Racial Blasphemies

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Cornell University, May., 2001 - 502 страници
This dissertation is a study of the literary relationship between religious language and representations of race in modern American literature. I articulate the way James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones and William Faulkner's Light in August establish an innovative literary tradition--often overlooked--that renders race through an unusual deployment of religious rhetoric, one that blasphemes sanctified notions about what religious language--and, indeed, what race--is thought to communicate. I challenge established readings of the connections between religion and race, important readings that too often rely on thematic and historical explanations about the significance of religious belief--readings that do not closely investigate the way religious rhetoric represents the hard-to-articulate condition of race. In contrast, I demonstrate that religious language, for these authors, does not reference traditional religious histories, theologies, or institutions; instead, it references the painful ambiguity of racial embodiment in twentieth-century American culture and literature. More specifically, I argue that religious words function as curses, as exclamatory expressions that irreverently name the arbitrariness of racial distinction in a nation and a century virulently maintained along unequal, racist lines. For instance, religious words on a billboard compel Flannery O'Connor's Hazel Motes to stop driving, and he curses, "Jesus is a trick on niggers." By using a furious, frustrated rhetoric, these authors express, however obliquely, the inadequacy of racial representation, and halt typical and realistic accounts that maintain hyperbolic distinctions and histories posited between white and African American races and ethnicities. Within the profane, religious language of some of the twentieth century's most prominent writers, one can find the early foundations of a sophisticated literature about race--a literary tradition that revises dominant aesthetic models of racial apology and protest.

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