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128 Canadian Reviewof American Studies literature, Munk's work demonstrates the faith in literature as a cooperative, ongoing engagement with the word that marks the finest of such studies. Paul Endo Vancouver, B.C. •••••• Eric J. Sundquist. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature .Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Haivard University Press, 1993. Pp. xi+ 705. To Wake the Nations is a monumental work on the order of Matthiessen's American Renaissance, one sure to shape our understanding of American literature and cultural history for many years to come. The culmination of a decade's scholarship, Professor Sundquist's book attempts, in his concluding words, "to reconfigure the geography of the American literary imagination during the defining period of what was arguably the nation's defining eventslavery and its aftermath." This "defining period" extends Matthiessen's preCivilWar "renaissance"considerably; for the "neo-slavery" of segregation which was the price of sectional reunion, Sundquist argues, provides much of the context for an extension and revision of prewar efforts to aesthetically express and redeem the promise of a democratic culture, efforts which, seen from an African-American standpoint, took on a necessarily more revolutionary and political cast. The national culture, from this perspective, is marked first by the critical contradiction between its democratic ideals and its most glaring historical crime, and, secondly, by its glaring failure to expiate that crime. Whereas Matthiessen's "renaissance" takes its cue from Emerson's transcendentalist doctrines and remains situated largely within the parameters of pre-Civil War New England, in Sundquist's configuration it is W. E. B. DuBois who emerges as a dominant cultural voice and authorized his geographic extension of the "American literary imagination." New England-born, educated at Hatvard and in Berlin, DuBois looked to the Southern "black belt" in the wake of Reconstruction for his inspiration in creating The Souls of Black Folk, which Sundquist calls "the most vital essay in African-American historical and artistic reconstruction " and "the first properly theoretical document of African-American culture." In this work, Sundquist argues, lay the seeds of DuBois's evolving PanAfricanism , his vision of "nationhood" as a veiled realm inhabited by a collec- Book Reviews 129 tive black "soul" linking the inhabitants of the "New World" and Africa, and the generations oppressed by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and colonialism abroad. From DuBois, Sundquist takes his title and rhetorical question that forms part of the epigraph to his book: "Would American have been American without her Negro people"? The question has been an obvious source of contention in academic and pedagogical circles for decades. It is one of Sundquist's most vital achievements in this work to expose the extent to which the debate over a classicAmerican literary canon made up of predominantly white male authors and a marginal so-called ethnic literature narrowly political in its design-in this case African American-depends of falsely dichotomizing what he calls a "biracial culture" into white and black, elite and "folk," aesthetic and political, written and oral or musical. "American" and "African-American" literature cannot properly be appreciated or understood apart from one another and the common historical experience they reflect, he demonstrates; and his work aims, consequently , to "maximize the ground of study shared by blacks and whites without pretending that both cultures perceive the 'problem of race/ defined either as race or racism, in the same way more than a fraction of the time." Sundquist's case rests largely on his rigorous and compelling readings of selected texts-"canonical'' and "non-canonical"-and a daunting amount of historical research. The texts themselves are admittedly few in number, predominantly but not exclusively African American, and, in some instances, not conventionally literary. Nat Turner's "Confessions," for example,is paradigmatic for the way in which white and black "authors" exist in a symbiotic relationship, the white/master voice of Thomas Gray authorizing and editing the nevertheless irrepressible subjectivity issuing through Turner's messianic document. Turner's constructed subjectivity is freighted with haunting historical resonance because of his actual deeds and, anticipating Frederick Douglass, his appropriation of the rhetoric of revolutionary American fathers (both white and black) for justification. Sundquist goes on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 128-131
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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