, American literary intellectuals who never quite swallowed the assumption that canonical American writing was untouched by the black presence predating the nation's birth. Even still, when it comes to its addition to the boom in historical revisions ofU.S. literary modernism, critical integrationism canbe too reminiscent of the downside of Ellison's thought during the first "end of ideology." In addressing the literature ofitsown century, thenew school rarely lets its immaculate scholarship block opportunities to deploy inherited anti-Communist tropes in the interest ofsafe self-flagellation. At times, it indulges in some moldy chestnuts concerning the American exceptionalism that race makes, and consistently refuses the unglamorous but still urgent job of examining the entanglements of race, class, and capitalism. As a result, it threatens to devolve into a literary-critical outpost of "friendship orthodoxy," the name Benjamin DeMott lends the dominant American racial ideology that "miniaturizes , personalizes, and moralizes the large and complex dilemmas of race, removing them from the public sphere" (27). Given the new integrationism's critical sophistication, committed anti-racism, and potentially wide influence, these weaknesses deserve early, mostly comradely...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 205-215
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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