Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Postmodernism and African-American Literature

ENGL 570.401
crosslisted as: AFRC570, COML573
instructor(s):
W 3-6
Benn 20

Since the 1970’s, there has been a proliferation of African-American literary texts which take slavery as their central theme. These “neo-slave narratives” bear significant features frequently associated with the postmodern aesthetic such as indeterminacy, self-reflexivity, and incredulity towards grand narratives (to name a few) while they also respond to and wrestle with post-Civil Rights anxieties about legal desegregation, affirmative action, and civic membership. Riffing off Anthony Appiah’s well-known essay “Is the 'Post' in 'Postcolonial' the 'Post' in 'Postmodern'?” this class will focus on “neo-slave narratives” to similarly ask : What is the relationship, if any, between the 'Post' in 'Post-Civil Rights' and the 'Post' in 'Postmodern' in African-American literature?

In order to grapple with this question, we shall focus on the following themes: post-soul aesthetics, post-blackness, post-race politics, and post-Civil Rights African-American popular and literary cultures. We will read neo-slave narratives by Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler, Charles Johnson, and Samuel Delany and foreground our theoretical approach in works by Jean-Francois Lyotard, Cornel West, Paul Gilroy, bell hooks, Wahneema Lubiano, Marc Anthony Neal, Phillip Brian Harper, Patricia Hill Collins, and Madhu Dubey.