Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America

By Adam Zachary Newton | Go to book overview

Intrduction

1. The space between Black and Jew

But then life always makes you choose between two possibilities, and you always feel: One is missing! Always one—the uninvented third possibility!

Robert Musil, The Enthusiasts

The data of daily use gently but insistently repel us; day by day, in overcoming the sum of secret resistances—not only the overt ones—that they put in our way, we have an immense labor to perform. Walter Benjamin, One Way Street

The task of criticism remains essential, even if God were not dead but only exiled.

Emmanuel Levinas, “Reality and Its Shadow”


Bright sparks and divine sparkles

From the first section entitled “Of Our Spiritual Strivings, ” to the last on the “Sorrow Songs, ” Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk is framed by an arresting image of “falling stars. ” It appears in the spirituals “My Lord, what a mourning” (whose last line reads, “when the stars begin to fall”), “Stars in the Elements” (whose first line reads, “Oh the stars in the elements are falling”), and “Bright Sparkles in the Churchyard. ” It also surfaces in Du Bois's prose itself when he writes, “Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their consciousness. ” 1

At a strictly symbolic level, the trope signifies sacrifice and redemption. Eric Sundquist has pointed to a semantic underground that discloses African resonances beneath the Christian, notions of

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