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Diaspora 9:3 2000 Soul Mates Kate Baldwin University of Notre Dame Up From Bondage: The Literatures of African American and Russian Soul. Dale Peterson. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Alice Walker describes her undergraduate years at Spelman College as marked by a fascination that, in her estimation, put her at a remove from the students around her. Walker reflects, "I paid as much attention to Russian literature as many of the other girls paid to makeup, clothing and boys" (Gussow 10). But if this kept her away from her college-mates, Walker's predilection for Tolstoy and Dostoevsky placed her squarely within the paradigm that Dale Peterson proposes in his study of affinities between Russian and African American literatures. Eschewing the conventional boundaries between Russian and American literary studies that have characterized the exceptionalist enterprises of each, Peterson brings together literature from both canons. He is interested less in explicit influences across the "wall" of cultural and national separation than in "structures of mentality" that have produced comparable articulations of ethnic self-consciousness in the guise of a literature ofthe "soul." Peterson's argument is that the exclusion of both Russians and African Americans from the Western European narrative of world progress and civilization, as based on German Idealist philosophy, ignited in each a determination to shape a counterclaim. This counterclaim took shape through an assertion of an essentialist selfhood expounded in a rhetoric of "soul." Out ofthe exclusion from world-historical "Spirit" came the articulation of"soul." Walker's taste for the Russian literary greats, Peterson would argue, resonates with a history of relatedness. Peterson carves his argument from the conjunction of what he describes as the "similar strivings of Russians and African Americans to give visibility and voice to a native culture that had been hidden from view and held in bondage to narrow Western standards of civility and literacy" (6). Demonstrating the necessity for and potential of comparative assessments of cultural production across 399 Diaspora 9:3 2000 this entrenched divide, Peterson initiates a much belated critical dialogue between the literatures of African American and Russian soul. In its travels across geographic, conceptual, and disciplinary boundaries, Up From Bondage juxtaposes authors and texts to emphasize parallels and affinities, as well as differences, between them. Peterson's contention is that through close attention to the "extraordinary degree ofcomparability" between the two traditions, "a larger symmetry gradually becomes evident." This symmetry is housed in the ways in which Russian and African American intellectuals responded to their denigration as "non-historical" peoples by Western European standards: "their paths toward cultural emancipation followed many of the same twists and turns" (7). Peterson's excursus is, however, more than a tracing of a selfevident pattern. Close reading is used as an instrument to elucidate how Russian and African American writers have constructed similarly sequenced responses to Western rejection through various stages and forms of nationalist theorizing. The twists and turns that Peterson pursues lead him to a range of literary and philosophical couplings. He begins in the nineteenth century, with Peter Chaadaev and Alexander Crummell, and traces the permutations of cultural nationalisms through the work of Ivan Kireevsky and W.E.B. Du Bois; Ivan Turgenev, Charles Chesnutt, and Zora Neale Hurston; Fyodor Dostoevsky and James Weldon Johnson; Maxim Gorky and Richard Wright; and Valentin Rasputin and Gloria Naylor. Peterson unwraps the relationship between each pair as a particular evocation ofthe "soul," working through what he demonstrates to be the two primary modes of soul literature: one that espouses essential difference and one that tends towards doublevoicedness , which Peterson interprets as a precursor to cultural pluralism. The major exceptions to the rule ofthe flourishing ofsoul in the twentieth century are Gorky and Wright, both of whom, Peterson argues, rejected the populist provincialisms of soul in the name of a "missionary internationalism," an intriguing phrase that Peterson leaves unexplored. Each of the figures Peterson discusses will be familiar to those schooled in either discipline but, when situated alongside this proverbial "other," will likely surprise readers from both Slavic and African American fields. For example, Peter Yakovlevich Chaadaev (1794-1856) is well known...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 399-420
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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