Writing the Subject: Bildung and the African American Text

By Gunilla Theander Kester | Go to book overview

4
The Rhetoric of Freedom in Charles Johnson's Oxherding Tale and Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose.

"and yet all were conserved in this process of doubling"

( Oxherding Tale)

"The sign of an authentic voice is thus not self-identity but self-difference." ( Barbara Johnson)

Charles Johnson Oxherding Tale ( 1982) and Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose ( 1986) are two African American narratives of Bildung which describe a journey from slavery to free personhood and, in the process, raise complex questions about freedom. Focusing on one of the most pivotal subject transformations in African American history, these narratives of Bildung dialectically explore and attempt to heal the painful rift in the African American subject position. The political, social, and economic forces that worked against the African American people who passed from slavery to free personhood were extreme. Yet, their difficult and complicated position keenly illustrates the double position of all subjects: while they attempt desperately to control their personal subject formation, they are constantly subjected to and controlled by systems that they cannot, for various reasons, escape or dismantle. Maybe for this reason, these novels attempt to destabilize and externalize racial and rhetorical limits that are placed on, in, and around bodies and words. Based on difference rather than on identification, these rhetorical investigations lead to a rather impersonal interpretation of freedom as neither essential nor existential, neither stasis nor struggle. This subtle and sophisticated notion of freedom becomes one of the leading contributions to

-107-

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Writing the Subject: Bildung and the African American Text
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 20
  • 1 - The African American Double Subject: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man 21
  • Notes 41
  • 2 - A Double Heritage: Invisible Man, Wilhelm Meister and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 45
  • Notes 71
  • Notes 100
  • 4 - The Rhetoric of Freedom in Charles Johnson's Oxherding Tale and Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose. 107
  • Notes 135
  • Conclusion REpresentation/PREsentation: Writing the Subject 137
  • Notes 150
  • SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 151
  • Index 171
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