Writing the Subject: Bildung and the African American Text

By Gunilla Theander Kester | Go to book overview
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"it is not weakness, -- it is the contradiction of double aims." ( Du Bois215)

The African American Narrative of Bildung

"What did I do to be so blue?" (14). At the end of the Prologue in Ralph Ellison Invisible Man ( 1952) the narrator offers this paraphrase of a line from Louis Armstrong's version of the famous song lyric "Black and Blue," but he omits the word black from the original line. Thus, with one masterly stroke he illustrates the common erasure of the black signifier in white Western discourse and recreates the need for a resisting black text. Paradoxically, in suppressing one half of the description "black and blue," invisible man also seems to capture the very notion and reality of blackness since, usually, such descriptions only need to be nominated when their marginalized positions identify an un-named center. In the world of invisible man, however, blackness is central and requires no further identification. The invisible subject centralizes a blackness which, in turn, indicates a different other: the white world from an African American perspective. Alluding to a dialogic relationship--black AND blue-- invisible man also confronts a doubleness which plays a major role in African American culture. This doubleness is one of the most distinct and striking features of African American literature which often tends to trope on the African American literary tradition and signify on the European American one. Mingling memories and traditions from both cultural spheres, African American literature can be viewed as "bilingual." It speaks two languages. It talks a double talk. So far, much criticism on the African American maturation novels has focused on the European American influence and on the persistent similarities between the European and the African American traditions. This study breaks new ground by pointing to the profound differences between the European and the African American views of the maturing subject and the process of Bildung, and by


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Writing the Subject: Bildung and the African American Text


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