- Historical Fiction as Sociological Interpretation and Philosophy: on the Two Methodological Registers of W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Black Flame
- Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 53, Number 4, Fall 2017
- pp. 584-600
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Between 1957 and 1961, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote a lengthy work of historical fiction, a trilogy collectively titled The Black Flame (1957, 1959, 1961). Through the lenses of four American families, the narrative offers an illuminating glimpse into the American, political drama of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on the degree to which “the negro problem” featured in important decisions and events. While this paper will examine a few of the specific arguments that emerge from The Black Flame, I am primarily concerned here with a meta-question, namely Du Bois’ curious methodological choice in this late-life project. I argue that as historical fiction, The Black Flame operates on two methodological registers with historical, sociological, and philosophical import. First, the text serves as “sociological interpretation.” In this capacity, the sociologist-qua-creative-artist uses “pure imagination”(Du Bois 1957, 315) in the service of articulating and understanding the “distinct social mind”(Du Bois 1898, 20) of Black people. Second, The Black Flame functions as DuBoisian “propaganda”(Du Bois 1996c/1926), entailing arguments and insights that are not reducible to the facts; in short, it functions as Philosophy.