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168 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne detuaes americames Conn points out, Ford reissued his famous dictum in a form more appropriate for a practitioner of historical reconstruction: '"History as sometimes written is mostly bunk. But history that you can see is of great value"' (156). Outside of art museums today, displays of objects are usually not accorded the same influence, especially relative to words, that Conn shows they once had. Conn's well constructed narratives of institutional change and the provocative interpretation he builds from them should inspire more historians to look to museums for insights about the past. His thesis, though unproven, is plausible and well worth further investigation. More broadly, his anti-Foucauldian stance might also prompt historians to think some more about the uses of postmodern theory in history, and, in particular, to consider what's left when we take away power. Paul Briedenbach University ol Calilornia, San Diego Phillip Brian Harper. Are We Not Men?: Masculine Anxiety and the Problem ol African-American Identity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. xviii+ 254. Are We Not Men? constitutes, in author Phillip Brian Harper's words, "a critique of masculinism in African-American culture" and "of black 'authenticity ' and of the conformist demands that the concept implies" (ix). He argues that the concept of authentic blackness harbours a conservative and constricting gender ideology that is decidedly antifeminist, homophobic, and willfully blind to various differences within the so-called African-American community. Harper understands, of course, that in the case of African Americans, the equation of race pride and manhood has numerous historical causes, not the least of which is the psychological (and often graphically physical) emasculation of black men during slavery and Jim Crow, as well as their relatively dismal socioeconomic prospects to this day. But rather than encouraging such a tenuous compensatory strategy, which reveals even as 1t would conceal the anxiety underlying it, Harper wants to make the so-called emasculation the basis for a critique of traditional or conventional masculinity (autonomous, heterosexual, authoritative, potentially violent, and BookReviews 169 intolerant of "feminine" weaknesses), and thus the basis for a more challenging negotiation of social differences than that offered by a narrowly construed identity politics. Harper's subject and point of view are very important, but his book as a whole is too diffuse-both in terms of its content and its trendy melange of theoretical approaches-to make a substantial impact on our understanding of black masculinity in the United States. This diffuseness owes something to the fact that the book brings together essays written over a ten-year span. But blame should also be placed on the sprawling "discipline" of cultural studies, for which virtually any utterance or artifact is a "text" and, as such, fresh territory for academic conquest. And so alongside provocative essays on the Black Arts movement of the 1960s or debates over the proper designation of African Americans, we get arcane readings of forgotten television programs (Room222) and forgettable pop tunes, and "interventions" into topical issues such as Magic Johnson's HIV infection and the O.J. Simpson murder trial that amount to little more than journalism dressed up in academic garb. While there is no sense in discrediting the study of popular culture, Harper is typical of contemporary academic cultural critics in approaching pop cultural texts with unimpeachable earnestness, and packaging his observations in a mechanical, Latinate prose studded with verbs like "imbricate," "instantiates," and "problematize," and tortuous adjectives like "identificatory ," "confirmatory," and "binaristic." Were they not so humourless, his readmgs of songs like "A Natural Man" or ''You Make Me Feel Brand New" might be taken for a parody of traditional exegetical criticism, which so often leavesthe intelligent common reader (read: resistant student) asking "but did the author really mean that?" Leaving aside the question of an intricate intentionality in run-of-the-mill pop music, there are serious problems with over-analysing the syntax of public media statements, such as that made by the representative for Time in the wake of the outrage over the darkening of O.J. Simpson's face on its cover. Given the slovenly way language is used by so many...


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pp. 168-170
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