African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel

African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel

African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel

African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel

Synopsis

Satire's real purpose, as a literary genre, is to criticize through humor, irony, caricature, and parody, and, ultimately, to defy the status quo. In African American Satire, Darryl Dickson-Carr provides the first book-length study of African American satire and the vital role it has played, and in the process investigates African American literature, American literature, and the history of satire.

Dickson-Carr argues that major works by such authors as Rudolph Fisher, Ishmael Reed, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and George S. Schuyler should be read primarily as satires in order to avoid misinterpretation and to gain a greater understanding of their specific meanings and the eras in which they were written. He also examines the satirical rhetoric and ideological bases of complex works such as John Oliver Killens's The Cotillion and Cecil Brown's The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger -- books that are currently out of print and that have received only scant critical attention since they were first published.

Beginning with the tradition of folk humor that originated in West Africa and was forcibly transplanted to the Americas through chattel slavery, Dickson-Carr focuses in each chapter on a particular period of the twentieth century in which the African American satirical novel flourished. He analyzes the historical contexts surrounding African American literature and culture within discrete crucial movements, starting with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ending in the present. He also demonstrates how the political, cultural, and literary ethos of each particular moment is manifested and contested in each text.

By examining these texts closely within their historicaland ideological contexts, Dickson-Carr shows how African American satirical novels provide the reader of African American literature with a critique of popular ideologies seldom found in nonsatirical works. Providing a bett

Excerpt

You want to know where black humor came from? It started
on the slave ships. Cat was rowing and dude says, “What you
laughin' about?”

[The first cat replied,] “Yesterday, I was a king.”

—Richard Pryor, Pryor Convictions, and Other Life Sentences

Whenever a literary critic embarks upon a project seeking to understand satire or specific satirical texts, he or she is inevitably faced with choosing from among definitions that build upon the concepts of satire developed in antiquity. This would not be problematic if each of these definitions helped focus and narrow our conception of satire. All too frequently, though, elaborations on the core classical conception of satire have produced endless controversies about what satire is, what it does or should do, who creates it and why, and how it works on rhetorical and political levels. It is all one can do as a critic to decide which definitions and conceptions should be excluded, to say nothing of actually picking one definition. This is perhaps appropriate since nearly all elements of satire, ranging from the satirist to the plot and the characters within, reflect degrees of ambivalence toward the objects satirized. in that light, each time we define satire, we must look to our backs and sides, wishing to incorporate the other definitions into our own. in discussing African American satire, this effort may be more difficult given the cultural factors that we need to take into account. in this chapter, I would like to outline basic definitions of satire itself then . . .

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